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Caretakers Created by God in God’s Image

November 10th, 2013 Leave a comment Go to comments

“Caretakers Created by God in God’s Image” (Genesis 1-2; Psalm 104)
by Pastor Peter Goerzen
September 1, 2013, Grace Hill Mennonite Church

A Grand Sanctuary
Today is our first Sunday of exploring twelve Scripture passages that are especially important and formational for the life of our congregation here at Grace Hill – twelve Scriptures that are especially shaping us as God’s people at Grace Hill.

We begin at the beginning, with the stories of creation. These stories are particularly important to us as a rural congregation. Many of our members farm the land and have a special understanding of the goodness of God’s creation. But whether we work in fields or in office buildings, we all have chosen to worship in this community, and at this place. When we gather for worship here at Grace Hill, we don’t travel through miles of structures made by human hands, but rather through the plains and hills shaped by the hand of God.

While our sanctuary is indeed beautiful, we know that an even grander sanctuary exists just beyond these walls, and God has invited us to be the caretakers of that sanctuary. That’s part of what makes this congregation special, and it’s part of why the stories of creation are so important to us.

As many of you know, our theme for the summer was God’s good creation, and we talked about how God’s creation reminds us to praise God for God’s care and protection, and how it reminds us of our need for God and of our calling to be faithful to God and to one another. But we saved these foundational stories from Genesis until now.

There’s so much that could be said about these stories, and so much that has been said about them. Much of what we’ll talk about this morning will sound familiar to what’s already been said this summer. For each of these twelve texts that we’ll hear this fall, we want to think about how each text is shaping us as God’s people already, and how the Holy Spirit could further speak through each passage to shape us more and more into the people God is calling us to be.

Out of all that could be said about Genesis 1-2, I’d like to focus on three things from these stories that are foundational for our life at Grace Hill. First, we live in a world created by God. Second, we live in a world created by God as people created in God’s image. And third, we live in a world created by God as people created in God’s image who are called to be caretakers of God’s creation.

We live in a world created by God
First, we live in a world created by God.

A week ago I was in Colorado doing some hiking with some of my friends. One evening, we hiked up a cliff to watch the sun set. And as the sun was setting in the mountains to the west, we could also watch a thunderstorm over the plains to the east. The setting sun painted these cloudbanks in brilliant yellows and reds. And once again, as I so often am as I drive out to the church building, I was just amazed at the beauty and greatness of God’s creation.

That’s what Genesis 1 is about. Many scholars believe that Genesis 1, with its cadence and elegance and symmetry, is a hymn, a song of creation describing God’s greatness and the goodness of God’s work. We’re put here to praise God, along with the song of all creation.

God called the universe into being as an expression of God’s love and sovereign freedom. This is a fundamental encouragement for believers, because it means that no matter how ugly and broken and hopeless the world may seem on the surface, it still turns on the axis of God’s goodness and love, and it is still, fundamentally, in God’s own judgment, “good.” We live in a good world created by a good God.

And because we live in a good world created by a good God, when we live in ways that are aligned with God’s good character and intention for life, we praise God, and those efforts will ultimately be redeemed, and multiplied.

Of course, the Bible says many important things about God’s character. But perhaps the most basic thing it says about God is found in 1 John: “God is love.” The most basic way to live in God’s good creation is to live in God’s love. Or as 1 John puts it, “If we love one another, God lives in us.”

If you come to the Dig In Bible Study during Sunday School this morning, we’ll talk about John 1, which begins exactly the same was as Genesis 1: “In the beginning.” The word was with God in the beginning and through the Word, all things came into being. The Word has become flesh in Jesus Christ. John says that Jesus is the fullest and best revelation we have of God, and his life and self-giving death are the fullest and best revelation we have of God’s love.

Jesus showed us how to live in ways that are aligned with God’s good intention for life. When we know Jesus and follow him in life, then our lives become more and more aligned with the world created by God, with the grain of the universe.

Sometimes, the world on its surface has become so disfigured and defaced and dominated by death-dealing powers, so very different from the way God created it to be that God’s good intention for life revealed in Jesus sounds surprising. Giving up possessions. Losing our life to save it. The servants are the greatest. Loving even our enemies just as creation reminds us that God does, and makes the sun to rise and sends the rains on the just and on the wicked alike. It may sound surprising, but it makes total sense if we live in an abundant world created and deeply valued by God as described in Genesis 1.

The prophet Isaiah spoke of a coming time of new, or renewed, creation. New heavens and new earth. A time when the work of God’s hands would once again fully reflect God’s goodness and love. As the New Testament understands it, the resurrection of Jesus is the down-payment on that new creation. In fact, Paul says, “If anyone is in Christ, there is the new creation.”

When we’re united with Jesus in life, we get a foretaste of what it’s like to live in God’s abundant new creation, and we become a taste for the world of what creation is meant to be like. We get to invite others to live in that world created by God.

Created in God’s image
Second, we live in a world created by God as people created in God’s image.

In Genesis 1, humankind is the capstone of God’s created work, and we are created, male and female, in God’s image. With the creation of humankind, creation is “exceedingly good.” God actually thinks quite a bit of us. Why don’t we often think much of ourselves and others? While it’s true that we all make choices that smudge up the image of God that we bear, we are actually created exceedingly good. God delights in us. God delights in you. Our lives are created to reflect God’s goodness, joy, and love.

