The Reverend David Stanton, Canon in Residence
My sermons this month are following the theme of 'Signs of the Kingdom of God'. So far I have spoken about Love, Compassion, Justice and Freedom. Today I shall be concluding with my fifth sermon on the topic of Creation.
Last Sunday evening you may have seen 'Countryfile' on BBC1, all about UK National Parks. A few years ago I represented the Secretary of State for the Environment on the Dartmoor National Park Authority, with a brief for fostering relationships between local and national interests. As with the editor of this TV programme I was particularly concerned with maintaining natural habitat and areas of outstanding natural beauty. At times, meetings could be highly charged and attracted significant coverage by the local press and television. On one occasion a local farmer received a custodial sentence for steadfastly refusing to return an unauthorised golf course back to pasture land. He went to prison and the bulldozers were sent in. On another occasion high profile hotel work had to be stopped in its tracks. Who says Devon's boring!
Over the past thirty years the world has seen a dramatic awakening of consciousness to the rapid deterioration of our environment. The major causes are usually exploitative, resulting in an accelerating loss of natural habitats, and we all know that ecosystems continue to be destroyed as a result of urbanisation and industrial pollution. At an international level, the United Nations', more often than not, strike a decidedly utilitarian tone, being primarily concerned with human sustainability and food security.
However a Christian theology of the natural environment goes much further. It celebrates the natural world as a good, glorious creation of God (Psalm 103). It declares that the nat-ural environment has a relationship with God independent of human beings, worshipping and glorifying him in its own self existence (Psalm 148). A key aspect of our humanity can therefore quite naturally be defined by our responsibility to care for creation.
Over recent years a Christian concern for the environment has become increasingly important. This is partly in response to environmental destruction; and partly because of a growing interest in green or eco-theology. Both scripture and Christian tradition have vital and profound insights into care of what the world calls the 'environment' but which the Church understands as God's creation. Approaching environmental issues through Christian 'lenses' offers valuable ethical and spiritual dimensions that may contribute to environmental work both within and outside the church. Its also an approach that's filled with hope.
So often, environmental issues have been seen to be 'hand in glove' with fear and threat. We should stop doing this or that because otherwise another environmental disaster may take place. For many years we've used the Bible to support our domination over creation with Genesis 1 being used as a justification for our domination and exploitation of the earth's resources. Now days we've come to understand that there's much more to the Bible's understanding of this relationship. We now place much greater emphasis on the ecological perspectives found in the book of Job, the Psalms, and the Gospels, all of which challenge the traditional biblical understanding of 'dominion'. We now talk about a tradition of a 'community of creation' in which we're all bound together with all of God's creatures. In other words true reconciliation to God involves the entire creation.
One of the great joys of modern ecological science is how its constantly revealing more and more to us about the relationship between the biosphere of the earth and its component ecosystems. But so much more remains to be discovered. Although the biblical writers never set out with the aim of making scientific connections, they do give us a vision of creation that's coherent with the science. And of course their real contribution concerns matters of value, ethics, and responsibility: especially, creation's relationship with God.
On this point of relationship Prince Charles is particularly vocal on how agriculture and ecology have suffered through a loss of the classical sense of relationship and balance. He has consistently argued that this imbalance lies at the heart of a crisis which now threatens civilisation. How our disconnection from nature has contributed to a real crisis today. He's convinced that a better balance will return us to a more considered, secure, comfortable and cleaner world. And so, on many fronts, relationship is becoming increasingly important to our understanding of creation.
As disciples we're called to follow Christ's example of relationship. This means to heal and compassionately restore the wounds of the entire creation. Ultimately, as Pope Francis says, creation is not merely for contemplation, nor is it limited to 'resources' for us to use as we see fit. It is a gift we have been entrusted to care for with love and compassion, and to do so 'on behalf of' and 'in the likeness of' the Creator.
We should also remember that climate change is not only threatening the natural world, but also the lives and livelihoods of the poorest in the world. Our faith, therefore, calls us to urgently respond with much love to all in need, including the earth itself. Next Tuesday, all around the world, there will be a world-wide ecumenical day of prayer for the care of creation. This initiative is supported by the Archbishop of Canterbury, Pope Francis and Patriarch Bartholomew, and Christians from all around the world will be united together in praying for the care of creation. It will help strengthen us all in our determination for God's will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
And so in conclusion, we all have a corporate responsibility as for creation precisely because we are called to announce and embody the Kingdom of God. As we seek to live God's Kingdom, empowered by the Spirit, in relationship with Christ, we actually become more alive as we invite others to discover for themselves this wonderful creation. We don't care for the environment purely for practical reasons, or for humanitarian reasons. We are motivated by the desire to love, understand and protect the environment in order to glorify our creator God.