Who’s Watching the Garden?

September 27, 2009

Imagine if you will that you own a beautiful and lavish home, not a far stretch for most of us here who live in a style that the majority of the world can only imagine, but I digress. Imagine if you will that you owned a beautiful and lavish home, a home that you had designed and built yourself. You didn’t hammer every nail and lay all the carpet but you had watched and supervised and hammered the occasional nail and picked out the cabinets and the flooring and the colours. And you truly loved your home, I don’t know if there is a home as loved as the one you actually have a hand in building. But the day comes that you decide that for whatever reason that the time had come to become a landlord instead of a homeowner. Perhaps you had built a nicer home, or maybe you had moved to another location but for whatever reason you decide that you will rent out your beautiful home.
So you find a tenant, you check their references, discuss the terms of the lease, get your damage deposit equal to half of the monthly rent and sign the lease. As you are leave you tell the tenant, “Enjoy”.
The time finally comes that your tenant is moving out; perhaps you decide you want to live in the house again or maybe they are simply moving for whatever reason. So you come back to your house to move in and you can’t believe your eyes, your beautiful lavish home has been trashed, literally trashed.
There is garbage all over what had once been a beautifully landscaped lawn, the front door is hanging off the hinges, you go in and can’t believe what has happened to the house that you had designed and built with so much care. The hardwood floor is gouged and scratched, from the multiple cigarette burns it looks like it has been used as an ash tray, and your tenants had promised they didn’t smoke. If the bathroom had ever seen cleaner or a sponge it was only a passing acquaintance, you can’t even tell what the colour of the original fixtures were.
There are holes in the walls, the screens have been torn and it would appear that people had swung from the light fixtures. The house was permeated with the stench of garbage and filth and you knew in your heart of hearts that no matter what you did that your beautiful lavish home would never be the same again.
In anger you confront your former tenant and they look at you blankly as if they don’t see the problem and they tell you, “I was paying rent so I assumed I could do what I wanted. After all, wasn’t it mine as longer as I was paying you to live there?” You start to sputter, your eyes bulge out and homicidal thoughts race through your mind. You reach out to place your fingers around the neck of this inconsiderate lout when they say “But hey, you can keep the damage deposit.” And they walk away whistling.
How would you feel? Would you agree with them that they had indeed paid their rent on time each month and that by allowing you to keep the damage deposit that everything should be all right? By virtue of renting did they have the right to do whatever they wanted to while they lived in your home?
Of course not. There was a certain understanding either written or implied that they were not to intentionally damage your home and were to return it to you in close to the same condition that they had received it.
I don’t know how many of you know my son, he is a 25 year old artist, still at the idealistic age that he believes that he can change the world and a fervent environmentalist. A while back we were having a discussion; discussion is a good word, over big business, development, internal combustion engines and our society’s reliance on fossil fuels. And in the midst of one of his discourses he challenged me, his father, to take responsibility for the mess the world was in. Can you imagine? And then he said something to the effect of “You say you serve and love God but how can you allow them to do what they do to His creation?” I sputtered out a response and he replied by saying “Why don’t you use your influence to do something?” You can tell he is an idealist by assuming that I have that much influence.
Although on my bulletin board I have a quote by that great American philosopher George Carlin who said “I have as much influence as the Pope just fewer people believe it.”
My response was “Well I’ve preached on the environment.” To which he replied “Must have been after I left.” I didn’t even know he was paying attention. So I went back through my messages and sure enough I hadn’t, felt kind of bad. Then I discovered that I wasn’t alone. I am a contributor to a website called sermoncentral.com. It is a place that depending on your scruples you can use it to research messages or to plagiarize messages. I use it for research, my commitment to you is that other people may preach my messages but I don’t preach other people’s messages. As I told one colleague, some of us have to keep writing them if the rest of you are going to keep stealing them, but I digress.
So I went to Sermon Central and did a search in their data base of 150,000 sermons for environment and didn’t get any hits, I was a little disappointed, then I realized that I had spelled environment wrong. So I spelled it right and hit search and out of the 150,000 messages I got 12 hits and 7 of those sermons had titles like “Remaining Encouraged In A Discouraging Environment”, “How To Create A Safe Environment” and “How to Survive Working in a Hostile Environment”. Out of a 150,000 messages there were 5 messages on the environment.
