The Fruit of All Creation
A Sermon for the First Congregational Church of Albany, NY
by Rev. James Eaton, Pastor • © 2017
Trinity Sunday • June 11, 2017
Click below to hear the sermon preached
“I am groot”. It’s a line from the movie, Guardians of the Galaxy. A cast of strange creatures from different places includes a being who looks like a tree, has branches for arms and says this one phrase over and over, in answer to any question, as a comment on any situation: “I am groot”. After many adventures, Groot saves them, at the cost of his own life. But Groot sends out a seed that grows into a little Groot who then goes on to the sequel.
I am Groot. Who are you? This past week I submitted an article for a magazine and I had to write an author bio: three or four sentences to capture my whole life. Have you ever done this? It’s a good exercise. I started like this: Jim Eaton lives in Albany, NY. Location defines us in many ways: who we are is partly a product of where we are. Now today we’ve read the long, majestic, litany of creation and it asks us to reflect on who we are, where we are, and why we are.
The beginning is dark: creation begins in chaos. I think the Hebrew makes this even more clear than the translation. The Hebrew word we translate “formless void” is Tohu wa Bohu. It sounds like chaos doesn’t it? Think of a junkyard; think of a kitchen after a big dinner, think of a house when everything has been moved in and nothing put away. How do you begin? Where do you begin?
Creation begins and moves forward as a process of ordering. In darkness, light: the light separated from the darkness. If you listened carefully, you heard this process over and over. Creation moves forward by separating things and naming them: “God called the light Day and the darkness God called Night.” A dome of land appears, separating the waters below from the waters above: sky and sea, and then the sea is defined by shores and there is earth as well. Bit by bit it’s coming together.
Like a family arranging the couch, chairs, end tables and lamps in a living room, God makes a place.It’s not all a singular effort, either. Once the land is made, it begins to participate in the process. The earth produces vegetation; the earth is a partner in creation now. The lights in the sky, moon and sun, are set to regulate times and seasons: partners in creation. The creatures of the sky and the seas are created and told to be fruitful: they are partners in creation. The same is true of animals, including the creeping things.
Finally, of course, creation comes to us.
Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. [Genesis 1:27f]
Like the earth, like the plants, like the lights in the sky, like all the others, there we are: we have an address and we are also partners in creation.
Now if you’re looking for some discussion here of how this all fits or doesn’t fit with the science of origins, you’re going to be disappointed. This isn’t a scientific explanation and opposing science and the Bible is as silly as arguing that Frank Sinatra singing, It had to be you is a psychologist’s explanation of mate selection. The story of creation, like a song, is meant to speak to our soul, not our science.
If we listen with our souls, what we hear is the careful ordering of a place. Light and Dark: dry and wet, vegetable and animal, each is given a place in a peaceful, ordered, intricate system that together makes a world. No piece alone is the world: it is the whole ordered creation, interacting together, working together that is creation’s result.
God doesn’t make everything: the earth produces, the plants produce, the animals produce. Creation is cooperative and it’s a process. My neighbor Andrea is an amazing gardener. Recently she’s been replanting some raspberry bushes. But others she’s leaving alone. She said that those have another year to produce, explaining that raspberries produce for a couple of years and then die but as they die they put out new shoots. There is a rhythm to the process: growth and fruit and death and new shoots. Just like Groot, with whom I began, we serve a purpose and we come to an end. Our purpose is the fruit of all creation. The earth produces; the bushes produce. Creation is dynamic.
Now I mentioned at the beginning this is a meditation on where we are, who we are and why we are. Where we are is here: in the center of a dynamic, cooperative creation. Why are we here? Genesis has something to say about that as well. The word in our English translation is dominion. That sounds like being in charge; it sounds like we’re the boss. Is that what it really means? We’ve often treated it this way and even today, there are preachers and politicians who rely on this Bible verse to justify the exploitation of creation for profit. But what does the Bible really say?
Dominion Means Caring
The Hebrew word we translate dominion is ‘radah’. This word carries the idea of being in charge, but it’s being in charge the same way someone might say, “Take care”. Have you ever been told this? I grew up with two younger brothers. Like everyone who’s ever been the oldest of a bunch of siblings, every once in a while, my parents would go out and leave me in charge with these words: “Take care of your brothers, we’ll be back later.” We do this in other ways, don’t we? Perhaps you have a cat or dog and when you go away, you find someone and ask them to take care of your dog or cat; perhaps when you go on a trip you ask someone to take care of your house. That’s radah; that’s dominion.
