Creation Sunday – sermon preached by the Provost, John Conway – Sunday 4th September

Jeremiah 18.1-11; Luke 14.25-33

Today is Creation Sunday, the start of Creation-time: a season of the church’s year that invites us over the next month to think and pray about what it means to worship God the creator, the source and ground of all things. Our first reading from Jeremiah offers a very direct metaphor for that action of creation: God is imagined like a potter, struggling with the clay, destroying a failed attempt and re-shaping, re-making the soft clay to produce something of beauty. That’s an image that invites us to see God’s creative activity as ongoing, not executed in a one-off moment back in the dim distance of time, but as a dynamic presence within the world. God our creator is the One that constantly offers new possibilities that re-shape the world. The goal of the potter may be to produce something of beauty, but Jeremiah pulls no punches about the moments of destruction, of re-shaping too that are part of the process. We may resist the sense that God is responsible for that destruction, but we can surely relate to the sense of a world being re-ordered, a time when we struggle to make sense of things, and are fearful for the future. We sense destruction far more than creation at present – our world seems out of joint and out of control as the financial crisis spirals, war haunts our continent, and the climate itself turns against us.

Pakistan this week found a third of itself under water. That’s an area larger than the whole of the United Kingdom flooded, livelihoods and crops ruined, infrastructure destroyed. It’s barely imaginable, even as more monsoon rains, and melting glaciers in the Himalayas, contribute further water to the floods. And this week scientists warned that based on studies of the melting ice of Greenland over the last 10 years, a rise in the sea level of at least 30cm is now inevitable, with more very likely. What do such sea level rises mean for low lying delta areas, especially when such rises meet the floods we’ve seen in Pakistan this week? The destruction of creation is something immediately current, even as we might struggle to sense God’s activity within it. The destruction is much more related to our own patterns of behaviour, to the re-shaping of the world to which we have contributed these last 200 years. To inhabit the image of the potter, re-shaping the clay, destroying as well as creating, seems frighteningly prescient.

And our Gospel reading provides little relief either, as Jesus starkly speaks, in the context of following him, of ‘hating’ father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself. It’s possible to argue that we need to understand such language as ‘hyperbole’ – over the top language to drive home a point. That the verb translated as ‘hate’ is a way of describing the practise of detachment: a putting into proper perspective the things that bind you most closely, such as family. The call of Jesus to discipleship overrides all else, puts everything into proper perspective. All our relationships, including those that bind us most closely, and demand our time and energy, have to be understood and worked out in the context of responding to the creative activity of God encountered in Christ, the costly love he embodies.

But above all,  Jesus is attempting to shake out of apathy the large crowd that is travelling with him – to wake them up and ask: are you listening, do you know what this means for you and the shape of your life? The stark language is refreshingly clear eyed, designed to provoke a reaction and make us think and act in new ways. And so in the short parables which follow, the tower builder has to be honest about the costs involved; the king plotting to wage war is counselled to be clear-eyed about his chances of success. The call of Christ to us, in the midst of the destruction of our climate, is to wake up to the truth of that destruction that we inhabit and the re-creation that is possible; let’s have an honest conversation, and resultant action about that.  Let’s listen properly to the science: the International Panel on Climate Change could not be clearer about the risks and consequences of climate change, a rise in average global temperature which seems inexorable, unstoppable, without concerted action. For unlike the tower builder, or the king, it seems we are not willing to face hard truths, to be honest about our likely future; any momentum built up around COP26 in Glasgow last year seems in danger of frittering away as other concerns crowd in.  But there is no point celebrating the gift of God’s creation on this Sunday, worshipping God our Maker, if at the same time we are desecrating that creation. Our Gospel is a call to wake up, to an honest conversation and planning in the midst of much obfuscation and denial.

Jesus ends this short Gospel passage with the suggestion that the re-creation that is God’s work might involve us re-evaluating our relationships to possessions. None of you, says Jesus, can be my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions. Up until now, Jesus has spoken of relationships, of family. Now he asks us to examine our possessions.

Possessions are stuff, material things. Creation is stuff, material things, as well as the teeming life of our eco systems. And part of the honest conversation and action that is required is about our relationship to that stuff, the disposable culture that doesn’t think about where stuff comes from and where it goes; that doesn’t find ways to value the material, resources that we are rapidly burning through, or the easily made plastic that is choking our oceans.

So this creation-time we are invited by our clear-eyed readings into a prayerful honesty: about the destruction and re-creation we are in the midst of. And as we proclaim and worship the God who re-creates, we are invited to be honest and curious about the stuff that fills our lives, on which we often depend. To learn to give up more because we value it more. To re-create, with God’s grace and courage, both relationships and stuff that will last, to stand the test of the coming storms. Amen.