The Federated Church of Marlborough
Marlborough, New Hampshire


Sermon - June 11, 2017
Scripture Reading: Genesis 1:1-2:3
Sermon Title:  Created in God’s Image

The Rev. Robert Vodra

     I wanted to start this morning by stating a fact.  Climate change is real, and it is caused by humans.  This is not my opinion, it is what 97-99% of climate experts are saying.  Are there people who say the opposite, of course.  About the same percentage of scientists say that the Theory of Evolution is true.  A slightly higher percentage agree that the earth is round, but there are some who still believe it is flat, and the sun and moon move around our flat earth.  

     These climate experts are not just saying “Yeah, I agree with this.”  This percentage is based on peer reviewed articles in publications.  About 98% of these experts are willing to put their names on a paper saying “This is what I believe and why, this is what my research has shown me.”  In almost everything, you will find people who consider themselves experts and disagree.  I wear a seat belt, almost all the time, when I am in a car.  Why do I do that?  I have seen evidence that if I am wearing a seat belt I am more likely to survive a traffic accident, and even might have less injuries.  I wear a helmet when I am on a motorcycle.  It is not required by law, but I have seen evidence that wearing a helmet makes this activity slightly less dangerous than not wearing one. 

     And I don’t smoke cigarettes.  Did you know that there are some scientific studies that show no connection between smoking and cancer, or lung problems, or any other health issues most of us associate with smoking?  So, do I believe the 1 or 2% of studies that show smoking is not bad, or do I believe the large majority and overwhelming evidence and choose not to smoke?  When I say “Smoking is bad for you” or “Seat belts and helmets increase your chance of survival in an accident” I am probably not going to get a lot of people who disagree with me.  If I say that evolution is a strongly supported theory, that I believe, and that I believe the earth is round, I also doubt many are going to seriously disagree with me. 

     Yet, when I state that climate change is real and it is caused by humans, some of you may say “That is not what I heard, and I don’t believe it.”  But the real debate among the experts is how much this change is going to affect us.  I have heard that sea level rise will be as much as 10-15 feet and Miami and really most of Florida will be under water; New York city will be underwater, and this will happen pretty quickly.  Another expert says that sea rise will be approximately ½ of one millimeter a year.  I like that scientist, that is about an inch every 20 years.  When Glenn and Collin retire, sea level will be maybe about 3 inches higher than it is now. 

     But those two are kind of outliers. Sea levels will rise, they have already been rising, but will go up more.  There will be more flooding.  There will be more severe storms.  There are areas that will get a lot more rain, and there are going to be areas of drought.  With the way we are treating the earth, I have also read that health issues will become more common.  Many of us have seen pictures of China, where you cannot see more than a few blocks, and everyone is wearing masks to protect their lungs.  There are similar pictures of cities in the United States that look similar from not too long ago.  Even right here in New Hampshire, just over in Merrimack, PFOA has been found in drinking wells.  A similar situation is being dealt with over near Pease Air Force base, different chemical I believe, but still that water you used to get for free from your well is now unsafe. Clean water has to be purchased from someplace else. 

     So why do we care?  Marlborough is a safe little town.  I think the church and parsonage are on town water.  I know that all public water supplies in New Hampshire have to be tested regularly, not for things like PFOA’s, but at least for some things.  And if you are on a public water supply, you probably get a report from the water company about once a year telling you about all the good and bad things found in your water.  Probably if you are on a well, the results would be similar to the results that the water company publishes. 

     This morning we read the first creation story of Genesis. There are two stories.  In my opinion, the Bible is not a science book.  There are historical facts, but there are also stories of our faith.  I don’t have a problem with science and religion. I can believe in the truths found in the creation stories, without believing that creation happened in this order in 7 days. 

     Let’s first look at perhaps the most quoted of the lines from this famous text. God makes the human being "in God's image; in the image of God God created it; male and female God created them" or “Let us make Humankind in our own image, according to our own likeness.”  This God is the God who is in the process here of making a world balanced, ordered, structured, and designed; it is that God whom you and I mirror. When the text goes on to say that we humans are to "rule/dominate" all the creatures of land, water, and air and to "subdue" the land made by God, those powerful images must always be employed in the reality that we act as mirrors of God, not as free agents of our own human desires.

