by Emmanuel Turkson, Creation Care Officer of A Rocha Ghana
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Since the beginning of creation, humanity and nature has been a recurring journey of harmony and discord with the latter often suffering greatly at the hands of people. Even though the plans and dictates of God concerning his Creation form the core component which holds the great design together, we oftentimes lose sight of the essential truth (who they are/purpose) but rather focus more on the existential relevance (what they do/function) of creation.
Vs 10 We see how God sets the ordinances of the firmament in place with precision and purpose in an orderly manner. The rains fall to water the earth, then the earth brings forth fruits to feed mankind, but it doesn’t end there. This structure presents the full expression of the wisdom of God. Proverbs 3: 19 by wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding, he set the heavens in place. Job’s encounter with God reveals how God acknowledges and appreciates how He built the earth in full detail. Verse 10 also reveals the key role of humanity to ensure sustenance of creation: to sow first, then to make bread. It is important to note the order of the sustenance plan (first, to care for it, then to use it, also seen in Gen 2:15). It is however unfortunate that we have changed the order of the sustenance. Here in Ghana, the overexploitation of a timber species found in a fragile Guinea Savanah ecosystem, rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceous), and unsustainable agriculture practices, like burning during farm preparation which leads to huge biodiversity loss, distort the order of the sustenance plan.
Vs 11 God compares his word to creation; Two things we can highlight are the DESIRE of God for the creation and the PURPOSE for which He sends his word or establishes creation. God places the essence of creation (who they are to Him) before existence (what they are for us to use).
We have to place the value of creation based on its essence to God first before its existence to humanity, also so in preaching the gospel. We often make an error in valuing creation based on how it serves our needs (such as economic importance) rather than how it glorifies God.
Rainfed agriculture provides much of the food consumed by poor communities in developing countries. It accounts for 95% of farmed land in Sub-Saharan Africa. But the same rains, which bring hope to these poor farmers, also pose many threats to people during floods because of our unsustainable and unplanned lifestyles (building in water channels, throwing waste into drains, plastic littering, concreting over land that should be absorbing the rains etc). The rains displace a lot of people leading to their demise and destruction of properties. The rains which God has ordained to sustain life on earth become a bane to many people. We suffer loss because of our unsustainable lifestyles.
Vs 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,
When essence precedes existence, our joy shall be made full, laced with peace. In this verse, we see how the mountains sing to glorify God. Is the glory of God at stake? How can the mountains sing? Have the mountains not been singing before us by safeguarding the water that we need? Have they not been producing living water for us that feeds billions of people on the earth? Here in Ghana, the Atewa Forest, which protects the headwaters of three rivers – the Ayensu, Densu and Birim – that provide clean water daily for over 5 million Ghanaians, is now threatened with large scale bauxite mining by the government. Hundreds of species are threatened including some that are endemic to the Atewa Forest.
Creation rejoices and glorifies God when we keep to a sustainable lifestyle. If we do not protect and nurture nature, the mountains and hills will no longer burst into song before us and no longer take care of us and fulfil our needs because they will have been too damaged.
Vs 13 Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.
This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure for ever.’
Our prosperity on earth is tied to the prosperity of creation. All these will happen to make the name of the Lord known in the earth forever as an everlasting sign. Is creation not the greatest evangelist? Paul put it this way; Romans 1:20 “for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse”.
The Psalm reveals how God still commits to caring for Creation. He is the hope for the world. Through Christ, the hope for creation was manifested as Christ reconciled all things unto himself (Colossians 1:20). Here, the Psalmist shows how God carefully treats both animate and inanimate objects, how he cares for the land and the hills. Creation responds to God’s care with shouts of joy. In the same vein, when we care for the resources we have in a more sustainable manner, they will respond to us by providing us with the goodness of the land; food, clothe and shelter.
Epistle: Romans 8:1-11
Two words resound in this letter to the Romans: Spirit (which gratifies things of God) and the Flesh (which is self-gratifying). Humanity has been on an unending journey of satisfying desires, exploring all avenues to fill that longing in the heart. We choose to go every length to fill our fleshy desires without counting the cost on creation. Is it okay as long as it satisfies our fleshy desires? Is it okay if there is a convenient use of a resource (such as in the case of single use plastics)? This old sin (vs 7-8) of satisfying the flesh is what manifests in the catastrophe we see today. Governments and individuals go every length to explore and overly exploit natural resources (even in life-supporting ecosystems) without safeguards, in order to satisfy the development agenda without taking into cognizance the detriment to future generations. We are being admonished by Paul to look at things from God’s perspective before we proceed to pursue our needs.
