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In the last decade or so our denomination (the PCUSA) has urged churches to use this Sunday to explore how all of Creation praises God’s name, and how we can give thanks to God for the wonder and beauty of the world around us. This Sunday was chosen because it’s the Sunday before Earth Day, which is this coming Wednesday and it will be the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.  Creation and the environment can become a politically divisive issue and that’s not my intention this morning. The intention this morning is for us to explore together what God has to say about creation and humanity’s relationship to the rest of creation.  The environment has been in the news lately not because it’s the 50th anniversary of the Earth Day, but because wild animals have been showing up in places where they normally aren’t seen because billions worldwide are sheltering in place. You can see to the bottom of the canals of Venice and even see sea life because gondolas and motor boats aren’t churning up mud into the water. Fluffy white mountain goats gather 10-20 times a day in the heart of a small town in Wales. There are whale sightings in the Mediterranean sea where you usually see them but because there are fewer cargo ships the whales have expanded their migration routes.  A record number of turtle hatchlings are making their back into the sea after hatching on land as there are less tourists sunbathing on their hatching grounds. While the sites of these animals are heartening and fun to see, to say that humans, however, should stay sheltering in place forever so that nature can fully restore itself is not the message we should take away from this. But it does bring up the question of what does it look like for there to be a healthy balance where humans and the rest of creation coexist? As we see in Genesis there is a hierarchy in creation. Humans are the only creatures who were created in the image of God. Not an elephant, a tiger or a horse. What sets men and women apart is that together we form the image of God. It can be said then that humanity is the climax of the creation account. This therefore makes us God’s representatives to the rest of creation.  It is why God entrusted us with having dominion over all of creation. Original Hebrew word for dominion means “to rule.”  It could be translated as “To Lord over” or in the case of our translation “to have dominion.”  Those two phrases “to lord over” or  “to have dominion”, tend to have negative connotations.   They give the impression that to have dominion means you have the right to do whatever you please with whatever or whoever is under your rule. That as the ruler your subjects have no say.  That is not how we are to understand dominion in this passage. We need to understand the word dominion (as in all things in scripture) in light of Jesus Christ. Who as a human was not just the image of God, but is God.  This is why Jesus is our Lord. But Jesus is Lord like no other Lord found on earth. When we look to Jesus we see that the one who rules is the one who serves. It’s why the disciples were so taken aback when on their last night together as they celebrated the Passover meal, Jesus got up from the table, poured water in a basin and began to wash the disciples’s feet. First of all feet are gross. Second of all the disciples’ feet must’ve been really gross because they wore sandals in ancient Palestine and they walked on roads that were dusty because they weren’t made of concrete, but dirt mixed in with who knows what else. So you can imagine that the disciples were just beside themselves that this person who they witnessed do miracles and who they came to know as the Messiah and their Lord was now lowering himself to the level of a servant by washing their filthy feet. Jesus then tells them “you must do what I have done.” Jesus as our Lord and the one who rues is also the one who serves.  Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew: “whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, 27 and whoever wishes to be first among you must be your slave; 28 just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.” Walter Bruggermann in his commentary on Genesis writes that for humanity to have “dominion” over the earth is comparable to how a shepherd cares for their sheep. A shepherd makes sure the flock flourishes and stays healthy. We then have a responsibility that all of creation flourishes as willed by God. We are to care for every creeping thing both on land and in the sea not just for our own enjoyment and sustenance, but for the sake of creation itself. When we fail to care for creation all of creation, including us, suffers. To shepherd and care for all of creation requires sacrifice. Right now we are sacrificing by staying home in order to help prevent the further spread of Covid-19. Those who are considered essential workers are putting the health of others ahead of their own in order to make sure our hospitals are fully staffed and our grocery stores remain stocked. Those who are working tirelessly to find a vaccine are also putting the health of others ahead of their own. While we’ve done this air pollution is down in major cities such as L.A, Beijing and 50% of Europe. Clean air benefits all living creatures and hopefully this brings up important conversations among policy makers and ourselves about what we can do to help our air be cleaner when it’s time for us to stop sheltering in place as clean air benefits all living creatures.  As beautiful as nature is, it is like humanity, broken. Nothing in creation is presently what God originally meant for it to be. It was not God’s intention, for example for the existence of dangerous viruses like Covid-19. Disease and sickness were never part of God’s plan for creation. These are symptoms of living in a fallen world.  While there is evidence of brokenness in creation we also see powerful pictures of God’s redemption in creation.The seasons themselves are analogies to how God is at work in our lives. There will be times of life that will feel like winter filled with darkness and bittercold. While winter may seem like forever Spring does eventually arrive. Just as we see the first flowers of Spring bloom after a long harsh winter, we experience glimpses of Jesus’ faithfulness that comforts us after a harsh season in life or a month of sheltering in place.  When Christ returns it not just us who will be redeemed, but all of creation. All will be restored to what God originally intended all of creation to be. Paul describes in Romans chapter 8 that all of creation groans in anticipation for the day when it is released from its bondage to decay. In Revelation 21 John writes there will be a new heaven and a new earth when Christ returns. In CS Lewis’s beloved children’s books the “Chronicles of Narnia” the last book of that series “The Last Battle” ends with Aslan the Christ figure and Lord of Narnia restores Narnia to what that land was meant to be. The Old Narnia was just a mere reflection of what the Narnia was intended to be. One of the main characters describes restored Narnia as:  “A deeper country: every rock and flower and blade of grass looked as if it meant more. I can’t describe it any better than that: if you ever get there you will know what I mean.” One resident of Narnia when they enter into the new Narnia exclaims: “I have come home at last! THis is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for my whole life though I never knew it until now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked like this.”  While we await Christ’s return and we look forward to the day when all is restored, we are still called to be good shepherds of creation.  While using reusable grocery bags isn’t encouraged at the moment in order to protect the health of our grocery store workers, there are still things we can do while we’re sheltering in place. Many of us are cooking more than ever so there’s a lot of food waste coming out of our kitchen more than usual. If you have the room perhaps it’s time to start a compost pile in your backyard. This is one of my Shelter in Place goals so if you’d like to do this with me let me know! Volunteer to be a part of a beach clean up later in the season and even simple acts such as being mindful of how much water we’re using are ways we can be good shepherds of the environment. God could have made our world extremely boring and plain. Instead God gave us the beautiful diversity that is creation. It is God’s gift to us to enjoy, but also a gift we need to take care of. While we only see glimpses of Jesus in nature God does use nature to point us back to Jesus Christ.  And In Jesus Christ we have hope that when he returns all of creation including we ourselves will be redeemed. Introduce slideshow: I’d like to end our time together with a slide show that Sara Shambarger helped put together. It features shots of God’s beauty here in the Tri-Cities area and elsewhere in MI taken by some talented photographers from our own congregation. As it plays I’d encourage you to thank God for this creativity and for the privilege we have of caring for our planet.