     For far too often and for far too long we human beings have played with the world we have been given as if it could always sustain whatever we decided to do. We are now learning that such activity is no longer sustainable.  Our belief that human beings are the center of creation, that all activities and behaviors occur because of our human needs and our human comforts, that the land and soil and water and air are ours to use in any ways we desire, have been based on a falsely interpreted reading of Genesis 1:28. We have in fact "dominated" the non-human creation; we have in fact "subdued" the land and all its gifts. And the result has been disaster: over-fished seas, threatened bees and birds, withering drought, fouled air.

     It is time for us, past time, to end this foolish and incorrect notion that it is our world. It is, and always has been, God's world. How dare we claim to be made in the image of this God and act as if God has nothing to do with it? How dare we pray to this God for help while we continue to act in God's world as if we were more devils than God-like creatures? I think it is time for us to discard this image of dominators and subduers. Even those who would say we are God's "stewards,” given the task of caring for earth, has failed. We need a new image, and I think it may be found just a little bit later in Genesis.

     In Genesis 2:15 we read "YHWH God took the 'adam and placed it in the garden of Eden to serve it and to protect it." The older translations of the Hebrew 'abad as "till" or "cultivate" or "dress" all come from the King James’ 17th-century agricultural context. What else could an English farmer in those days do to the land but till it? But the Hebrew word's more basic meaning is "serve," and when that is paired with the other verb "to protect/guard," the image is that we are partners with God and with God's creation, not masters, not dominators, not even stewards. We are no more important in God's world than are the ravens, the lions, the mountain goats. The image of servant of God's world has the possibility to make us new creatures, helping us see our rightful place as God's servants for the world. In short, we need conversion to a new way of thinking about the creation, the environment. The world, the cosmos, is not our oyster. Rather it is God's pearl, and we are assigned the twin tasks of serving this pearl and protecting it from all abuse, especially abuse from ourselves.

     Obviously you have heard that the United States leadership has chosen to pull out of the Paris Accord on climate change.  This action has been objected to by the United Methodist Bishops, in a statement signed by all UCC Conference Ministers, and by a statement by the Unitarian Universalist co-presidents on behalf of their association.  All three of our denominations have publicly said that they disagree with this decision.  And in the world, we have joined two other countries in not signing this.  Syria did not sign because they are in the middle of a bloody civil war.  Nicaragua did not sign because they didn’t feel like it went far enough.  Palestine signed it.  Russia signed it.  China signed it.  Iran signed it.  North Korea signed it.  Let that sit for just a moment.  North Korea we have no diplomatic ties to.  The only communication we have is through a room in a building on the boarder of North and South Korea.  They kind of get along with China a bit, but really have cut themselves off from the rest of the world, and they felt it was important enough to sign on. 

     In Marlborough you are pretty safe at this point.  You have clean air, clean safe water.  But what will happen if the temperature continues to rise, quickly or slowly.  Will there be more storms, will there be more flooding, or drought?  Really, scientists are making predictions, but do not know.  There is no way for us to tell what will happen when the North pole is melted and ice from the South Pole melts.   There is no way to tell for sure how warmer oceans will support stronger storms or where those storms will go.

     A friend of mine posted just the other day a video of a scientist who was saying that all this climate change is a hoax.  He claimed that thousands of years ago the earth had higher levels of carbon dioxide, and that for the history of the earth we have gone from ice age or warm time, to ice age.  It is changing, but has been forever, and humans had nothing to do with it.  A comment posted to that video said:  “So what.  Even if the climate is not changing due to human activity, even if the mean temperature will not climb as high as predicted, even if we still have 200 years of oil and gas in the ground, what is the harm in doing something about it.  Why risk it, let’s move to sustainable energy production like wind and solar, let’s recycle, let’s leave some of that oil and gas in the ground.”

     Although this is now a highly political issue, it was not always that way.  In 1970, the year I was born, the house and senate passed the Clean Air Act.  One member of the house voted against it.  George H. W. Bush ran on the environment in 1988, and his presidency saw an expansive update to the Clean Air Act. Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell voted for the amendment, saying, “I had to choose between cleaner air and the status quo. I chose cleaner air.”  I don’t know when or how this changed, but it has.

     As followers of Christ, this is not a political issue, this is an issue of faith.  As our story tells us this morning, we are called to serve and protect the earth.  Although almost all climate scientists agree that the climate is changing due to human activity, even if you choose not to believe that, what harm is going to come from serving and protecting the earth?  What harm is there in not risking having clean air to breathe and clean water to drink?