When I was a boy, Pittsburgh was called the Smokey City.
I remember seeing pictures of the streetlights on downtown at noon because of the darkness caused by the industrial smog.
Then in the late 1960s a series of environmental catastrophes focused the nation’s attention on the need to control pollution.
Two are particularly noteworthy because they were so extraordinary.
First was the remarkable 1969 Cuyahoga River fire near Cleveland, Ohio.
You heard that right.
The Cuyahoga River caught on fire.
The river was so full of industrial waste that it actually burned.
The fire reached heights of over five stories.
While the fire went out in less than an hour, that did not diminish the impact of a river on fire.
Then there was the 1969 blowout of an oil well off the coast of Santa Barbara, California.
A thick layer of oil sludge covered many miles of beaches and basically wiped out the local coastal ecosystem.
The nation was horrified.
Kathy Morales was a high-school student who witnessed the destruction.
Morales was approached by a reporter as Morales, with tears in her eyes looked at a convulsing loon stuck in the oily sludge.
“This is my life—out here,” Morales cried.
“I can’t think of coming down here for a stroll again.
I can’t think of someday bringing my children here to watch and to play.”
Richard Nixon, newly inaugurated president, was also horrified.
Three months later Nixon inspected the beaches and made some comments and some promises.
“What is involved is something much bigger than Santa Barbara. … What is involved is the use of our resources of the sea and the land in a more effective way, and with more concern for preserving the beauty and the natural resources that are so important to any kind of society that we want for the future. I don’t think we have paid enough attention to this. … We are going to do a better job than we have done in the past.”
And that happened.
On April 22, 1970 there was a “national teach-in on the environment” organized by Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson and Republican Congressman Pete McCloskey.
That was the first Earth Day.
Then, over the next 4 years came the National Environmental Policy Act; an Executive Order creating the Environmental Protection Agency; The Clean Air Act; The Clean Water Act; and the Endangered Species Act.
Over the next eight years a significant number of other environmental laws and regulations were enacted to clean up our country and the world.
And they worked!
Smokey cities and burning rivers were cleaned up.
When Ronald Regan became president in 1981, his administration’s environmental protection approach was less enthusiastic.
James Watt became his Secretary of the Interior.
Watt was opposed to much of the environmental protections that were then on the books.
Yet when asked in a Congressional hearing if he thought it was important to preserve the environment for future generations, fundamentalist Christian Watt said this:
“I do not know how many future generations we can count on before the Lord returns, whatever it is we have to manage with a skill to leave the resources needed for future generations.”
He also said this.
“The Bible commands conservation — that we as Christians be careful stewards of the land and resources entrusted to us by the Creator.”
Why would Watt say these things?
Because the Bible says these things.
And while I certainly disagree with just about all Watt’s views on how to be good stewards of God’s creation, he and I agree that God calls us to do it.
Why do Watt and I think that?
Let’s look at our scripture reading.
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.
God loves us.
We love God.
But it’s a bit more complex than that.
First, how do we know God loves us?
Everything you see has been created and given to us by God.
From the deepest parts of the seas to the highest peaks on the planet, God’s love for us is demonstrated.
Really, take some time with the docuseries Planet Earth.
Take a tour through the national parks.
Look around your neighborhood.
Then there are your friends, the community that you live in, the people you rely on and even the people you argue with.
They are God’s creation, too.
And finally, there is the water we drink and food we eat.
Enough for everyone if we distribute it right.
Yeah, God loves us.
Loving God back is a bit more complicated that you think, too.
It’s not just coming to church on Sunday.
To love God, you have to love what God created.
We do that by taking care of what God created.
But most of the time when we talk about our relationship with God, it’s … well … a bit narcissistic.
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’s 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.
I care about those generations of folks who are coming after us.
Our relatives we will never know or see.
I care about what we will leave behind for them.
But God doesn’t want us to just care about God’s creation, go wants us to care for creation.
Which 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 creation to subdue and have dominion over.
What does that mean?
That humanity is to rule over creation, not as a dictator, but a benevolent caretaker.
We are to walk in and have a relationship with creation so that creation can thrive.
And us with it.
That is our first mandate.
God created us and basically said, “Take care of my stuff, and it will take care of you.”
Look at our text today.
It says that the principal reason God created us was to care for all the other things God created.
God wanted to create plant life, but needed something else first.
What was missing?
That was us.
God created humanity and placed us in the midst of creation to tend and keep it.
We are not here to consume it.
We are not here to abuse it.
We are here to take care of it.
Like Richard Nixon said.
Like James Watt said.
To preserve creation for future generations.
This is our origin story.
This is our original purpose.
We are caretakers of God’s creation.
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.
Commemorating the beginning of our desire for environmental protection.
You know … creation care.
You might say that all those environmental laws codified what is in our text today.
So 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”.
Pleasant to the sight and good for food.
But let’s start with pleasant to the sight.
What does tending the plants that are pleasant to the sight look like?
Before the pandemic, 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.
It was pleasant to the sight.
But we don’t need to go to Phipps to see beautiful arrangements of foliage.
Many of us here plant flowers and trees and bushes at home or in public places that add beauty to the community.
When we do these things, we are doing the work God assigned to us.
Tilling and tending God’s garden that is pleasant to the sight.
Then there is 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!
Gardens and orchards that are good for food.
But you don’t have to own a huge farm to grow fruit and vegetables.
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 flowers.
We like fresh vegetables.
We like to give the world beauty and sustenance.
Things “pleasant to the sight and good for food.”
Doing the work God has created us to do.
It is part of who we are.
It is our purpose.
That is what our text tells us.
But there is more to it than beauty and food.
There is also the preservation of the balance of nature.
God created a garden.
God created gardeners.
Each needs the other.
That is a just a small part of the extraordinarily complex interconnectedness of plants and animals, that God gave us to preserve.
The problem today is that the gardeners, us, are not doing a good job.
We are depleting the natural resources, polluting the land, air and water, and heating up the planet.
The climate changes.
Creation goes out of balance.
It cannot continue to support us.
To be clear, this is sin.
It is failing to do what God calls us to do.
But as gardeners, caretakers, and stewards, we can help to creation to regain the balance.
It is not just a good idea.
It’s our God given responsibility!
How do we do it?
I am no expert on any of this, but I do know that we can do little things.
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 have started with our fruit trees.
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 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.
When we get our hands dirty with gardening we go back to our origins.
The ones 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”!