Sep 23 2012

A Natural Partnership

I bought a book recently written by Benjamin M. Stewart called A Watered Garden. It was the book’s subtitle, Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology, that drew me to it.  I was curious how the author would connect worship and ecology.  In the book’s first chapter Stewart writes, “…ecology and Christian worship both extend outward toward ‘everything,’ to attend to the worth of things, their interconnections with things seen and unseen, and their place in the whole living creation.  Their consideration together in a single theme is no novelty, but rather a natural partnership.  Both are, in fact, ways of seeing everything as part on the one great whole.”

I cannot help but agree that worship and ecology form a natural partnership.  When I spend time in nature, or even just study about it, I am often moved to offer worship to the God of Creation.  My love and appreciation for nature has long been a vital part of my life and spirituality.  For me, nature and the study of ecology are conducive to worship.

Any observant student of the Scriptures realizes that nature has played a pivotal role in worship from the very beginning.  God first makes Himself known to humans in a garden setting and there they learn that He is worthy of worship.  From Genesis to Revelation there are countless instances where nature comes into play, one way or another, in God’s revelation of Himself and in humankind’s response of worship.

In our worship service at church this morning there was no special emphasis but I noticed that the connection between worship and nature made a number of appearances.  The first hymn we sang was “How Great Thou Art.”  The words of the second verse are: “When through the woods and forest glades I wander, and hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees; when I look down from lofty mountain grandeur and hear the brook, and feel the gentle breeze; then sings my soul, my Savior God to thee, how great thou art, how great thou art!”  Shortly after this hymn we prayed the Lord’s Prayer together asking that God’s name be hallowed and that His kingdom come and His will be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”

In the children’s sermon the kids learned about how God used Moses to part the sea so the Hebrews could escape the pursuing Egyptians.  Among other things, this story teaches that God is Lord and Master of Creation.  Following the offering we sang together the “Doxology”: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; praise Him all creatures here below; praise Him above ye heavenly host.  Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost.”  Here we are reminded that God is the Giver of all good gifts and that we, along with “all creatures here below” are called upon to praise Him.

 

The sermon I preached focused on Hebrews 11.  Although I did not talk about this particular verse we all read together the words: “By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command…” (v. 3)  In a chapter that highlights the importance of faith and faithfulness we were reminded that a central belief for Christians is the affirmation of God as Creator.

We ended our service today by singing a chorus based on Psalm 118:24.  “This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”  Here again was one last reminder that every day is a gift from God and that He is to be honored and worshipped as the Creator.

Perhaps there are some Sundays when we don’t have quite so many overt references to God and nature but it’s almost impossible to imagine a worship service without the connection being made in some form or fashion.  They are, after all, natural partners.

–Chuck

(I took the top image at Broke Leg Falls in Kentucky and the bottom two images in northern California.)


Aug 26 2012

Ecology and Creation

The story of Creation begins in the opening chapters of the Bible.  Most people are quite familiar with the biblical accounts found in the first two chapters of Genesis.  Once the story is told, however, it is certainly not forgotten.  Israel’s affirmation of God as Creator played a central role in the other writings of the Old Testament.  The doctrine of Creation continued to be a key element of the New Testament and the faith of Christians.  It would be difficult to overemphasize the importance of the doctrine of Creation.  In so many ways it determines our understanding of God, ourselves, and the world we live in.  It also affects how we live our lives on this planet.

This past week I read a book entitled Creation by Alister McGrath, Professor of Historical Theology at Oxford University.  In this beautiful little book McGrath talks about the many ways the doctrine of Creation affects our lives.  He wisely notes that understanding the earth to be God’s Creation not only affects how we think about the world but also changes the way we behave toward it.  He says, “It forces us to abandon any idea of the earth as our servant which we can exploit as we please.  Instead, we are forced to think of the world as something wonderful and beautiful, created and loved by God, which we are called to tend, as Adam tended the garden of Eden.”

McGrath goes on to offer four major implications for ecology that evolve from the Christian doctrine of creation:  1. “The natural order, including humanity, is the result of God’s act of creation, and is affirmed to be God’s possession.” 2. “Humanity is distinguished from the remainder of creation by being created in the ‘image of God.’  This distinction is about the delegation of responsibility rather than the conferral of privilege.  It does not encourage or legitimize environmental exploitation or degradation.”    3. “Humanity is charged with the tending of creation, in the knowledge that this creation is the cherished possession of God.”  4. “There is no basis for asserting that humanity has the ‘right’ to do what it pleases with the natural order.  The creation is God’s, and has been entrusted to us.  We are to act as its guardian, not its exploiter.”

Over the years some have tried to blame our modern ecological crisis on Christians.  They point out that many in the church have taught that humans are called to have “dominion” over the earth and that this means it is ours to do with as we please.  Unfortunately, many have, in fact, taught this. What we desperately need to do is make sure people realize that this is a distortion of the biblical narrative and that a proper understanding of the doctrine of Creation demands practices and a lifestyle that brings good to the earth, not harm.  I’ve said it before but I’ll say it again, if anyone should be leading the way in caring for the earth it ought to be Christians.  This has been our calling from the very beginning and will remain our calling until the very end.  Whether we live up to this calling remains to be seen.

–Chuck

(I took the floral images shown above this past Friday at a private garden in Mount Sterling, Kentucky.)


Feb 27 2011

Creation and Relationships

OR-Barr-Falls-039This weekend I have been reading a book my wife gave me for Valentine’s Day.  It’s called Care For Creation [a franciscan spirituality of the earth].  Here I was reminded that the Greek word upon which the word “ecology” is based is oikos, which means house.  Thus, ecology literally means “study of the house.”  The book’s authors believe that it is important for us to view the world we live in as  our home, but not ours only;  it is first and foremost God’s home. 

One of the implications of viewing the earth as our home is made clear in the following passage: “To speak of creation as our home is to speak of creation as relationship.  The word creation implies relationship, unlike the word nature, which holds no inherent religious meaning.  ‘Creation’ points to a ‘Creator,’ a God who creates.”  They go on to say, “’Creation,’ therefore, means relationships between the human and nonhuman created order, the place of the human person within that order, and the response of the person to the created order in its relationship to God.”

Chipmunk-2I think this emphasis on Creation and relationships is important and worthy of our consideration.  As Christians we know that all of our relationships are supposed to be characterized by love.  We may not normally think of being “in relationship” with the earth or its creatures but we are.  It’s how God has designed His Creation.  Of course the greatest relationship Creation calls for is a relationship with the Creator Himself but all of these are interconnected.

Loving the “house” God has given us is an important part of our spiritual journey.  Failure to do so is dangerous in many ways.  At one point the authors of Care For Creation ask “If ‘home is where the heart is’ then why is our home—the Earth—in peril?”  The answer seems obvious.  Many people today are failing to love God’s precious gift.  They are failing to maintain a positive and healthy relationship with Creation.  In the e-mails Rob Sheppard sends me he has a quote that always appears at the bottom of the page.  It begins with these words: “In the end we will conserve only what we love.”  It would seem to me that it is well past time that as Christians we made sure that “home is where the heart is.”  For God’s sake, for the earth’s sake, and for our own spiritual and physical well-being we must nurture and maintain a healthy relationship with our home.

–Chuck

(I took these two images on a trip to Oregon. The top picture was taken at Barr Falls and the bottom is a western chipmunk.)