Note to the reader: I preached this sermon on Sunday, February 10, 2019 at University Church of the Nazarene, at the close of “Green Week” at Africa Nazarene University.
Text: Genesis 2:15 — “The Lord God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it.”
On my last birthday, my younger son gifted me with a black Cross™ pen. For me, it has sentimental value, besides being a sleek pen. Now suppose that Simon (the interpreter) had no pen, and asked to borrow mine. Then a week later, he brought it back to me. But instead of returning the pen to me as he found it, in good condition, it is badly scratched. The eraser is bitten off and the ink cartridge is missing. How would I feel? You’re right. I wouldn’t feel very good about it all!
OWNERS, OR STEWARDS?
God has loaned us something far more important than a pen. God as the owner of all creation has loaned us the Earth. It doesn’t belong to us; it belongs to God.
Psalm 24:1-2 (CEB) affirms:
The Earth is the LORD’s and everything in it, the world and its inhabitants, too. Because God is the one who established it on the seas; God set it firmly on the waters.
Turn to your neighbor and say: “The earth is the Lord’s.”
If God is the owner, then what does that make us? We are the caretakers, the stewards.
This becomes clear in the second creation account. Michael Lodahl calls it the “worm’s eye view.” No longer is it the “bird’s eye view” of Genesis 1, with God high above the creation. In Genesis 2, God is down in the dirt. It is there that God creates the human being (Adam) after he had previously created everything else.
And now in Genesis 2:15, God – the owner of the trees and the birds, the animals and the fish – entrusts their care into the hands of the steward, the human being:
The LORD God took the human and settled him in the garden of Eden to farm it and to take care of it (CEB).
To take care of something that belongs to someone else is called stewardship. We’re accustomed to hearing that word in relation to other things. Often, we say that our money, time, and talents are on-loan to us from God. In fact, 1 Corinthians 6:20 goes as far as to say that even our bodies belong to God:
You have been bought and paid for, so honor God with your body (CEB).
Yet we may forget that besides money, time, talents and our bodies, God has entrusted something else to us as stewards. God has entrusted to us the Earth. That’s why we speak of “Creation Care.”
Sadly, we have sometimes used the Bible as an excuse not to care for the Earth but to exploit it. The old King James Version of Genesis 1:28 speaks of “having dominion” over the Earth and “subduing” it. And historically, some took that as a license to exploit nature, to cut down trees without replanting, to pollute the Earth’s waters and foul its air. But modern translations are better. The New Living Translation says:
Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the seas, the birds in the sky, and the small animals that scurry along the ground – everything that has life. And that is what happened (Gen. 1:29-30, NLT).
To “govern” is not to exploit. God calls humans to practice good governance, a benevolent reign.
So there you have it. We are not the owners. God is the owner of the Earth. Turn to your neighbor and say: “God is the owner.”