"God's Amazing Creation"
Scripture - Genesis 1:1-2:4a
Sermon Preached by Gregory Knox Jones
Sunday, April 28, 2013

Physician Matthew Sleeth took a job in Maine and moved his family into a 200 year-old house that backed up to a river. While they were unpacking boxes, a neighbor named John dropped by to introduce himself and welcome them to the neighborhood. When John saw Matthew's son, he offered to take the two of them down the river in his boat. They both leapt at the opportunity.

Once they were on the river, John asked the young boy if he would like to try to catch a fish and without hesitation he said, "Yes!" Matthew rarely fished, but he knew how to operate a spin cast reel, so he put his hand around his son's hand and cast the lure into the water. Within seconds, there was a strike and his son almost jumped out of the boat. He reeled in his first fish, a black trout. Matthew netted it and brought it up for his son to see.

His son was excited and said, "Can we take it home and have it for dinner?"

"No," Dad said, "We'd better put it back and let it grow some more." John gave him an odd look, but just having met him, Matthew could not read his meaning. He released the trout back into the water.

They cast again and it wasn't long before his son was reeling in another trout, just slightly smaller than the first. His son pleaded, "Dad, let's take it home for dinner. Pleeeez!"

"Well, son, this one isn't quite as big as the first one. Don't you think we ought to let it grow some more?"

He looked over at John for support, but the man had the same funny look on his face. Finally, John said, "I've lived on this river all my life and that's the second largest trout I've seen caught. You let the largest one loose a few minutes ago."

Matthew was embarrassed and confessed he had never caught trout before and had no idea they were keepers. So, he put the second trout in the cooler to take home.

Later they headed back to the landing and, as they climbed out of the boat, John whispered to Matthew, "Don't let your son have more than a few bites of that fish." Then, he nodded to a nearby sign that warned of dangerous dioxin levels in fish from the river. No one who is pregnant should have any and children under 12 should have no more than one fish per year.

Dioxin is a poison that's produced when paper is made. It causes cancer and there is no safe level. So, without his son knowing it, Matthew went to a nearby store that afternoon where he bought a fish to replace the one he caught. Later it dawned on him that he had no idea whether the fish he bought had more dioxin, mercury or PCBs than the one he threw away.1

When I was growing up in Oklahoma, my Grandfather Knox took me fishing on Lake Tenkiller dozens of times. One day when we were out in the boat I became thirsty, so he cranked up the motor and drove the boat back to the dock where he reached for his thermos of water. While I was drinking it, he told me that when he was a boy, he could just dip a glass into the lake and drink the water without concern.

He could also eat fish everyday and not worry about ingesting too much mercury. Times have changed, haven't they? While fish are a source of high-quality protein and omega-3 fatty acids, we are warned not to eat fish more than twice a week. Nearly all fish contain mercury.

In 2009, scientists checked fish in 291 streams around the country. They found mercury in every single fish they tested. The largest source of mercury contamination in the U.S. comes from coal-fired power plants.2

Of course, that's not the only havoc we're wreaking. Most scientists believe that burning fossil fuels is what's responsible for heating up our planet. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration reports that the first decade of the 21st century was the warmest decade since modern temperature measurements began.3 The second warmest decade was the one before that. The third hottest decade? The one before that.4

The higher temperatures are causing the polar icecaps to melt and the sea to rise. Wildfires are becoming more prevalent, droughts more widespread and 100 year storms are not waiting a century to appear. Hurricane Sandy was the largest Atlantic hurricane on record. It killed over 200 people and did more than $60 billion dollars worth of damage. None of this is news to you.

What are we doing to God's creation? Even if you doubt that humans are the cause of global warming, you have to wonder why people don't treat the earth with greater respect.

If you were asked to give a concise summary of the teachings of Jesus, you could do no better than: we are to love God with our entire being and to love our neighbor as ourselves.

What if you were pushed a little and asked to explain what it means to love God or to love your neighbor? Would you talk about love in terms of feelings? That's what many would do.

Today's dictionaries promote the notion that love is basically centered on feelings. I clicked on the definition of love at Dictionary.com. First definition: a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person. Second definition: a feeling of warm personal attachment. Third: sexual passion or desire. And fourth, a person toward whom love is felt.

So, it comes as no surprise that many imagine that loving God and others means to generate a special, warm feeling. However, even a cursory reading of the gospels or the letters of Paul make clear that in the New Testament love is not primarily about feelings. Love is grounded in actions.

