A Sermon Preached by Canon Simon Butler, the first of four Climate Sundays in 2021
Unusually, this sermon was in three parts, introducing St Mary’s to our response to the Climate Emergency, the decision to become an EcoChurch and the theological basis for our engagement.
Why do we need Climate Sunday?
There are very few things that affect everyone on the planet. But there are some. If the last year has taught us anything it is that a global pandemic is such a thing.
So it is with climate change. Despite a few nay-sayers, it is the nearest thing to a scientific fact that human activity is changing the climate in ways that present a threat to many species on the planet, including human beings. We are, as the saying goes, all in this together.
Many of us will have watched Sir David Attenborough, Greta Thunberg, Al Gore and many others do remarkable things to draw our attention to this reality. But, without individual and local action alongside international cooperation and government policy, we are destined for a major global catastrophe in the next hundred years.
Christians, with a complicated legacy of bad theology as well as profound insight into our understanding of the world, have our part to play. For too long we thought that humanity had ‘dominion’ over creation, free to lord it over the world as we thought best, with precious little concern for the consequences. But deep within our spiritual DNA, we also have a better story to share with the world, that of ‘stewardship’ of creation, of a call and a duty to care for creation and to pass it on to our descendants in a responsible way. Perhaps we have not spent enough time thinking and teaching and acting responsibly as churches, thinking that saving souls had precious little to do with life on earth.
Climate Sunday – today and three more Sundays this year – is a small way of beginning to make a change to that way of seeing things. The PCC has committed St Mary’s to make the Treasuring of God’s creation part of what we do in the next five years, and hopefully beyond. This small patch of land and all we do here needs to be stewarded wisely, not just so that there’s a church for future generations, but that as far as we can do it, we contribute to the human response to the climate calamity that threatens us all.
St Mary’s: An Eco-Church
It would be very easy to be defeated by the size of the climate challenge before us. But, thanks be to God, there are Christians committed to helping us in the task. The Christian environmental charity A Rocha is a global charity working in 21 countries. One of its major projects has to been to successfully persuade and help churches to take climate change agenda seriously through creating the idea of an Eco Church. The scheme has a series of awards – Bronze, Silver and Gold, with increasing targets and goals – by which churches change their approach to the stewardship of creation.
St Mary’s wants to work towards the Bronze Award this year – and it’s a daunting challenge for which we will need everyone to work with us.
Simply put, there are goals to be achieved in every walk of church life: our worship and teaching, the use of a wide range resources in our building, the care of the land we own, our engagement with the local community and the lifestyle of members of our church. We have an extensive survey to complete, which we hope will appear on our website this week, to give you an idea of what’s involved. As we achieve more of the goals in the survey, we can apply to be a Bronze Level Eco Church, something we hope to achieve by the Climate Conference in Glasgow at the beginning of November.
This is one of the five areas of work St Mary’s is committed to in the coming years. We want to encourage everyone to be part of working towards Eco Church status. But we particularly want to involve our children and young adults in this work as, like Greta Thunberg, we believe that they can hold us adults to account for the way we leave the planet for them to inhabit. Aaron will be meeting Junior Church leaders soon to help them, but we hope that there are those among our adult membership who are passionate about the environment and climate change to take the lead, so that it’s not just one more thing left to the clergy.
The theme of this, the first of four Climate Sundays this year, is Wonder. And our two Scripture readings that follow, invite us not to allow the sense of anxiety and despair about the future to overwhelm us, but to begin where Scripture does, which is in wonder at the creation and its Creator.
Short Sermon (based on sermon by A Rocha founder Revd. Dave Bookless)
Caring for the earth is part of our worship. According to the Westminster Shorter Catechism the primary purpose of human existence is to worship God and enjoy him forever. We need to remember caring for God’s precious planet is part of worshipping Jesus. In the reading from John’s Gospel, we see that it is through the Word that all things came into being. That creative power in the universe becomes flesh in Jesus. There is a direct link in Christian theology between creation and salvation. Our worship of Jesus and our connection with him, in the Bible, in prayer, in the Eucharist, is also a connection with the one who is responsible for creation, and who holds all creation in his hands.
This means that caring for creation is part of our worship, as much as singing hymns or caring for the vulnerable are. We are called to worship God both in our attitudes and our actions regarding creation. Because God has invited us into partnership with Jesus in relation to the creation. The first command given in Genesis 1 – our mandate for human existence – is about ruling over earth and its creatures on God’s behalf. We’ve regularly interpreted ruling as freedom to do what we will, but in this context ruling has an overtone of responsibility. Sharing responsibility for creation – being good stewards – is part of what it means to be the image of God.
Yet we have constantly failed to be good stewards. This is where salvation and creation are intertwined again. According to St Paul, through Jesus, the true Lord of creation, we are given the opportunity to make a new start. In Romans 8, he uses the image of creation as like a pregnant woman, groaning in longing to be set free from its bondage to decay. Yet in the same passage, we read that creation is waiting for something else. It is waiting for ‘the sons and daughters of God to be revealed’. What does this mean? It is a reference back to Genesis 1 – our first mandate to care for creation. Through the example and the saving work of Jesus, that now becomes possible, and creation is waiting for God’s children – those who follow Jesus – to take up their call again. Creation is waiting for us to worship God by caring for this fragile and wonderful world.
Like most people, I have a special place where I have come close to God the creator. I won’t tell you where it is because it’s so special, that many of my online passwords are based on it! It’s very beautiful, but not the great spectacle of somewhere like the Grand Canyon. Still, for me it captures something of the beauty of creation and, in my case, connects me to the Creator as well. If you have a place like that, a place you would like your children and grandchildren to see – then spend a moment or two of quiet thinking about that place and what climate change could do to it. Think of the wonder you experience in that place. Think of what it might be like if it weren’t there.
Starting with your own experiences of wonder and amazement at God’s creation is the best place to begin thinking about responding to climate change, because the time is here where climate change is happening. What we have been warned about is happening before our eyes. The things that amaze you and cause you to wonder, the emotions they evoke, can be a real driver to action. Emotionally, as well as spirituality, the idea of the things that cause us to be amazed being spoiled, the threat of destruction rather than creation, have a great power to energize us into actually making a difference.
Over the coming months, let’s start to make some differences; let’s begin, as we build back better, to make this an area we can work on together. Little things, done together, can lead to significant change. Working towards becoming an EcoChurch is about doing something in this place we all love, to ensure this small patch of beauty and retreat remains beautiful and life-enhancing for our community; it’s also about making some significant changes in our lives that the families and loved ones we are close to live and grow up in a healthy environment with clean air to breathe, water to drink and sustainable food supplies; and it’s also about a human response to the rest of creation – our fellow humans, for sure, but also the diversity of species of plants and animals that never cease to cause us to wonder at creation and worship the Creator.
In a few minutes, we will be invited to pray the most familiar Christian prayer of all – when Jesus asks us to pray that God’s will ‘be done on earth as it is in heaven’. This is a call to prayer, and a call to worshipful action. It is a call to envisage the earthing of heaven – God’s kingdom rule beginning to take place here, not just in our churches, not just in our human societies, but on earth – throughout the creation.
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