28th June 2020 Russell Braund

Tenants of the King – what is our responsibility?

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Psalm 8; Genesis 1:24-29

I have deliberately not been sensationalist or been heavy handed in playing the guilt card in this series, simply because that doesn’t help. However, we do need to recognise what is taking place and that we have a responsibility in that. God brought order out of chaos and we have been reversing that and over recent years have seen the effects. This reversal has taken place only relatively recently in the life of the world – the past couple of hundred years – with the industrial revolution and our increased dependency on fossil fuel.

Psalm 8
We begin today by considering Psalm 8 – one of my favourite psalms and one worth learning off by heart. What does this psalm tell us?

• It tells us that the glory of God is displayed in the heavens and through creation. The psalmist explodes in worship of God as the creator, the original artist, the craftsman – whichever image you want to use. As he describes the work of God he talks about the work of God’s fingers – a metaphor I know – but it represents the creativity, skill and amazing wonder of creation brought into being from nothing by the eternal one.

• The psalmist makes the point that the whole universe, including the earth, are the work of God the creator, echoing psalm 24:
The world and all that is in it belong to the Lord;
the earth and all who live on it are his.
He built it on the deep waters beneath the earth
and laid its foundations in the ocean depths.

• The creation is a cause for worship – even from the youngest in the family. It should also silence the arrogant as they consider the majesty and power behind creation.
• The majesty of creation awes the psalmist and brings him to his knees as he considers the responsibility and authority given to humankind over everything that God has brought into being.

• Then he bursts out in praise again.

Created in the image of God
Verses 4 and 5 of the psalm point us back to Genesis chapter 1:

what is mankind that you are mindful of them,
human beings that you care for them?
5 You have made them a little lower than the angels
and crowned them with glory and honour.

In 1:27 we read that God made us male and female in God’s image and humankind was given responsibility over the creatures of the world. In ancient times, statues were used as proxies for emperors and dictators, reminding the people whose authority they were under to whom they owed allegiance. They were made in the image of the emperor. Alongside this came the local governor who only had to point to the statue if people objected to him. The implication here in Genesis is clear: humankind made in the image of God are God’s representatives under God’s authority to do God’s work. Two questions arise:
1. What sort of God do we reflect?
2. What is the job we are called to do?

So what sort of God do we reflect? What do we mean by being in the image of God? Often in Christian circles there are two images set off against each other – the God of judgement and wrath and the God of love. The Christian church has often veered towards one particular image or the other, depending on the branch of the church to which you belong, your theology and the era in which you are born.

However, God is far more complex than this. In bringing the world into being we see amazing creativity and complexity. In his dealings with people we see the need to discipline, bring judgement, show love, grace and mercy. Ultimately in Jesus Christ we see God as serving sacrificially and to the uttermost. When we talk about reflecting the image of God, for us as Christians that is shown in Jesus Christ

who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,

We need to keep Jesus at the forefront and remember as Christians we are his representatives.

The second question is what is the job we are called to do? The psalmist says we are rulers over the works of God; Genesis 1 says that we are to subdue and fill the earth. Genesis 2 says humankind was put to work in the garden to tend it and take care of it.

In Birchington in Thanet, there is a place called Quex House. Lovely grounds and in the house an amazing yet gruesome exhibition and reminder that we have interpreted ‘subdue’ in a particular way. It belonged to a Victorian explorer who went around the world shooting everything that moved and then bringing the animals back, stuffing them and creating their habitat in glass cabinets. There are all sorts…

From the time we started really exploring the world as a nation – and we are not alone – we have treated people, animals and resources in this way – subduing and using for our consumption. This has happened down through the centuries, but not on such a large scale as in the past couple of hundred years. We still treat the world in this way, because we are wedded to fossil fuels and technologies that require materials to be mined from the earth and cause pollution as a result. It is difficult because we all benefit from the advances of technology and would be loath to surrender them, and yet we know that if we don’t change, disaster awaits the planet. We are in this situation because of the sin of humankind and our misinterpretation of the command to subdue.

