Reflections...

Meditations, Reflections, Bible Studies, and Sermons from Kowloon Union Church  

“Role of human beings in God’s creation”

A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 29 June 2014 by Rydeen Yu. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 1:26-28.


Brothers and sisters, Good morning!  Before the sermon, let’s pray.  Heavenly Father, we praise you as you are the Creator and Provider of all creatures.  May the Spirit of wisdom and truth open our eyes and ears to understand, and may the love of Christ make us know how to love others.  In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

In 1997, Hong Kong was influenced by bird’s flu H5N1.  Due to the fear of panzootic outbreak from infected poultry to human beings, all the fowls in Hong Kong were killed – the figure was around one million three hundred chickens, ducks and gooses. Since then, whenever the highly inflected H5 series virus was found in dead fowl, all the others fowls in the same farm, even in the same region, should be all killed.  I am not intent to discuss whether this massive killing of fowls correct or not, but I would like to discuss this event from another angle.

Modern eco-concern movement can be traced back to 1960’s.  During the cold war between the East and the West, nuclear weapons were accumulated to an extent that they were sufficient to destroy dozens of our living planets.  Furthermore, people recognized the horror of wars after the World War II, Vietnam War and Korean War. Green Peace was found in the middle of 1960’s, to promote anti-nuclear and peace movements. She is also the forerunner of many current eco-concern groups.

In the academic world, there were studies on how the development of the West influenced our planet, although these studies had not been widely known by the public. One of the key figures, who brought the eco-concern issue to public, is an American marine biologist, Rachel Carson.  In 1962, she wrote a book called Silent Spring, discussing the issue of chemical pollution. Carson collected many claims which had been published in scientific journals and newspapers. Carson was able to present her views in such a way lay people understand. Her primary concern was not only affection for human beings, but for the natural world.  Carson’s book Silent Spring successfully influenced US government to enact a legislation to limit the use of chemical in 1973, such as DDT, a kind of Insecticide.

What is the role of human beings in God’s creation?  I think most of us will refer to Genesis 1:26-28. This scripture has been critically examined in modern debates, regarding how Western Christianity causes environmental crisis. In 1967, a medieval historian, Lynn White, published an article. He said that one of the historical sources of ecological degeneration came from the interpretation of Genesis 1:28 taken from the medieval periodGod command human beings to fill and subdue the earth.  White argues that the corresponding anthropocentric ideology deeply influences the way of Western development and then causes the ecological crisis of today.  Although, his argument is over simplified and has been criticized by many scholars, we cannot deny this is one of the key biblical texts influencing us to consider how we related ourselves to other God’s creation.

Genesis 1:26-28 informed us that God created the universe in six days. In creating human beings, God said – “in our image, according to our likeness”, so human beings can dominate and rule over other living creatures.  So God created human beings and then blessed thembe fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”. In the same way, God bless the birds and the creatures in the water. Therefore we may consider God’s blessings should apply to other creatures on the earth, too. It is worth to notice that these three verbs, ‘be fruitful, multiply and fill’, in Hebrew Bible are imperative.  In the other words, they are commands.  Different from other living creatures, God’s blessing toward human beings, or command, included two more areas: subdue the earth and rule over other living creatures.

From this analysis, it seems that God created human beings in His image because God wanted human beings to subdue the earth and rule over the living creatures.   What is the meaning of human beings created in God’s image?  This is one of the most difficult phases in the Bible. The text tells no more details other than subdue and rule.  The most popular interpretation of ‘in God’s image’ is human beings serve as God’s representative.  God grants human beings authority over other living being, “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.”   It seems like human beings are given the Divine right of kings(君權神授)to rule.  Human being becomes the king of all creatures.  As a result, we can consume and exploit them.  However, an Old Testament Scholar, Norbert Lohfink, has another explanation of ‘in God’s image’.  He points out that in ancient Israel, her neighbors believed their gods created human beings for other reason – their gods created human beings to do the works which they did not want to do.  Human beings were nothing but just labors.  But for Israelite, God created human beings in His image and bears the likeness of Him.

However, regarding the Hebrew  כבשׁ (kabas) and רדה (radah) in the Genesis 1:26-28, they are fitted to interpret as subdue and rule over others in other biblical texts.  Is it true that God command human beings to conquer the earth and dominate animals?  From the beginning of Genesis 1, God created the universe from chaos.  He created light, sky, sea and land.  Then God greened the landscape, filled it with all sorts of living creatures – fishes, birds and animals on the earth.  In every section of creation, God left His comment: it was good.  ‘Good’, the corresponding Hebrew isטוֹב .  It is a singular adjective in Genesis 1.  That means God treated the creation as a whole, and considered this wholeness is good.  God Himself showed appreciation of His works, and expressed His love towards His creation.  It seems to be nonsense that God commands human beings to subdue and exploit His masterpiece.

