One of the best-loved Parables in the entire Bible is the story of the prodigal son. An upstart younger son asks for his inheritance before he fully becomes a man, and before his father dies! It’s as if he says, “Dad, I wish you were dead!” But his loving father still gives him the inheritance. The boy quickly squanders it on wild living and parties with friends. Out of money, he has to take a shameful job at the bottom of the social ladder—feeding unclean pigs. Wishing he could eat the slop given to the pigs, he remembers that his father is a good man and vows to return home. “While he was still a long way off,” Jesus says, “his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him.” The father welcomed his lost son home, he even had a feast to celebrate his return!
Heaven is not my Home
Do you ever stop and wonder what your future home will look like? You must! It is a part of the human experience to wonder about what will come ahead. Last month, Kaylee and I celebrated our tenth anniversary as a married couple. We took some time to wonder about our twentieth anniversary. We can hardly imagine it, it seems so far off.
We can imagine our futures and do our best to remember our pasts, but all these efforts inevitably fall short of their realities. In other words, we do not accurately remember the past as it was. A parent, a friend, or even an old picture can bring a more accurate portrait of your past. Likewise, we never accurately anticipate the future. The lives that we expect we will have—or even the outcomes we expect from our choices—reality never matches our expectations. We are creatures inextricably linked to our present.
So what does this all have to do with creation?
In short, the Bible tells us that our past, our present, and our future is all about the earth. We may come and go from place to place, or country to country, but the Bible paints a picture of God’s Creation, of the brokenness and fall of sin, of God’s redemption of the world; and about the renewal of all things that is to come. In other words, the Bible paints earth as our home—humanity’s home in the past and our future home as well. Part of being human and being whole is connecting to the rest of creation—connecting to the place where we belong.
Genesis tells us in painstaking detail all the work and time and energy that God put into creating the world. The focus of Genesis is God creating the earth—this planet—but the rest of scripture reminds us that God created all things as well. The passage we read together this morning specifically addresses God’s blessing to humanity after he created all things.
The idea that a blessing or favour could come with instructions and expectations is foreign to those of us who have lived our whole lives in Western Culture. But in the majority of the world, giving a gift is the first step in a relationship. In order for the relationship to grow, the gift must be returned. But here’s the rub—the gift cannot just be returned like an unwanted item goes back to the store; the receiver must want to give a gift in kind to honour the first giver and to deepen the relationship. It is not enough merely to do the right thing. To say it another way, it’s not enough simply to go through the motions. You have to do the right thing and do it for the right reason (with the right heart or intent).
I could say so much about the importance of creation care, but I simply want to remind us that God’s instructions and exhortations for creation come to us clearly, simply, and powerfully in Genesis. Remember, as we go through these quickly and shortly this morning, that these are not instructions to one man and one woman; these are instructions given to one man and woman for all who would call themselves God’s people. God’s children. God’s family. In other words, if this message was for Adam and Eve alone, it would not have been recorded. God walked and talked with Adam and Eve in the garden. He told them many things that we do not know. But these words are for us. Let’s go through God’s few words together.
Be Fruitful and Increase
This is first a word about embracing life. Being fruitful is what all of the natural world does. Do you know what living things do? They grow. They cannot help it! It is a part of their natural order. Small animals grow into larger ones. Little shoots become plants. Buds become flowers, then become peaches! Creation is connected to God and so it reacts to his words with unconscious obedience. But we have a mind! We can choose not to grow. We can remain as we are. Choose to close our minds to new information; to close our hearts to more love and more learning. This is not God’s way for us; nor is it the way that leads to rest. This word to “bear fruit” can also mean to “produce crops”. Again, the land does it unconsciously, but for people, we have to choose to cultivate the earth around us.
I wonder, do you cultivate the world around you? Or do you simply use it for your own pleasure? Do you consider what will be left behind when you leave? Perhaps it’s something as simple as taking your garbage with you on a hike, so that it’s not left behind. Maybe it’s far more complex, like how your vote in an election will affect your neighbours or the next generation to come. Do you live only for yourself, or are you cultivating the world around you?
