Christianity · Liturgy · Theology

Humanity and Creation II – a sermon given Sunday 9 September 2018

Text of a sermon given at St Hilda’s Anglican Church, North Perth, Sunday 9 September 2018.

Genesis 1: 1-31, Psalm 33: 1-9, John 1: 1-14.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

For many churches September is the season of Creation. And many churches this month will focus on both the beauty of God’s earth, and the ongoing damage being done to her. A single example of such damage revealed this week was release of coal-laden water near the Great Barrier Reef.

While it is easy to reject such environmental vandalism, which leaves our seas, rivers and forests polluted and degraded, it is harder to see that the root cause of this vandalism lies at the heart of such benign activities as eco-tourism and even nature documentaries.

In both cases however, the environment – the Land – is seen as separate to humanity, to be used as we see fit. The first, for short term private economic gain, the second for a short-term private experience of ‘nature’.

Such an impoverishment of Creation, I would argue, may be well be considered as similar to blasphemy.

For within our scriptures there is an unexplored understanding of Creation which, if it was fully embraced would change our world, utterly, completely and irrevocably.

font
9th or 10th century Anglo-Saxon font from St Hilda’s.

In our first reading from Genesis, God famously declares Creation as good. Everything, from the tiniest spore of fungus to the great, overwhelming panoply of galaxies that surround us – all created, completely out of exuberant love, by God as his ‘good Creation’.

Crucially however, humanity is not created separate to Creation – to despoil or to enjoy. In this first account of Creation we are created as an image of God, on the sixth day as part of the sweep of Creation. The single stated purpose for our existence; to be stewards of Creation.

Genesis continues with another account of Creation where we are formed from the dust of the ground, Adam the earth creature, formed from Adamah the earth herself. Our reason for existence – to tend a garden.

And what is the nature of this ground, this Land, this earth we are created to tend and are formed from? – Our psalm today is clear:

The earth is full of the steadfast love of the Lord.

The earth beneath us right now – full of love. The soil we dig our hands into as we garden – full of love. The food we eat – grown within and out of steadfast love.

Christianity enthusiastically declares that we are not just connected to the earth – separated but linked entities. It says boldly and clearly that we are formed of the world, as part of Creation, as part of the land. And this is why even activities such as eco-tourism, which may reinforce the separation of humanity and Creation, need to be considered with care.

We are of the earth, we are part of the seamless tapestry of the unknowable economy of Creation. Here in Australia we are blessed to learn this truth by listening to the voices of our Aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions who have lived it for 60 000 years.

One of those voices is the Reverend Lenore Parker, a Yaegl elder from the country we now call northern New-South Wales. She is responsible for the beautiful and powerful prayer. “A thanksgiving for Australia”, included in our prayer book. I’m sure this has been prayed here more than once, you probably know it. It begins “God of holy dreaming, Great Creator Spirit’ …

I heard Aunty Lenore speak last year at the Whadjuk-Bibulumum day at Wollaston Theological College. One of the many things she said has remained with me. Speaking about the church, our church, she said, despite its name, the church would remain the Church of England in Australia unless it opened itself and welcomed the Land into the church.

Note, she did not say welcome our first nations peoples into the church – which is another story – but the Land itself.

What would this look like? Our church filled with the Land? I am not sure, but I expect it would be very good.

And our Gospel today gives even more Good News – that all things – all of Creation – including you, and me and everyone we know, was brought into being through Christ.

Without him not one thing came into being

This means everything within this amazing 90 billion light years span of space, full of galaxies, stars, planets, comets, mountains and lakes, and … us. We are ALL brought into being through Christ, created to tend and to garden and …

Well, the reading goes onto to outline our destiny our telos, our endpoint,

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God,

So … here we are, gardeners of Creation, formed from the earth herself, made in the image of God and destined to be children of God. It really cannot get much better can it?

God however, only gives us the power to become children of God. We are not fully formed, we are not yet fully perfected as she wishes us to be – we still have work to do – in the garden! And we still have to unfold and become the person God made us to be and calls us to be at every moment of every day.

Our tradition teaches that we become more the person God calls us to be through communion. Communion with God as Trinity, communion with the redemptive love of Christ through body and blood, communion with each other, and communion with Creation.

Creation is inextricably linked with humanity’s spiritual growth, as we are creation also. And again, this is something our Aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions can provide much insight into. We cannot fully understand this mysterious economy of salvation; but we trust that as we participate more in the life of God, Creation itself is affected by that participation. And as creation itself unfolds in its God created purpose, the more we unfold.

Being made in the image of God, as we love and care for Creation we help bring Creation towards what it is meant to be. This is why we’re the gardeners. Since we are made in the image of God, God can be present through us, through our conscious choice – and so, through us, God may tend to her Garden of Creation.

So as followers of Christ, we worship God; As followers of Christ we are one with Creation and as followers of Christ we bring Creation to its fullness. Our life as Christians and as sustainers of Creation cannot be separated, since our God who is One, made us for this purpose.

Amen.

