Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Justice Devotional - When Jesus Comes Back Let’s Be Sure the Earth is Clean and Green!

Devotion to Justice
A series of devotions from the Justice table on the topics of
  • Women and children
  • Hunger and poverty
  • Creation care
  • Immigration
When Jesus Comes Back Let’s Be Sure the Earth is Clean and Green!
Genesis 2:5-17

Way back in 1979 my wife Julie and I attended a lecture by a very popular Pentecostal preacher from Southern California. He was there to tell us exactly when Jesus was going to return to earth.

At that time in my life, I was beginning to question the sort of theology that tried to predict the second coming. After all, Jesus himself says that “no one knows” when that will happen. If Jesus doesn’t care about the date why should we?

What I really learned from that night was in the question and answer period after the lecture. The preacher had just predicted that Jesus was coming back, sometime in 1981. The first question was about the environment. “If Jesus is coming back then we don’t have to worry about care for the earth, right?” Many similar questions and comments followed. I don’t remember the preacher’s answers but I have never forgotten how quickly the audience decided that the earth was no big deal.

Isn’t that surprising? At the beginning of the Bible, we have a marvelous image of humankind being placed in the middle of the garden where the humans are given the command to “till it and keep it.” Another way to translate that phrase is to “serve and protect.” Maybe you’ve seen that on the side of a police car. The Genesis author seems to be saying that we are the police force that oversees care for the Earth!

I thought about our experience in that lecture when I read NT Wright’s, essay in The Green Bible titled, “Jesus is Coming — Plant a Tree.” As the title of his essay implies he believes that the idea of Jesus’ return is a call to Christians to care even more deeply for the environment.

Wright gets this conclusion from the Bible. He quotes the Apostle Paul who wrote in Romans 8 that the creation will be “set free from the slavery that consists in corruption.” This is the promise that the creatures who bear God’s image, that is you and me and every other human being, will one day live in harmony with the garden in the way that God has always intended. This ancient idea seems to have been forgotten. However, a basic reading of the Bible reveals that this teaching is central to the biblical story. The Bible teaches that Creation will be redeemed. All of creation, the Bible promises, is under the care and nurture of God and we are called to be God’s coworkers in this work. The second chapter of Genesis is an intense theological presentation on creation and humanity’s interaction with it. This story is a reflection on power and control, on anxiety and the way we respond to it.

When we lay this story over the top of our world today we see that these issues have not gone away. Power? Control? Anxiety? When it comes to the environment we have all too often eaten the forbidden fruit while failing to serve and protect the garden of the earth itself.

Perhaps what we need is a reminder of the simple fact that we have come from the dust and to the dust we will return. When our Genesis story teller relates this story of creation he uses a play on words. When humankind is created, the word for human is adam. It can be translated as man or humankind. We think of it as the name of the first male, Adam, but it is not a proper name; it’s just a regular word for humankind. The adam, humanity as it were, was created from the soil. The word in Hebrew for soil is adamah. Do you hear the word play at work here? Adam has come from adamah. Humans are soil. We are basically lumps of clay. This implies that our lives are interwoven with the life of the soil, of the dirt. The health of our bodies depends on the health of our soil.

Ellen Davis, a professor at Duke and a contributor to The Green Bible, has helped me remember all of this. Our health depends on the health of the food we receive from the soil. If the soil goes bad, the food goes bad, and, well, you can fill in the blanks, can’t you?

The first human sin is connected to eating. God sets a boundary and says, “Stay away from here.” We don’t know why. We don’t know what is wrong about this forbidden fruit. All we know is that the boundaries are clear. “Do not cross this line. It will be bad for you.” And like we so often want to do today Adam refuses to take the responsibility for his sin. Have you ever noticed this? Whenever I teach on this text I always ask the class, “Who does Adam blame for his sin?” They almost always say, with one voice, “Eve!” But, no. The story is clear. Adam is asked about his sin and he says, “The woman that YOU gave me, caused me to sin.” He points his finger at God and says, “It’s your fault.” We do the same thing don’t we? We see the city of New Orleans destroyed by a hurricane and we call it an act of God. Then, to make things worse we avoid the deeper issues at work in the city, things like racism and poverty and crime and unemployment and we turn it into a political football while all the time failing to face our sin, our weakness and our refusal to care for the environment and the people therein.

This reminds us that when we fail to care for the earth the first ones to experience the pain of the soil are the poorest of the poor. Check your political concerns at the door for a moment. We should, every one of us, fall on our knees in prayer asking for the forgiveness of our sins and the way we have abused the planet and its resources at the price of the poor.

The first result of sin in the Bible is the ruination of the ground. The soil is affected. The ground is cursed. It is filled with thorns and thistles. It will now be a labor to till and work. Professor Davis read this text with a group of farmers and asked them to interpret it. They said: “It is obvious. When humans are disconnected from God, the soil will be the first to suffer.”

They had not been to seminary but they helped her, and us, see something that any Hebrew would have already recognized: the degradation of the land is a sign that humans (the adams) have turned away from God. When the land is flourishing it is a sign that humans have returned to God. In other words, the single greatest indicator as to whether or not we are in good relationship with God is the condition of the land!

As Professor Wright proclaims, “Jesus is Coming — Plant a Tree”

Dr. R. Glen Miles: Senior Minister, Country Club Christian Church, Kansas City, MO Creation Care
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