Talking to the Birds

January marks the beginning of a new sermon series on Genesis. There is so much in the first 25 chapters of this anchor to our faith. Whether we’re talking about the creation stories in their poetic language that has stimulated theological imaginations for centuries, the tragedy of sin that is so painfully portrayed, the second start to creation after the flood, or the rich narrative following Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, this great book continues to speak to us of God’s creative power, his intention and the folly of human independence and intransigence.

One of the things I’m noticing more and more is just how much our God is connected to the non-human creation. Two of my sermons will touch on this. To be honest, I still find myself at times stuck in a colonial mind set where nature is ours to manipulate and exploit for our own benefit. Some environmentalists blame the book of Genesis for this mindset. They’re close to the truth. However, it is not the book that’s to blame, but a corrupt reading of Genesis which should shoulder responsibility.

Three overlooked passages are worth noting. In Genesis 1, we learn that God talks to the birds. I had a parishioner at one church who loved hugging trees. It had escaped me before just how much this man had in common with the Almighty. Many of us know how God said to the humans, “Be fruitful and mulitiply and fill the earth.” But did you know that God says the same thing to the birds of the air and creatures of the sea? Read Genesis 1:21-23. Go on ahead. Crack your Bible open.

Second, not only does the Almighty speak to creatures of the sea and the skies, but God maintains a special covenant relationship with these animals. When Noah comes off the ark, God establishes covenant with him and his descendants as well as, “every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as come out of the ark” (9:10). What does it mean for God to have a covenant relationship with non-human creatures? We may indeed, as humans, be the apex of creation. However, that doesn’t make us the center of creation.

Finally, we too have a special relationship with the earth. We are part of it. Genesis 2 makes it clear that we are made from the “dust of the ground” (adamah in Hebrew.) We are thus called adam, “earth creature.” We are not divine imports into a strange milieu. This is our place, from which we came and to which we will return when the breath of life exits our bodies.

Creation care is a popular theological discussion point these days and for good reason. God cares about creation, talks to it and covenants with it. What are we called to do with it and how are we to relate to it?