Sermon for June 14, 2009
Dr. Dan Doriani
THIS IS MY FATHER’S WORLD
Our problem is simple: God created a good world and we spoiled it. It's good now, but it was better; we exploited it, then neglected it instead of developing it. Now we don't know what to do.
It isn't easy to know what to do. I recently read an environmental column: "Your spinach is organic but your Teflon pan is killing little animals." The article discusses the proper environmental choice for cookware. First, consider fuel efficiency. Some metals heat up faster. With higher thermal conductivity, they require less energy to heat and distribute it quickly. Copper is king of conductivity, aluminum is second, cast iron third.
But wait, don't forget heat capacity. That measures the ability to retain heat in a pan. Here cast iron is king. Cast iron also wins points for lasting for three hundred years and it's also easiest to clean, if cared for properly. Next, consider the energy it takes to manufacture your pan. Aluminum uses the most energy. Finally, there is reactivity. Copper and aluminum can poison you if misused and Teflon can kill animals. All this just for skillet pans. Who has time for all this? And if you do, who will join you?
Information is one problem; language is another. We say "environment" when we should say "creation." "Environment" leads to environmentalism and environmentalism leads to politics. Once a question is politicized, it's hard to think clearly or act freely. Political allegiances can mislead. No party is the party of God. We need to be engaged politically, but our faith must critique all parties.
We also need to let our faith critique all trends. Christians lead some trends, some revolutions, but resist others. Since no culture is perfectly Christian, we'll resist some cultural patterns and protest others.
We'll join some movements and criticize others. Christians resisted the sexual revolution, but led protests against slavery and racism. So, what is the right approach to environmentalism?
Aside: Don't let critics mislead you. Slavery was all but universal in human societies. Stronger people always tended to enslave weaker neighbors. Slavery began to disappear in Europe after Christianity became the dominant faith. When ships first brought African slaves to Europe in 1500, the most common response was outrage at a practice many considered illegal and immoral. Slavery did return for three centuries, but Christians led the fight against it. So let's not get down on the church. We can lead positive change.1
The question is, what change should we seek? Should we embrace the environmental movement or resist it? Some Christians are appalled that the church cares so little. Surely, they say, we should be stewards of God's creation - more than anyone.
Others have doubts. Yes, global warming is a fact, but temperatures always go up and down. Sun cycles may have more effects than pollution. Doubters say environmental laws slow down industry with needless, excessive rules. Manufacturing goes overseas and poor countries take the jobs and the pollution.
So then, all Christians agree that we should care for creation. But is it a high or low priority? How radical should we be? Is the green revolution wise so we should join up? Or is it misguided radicalism?
What should we do as individuals? As a church?
Wendell Berry says the environmental movement is different from all others. Protests against war come and go because wars end. But environmental questions are close to home: "Every time we draw a breath, every time we drink a glass of water, every time we eat a bite of food" we either suffer from pollution or we reap the results of someone's care for God's creation. We always feel the effects of the acts of others and we always have an effect on others. Berry again said, "A protest meeting on the issue of environmental abuse is not a convocation of accusers, it is a convocation of the guilty… We are causing the crisis."2
We may take different positions on some issues, but we should agree on this: This is God's world. We should care for it. Sadly, due to our sin and folly, we often spoil it. But the Lord will restore his creation and give us a role in it.
1. This is God's world.
This section largely follows Cornelius Plantinga, Engaging God's World, pages 19-44.
We have spoken of the "environment" so far. It's a neutral word for whatever surrounds us. Others speak of Nature, Mother Nature, the forces of Nature. That language personifies things that are impersonal. Let's speak as the Bible does: God created this world and it is His (Psalm 24:1). "The earth is the Lord's and the fullness thereof; the world and those who dwell in it."
This is God's world; He loves it. The triune God created this world in holy concert. The Father planned it, the Son mediated it and entered it to restore it.
He didn't create it because He was bored. Not because He was lonely. Not because space and time seemed empty; He created space and time. It was not an accident – the result of a cosmic doodle plus Disney sparkles.
He created because He is creative. It fits Him to conceive and then to execute such a plan. Chesterton said, “The difference between construction and creation is that a thing constructed can only be loved after it is constructed, but a thing created is loved before it exists.
God's creation is beautifully arranged. Plants inhale the CO2 we exhale and we inhale the oxygen they exhale. But it's more than good engineering. There is abundance to revel in. We talked about the stars, consider the smaller scale – all the flowers and fruits. He does this for our pleasure, but also for His delight. In Job, God says He has walked in the recesses of the deep. He numbers the clouds. He is the father of rain, snow and hail. He opened channels for torrents of rain, for lightning and thunder. He tells Job about all the animals He made and now watches and feeds: lion and mountain goat, ox and donkey, ostrich and horse. He tells the sea, "Thus far shall you com and no farther.” (Job 38-40, quoting 38:11).
There is more than control here. There is joy in the dance of cranes, in swallows diving over a lake.
