Stewards of a Good creation 1 - What the bible says
This is the sermon preached by Jack Wakefield at the 10:45 service in St Mary’s to kick off our series on ‘Stewards of a good creation’
This is the text of a simple introduction to the biblical background to our sermon series, preached by Rev Hugh at the 8:00.
Today we start a new sermon series. We’re calling it Stewards of God’s good Creation. It’s about the relationship between God, people and creation at a time of environmental crisis.
You’ll get a shorter version of the sermon each week, and the full works will be always be available on the website. And if the topic interests you, much of what I say, is based on this book, which I highly recommend - Dave Bookless Planetwise.
Today, what does the bible say about the issues of climate change and our relationship with the environment? Lots of people are engaged in these topics - what do Christians, specifically, believe? What is a particularly Christian approach to climate change?
Let me start briefly, with the facts - to make sure we all start in the same place.
The statistics show that the earth is facing a multi faceted environmental crisis. The key figure is the warming of the earth, which is taking place at an unprecedented pace and with far reaching consequences, so that on current trends, we can expect to see the earth warm by 3 degrees over the next 100 years. That means the death of all coral reefs, a rise in sea level of 50 cm, a global increase in extreme weather and a serious loss of fertile farming land. At the more extreme end of the predictions, humanity’s very existence is under threat.
But global warming is only one issue. We know we also face an unprecedented loss of habitats and species, oceans that are awash with plastic and air pollution in our cities that makes our children sick. And the consequences? Well, here in the wealthy South East of England, we will be just about ok, with drier summers and warmer winters - but the real consequences will be felt (and are already being felt) by the poorest and most vulnerable people around the world. But even here we will see the loss of species, changes in agricultural patterns, more extreme weather and on a human level, growing global issues around conflict and refugee crises, as key resources, including food and water, become more scarce in poorer parts of the world and those affected seek shelter in safe countries - like ours.
Those are the facts as we know them today.
So what does the bible say about creation, and our place in it? Let me outline 4 things, and then one practical response.
First, the bible says that God is the creator of a good creation. And it says it at the start of the Scriptures, and then over and over and over again. God is the creator of a good creation. Think of how, in Genesis, God creates something new every day and acknowledges ‘it is good’.
Second, creation continues to belong to Him once he has created it. He doesn’t create and then walk off, having handed it over. He creates it, loves it, remains involved with it - and keeps it as His own. Psalm 24 v1 - ‘the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world and everyone in it’. Creation exists for God’s pleasure. It is given life and freedom, but it belongs to the Lord. It is His, and it is only in Him, says the book of Acts, that we ‘live and breathe and have our being.’
Third, humanity is given a particular role in this good earth. We are to be its stewards, or caretakers. Our role is to fill the earth, to care for it and to ensure it, and all within it, remains focussed on the creator and sustainer of all things - the Lord. We are part of creation; Adam gets his name from ‘adammah’ which means ‘the earth’, but we have a role that is different to all other species and living beings. Psalm 8 says ‘you made us ruler over the works of your hands, you put everything under our feet.’
But that role is not simply to use up the earth for our own benefit. Our role is to care for - or in a helpful biblical word - to Steward, creation. To steward is to use resources wisely for the benefit of the whole. A good steward thinks of the dinner party this evening, but also has an eye to the big events coming in the future, and plans accordingly. A good steward uses resources wisely, without waste and for the benefit of all those he or she is serving. A good steward has a budget, and works within it, not using up more than is available. And a good steward knows that he or she is accountable to their Master for the use of resources that are entrusted to them, but which do not belong to him.
We are stewards of God’s good creation.
And something has clearly gone wrong. We have lost sight of our role as stewards. Rather than wisely managing the earth’s resources for the benefit of everything and everyone, we have plundered them and used them for our pleasure.
So, fourth, we can therefore say that the environmental crisis that we face isn’t fundamentally an economic, political or scientific problem - it is at its heart, a spiritual problem. Sir Ghillian Prance, previous Director of Kew Gardens, put it like this; ‘Science alone will not be able to resolve the situation, because it is a moral, spiritual and ethical problem, requiring major changes in our behaviour.
And that’s exactly what the bible says. Crises in the bible, including ones that look like political or social issues, always have a spiritual foundation. When things go wrong on earth, it is because we’ve got something wrong in our relationship with God. Here’s the prophet Hosea;
Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
and no knowledge of God in the land.
Swearing, lying, and murder,
and stealing and adultery break out;
bloodshed follows bloodshed.
Therefore the land mourns,
and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
and the birds of the air,
even the fish of the sea are perishing.
Does that sound prescient? Could precisely those words not also be spoken over our world today? Creation is dying because our relationship with the Creator is off track. We think the earth is ours, when we are actually only stewards of something we are called to care for and hand on.
A very different, and perhaps unexpected voice, put it like this - ‘No generation has a freehold on this earth. All we have is a life tenancy; and with a full repairing lease’ - that was Margaret Thatcher.
So what’s the answer? What’s our response?
Well, there’s lots to be said on that, which is why we’re having 4 more sermons on this theme, and they will include some practical ideas. But in brief, the answer lies in why we’re here - to seek to learn how to become more like Jesus tomorrow than we are today.
The answer lies in having faith in the one who came to save the world.
Here’s John 3:16, probably the most famous verse in the whole bible. ‘God so loved the world that he sent his only son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.’ God so loved the world. And the word for world in Greek is cosmos. God so loved the cosmos, his good creation; the mountains and oceans, the ostrich and sparrow, the field of wheat and the meadow of wild flowers, the butterfly, the ant and the microbe. God so loved the cosmos, that he sent his only son, so that we might not perish, but have eternal life.
That, fundamentally, is the answer. Because if we trust in Jesus, and let him shape our lives, we will inevitably want to find ways to live well, as stewards of his good creation. Not because we feel guilty, not because someone harangued us into it, not even out of the fear of what happens if we get it wrong, but because we are sons and daughters of the living God, for whom Jesus lived, died and lives again.