Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is “Humanity Sunday” in our “Season of Creation” emphasis, though, I must admit, a part of me would be more comfortable talking about sky, as I will next Sunday, or mountain, as I will on the last Sunday of this month.
No, it’s not that I fail to recognize humanity as a part of creation, for we are all, obviously, creatures of this earth by God’s design, even if it is not God’s plan for us, ultimately and finally, to permanently rest here.
Indeed, as John’s Gospel reminds us, Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us in the Father’s house in eternity (John 14:1-4). Even recognizing our divine identity and our divinely-intended destination beyond our finite existence, we are earth beings. We are children of earth.
Earth penetrates our being and replaces every cell in our bodies every seven years. We are not separated from the various forces and domains of nature. We humans are dependent on the various ecosystems of our earth for survival, and these ecosystems have existed for millennia.
We are earth beings, and today we celebrate our connection with creation, our dependency on the earth, and our intimate relationship with a Creator God who continues to meet us “in, with, and under” this creation.
So if we humans are every bit as much a part of creation as the elements of nature that surround us, why would I rather speak of the sky, or the mountains? Two of the operative verbs in our First Reading today are indicative of my discomfort.
This text says that God made us in the likeness and image of God to rule, to rule over nature, and to subdue, to subdue nature. But you don’t have to be a tree-hugger or an ardent environmentalist to conclude that humanity, down through the ages and even up to this present moment, has not done a very good job of ruling over and subduing nature.
You likely know that a major part of the ancient history of humanity is the periodic migration of peoples. You likely know that there are multiple reasons why in the past large groups of people got up and departed and went to a different place. There are multiple reasons for this, but two primary ones:
The first reason huge masses of people relocated in the past, and even today, is human conflict: war. War creates refugees – people go elsewhere to find safety and peace. When the war ceases, sometimes the people go back home – and sometimes they don’t. Sometimes, for various reasons, they can’t.
And as humanity has become more proficient in war and killing, warfare itself has become destructive to the environment. A modern and painful example of this is the Vietnam War, in which our own nation was covertly involved beginning in the late 1950s, and overtly from the early 1960s until we withdrew in April, 1975.
Yes, the Vietnam War ended more than 37 years ago, roughly one-half of a human lifespan. Still, today there are places in Vietnam where the soil and water are full of toxic dioxins, residue from the military use of chemical defoliants, which are even today causing diseases and birth defects, and poisoning the food chain.
In some places in southern Vietnam today, the dioxin level is more than 100 times greater than the international standard for safe exposure. This is already most unfortunate, but the military use of chemical defoliants in Vietnam had an unintended and double negative side effect:
Some of our own soldiers in the field became sick – and when they came home and started families, some of their children were born with defects and deformities – abnormalities caused by a parent’s exposure to chemical defoliants in the Vietnam War.
This, by the way, is acknowledged by our own government; and it is documented on the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website.
Clearly, war is destructive to humanity, and to creation. And humanity is also destructive to creation in a more general way. There is a second reason why, down through the ages, groups of people have migrated from one place to another.
Sometimes they picked up and moved from one settlement area to another, not because of war, but because they had depleted the earth, cut down the trees, destroyed the vegetation, and fouled the lakes and rivers, and even the small streams and groundwater, making their first place uninhabitable.
Perhaps we should excuse ancient peoples for such transgressions against nature, for they had little understanding of the need to preserve the earth, or how to do so. But modern knowledge of the intersection of earth’s ecological systems has not yet brought sufficient change in the way humanity today cares for and protects the environment.
The questions may rightly be asked: “Do we truly rule and subdue the earth in ways that will protect and preserve it for future generations?” Our Psalm today says that God has granted humanity dominion over the works of God’s hands, but are we truly as kindly and caring as we might be of the amazing and abundant natural resources at our disposal?
Many would say that neither of those questions can be answered in the affirmative.
In our dominion over creation, at times we have engaged in destruction and exploitation, rather than protection and preservation.
Some say our misunderstandings of the meanings of the words, “rule” and “subdue,” in Genesis, chapter 1, are at fault. Some say we have thought these words were and are a license to misuse and abuse the earth and its precious resources.
And some say the corrective to this misinterpretation is the second creation account in Genesis, chapter 2. There we read, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15). The more general meanings of the Hebrew verbs, to “till” and to “keep” is to “serve” and to “preserve.”
What if all of humanity viewed creation as a gift from God, a gift so precious that it deserved to be served and preserved, and not used up, wasted, and exploited? That’s a relevant question – but entirely hypothetical!
Who of us can influence “all of humanity”? Much of the time I can’t even get the members of my own family to do what I want them to do! But I am human, and, as a human being, I can strive to care for creation as though it’s a gift from God because it is – and I should do this because God, in the Word of God, says that I should.
And God is not just speaking to me; God is also calling you, as a person, as a member of humanity, to care for God’s creation as though your earthly life depended on it – because it does. And so do the lives of many others who will come after us. Amen.
May the peace of God, which passes all understanding, keep our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus forever. Amen.