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Being a Keeper

November 15, 2009

Sermon:  Being a Keeper

Text:  Genesis 1:26-31; 2:15

 

Today is Green Sunday at Morningside Baptist Church.  People have been quite curious about this emphasis.  Some have asked, “Has Kirk lost his mind?  Why are we pushing the season?  Surely this topic would have been better addressed in about two weeks at the service of the Hanging of the Green.”  Many questions have been asked about why we are emphasizing Green Sunday today.  Some have thought it was a tricky way to emphasize a stewardship Sunday, a tricky way to encourage you to come up with green bucks.  I know that you trust me to tell you straight-out when we need to give more money.  The issue I bring before you today has been growing in my consciousness, growing in my own awareness; but it has nothing to do with giving money. 

 Two Sundays ago on All Saints’ Day, I was seated on the front pew with Mike Hensley and Kelli Kirksey.  During the opening hymn, Mike pointed out a big roach crawling across the carpet and asked me, “Should I get a visitor’s card?” 

 I answered, “No, I will take care of it.”  During that hymn, I walked over to the critter and squished it into oblivion.  Then during the morning welcome, I scooped it up in a Kleenex and put it in a trash can.  I turned to Mike and Jo McGee, who were sitting right behind me, and commented, “That is what you call reverence for life.”  It was a serious jest.

When I was in college, I read a book by Albert Schweitzer called Reverence for Life.  I was absolutely taken by Schweitzer’s concept that, as Christian people, we need to hold all of life in reverence.  He lost me the further he explained what reverence for life meant to him.  Albert Schweitzer, who had a medical clinic in darkest Africa, would not kill a gaboon viper, even though he had seen that highly venomous snake kill many, many people.  He thought that swatting a mosquito was wrong even though he had treated numerous people for the disease of malaria.  I do not take reverence for life that far.  The purpose of our Green Sunday today is to raise an awareness of our sense of reverence for life. 

 Some of you may say, “Kirk has become a tree hugger.”  I have always been a tree hugger.  If you work at a lumberyard, you learn to hug trees early.  I hugged a pine tree one time so tightly that I had scars for a long time after I slid all the way down it.  Being a tree hugger is not offensive to me.  We must have a sense of regard for the environment in which we live. 

 One reason I wanted to address the need to accept responsibility for the environment is because today is the anniversary of Erik’s death.  I know how much Erik would have  appreciated this message.  He really was sort of a prophet in the way he could see social issues and address them through his writing.  This is one such issue that must be addressed. 

 A group gathered at Wofford College several weeks ago to discuss how the faith community can respond.  We realize that this issue has become such a political football, a political hot button.  It is so entangled that it is almost impossible to address the problem from a political perspective.  It is so entangled that it is difficult to make sense out of nonsense. Politicians are not consistent.  It stands to reason that the very issue of conservation should be identified with those who are conservative, but that is not the case.  Duplicity occurs on both sides when it comes to this political debate.  Rather than achieving clarity, the issue has become more contaminated because of the political discussion.  I have no intention of going in that direction today.

 A new book written for evangelicals, A Climate Change:  Global Warming Facts for Faith-based Decisions, addresses this pitfall, as well as the pitfall that evangelical Christians like us tend to regard anybody who speaks in scientific jargon with a kind of suspicion, especially when it comes to issues of the environment.  Many evangelicals are afraid of scientific views.  We wonder, Is this person really committed to Christ?  After all, our first priority is to win people to the Lord Jesus, to let them know about the love of Christ.  Yes, of course that is our first priority.  We are, first of all, evangelical Christians determined to share the Good News of Christ with all who need to hear.  When it comes to ethical matters, Christian people cannot be single-issue people.  We have to be more comprehensive than that.  I want you to hear me out on this. 

