Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Garden of Eden - In the beginning...

Today we begin our Lenten Series called in the garden.  Gardens are important in the Biblical story because the Bible begins and ends in a garden.  Creation begins with God forming the Garden of Eden and in Revelation 22 we see heaven talked about using the image of a garden.  In heaven there is a tree of life that produces 12 crops of fruit and whose leaves bring healing to the nations.  All that was created in the first garden; water, land, a tree of life, vegetation and all life is found in the final garden of God.  We often use the word paradise when we talk about Eden and heaven and the word paradise comes from the word paradiso which means The King’s Garden.

Because the Middle East is such a dry climate, gardens were not common and so it was only the rich and powerful that were able to create and maintain them.  Kings were some of the only people who had gardens of lush vegetation and orchards that produced fruit year round and it was only kings who could create vast water systems to keep their gardens going during dry seasons and bring in all kinds of animals to make the garden not only thrive but be a spectacular place to visit.  One of the greatest honors any person could receive during their lifetime would be an invitation to walk in the King’s Garden.  It was truly an invitation to paradise. 

So our story of creation begins with the king of the universe creating a garden.
In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.  
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.
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. And God saw that it was good. 
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.  And God saw that it was good.
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.”  And it was so.  And God saw that it was good.
God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.  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.”
God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.
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.

It amazes me to think that the only place in our solar system where a garden could be created is right here, on the third planet from the sun.  And so on each day of creation God spoke and an element was created and added to the garden – light, water, land, vegetation and animals all filled the garden until on the sixth day God created human beings in God’s image to live in and tend the garden with God.  The blessing of life for us is that we get to walk in the King’s Garden, in paradise, with God. 

So let’s talk a little bit about the creation story in Genesis 1.  Many people want to read this as a science lecture, but it was never written to be science.  If we look at how the story was written in Hebrew we find that it looks and reads more like poetry or a litany.  There is a rhythm and flow to the story that repeats itself over and over.   God speaks – something is created – God calls it good. 
This story doesn’t explain how things appeared but instead gives us a glimpse into the God who creates.  We find here a God of order and power and purpose and relationship. 

While the story can’t be read as science, there is something this story shares with every scientific explanation of creation.  The single most common question about the creation story is this – who made God?  What was there before the light and water and stars and life?  The truth is – we don’t know and if you ask scientists what there was before the Big Bang or where the elements that started the creation process all came from they will tell you the same thing – they don’t know.  There are lots of theories and ideas, but no one really knows. 

The creation story wasn’t written to answer the scientific questions of how but to answer the bigger questions that people in ever culture have asked as long as we have been here:
1.  Who created the world?
2.  Why was it created?
3.  How are we supposed to live in this world? 

Every culture asks these questions which is why we find creation stories in all major cultures and religions.  These various stories shouldn’t surprise or concern us as Christians, what we should do is compare them to the Genesis story so that we can learn more about God.  Here are a few general differences we find in some of the creation stories from other cultures and in comparing them we see what they have to teach us about God.

In other cultures, it was multiple gods who created the world but in the Genesis story it is One God.  We believe in One God. 

In other creation stories we often find that gods fought with each other and out of these rivalries came different parts of creation that often lived at war with each other.  In the Genesis story we see that God creates all of creation in love and God creates to the world to live in harmony and unity and peace. 

In other creation stories human beings were created to serve the gods and if anyone was created in the image of god it was the king, but in our story God creates all of us to share in the beauty and blessing of creation and God creates all of as children.  Male and female we are all created in the image of God. 

So the answer to who created the world is - God.  The one and only God, the one we call Yahweh or Elohim.  The answer to why the world was created was because God wanted to share his life and love.  God created all of life and called it good so that God could engage and interact with all of creation.  Every aspect of creation the way God made it was good and all of human life God said was very good. 

So this leaves us with the third question, how are we supposed to live in this world?  What response does the story of creation call for from us?  How are we supposed to live in this garden?  The most basic answer is that we are to live with gratitude for God.  We should give thanks each and every day because of who God is and how God created us and because of the amazing garden God has placed us in.  1 Thessalonians 5:18 - give thanks in all circumstances for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.  God’s will for us is to give thanks.  God created us to be in a relationship of love where daily we see and understand how blessed we are and give thanks.   

During this season of Lent I want to invite you to make giving thanks to God a part of the rhythm and routine of your life.  Find five times a day where you can stop and thank God for all that you have.  That might seem like a lot, but really, if we can give thanks when we get up, when we eat breakfast, lunch and dinner and when we go to bed then we have given thanks five times in a day.  And this prayer of thanks doesn’t have to be long and formal – we are talking about a simple, thank you God for today.  Thank you God for food. Thank you God for your presence and love.  These simple prayers can lead us to a life of gratitude which is the most appropriate and pleasing response we can make to God. 

