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The Local Church as a Reconciling Community

Sermon: Creation Care Isn’t All Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows



Here’s the sermon I’m preaching tomorrow on the first Sunday in Lent for 2012. This reading is from the revised common lectionary, Year B, Genesis 9:8-17. In conjunction with this reading, we are also reading from the epistles, 1 Peter 3:18-22. Creation care deserves our lenten attention as we focus on God’s covenant with Noah, his descendants, and all the creatures of the earth.

Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows, or Maybe Not

Genesis 9:8-17 NIV/84:

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

12 And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: 13 I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. 14 Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, 15 I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. 16 Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

17 So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

Lent and Creation Care

Remember Lesley Gore? No, she’s not Al Gore’s daughter, although I am talking about the environment some today.  Leslie Gore was a pop singer in the 1960s whose most famous song was “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.” Now you remember her I’m sure.

Well, Lesley didn’t stop with “It’s My Party and I’ll Cry If I Want To.” Nope, she also recorded that rock classic, “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows.” (See the YouTube clip at the top of this post.) I borrowed Lesley’s song title for today’s message, but with a caveat. So today we’re talking about “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows Or Maybe Not.” I’ll get to the “maybe not” shortly.

Which brings us back to rainbows, which appear in today’s reading from Genesis. This is the first Sunday in Lent, so why are we reading the story of Noah, the biblical flood, and rainbows? Because Lent is a season of reflection – a time when we consider our own spiritual lives in light of Christ’s coming death on the cross, and victorious resurrection.

Part of our task during Lent is to consider how our lives might be lived more in keeping with God’s intention, which might require some sacrifice on our part. That’s why many Christians, not just Catholics, give up something for Lent. I tried giving up broccoli one year, but since I don’t like broccoli anyway, Debbie told me that I got no spiritual points for that particular sacrifice. Incidentally, I was in good company with the broccoli-thing as George Herbert Walker Bush also had a disdain for broccoli, and thought because he was President of the United States he could do anything he wanted. It seems that America’s broccoli farmers took some offense at President Bush’s disparaging remarks about broccoli. Which just goes to show you that even if you are the President of the United States, someone is going to tell you to eat your broccoli.

But back to Lent. If this is a time of reflection, and if we are examining our lives to see what sacrifices we might make, not for the sake of sacrifice, but to remind us vividly of Christ’s sacrifice, I can’t think of any area in which we have thought less as Christians than in the care of creation.

In 2008, Yale University and George Mason University began a survey of Americans’ attitudes toward the issue of climate change. In that survey, which has been updated 4 times and most recently in 2011, researchers found that Americans were divided into six camps concerning climate change.

Researchers called these the “six Americas” and surprisingly these groups are not grouped by demographics, but each of the “six Americas” is found across demographic groups.

The six Americas include the Alarmed (12%); the Concerned (27%); the Cautious (25%); the Disengaged (10%); the Doubtful (15%); and, the Dismissive (10%). Which means that on the extreme ends of the spectrum 39% of Americans are alarmed or concerned about climate change, while 25% are doubtful or dismissive.

Clearly we need to look at the Bible again to understand how we should care for God’s creation.

The Story of Noah, the Flood, and God’s Covenant Sign

You know the story of Noah which forms the backdrop for our thoughts today. To say that humankind had gone in the wrong direction in Noah’s day is an understatement. The story of humanity’s wickedness and God’s destructive punishment begins in Genesis 6 and continues through Genesis 10. The book of Genesis devotes 5 chapters to this story, which is the turning point in the history of creation. This story is important, true, and we need to understand exactly what is being said when God makes covenant with mankind and places a rainbow in the heavens to confirm that covenant.

The Bible says in Genesis 6:5-8 NIV/84 –

5 The LORD saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. 6 The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. 7 So the LORD said, “I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them.” 8 But Noah found favor in the eyes of the LORD.”

