Reflection, Climate Sunday 2021
This has not been a good week or so for our planet and for us who live on it. It hasn’t just been the catastrophic floods in Rhine basin, we mustn’t forget the heat waves in Canada and the Pacific Northwest of the United States and then more recently, floods in China. Floods and heatwaves are not, of course, in themselves a consequence of climate change, but there is near unanimous scientific agreement that human impact on the climate of the planet has intensified their effects. And we have good reason to be deeply worried.
In fact, although climate change seems to have speed up alarmingly over the last couple of generations, it seems that we have been the cause of climate change for far longer than we often imagine. The simple bottom line is that our choices and actions have always affected the fragile ecosystems of our planet – and always will.
This being the case, we must accept that choices we make matter and we therefore need to be sufficiently self-aware to work together for the common good, not just of the present generation but of very many more generations to follow.
And we need to do this with humility. Christians in particular need to take this lesson to heart because we have looked to the Bible in the past to justify actions that are unsustainable. It simply won’t do, for example, to take the Genesis story of creation and think that God created the universe for us to do with it what we like. As Richard Holloway puts it bluntly, ’we have objectified and exploited nature for our own ends.’ And we have forgotten our own createdness.
Taken as a whole the Bible is, in fact, refreshingly honest about our world and its dangers and well as its blessings. The Old Testament tends to ascribe the unpredictability of weather events to God along with natural phenomena that can be staggeringly destructive to humans who get in the way.
I hope that today we wouldn’t try to defend a God apparently capable of such random cruelty, a God, it has to said, we have imagined in our own image, but would edge towards a subtler understanding of the goodness of creation, as well as of God’s intentions and interventions in the world.
I hope too that, although we need to regain a proper sense of both humility and responsibility, we can move away from any naive notion that the destructive forces of nature are somehow our fault – the consequence of our ‘original’ sin. Genesis is a poetic reflection on human nature and our relationship with God, not a historical or scientific text book. We take it literally at our peril.
When we turn to the New Testament and in particular to the letters brings new hope to the vulnerable, new Christian community. A conviction that God had intervened decisively in history in Jesus Christ and in his death on the cross made them look forward to a time, very soon, when the whole of creation would be healed.
It didn’t happen quite as some of them imagined, but the optimistic confidence typified gloriously in the words of Colossians remains: ‘though him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making his peace through the blood of the cross.’
Our big mistake would be to sit back in this glow and presume that all we must do is wait and God will ensure that all is well.
Instead, the true genius of the story of Jesus Christ is that is gives us a framework for hope and for action based on the most profound respect for the need of others, the power of forgiveness to break down even the most intractable barriers that we erect and the staggering capacity of love to transcend the worst experiences that we may encounter. In such, we may dare to believe, is the fullness of God.
It’s precisely this hope and vision that tells me that our efforts to build a better, more sustainable future in which everyone may have a full part is not just a pipe dream or hopelessly romantic wishful thinking. And I am deeply heartened when others insist that even small actions, done in hope, can come together to make a profound difference.
That’s why I feel it is right for us to embrace Climate Sunday and its theme and to believe that small, symbolic actions we make today and, in the months to come, can be the stepping stones to something truly world-changing.
Today, we take one such small, but I trust and pray significant step towards the goal of making our churches Carbon net Zero by 2030, but more profoundly towards giving us all hope that our actions, however small they may seem, may come together with others make a real, lasting and sustainable difference.
That ecstatic vison in Colossians was written at a time when no-one talked about climate change, but everyone would have been fully aware of the destructive reality of ‘natural disasters’, such as the appalling earthquake that shook their city in 17CE. With eyes wide open, the early church dared to believe that they could make a special difference to the well-being of creation because they had glimpsed something of the truths of compassion, forgiveness and love embodied in Christ Jesus. Our challenge, faced with the humbling reality of climate change is to do the same in our day.