Young whales leap from the water again and again, scientists believe, for the sheer joy of the splash. Far more consistently than mankind, they praise God just as He designed them to do. Dallas Willard said, that God must be joyous as He looks at His creation: "We pay a lot of money to get a tank with a few tropical fish. God has seas full of them, which He constantly enjoys.” In His covenant with Noah, He also
Promised to protect every living creature.
Genesis 1 says we fill the earth, subdue it and rule over it. Genesis 2 says we care for God's creation.
Subdue, fill, rule and care.
We subdue what is already there. We give it order, bring it to completion. Wild strawberries become big, sweet farm strawberries. Wild pigs become farm animals. We break horses so we can ride them and tame cows to milk them.
We fill when we are fruitful and multiply. We build cities, we develop technology to promotes human society.
We rule when we govern the world as God would. We care when we protect life and nurture all that is best in the world. The Bible doesn't have much "how to," but what's there is telling.
The Bible has a command about trees. The setting is laws for just war. Moses said, "When you lay siege to a city do not destroy its trees… because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the
trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?" (Deuteronomy 20:19). Respect the trees! Don't destroy - protect.
Solomon says, "A righteous man cares for the needs of his animal" (Proverbs 12:10). It's simple: we should show God-like love and care and kindness to his creatures. Our first thought will be pets. We should care for them without doting over them and giving them love that belongs to people. But in Israel,
most people were farmers. They think of animals for labor, milk, wool and meat. For us that means we should promote care for animals that supply our milk, wool and meat.
I don't eat veal and lamb because the animals are often kept in cages so small they can never stand or walk for their entire lives. That keeps the meat tender, but it seems inhumane – not the way the Lord would do it. Judge for yourselves… These laws – don't fight the trees, care for your animals – suggest how God wants us to govern the world. God is the creator, architect, and owner. Thus every human claim is secondary. We have no absolute rights over land or its products.
We have no right to say, "I own this land, this wealth and I'll do as I please." God owns it, we are stewards. Our ownership is secondary and subordinate to God's ownership. We don't own the house, we're house sitters. We're borrowing someone else's car.
Second, God gave the earth to mankind to be stewards, caretakers. Any rights we have are secondary, derived. At the end of life, we will give an account of all we do, and the way we used the riches God entrusts to us.
Jesus tells the story of a rich farmer who concocted a grandiose plan to tear down his barns and build even bigger barns so he could store all his wealth for himself. He told himself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." But Jesus said, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you."
The word “demanded” is interesting. It doesn't mean God will demand our life. It's a word used for the recall of a loan. God will demand back what He loaned to the farmer. And He will demand an account of you: “What did you do with the wealth I entrusted to you?” Whether we have much or little, the Lord deputized us to care for creation. Sadly, all too often, we spoil it.
2. We spoil this world
The church tends to focus on great sins – idolatry, murder. But we tolerate "respectable" sins like gossip, greed, and discontentment. Respectable sins come from lack of love or love of the wrong thing.
Greed is excessive love of things (Matthew 13:22). Discontentment is a failure to love God and His provisions. Greed and discontentment can lead to sins against creation. Both make us want something more, something else. They drive the consumerism that spoils the world.
How? Let's go east for white water rafting. In West Virginia, modest mountains and steady rain give steady rivers. But while driving there, you may see a strip mine. Shocking! Strip mines sometimes tear the top off a mountain and leave a huge, lifeless gash. The runoff chokes miles and miles of streams. (I saw this phenomenon on the way to pick blueberries with my kids, in central Pennsylvania).
America is to coal as Saudi Arabia is to oil: we lead the world in reserves; West Virginia leads the way. In 2000, miners took 170 million tons of coal from West Virginia. Don't blame evil mining companies. Coal provides half of America's electricity. It powers our toasters, lights and air conditioners.
Know this: We should ask what the Lord thinks of the way we consume energy. He placed the coal in the earth – along with iron, silicon, oil - every resource in the soil and the earth's crust. In the end, all of this world's wealth depends on sun, rain, the resources of the earth and the way people use and abuse them.
I'm not against coal mining. I live on electricity, too. But coal, oil and all the rest are finite resources.
We need to use them wisely, carefully. You know, use fuel efficient cars, homes and appliances. We must leave more for the next generation. We need to be careful not only with coal, but also the countryside, the fish and the birds.
So you know, Central is doing more in recent years: We recycle, especially paper. We turn off lights in empty rooms (join us). We use less heat and air conditioning. The building is a little cooler in winter, a little warmer in summer. We've reduced our use of disposable plastics, using glass and permanent, safe water bottles instead. These are small steps. There is more we can do. We can join Jesus himself in renewal.
3. God will recreate this world: Jesus' first miracle, an act of recreation
Jesus performed his first miracle at a wedding. It was a miracle of joy, celebration of the goodness of God's world. The bridal party and guests were there, including Jesus, the disciples, and Jesus' mother./ This shows that Jesus approves marriage. But it's more. It's a sign that Jesus celebrates life, celebrates creation, and looks to the new creation.
Our story starts in the middle of the post-wedding feast as the wine runs out. Weddings feasts could last several days, even a week, and demanded lots of food nd planning. Running out was a social disgrace.
