January 19, 2019

Romans 8:18-28

In Genesis one, God began a relationship with the earth and with the inhabitants of the planet before he started a relationship with us.  With everything God made, God said that it was good.

The streams, rivers, and oceans were good.  The valleys, meadows, hills, and mountains were good.

The animals that inhabited the land, sea, and air were all made just the way God intended.  The vegetation that grew in the sea, deserts, rainforests, meadows, forests, on mountain faces were all good.

From microscopic animals to the largest ones to walk the earth, God made them all and said they were good.

In Chapter one of Genesis, beginning with verse 26:

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.

Since all that God made was good, and since God gave all that he made to mankind to take care of, then stewardship of the earth should be a priority.

Unfortunately, stewardship of the earth seems to have fallen out of fashion among many Christians.

However, the Bible is clear.  We have a responsibility to the earth which God set in motion at the creation of the world.  Not to take this mandate seriously fails to acknowledge the role that God uniquely gave us in creation.

Stewardship of the earth and all of its resources should be a concern for all Christians.  To sacrifice the earth’s resources for profit or pleasure without any care of our actions is not ethical nor responsible.  Not only does the earth suffer, but future generations will suffer because we did take our jobs seriously.

What are our jobs?

Stewardship of the earth is the first responsibility God gave us.

Since we are created in God’s likeness, it is our responsibility to ensure that what God created remains good.

Can anyone imagine God being pleased with us if we did otherwise?

The Bible says in verse 26 that we were made in God’s likeness so we would “rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

It is our job to subdue the earth or rule over it.  The Hebrew word is “râdâh.” It means to have dominion, to dominate, to press down, as in a wine press.

It doesn’t say abuse, pollute, trash, poison, or kill to extinction.

It’s incredible how much of the earth has been brought into submission.

Desert land in California has been turned into one of the most fertile farmlands in the world.

Dams have tamed mighty rivers, so the flow is controlled by the flick of a switch.

The earth has been forced to give up its minerals to make the steal, to build our skyscrapers and automobiles, and belch forth its oil to heat our homes and run our machines.

Her dirt has been brushed aside with gentle strokes revealing her ancient secrets encased in fossils and in the bones of extinct animals.

We have perfected techniques of growing food that has brought forth higher yields that are greater than ever.

All kinds of animals have been domesticated for food consumption.

Many of the medicines we take and the clothes we wear are gifts to us from the earth.

We harvest the wind and the sun and turn these sources of energy into power.

We harvest fish and minerals from the sea.

If you have ever thought the earth had a spiritual quality, it’s because it is designed and created by God.

The Native Americans seemed to understand this better than many of us.

But the earth is not to be worshiped, only its Creator.

However, when we are good stewards of God’s creation, our stewardship can be a part of our worship.

Some people take care of the earth for other reasons, but Christians should do it because God commands us to, and we want to honor God.

The earth was here before we were. It’s almost as if we are its guests.  But the Lord said, “The earth is for us.”  What a gift!

But it is a gift that comes with a responsibility.

The word is “Radah,” and it occurs again in verse 28.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and (Radah) subdue it.  (Radah) Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Gen 1:28 (NIV)

If there is any command of God that we have carried out well, it’s the command: “Be fruitful and increase in number.”

We’re testing the limits of the earth’s capacity to cope with an ever-expanding population.  The population of the earth is expected to reach the 8 billion mark soon.  Estimates are that by the end of this century, it could be 12 billion.

In 1804 there was only one billion of us. Only 123 years later, we had doubled our numbers. Thirty-three years after that, in 1960, we were 3 billion. A mere 14 years later, we had reached 4 billion, and by 1987, 5 billion souls inhabited the planet.

We’ve been busy, and not just in procreating. We’ve transformed between a third and one half of the land surface of the earth with our projects, according to the United Nations Population Fund.

We’re currently experiencing the worst die-off of species since the loss of the dinosaurs. https://www.biologicaldiversity.org/programs/biodiversity/elements_of_biodiversity/extinction_crisis/

One in seven of us don’t have enough to eat. We’ve fished out, or we are fully exploiting two-thirds of the world’s fisheries. A third of the planet suffers the effects of spreading deserts and declining water tables, yet per-capita water consumption is rising twice as fast as our population.

Forests are shrinking and degraded.  In the last 50 years, the loss of productive soil equals the size of China and India combined.

When we were mostly an agrarian society, the United States Department of Agriculture had an entire division dedicated to soil conservation.  With the pervasive tilling of the earth, topsoil was washing away at an alarming rate, turning rivers the colors of the earth, significantly reducing the yields of farmers and causing considerable damage to the earth itself.

The Department of Agriculture not only convinced people that stewardship of the land was good for the earth and the water supply, but it was also good economically.