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Humanity and Creation – a sermon given Sunday 2 September 2018

Text of a  a sermon given Sunday 2 September, 2018 at St George’s Cathedral, Perth, Western Australia. (Audio here).

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

NASA-HS201427a-HubbleUltraDeepField2014-20140603Many churches worldwide celebrate September as the Season of Creation. It has become a month to focus on care for God’s creation through focused worship, liturgy, consciousness raising and practical action.

As Anglicans we’ve been doing this for some time now. The Anglican Communion Environmental Network was formed in 1999, around the same time other western churches started similar endeavours. The EcoCare Commission in Perth was created by Synod in 2006 and, as part of the Season of Creation, we have produced our annual Sustainable September resources for nearly a decade.

The Orthodox of course, beat us all to it, with Patriarch Dimitrios proclaiming September 1 as a day of prayer for creation back in 1989.

We can however be forgiven for thinking that even he was coming to the party a bit late.

The United Nations Conference on the Human Environment was held in 1972, the first Earth Day celebrated a couple of years earlier in 1970 and Greenpeace formed in 1971.

It is arguable then that the churches are responding to changing attitudes within the secular world rather than leading the way in the Care for God’s creation. This response is a very good thing and the churches have, by and large, embraced care for creation as a major aspect of Mission. It forms the Fifth Mark of Mission of the Anglican Communion, “To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.” This fifth Mark is the rationale for the existence of EcoCare in this diocese.

Recently EcoCare had one of those wonderful events we are all occasionally subjected to as part of modern life – a strategic planning day. Unlike many of such days however, we began, were sustained by and ended in prayer.

One of our key questions for the day, was why does EcoCare exist? As we have seen there are many wonderful secular responses to environmental degradation and sustainability. We have experienced one just recently with the banning of single use plastic bags. So, does EcoCare exist to simply add much needed energy to those endeavours, or are we called to something else? What unique insights, and vision could we bring to the table?

God provides the answer through revelation by reminding us of our foundations. In the Book of Genesis God famously declares Creation as good. Everything, from the tiniest spore of fungus to the great, overwhelming panoply of galaxies that surround us – all created, completely out of exuberant love, by God as his ‘good creation’.

Crucially however, humanity is not created separate to creation. In the first account of creation in Genesis we are created on the fifth day as part of the sweep of creation. The single stated purpose for our existence; to be stewards of creation. In the second account, we are formed from the dust of the ground, Adam the earth creature, formed from Adamah the earth herself. Our reason for existence – to tend a garden.

Scripture then does not reveal humanity as a disconnected observer in the world. It does not even reveal us as connected to the world. It says boldly and clearly that we are formed of the world, as part of creation, as part of the land.

And this is what we, as Christians, can bring to the environmental understanding of the day. The environmental movement is becoming very good at articulating how we as humans can, should and must respond to the ongoing degradation of the earth. Yet this is still a paradigm of us – humanity – responding to and acting upon, the earth, no matter how connected we feel to it.

Christianity challenges and dismantles that paradigm – we are of the earth, we are part of the seamless tapestry of the unknowable economy of Creation. Here in Australia we are blessed to learn this truth by listening to the voice of our aboriginal sisters, brothers and companions who have lived it for 60 000 years. Former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams puts it like this:

“Renewing the face of the earth, then, is an enterprise not of imposing some private human vision on a passive nature but of living in such a way as to bring more clearly to light the interconnectedness of all things and their dependence on what we cannot finally master or understand.”

The first concept here, Radical Interdependence, is now a key concept in modern ecology. Its ramifications and outworking’s are only just being fully explored. To this crucial awareness of interdependence, Christianity adds and insists on radical dependence. Dependence on the One who is both immanent and transcendent, beyond even this 90 billion light years span of space, full of galaxies, stars, planets, comets, mountains and lakes, and … us.

And we hear even more from the second reading today:

“Creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God”

Creation, the environment, the earth herself is inextricably linked with humanity’s growth into the likeness of God. This means you and me and everyone we know. As Rowan Williams reminds us we cannot fully understand this mysterious economy of salvation; but we trust that as we participate more in the life of God, creation itself is affected by that participation.

These insights – ourselves as creation, our participation in God affecting creation, and our continuous dependence on a God who brings all into being at every moment – these are great gifts we can bring to the broader environmental movement.

So EcoCare will be sharing these insights over the next year as we connect more deeply with those outside the church working for the renewal of the earth.

This is part of our Mission, a mission that is shared by everyone here tonight. Because we all have the same Mission, received in Baptism. EcoCare focuses on one MARK of Mission, but we all share this One Mission, as we are One Church.

And so I look forward to us all here today sharing widely the Good News of humanity as creation, our utter dependence on God and our inextricable interweaving with creation as we unfold in Christ.

As a Commission all we really do is point out what’s already there, what we already know and what our tradition teaches us – but you do the work, because it is the Mission you have received from Christ.

As followers of Christ, we worship God; As followers of Christ we are one with creation and as followers of Christ we bring creation to its fullness. Our life as Christians and as sustainers of creation cannot be separated, since our God who is One, made us for single purpose.

Amen.