Reclaiming our Place as Creatures of God

Sunday, June 4, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Genesis 2:4b-15

Called to Creation Series

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator, and from our Lord Jesus Christ, Amen.

A couple years ago, my family and I were in the Grand Canyon on a family camping trip. We pulled into the campground late in the evening. By the time we got camp set up, it was too dark to go to the rim of the canyon to see it. The next morning, I was awake early. While everyone else was asleep, I went go for a walk. Because we had come in so late the night before I wasn’t really oriented to where the rim even was. So, I just started walking. It wasn’t long before I came to a road with parking lots all over. I knew it couldn’t be far. I hopped on the paved trail across the road, made my way past the last set of brush and trees, and beheld what I could only describe as the most magnificent handiwork of God I had ever witnessed. It literally took my breath away. It was just after 6am, the sun had come over the rim of the canyon from the east and splashed the red rocks in dazzling light and shadows. I was the only one around, but I couldn’t help say out loud, as my breath returned to me, “Holy, holy, holy!…WOW!” It really was a divine sight to behold.

You don’t have to be a person of faith to be captivated by the wonder of creation. It’s baked into our DNA. I mean, how many of us would say we experience God in nature? Most of us, right?

If we’re paying attention, we recognize in those moments that we are not just witnessing the wonder and power of God’s creation – apart from it – but we belong to that wonder and power too. We feel in sync with the trees and the waters and the wind and the animals – and because of that, we feel in sync with God. In those moments we realize we belong to each other. When we belong to something we care for it, we look out for its best interest, we invest in it so that it may be fruitful beyond our own lifetime. We celebrate when it flourishes and lament and console one another when it struggles.

We see this in the ways we belong to families, church, and our communities. We know that children cannot flourish if there are not caring adults constantly around them to set healthy boundaries, provide encouragement when they falter and forgiveness when they make mistakes. When we belong to one another we foster imagination for a shared future that is better than the present, and pass on attitudes, habits and traditions that provide for the sustainability and flourishing of life.  When these things happen odds are children grow into healthy adults and the adults who invest in these ways grow into healthy elders. Relationships flourish and systems remain healthy. This same pattern of belonging applies to our relationship with God and the rest of Creation. God has placed us in this God-soaked, God-loved creation as creatures who belong to one another.

When God placed the man in the garden, God placed him there “to till and keep it”. The word for “till” in Hebrew is the word abad – in several other places in the Old Testament that word is translated “serve” or “to work”. So, the first responsibility God gives humanity in creation is to serve or work the rest of creation so that it flourishes. The Hebrew word for “to keep” is the word “shamar”, it’s the same word that’s used in the blessing we often use at the end of worship from the book of Numbers; “The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord’s face shine upon you with grace and mercy…” Shamar has the sense of preservation and conservation. It reminds us that we are not the only ones who will relate to creation, but others will come after us, so the flourishing and abundance of creation is intended to last well beyond our interaction with it.

We can easily forget that creation supports and sustains all of the things we make as humans. Especially in today’s world, where we relate more to technology than creation to fuel our lives. And because of this, we are more likely to lose sight of our first call as God’s people to live in interdependent relationship with God and all that God has made so that we, creation, and the glory of God flourishes.

When we think that we should live our lives on our own terms, rather than on God’s terms, the relationships between what is created and the Creator breaks down. We don’t have to look far to see signs that our relationship with creation is pretty sideways these days, right? Weather is more extreme and less predictable. A lot more people around the world are vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Just this week it’s felt a lot more like the first week of July or August than the first week of June. It might feel overwhelming to us to even think about what this means or what we can do about it.

Here’s the thing, we know we can’t solve it all, but as God’s people, we can be faithful to God by reclaiming our place as God’s creatures, and work to serve and preserve the wondrous creation God continues to make.

People of God have struggled with this call and responsibility for a long time. When God’s people were building a kingdom in Israel in the time of King David, this creation story in Genesis 2 was shared widely as a way of reminding each other what was essential in life as it related to being God’s people. What it meant to belong to each other and to God was shifting away from their dependence on God as the Jewish community was gaining influence and power in the region. This story was both a reminder of what God’s intention was for humanity from the beginning, and a cautionary tale of the consequences of living outside of God’s intentions as creatures of God.

In light of the creation story in Genesis, acclaimed biblical scholar, Walter Brueggemann writes, “The destiny of the human creature is to live in God’s world, not a world of his or her own making. The human creature is to live with God’s other creatures, some of which are dangerous, but all of which are to be ruled and cared for. The destiny of the human creature is to live in God’s world, with God’s other creatures, on God’s terms.”

As much as it may challenge us to reassess our relationship with God and creation in these terms, this is actually good news. It helps us reset our understanding of how to relate to creation based on God’s perspective and to see that perspective as inherently good.

What we heard in the reading this morning comes on the heels of the first creation account where everything that God creates is good; and the creation of humanity is called “very good”. What we can be sure of from this is that God loves and delights in creating things, in creating us. This is where we start – with God – not at the Fall, when our relationship with God and creation goes sideways. God wants us to live on God’s terms because God loves us. And God’s love is what ultimately sustains and redeems us when everything else goes sideways.

The purpose of this creation story is not to tell us something theoretical about God, but to point us to how we are called to live in relationship with God, as one of God’s beloved creatures. Our participation in this story proclaims God’s goodness through the way we live, the choices we make, the ways we praise God for this goodness. When we place our priorities in line with God’s good, ordered creation it is good news for the world. Because in God’s well-ordered world, life is fruitful and abundant for all. We’ve got a way to go before this vision of God’s is fulfilled. Therefore, reclaiming our place as God’s creatures is the first step in God healing our relationship with creation, and allowing God’s world to flourish. When God does this, life increases – for us and for those who come after us.

May you have moments this summer where you see the splendor of God’s creation, and all you can say is “Holy, holy, holy!” WOW!” That’s what I say about all of you and your faithfulness. Thanks be to God for you, beloved creatures of God. And thanks be to God for all the wonderful things God continues to create. Amen.

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