Anyone who has been married for any length of time will not say simply, "I know my husband loves me because he tells me he has special feelings for me." One will say "I know my husband loves me because he scrapes the ice off my windshield, takes me out to dinner, installs smoke alarms in the house and takes the kids to the playground." Love is expressed in actions that are kind and thoughtful and generous and unselfish.

Now, it's possible that another person could perform a number of actions for you, not because he/she loves you, but only out of a sense of duty. That's why we express love for another not only by what we do for him/her, but at a deeper level, it's how we treat the other person. If you genuinely love someone, you treat him/her with respect, with sensitivity, with concern for the person's well-being.

How do we express our love for God? By the way we treat all that God has created - people, creatures, and the very earth itself. The water, the land and the air.

Unfortunately, too often we act like a food addict who cannot say "No" to chocolate. The path to environmental destruction begins when we acquiesce to our immediate desires that undermine our long-term health. Do we really need our houses to be so warm in the winter that we can go barefoot? Or, so cool in the summer that we need to put on a sweater? Do we really need the largest SUV on the market? And to drive everywhere we go? Is it really such a nuisance to recycle, to turn off a few lights, to conserve water?

Unfortunately, we will not feel compelled to care for God's creation as long as we view it as an object to satisfy our desires or a commodity to be sold for profit. To paraphrase 1 John 4, "If we say €˜I love God' but we do not respect what God has made, we are liars."

Sadly, we also excel at large scale destruction. Wars do immense environmental damage, oil spills pollute our oceans, and pesticides poison our crops. In most developing nations, environmental damage is not even on their radar and, when it is, it is dismissed as the price for economic development. There are so many destructive forces spoiling God's creation that it's easy to give up hope for the long-term health of our planet. Yet, in spite of the many toxic forces straining the earth's vitality, God continues "to work in ever new and unforeseeable ways, countering and circumventing the obstacles we put in the way."5

God does not snap the divine fingers and clean up our disasters, but God encourages us to recognize the impact we are having on the earth and to figure out ways to leave a lighter footprint so that our grandchildren do not inherit a wasted world.

It is easy for an individual to say, "What I do personally makes so little difference that it does not matter if I recycle or set the thermostat down or buy a more fuel efficient car."

Really? What creates hope for the future of the earth is not the belief that my personal efforts make an overwhelming impact, but that I realize that I'm part of something much bigger; one of millions who are taking actions that are in harmony with the long-term health of the planet.

We are not helpless. We are not too old. We are not too busy to make a difference.

Theologian John Cobb says, "Belief in (God) is belief that I am not alone, and when I work for life and love in hope, I am working with something much greater than myself, that there are possibilities for the future that cannot be simply projected out of the past, that even my mistakes and failures may be woven into a healing pattern of which I am not now aware."6

Cobb acknowledges that there's no guarantee that a sufficient number of people will respond to God's urging to care for the creation, "But there is the possibility. The future can be different from the past."7 That is what gives us hope.

God's amazing creation is laced with beauty, much of which is on dazzling display during these days of spring when new life bursts from the ground and overcomes the brown and barrenness of winter. God challenges us to enhance the beauty of the earth rather than diminish it. God wants us not only to nurture its beauty, but to create and to celebrate beauty - the visual beauty that is pleasing to our eyes and the beautiful actions that promote the wellbeing of God's creation.

It comes down to our personal relationship with God. We must realize that making choices to reduce pollution is a reverent act of worshiping our Creator. Planting trees and protecting forests is a powerful prayer of thanksgiving. Driving less and walking more is an act of devotion to the Maker of heaven and earth.

If we truly love God and strive to be faithful, we will surely take precious care of this gift of our amazing planet.


  1. J. Matthew Sleeth, Serve God, Save the Planet: A Christian Call to Action, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan, 2007), p.52-53.
  2. Cornelia Dean, "Mercury Found in Every Fish Tested, Scientists Say," The New York Times, August 19, 2009.
  3. John Broder, "Past Decade Warmest on Record, NASA Data Shows," The New York Times, January 21, 2010.
  4. "Past Decade Warmest on Record According to Scientists in 48 Countries," National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, July 28, 2010.
  5. John Cobb, "Is It Too Late?"
  6. Ibid.
  7. Ibid.