There are two other responses that this story calls for and the first one comes from Genesis 1:26-28.  We are called to rule over all that is in the garden.  The Hebrew word for rule here is râdâh which means to reign over and care for but it can also mean to subjugate, tread down and even to make crumble.  What is interesting about this word is that there is within it a certain amount of freedom and choice we are given about how we will rule.  We can rule over and care for the garden with respect and love or we can tread down upon it and literally watch it crumble.  From the beginning we see that God has given us a choice in how we are to rule and care for the world, we have some free will. 

For us to live as children of God, we need to choose to care for the world and rule over it with respect and love, after all this is not our garden, it is the King’s Garden.  We are to rule not for our own pleasure and pursuits but according to the King’s wishes and desires.  So how we care for this world is important.  Are we making good choices when we look at the environment and our use of natural resources?  No matter what views we may hold about how and why the world’s climate is changing – we are all called to use the resources of this world wisely.  We are not to waste resources, horde them or spoil them for our own pleasure and wellbeing.  We are called to share the resources of the garden so that all can live in and enjoy it and so it will be preserved for future generations as well.

I grew up with the 3Rs being ingrained in my mind and habits – Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.  During the energy crisis of the 1970’s we had to conserve heat so the thermostat was turned down in our house and my mom said if we were cold we could go put on a sweater or another pair of socks.  When the gas shortage hit we had to make sure we only took one trip to town and my Mom would often take us to lessons, practices and youth group and then sit and wait for us because it was a way to cut down on gas.  We have lost many of these practices because they are convenient, but maybe we need to reconsider their use to simply be good stewards of creation.

In what ways can we reduce our consumption of natural resources?  Can we turn down the heat and put on a sweater?  Can we make one less trip to State College or the Weis store?  Can we make sure we turn the water off when we brush our teeth?  As children of God we are called to rule over the creation with respect and care for it is the king’s garden and not ours.

Another response we need to make in light of how God created the world is found in Genesis 2:1-3.  While we often struggle with this day of rest, that it was included in the story of creation is profound.  Most other creation stories don’t include a day of rest that was to be shared with the children of God.  Human beings were often seen as objects made to serve the gods so there is no rest or refreshment there is only work and service but here God not only rests but God shares that rest and God makes it part of our lives and the life of all. 

While Sabbath rest was later written into the law of the Ten Commandments and at times leaders made into a burden because people tried to define what it meant to both work and rest and then impose those laws on others, the idea of rest as a natural response to the creation of God finds it’s beginning here – in the garden.  God rested and God gave rest as a gift and as part of the rhythm and flow of life.  If we are going to reflect the goodness, power and life of God then one response we have to make is to rest.  So how can we take seriously this call to Sabbath Rest? 

With schedules that pack more work into weekends than during the week, how can we set aside time to worship, reflect and refresh our hearts, spirits and lives?  We can’t make this a command or a law that brings on a burden.  We can’t define work in such excruciating detail that we beat ourselves up when we do something we shouldn’t have done but can we be more aware and more intentional in creating periods of rest.  Can we set aside evenings of rest during the week where we spend time as a family eating together, sharing together and playing together?  Rest is an appropriate response to living in the king’s garden.

In the beginning, in the garden, everything God created was good and human beings were very good.  We were created by God, to live in relationship with God and the best response for us is to love God and give thanks.  We were created to reflect the goodness and character of God which means we were created to tend the garden with love and wisdom.  We were also created to follow the way of God which means working hard and resting well. 

This is how God created it in the beginning and this is still how God wants it to be for us today.  Next week we will talk about how it all fell apart, but for today and for this week, let’s find ways to walk with God in this King’s Garden we call home.  Let us give thanks every day, let us care for God’s creation with wisdom and respect and let us set aside time for rest so that we can enjoy life and life to the fullest in the garden. 

Next Steps
The Garden of Eden – In the Beginning

1.  Read the creation stories in Genesis 1 & 2. 
What similarities and differences do you see in each story? 
What does each story tell us about God and ourselves? 
Why do you think there are two stories? 

2.  Our response to being created by God and placed in the garden is to give thanks.  See 1 Thessalonians 5:18
Give thanks 5 times each day during the next six weeks.  (morning, evening and all three meals)

3. The creation story calls us to rule over the world.
In what ways are you a good steward of creation? 
Where can you do a better of job of using, conserving and preserving the resources of this world? 
Where can you reduce, reuse and recycle in an effort to be a better steward?

4.  God included a day of rest in the creation story. 
Why do you think God added this day to the story? 
How is this different from other creation stories? 
Do you take a full day of rest each week? 
What activities should you stop doing on your day of rest?
What activities should you start doing to make it a true day of rest?