But I can assure you, based on experience, that my parents did not intend for me to use my brothers as unpaid labor, for example, just to imagine something that might or might not have happened, to make them do my chores. When you ask someone to take care of your cat or dog, you don’t expect them to exploit them; when you ask someone to take care of your house, you’d be angry and upset if you came home and discovered the house had been sold and the care taker had pocketed the profits. To have dominion is to take care.
Created in the Image of God
We can also find a clue to who we are in the act of our creation: we are created in the image of God. What is that image? Over and over, scripture makes clear God is love. So we are created in the image of love, meant to love, meant to care and create communities of care. This is what Jesus did. Remember how right from the beginning he gathered up disciples? Remember how even at the end on the cross, he gives his mother and his friend John to each other? Those are the concrete instances of this larger process. Here in creation, God cares for the needs of each. Every plant yielding seed and every fruit is provided not by accident but as a source of food and not only for us—we’re meant to share with the rest of creation as well. God knows we need to eat, so God creates a structure to fulfill our needs.
What is the reason for creation? Why are we here? The final chapter of the story is the creation of sabbath. On the seventh day God rests. Is God just tired? Does God have the pains we all get after a hard day working in the yard? I think a better explanation is in the story itself. As each chapter of creation is created, God names it’s value. Over and over again, something is said to be good, as we heard. Now and only now does God appreciate all of creation as a whole and pronounce that is is very good. Only about all of creation together is it said to be very good.
Where we are is God’s creation; who we are is creatures in God’s image. Why we are emerges from this: like God we are meant to be appreciators. If we don’t take the time to look, if we don’t take the time to wait until we feel the very goodness of creation, we have failed our most important task. Made in God’s image, we are meant to embrace sabbath, as God does. Now politicians can argue about environmental policies and agreements. But most of us learn to take care of a cat or dog when we’re young; a lot of learned to babysit pretty early too. So when they argue, when they destroy the very creation we are meant to sustain, our job remains the same: to care for creation, to care for others, to appreciate the loving God who hopes we will reflect the same care and creativity that made us and made us a place.
Sending Out Seeds
Appreciation includes preserving and protecting.Fifty years ago, the Hudson River was a long swamp of sewage and industrial pollution. Pete Seeger was a folk singer dedicated to bringing the songs of justice to people and he and his wife organized to create a 106 foot sloop to sail on the Hudson and raise people’s consciousness about the river. Today the river is so much cleaner, so beautiful. But here’s the important thing. Just like Groot, Clearwater sent out seeds. One of them landed in Suttons Bay, Michigan. Thanks to the efforts of Tom Kelly, Ellen Nordsieck and many others, an 88 foot schooner was built and an educational program created on Traverse Bay. Today, the lake is cleaner and other seeds are being sent out.
There’s a whole movement today that wants you to believe you can’t make a difference. It’s a lie; you can and do. Most of the difference humans have made has been negative. Because of our industry, because we have used the energy of fossil fuels, we’ve raised the temperature of our planet. It’s like a babysitter turning the heat way up in a home.
We can make a difference. The Paris Accords and agreements like it are based on sound science. Climate change isn’t a theory, it’s a fact; climate change isn’t a partisan political point, it’s a theological challenge, a faith challenge. It asks us whether we are indeed living in God’s image, as God’s people, caring for God’s creation. Our responsibility is to appreciate and sustain creation so that the fruit of all creation can ripen just as God intended.
I mentioned Groot at the beginning. Throughout the movie, regardless of the question asked or the situation, Groot says the same thing over and over and over: “I am Groot.” At first it’s mysterious but then it acquires a meaning: sometimes said with sympathy, sometimes as a challenge. When we read the story of creation, when we read the stories of Jesus, when we read the stories of the Spirit inspiring the church, what we find is that in the same way, God is saying the same thing over and over: you are a reflection of me. Act like it. Tend my creation; care for the garden I’ve made, help it produce the fruit of all creation an appreciate that fruit.