Contrast this image of creation with the God’s observation just after God had finished creating the earth, the plants and animals, and humankind in the persons of Adam and Eve:

31 God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.” – Genesis 1:31 NIV/84

We’re not sure exactly what happened between Genesis 1 and Genesis 6, because there is very cryptic language about the “sons of God” and the “daughters of men” and the Nephilim. Frankly, although there are many opinions about what these descriptions mean, nobody knows exactly what the writer of Genesis meant. But the result is clear, and that is what matters. Humanity had become a wicked, evil lot, and God was tired of the whole mess.

Verse 8 gives us hope, however. “Noah found favor in the eyes of the Lord.” We will discover much later that Noah and his children are no Sunday School class themselves, but perhaps Noah was the best choice God had. And Noah was obedient to God.

You know this story. God commands Noah to build an ark that is by some estimates 450’ long.  Now that is a pretty good size boat today, but then it was tremendous. God told Noah to build the ark because God was going to flood the earth and wipe out every living thing. Everything, that is, except Noah’s family, and the animals Noah was to bring into the ark so that the earth could be repopulated.

Now, remember the point of this story is theological. The writer is explaining the problem of evil, and God’s first solution to evil on a global scale. I think it’s also important to point out that many cultures have a story of a great flood, which for me gives credibility to the biblical account. But the writer is not a reporter for The Weather Channel, and this is not a meteorological account. This story is about God and creation, and how God deals very early with the problem of evil.

The story comes to a conclusion several months after the rains begin. Noah and his family eventually leave the ark, along with all the animals, and the repopulation of the earth begins.

God’s New Covenant With Creation

So, we’re back to Genesis 9 where we started. In Genesis 9, God gives humanity some responsibility as their part of the covenant. Covenants are always between two parties, and both parties have responsibilities.

Humanity’s responsibilities are to “be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth.”  And, while humankind was going about that, human beings could eat anything. At creation, humanity was granted all the plants to eat, but now after the flood the menu widens to include animals, too.

But, even as God gives permission for people to kill and eat animals, there is a condition: respect for life. Life was symbolized by the blood coursing through an animal’s veins. God prohibited the eating of animals without properly recognizing their sacrificial death and without proper preparation.

But then God adds a special caveat about shedding human blood.

“Whoever sheds the blood of a human, by a human shall that person’s blood be shed: for in his own image God made humankind.” – Genesis 9:6 NRSV

In other words, life is sacred, human beings are made in God’s image still, and don’t forget that, God is saying. Just because some bad characters have been removed from the earth, doesn’t mean that Noah and his family, and succeeding generations can or should forget that people are made in God’s image and their lives are to be protected with great care and reverence.

What’s God’s side of the covenant? God promises never to destroy the earth with water again. And as a token of that promise, God set a “bow in the clouds.” The interesting thing about this rainbow is that it is a reminder to God, not us, that God will never destroy the earth with flood waters again.

So, everything is wonderful, right? Not quite, which is why I’m saying that we can’t take Leslie Gore’s “Sunshine, Lollipops, and Rainbows” as the description of the post-flood world.

Let’s look at God’s side of the covenant again.

8 Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him: 9 “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you 10 and with every living creature that was with you—the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you—every living creature on earth. 11 I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.”

Look closely at this covenant statement. God is establishing this covenant with Noah, his descendants, AND every living creature that was with you in the ark – every living creature on earth.

Which says to me that God cares about all of his creation, not just us. God will never again kill people, or animals, with flood waters again. Clearly, God is concerned about all of his creation.

In verse 13, God says – “I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

This covenant is not just a covenant between God and humanity, it is a covenant God makes with all of God’s creation.

Okay, what’s my point? My point is that God cares deeply about his creation, and as part of our covenantal responsibility, so should we.

Christ and Creation

Let’s turn to the New Testament quickly. With God’s covenant with the earth in mind, let’s look at some familiar places in the New Testament where Christ and creation are tied together.