Ministers preached soil conservation from their pulpits, and the Southern Baptist Convention had a Soil Conservation Sunday.

These efforts were widely embraced, and they brought communities together.

Christians and communities have moved away from a connection to the earth.   Many children have no idea where food even comes from.

Most of us don’t earn our income from the land.  So we see less emphasis from Christians regarding earth care.  There is more emphasis on earth care among the scientific and biological communities, which, of course, have Christians among them.

However, there is a perception that Christians are only interested in saving souls but not interested in saving the earth.

Christians are missing an excellent opportunity to use a basic Judeo/Christian ethic of earth care as a bridge to people outside our faith, and build some common bonds.

We ought to be among the most enthusiastic people about caring for the earth.  After all, we worship the One that created it.  He gave us the job to take care of it.

If we can learn anything from the generations before us about this task, it is that if we work hard enough and smart enough, we can find ways to subdue the earth AND earn a good living without sacrificing the land, water, and air God created.

Because we are made in the image of God, it is part of our job is to ensure that what God created remains good.

But the earth is groaning.  Can you hear it? It’s been groaning a long time.  This earth that God created has been caught up in our mess for a long time.   A lot of what God created is no longer good because we have abused it.

The Apostle Paul said that “the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God… We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” Rom. 8:20-22 (NIV)

Paul says that it’s not the earth’s fault that human beings messed things up at creation, but the earth and everything in it have been caught up in our mess, and you can hear it groaning.

But Paul also says that there is hope.  There is hope that creation itself will be liberated from decay and brought into the glorious freedom along with the children of God.

Is that hope in our practices of stewardship?

So, you might ask, “Do you really believe that you can save this earth from decay by our good practices of stewardship?”

No.  Not any more than I believe we save our bodies from death, but that doesn’t mean that we should not take care of them.

Stewardship should never be viewed as an end in itself.  Stewardship is the act of managing what God has given to us in obedient worship to our Creator.

There are other benefits.  Stewardship almost always causes our paths to cross with the paths of others.

When it does, there is an opportunity to give witness why we care so much for the earth.   We care for the creation because we worship the Creator.

Why can’t Christians be among the most passionate, well-informed, stewards of the earth?

If we are, wouldn’t there be more opportunities, not less, to bridge a gap between those who also care for the earth, but may not believe in our Creator?

What message do we have to share with other people who love the earth but may not believe in the One who created it?

The Creator said to Adam and says to all of us: “for dust you are

and to dust you will return.” Gen 3:19

Perhaps the groaning of the earth has more to do with the fact that it must receive us all in the end, whether we treated it with any honor or not.

“For dust you are and to dust you will return.”

In the end, the earth must open its bosom and receive us all, whether we were ever a good steward of its resources or not.

But if that depresses you, let me give you some good news about our bodies.

Even though these bodies are going to return to the earth, the scripture says that God will redeem them.

If you have trusted Jesus, your body will be redeemed or reclaimed.

“We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.   Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.  But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?  But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.” (Romans 8:22-25)

Do you have hope beyond the grave?

In my hand I have a seed.  In a few months, farmer’s will be planting seeds.  Gardner’s will be planting seeds.

A seed is a source of hope for a life that is to come.  But for that life to come, that seed has to die.

Jesus referred to himself as the seed that had to die for the hope of eternal life to grow within all of us.

When Jesus was predicting his death, his said,

23But Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24Truly, truly, I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a seed; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23)

When Jesus was raised from the dead, his body, one that would never see decay, became the first fruits of the Spirit that Paul spoke about to the Romans.

If you do not groan in your spirit as you look around at the world today, you haven’t lived long enough or looked hard enough. It’s polluted. It’s diseased. It’s moving at a speed that cannot possibly sustain us forever.   We seem to be helplessly caught up in our fallen state.

We are killing the unborn, killing children in our schools, and have little compassion for those seeking asylum because their people are being killed in their own countries.

Millions of us are addicted to porn, legal and illegal drugs, and have hatred in our hearts for those who see things from a different political viewpoint.

In our fallen state, we are also abusing the earth.  Scientists are ringing the alarm bells but whether you believe the scientific evidence or not, the Bible tells us that the earth will pass away.

This earth isn’t going to last forever, and neither are the bodies in which we live.

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead is the great promise of the Christian faith.  His resurrection is the great hope.  Although all that we know is passing away, Jesus has shown us that there is something more beyond this life.  His resurrection is the evidence of that.

The gift of His Spirit is our deposit, or guarantee, that we will participate in that act of God ourselves.

While we are here, it is our job to care for our bodies and for creation to honor our Creator.

However, it will be the grace of God, through Christ Jesus, that grants us the gift of eternal life beyond this world.

If you are not assured of that gift, come and ask Andy to pray with you this morning as the band plays our next song.

Photo Credit: madisonearthcare.com