In the Garden 5.5.19

Genesis 2: 4-9; 15
4b In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, 5when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; 6but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— 7then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. 8And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. 9Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
 
15 The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.
 
We spend a lot of time in church talking about our relationship with God.
Bottom line?
God loves us.
 
Our grateful response to this is two-fold.
Love God back.
Love what God created.
 
But most of the time when we talk about our relationship with God, it’s … well … a bit narcissistic. It is all about God and us. It’s like the only thing God cares much about is us! I don’t think that is theologically correct, though. God cares about a great many things and while we might be at the top of the list, we are not the only item on that list. It is a bit like parenthood. I love my kids and care about them more than anything. But I care about other things, too. I care about my wife. I care about my home. I care about this church and all of you. And I care about the world. The reason I care about so many things is that I was made in God’s image. God cares about all the things I care about and many other things as well. God cares about everything that God created. If we bear the image of God, we should, too. In fact, that is why we were created.
 
According to Genesis 1:26:
26 … God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’
 
God gives us dominion over all the things God created. What does that mean … dominion? Let’s look at our text today. Our text says that one of the principal reasons God created us was to care for all the other things God created. That is our first mandate. God basically said, “Take care of my stuff!” And it started out with plants. Our text tells us that God has created the universe but has not created any plants. Why? There was no rain, but there was plenty of other water available. What was missing? A gardener. So, God took some mud, fashioned it into a creature that was capable of tending the plants and gave that creature life. That was us. God creates humanity and places humanity in the midst of creation to tend and keep it. This is our story. This is our purpose. This is big!
 
And it makes me wonder why we don’t have a church holiday for this big event? We have Christmas to celebrate the incarnation. We have Lent and Easter to celebrate our reconciliation with God. We have Pentecost to celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit. Why don’t we have a “Creation Day” to celebrate the beginning of it all? The secular world does. It is called Earth Day. It is celebrated on April 22 every year in honor of the “national teach-in on the environment” organized by Democratic Senator Nelson and conservation-minded Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey that took place on that date in 1970. The 20 million people who participated in that event moved Congress to pass the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and the Endangered Species Act. The purpose of those three statutes was to protect and care for the environment. You know … creation. You might say that they codified what God created us to do.
But let’s get back to today’s text. What was our first assignment? Tend the garden. Care for the plants. Plants that are “pleasant to the sight and good for food”. Two things. Pleasant to the sight and good for food. [We will leave the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil for another day.]
Let’s start with pleasant to the sight. What does tending the plants that are pleasant to the sight look like? A few months ago, I visited the Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens. It was pretty awesome! The place smelled of fertile soil and flowery fragrances. The diversity was incredible as I walked through the different “ecosystems”. It was beautiful. It was inspiring. It was peaceful. But we don’t need to go to Phipps to see beautiful arrangements of foliage.
 
I went to high school with a guy named Craig. One summer, he decided to earn some money mowing lawns. Turns out he really liked it. He stated with a friend’s house, then gathered more customers over the summer. It wasn’t long before he had a truck and a bunch of lawn care equipment. Then he started to do landscaping. He took classes to learn about bushes and trees and mulch. He would buy the bushes and trees and plant them for his customers. Finally, he started a landscaping nursery so he could sell his own trees and bushes. He went from lawn tender to landscaper. But what Craig really did was gardening. He is a gardener who added beauty to the homes of his customers. He cultivated the land and made it pleasant to the sight. But you don’t have to be a botanist at Phipps, or a landscaper like Craig to beautify the world as a gardener. Many of us here plant flowers and trees and bushes at home or in public places that add beauty to the community. All these things are the doing of the work God assigned to us. Tilling and tending God’s garden. Then there the other type of gardening. The cultivating of plants that are “good for food”. If you want to see that, head down to Trax or Simmons farms. Row after row of trees, bushes and plants, all bearing fruit and vegetables. It is spectacular! But you don’t have to own a hundred acre farm to grow fruit and vegetables.
 
I have another friend – Peter. Peter leases a big plot of land off Boyce Road. He grows all sorts of vegetables. During the growing season, he spends endless hours tilling the soil, planting seeds and seedlings, watering, fertilizing, weeding, and then harvesting. He eats fresh vegetables at every meal and also preserves a good bit of what he has grown for the winter. He also gives a good bit of his produce to friends and neighbors. His garden is good for food. But you don’t have to farm like Trax or Simmons or tend a big plot of land like Peter. Many of us have small vegetable gardens at home that are good for food. When we till and tend these gardens, we are doing God’s work. Tending the garden. Why do so many of us do this? We like to watch things grow. We like beautiful vegetation. We like fresh vegetables. We like to give the world beauty and sustenance. Things “pleasant to the sight and good for food.” It is part of who we are. That is why God made us. That is what our text tells us. So, when we garden, we, too are doing work God has called us to do. When we do these things, it helps us to know, glorify and serve God. But there is more to it than beauty and food. There is also the preservation of the balance of nature. Think about it. Plants need us and we need plants. Plants need carbon dioxide to live. We deliver it. We need oxygen to live. Plants deliver it. That is a just a small part of the extraordinarily complex interconnectedness of plants and animals, that God gave us to preserve.
When we do these things, we do what God has called us to do. Make the world more beautiful. Make the world more productive. Make the world sustainable. That is what we have been doing for several years now with the SHIM garden. That is what we will expand on today with the planting of the 30 fruit trees. We not only plant a garden and orchard that are pleasant for the sight and good for food, we help the ecosystem we call Bethel Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the United States and the whole world. Even if it is just a little bit. Much of this we might not notice, but one thing we will. The food we cultivate and ultimately harvest will be used to feed those who could otherwise not be able to afford fresh fruit and vegetables. We will see our efforts preserve abundant life. When we get our hands dirty with gardening and continue our story. The one we first read about in Genesis. Developing a community garden and orchard on JMPC property is part of that story. It is loving God and loving neighbor. It is living the Jesus way. For JMPC, today is “Creation Day”! Let’s celebrate!

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