5th Sunday in Creation Time
Sunday, 1 October 2023
Revd David Coleman, Chaplain to Eco-Congregation Scotland
It’s become imperative to encourage churches to engage with the personhood and personalities of Creation
Five years into this post, it’s become imperative to encourage churches to engage with the personhood and personalities of Creation.
On whom we depend, by whom we are governed, and to cherish love for whom enriches our faith, values, behaviour. To love as Christians ought, the Earth - as that enemy against whom we wage war, as the Pope now puts it.
I don’t give permission, but point out permission is given to find joy and hope in the value of Christian faith, as protective clothing in the storms we increasingly face. Like that coat that Marion wore a couple of weeks ago here.
So that we urgently and joyfully find our mainstream place and purpose not merely in the Communion of Saints but the Communion of Creation so straightforwardly apparent to ancient British churches some call Celtic.
Human beings relate and discern most wholesomely and effectively when our gifts of personal relationship are fully engaged, both to recognise the good and to stand up to what causes harm. Or chooses unambiguous harm, like Rosebank this week.
Throughout this Season of Creation, because I’m obliged to pay attention to scripture I cannot evade all mention of the Adversary: that Spirit of Opposition to the will of God: who, in 1 Peter 5:8, and traditional night prayers. “Wanders around seeking whom they many devour”.
Or perhaps, with satanic economy: “seeking whom they may enlist to devour others by means of othering, injustice, apathy and other blinkerings”. Like claiming energy security by locking in rather than moving on from dependence on fossil fuels.
Of the Tempter/Satan/Devil in there are more than 70 mentions in the New Testament alone, to say nothing of a similar character in that Book of Job, which presents such powerful wisdom, both of the reality of suffering and the integral place of humanity within, rather than above God’s scheme of things on Earth.
This wisdom affirms God’s relationship with fellow creatures. It’s wisdom likewise expressly attributed to Solomon [1 kgs 4:33], yet neglected and semantically marginalised in most current presentations of the Bible. That wisdom for which awe and wonder are completely appropriate responses. Even the respectful fear that keeps a hillwalker alive on a mountain. Yes: the wise recognition of natural powers and forces properly beyond the moral control of humanity....
...With whom, at the best of times, we may need to grapple, even without crises brought on by injustice. As Jesus implies in Matthew 18: 7 crises may come, but woe to those who bring them on. Or, having recognised the cause, pour oil on flaming lands.
This inescapable presence within our defining scriptures spotlights a reality subverting God’s will, a reality bringing that harm to Creation, which the major prophets realistically linked with chosen injustice in human society. A presence who inveigles themself into common sense, and those unseen prejudices which perpetuate racism and other abuses.
So I wonder whether, when it comes to the Lord’s prayer, we should pray to be delivered from evil, in a general sense, or “the Evil One” as in Matthew’s Gospel. Whatever, it’s a prayer urging wariness of something as determined as a personal adversary of God....
Wariness...Of this past master of “being reasonable”. Seen in the greenwashing of commerce, and the toxic incrementalism of purported progress which strangles our response to the crisis. In claims to energy security which kill our neighbours.
This reality who has for centuries sponsored the objectification and pious demonisation of the goodness of Creation, from the shameful Witch-hunts of Reformation Scotland, leading on to the enslavement of Africans, the legacy of which our churches are just beginning to acknowledge. We do well to take this reality every bit as seriously as we might such a character in person.
Because it is through people- and most often well-meaning people- that they operate.
A character with the will to dominate the world God so loves that God’s heir is given, that flesh is shared, that what God loves might not be lost. That’s poetry. Just poetry.
But poetry and story are powerful responses to such reality: such that it’s a truly demonic strategy to employ that reservation “only a story” or “mere metaphor”
As Church, when we do see the urgencies of our time, place and planet, we can take time to change our minds and celebrate the messengers, human or otherwise, who help us respond with hope, to build in churches and societies that spiritual resilience needed now and for all the rest of all our lives.
This year we’ve seen a growing suspicion, precisely of voices speaking out against what they’ve grasped about who is harmed by what. Of these voices, some are old and scared, some young and terrified.