 I am an evangelical Christian.  I am a Baptist pastor.  I accept fully our Great Commission from Jesus himself that our priority is to go into all the world and share the Good News of Christ.  As a graduate of Furman University who majored in biology and minored in chemistry, I know that environmental issues are important.  Most scientists are not our enemies; most scientists are trying to make the world a better place.  The truth is that all of us have benefited from that effort.  Of course, some are hair-brained;  every profession has its quacks.  We should not, however, condemn the whole scientific profession, the whole scientific discipline, because of a few who go astray.  Instead, we must listen.  My suggestion is that we not listen so much to the politicians or even to the scientists.  We must listen to what God has said about this issue. 

 With that thought in mind, turn with me to the first chapter of Genesis.  There, we have an account of all God did in creation on the sixth day of creation.  Follow as I read, beginning at Verse 26 and ending with Verse 31: 

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground…So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. 

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it.  Rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and every other living creature that moves on the ground.” 

Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the earth and every tree that has fruit with seed on it.  They will be yours for food.  And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds of the air and all the creatures that move on the ground – everything that has the breath of life in it – I give every green plant for food.”  And it was so. 

God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.  And there was evening, and there was morning – the sixth day.

God has said that the people He created are to have dominion over the earth, which means that they are in charge.  You need to pay close attention to this.  The words “dominion” and “subdue” do not mean abuse.  These two terms apply to a steward, a person who has responsibility for something that belongs to an owner.  That is clear in Verse 15 of Chapter 2:  “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to take care of it.”  Other translations say that the man who was put in the garden was to be “the keeper.”  Our responsibility is to be keepers of the earth, keepers of creation.  This important concept is right at the heart of our understanding of what it means to be Christian people.  It is a responsibility we cannot dodge.  I understand that you do not particularly want to hear about this responsibility, but it is one that needs our attention. 

 What does it mean to be “a keeper”?  The first point is that we must pay attention. 

 Our little grandson has gotten his wheels.  I do not mean he has literally gotten his wheels.  I mean that he has his mobility.  He can scoot from one place to another faster than you can imagine, and he has a particularly strong attraction to outlets and electrical cords.  He may just be an electrician one of these days.  Taking care of him requires constant vigilance.  Those who are in charge of keeping him must pay attention. 

 In my involvement with Scouting, I always thought that boys should earn one particular merit badge at Boy Scout camp.  The environmental science badge has a particularly difficult requirement, difficult for any boy.  We take the boys attending Camp Bob Hardin into the woods to sit there a total of ten hours – two hours a day for five days.  We ask them simply to pay attention to what they see, what they hear, what they smell, what they touch.  They are to simply pay attention to the world around them.  What do they have with them?  They have their five senses and a notebook to record their thoughts.

 If we are going to be good stewards of God’s creation, we must first pay attention.

Last week, while Clare and I were away writing the Christmas story, we stayed at the coast in a house located by a lagoon.  Watching what happens in that lagoon is absolutely fascinating.  This year, one particular kingfisher worked that lagoon back and forth, back and forth, catching all kinds of fish.  Dragonflies also worked that lagoon, eating voraciously every insect in their path.  An osprey that lives nearby occasionally flew down to catch fish. 

 This year, we saw a drama unfold between an alligator and a great blue heron that was trying to feed in the shallow waters.  This alligator, almost completely submerged, would swim ever so close to the bird.  Then it would try to lunge and catch that bird.  The two times I saw this drama played out, the blue heron escaped, flapping those massive wings and lifting itself out of the way.

 Paying attention to the world around us is absolutely fascinating.  Simply observing what is happening in the world around us is part of being a steward.

The second point we must remember is that we are taking care of something that does not belong to us.  Native Americans believed that the land belonged to the Creator.  They could not imagine that people would take, buy, sell, or fence in land and say, “This is yours, and this is mine.” 

This concept that nature is a frontier that must be conquered – this notion of imminent domain and manifest destiny – developed in the United States and in Western Europe.  We believe that we can build concrete dams to hold back the waters of rivers and harness their power.  We think we have the license to burrow holes in the Blue Ridge Mountains, to extract what is called “black gold” until those coal veins are depleted.  Then we have the right to bring in big machinery and knock off the tops of the mountains to get every last shred of coal beneath the surface.  It is evident that we use the air, the water, and the land as a place to dump the toxic residue of our manufacturing. 

