Mo. Barbara — Introduction
We gather again today for our Seasons of Creation worship series to continue our exploration of the relationship between God – the source of all holiness and creativity – the created world, and humankind. Today we specifically examine the relationship of humanity to God and the relationship among and between humans.
Now if I were choosing the lessons for today from an ecological stewardship perspective, which is the lens through which the Seasons of Creation liturgies were created, I would have chosen the second, not the first creation story in the book of Genesis. As we heard today, the first creation or origin story speaks of humankind having dominion over all Earth, ruling all living things. One can conclude from this story that the Earth was created for the purpose and pleasure of serving humankind. And many of us may believe that. The earth and all its plants and animals are here to sustain our lives; we are the masters and rulers of the Earth and all else are our slaves, whose sole purpose is to promote our sustainability and well-being.
But why then, we must ask ourselves, is there a second creation story, just a few verses later in Genesis, where we read an account from an entirely different perspective of the formation of humankind by God. In this story, God looked at the beautiful earth which God had created, where there were trees, and plants, and fish in rivers and streams, and birds in the air, but nothing had come to life yet. The ground was not yet green, because there was no gardener, there was no person to serve, nurture, preserve, and care for its well-being. The absence of a caretaker, of a servant to the whole, moved God, the Master Gardener, to take soil from the ground and mold it into a figure called Adam, or adam, the Hebrew word meaning human being. This story tells us that the Earth was not created for humans but rather humans were created to serve the Earth. Humans were not the masters of all, enslaving all creatures and living matter for our purpose, but rather humans were created to serve the Earth. We were given the task of “greening the ground”.
One origin story speaks of humans as ruling and having dominion over the Earth; the other of humans serving, preserving, and bringing into fullness all of Creation.
These two stories co-exist within the book of Genesis, reflecting the fact that they are written during two different periods in the history of the Israelite people. The sharp contrast between the two speaks more perhaps about them and where they were at that time in their relationship with God and each other, than it does about how God created the earth. The first story, as we learned last week, was written during a period of captivity, when they would have been experiencing separation, fear, vulnerability, and unpredictability in their lives. So often, I imagine, when we ourselves are in such uncomfortable and often dark states, we tend to create a world around us that is based on our ability to have control over our lives or, usually, the lives of others. These aren’t good times for us and so we lash out to remove our own darkness by creating darkness for others. From our place of fear, we lash out in anger and belittlement of others. From our place of discomfort from the unpredictability of our lives, we create an order around us that attempts to control others. From our place of vulnerability, we hurt others, we mistrust others, we discount and discard others, so we’re not the only ones hurting. We want to be the ones on top, the masters of the world, the ones in control. It’s not a faithful response, but people choose it, and it speaks about what is going on inside them, not how God would have ordered the world.
We can choose behavior oriented toward destroying others, or we can choose the behavior raised up in the second origin story. This narrative was written before the one which appears first in Genesis and during a time of prosperity, religious faithfulness, alignment with God, and security. The settledness in their collective soul allowed their story to be told where they had something to offer to the world, where they could see their small part as integral to the welfare of the whole, where they felt called by God to extend God’s continued care into the world, where their sense of abundance opened up in them a servant heart, a faithful response.
We as human beings live in the tension between our periods of fear and separation, where we can choose to lash out in anger and control, and those of peace and abundance, when we respond with a servant heart. How we respond matters to God. How we define what our purpose is as a human being matters to God. Do we enslave people through our anger and power and sense of entitlement — or do we serve all of creation with a loving heart?
I believe the purpose of human beings is to live, love, and serve God. How we do that, you may ask? One way we can live, love, and serve God is, as it says in the eighth Psalm, is that we should live and know that living is not a curse, for us or for anyone. Another way you can live, love and serve God is detailed in Paul’s letter to the Philippians where it talks about consultation of love and sharing in the spirit. And finally, the way you can serve God is said in the holy gospel of Mark where it says that Jesus called to them and said you know that among the Gentiles those whom are recognized are the rulers lorded over them and the great ones are triumphed over them but it is not so among you but whoever wishes to become great among them must be your servant and whoever was just to the first among you must be the slave of all.
The way we can do that with others is by showing them and sharing with them our spiritual beliefs. And, a way we can do that with God is through church and singing and praying. And sometimes an example of how we do this shows up in our everyday lives.
We learn how to live, love and serve God because of the way we are, and one of these examples is my ancient history teacher who is fun to be with, helps me learn a lot, and offers hands-on learning, and treats everyone well, keeps everyone on task, and when you aren’t paying attention he does not yell at you but draws you back into the conversation. The basic idea here is that this description of my teacher sounds a lot like how I would describe God. We live, love and serve God, when we are actually being like God in the world. When I am with my teacher, I want to serve my teacher. When I am someone’s servant, it means I believe with what they believe in, I choose to do what they want me to do, and they are setting a good example, believing in the right things, and showing an ability to live, love, and serve God.
This is different than being a slave to someone because being a slave to someone means you have to do something for someone else, when there is no choice. Often when we need to be someone’s slave, we will be punished if we don’t do what they want us to do and we don’t believe in what they believe in.
When someone else is doing something good, and we want to believe like them and act like them (because they are showing us how to live, love, and serve God), our brain makes a choice to be a servant to them and to God – and once we have attached ourselves to the right thing, then our heart is a slave, and we feel we have no choice but to do what God does: loves and respects every created thing.
How we treat each other, who we become a servant to, matters to us, to others around us, and to God. The opposite of being a servant to others is bullying others. Bullying is not right and it happens in all the schools. We may want to fit in, we may want to be liked, we may think others are better than we are. And when we feel this way, it can be easy to allow others to bully us. But there’s a difference between a heart of a bully and a heart of a servant. Our scriptures tell us today, from the letter to the Philippians, that we are to treat everyone the same and we know we should treat everyone well because God said all of creation was good. And how we treat others shows the world how we treat God.
If you take on a servant heart (not a bullying heart), these things will happen:
- You will realize people will like you, because no one really likes a bully.
- You will find more friends, because you will find that people believe in what you believe.
- It will make your heart feel good.
- You will feel stronger by not giving in to becoming a bully or being bullied.
- You will feel happier.
- You will be more loving.
- You will be on a mission for peace, knowing you are doing your part to bring peace into the world.
- You will be tranquil.
- You will be able to teach others not to be a bully.
When we take on a servant heart, it makes us be like God. We heard in our creation story today that humankind is made in God’s image. Treating everyone well and developing a servant heart makes us be more like God is and that’s how we live, love, and serve God.
Mo. Barbara — Conclusion
Our scriptures today tell us that we are made in the image of God. This means that what we do to each other is what we do to God, for each one of us carries and bears the image of God into the world. If we operate out of our fear and we want to control, or have dominion over others, by bullying, shaming, demeaning, discarding or disbelieving, we are no longer faithfully bearing God’s image into the world. We have lost track of the image of God within us and within others, and that matters to God.
If we operate out of a place of love, abundance, forgiveness, and hope, as God does, we faithfully bear God’s image into the world by showing compassion to those in pain, by listening to each other’s stories even when they make us uncomfortable, by respecting the dignity of all people.
God calls us to live, love, and serve God, by “greening the ground”, by opening the way of life for all created beings, by understanding our inherent connection with each other and all of creation, by honoring the part of God, the image of God, the truth of God’s love, found in each person. The choice between having dominion over or serving is an easy one when we look at the life of Jesus, who came to serve, not to be served. Amen.