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Environment Sunday Sermon 2007

Article posted on 3 June 2007 Leave a Comment

Environment Sunday

Isaiah 6: 1 – 8 Isaiah meets God in Temple
John 3: 1 – 15 Nicodemus meets Jesus

I want to start with what might seem an odd question…

What is your relationship to the earth, to the world?

This isn’t a question about your relationship in Biblical language to ‘worldly things’. I’m asking what your relationship is to creation, to nature?

Some might answer that the earth, creation, nature is a gift, a present from God. Or maybe the earth and its treasures are a commodity for our well being and consumption. Maybe for some the world is something that God made and left to us to manage. It’s a force that needs to be tempered, managed, controlled or subdued. In more primitive times humanity felt a high level of vulnerability in relation to the created order. We see hints at that in the Bible. The wind, the waves, fire, storms, and the wild beasts are all things to be feared. The power and rage of creation reminded humanity of its vulnerability. And God’s hand and judgement was seen in the might and power of creation. For those living today in abject poverty in the Southern Hemisphere, I’m sure this can be part of the experience of nature. Look at Darfur and Chad. Millions of people are living on the edge of life, awaiting the annual rains with trepidation.

But for early modern religion, the earth became something to be overcome, bossed around, subdued. For Medieval Christianity verses like Genesis 1:28 were pivotal. God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” And so for many centuries, the Western world has perceived the earth as a gift, to be dominated and subdued for our benefit. Rather like the gift of a wild horse. Full of potential, but not until it has been broken in, dominated. I would suggest that that relationship to the created order remains. We love and celebrate the beauty and diversity of nature, but at the same time, in our competitive, consumerist society we have a greedy eagerness to take all that we can from it. And as we are becoming more and more aware, Creation is groaning under the weight of our domination.

In the last decade or two especially, the World Wide Church has been looking again at the question,

What is our relationship to the earth?
What should our relationship to the earth be?

There has been a growing awareness of a need for some correction to our understanding of our relationship to the created order. The truth is that it has suited us to read verses like Genesis 1:28 at face value only, and in isolation from other stronger repeated messages of Scripture. What about the more often stated affirmation of scripture that, ‘the earth is the Lord’s and all who dwell in it’? And a closer and deeper understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures has helped us to appreciate something of what the OT means by dominion. Our dominion is not that of a almighty ruler, or, master slave relationship. The English translation of dominion doesn’t do justice to its Hebrew root. Our dominion is that of a custodian or guardian. The earth is a beautiful generous gift of God to the pinnacle of his creation, to the ones that he made in his own image. And most humbling of all, our creator not only gave us freedom of will and choice, our creator also gave us stewardship of his creation, for our pleasure and sustenance. We have always, with the majority of humanity through the ages, appreciated that creation is one of our greatest windows, pointers to the nature of God. That, if we look at nature, we see that our God has a great sense of beauty, diversity, order, and power. In 2000 a major survey was undertaken into the sense of spirituality amongst the unchurched. Nearly a 1/3 of the adults questioned said that they experienced an awareness of the sacred in nature. One response to that experience of humanity through the centuries has been to worship parts of creation rather than the hand behind it. So for instance, the Sun is not an object for worship, but, the majesty and power of the Sun, and our dependence upon its rays, communicates to us something of God’s power and glory.

Taking my lead and cribbing from our Archbishop, I’d like to say today, on Environment Sunday, that our relationship to the world needs a subtle but crucial change, re-alignment. Creation is an act of communication by God. It is God expressing his intelligence and nature through every existing thing. Every created thing carries within it the DNA, if you like, of the eternal Word. It’s right that people gain an awareness of the sacred in nature. Because each element of nature communicates the character of God. So to penetrate the workings of the world, to understand its intelligible shape, is to come into contact with a divine action.

To understand, or more accurately to hear, that which the world communicates, is to hear God’s love and God’s glory. To do this, human beings have to tune in; quite simply, to listen, rather than to impose our own prejudiced interpretations of what the world ought to be, how it ought to behave.

We are only fit to care for the world once we realise that shockingly, amazingly, God has given us the ability and the authority to be stewards of his creation. A creation that positively oozes God’s presence. To be aware of this is to enter into relationship. The self-sharing love of God is not solely something we admire, but also something in which we fully participate, something for which we have a responsibility. We are not consumers of what God has made; we are in communion with it.

So for the Church of the 21st Century, good ecology is not an optional extra. We are coming to realise, all too slowly, that ecology is also a matter not only of communion, but also of justice. And if something is a matter of justice, then it is also a central pillar of what it means to be a Christian. As God’s creation is used and abused, it is and will in the future be the poor who suffer first and greatest.

We individually and as the community of St George’s need to ask ourselves the question I began with. What is our relationship to the earth, to the world? And, what is our calling as stewards of this beautiful gift? Whether we like the fact or not, each one of us is presently part of what causes global warming, but each of us can be part of the solution. And as Christians, it requires that we listen and respond to the needs of creation. It requires that we reposition ourselves as stewards with a big responsibility rather than ambivalent consumers. And a word of warning… … to be a steward is costly. That is an inconvenient truth. I do hope that you will be able to join us this evening in the hall to watch together as a church community, Al Gore’s film, ‘An inconvenient Truth’.


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