Sermon given at Evensong on the Eighth Sunday after Trinity 2022

This beautiful world is now in crisis.

The Right Reverend Anthony Ball Canon in Residence

Sunday, 7th August 2022 at 3.00 PM

“Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever the earth and the world were made : thou art God from everlasting, and world without end.” (Ps90.2) sang our choir this evening from Psalm 90. It brought to mind some of the conversations that the bishops of the Anglican Communion have been having this past week about creation.

God has gifted us a world of breath-taking beauty, astounding abundance and intricate interconnection. It is a world God declared good and loves, as recorded in the Book of Genesis and throughout the Bible. As we have just sung, “lift up your heart, lift up you voice; [and] rejoice” is a fitting response.

This beautiful world is now in crisis. The three-fold challenge of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution threatens both people and the planet. The weather and wildfires of this summer, or news of France running out of drinking water, simply underline the perilous state we have reached and—whether you have joined in protests or been frustrated and irritated by them—it can all feel too much. We might be tempted, in the words of St Paul in this evening’s reading to be “so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself” (2Cor1.8).

Yet, this is still God’s world and God calls us to respond as Easter people: bearers of hope. And it is not too late to respond. St Paul reminded us this evening: “He who rescued us from so deadly a peril will continue to rescue us; on him we have set our hope that he will rescue us again.” (2Cor1.10) Our Christian faith has within it the tools and prompts we need to promote our care for one another and our common home, the earth.

The theme of the Lambeth Conference, the closing service of which is being held in Canterbury Cathedral about now – the theme of this once a decade gathering of the bishops of the Anglican Communion is “God’s Church for God’s World”. Some of you may not be familiar with the Anglican Communion. We are a global family formed of 47 autonomous yet interdependent Churches, of which the Church of England is one. We are present in over 165 countries and numbering around 85 million people.

Anglicans hold to Scripture and the teachings of the Church, and have developed “Five Marks of Mission” which call us to proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom, nurture disciples, and to express our concern for people and planet, for justice, peace and care for vulnerable people, as well as our duty to safeguard creation (as recorded in Genesis 2:15).

So, within the church we take human well-being and creation care seriously. The previous Lambeth Conference, held in 2008, made a strong commitment to the UN Millennium Development Goals and began to promote much greater coordination in pursuing them. That enabled the Communion to demonstrate its commitment to, and be an early and strong advocate for, the 17 UN Sustainable Development Goals adopted in the UN Summit of 2015.

Around the world we continue to respond to local, national and global societal and environmental challenges. Of course, with crisis comes opportunity: and now is the time for us each individually and for the Church globally to listen to God’s voice, to (re)imagine how the world could be different, and to help build towards God’s Kingdom.

Although a strategically thought-out and carefully executed long-term PR campaign succeeded in sowing doubt about the veracity of “the science”—in much the same way as, over decades, tobacco interests were able to undermine the claims of health professionals about the dangers of smoking—it is becoming increasing obvious that the triple environmental crisis of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution is an existential threat to millions of people and species of plants and animals across the globe. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned that it is “code red for humanity”. We should heed the warning, lest in the words of the Psalm, humankind itself is to “fade away suddenly like the grass. // In the morning it is green, and groweth up : but in the evening it is cut down, dried up, and withered.” (Ps90.6)

As a global, connected body with a shared identity that transcends national borders, the Anglican Communion and, more broadly, the Church universal has a distinctive perspective in all this. We are involved in every part of the environmental emergency—and the diversity of you all here worshipping and listening this evening reflects that. We are the people facing devastation in disaster-stricken communities. We are all the polluters, especially in wealthy countries like the United Kingdom. We are people living in poverty and on the margins. We wield power and political influence. We are experiencing loss and damage of our land, homes and livelihoods. We are investors with financial capital. We are first-responders to disasters and those who accompany communities on the journey of recovery and resilience.

We contribute to the problem. We contribute to the solution. We are both local and global. We connect with one another, share our experiences and can use our networks to mobilise for action—working in partnership with people of all faiths and none.

We are all part of the web of God’s creation for “in God all things in heaven and earth were created, things visible and invisible” (Col1:16). And we are called now to act together for the sake of all humanity, for all creation. This past week I have heard, first hand, from bishops where more and more of their countries are becoming uninhabitable, because of drought, rising sea levels and other impacts as we reach tipping points in climate change. We know carbon emissions continue to rise and there are over 50,000 new fossil fuel developments in the pipeline. Our oceans and rivers are clogged with plastic and people are choking and dying from polluted air. The web of life is becoming so damaged by the loss of biodiversity that the integrity of creation is under threat.

These are terrible realities which can feel simply too huge for us to be able to influence. But just because the global response has been wholly inadequate—both in the level of resources dedicated to the response and in the level of urgency with which those with most power to make radical changes are acting—that does not mean we should despair. There are things we can each do on an individual level as we examine our lives and lifestyles, ensuring we use and invest our assets ethically to be good news for our planet and people.

The reality is that the climate emergency is not just a physical crisis—it is also a spiritual one. Humanity needs a spiritual and cultural transformation. We must see the world differently: repenting of and rejecting an extractive world view, which regards the earth and all nature as something to be exploited, and embracing a relational worldview, as espoused especially by indigenous peoples. The wisdom of the Christian tradition can lead us in that direction as we treasure God’s marvellous creation, recognising the profound interdependence of all life on earth and repenting of actions and theologies of domination, which have caused great harm to the earth and injustices to its people.

So let us “With joy ... draw water from the wells of salvation. And .. say on that day: Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name;” (Is12.3-4) as we transform our world view and share in the Church’s task of calling the nations to recognise the need to act now in order that we might all enjoy the fruits of a renewed creation and the abundant life we are promised and for which Jesus cam