A Sermon Preached by Rev. Gregory Hall at 
Clarence Presbyterian Church on June 18, 2017.

  

THE GOODNESS OF CREATION

And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.


        One of the important changes that came with the reformation 500 years ago was a renewed emphasis on preaching.  The sermon became the central focus of the worship service in most of the new protestant denominations.  This was consistent with the Reformers central purpose of restoring the Bible as the primary authority for the Christian life. 

John Calvin is viewed as the central founder of our Reformed tradition. It was his practice to preach through a book of the Bible week-by-week and verse-by-verse.  Calvin never wavered from this approach to preaching for almost twenty-five years of ministry in St. Peter’s church in Geneva Switzerland with the exception of a few high festivals and special occasions.

To give you some idea of the thoroughness of his method, Calvin began his series on the book of Acts on August 25, 1549 and completed it in March of 1554.  This summer I propose that we follow a modified form of Calvin’s practice with the Book of Genesis. During the next three months we will work our way through the first book of the Bible.  We will not look at every chapter and verse, but Judith and I will be sharing ten sermons on the most important stories from this seminal book. Today we start at the beginning.

This morning I would like us to focus on the words: And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.

For all of its mystery,
For all of its talk of the spiritual,
For all of its pointing to another reality, 
Christianity is a most worldly religion.
While our faith does teach us about heaven, the Doctrine of creation points us towards this earth.  We worship a God who created heaven and earth.

In our Old Testament lesson for this morning we read from the first chapter of the Bible.  It begins with the story of creation.  God creates the cosmos out of nothing and then pronounces all that he had made to be very good.  I would like us to explore the meaning of the goodness of creation.  I believe that we can understand the goodness of creation on three levels.

The first way to interpret this passage is on an ontological level.  This means God affirms the basic goodness of the material world that he has created.  The created order is intrinsically good.

Many times through history Christians have forgotten this truth.  Some Christian leaders and teachers have so emphasized the spiritual nature of God that they have tended to denigrate the creation.  Some have taught that since God is wholly spiritual and separate from the world that therefore the material world of matter and flesh is corrupt.  Some have claimed that all the problems of the world can be traced to the passions of the flesh.

There has been a human tendency, even in Christianity, to believe in dualism.  Dualism understands the spiritual and the material to be in opposition to each other.  Many people believe that the spiritual is all good and the material world as being the locus of evil.

Yet in the first chapter of Genesis, God pronounced all that he created as being good.  Furthermore, in the New Testament, we learn that God became flesh in Jesus.  God took on the earthiness of existence.  Jesus had a body with all the bodily functions. In becoming flesh, Jesus reaffirms the goodness of creation.

The movie Chariots of Fire, in part, tells the story of the Scottish Missionary Eric Liddell who won a gold medal at the Olympics of 1924. In the movie Eric’s sister is opposed to Eric competing in the Olympics because she believed that would interfere with his primary calling to be a missionary in China.  In a very beautiful scene just outside Edinburgh, she tries to talk Eric out of competing by suggesting that a mere physical activity was not of any real importance.  Her argument reflected a belief that the spirit is superior to the physical. Eric did not give in to his sister and responded, “Jenny, when I run I feel God’s pleasure.”  Eric knew that all of creation, both the physical world and the spiritual life are given by a loving God and they are good.

And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.

This verse can also be understood aesthetically.  In the Septuagint, the Greek version of the Old Testament, the word we translate as good can also be translated as beautiful.  The same word means both good and beautiful.  Thus God looked at the world he created and said that it is beautiful.

It would almost seem that the creation of the Sabbath, found after his first chapter of Genesis, is for the purpose of pondering the beauty of creation.  You and I are commanded to take time to rest and ponder the beauty of creation.

The experience of the beauty of the order of nature has begun to make scientists ask the question of God.  For many years God was excluded from the discussion of nature. Science, many believed, provided all the answers that were needed on its own.  Yet science has begun to change. 

John Polkinghorne is a physicist at Queens' College at Cambridge University.  In a lecture in Connecticut he said:

In both the intelligibility of the world and the finely tuned fruitfulness of the world, we see insights arising from science, but calling for some explanation and understanding, which by its very nature, will go beyond what science itself can provide.  I think that suggests the insufficiency of a merely scientific view of the world.

