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The Earth is Not Ours to Do with As We Please

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My church observed Earth Stewardship Sunday recently by singing hymns and offering prayers that honored God as Creator.

We were even reminded during communion that the bread and wine are gifts of the earth provided by the one who made it.

For my sermon, I chose to focus on the words of the hymn, “This Is My Father’s World,” in order to emphasize a very important biblical truth: This world doesn’t belong to you or me.

As the Psalmist boldly declared, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; for he founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters” (Psalm 24:1-2).

I like the way George McKinney Jr. put it. “The creation of our Lord does not belong to the rich who possess it nor to the poor who need and want its resources. Neither the greedy nor the needy can claim ownership!”

So many of the environmental problems we face today have resulted from our failure to understand or remember that the earth is not ours to do with as we please. The earth belongs to God.

We do learn in Genesis 2:15 that we have a role to play in God’s creation and that involves taking care of it. Unfortunately, we have been far more prone to abuse creation than take care of it.

Many people see the earth and its resources as simply a means for getting rich. Far too many people abuse the earth’s resources without any concern for others or for those who will come after them. No wonder we find our planet in the shape it now is.

When I was a teenager, I remember a television commercial that featured a lone Native American standing on a high precipice observing the decimation of this country’s natural beauty. As the camera zoomed in, you saw a tear falling from his eye. It was a very powerful presentation and got a lot of people’s attention.

I have a feeling that if we could somehow get a close-up look at God’s face these days, we might find a similar tear and for the same reason.

In essence, we have trashed the beautiful world God so graciously gave us. We have failed to be the stewards of creation God commissioned us to be.

In the final verse of “This Is My Father’s World,” the writer says, “God trusts us with this world, to keep it clean and fair. All earth and trees, the skies and seas, God’s creatures everywhere.”

These may just be the words of a hymnist, but they echo the teachings of the Bible. God did, in fact, entrust us with this world “to keep it clean and fair.”

Our heavenly Father expects us to honor the earth as his creation and to take the steps needed to reverse damage that has already been done and to work to preserve what we can for future generations.

I spoke at the funeral of a friend recently whose favorite song was “Rocky Mountain High.” He wanted it played at his service, so we did.

As I listened to the words, one line in particular caught my attention. It’s the one where John Denver sings, “I know he’d be a poorer man if he never saw an eagle fly.”

I could relate to that. I can honestly say my life is richer because I have seen – and here where I live now continue to see on a regular basis – eagles soaring above me.

But not that many years ago, there were concerns about whether bald eagles would even exist in this country now.

The effects of the pesticide DDT seriously threatened the eagles’ existence. Had there not been tremendous pressure put on public officials to remove DDT, I would likely not have the privilege I do here of seeing eagles on a regular basis. Those who fought the battle to eliminate DDT made a difference.

If we are going to take earth stewardship seriously, we need to be looking for places where we can make a difference too. Got any ideas?

Chuck Summers is a pastor of the First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Henderson, Kentucky. He is also a photographer whose work has appeared in numerous national magazines and calendars; he has published three photography books. A version of this article first appeared on Seeing Creation, a blog that Summers co-authors with Rob Sheppard, and is used with permission.