In essence, we have the idea that this earth belongs to us, that we can conquer it, that we can do whatever we want to do with it.  This idea that we can seize, capture, and take as our own whatever is in our way, that we can do whatever we think is good for our country, is simply foreign to the way Native Americans thought about the land.  It is certainly foreign to what the Bible teaches.  Listen again to our Call to Worship this morning: “The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world and they who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1). 

I do not know whether you saw the absolutely fascinating special on the national parks by Ken Burns.  The whole idea behind our national parks runs counter to this concept of manifest destiny.  Some places ought to be saved.  Some places ought to be preserved.  Thankfully, visionaries in our country saw that our national parks needed to be places where nature itself, the creation, is preserved.  The word “subdue” does not mean to conquer.  Subdue means to work with it and have a sense of stewardship.

The Bible tells us the story about one particularly effective keeper, Noah, whose name means “God’s relief.”  You will notice in his story found in Genesis, Chapters 6-9, that Noah was charged with the responsibility of putting two of every kind of animal on the ark to save their lives.  God did not want Noah to leave out any animal.  He wanted them all saved because all creatures of our God and King are important to Him.  After the flood, God made a covenant with Noah, a rainbow in the sky symbolizing a new beginning. 

Clare and I saw a rainbow yesterday, just a tiny one; but it served as a reminder that we are in partnership with God in this stewardship endeavor.

The third important point to remember is that we are going to be held accountable.  It is true that we reap what we sow. 

A man dreamed that he went into a general store and walked up to God who was standing behind the counter. 

God told the man, “You can have anything you want.  What would you like to have?” 

The man answered, “I want world peace.  I want a world without war.  I want freedom from hunger for a whole world.  Would you please give me those things?” 

God smiled at him and answered, “We can give you the seeds, but we do not sell the fruit.  You have to grow that.”

We are in partnership with God.  He wants us to be stewards of His creation.

I want to talk to you about three important areas that are all part of this issue of being stewards of the created order. 

In this world, 42,000,000 unborn children die every year through abortions.  The rate is 115,000 a day.  In this country, 3,700 die each day.  Who are the women who have these abortions?  Most of us tend to think they are so different from us, but you may be surprised to learn a bit about those who choose to have abortions.  Ninety-three percent of the decisions to have an abortion are not related to rape, incest, or any kind of developmental disorder.  They are simply made out of convenience.  We tend to think that the women who have abortions are minorities, but they are not.  Sixty percent of these women are Caucasian.  Listen to some other statistics:  68.7% – more than two-thirds – say they are Christians; 37.4% are Protestant; 31.3% are Roman Catholic; and 18% of all these Christians say that they are born-again evangelicals.  When God created this world, do you think He wanted unborn children to be aborted?  Was that His plan?  Would you say that we have been good stewards of His creation? 

When you think about the created order, you think about taking care of the environment and tend to put abortion in another pocket somewhere, in another category.  I would submit to you that the avoidance of the topic is a clear indication about how we regard the gift of life.  Do you think crushing a roach is bad?  How bad is crushing approximately 115,000 unborn children a day?  The truth is that most of us never think about the issue of abortion, maybe not until it comes into our own family.  I know that whenever I mention this issue in a congregation like this, those who have been affected by abortion have broken hearts.  That pain is so hurtful, but the topic must be addressed.

A second issue we rarely think of when we consider the environment is world hunger.  Over one billion people in the world right now are hungry.  Today, 16,000 children will die of hunger.  We have more overweight people than we have hungry people.  We spend much more money on healthcare for people like me who have weight-related diseases such as diabetes than would be required to feed the hungry people in this world.  It is estimated that feeding the billion hungry people in the world would cost about $198,000,000,000 a year. 