In John 1:1 – “In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God and the Word was God.” This obvious restatement of the creation story has a new element – the presence of Christ at creation as God’s creative “Word.” Remember that God spoke every aspect of creation into being. Genesis tells the story that on each day, “God said, Let there be light…” and so on, until by the end of the sixth day God’s Word had spoken inot existence everything there was.

Secondly, Paul says that Christ was not only present at creation, he continues to hold it all together. In Colossians, Christ is the one “in whom all things hold together.” Colossians 1:17.

In Jesus’ earthly ministry he repeatedly used as examples the birds of the air, the lilies of the field, the grass of the earth, the sea, the river, water, trees, fruit, rocks, night, day, rain, drought, seasons, and natural disasters.

Jesus connected with the basics of creation and everyday life as he multiplied bread and fish to feed thousands; erased the ravages of disease; calmed the winds and waves; defied the laws of physics by walking on water and appearing in rooms with locked doors; and, ascending into heaven.

It was as though that Jesus’ message of the Kingdom of God, and his use of the elements of creation were of one and the same piece. In the Kingdom of God there is an abundance, and so an inadequate amount of bread and fish become enough for all. In the Kingdom of God, diseases and accidents that have taken life and health are all dispelled. In the Kingdom of God, the last are first, and poor are rich, and the meek inherit a peaceful earth living as God intended it, in God’s shalom.

How Should We Care for Creation?

We don’t have time today to begin to imagine all the ways that we can and should be caring for creation. But, we do need to consider this: for almost 200 years the dominant eschatology (which means the study of last things) was that the earth was going to be destroyed by God, not by water, but in some raging inferno of destructive fire.

That reading comes largely from the Book of Revelation, but it is a misreading to think that, in my opinion. Theologians from Jurgen Moltmann to N. T. Wright to Brian McLaren now are suggesting that the earth will be remade, that creation will be salvaged, redeemed, just like people are redeemed. That the same sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross, and his triumphal resurrection that changes us, also transforms God’s creation.

That vision comes also from the Book of Revelation, but from the last chapters, Revelation 21-22.

 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.

Moltmann contends that God doesn’t say he’s making all new things, but rather that he is making “everything new.” That, difference, Moltmann believes signifies that God is redeeming and restoring creation to its rightful place, with God at its center, and God’s shalom as its pervading presence.

Revelation 22 confirms that vision by giving us a picture of the recreated Garden of Eden, this time expanded, enlarged, and more abundant than ever.

1 Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. 4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign forever and ever.

So, at the end of the Bible we are back where we started – in a garden, with living water, the presence of God, and not one tree of life, but enough trees to bear 12 crops – one crop every month of the year. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No curse, no darkness, no evil, nothing but God and humankind in a paradise of creation.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we do have a covenantal responsibility to God’s creation. During this season of Lent, think about what that might mean, and how we might also contribute to creation as an expression of the Kingdom of God.

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Categories: Genesis, Lectionary Yr B, sermon, Sermon Illustrations, Sermons, theology, Worship

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3 replies

  1. The ultimate fate of the earth is interesting (and daunting) to consider. I remembered seeing a youtube clip of Graham on “Firing Line” connecting 2 Peter 3:10 to an atomic bomb. I’ve also seen commentary combining both the idea of fire and renewal (where remaining elements serve as the foundation for the restored creation). For more consideration on creation care in general you might find the following law review interesting:

    http://heinonline.org/HOL/LandingPage?collection=journals&handle=hein.journals/regulr16&div=6&id=&page=

    I was one of the professor’s research assistants on this paper which I have come to understand has become somewhat influential. I was involved in the early stages of this project and introduced E. Calvin Beisner to the discussion.

    • Les, thanks. I will try to find the article on a site that is not a paid site. If you have a copy I’d like to borrow it. I don’t know Beisner but look forward to seeing more about this. And, yes, it is indeed an interesting and daunting topic! -Chuck

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