Season of Creation Worship Series, week 1: PLANTING SUNDAY
September 2, 2018
As the saying goes, you never get a second chance to make a first impression.
Good beginnings are critical to overall success. As itinerant United Methodist pastors, we know how important, yet how difficult, new beginnings can be. When we move, oftentimes we mourn the loss we are experiencing. Yet, there is a church ready for us to be the pastor. We must be able to mourn and work through our emotions so that we are ready to embrace the new beginning, because beginnings are important and set the tone.
Without the good beginning in Genesis 1 and 2, where would we be? These two chapters inform us of God. God is good, creative, active, loving, and resourceful. From these two chapters, we learn about our world. It’s good, connective, full of life, pleasing to the eye and good for us. We also learn about ourselves. We are made in God’s image; we have God’s breath; we are creative; and we are caretakers. Genesis 1 and 2 not only inform us how to read the Bible, but also how to experience God, creation, and others.
In Genesis 1, we see God building a system. The next day builds on the one before. There is order and connection.
However, each day is also good in itself. PERIOD. It’s not good based on the one before or after. It is not good because it’s leading up to the creation of human beings. It is good because it is God’s and fully lives into what God created it to be.
In Genesis 2:15, God gives his first command to humanity, and that command is to tend and keep the garden. This is the root of stewardship. Humanity was placed in the midst of God’s creation and given the command of stewardship — to rule over it wisely. As we have said, it is important to have a strong beginning, as it acts as a foundation for everything that is to follow.
As you preach this, you will be in the season of harvest, but consider this: what would it have been like to have a garden planted for you that you are able to harvest, even though you do not have to sow or tend or weed?
Getting a garden ready to plant requires careful planning. Before you plant, you must make sure the location you choose has plenty of sun, fertile soil, and—if possible—a place where rainwater might soak in without flooding. Plowing the soil and getting it ready to plant is hard work. A tender, young plant is more vulnerable to the hot sun and to dry weather. It doesn’t take much for it to wilt or die. When a seed grows, the seed shell stays on like a hat until the plant flings it aside. Once its roots grow deeper and its stem and branches grow stronger, it become hardier. Just like an infant or young child, in the beginning, a plant requires more care.
For six days, God created something out of nothing. On the seventh day, God created nothing out of something. God labored for six days; \ on the seventh day, God created rest. To enjoy Sabbath rest, there must be preparation. In the ”Hymn of Promise” (United Methodist Hymnal, 707), we see how often it is in the end of one cycle where we find the beginning of the next. It is in the seventh days of our lives that we receive the gift of rest from God. It is in this end that we find our next beginning, filling us up for the work that is to come.
Consider the text:
Have you heard of the Thomas Jefferson Bible? Jefferson was “devoted to the teachings of Jesus Christ,” while distrustful of the authors of the first four books of the New Testament. So what did Jefferson do? He literally cut and pasted the words of Jesus to form his own gospel.
Reading Song of Solomon 2:8-13 reminded me of the Thomas Jefferson Bible. What if we took out all the Scriptures regarding God’s non-human creation? What “Bible” would we be left with? Song of Solomon 2:8-13 would read something like this:
2:8 The voice of my beloved! Look, he comes.
2:9 Look, there he stands behind our wall, gazing in at the windows, looking through the lattice.
2:10 My beloved speaks and says to me: "Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away;
2:13 Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
I’m being generous, because I did not take away 2:9, which would require some type of foundation for a wall to stand and natural resources like sand, mud, water, straw, minerals, heat, and wood to actually make the wall, windows, and lattice. In 2:8, 2:10, 2:13, to say “come or come away” requires a location to be and a location to go to.
This text is a great reminder that the Bible is all of God’s creation, not just humans. To read the Bible only through an anthropocentric lens is hazardous. Reading the Bible as if God’s creation were made only for humans to use and exploit can be deadly.
Creation is woven throughout the Bible; creation is used as settings, plots, characters, time, and feeling. We see this in Song of Solomon 2:8-13.
Setting: Area with mountains and grass (seasons)
Characters: Bride and bridegroom, mountains, gazelle, wall, windows, lattice, winter, rain, flowers, earth, turtledove, fig tree, vines, blossoms
The author was intimately connected to God’s creation and paid attention. The author found joy in the observation and experience.
In this Scripture, there is an invitation to go outdoors. From the inside, the woman is observing her lover. He comes to her, but he doesn’t invite himself into her world. He invites her outside to witness the new life that happens in spring. They use their bodies to experience God’s creation through their physicality and their senses.
Consider a sermon direction and application:
In thinking about this sermon as the first in the series, consider relationships between God and non-human creation, God and humans, and non-human creation and humans. To understand Scripture, we need to understand God’s relationships. Knowledge comes from having a foundation of knowing God’s word. The Ponce Foundation states, “82% of Christian Americans only read their Bibles on Sundays while in church.” Knowledge of Scripture and its interconnectedness is vital to understanding a theology of creation care. Gaining understanding is always a good beginning. Jesus said to love God and love neighbor. How do we know what God loves? By reading the Bible.
Regarding creation care, it may be helpful to ask ourselves how we can love the Creator without loving the creation and how we can love our neighbors (current neighbors and future generations of neighbors) without seeking to protect our neighbors’ food supply, air supply, and water supply. We cannot give lip service to caring for creation. We have to do it as a response to loving God, and we must do it with all of our heart, mind, soul, and strength; and we must show love toward neighbor. Beginning is important, and it begins with the first command God gave to be a good steward of the garden (Genesis 2:15).
We encourage people to not be overwhelmed by the task at hand: just begin! In beginning, we ask everyone to think about where they are and what they are doing; then do three things this week that help them take a step forward in stewardship of creation. For some, it may be as simple as going on a walk with an eye toward appreciating the creation around them while picking up garbage. For others, it may be doing an energy audit on their home. Still others could begin recycling, make major lifestyle adjustments, or gain a voice to speak to others about the importance of care for creation.
Churches often neglect areas of creation care. Do an audit on the creation care opportunities of the church. Programmable and Wi-Fi thermostats can save churches thousands of dollars while helping them be better stewards of energy and money. Use LED lighting, real dishes and mugs instead of Styrofoam, and organic fair-trade coffee. Plant trees and use “green” cleaning products. These are just a few easy ways that help church members to become better stewards of creation. Start a green team to invest in the process. (There are tip sheets on the Blessed Earth website.)
The key is to begin. Too often, people feel shamed into thinking that what they are doing is not enough. You have to crawl before you can walk and walk before you can run.
Rev. Ryan Bennett is an elder in The United Methodist Church and Senior pastor of First United Methodist Church in Lebanon, TN. He also works with Blessed Earth and Blessed Earth Southeast helping clergy and lay persons practice Sabbath. Heather Bennett earned her M.S in Sustainability from Lipscomb University in 2014. She started the first chapter of Blessed Earth in 2015. Blessed Earth Southeast inspires and equips Christians to become better stewards of the earth.