In The Beginning Week 3 - Dominion
Today I'm going to be continuing the sermon series, "In The Beginning" a sermon series from Genesis chapters 1-3, the Story of Creation.
Last week we learned what it means to be created in the image of God, which is how the book of Genesis in the Hebrew Scriptures describes it.
In this, the third installment of this four-part series, we are going to be digging into a fascinating part of this story---the part of the story where God creates humans and then gives them a job.
Let's read Genesis 2:15-20
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. 16 And the Lord God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; 17 but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
18 The Lord God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”
19 Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. 20 So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.
But for Adam[a] no suitable helper was found.
Okay, let's do a little work on this passage and see what is lying below the surface that might help us understand a bit more about the job that gave gave to humankind...
First, and this is an important point that is at the heart of what we're going to be talking about today, we need to understand the meaning of the word "Adam." "Adamah" is the Hebrew word for dust, or ground. So this word, which is shortened a bit, literally means "dust man."
Hold on to that--we're going to circle back around to it in a moment.
Secondly, and this is also super important, God tells Adam that humankind is supposed to "rule over" or "have dominion over" Creation. The way that this sounds in English is that God created an inequitable relationship.
Honestly, for centuries people have completely missed the point of this passage. If Creation was a pyramid in this way of interpreting the passage, then humans are at the top of the pyramid, and all the rest of Creation is beneath them.
This actually is a misuse of the idea of "dominion." In the ancient Hebrew way of understanding humankind was given the responsibility of caring for Creation as though their lives depended upon it---because their lives did depend on it.
A few years ago, the phrase Environmental Stewardship became a catch-word that a lot of Christians were using to interpret this passage. But the idea of Stewardship---taking care of something that belongs to someone else, still has a bit of the hierarchical, pyramid thing going on.
What is happening in this text is different. It's about partnership, not stewardship. God essentially creates a relational model of ongoing creation--the world is not a finished product. Humankind is given the awesome responsibility of engaging with Creation in this ongoing, life-giving generative partnership.
This is what it means when God gives humans the task of naming things. God is essentially saying, "Your turn." "You take a shot at this." "Let's see if you think this is as good as I think it is."
Let me ask you something... Why does it feel good to recycle? Because it does feel good to recycle, doesn't it? I don't know about you, but when I fill up my recycle bin---I feel a bit more righteous, for lack of a better word. But it feels good, you can't deny it.
Or when we buy local produce---locally grown food. When we see the face of the person that grew the food we're buying, or at least we can picture the place where our food was grown because we've been there before... Why does this feel good?
I was listening to the announcements at my son's elementary school last year. The principal was sharing with the students that they were going to have locally grown carrots that day for lunch. She told the students, "Tell your parents how important it is to buy locally grown vegetables that are good for you."
I have to admit, I felt kind of good that the school where my son will be attending for the next several formative years of his life is paying attention to those kinds of things.
But why---why did it make me feel kind of tingly?
Because God created us---all of us---to care for the very Creation that cares for us. And whenever we do this, when we fulfill our calling... we feel the Lord's pleasure.
During the 1930's in America, we experienced what is known as the Great Dust Bowl. The Great Plains--the breadbasket of America--became nothing but an almost constant cloud of dust due to over-farming, followed by drought.
April 14, 1935 was known as "Black Sunday" because of a massive dust storm that swept across Oklahoma, essentially turning day into night. Effects of the dust storms that swept across the Great Plains were felt as far as New York City.
The great songwriter and troubadour Woody Guthrie wrote "The Great Dust Storm" in response to what he witnessed then:
On the 14th day of April of 1935,
There struck the worst of dust storms that ever filled the sky.
You could see that dust storm comin', the cloud looked deathlike black,
And through our mighty nation, it left a dreadful track.
From Oklahoma City to the Arizona line,
Dakota and Nebraska to the lazy Rio Grande,
It fell across our city like a curtain of black rolled down,
We thought it was our judgement, we thought it was our doom.
One of Guthrie's most famous songs is "This Land is Your Land," which many of us hear this time of year--near July 4th. The fact of the Dust Bowl and what caused it gives all new meaning to this song...
After the devastating years of the Dust Bowl, in the middle of the Great Depression--we fixed things. We created new ways to farm, to regulate to keep the whole Dust Bowl thing from happening again.
But at what cost? We bury our trash, pump our soil full of chemicals, continue to pollute the air... and all because we've lost sight of what Genesis chapter 2 teaches us about our God-ordained relationship with Creation.
Which brings us to a BIG QUESTION:
Why should any of this matter to Christians? Why am I preaching on this? Some of you might be getting a bit uncomfortable right about now because you've been taught Creation Care is a political issue---which, honestly, it has been turned in to a political issue when it isn't.
So should Christians just stick to telling people about Jesus and leave this kind of stuff for alone? Some might say, "Yes! This is a distraction!"
But... what if... what if... our actions as Christians tell people more about our belief in Jesus than anything we happen to say?
And what if... what if... Acknowledging our God-ordained relationship with Creation (which we believe as Christians was created through the Logos, the creative, expressive Word of God, Jesus himself) told people that following Jesus also means caring for the Creation that God so loved that he sent Jesus to redeem it...and us.
Listen to this.
When the resurrected Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene in John chapter 20 he appears to her in a garden... And she thinks he's the gardner... This is not an accident.
In her book "The Year of Small Things," author Sarah Arthur says the following bit of awesomeness:
If our call is to imitate Christ, to become more and more like him, then the fact that his resurrected body looked suspiciously like someone who works the soil (John 20) should give us a clue about our redemptive task.”
Environmental Ethicist and Christian theologian, Max Oelschlaeger once wrote that "The Church may be our last best hope" when it comes to changing the focus of the ongoing debates about Creation Care.
The Church. Us. You and me.
I believe that when as Christians we live into our calling to be in partnership with Creation, to be co-creators, to be in dominion over this world that is our God-given, fearfully and wonderfully made home... we are sharing the Gospel.
We are showing people what happens when we follow Jesus.
We are being witnesses to a loving, creative, expressive God, who has not given up on his good Creation... or on us.
Because people are watching us---friends who aren't Christians, co-workers, relatives... and when we show very little care for God's good creation, it's a terrible witness.
So what would this look like?
Maybe it means that you pay closer attention to the food you buy--ensuring that it comes from people who are responsibly farming.
Maybe it means that you choose to drive less, go down to one car to reduce your carbon footprint.
Maybe it means that you work hard to make your yard one of the most beautiful in the neighborhood.
God created us to care for the very Creation that cares for us.