Apparently most evangelical preachers share Dan Quayle philosophy, he said “It isn’t pollution that’s harming the environment. It’s the impurities in our air and water that are doing it.”
So I got to thinking about our responsibility to God and the world he has allowed us to occupy. If we go back to Genesis 1:27-28 We read: So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” And in those two verses humanity became tenants in the beautiful home that God had created. And to quote Peter Parker’s Uncle Ben “With great power comes great responsibility”.
Some people have developed an entire cult around the protection of mother earth, kind of an Eco-Theology and have begun to worship the creation instead of the creator, and that is wrong. Number 2 of the 10 commandments is given to us in Exodus 20:4 You must not make for yourself an idol of any kind or an image of anything in the heavens or on the earth or in the sea. Unfortunately for too many people the heavens, earth and sea have become idols. People miss out on the fact that there is a creator who is to be worshipped.
The opposite of that are those who believe that we have been given absolute dominion. In other words it has been given to us to use as we see fit and if that means that at the end of the game it is gone while so be it, after all we have been promised a new heaven and a new earth at the end of the story. They often will go back to the promise in Genesis 8:22 As long as the earth remains, there will be planting and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night. For them that is evidence that as hard as we might try to use it up or destroy it that the word of God promises that the earth will be around as long as we need it, and then who cares.
But really what does it say about our view of our creator when we are intent on destroying that which he created. My son is an artist through the years he has give me various pieces of art that he has created, and if I destroyed one of those paintings or ripped up one of his drawings because it was mine to do with as I like what would that say to Stephen? Would it say “I love you and appreciate what you have done for me?” I think not.
The third option is something called Creation Care, which sounds really cool but simplified it puts creation and the environment at an equal priority with the salvation of humanity. So when Jesus said in John 3:16 “For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. Now we usually understand that to mean: John 3:16 “For God loved the (people of the) world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” But this philosophy would say that this scripture is not to be seen the way we would traditionally interpret it But instead it should be seen more along the line of John 3:16 “For God loved the world (the earth) so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.
And with that it puts all of creation, all of nature, every species on earth on equal footing with humanity. And that’s not what we are taught in scripture. Let’s go back to the scripture that was read for us earlier Psalm 8:4-6 what are mere mortals that you should think about them, human beings that you should care for them? Yet you made them only a little lower than God and crowned them with glory and honor. You gave them charge of everything you made, putting all things under their authority.
And then we have Genesis 9:2-3 All the animals of the earth, all the birds of the sky, all the small animals that scurry along the ground, and all the fish in the sea will look on you with fear and terror. I have placed them in your power. I have given them to you for food, just as I have given you grain and vegetables.
Face, it if God hadn’t wanted us to eat cows he wouldn’t have made them taste so good. Although I think deer hunting would be a lot more fun if the deer got guns as well.
So I think I lean more toward a Global Stewardship model. This is where we are not only in charge of our environment but have a responsibility to respect it. Carl F. Henry once offered this sage observation: “Scripture does not set forth specific lines of ecological action, which may vary with time and place. But it does adduce fixed principles that indicate that God was not content to create a chaotic wasteland but rather a habitable universe and that he expects his designated stewards to maintain it that way.”
Let’s go back to Genesis 1:27-28 We read: So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” The word that people try to define is translated “Reign over” in the NLT and ‘Rule over” in the NIV in the KJV it is translated “Have Dominion over” in the original Hebrew it is רָדָה or rādâ and it can mean any or all of those things. The interesting thing is that is the same word that is used in Psalm 72:8 May he reign from sea to sea, and from the Euphrates River to the ends of the earth. Or maybe you are more familiar with it in the old King James Version Psalm 72:8 He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river unto the ends of the earth. It was from that scripture that the name The Dominion of Canada came from.
And so the scriptures do not lay out specific guidelines for how we are to protect our earth, thou shalt not drive hummers and thou shalt separate thine garbage. The implication is there that if we are to be it’s ruler we are to be a benevolent ruler. And the question might be: why? And the answer is: because it’s not ours. Never was and never will be we are merely tenant, some of us might have a longer lease than others but ultimately it will all go back to the owner. God.