Fill the earth and Subdue it
In the same way that you make a pitcher in order to fill it with water, God made the earth in order to fill it with his creation, including humans! God shares his honour with us by inviting us to participate in the act of creation—we do not make things from nothing; but we put things in their place. Again, Kaylee and I went on a hike a few weeks back, with friends, to Grotto Canyon. It’s a simple hike that many people do, but by the waterfall there is a sculpture garden. We did not make the rocks, of course, but we all piled up some rocks together to add an inukshuk to the garden. We join God and others in the beautiful act of creation. This act too is about rest and enjoyment! The word “Subdue” God uses, it’s not about forcing oneself on another or on creation, but rather about bringing the wilds under control. Genesis 1 tells us that in the beginning, the earth was “formless and void”. This description continued to be used, in ancient times, of the desert and of the sea. These were places of void and formlessness. They were wild and untamed. But Jews built canals in the desert and flooded it with water; before them, the Dutch built dykes in the ocean and took back land from the North Sea! These acts of creation create rest and flourishing for people and animals alike. They bring control to our wild world.
When you go out into the world, are you taming the wilds and bringing order? This is the creative work that God has invited all of us to join him in? When we do art, like pottery, we take a lump of formless clay and make it into a beautiful pot. Each day, God gives us twenty four whole hours! But they are empty and formless. We get to join God in the act of creation and consider: “what will I create with the empty and formless time I have today?” How will you fill the time that God has given you and what will you create with it?
The last instruction: Rule
This is where the alphas among us get excited! We get to be in charge! Everybody listen up and line up. But, of course, that is not quite the tone of God’s words here. Remember how I said earlier that God invites us to join him in creation? We can always look to God’s action and God’s character to determine how best to do what God calls us to do? So when we wonder about ruling, we can look at scripture and at our world—and we see that God rules with patience and care. He does what is best for others, not just what is best for himself.
But more than that, the word “rule” that God uses here is an uncommon word for rule. In most contexts, the word that is translated “rule” here is translated as “tread” or “walk” or even “stomp”. But it’s not a military word, it’s a word from the world of agriculture. Tread and walk and stomp is what you do to grapes, when you’re making wine. which is to tame the wilds and make them useful; to actually bring more flourishing. In other words, the word “rule” is about taking charge for cultivation. Think of it another way; it’s not a picture of “rule over this army.” It’s a picture of “rule over this garden!” If you smash a zucchini on the ground, it’s good for nothing, and you have robbed yourself and others of zucchini bread! But if you take the zucchini, you peel it and shred it, add some spices, sugar, and flour; then you have a delicious and beautiful thing. You can eat it, share it, give it as a gift! Make enough, and you can start a business! In English, we would say, at a certain point, you become a masterbaker. A master rules.
God uses his abilites and power to rule over the whole universe—over everything that is, was, and will be. And then God invites us to use our abilites and power to rule in the same way that he rules. Not for our own selfish benefit, but in order to cultivate beauty, joy, and more creation. God did not create kimchi; he created cabbage. God did not create wine; he created grapes. The things that we make with God’s creation are a good part of our “ruling” and cultivating work. When we do them, we can enjoy rest of all kinds—we enjoy connection with creation as we understand it more fully. We enjoy peace and flourishing and we find a purpose and place for ourselves, for others, and for God’s creation. And we can enjoy Sabbath rest as well—we can take a break from our regular work.
I’ll say one more thing as we close: so much in our modern world pressures us to be experts and specialists. We have a particular role in our work. We have to learn all kinds of specific information in the classroom (though not for a few more weeks!). In sports, you are not just “on the team,” you have a certain position to learn. If our modern world pressures us to be experts and specialists, connection with creation allows us to be generalists—to simply play with and within God’s good world. When we connect with creation, when we get to ask creative questions of ourselves; the pressure is off!
So this morning, I encourage you to lay aside any pressure you feel; set aside the pressure or expectations you are creating for others. Wonder with me for a few moments, what it might be like to play with God in his beautiful wide world.
Let’s come to him in prayer.