We have to understand it in the light of

• the world belonging to God who pronounced creation good and very good;
• understanding the creation as having been brought into being through Jesus;
• the instruction to cultivate and guard the garden in Genesis 2;
• A fresh understanding of what ‘subdue’ and ‘rule’ actually mean in the biblical context;
• the true image of God shown in Jesus Christ.

Subdue and rule is not the same as consume and dominate. Let’s take the example of gardening. Those who are gardeners ‘subdue’ the weeds in the garden in order to bring out the best in the garden rather than allow it to go to ruin and waste. They also realise that they have to live harmoniously with the creatures that come uninvited to the garden, because many of them are not only essential for pollination, but also for the ecological balance – even slugs and snails! Magnify this mini-scale to a maxi scale and we can see how the example applies to the creation of God which God asked humankind to cultivate and guard.

To quote Rabbi Sears:

‘The divine mandate to for us to dominate the natural world is a sacred trust,
not carte blanche for destructiveness.’

Recognising the need for proper stewardship Bishop Gregorios of India has said,

‘In taking what is given by nature, we should be careful to give back to nature
what it needs to maintain its own integrity and to supply the needs of the future.’

We should remember that the land animals were created on the same day as humankind and have the same breath of God in their lungs, but God gave us particular responsibility as those created in God’s image. As I said before, our attitude needs to change from seeing the environment as separate from us and having things done to it, to realising the world is the home God has given us with an important role as sitting tenants.

When my dad took early retirement from his job as an electrical design engineer, he became the minister of two churches in Thanet. Obviously in order to fulfil the role he and mum had to move to where the churches were. They lived in the manse and rented out their bungalow. Unfortunately the tenants did not treat the bungalow as their home, but as a place where they lived and which could just be used. Mum and Dad had complaints from former neighbours and when the tenants moved out, the place was a mess. So, what sort of tenants are we going to be?

David Bookless in his book ‘Planet Wise’ suggests that we should fulfill the role of prophet, priest and king in relation to the Earth. In the Hebrew Scriptures these three were intermediaries between God and the people.

• The prophets proclaimed the word of God even if the people didn’t want to hear it.
• The priests offered the worship of people to God
• and the king represented God’s authority and rule.

In Jesus all three roles are united, and as followers of Jesus we are to be imitators of him.
• We can be prophets concerning the impact of western lifestyles in particular. Unfortunately the church has left the prophetic role in this area to others and is now trying to catch up.
• We have certainly called people to worship the God of creation and been distinctive in that. We don’t worship creation itself but the one who brought it into being. It signposts us to the creator, it draws us in worship, but we do not worship it.
• We have a kingly role in that as God’s representatives we seek to ‘rule’ the world with compassion and by example. We fulfil that role in dependence on the creator, sustainer and redeemer of the world.

So what is our responsibility?
• Remember that the ‘Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’.

• We are tenants charged with its care. A caretaker – if they have any pride in their work – cleans, repairs, improves, protects, replaces. A caretaker who has pride in what they do is concerned for the welfare of the premises in which they work. We have care of the creation of God.

• We ask, ’What can I do?’ We need to bring it down to the personal and the practical otherwise we are overwhelmed by the size of the task.

• Having asked the question, we should then live by example, be willing to learn and make changes – even sacrificial changes.

We have two more weeks of this series left. Next week we will be exploring further the question, ‘What can I do?’ We’ll be thinking about this from the perspective of us as individuals and families, as well as a- whole church family, remembering that we are God’s stewards. Explore websites such as A Rocha, Operation Noah, BMS, Tearfund or Christian Aid and see what we can do as individuals and as a church.

Before next week, send me an email telling me how you have changed what you do, and any thoughts about what we can do as individuals or the family of the church. As a family, why not make a brief 1-2 minute video telling us what changes you have made or are planning to make. You might want to show something you have done in the garden.

The following week is the last in the series and I want to make it a celebration of creation. Send me pictures you have drawn or painted on the creation theme, 1-2 minute videos of what you have done in your gardens, or photos you have taken of God’s creation in and around Gravesend. I will aim to share as many as possible. Perhaps some of you could have a go at writing prayers on the creation theme and either send them to me or be prepared to join the worship team on Zoom to pray them. Let’s be creative as we celebrate the creation of God. See what you can come up with.

Let’s finish with the words of Psalm 8…