When I was about ten years old, my parents drove me from my hometown of Harrison to this place I had never been before – in my memory it was a really long trip, and at the end of the trip we made this scary drive up a mountain. There were these hair pin curves, and we wound this way and that way until we almost reached the top of the mountain. And we turned off the main road down a tiny dirt road and came to the most beautiful place I thought I had ever seen. And it is still one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
It was Camp Mitchell on Petit Jean Mountain. My parents were taking me there for a week of summer camp, and I have to admit to you that I was so shy and backward that I was miserable the whole week – I had no idea how to make friends or interact with people. But….I felt God’s presence in that place. There is an open-air chapel built right on the edge of the bluff – what an amazing place that is. You can still drive down that little road and see it today. Behind the altar you can look out over the green valley below. You can watch birds soaring in the wind currents, and sometimes the clouds are even right at eye level.
That week at camp, I knew that God was there with me, not because of reading the Bible or prayers or any of the camp activities. But I experience the presence of God in the majesty of the mountains and the lush green grass of the valleys. I realized that week that God was responsible for the brilliant stars in the sky and that God designed the forests and rocks and critters that we spent the week immersed in. And as a teenager, when I first began to question the faith that I had been raised to believe, I remember realizing once more when I was in an outdoor setting that only God could have created the beauty and variety that we enjoy every single day.
I’m wondering if any of you have been overwhelmed by the presence of God when you pay attention to all the things that God created. Noticing God’s creation is one way that our faith is ignited. It is a way that God’s grace works in our lives to help us realize that there must be a higher power that created all things, and it is also a way that we can grow deeper and stronger in our faith.
During the next few weeks, we are going to look at scripture like we heard today that celebrates God’s glory in creation. We are going to take time to thank God for creation and also to learn about what it means to care for creation. Each week, I’m going to provide you with some challenges and some fun things to do that might help you make these ideas real in your life.
Today we heard the story of the beginning – Genesis 1 tells how everything began, how God created all things. And each day of creation builds on the next; each day stands on its own and yet is also interconnected. For example: the earth grows the plants, the seeds feed the birds, the plants feed the people. We are connected. And throughout the scripture we heard a blessing from God. Throughout, God says, “it is good.” God blesses and approves of this work of creation.
We can learn a lot about who God is from the creation story. We know for certain that the creator is creative, don’t we? Think about how different we humans are! Unless you are an identical twin, you are absolutely unique in who you are and how you look. And I’ve heard that even identical twins are not totally identical. Did you know identical twins have unique fingerprints?
And think about all the vastly different kinds of fish and birds and animals. Does anyone else have one of these books – this is the Audubon Society Field Guide to North American Birds. It’s crazy how many different variety of birds there are – and these are only the North American varieties. I have this folder that lists all the different kind of waterfowl. And think about the different kinds of landscapes that we have across the world! Just in the small state of Arkansas we have six different types of land – Ozark mountains- raised limestone dome, the Ouachitas – mountains that were created through folding and being pushed together, the Delta – rich farmland, the Arkansas River Valley, the Gulf Coastal Plain (rolling landscape covered with pine), and Crowley’s Ridge – which is Arkansas’ smallest and most unique region. Now let me just tell you that Crowley’s ridge is this narrow band of a mountain that rises hundreds of feet above the flat Delta farmland, and it’s covered with pale, white sandy soil. And one of your challenges for the day is to find out how Crowley’s Ridge was formed. It’s really fascinating to read about this. And this just amazes me even more – that our landscape is constantly changing, isn’t it – because of the wind and rain and even the tectonic plates moving deep within the earth.
One of the most stunning places I have ever been is the Great Sand Dunes National Park in Colorado. Has anyone been there? That place has the snow-covered Rocky Mountains with sand dunes at the base of the mountains. It’s a place where the highest mountain and the sandiest desert meet – now that is a creative God! God is a creative God!
By reading the creation story, we can also learn about the indescribable power of God in creating the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. It is too hard for us to understand how this might even have been accomplished, and so we learn that God is mysterious and above our comprehension. And also, I think we see God’s loving kindness in creation. God has given us all of creation for the support of our lives and simply for our enjoyment, too.
God is good, and we give thanks to God for all of creation, don’t we?
And yet, God also gives us a job as a part of creation. Look at Genesis 2:15, again, here is how the NRSV translates it:
The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
Our job is to till the land and to keep it. Some other translations say: we are to “cultivate and guard it,” work it and take care of it,” “farm and take care” of it, “work the ground and keep it in order.” Now, some of you all actually do farm, till and work the ground – you are gardeners of the earth. I have benefited from your labors. And I am wondering if we might create a list of who grows what to share among the church – so that if you produce eggs or beans or honey – we might be able to buy produce from you! Would you be willing to use the tear off slip to give me your contact info and what it is that you might have available for others to buy from you?
But then, we are also called to care for creation, to take care of it, to keep it and to guard it. As part of the command to love God and love others, we are called to care for creation. I think if we love God, we ought to love all that God has created. And I think that if we love our neighbor, we ought not ruin creation for one another and for all those who will come after us.
As we go through this sermon series, I will be sharing a lot of information for you and some ways that you can help to take care of creation. And you may be like me, and you may hear about things like pollution and climate change, deforestation and endangered species, and feel overwhelmed by the issues. But what I want to encourage you to do is to just start with one thing that you might be able to do that might help us to guard God’s creation. Since we are reading about the beginning of the world, maybe we can begin with just one thing. The insert that you have in your bulletin will give you some ideas to think about. You know it might be as simple as noticing litter wherever you are and picking it up.
You know, as I thought about this story of the beginning and as I pictured the lush images in Song of Songs, I couldn’t help but think that God is trying to make a point with all of the majesty of creation. You know, God was really showing off when he created the Alps and the Grand Canyon and blue birds and the artichoke. When God created things like the gazelle and the turtledove, the rose of Sharon and the lily of the valley, I think God was trying to get our attention. I think the Creator of the Universe wants a relationship with you. What if creation were God’s invitation for us to draw near and experience the love of God that is in Christ Jesus, our Lord? So, may we open our eyes to the glory of God that shows up in every bird of the air and every stunning sunset.
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.