It is also worth to notice verse 29, which is also part of God’s blessing and command:  “I now give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the entire earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food.”  According to this verse, human beings should be vegetarian in the beginning of God’s creation, so the existence of animals should not be for human beings to consume and exploit.  In the other words, the word rule רדה should be understood as governing, not ruling like king.  Human beings should be aware that other animals share the same blessing from Godbe fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”.    God grants human beings in his image and has the ability to govern other creatures, but human beings are not more superior than other creatures.

Go back to the case of H5N1; it may be the first time human beings got bird’s flu in human history.  But it must not be the first time in the bird’s world.  As human beings, if we get flu, we need pill, but it only cures our symptoms, like fever and running noise. In order to help us fully recover from flu, what we need is flesh air and rest, so our body will be strengthened and healed by itself.  However, for poultry, they may be given pills or injections, but they do not have flesh air and they do not have space to live apart from the inflected. In modern days, the poultry are mostly  living in cages.  They live in such a congested environment because of the huge demand of human beings on fowls.  Do we need so many fowls?  Do you know the quantity of meat we need per day?  4oz or 114g of meat, whatever beef, chicken or pork, can provide the daily protein reqired of an adult.  If you have no idea the quantity of 4oz meat, go to Café de Carol, a chain fast food store in Hong Kong, and observe the steak set they provide – each piece of steak is 8oz. From this figure and observation of meat consumption around us, you could know in general we consume too much meat.  Even though we cannot quit consuming meat and becoming vegetarians, we do not need so many fowls and keep them in cage.   The fowls should live in a better environment and the bird’s flu would not be spread to human beings so easily.

I would like to show you two pictures which I found from the internet.  The first one (figure 1) is regarding the event of H5N1, the treatment of the killed fowls.  (Pause for a moment)  The second one (figure 2) is regarding the rabbits suffering from animal test. (Pause for a moment)  I think the pictures have given light of some truth.  I do not make additional comment.

As Christians, I do believe that we are created in God’s image and we can have the ability to follow God’s command.  But in God’s image, it does not mean human beings are the masters of all creatures, to rule and subdue the nature as the earthily king.   Both human beings and other living creatures should equally share God’s blessing “be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth”.    By studying Genesis 1:26-28, with the context of Genesis 1, we can understand the principle of the role of human beings in God’s creation govern the creation with God’s love and sovereignty.   Human beings are not supreme than other creatures, we should treat other creatures as our neighbors, even kin, like our relatives, and learn how to live with them in harmony and unity.  Even you still consider human beings should rule over other creatures as God has commanded us, please consider how Jesus taught his disciples – who will be the true leader, the ruler?  In Mark 10:42-44, Jesus said who want to be the ruler, please make yourself as servant, the slave of all.  Could you hold this principle towards other God’s creation?

 In the epistle of James 2:18, we are told and encouraged to live out our faith with deed, so we need to know how to work out this eco-concern in our daily lifeIn the reflection on the massive killing of fowls influencing by bird’s flu and the eco-concern movement, we understand that we need common sense and knowledge.  Frankly speaking, the Church has not yet taken the prophetic role as prophet to foretell the eco-crisis.  We need scientists, like Rachel Carson, tell us how worse our current situation is, and what can we do to seek policy changes from the governments and commercial corporations.  In addition, we need to improve our knowledge, like how much meat we need per day, to review our life style and to make changes.  Do we consume more than we need?  Do we satisfy our own desire at the expenses of the nature and other living creatures?

To live harmony with other creatures, to enjoy and rejoice the gracious providence of God together is not an easy task. Let us pray for the Creator God empowers us, the Holy Spirit gives us wisdom, and the Redeemer Christ strengthens us with His love.  Amen.

* Rydeen Yu is a summer interns in KUC. He is studying in MDiv program in the Divinity School of Chung Chi College.


images.jpeg animal-testing-propaganda-poster-source.jpg

Figure 1                                                                       Figure 2

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, June 29, 2014

 
A sermon preached at Kowloon Union Church on Sunday 22 June 2014 by Mr. Abraham Peterson. The scripture readings that day were Genesis 21:8–21, Romans 6:1b–11 and Matthew 10:24–39.


Do you ever get scared of what’s in the Bible?
Do things written in this “Holy” book ever frighten you for how evil they are?
Do you ever wonder how some things ever made it in and if they’re actually true?
Do some verses or stories lead you to disbelief?
Maybe.  Maybe not.
But these verses from Genesis today are like that for ME…
Today, our story quite clearly depicts human life, full of jealousy, revenge, hate, and murder.  Today is a great reminder of the drama of human life!

