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.
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.