The fact that each human life bears the image of God is profoundly formative for us as God’s people. It reminds us of the profound value and dignity of each human life, from the womb to the tomb, as they saying goes, and beyond. This is why so many of Jesus’ teachings that seem so strange on the damaged surface of the world actually make so much sense with the axis upon which the world finally turns, with the grain of the universe.

We love one another because God delights in each person and has given each person the imprint of the divine image. We love even our enemies and people who make us mad or drive us nuts because even they bear the divine image and are deeply valued by God. We love those rejected by society because they too bear the divine image and are deeply loved by God.

It’s why our congregation participates in the ministry of the homeless shelter, and with school kits, and with summer lunches, and with food pantries, and with meat canning, and with relief work, and with missions of all kinds. It’s why, in a polarizing and polarized world, we seek to maintain a witness of reconciliation, of peacemaking. We have a fundamental conviction that each person is deeply loved by God and bears the divine image.

And that conviction shapes us profoundly. The homeless and outcast and outsider are all highly esteemed in our eyes because they are highly esteemed in God’s eyes. And don’t forget that you are, too. Every one of you. It’s a conviction that shaped the March on Washington and King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, commemorated this week, which ended with the hope of speeding the day when all God’s children could say, “Free at last, free at last. Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last.”

When we realize what that means, that we bear God’s imprint in our lives, we want to live in ways that reflect God’s holiness, and goodness, and love. We are a temple for God’s Spirit; therefore, we want to glorify and praise God in everything we say and do. This Scripture passage calls us to be people whose lives glorify God. Jesus, who took on our likeness, teaches how to do that. What a fantastic invitation to follow Jesus and glorify God!

When I run into people in Newton and Whitewater, they often remark how hospitable and generous Grace Hill is. Praise God for that! I wonder if that could be partly because the Holy Spirit has spoken through this passage in Genesis 1 to shape us so that we look upon one another and see God’s imprint in one another. We want to share God’s goodness and generosity and hospitality with one another, and with our neighbors, and with those we don’t even know. That’s what Genesis 1 shapes us to do as people created in God’s image who live in a world created by God.

Caretakers of God’s creation
Third, we live in a world created by God as people created in God’s image called to be caretakers of God’s creation.

If Genesis 1 is like a hymn or song of God’s greatness and the goodness of God’s work, Genesis 2 is like a delightful, playful story of God’s closeness and care and love. The language itself is delightful and playful, making frequent word-plays and puns. That’s how we’re to relate to God’s creation and to God. It’s to be a delight.

Many readers of John’s gospel have pondered how when Mary Magdalene comes to the empty tomb, she mistakes Jesus for the gardener. Could it be that just as John 1 echoes Genesis 1, so John 20 echoes Genesis 2? Could it be, many have wondered, that Mary was less mistaken than she realized, being sent by the gardener of God’s new creation?

Genesis 2 describes God sort of like a gardener at work in Eden, this little microcosm of God’s creation. God shapes a human being and breathes the breath of life into that human being assigns the human being to be the caretaker of the garden – to till it and to keep it. Actually, the word for tilling – abad – most often in the Old Testament means “to serve” and is the root for the word for servant or slave.

We are to be the servants of God’s creation. Just as Jesus, who has been given dominion over all things, came not to lord it over us, not to be served, but to serve, so also we, who have been given dominion over creation, are to exercise that dominion not by lording over it, but by serving it.

The word also means to work. Our vocation is one of hard work. It’s what we were created to do – to be creative, to work hard, to give ourselves fully to the task that God has given us, and to delight in that task.

The word for keeping the garden – shamar – means to watch over, as a shepherd watches over a flock, or a night watchman keeps vigilance over a city. It’s how God is described in Psalm 121: The Lord is your keeper. The Lord is the one who watches over you. We have God’s breath of life in us, and that’s how we’re to relate to the Gardener’s handiwork – to watch over it, to protect it.

Here at Grace Hill, we’re surrounded by God’s garden. We have a special calling to serve and protect God’s garden. Many of our members have dedicated their lives to this calling as they work in the fields day by day. It’s an important witness we have, to work hard to tend our little corner of God’s creation. So often our world forgets how beautiful and wonderful God’s creation is. So many people have forgotten their calling to have dominion by serving, and they exploit God’s creation for their own gain: land, water, creatures, people. It’s led to so much hurting around the world: cancers, dispossession, droughts and floods, scorched earth, dependency, poverty, spread of disease and malnutrition.

Here at Grace Hill, God’s Spirit has spoken through this text to give us a different vision for our life in God’s garden: If we work hard and delight in our work, if we serve and protect God’s beautiful garden – the land, the waters, the creatures, the people in it, then it will flourish with an abundance for the whole world.

 

Through this cherished Scripture from Genesis 1-2, God calls us at Grace Hill to live in a world created by God, as people created in God’s image, called to be caretakers of God’s creation. How will this story continue to shape us to live in ways that align with God’s good intention for creation, to value the divine image in ourselves and those around us, and to serve and protect God’s creation? This is our story at Grace Hill. Praise the Lord! Amen.

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Caretakers Created by God in God’s Image by Peter Goerzen, unless otherwise expressly stated, is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.

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