Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush, afire with God–Elizabeth Barret Browning
Season of Creation Year A 1st Sunday Genesis 2:4b-10, 16-22 Colossians 1:15-20 John 3:1-17 (more information on the Season of Creation coming soon)
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son… in order that the world might be saved through him.
Through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
A friend of mine was at a conference recently at the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC and at this conference there was much conversation about concern for the natural world; the land, the forests, the rivers, the oceans, the air. The conversation centered around both the ways in which the natural world has been damaged or is out of balance and the inextricable human connection to the natural world. A comment was made about how sad it was that religious people do not seem to care about the earth very much. Particularly, it was said, Christians because for all the good that some Christian groups may do, caring for creation is a low priority. Can they not see how interconnected we all are?
When I heard this, I was immediately defensive, of course! After all, we have a special ministry devoted to environmental stewardship, The Good Shepherds of the Earth, and every committee, virtually every member of our church family has become a part of the effort to be better stewards of our part of the world. At the same time, this idea that Christians in particular were not very interested in creation care as a significant ministry was intriguing. Is that true? Why? And should it be or should it not be of great importance to us?
After some research it seems that, indeed, Christianity as a whole is not particularly interested in the natural world, or at least not interested in actively pursuing careful and intentional stewardship and teaching others to do the same. The ELCA does have an entire ministry focusing on this called Caring for Creation. It is considered a social ministry along with Health and Wellness, Hunger and Poverty, Race and Ethnicity and Cultural concerns. We are not alone in this because many major denominations have ministries with some sort of environmental concern, but on the whole, the church is not known for its deep and passionate care for the natural world.
Perhaps we might reconsider this.
It is possible that many do not consider the earth to be a priority for our Christian call because of texts just like the one I read from the Gospel of John. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son so that whoever believes in him may not perish but have eternal life. That’s all about our belief, right? That’s all about people, what human beings believe and the saving of people. And it is indeed about faith in Christ, but it might be about something more, too.
Looking at the whole of scripture, we see breathtaking descriptions of the natural world. From the immense scale of the creation story and the tree of life and tree of wisdom, to the tree in Revelation whose leaves are for the healing of the nations and the river running from the throne of God; from the rising flood waters and the ark full of living creatures to Job’s encounter with God and the four chapters through which God describes in rich detail the majesty of God’s creation in the natural world; from Elijah’s earthquake, whirlwind and fire to the many agricultural metaphors of Jesus and image of him coming up out of the river Jordan in his baptism, the bible is full of connection to nature. The trees and waters clap their hands, the seas and everything in them shout, and the mountains sing out in praise of God. The sun and moon and all the shining stars are called upon to praise God. The stones will cry out if people will not, and perhaps most poignantly is the suffering earth, who received the blood of the first human murder, and all of creation suffering together until being set free by God.
So, let’s look again at John chapter 3. For God so loved the world. Literally, the Greek says: for this is the way God loved the Cosmos. Jesus is telling Nicodemus, the man who wants to know him, and he is telling us, about the way in which God loves…not just Nicodemus, not just you and me, not just people but, rather, this is the way God loved the Cosmos. All things, as we say in the Nicene Creed: all things, seen and unseen. As was in our second text for today: things visible and invisible, all things whether on earth or in heaven.
How does God love all things? By sending Jesus. By giving Jesus. To us.
God loves the cosmos by giving Jesus to us. And our belief, our faith in Jesus is somehow connected to God’s love of the cosmos.
Jesus goes on to say that it was not condemnation for the cosmos that he brought but rather salvation for the cosmos. “In order that the cosmos might be saved through him.” Our faith, our believe in Jesus Christ is surely connected to salvation, but these two verses, among many more in scripture, say that God is saving the world, all creation, the cosmos created by God from the tiniest particle to the grandest star and all things in between, through Jesus Christ.
The first of our four weeks of this creation series is titled: Forest. This is something we are all familiar with because we are in the Nantahala National Forest at the base of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. This is one of the most bio-diverse regions in the world. In other words, there is a greater variety of living beings in our area than in most every other place you’re likely to visit. Do you want to see the grandeur of God? Go to the Blue Ridge Parkway and listen to the layers and layers of ancient rolling mountains whisper of their creator. The tenderness of God? The God who cares for all that is small and fragile? Find the wildflowers, the butterflies, the salamanders, the nearly infinite number of small creatures living all around us and see how lovingly they have each been made. Do you wish to see the power of God? Stand in the creeks and streams, visit the Tuckaseege River and see power that can be fast and mighty or patient and slow, changing a landscape overnight or over a century. Do you want some idea of the way God creates all things for a purpose? Look at the whole of the forest and see, from the greatest to the smallest, all things having a place and purpose for their lives.
All these things, along with so many places in scripture where God’s amazing power and love is illustrated through natural images, so many other places where God’s love of the world he created is vividly present, even back to the beginning of Genesis where God said that all that he had made, regardless of the length of the timeline, was Very Good, points to the fact that God cares about all of it; all the animals, all the plants, all the earth, all the forces of nature, all the rivers, streams, oceans and lakes, all the deserts and mountains (especially the mountains!), all the people and stars and planets and all that is as yet unseen. For God so loves every last bit of creation, loves us all so much, that he gave us Jesus.
Perhaps those of us who believe in Jesus, are called to love creation, too.
Some of the texts referenced above are: Romans 8:22, Luke 19:40, Isaiah 55:13, Psalms 148:3-5, and Genesis 1