Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves

“Restoring the Planet… and Ourselves”

June 11, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

 Genesis 1:1 – 2:4                     Matthew 28:16-20                 2 Corinthians 13:11-13

 

 

On June first of this year (2017), President Donald Trump announced that the United States would cease to participate in the Paris climate agreement that had been signed by President Obama.  Our news media has been full of stories on both sides of the issue.  Naturally, Europe and leaders from around the world were opposed to him doing such a thing, but it also seems that the primary role of the United States under the Paris Agreement was to pay for other countries to comply.  There have also been questions about whether the Paris Agreement was ever legally binding because it had twice failed to be ratified by the United States Senate as required by our Constitution.

 

I have to admit to some mixed feeling about what has been done for a variety of reasons and I find both good and bad points in the arguments of both sides.  Regardless of your position or personal feelings about the Paris Agreement, or about climate change, or environmentalism, or any number of other hot button environmental issues, there are elements of scripture that require us to take a second look at the interests of environmentalism, but which also call us to look deeply into the mirror and consider who we are and what we have done with what we have been given.

 

Let’s begin at the beginning, at the creation of the world and all that exists.  Let’s begin by reading the story of creation from Genesis 1:1 – 2:4.

 

1:1 In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters.

And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. God saw that the light was good, and he separated the light from the darkness.God called the light “day,” and the darkness he called “night.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the first day.

And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day.

And God said, “Let the water under the sky be gathered to one place, and let dry ground appear.” And it was so. 10 God called the dry ground “land,” and the gathered waters he called “seas.” And God saw that it was good.

11 Then God said, “Let the land produce vegetation: seed-bearing plants and trees on the land that bear fruit with seed in it, according to their various kinds.” And it was so. 12 The land produced vegetation: plants bearing seed according to their kinds and trees bearing fruit with seed in it according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good. 13 And there was evening, and there was morning—the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the vault of the sky to separate the day from the night, and let them serve as signs to mark sacred times, and days and years, 15 and let them be lights in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth.” And it was so. 16 God made two great lights—the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars. 17 God set them in the vault of the sky to give light on the earth, 18 to govern the day and the night, and to separate light from darkness. And God saw that it was good. 19 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the water teem with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the vault of the sky.” 21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good.22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”23 And there was evening, and there was morning—the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the land produce living creatures according to their kinds: the livestock, the creatures that move along the ground, and the wild animals, each according to its kind.” And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals according to their kinds, the livestock according to their kinds, and all the creatures that move along the ground according to their kinds. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

27 So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

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

29 Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. 30 And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so.

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


2:1 
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

 

This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.

 

First, since this is Trinity Sunday, I want to point out that it was the Spirit of God that hovered over what had not yet been created, but I also want to point out that God’s command to humanity was not to fill the earth and destroy it, but to fill the earth and subdue it.  When we subdue and animal, or even an enemy, the word subdue allows us to understand that what is subdued is not damaged, but repurposed or redirected.  Wild horses are subdued so that they can be transformed into a creature that works side by side with humans to do things together that neither could ever do alone.  Other animals are subdued so that they can be relocated away from populated areas.  But in most cases, the act of subduing is done in a deliberate way so that the animal is not harmed.  When God blesses humanity with the world that he has created, we are established as custodians and caretakers and not installed as overlords who are bent on domination and destruction.

 

But we know from the story of Adam and Eve, that our custodial care of the world quickly went disastrously wrong.  Because of their sin, human beings were suddenly thrust from a garden in which their care was custodial, into a harsh world where every moment of their existence was focused on survival.  What God saw at the end of the sixth day was “very good” but today, maybe not so much.  After the sin of Adam and Eve and their ejection from the Garden of Eden, both humanity and the planet on which they lived began a serious decline.  For thousands of years, not only did humanity struggle for survival, but we also struggled to rediscover the wonder of those early days in the garden, humanity has struggled to rediscover the kind of relationship  and the closeness that Adam and Eve had with God but we were eternally separated from God by our sinfulness.

 

Until the arrival of Jesus.

 

The sacrifice of Jesus on the cross was the one thing that could repair our relationship with God and return us to the kind of closeness that humanity once had with God.  That return, rescue, and restoration, was such amazing news that Jesus’ final words to his disciples were about what they needed to with what they had learned.  In Matthew 28:16-20, we hear these words:

 

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 

Jesus’ instruction is to go into the world and make disciples in every nation and to baptize them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  As we’ve discussed before, the word, “Trinity” doesn’t appear in scripture, and isn’t invented by the church for almost a hundred years, but Jesus obviously understood the concept that God existed as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, regardless of what term you choose to describe it.  But Jesus also cautions his disciples not to teach half-heartedly or with some kind of bias, but to teach everything that Jesus had taught them.  And finally, as Jesus left, he reminded them that while he might be leaving the world physically, he would be with them always even until the end of the world.  It doesn’t take a genius to understand that Jesus’ words were intended for us just as they were for the first disciples.  Since humans only live for a few dozen years and then pass their mission on to the next generation, Jesus’ promise to remain with the disciples is clearly a message that Jesus remains with us still today.

