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Sunday, November 8, 2015

The Earth is the Lord's (Psalm 24.1-2, Genesis 1.26-31)

Sermon by: Robert Austell; November 8, 2015
Text: Psalm 24:1-2; Genesis 1:26-31

:: Sermon Audio (link) ::
Click link to open and play in browser; right-click to save. Sermon audio is also accessible as a free podcast in iTunes. Search for "Good Shepherd Sermons" or "Robert Austell." 

:: Some Music Used ::
Hymn of Praise: All Creatures of Our God and King/Give Glory (Dawson/Austell)
Song of Response: The Power of the Cross (Getty/Townend)
Song of Confession: Give Us Clean Hands (Charlie Hall)
Offering of Music: 10,000 Reasons (choir; arr. Lloyd Larson)
Hymn of Sending: This is My Father's World (TERRA BEATA)
Postlude: Rick Bean, jazz piano

:: Sermon Manuscript (pdf)::
This "manuscript" represents an early draft of the sermon. Some weeks the spoken version varies more than others from the early manuscript. Nevertheless, if you'd prefer to read than to listen, this is provided for that purpose.

For the next three weeks we are going to do a mini-series on Psalm 24. As famous as its neighboring Psalm (23) is, this is one you need to know. It has so much in it, from creation to Fall to redemption to consummation. As a Psalm it is poetry and music, and it packs the story of the bible into ten short verses. In many ways this is the song of the Bible.

Today we will focus primarily on the first two verses, though you will hear all of the Psalm read and we will use parts of it throughout the service. Then over the next two weeks we will move through the rest of the Psalm. I’d encourage you to read it when you have a moment; perhaps even memorize it. And we’ll also sing some of so that hopefully you will have some of it running through your mind and heart that way.

All the Things, All the People

The Psalm starts with the beginning, with God as creator of the world and everything in it: 
The earth is the Lord’s, and all it contains,
The world, and those who dwell in it.
For He has founded it upon the seas
And established it upon the rivers.    (Psalm 24:1-2)
While it is good and right and helpful that Jesus has named God “Abba, Father” to us, it is easy to lose sight of God’s BIGNESS, God’s sovereignty, God’s authority and power as Creator of all. This Psalm reminds us of that.

And the Psalm makes an explicit claim: that because God is the Creator, founder, and builder of this world, it all belongs to God – all the things, all the people. That claim raises the two take away questions for today. I’ll state them now and then again at the end.

Do you believe that everything
belongs to God?

If so, what are the implications of realizing “what belongs to me belongs to God first?”

Since these verses call to mind God as Creator, let’s look at part of the Creation account to see what is said there in terms of everything belonging to God.

What it Means to be a Steward

We heard part of Genesis 1 this morning. It is the account of God making humanity. I want to highlight just three of many important themes in that account.

Imago Dei (v. 26) – After creating sun, stars, moon, vegetation, animal life, and a place for each to dwell, God made the first human beings. And what was distinct about humanity was that God made them, male and female, in God’s image. Much thought and writing has gone into describing what that means, but at the least it means there is an awareness, a dignity, a purpose, and a connection to God that is unique to humanity. It is true that later in the biblical story we humans did and do much to distort and damage that image, but the healing and redemption of that true humanity is the Good News, also found in that story in Christ.

Dominion (v. 26) – In the same verse that describes humanity being created in God’s image, we also read of God giving dominion or rule of the earth to humanity. Like the image of God, we did and do much to distort the kind of godly dominion intended for us; it doesn’t take much to call those distortions to mind, from damaging the earth to mistreating living things, to enslaving and killing one another. But like the image of God, that is not true humanity and true dominion, for God doesn’t rule over us in that way. And Jesus came preaching of the Kingdom God does have in view for us.

Very Good (v. 31) – Finally, at the end of our text, as God did at the end of each day in the Creation account, God saw that it was good. In fact, after this sixth day and the creation of humanity, God saw that it was “very good.” It is a good reminder of God’s intent for us, even after we failed and fell, that God’s desire and purpose and redemption is for our good and for the good.

That mixture of good purpose, human shortcoming, and Christ-centered redemption gives us some idea of how we are to relate to this world and all it contains. But there is one other part of the creation account that I would like to highlight. It comes in Genesis 2:15.