So, a quick recap…
God calls Abram and his family, tell him he’ll be a great nation. Abram is 75 and Sarai is 65.  They leave and go to Egypt where Sarai is then taken into the Pharaoh’s harem… At age 65.  Story sound mythical yet?  Shenanigans ensue in Egypt.  They leave Egypt and we presume Hagar, this new Egyptian slave, is now with them.  But Sarai has this burden over her – first, she is repeatedly shown as lacking faith, and second, and worse, she is childless in a society that is based on inheritance, that centers on male dominance, patriarchy, and lineage.
Barrenness is a shameful burden for her and she does shameful things to remedy the situation.  She takes her slave, her possession, and forces her to have sex with Abram so that he can have a male inheritor.  Hagar conceives, but this causes tension, jealousy from Sarai, about which Abram is quite laissez fiare, so Sarai abuses Hagar and Hagar understandably runs away.  Then, after Hagar returns, Sarah conceives and decides she has no need for Hagar, so tells Abraham to send her and her son, Ishmael, into the desert to die… PHEW!

So, these verses are quite honest about human life in all its messiness.  That’s not what scares me.  It moves into God – and THAT is where I get nervous.
Based on the drama above, what’s the next step for God?  Well, SUPPOSEDLY God agrees to Hagar’s death sentence.  This woman is caught in the crossfire of Sarah’s doubt and her jealousy, between her fear and her pride.  And clearly Abraham doesn’t really defend justice in this situation – in fact, he is just as complicit, and in some ways worse for he enables Sarah’s wicked scheme.
But God.

But God.
Usually in my sermon’s I say “But God” to mean that humans do things one way, BUT GOD does things another… Usually God does things a better way.  Usually God’s the good guy.
Usually… But here… Here, not so much.

Now, some people want to say that God knew what was going to happen and was going to save Hagar and Ishmael.  Some people say this demonstrates the miracle of God’s goodness.  Some people say this is a way for God to become the hero of the story… but that is like saying we need the holocaust to know God’s goodness, that we need June 4th to see how great God is… as if Evil is needed to understand God’s goodness.  That seems insensible, irrational, and similarly scary. 

Here God is complicit in this violent abuse; God encourages this casting out; God goes ahead with Sarah’s death wish for Hagar.  Here God agrees, ENABLES her wicked behavior.  God doesn’t say, “That’s a bad idea to kill them” or “Don’t abuse your slave and don’t cast her into the desert.”  God supposedly says, “Don’t worry about it.”  AND God does not stop Hagar’s horrors at the hands of her owners.

For me, when I read that God does not stop this injustice, MORE when God allows Sarah’s jealous, wicked heart to be so cold and calloused that she can condemn this concubine she created… I start having my doubts.
Not of God.  I don’t doubt God.
I doubt these authors who put words and intentions in the mouth of God.  I doubt these humans who have strung together the tales of scripture and have given God a voice that somehow agrees with them…

This is NOT a divine book after all.  These are not the words FROM God.  These were not transcribed in the presence of the Almighty like an ancient oracle or a modern court reporter.  These are words ABOUT God.  Our words, our human words about the divine reality we feel and find in our lives.
This book is not the revelation of God.  As Christians, we say there is ONE revelation.  We say the one revelation of God is Jesus Christ and that all others, like this Bible, only point to Jesus Christ.  The Bible is not the Word of God – Jesus is the Word of God!

Too many Christians have lost that; too many Christians have forgotten that the Bible is just a book, not a divine book, but a book.  It is simply stories strung together, stories that struggle and try and often fail at comprehending God.
Why?  Why do the Bible stories fail?
Because WE all struggle and try and often fail at comprehending God.  And as I work at Lutheran Theological Seminary and spend time in theological institutions, I can reassure you all it is not just the laity who misunderstands God.  It is not just the “common person” that lacks eyes to see; it is often, and perhaps MORE often that theologians, pastors, preachers, and priests miss the point.
Yes, I’m in there too.  As the preacher today, I put myself into that category of those who don’t understand, who struggle and fail to comprehend God.
Yet here I stand, trying to walk through these verses with you…

Maybe these verses seem far away, seen distant, seem ancient.  Maybe these verses lack meaning because we can’t see them happening today.

Hagar.  She’s a slave, given from one person to another, forced to travel, forced into sex with her new owner, forced to bear this new owner’s child, and then forced to return after she runs away... Only to be sent into the wild with no horse, no donkey, none of the excessive wealth of her master – sentenced to death by starvation in the desert BY the people who forced her to have a baby BECAUSE she bore the son that she was forced to bear in the first place.
Seems pretty far away.