 

But there is one more thing I want to point out.  Beyond Jesus’ command to go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, there remains one more statement of purpose from the Apostle Paul that helps us to understand why we do the things we do.  Besides simply obeying Jesus, or besides sharing because the story of Jesus, and the opportunity to repair our relationship with God, is best news ever (as that isn’t enough), Paul says this in 2 Corinthians 13:11-13,

 

11 Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

 

12 Greet one another with a holy kiss. 13 All God’s people here send their greetings.

 

Paul says that we should celebrate because the story contained in the gospels truly is Good News but he also tells us that our goal should be full restoration.  Not only should we accept Jesus as our rescuer, but we should also work toward restoring who we are to the perfection that God intended.  Far too often, we are less than we could be, and less than God intended for us to be, because of our struggle with sin, and so, although we have already been forgiven, we must constantly be at work trying to move ourselves closer to God and closer to becoming the people that God created us to be.  Most of us know that we can do better.  It isn’t difficult to imagine a version of us that is better than the one that we see in the mirror.  Our mission is to try to move toward that goal.  But I also think that because God gave us intelligence, power, and authority over the planet, we are still the custodians and caretakers of the earth.  We must work toward restoring the earth, as much as humanly possible, to the perfection that it once was, and maintain it, in good condition, for future generations.

 

Perfect people would have no use for a ruined planet, and as we’ve already seen, a perfect planet could not last long if it’s filled with ruined people.

 

We need to restore our planet, and ourselves, at the same time.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.

 

Eternity Restored

“Eternity Restored”

May 28, 2017

By John Partridge*

 

Acts 1:6-14                           John 17:1-11                         1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11

 

What does it mean to be “restored”?

 

There are some excellent clues for us in popular culture on television shows like Counting Cars, American Restoration, and to a lesser extent Fast n’ Loud, American Pickers, and Pawn Stars.  On all of these shows the viewers, at least occasionally, get to see old, damaged, and sometimes totally derelict artifacts from our history brought in and lovingly disassembled, repaired, and returned to factory new condition.  Often on these shows, it’s all about cars, but sometimes it’s also about motorcycles, bicycles, old signs, vending machines, glass domed gas pumps, and a host of other things.  Sometimes the restorations are so beautiful that they actually look better than the originals did coming off the assembly line.

 

Some years ago, Michelangelo’s paintings in the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican were restored to their former glory by art preservationists.  Centuries of soot and dirt were removed, damaged areas repaired, and the colors returned to the bright and vibrant shades they once were.  Many people were shocked by the transformation and textbooks about Michelangelo’s work had to be rewritten because the colors that he used were brighter and more “cheerful” than the art world had long believed.  What was once believed to be a painting which was deliberately dark and foreboding was in reality full of bright colors that had been hidden by centuries of accumulated soot and smoke from candles and oil lamps.

 

But what does any of that have to do with the church?

 

And the answer is… everything.

 

Let’s begin this morning by reading Acts 1:6-14, where we find the disciples of Jesus asking him a question about restoration that seems to be less than satisfying at first, but which ultimately tells us a lot.

 

Then they gathered around him and asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?”

 

He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

 

After he said this, he was taken up before their very eyes, and a cloud hid him from their sight.

10 They were looking intently up into the sky as he was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them. 11 “Men of Galilee,” they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven.”

 

12 Then the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. 13 When they arrived, they went upstairs to the room where they were staying. Those present were Peter, John, James and Andrew; Philip and Thomas, Bartholomew and Matthew; James son of Alphaeus and Simon the Zealot, and Judas son of James. 14 They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers.

 

Since this conversation happens after Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection, the disciples already understand that Jesus is not a conventional king and does not intend to raise an army, throw out the Roman legions, and rule Israel in the way that earthly kings ordinarily did.  The disciples already understand that they are not going to be rich and powerful advisors to the king.  And so they want to know when Jesus will restore Israel to greatness.  What they seek to understand from their question is simply to discover when Jesus will return to set up his eternal kingdom.

 

But Jesus replies that they don’t need to know.  What they do need to know is that God intends to give them great power through the gift of the Holy Spirit so that they can be witnesses for Jesus Christ in Jerusalem, in Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.  Jesus’ message is that it isn’t important for us to know when he will return, because the important thing for us to know is what we are supposed to be doing while we wait for him to return.  Although I didn’t realize that we would be talking about this exact scripture this week, this is the message that I shared with our children last week. We are to begin where we live (Jerusalem), go out to reach our neighbors (Judea), including the neighbors we don’t like very much (Samaria), and from there we are to go out to tell the story of Jesus to the entire world.

