Text: Genesis 1:24-31
This sermon's focus is on the stewardship of creation. We are made by God to be stewards of the Earth. Rev. Christopherson gives great examples and facts of what is going on in world, what we can do to help but more importantly, he reminds us that we are stewards serving God because entrusted us with the Creation.
This is one of a four sermon series focused on developing a picture of a biblical steward. The series is titled, "Making the Most of All We've Been Given." The stewardship topics are time, money, lives and creation.
Making the Most of Our Planet
April 20, 2008 Genesis 1:24-31
Pastor Vern Christopherson
Imagine going to Arizona for four months in the winter. Because you don't want to leave your home empty, you hire a college student to house-sit. He comes with good recommendations. You arrange it so the student cooks in your kitchen, sleeps in your bed, watches your TV, and generally has the run of the place. In biblical terms, that person is a steward. Stewards are people who live in a place they do not own, making full use of it, but also keeping in mind that they're caring for things that belong to somebody else.
When God set about creating our planet, God decided to do things up in a big way. God made towering mountains and glacier-fed streams rushing down through the valleys. God made tall acacia trees and hungry giraffes to munch on the leaves. God made the majestic bald eagle to soar in the sky and a land of 10,000 lakes brimming with walleye. And then God looked over the creation--especially the 10,000 lakes part--and pronounced: This is really good stuff.
But God was going to AZ for the winter, so God needed somebody to look after the place. Enter human beings...created in the very image of God. What does that mean? Obviously we haven't been made to look like God in some sort of physical way. But we are made to "stand in" for God. We get to cook in God's kitchen, sleep in God's bed, watch God's TV, and generally have the run of the place. It's a position of great responsibility. We just need to keep in mind that we are caring for things that belong to somebody else.
Back to our first scenario--imagine returning from your four months in Arizona. You're surprised to discover that the student brought with him a couple of dogs: a Great Dane and a German Shepherd. They weren't exactly house broken. You're even more surprised to discover that the student hosted a half dozen or so frat parties. Oh, and get this, the student changed the locks while you were gone. He seems to have taken up permanent residence in your home. When you confront him about it, he just shakes his head and says, "It's all mine--you gave it to me!" You can feel your blood pressure rising as you say: "No, we were just allowing you to use it. It still belongs to us." And then, because you really can't help yourself, you add: "Umm, don't let the door hit you on the way out."
A fundamental principle of biblical stewardship is this: It all belongs to God. Psalm 24 says, "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it....for he has founded it on the seas and established it on the rivers." It's easy to forget that, isn't it? We have deeds to our homes, titles to our cars, and security systems to protect our private property. We think it belongs to us, but it doesn't, not ultimately. We don't get to change the locks and then declare to the Creator, "It's all mine--you gave it to me!" No, we are stewards. We are caring for things that belong to somebody else.
What's interesting to me is that we didn't exactly apply for this job. We were chosen for it. And even though we haven't always done a bang up job of it, we have to assume that God knows what God is doing. Perhaps God sees potential in us that we don't always see in ourselves.
God taps us on the shoulder and says, "I want you to have dominion over the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and all the animals." Dominion? It can conjure up images of mega malls and super highways and urban sprawl--anything to dominate and develop and make a buck. But dominion is not the same as domination. Dominion is about serving the creation, not selling it out to the highest bidder. We own nothing, but we manage everything.
So what kind of grade would you give us for our management? B+? C-? D? You don't have to look very far to see where we come up short. Did you know that 20 major cities around the world have air pollution indices so high that citizens are encouraged to wear masks whenever they go outside? Did you know that the rain forests that once covered 14% of the earth--and are key to the entire global ecosystem--have been reduced to six percent, and the number goes down every year? Did you know that the ice covering the Arctic Ocean has gone from 8ݢ feet thick to 5ݢ feet thick?
As stewards of creation, it's our job to pay attention to these things. That doesn't mean we'll always know what to do about them, or have even the will to do it, but we need to try.
For instance, we are hearing a lot about climate change these days. The earth is getting warmer--about three-quarters of a degree centigrade in the last century. As a result, the polar ice caps are melting and sea levels are rising.
The big question is: Is global warming caused by human activity or is this a cyclical change? Since the dawn of the industrial era, humans have been burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, gas, methane). This burning process releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, principally carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide acts as an insulator, leading to warmer average temperatures. No one denies that the earth is getting warmer. The only question is: Are we the ones causing it?
In 2007 there was a meeting of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. One hundred and thirteen nations were represented. They issued a report staying that there's a 90% probability that human activity is the cause of climate change. After hearing the report, President Bush called global warming "a significant challenge."
Despite all the evidence, some are still skeptical. I went to hear Will Steger discuss global warming last fall. He helped me put this skepticism in perspective. He said: "Science almost never proves anything, ever. It looks for patterns in the data, patterns that support or reject an hypothesis. But if we wait around until we have a definitive word from science, it will be too late. We have to act now, while we still can."
What I'm saying is this: As stewards of God's creation, we need to study issues such as climate change, but we can't let the science overwhelm us, or we'll never get around to doing anything. In the case of global warming--whether we believe the science or not--I would hope that all of us could agree that conserving fossil fuels is a good thing. There may be ample supplies for now, what about our children? And what about the lasting effect on our environment?
The Evangelical Lutheran Church in American has a social statement on the environment. One sentence really hit home for me: "When we face today's crisis, we do not despair, we act." I need to hear that. We are a people called to act. We can reduce, reuse, recycle. We can use compact fluorescent lights, or even better, LED lights, because they don't contain mercury. We can buy more fuel efficient cars, take shorter showers, drink less bottled water. We can insulate our homes, buy energy efficient appliances, use cloth bags at the grocery store. We can do energy audits, invest in green companies, use video projection at church so we can consume less paper.
There is any number of things we can do. The question is: Will we actually have the will to do them? After all, almost any change means that we will need to alter our comfortable lifestyle. It comes with a cost.
Here's an important question: When the problems we're facing are as big as they are, can you and I make a difference? Back in the 1970's two California scientists began to warn abut the destructive effect of chlorofluorocarbons (CFC's) on the ozone layer. Everyone thought these two scientists were nuts--especially the companies that made CFC's. But the science kept adding up. Then we started noticing that there was a hole in the ozone layer over Antarctica and it was growing. After a number of years scientists and world leaders got together in Montreal with one goal in mind: to reduce CFC's and eventually replace them. That's exactly what they decided to do. And guess what? Today the hole in the ozone layer is getting smaller.
Can you and I make a difference? I think we can. We might not be scientists, but there are things we can do. When I go running, I invariably see a man in a wheelchair out on the sidewalk. He lives in an apartment near 31st and Grand. Almost every day--in the heat of the summer and the cold of the winter--I see him outside. He is carrying a stick with a sharp point on the end. He is picking up trash. For two blocks in every direction you won't find even a stray gum wrapper. This man is determined to do what he can to make his little corner of the world a better place.
That's the stewardship of creation. That's our job. We are made in the image of God. We are God's stewards. We are living in a place we do not own, making full use of it, but always keeping in mind that we are caring for things that belong to somebody else. It's a position of great responsibility. Today, and every day, it's up to us to decide what we will do with our little corner of the world. AMEN
Other Sermons in the series:
Making the Most of our Time
Making the Most of our Self
Making the Most of our Money
Rev. Vern Christopherson is Senior Pastor at Lutheran Church of the Transfiguration in Bloomington, MN and a Doctor of Mininstry student at Luther Seminary.