Gospel (Matthew) 13:1-9, 18-23 (the Parable of the Sower)
This interesting parable teaches the 4 different areas (pathway, rocks, thorns, and good soil) on which the word of God is spread. It gives full details on how to prepare the land when embarking on environmental activities such as tree planting. This was seen during the restoration work in the Atewa Landscape of the Eastern region of Ghana where after a long period of illegal gold mining (galamsey), several hectares of land became degraded and polluted with heavy metals. It became obvious that there was life after gold and that the land needed to be restored to be used again by subsistence small holder farmers. The parable gives the possible outcome of each action we take when engaging in environmental exercises and preaching the gospel of creation care. Within the congregation, we should expect that not all the message will fall on good grounds. In our advocacy we should also expect that not all our message shall be taken in good faith. When we know this, we shall not grow weary in what we do. We still have to continue sharing the good news of creation care. We should also make a conscious effort to look out for the ‘good ground’ thus people and organizations who are receptive to the message of creation care, partner with them, and increase from there. We shall chalk a lot of success if we learn from this parable.
 International Water Management Institute, 2010, Issue 10
The Gospel (Mathew 13 vs 1-9, 18-23) – The Parable of the Sower
Jesus often communicated in parables to illustrate profound biblical truths of the nature of God and his divine principles. These illustrations are easily remembered, because using creation as symbolism has deep connection and rich meaning because of how we are closely connected with creation. As Paul rightly put in Romans 1:20, We are able to know God through creation.
Jesus identified four categories of people or group based on their receptiveness to the gospel. Over the past years as a Creation Care officer, who engages with several Christian organisations, different congregations and individuals, I have been able to group people and organisations under 4 groups which resonate to Jesus’ categorization based on how they respond to the teachings of creation care:
1. The Seed on the Pathway (Resistant / ‘spiritual’ over material / dualistic)
According to vs 4, just as they hear but do not understand, these are people, individuals, or institutions, who;
- Hear the gospel of creation care, environmental devastation on the news, Climate Change etc but have not given themselves to fully understand the environmental mission within the Gospel.
- Have lost touch with their surroundings
- Have the view that the Gospel is about ‘soul winning and not tree planting’
- Perceive Christian environmentalism as an infiltration of the Gospel
2. The Seed on Stony Ground (Shallow / Incidental, from Planetwise)
Vs 5 this group hear and understand but do nothing about it
- They progress to the next stage from the pathway,
- They are receptive to the advocacy and preaching of sustainable practices
- They attend conferences and workshops to develop their understanding
- They receive these messages with joy
- They lack root in themselves to take practical actions themselves
- They are glad that someone else would, or expect that someone does the work
- When they do, they fall away because of the challenges that come their way (finances, internal hindrances)
- At the end of the day, no action is taken.
3. Seed amongst Thorns (Double-Minded)
- This category is able to progress from the pathway stage, through the stone and to the thorns
- They act to a certain extent but are unable to sustain it or complete it
- They feel there are other more important things to deal with.
- They choose lavish lifestyle for the church, procuring material blessing instead of simple living
- They choose over-consumerism to satisfy their flamboyant lifestyle without considering its implications on the environment, they prefer loudspeakers and expensive sound systems instead of investing in sound proof insulations for the church
4. The Good Soil (Integral, from Planetwise,)
Those who have been able to pass through all the stages and have understood the urgent need to participate fully in caring for God’s creation. They make the teachings of creation care an integral part of the Gospel and of their lives. They embark in practical activities and change their behaviour to reflect their new concerns, and also advocate for the cause of creation.
Link to Our World
A case point in Ghana is the campaign against mining in one of the most precious upland evergreen forest reserves in Ghana: the Atewa Forest. This forest, which serves as a source of water for three major rivers Ayensu, Densu and Birim, provides water for 5 million Ghanaians, yeG is being giving out to large scale bauxite mining by the government. Some Christian ecumenical organisations like the Christian Council of Ghana have joined in the campaign against the bauxite mining, but others are indifferent.
This same Christian institution has joined in to support one of the most pressing environmental challenges in Ghana, which is the issue of single use plastics.
- God is committed to creation inasmuch as he is committed to us
- God places the essence of creation before the purpose; we also should know that essence precedes existence in our engagement with creation
- Humanity has a key role in ensuring the sustenance of creation by placing ‘sowing/tilling’ before ‘reaping/using’. So, in essence, we should plant a tree before we cut one.
- The glory of God is at stake if we do not care for or preach about his creation
- Our prosperity and our posterity are tied to the sustainability and sustenance of creation
- Let’s keep a simple lifestyle in reverence with the Spirit of the Lord and not selfishly gratify all our cravings
- Let us support environmental actions as an obligation to God
Planetwise Dare to Care for God’s Creation by Dave Bookless, IVP, 2008:
Jesus Call us over the Tumult
1 Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying “Christian, follow me.”
2 As, of old, apostles heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.
3 Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian, love me more.”
by Emmanuel Turkson, Ghana