 

It is both interesting and important that the very next part of the story finds the disciples staring into the sky after Jesus ascends into heaven.  And as they stare at the sky, angels appear to tell them that since Jesus is gone, and since Jesus will eventually return, they should quit standing around staring at the sky and get to work.

 

John’s account of this same event includes a few more details saying (John 17:1-11)

 

17:1 After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

 

“I have revealed you to those whom you gave me out of the world. They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word. Now they know that everything you have given me comes from you. For I gave them the words you gave me and they accepted them. They knew with certainty that I came from you, and they believed that you sent me. I pray for them. I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me, for they are yours. 10 All I have is yours, and all you have is mine. And glory has come to me through them. 11 I will remain in the world no longer, but they are still in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them by the power of your name, the name you gave me, so that they may be one as we are one.

 

In this prayer, Jesus explains that eternal life is given to those who know God and who know Jesus Christ.  The mission of Jesus was to reveal God to the people of the world and he notes that those that follow him also obey him and understand that everything that Jesus has given to them came from God.  Finally, Jesus prays that God would protect his followers so that they might become one with each other and one with both God and Jesus.

 

But the road to one-ness and unity is not a road that is full of rainbows and unicorns where everything is painless and wonderful.  Instead, in his letter to the church in Asia Minor, Peter warns the people that life is likely to be more than a little difficult. (1 Peter 4:12-14; 5:6-11).

 

4:12 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed. 14 If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. 

 

5:Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

 

Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that the family of believers throughout the world is undergoing the same kind of sufferings.

 

10 And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. 11 To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.

 

Peter explains that following the way of Jesus Christ, being his disciple, and doing the things that Jesus taught, is likely to not only be difficult, but that we will probably be insulted, suffer in various ways, and that “fiery ordeals” are likely to be more common that rare.  Our goal is not to have a perfect life that is free from pain, but to be humble enough to accept God’s guidance and protection.  Joining the cause of Jesus marks us as the enemy of evil and the enemy of God’s enemy and as such, we can fully expect to be attacked.

 

We are, after all, at war.

 

Peter advises the followers of Jesus Christ to stand your ground, to resist the attacks of the enemy and stand firm in your faith because we know that we aren’t unique and that the followers of Jesus all over the world are experiencing the same kind of problems.  I find this advice to be strikingly relevant as we live in a world that seems to continually ask us to compromise what we believe.  We are constantly asked to tone down our message because it is too harsh, too difficult, or too judgmental and it would seem that not much has changed.  It would appear that our world of the twenty-first century is not that different than Peter’s world of the first century.

 

Throughout history the believers of Jesus Christ have been attacked and asked to compromise their faith, and to “give a little.”  But Peter recommends that we do not.  Instead we should stand firm with the faith that we have been given and resist attempts to rewrite and revise Jesus into something that he wasn’t.  But to do that, we need to study the word of God so that we understand who Jesus really was and thoroughly understand what it is that he really taught.  In the end, Peter says, after we have been allowed to suffer for “a little while,” God will restore us and make us strong, firm, and steadfast.

 

All of us are familiar with the periodic news stories about this or that Bible scholar, or this or that self-styled modern prophet, who thinks that they have finally figured out exactly when the second coming of Jesus will happen.  But the message of scripture is that none of us can possibly know.  More than that, it isn’t our job to know.  And even more than that, knowing when the return of Jesus will happen is far less important than knowing what we are supposed to be doing in the time that we have before he does.

 

We are called to be witnesses of Jesus Christ and preach the Good News in Jerusalem, in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the world.  We are called endure criticism, and insults, and tests, and fiery ordeals because we fearlessly do the will of Jesus Christ and carry out his mission.  We are called to stand firm in our faith and resist the attacks of the enemy of God.  We are called to humble ourselves enough to trust him when we are afraid, to accept his guidance, his protection, and although we humans are an impatient bunch, we are called be humble enough to accept God’s timing.

 

The message of scripture is that it isn’t our job to know when, but that our focus must be kept on what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime.

 

When God is ready, Jesus will return to the earth.

 

When God is ready, Israel will be restored.

 

When God is ready, we will be rescued, made strong, firm, and steadfast, lovingly restored to the unbent, undamaged, better than factory new, perfect condition that God intended, and ushered into eternity.

 

Everything will happen when God chooses for it to happen.

 

But in the meantime… we have work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

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* You have been reading a message presented at Trinity United Methodist Church on the date noted on the first page.  Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Trinity of Perry Heights in Massillon, Ohio.  Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you.  Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry may be sent to Trinity United Methodist Church, 3757 Lincoln Way E., Massillon, Ohio 44646.  These messages are available to anyone regardless of membership.  You may subscribe to these messages by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at subscribe@trinityperryheights.org.  To subscribe to the electronic version sign up at http://eepurl.com/vAlYn.   These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.