The Lord God took the man and put him into the Garden of Eden to cultivate it and keep it.

This verse is the heart of biblical stewardship.  For though much time has passed and we no longer live in paradise, the earth is the Lord’s and all it contains. 

First, let’s look at what “cultivate and keep” really means.  What Adam was doing in the Garden was tending the ground, but in doing so, he was rendering an act of service to God.  Serving God is at the heart of worshiping God.  In fact, the word for ‘cultivate’ or ‘serve’ can also mean ‘tend’ or ‘steward’ and is one of the most used words in the Bible. It is a worship word. Broadly, it is what we offer to God when we recognize that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, and God has entrusted a part of it to our care. We are to steward that part, to cultivate and tend it, for it ultimately belongs to him…. our families, our homes, the work of our hands, our money, our time, our dreams; it is all entrusted to us for God’s service. And if it is not something entrusted by God, it doesn’t belong in our life!

The other key word in that verse is ‘keep’ – which means ‘work within the bounds’ or ‘obey.’ It is beyond our focus today, but it is also a frequent word in the Bible and is connected with worship and a life of following after God. These are what we were made for – to faithfully steward what God has entrusted to us and to obey and honor God in doing so!

So again I remind you of the two questions arising from our texts this morning:

Do you believe that everything
belongs to God?

If so, what are the implications of realizing “what belongs to me belongs to God first?”

Biblical Models for Stewarding

Finally, I’d like to offer a brief survey of some of the biblical models for stewarding. Most of you have heard of tithing, but it is just one of many. Each of these could take up an entire class or two, so this will just be a brief listing and explanation. And each fits into a particular place in the history of God’s people. But I think you’ll see a pattern emerge and that’s what I want you to see and hear.

Cultural Mandate – When Genesis talks about dominion it is understood as a caring and cultivating act, though we also see the significant effects of the Fall on this prime directive.

Offerings – In Leviticus and elsewhere, God’s people are instructed to make offerings of animals and grains directly to God and to provide for the priests. These are to be the best and first of what each person has.

Tithing – This is the one most people have heard of. God’s people were instructed to give ten percent of what they took in or grew to the Lord and the priests. This was not the maximum offering; it was the minimum offering, with acts of charity and other offerings in addition to the tithe.

First Fruits – God’s people were instructed to give the first and best of each crop to the Lord and His work.

Gleaning – Part of God’s law, you can read one example of the benefit of gleaning in the story of Ruth. God’s people were instructed to leave part of each crop unharvested so that the poor could live off of those portions.

Love of Neighbor, Care of Neighbor – Made famous to us by Jesus, love and care of neighbor is at the core of the Old Testament Law (which Jesus noted). While not an offering itself, this concept is at the core of stewardship practices like gleaning and is a consistent value in Old and New Testament when it comes to stewardship.

Sell All You Have – Remember the “eye of the needle” quip? Jesus told a rich man that he needed to sell everything and give it to the poor in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Rather than thinking about salvation and eternal life, hear the overlap with what we’ve talked about in Genesis with the earth and people belonging to God’s Kingdom and Jesus restoring the true view of human dominion. We were made, not to hoard riches, but to serve God and neighbor with them.

Not Hoarding – Speaking of not hoarding, Jesus also told a parable about a “Rich Man and Lazarus” where a man’s hoarding of treasure got in the way of his participation in the Kingdom of God.

Holding all things in Common – The book of Acts describes the early church and describes those early Christians as “holding all things in common.” Rather than being a socialist or communist manifesto, it is simply a description of what that early group understood it to mean that “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.”

To take any of these practices as the rule for this church or your life is to miss the point. Jesus confronted the Pharisees for the way they had turned tithing into a sinful distortion of its intent. But do you hear the common theme? What each practice DOES point to is an understanding that everything we have belongs to God, including US! And if we belong to God, that has big implications for how we view our time, money, work, family, and purpose.

We will continue through Psalm 24 over the next few weeks. I encourage you to read it, perhaps memorize it, and to wrestle with these two questions: 

Do you believe that everything
belongs to God?

If so, what are the implications of realizing “what belongs to me belongs to God first?”

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