The United States is the most wasteful country on earth. The people in this country consume far more than our share.  Do you know that we import food from third-world countries – where people are starving to death – to feed American people?   We throw away enough food to feed the hungry people of the world three times over.  We alone throw away 96,000,000,000 tons of edible food every year.  Think of it this way:  the amount of money we spend on pet food or the amount of money used to feed grain to our cattle would be more than enough to feed hungry people in the world.  The amount of grain used in the brewing and distilling industry would be more than enough food to feed all the hungry people in the world.  The problem is not the shortage of food. The problem is the way in which it is distributed.  The problem is the negligence or the apathetic attitude we have about sharing it with the hungry.

The third issue involves global warming, another topic you may not want to hear about from the pulpit.  The issue, however, has everything to do with Noah’s ark.  It has everything to do with caring for the planet.  It has everything to do with saving lives.  An estimated 300,000 people die each year from global warning.  That estimate will tend to increase.  We do not have a frontier to be conquered.  We live with all the other inhabitants of the earth on a spaceship, a big blue marble in space that has enough clean air, water, and food to sustain every occupant.  Our problem is that we must distribute it fairly. 

In coal mining communities, miners send a parakeet into a shaft when they suspect the presence of toxic air.  If the parakeet dies, miners do not go into the area.  What do you think about 16,000 children dying every day from world hunger?  What do you think about 115,000 unborn children dying every day from abortion?  Those figures are worse than the death of a parakeet in a mineshaft.  Those figures mean that something is wrong.  Those of us who believe that God created everything, that He entrusted us to be stewards of His creation, to be keepers of the earth, have a responsibility to solve this overwhelming problem. 

A woman in England, who made a trip to the South Pacific to do some research, saw hundreds of dead albatross.  When she performed autopsies on those dead birds, she found that 90% had a plastic bag in their stomach.  From the air, a plastic bag floating in the ocean looks like a jellyfish.  The albatross tried to eat the bags and died. 

What can we do to help the problem?  Today when you leave the church, you will receive a green bag imprinted with the Morningside logo and website address.  Use these bags rather than the plastic ones at grocery stores.  We want you to take it with you when you go shopping because people in this community need to know that we are trying to help.  The manufacturing process of every plastic bag uses petroleum.  When the cashier or bagger asks, “Paper or plastic?” remember to say, “No thanks.  I have brought my own bag.” 

Inside this green bag is a grocery shopping list of items T.O.T.A.L. Ministry needs to re-supply their pantry.  Buy the items on the list, and return them next Sunday.  Unload your bag into the green bins in the hallways, but do not leave your bag.  Use them on your next trip to the grocery store.  

We can help in so many other ways.  Thirty simple ways that we can make this world a better place, ways we can be better stewards of God’s creation, follow the sermon.   

You may ask me, “Kirk, what does this have to do with the Christian gospel?”  Listen:  when we say, “For God so loved the world…” we mean that God loves every person.  He sent Jesus to die on the cross to save us from our sins.  I believe that with all my heart.  Our top priority is to hear, to heed and to follow that message.  Scripture says, “God so loved the world…”  That means more than just the people.  When God looked back on what He created, He said, “That is good!”  When, on the sixth day, He created us and put us in charge, He said, “That is very good!”  God created us to take care of the very good world.  “All nature sings, and round me rings the music of the spheres.”  God created it for His praise.  We may not want to hear this message, but it is one we need to hear.  We cannot dodge our responsibility.

Knowing Jesus as your Savior is the top priority.  If you are here today and have never acknowledged Jesus as your Savior, we invite you to come.  Make that decision and respond to him today.

IT’S NOT EASY BEING GREEN

Kermit the Frog sings his refrain, “It’s not easy being green.”  Our stewardship of God’s creation does require lifestyle changes.  Below are thirty small steps that can help all of us to be better caretakers of the earth.  You will notice that many of them will help you save money, a green reason to go green. Every little bit will help.

1.  Make caring for the Creation a matter of prayer.  Make stewardship of the environment a matter of your personal commitment to God.

2.  Change to fluorescent bulbs (CFLs).  If every house in the United States changed all of the light bulbs, that would be equivalent to taking one million cars off the streets.

