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.
Many 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.