Myers Park Baptist Church
Charlotte, North Carolina
April 23, 2006
PREACHING THE GOSPEL
TO THE WHOLE CREATION
Texts: Genesis 1:24-28; Psalm 24:1-5;
Luke 12:6; Mark 16:15
Richard Louv has written a book entitled Last Child
in the Woods: Saving Our Children From Nature - Deficit Disorder.
His four-year-old son once asked, “Are God and Mother Nature
married, or just good friends?”1
His question is headed in the right direction. What is the
relationship of God and Creation? The less speculative and more
urgent question is. What is the relationship of the human species to
Creation? Our relationship? Of course, the word “Creation” already
puts a theological/spiritual cast to the question. We are not living
in an Accident, capital A, but in Creation, capital C, the act of a
good God who created the world and called it good.
The problem is we humans treat the world as ours, a commodity to use
and exploit for whatever we wish. So the big issue is our
relationship to Mother Nature. Are we married, or just good friends?
Our children begin a new unit today in Sunday School on Creation. I
like how it frames the issue: Creation is our neighbor we are to
love as ourselves.
I was arrested last week in my study for my Easter sermon by the
words of the Risen Christ to his disciples: “Go into all the world
and preach the gospel to the whole creation.” What is this gospel we
preach to the whole creation?
First, we proclaim the goodness of Creation. The
Genesis account says God created the world and called it good, tov.
Dante wrote that “despising nature and her goodness” was violence
Another way of saying it that we proclaim the holiness of life. If
life is the good gift of God, we handle with wonder and awe. William
Blake, the mystic, poet, and artist said that “everything that lives
Moreover, Creation is the ongoing holy activity of God. To use the
words of Wendell Berry, Creation is not “the result of a primal
creative act long over and done with, but is the continuous,
constant participation of all creatures in the being of God.”3
Creation is the ongoing act of God in an expanding universe and
evolving planet. We are participants with God, in God, in this
Second, we proclaim that “the earth is the Lord’s.”
It does not belong to us but to God. We are God’s stewards, the
householders of the whole creation as the household of God. Ecology
is home economics, the world as God’s home given to us. God has
given us this earth as our home to live in, then bequeath to our
children and their children, and all earth’s children. What shall we
leave them? What messes do we leave for them to clean up?
Third, we let Creation minister to us: We receive
the gifts nature has to give, not just materially but spiritually:
The warm sun, the beauty of flowers, hills, sky. Mary Oliver wrote
these words in her poem “The Summer Days”:
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean - -
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down - -
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don’t know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I’ve been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?4
Fourth, we join nature in praise of God. One form of
prayer is amazement. A person amazed is not likely to be a killer,
to be cruel and indifferent. What sounds, what sights, what smells,
what touch, what sounds amaze you? Will you let yourself be amazed?
Will you praise your Maker while you still have breath?
Emily Dickinson once said that the only commandment
she never broke was “Consider the lilies.” When Jesus said,
“Consider lilies, look at the wild flowers of the field, look at the
birds of the air”, he was not just using them to make a point. He
was being amazed. At them and at God’s goodness.
Fifth. We must reread scripture in light of the
present situation - - which is the careless destruction and
exploitation of the environments. Our children, youth and young
adults are much more sensitive to these concerns than most of us.
The ‘green revolution” is the cause they bring to us, the Spirit’s
new revolution through them.
We’ve had to learn to reread scripture in light of the racial
crisis, sexual discrimination, in light of the terrible hold of
violence on the human spirit. Today we must reread scripture on the
care of creation.
Historian Lynn White in a famous essay blamed Christianity and the
Bible for our ecological crisis. We are guilty, but the roots of the
problem are a misreading of scripture based upon our prior “fallenness.”
I like how Wendell Berry describes “fallenness” - - not as the
Calvinists do as “total depravity” - - but as those who are
“deficient in wholeness, harmony and understanding.”5
In the creation accounts in Genesis God creates us in God’s own
image, gives the world to us and calls us to “have dominion” over
it, that is to care for it and take responsibility for it the way
God does. To care for it as we care for our own bodies - - which
sometimes we’re not very good at doing either.
We mistake dominion for domination. But God shows us what Godly
dominion is. We see it in Jesus; a shepherd king, a servant leader.
(I should say, parenthetically, that the church depends on Hebrew
scripture for much of its ecological teaching, the larger story. The
New Testament was written in two short a time - - about 60 years - -
and was dominated by a belief that the end of the world was near - -
still a problem!)
Jesus spoke of sparrows sold for pennies in the marketplace. God
knows and cares for every sparrow, he said. “Not one of them is
forgotten in God’s sight.” This is part of the gospel we proclaim to
the whole creation: God cares for the whole creation, even the
Another way we need to reread scripture has to do with holy land and
holy places. Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson in an essay, “Is There Only
One Holy Land?” challenges his fellow Jews not to think of Israel as
the only Holy Land. The Holy Land includes the whole earth.6
Likewise, Wendell Berry challenges Christians who have “the idea
that the only holy place is the built church.”7
We may rightly call our church house “God’s house,” but we
should never forget that the first thing to say is that the world is
God’s house. A fateful dualism has led the church to think of itself
as a kind of spiritual “preserve”, a holiness conservancy from which
it has left to exploit and assault a non-holy or secular earth.8
So let us take up our Bible and reread them in light of the present
ecological crisis. Let us start by taking the Bible outside and
reading it outdoors!
Sixth, our calling to kindness toward creation is not measured as
the world measures success and efficiency. Only God can save the
world: we are called to help save our little corner of it. Single
acts of kindness to a single person, to a single animal, to one
plant, to one plot of soil are holy acts. William Blake says we
minister “in the minute particulars.” Do not minimize minute
particulars. Some people are called to tackle the mega-issues: How
corporate America will balance profit and the care of the
environment? Will they pay attention to a triple bottom line: What
profits the share holders, the community and the environment? How
should government regulate business so to protect the environment
from greedy exploitation? Christians will disagree over how much
government regulation. But you can’t read the Bible without seeing
the necessity for some government oversight. To paraphrase Reinhold
Niebuhr, man’s capacity for goodness makes government possible;
man’s inclination to injustice makes government necessary. These are
the big issues. God may be calling you to be an eco-politician or an
But all are called to enjoy, nourish, protect and love some part of
When the people of Israel entered the Holy Land, an important part
of the Torah of God, the covenant between God and God’s people, had
to do with the care of the land: “I have set before you life and
death. Choose life that you and your descendants may live!”, said
the Lord. So God sets before us this choice today.
Berry has written these true and unflinching words:
To live, we must daily break the body
and shed the blood of Creation.
When we do this knowingly, lovingly, skillfully, reverently, it
is a sacrament. When we do it ignorantly, greedily, clumsily,
destructively, it is a desecration.
In such desecration we condemn
ourselves to spiritual and moral
loneliness, and others to want.9
Such is the law and the prophets, and the gospel we
preach to the whole creation.
1(Chapel Hill: Algonquin Books, 2005), p. 285.
2 As cited in Wendell Berry, “Christianity and the Survival of
Creation,” The Art of the Commonplace (Washington, D.C.:
Counterpoint, 2002), p. 308.
4 New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1991), p. 94.
5 The Art of the Commonplace, op.cit, p. 307.
6 Ellen Bernstein, Ecology and the Jewish Spirit: Where Nature
and the Sacred Meet (Woodstock, Vermont: Jewish Lights
Publishing, 2000), pp. 41 ff.
7 Berry, op.cit., p. 309.
8 Ibid., p. 312.
9 Ibid., p. 304.