So… maybe Hagar’s own story is not familiar to us today, but what about the other parts?  What about the jealousy of Sarai toward Hagar?  Or Sarai toward Ishmael?  What about Sarai deciding that she was incapable, in this case, of bearing a child, and so she cuts corners?  What about Abraham justifying his harmful behavior to please his wife?  What about getting God on his side to allow him to do things that others (us) see as unjust?
Yeah… these things seem a bit more like our lives today.

This story IS an image for us today, too.  It’s an image OF us.  This is like the church…

Well, like the story of Abraham, have similar divisions within the family – two children where one gets cast out.  One of these children gets to stay and one of these children is sent off to die.  One feels a more legitimate claim to God’s blessings to Abraham.
In the church, some feel they have a more legitimate claim to God, God’s grace, God’s blessings.
Some feel they live better – they obey more; some feel they are the true children of God because they read the Bible a certain way, because they pray a certain number of times, because they serve more, or because they convert more people.
Some people think they don’t live in sin, they don’t unravel family values, don’t endanger the morals of society, aren’t a burden on the church or on society.  Some people think they have more claim to God and so they cast the other out.
They use their power and privilege, their sense of superiority, and they cast out those who often already feel like slaves, throwing them out to die in a desert of loneliness, isolation, and despair.

Maybe we don’t believe there are those in our midst who feel like slaves, maybe we don’t think there are those who suffer.  Here at Kowloon Union, I find that hard to believe. 
Last Sunday we celebrated Refugees and Asylum Seekers – people fleeing conditions that enslave them to fear and injustice only to be enslaved again by a system that seems to forget them, to neglect them, or worse, to abuse them.
Or think of this Sunday when we have a forum for sisters and brothers who also fight a system of slavery that allows them dissimilar rights, wants to silence their voice, condemns and casts them away.  If people cannot find solace in the church, where can they find it?
If their communities and families and places of employment and even countries have thrown them aside, and the church casts them out… If they have nowhere that is safe… If they have been left in a desert of isolation, injustice, and fear… And if the church is just as complicit… Well, I hope you can see my horror.

I hope you can see my horror at how today’s verses implicate God in this idea of casting out.  When God reportedly says to Abraham, “Sure – kick the slave and her son out to die,” I get nervous.  I get nervous because I know this is a story not about history, but about us, about the church.  I get nervous that people have used God to support their abuse, their fiendish acts of emotional or physical violence against others.  I get nervous thinking God would ever join in abuse, enabling others to be cast out.  I get nervous thinking of the God we find in Jesus drawing the circle smaller or closed to people on the margins, people hurting, people enslaved, abused, alone.

I get nervous.  In fact, I get more than nervous.
I don’t believe it.
I do believe Abraham may have wanted to justify his and Sarah’s repeated abuse of Hagar and brought in God to be on his side.
But I don’t believe God really says, “Sure, cast Hagar and Ishmael out.”
I believe that we may want to justify our fear and oppression of those who are different, those we don’t understand, those we don’t even know and subsequently call “issues.”
But I don’t believe God really says, “Sure, cast the gays and lesbians and transgender and bi and queer folks out.”
I believe that we may want to close our eyes, turn away, hide, and have God with us to enable our behavior.
But I don’t believe God really says, “Sure, cast the hungry, the destitute, the lonely out.”
I don’t believe that God ever condones slavery, genocide, holocaust, abuse of women, the foreigner, the queer.  We do those things, however, and we try to drag God along.  Like these verses, we drag God in to justify us.
And that creates a scary story.  A scary story like we read today in Genesis.

So we turn to verse 17.  “Do not be afraid.”
We turn to our Gospel reading. “Do not fear.”
The most long-standing admonition in all of scripture – Do not be afraid!  Do not fear!

Fear is what caused Sarai to abuse Hagar.
Do not fear.
Fear is what caused Sarah to cast out Hagar and Ishmael.
Do not fear.
Fear is what causes us to cast out the stranger, the one we don’t understand, don’t know.
Do not fear.
Fear is what causes us to cling to ancient words rather than the living Spirit.
Do not fear.
Fear is what drives us to slippery slope thinking, that just because we take one step, that opens the door to everything imaginable.  (Like the fear people will soon want to marry their pets or animals or…)
Do not fear.
Fear is what creates “us” versus “them” and fear puts God on “our” side.
Do not fear.
Fear is what ruins us.  Robs us of life and joy.  Kills us.
Fear is what destroys community, terrorizes the church, and sends us spiraling into abuse… abuse like casting each other out.
Do not fear.
Embrace the goodness of God.  Embrace the life in the Spirit.  Embrace each other.
And do not fear.

Amen.

# posted by Heddy Ha : Sunday, June 22, 2014

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