“You’ll die of old age; we’ll die of climate change” - scream the banners of youth movements such as Fridays for Future.
I often encounter those in older generations who agree that generations, born after damage has been done, carry a disproportionate burden of what was harmed within the lifetime of those now looking to retirement.
You can understand what divides those generations, though as with Ezekiel’s people, where the young blamed the old for the mess they were in, responsibility continues to be shared. The blame game is lose-lose.
And the despair of one generation will impact on the next. So let’s build hope on truth’s foundation.
Unless they themselves are encouraged to rise to the particular challenges of their own time and place, the rightfully resentful youth of today will find themselves cast either as the irresponsible parents of tomorrow.
Or, more blessedly, as I’ve heard indigenous groups put it: “tomorrow’s valued grandmothers”. The encouragers, the mentors, the ones who embody the empowering stories which, especially as embodied in our faith, are spiritual resources for times of trial.
Hence the transformative value of protest, action, speaking out, for young folk, and for those who seem to be powerless, but all the more so when generations come together.
Hence the value of places like this. Christian mainstream engaged for the Earth. But we still need to push.
Earlier this year, with thousands of Christians I attended the “Big One” protest in London, under the banner of “No Faith in Fossil Fuels”. Travelling by overnight train, I attended early prayers at Westminster Abbey.
When those leading said “ in view of the events of today, we pray for the police...” And left it at that. In silence, I filled in the gap.
Christian Concern for Creation places us immediately alongside those young folks horrified and devoid of hope at what the current pretenders to world rule have achieved.
Concern for Creation encompasses every mainstream aspect of discipleship. Witness. Mission. pastoral care, evangelism. For the rest of all our lives until further notice. And a regenerative cathedral, where a climate emergency has been declared, is, I hope one where these things are immediately obvious to the casual observer.
There’s another satanic distinction lurking in the challenge which Jesus craftily makes to the authorities seeking some way to undermine the people’s trust in John the Baptist: between heaven and human initiative. Between accepted spiritual reality and speculation. Between what is trustworthy and what must be approached with wary suspicion.
Things that are ‘from heaven’ carry the authority both of God, Creator of Earth AND heaven, and of that unified creation’s self. Heaven is sky, is experienced reality. Reclaim that truth.
Like the Body of Christ in Eucharist: re-membered: bringing together what should not be apart. Like the diversity of our churches which we still present as painful division rather than enriching diversity. I wonder who or what is happy at the disunity of our churches.
We need each other. And our people need us. And the wildlife needs the active love and goodwill of people.
Then, over twenty years or more, there’s the witness of siblings in Christ around the world as sea-water overwhelms their farms and homes, or the water supply for a major modern city evaporates. Which I’ve heard folk in churches dismiss as ‘anecdotal’.
But it’s not mere theory, it’s not mere speculation. Like the Baptism of John, it carries, as the witness of God’s unified Creation, the authority of Heaven.
Grandparents, in your youth, likely trashed and wasted less and used less plastic than the protesting grandchildren who are already suffering the consequences. EcoCongregation Scotland has certainly benefitted from the commitment of those who take seriously their responsibility to generations to come.
So today, in amongst the disabling ‘unfairness’ a given generation might either feel or own up to, we hear God’s all-embracing concern:
“Know that all lives are mine; the life of the parent as well as the life of the child is mine.” The life of all flesh, with whom God makes covenant; of the flesh that John’s Gospel says the Word became, and which we share with so much life.
Jesus’ exchange with “the chief priests and elders of the people” seems at first glance to be a PR battle.
But it reminds us too of some academic debate. Those beautiful games where the truth is valued less than the skills and intimidating entitlement that ensure a motion is carried.
It was fascinating that the Secretary of State for Levelling Up sought to slow momentum by likening green concern to a ‘religious crusade’. Religious, yes, because it touches every deep part of who we are, all our hopes and fears. Crusade no, because we’re not about killing the heathens, but bringing everyone on board for the love of the Earth.
God does not ‘cry wolf’ : warnings ignored do indeed lead to disaster, and what matters for every generation now living, is the practicalities of current and future action, rather than getting bogged down in what might have been.