Jesus' mother points this out to him: "They have no wine" (2:3). Perhaps the hosts were relatives or close friends, for Mary felt some responsibility and had the right to give orders to the attendants saying "Do whatever he tells you" (2:5).
Clearly, Mary expects Jesus to do something about the problem – and we know he can. But Jesus isn't interested. His reply is a Greek idiom that we could translate "Woman, what does that have to do with me?" or more loosely "That is not my problem!" (2:4). It isn't rude, but it does establish distance between Jesus and his mother. He doesn't need to do as she suggests. Why? "My hour has not yet come." That is, it isn't the right time for Jesus' first public sign or miracle.
Mary doesn't give up. She dodges Jesus' small rebuff and tells the servants, "Do whatever he tells you." If he says nothing, fine. She accepts Jesus' authority and leaves the matter to him, to do as he pleases.Soon Jesus decides to act. We imagine that he feels compassion for the new couple and their family.
The party could be ruined and the family shamed. Perhaps it is the right hour for the first sign after all (2:7).
Six stone water pots stand nearby. Used for ceremonial washing or purification, they hold around twenty gallons each, enough to fill an immersion pool for a ceremonial bath. "Fill the jars [to the top] with water," Jesus says. Then, "Draw some out [from these vessels] and take it to the master of the feast" (2:6-8).
Jesus turned the water to wine, but the steward thought the family had provided it. He tasted it and said, "You have saved the best for last." (2:9-11). Note: The term oijno" refers to fermented grape juice. Without refrigeration, fermentation was inevitable. The steward assumes some can have "too much to drink" mequskw. Yet since the process of distillation had not yet been devised, beverages didn't have concentrated alcohol. In the Bible, wine is a gift, but drunkenness is a sin.
This miracle affirms the goodness of creation and celebration. We can care for the environment and have fun. Indeed, the Bible says the Lord satisfies our soul with good things. That includes food and drink and parties large and small. Have fun in ways that give you joy! Receive it as God's gift!
John says this was Jesus' first sign (2:11). It begins the process of manifesting his glory. By it, he started to gather disciples who believe in him. But how does this miracle lead to faith? Why would Jesus create all that wine?
Jesus chose water jars used for rites of cleansing. It's part of his point. The time for purification by water rituals has ended. Jesus' wine replaces the water of Jewish rites. How? In the prophets, abundant wine is a symbol of the Messianic age (Hosea 14:7, Jeremiah 31:12).
Jesus created 150 gallons of excellent wine and that leads those who know the prophecies to think of the age to come. Then God will recreate the world; it will flow with milk, honey, grain and wine. Jesus is announcing that the Messianic age has started to arrive. "The days are coming when new wine will drip from the mountains and flow from all the hills" (Amos 9:13-14).
The Lord wants us to love this world - cherries, lakes, mountains, music and sports. Not worship it, but love it. This miracle shows how material Christianity is. Far more than Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, we affirm the goodness of creation and re-creation. They hope for nothingness. We hope to learn all those bodily things that eluded us here. Your body will yield as you play cornet and clarinet, as you do back flips and ski moguls – and more. You will desire what is good – and do it. Praise God for His creation!
4. Our responsibility to this world
I hope you don't hear me laying guilt on you. I hate the guilt charts that say a billion people live on one and a half gallons of water a day while the average American uses 100 gallons per day. More rain falls here. It's not our fault. We can't ship our water to the Gobi Desert. But we can keep our water clean to help others with theirs.
God doesn't want your guilt-feelings. He wants your love, your joy. You're part of His creation, but even more. He created you and you alone in His image. He wants you to grow in grace, to delight in His creation and to care for it as He does. How can we do that?
We love His creation, first, by granting it full respect. Someone said God is just as pleased with a hockey game as with a chess game. Do you agree? Or are you appalled? He means the life of the mind is no more noble, no more holy, than the life of the body. Play hockey or basketball or ping pong to the glory of God. Thank Him for your body and take care of it. Stay strong and flexible, eat right – it's the environment closest to you.
Second, never give up. The principle of redemption and renewal is all through creation. People can be redeemed. A broken chair, a broken Stradivarius can be fixed. Creation, too can be fixed. I used to live west of Pittsburgh, in the industrial district - steel mills, a cork plant, limestone buildings almost black.
Thanks to sand blasting, they are now clean and will keep that glow for years. The air is clean now.
Look out and see - this is the Father's world! Love it. Let it move you as it should. Our youth are going to the mountains. There it's easy to be moved by the grandeur. But a tree, a flower, a stream, is wondrous, too. Let the beauty move you to awe and awe to the Lord, the creator God Have you repented of wrong attitude toward creation as a mere thing to be exploited? Do you think of it as a neutral environment? Perhaps all you care about is what you get from it. Repent! Take your role as guardian seriously.
Look from creation to creator. Have you received Jesus as the creator? Your creator? Do you know he came to restore you to the new creation? Be restored to the Lord and His world through Jesus.
1 R Stark, "Sin of Racism" in For the Glory of God, pages 290-365.