In fact, I think we're living in an age where there is a great revival of natural theology taking place.  The revival of natural theology is taking place, not on the whole among the theologians, who rather lost their nerve in that area, but among the scientists.  And not just among pious scientist like myself, but among scientist who have no particular time for, or understanding of, conventional religion.  Nevertheless, many agnostic scientists feel that the rational beauty and finely tuned fruitfulness of the world suggest that there is some intelligence or purpose behind the universe.

In other words the beauty and order found in the study of the natural world points beyond itself. It causes the intellect to ask the question of God.  Many of us have known that awe and wonder when out in nature.
 
The beauty found in the created order can be a pathway to God if we pay attention.  The beauty is all around us.  It is present in the changing of the seasons.  It is present in panoramic landscapes.  We can pay attention to it while boating on a lake or river.  We can see it while out birding or hunting.  We can find awe and wonder while watching the animals at the zoo. The vastness of the universe is seen through a telescope or a microscope. 
 
And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.

While the creation is ontologically good and aesthetically beautiful we should also read this verse ethically.  We are not just to nod our heads to the truth that creation is beautiful and has value.  This verse calls on us to respond.  In this passage from Genesis human beings are given stewardship of the created order.  So we are called by God to care for creation.

Caring for creation begins by loving nature.  God pronounced the creation to be good.  Creation is not merely here to please us.  The purpose of nature is not just for our exploitation.  Nature has intrinsic value.  Thus we are to love nature as God loves us.  

This love is often best nurtured by experiencing nature.  This means taking the time to ponder the beauty and grandeur of the created order.  It means providing opportunities for young people to experience the natural world first hand.  This may mean visiting zoos, aquariums or farms.  Hunting and fishing are good in part because they enable people to experience nature.  In our prayers we should remember all the blessings that God has given us in creation.

When we begin to love creation it leads to confession. We confess that we have often failed in our task of caring for what God has given us.  So often we, as a people, have been so preoccupied with creating wealth and using goods and services that we have not been concerned with preserving and protecting our environment.

For more than ten years I lived less than two miles from Love Canal in Niagara Falls.  This was a chemical dump that was mismanaged and dangerous chemicals leached out and effected peoples’ health.  The damage done to that area and to the people who lived there was not done with an intent to injure, but from a lack of concern. Until the last fifty years the western world lived in a headlong pursuit of wealth with little concern for the future of creation.  

When we confess that we have failed our Lord in our stewardship of God’s creation, his grace forgives us and gives us power to change.  Do not get me wrong, I am not saying that we must cease to produce and enjoy material goods.  But we must take into account our effect on the environment.

One principle we should follow in responding to the story of creation is sustainability.  I believe this principle is the same as what our Church’s Trustees expect of people who use our building.  Clarence Presbyterian has all kinds of groups seeking to use our building.  During the course of a year there will be concerts, recitals, showers, graduation parties, the corvette club and more.  The Trustees’ expect one thing of these various groups.  “Leave the building as you found it.”

We do not expect these groups to break anything, or leave the room full of trash.  If one group took all the tables with them and left garbage all over the floor, the next group could not function in that space.  Most groups are good at leaving the room in as good a shape as they found it.

Loving the creation means that each generation should attempt to leave nature in at least as good a shape as it found it.  This includes not leaving garbage for the next generation to take care of. It means not tarnishing the goodness and beauty of the created order.

No one person has a full program of what it would mean to attempt to leave the creation as we found it for those who come after us.  This might mean moving more towards renewable sources of energy.  It certainly means more reuse of products. I have no clear plan with all the details, but we are called to act to preserve, protect and guard the creation.  We do this because we love the creation and its creator.  

Listen to these prophetic words written to President Pierce in 1855 by Chief Seattle:

One thing we know which the white man may one day discover.  Our God is the same God.  You may think that you own him as you wish to own our land. But you cannot.  And his compassion is equal for the Redman and the White.  The earth is precious to Him.  And to harm the earth is to heap contempt on its creator.  The whites, too, shall pass perhaps sooner than other tribes.  Continue to contaminate your bed, and you will one night suffocate in your own waste.

The first chapter of Genesis teaches us that God created all that there is and then pronounce it all to be good.  Nature is ontologically of value, aesthetically beautiful and ethically to be cared for.

An important and profound part of our spiritual life is to love, respect and care for the creation God has blessed us with.  May we join with God in pondering the goodness of creation.

And God saw everything that he had made, and indeed it was very good.