3.  Don’t rinse dishes before putting them into the dishwasher.  On average, you will save fifteen gallons of water per load. Plus, you will save time.  Install a faucet aerator. These inexpensive appliances conserve heat and water, while keeping water pressure high. 

4.  Unplug kitchen appliances, and turn off computers at night.  Energy-smart power strips will help save dollars by eliminating vampire energy use.

5.  Use both sides of paper.  If you have a printer with a double-sided print option, use it.  You will save half of the amount of paper you would have normally used.  Recycle paper that is no longer needed.

6.  Don’t take baths; take shorter showers.  You will, on average, save about half the amount of water you would if you were taking a bath.  Every minute you cut from your shower is roughly five gallons of water.  The less time your shower takes, the lower your impact on the environment.  Install low-flow showerheads.  They don’t cost much, and the water and energy savings can quickly pay back your investment.

7.  Don’t buy bottled water.  Instead, get a reusable container to carry water.  Also you can get a filter to make your home tap taste more like bottled water.  It is definitely more cost-efficient.

8.  Turn the water off when you brush your teeth.  You will save four gallons of water doing this alone.

9.  Eat smart.  Avoid all-you-can-eat restaurants that contribute to food waste.  Increase the number of meatless meals you eat.  Eat lower on the food chain.

10.   Recycle Glass.   Glass takes about a million years to decompose.

11.  Don’t pre-heat the oven unless required.  Turn the oven on after you put the dish in it.  Also, to see if the food has finished cooking, look through the glass instead of opening the door.

12.  Use the warm or cold setting on the washing machine.  Avoid using the hot cycle. This will save a lot of energy a year.  Remember the clothesline?  Hang clothes outside to dry.  Your clothes will last longer, and you will save money.

13.  Turn down your thermostat in winter; turn it up in summer.  Every degree lower in the winter or higher in the summer is a 10% decrease on your energy bill.

14.  Turn off your lights and your television.  Turn off your lights and your TV when you leave the room.

15.  Get rid of junk mail.  There are services that can help you get rid of junk mail.  That will lead to fewer trees being destroyed.

16.  Use matches instead of lighters.  Lighters are usually considered disposable, so they will most likely end up in landfills.  Use cardboard matches, which are much more eco-friendly because they are made of recycled material.

17.  Refuse a paper phone book.  Instead of getting a paper phone book, use an online directory.

18.  Give away things you no longer use.  Give clothing you do not wear to a charity or someone who will use it.

19.  Go to a car wash.  Going to a car wash is more water-efficient then washing your car at home.

20.  Stop paper bank statements.  Why waste paper getting your bank statement mailed to you when you can just check it online?

21.  Use rechargeable batteries.  Even though it will take a good investment to buy these, you will find yourself gaining it back in no time.

22.  Pay your bills online.  If every house in the US did this, we would save 18,000,000 trees every year.

23.  Plant drought-tolerant native plants in your garden.  Many plants need minimal watering.  Find out which occur naturally in your area.

24.  Organize your errands.  Make a list of errands you must do, and see if you can group several together in one car trip.

25.  Inflate your tires.  If your tires are properly inflated at all times, your car will run more miles on less gas.

26.  Wrap presents creatively.  Without going out to buy wrapping paper, you can use newspaper, an old map, or anything else.  It would look more creative.

27.  Plant a tree.  It’s good for the air.   It can keep you cool and increase your property value.

28.  Buy local produce.  Consider how much energy it takes for produce from China or any other country to come here.  If you have the option to buy local, do it.

29.  Walk or ride a bike when you can.  If you have to go somewhere close, consider riding your bike or walking there instead of driving your car.  It’s better on the environment and healthier for you. 

30.  Carry a reusable bag.  When the grocery clerk asks, “Paper or plastic?” you can answer, “No, thanks.  I have my own reusable bag from my church.”

             Thank you for considering making these changes. Our children and our grandchildren will be grateful, and we will be more responsible stewards of God’s creation.

Faithfully,

Kirk H. Neely

© November 2009

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