And so we should take care of it for Our Own Sake. For a minute let’s go back to our original analogy, a house. If you don’t take care of the house you live in eventually it begins to affect the quality of your life. The roof begins to leak, the wind blows through the cracks, insects begin to breed and take over. After all bugs love dirt and damp. You ever watch the program Extreme Makeover? Some of those homes are poor and spotless; you can tell that the occupants take pride in what little they have. Others are dives, dumps and it has nothing to do with the fact the folks are poor and hard done by they just don’t care. I think they should do another program called Extreme Makeover: Two Years Later, and see what those new big beautiful homes look like.
We need to take care of this planet because we have to live here, that’s the bottom line, we have to drink the water and we have to breathe the air.
And if that isn’t enough, if it sound slightly self serving to just do it for our sakes we need to do it For Our Kids Sake Going back to our original analogy if you knew that the house you were living in you kids were going to live in and their kids were going to live in would it make a difference to how you treated it? If you knew that you weren’t just responsible for the house while you occupied it would you take better care of it?
People are always commenting on higher rates of cancer and Alzheimer’s today then there used to be and they may very well have a point. And I wonder if it has to do with the amount of garbage that was dumped into the environment over the past century? Those of you old enough will remember what happened with the “Love Canal” in Niagara Falls NY, and closer to home the Sydney Tar Ponds and even closer with the Halifax Harbour. And while we can’t change the past hopefully we can change the future.
Bacteriologist Rene Dubos said “The most important pathological effects of pollution are extremely delayed and indirect.” We are not just poisoning this generation but also the next one. Most of us are willing to do whatever it takes to ensure the safety and well being of our children and grand children. But are we willing to change how we live. And I know pollution and disregard for the environment isn’t a new problem and we’ve come a long way from open sewers and garbage in the streets and if you don’t believe that than travel with me to Africa or with Robin and Beth to Haiti. But we still need to get better at doing better.
And finally we need to change how we deal with the world For God’s Sake If we go back to the original analogy of the house someday the owner is going to want it back and what will we say? I mean seriously what will we say? Each of those species that humanity has driven into extinction God created for a purpose and with the same thought he put into you. Every river that is now clogged with garbage and chemicals was created pure and pristine. It goes back to how we treat the creation is a reflection on how we view the creator.
And maybe part of the problem is when we lost sight of the command in Genesis 1:27-28 So God created human beings in his own image. In the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. Then God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply. Fill the earth and govern it. Reign over the fish in the sea, the birds in the sky, and all the animals that scurry along the ground.” The command was to fill the world not just the cities.
American author Henry Miller wrote “What have we achieved in mowing down mountain ranges, harnessing the energy of mighty rivers, or moving whole populations about like chess pieces, if we ourselves remain the same restless, miserable, frustrated creatures we were before? To call such activity progress is utter delusion. We may succeed in altering the face of the earth until it is unrecognizable even to the Creator, but if we are unaffected wherein lies the meaning?”
So what am I calling you to do? Just be responsible, separate your trash, don’t litter, personally I think people who litter should be publicly flogged but that is just me. Choose wisely. I’m not the greatest environmental example but we do drive small cars that get great mileage, I think hummers and escalades are just dumb, sorry if you drive one but they are. We have water savers on our showers, I try not to idle my car like I used to, we have programmable thermostats and have been replacing our lights with CFLs, little things can make a big difference.
Do I believe the ice caps are melting and the polar bears are drowning, not sure. I do know the past few winters haven’t been any warmer nor have the summers.
Dr. Tim Ball is an environmental consultant and former climatology professor at the University of Winnipeg and I read this in a recent article he wrote “Over 30 years ago Roger Pocklington approached me about weather conditions in eastern arctic Canada. Roger was an oceanographer studying water temperatures from Newfoundland to Bermuda. He reported they were falling. He was welcome at conferences because it fit the consensus of the day, global cooling. Temperatures in eastern arctic Canada had declined for over thirty years and resulted in a cooler Labrador Current. Colder denser water was pushing farther south. We determined this would impact the cod fisheries of the Grand Banks, but nobody would listen. Roger was also ignored because he continued to record and report cooler temperatures but the politics of climate change had switched to global warming.”
So what I’m saying is this, we are only tenants and managers and we are ultimately responsible for how we treat what has been given to us. And it was Albert Einstein who said “It is every man’s obligation to put back into the world at least the equivalent of what he takes out of it.”
Time and time again in the New Testament Jesus tells us parables of servants who were trusted with money, talents and properties that acted foolishly and wasted that which they were entrusted with and in each case they were condemn. Not excused not commended but condemned for not doing the best with what they were given by their master. Interesting.