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The Groaning Creation (Gen 2:5-15: Rom 8:18-27)

I think the time for debating whether climate change is a real or purely theoretical phenomena has long past, and as you have already seen and heard, today has been set aside as Climate Sunday. It’s a day for us to reflect on the state of our world and our responsibilities within it. And as if to focus the mind let me remind you of a verse from Psalm 24.

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,the world, and all who live in it.

It would appear that we sometimes forget that. No matter what your views may be about the two creation stories in the first chapters of the Book of Genesis — no matter whether you lean towards Creationism or the Big Bang Theory — we are all aware that the world came into being through a loving God who made sure that we were provided for.

He ordained that there should be light and he provided water and food in abundance. There are precious metals and jewels for adornment, and aromatics and spices which help us purify and give flavour to our lives.
He saw what he had made and declared that it was good and … for a while … it was good: the planet existed in balance. The animals which roamed the earth and lived in the seas, and the early humans, took no more than they needed for survival and when they died, they returned to the earth, and the earth was regenerated. But since those days of sufficiency we have gone through an industrial revolution and forgotten to delight in the earth’s beauty.

Have you ever stopped to think how special this planet, this third rock from the sun, really is?

  • 70% of the earth’s surface is covered with water: water that supports life in all its forms.
  • Its atmosphere is non-toxic with sufficient oxygen to help us avoid asphyxiation.
  • The earth’s magnetic field protects us from the effects of the solar wind and the ozone layer protects us from harmful radiation.

Now compare that if you will with Venus, the second rock from the sun: it’s a planet which is effectively the earth’s twin. It is of a similar size and mass, it has roughly the same density, composition and gravity as earth and it is likely that it too once had an earth-like climate. According to recent modelling, it is thought that for much of its existence, Venus may have had surface temperatures similar to present day Earth. It is likely that it had oceans, rain, perhaps even snow, and maybe there were continents and tectonic plates. If you wish to be even more speculative, there may have been life of various forms. But less than one billion years ago, the climate dramatically changed due to a runaway greenhouse effect. During an intensive period of volcanic eruptions sufficient carbon dioxide was pumped into the atmosphere to cause a climate change event.

  • The oceans evaporated causing an end of the planet’s water cycle — a water cycle similar to that on which our own lives depend.
  • The average surface temperature rose from a balmy 20ºC to roughly 450ºC
  • The atmosphere now consists of 96% carbon dioxide.

Is this a vision of where we are currently heading? Are he heading towards an unavoidable extinction?

Perhaps we are, perhaps we are not, but if such a calamity is to be avoided we must change and that change must be systemic and take place now!

Now I don’t know about you but, I delight in the absurdity of mixed metaphors none more so than when someone one once told me that it was “Time to take the bull by the horns — and milk it for all it was worth!” But to an extent, that is exactly what we have been doing, milking our planet for all it is worth without considering, or being concerned about, the consequences. And with our improved technologies, and our continuing desire for more possessions and wealth, we are able to be more destructive, and do it more efficiently, than ever before.

  • We are denuding the earth of its natural resources an ever faster rate and throwing thousands of tonnes of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
  • We are over fishing the seas and polluting the waters.
  • We are destroying the forests, often referred to as the lungs of the earth, along with the habitats and the animals that they support.
  • We throw the rest away to decay and pollute our atmosphere and water courses because it doesn’t really matter does it?

It is so easy to construct a paradigm which suggests that none of this is our fault — it’s their’s. It’s the people in the developing world who are still building coal-fired power stations and desperately trying to expand their economies who are causing the problems … but, in reality, it was first world countries who initially caused the problems, and continue to sustain them by their actions, despite knowing full well what scientists have been saying for years — that we were heading for a crisis; for people, and for the wider natural world. Even here in the United Kingdom 1 in 4 of our mammals are threatened with extinction through loss of habitat and other human activities … and there are many, many more animals on the red list around the world.

But these issues fly in the face of ‘progress’ and the West’s fundamental dependance on capitalism. We are a community of consumers and it would appear that if we fail to consume, people will lose their jobs and their lives will be destroyed … and the rich will fail to expand their ever increasing wealth. We design for obsolescence or fashion rather than maintenance and longevity. We have become a throw-away society and our combined global footprint today is roughly one and half times the Earth’s total capacity to provide renewable and non-renewable resources for humanity. If nothing changes, if we continue to be consumers instead of maintainers, recyclers and re-users, if we continue to crave the new rather than delighting in last year’s model, by the year 2050, and with an ever increasing population, we will need almost three planets to sustain our ways of living. But, even now, our current lifestyle is impacting upon people around the world — people, who like you and I, have been made in the image of God — remember there is no Planet B!

Global warming has already begun to create more droughts. Meanwhile the increased rainfall and rising sea levels in other parts of the world are increasing the severity of flooding. And it’s not just costal areas — those living inland are being subjected to the ferocity of bigger and slower moving storms — even here in Ashton Hayes we have felt its effects in recent months. And those droughts and floods mean ruined lives, people going hungry, the loss of homes and jobs, and more children missing out on education. Millions of people are being forcibly displaced by weather-related hazards, and world hunger is on the increase. Countries are going to war in order to gain control natural resources … and all of this greed and desire for more possessions continues to push the unloved and unwanted deeper and deeper into poverty.

We have forgotten that we are not the owners, but purely the custodians of this very special place, something that we are reminded of that in verse 15 in this morning’s reading from Genesis.

“The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

We are here, tasked with caring for our planet — and we are failing! But as Christians, we know this sense of failure isn’t the end of the story. We have a deep and unshakeable hope because of what Jesus has done for us, and what he is continuing to do in our world. Paul spelt it out for us in his letter to the church in Rome when he told us that God has a plan for the salvation of creation.

“The whole [of] creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.” He says. “Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies — and I would add to that, the restoration of the kingdom — for in this hope we were saved.”

We worship a creating, sustaining and redeeming God who calls us to act rather than standing by helplessly. Like all believers, our first response should always be to fix our eyes on God and to pray. But we can’t stop there. In the face of a crisis like this, we need to be brave enough to use our actions and our voices to create change. When we speak up together, when we make waves together, governments and businesses begin to listen. And so I ask you to do two things.

  • Firstly, make a commitment as a church community to take long term action to reduce our own greenhouse gas emissions. Not just here in our church building, but in our own homes and by talking to our families and friends and asking them to change too.
  • Secondly, let’s join with other churches and the wider society by adding our name to a common call for the UK government to take much bolder action on climate change in this country in advance of COP26.

COP26 is a global United Nations summit about climate change which will discuss, and hopefully formulate plans, for how countries are planning to tackle it. It was due to be held last year but due to the pandemic it is now taking place in Glasgow between 1st and 12th November this year with more than 200 world leaders due to attend.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined Sir David Attenborough and pledged that this will be the “defining year of climate action” — so let’s try to hold him to it by speaking out.

Tearfund says that the decisions we make now about how we reboot our world after coronavirus will shape our economy, society and our climate for decades to come. This is a crucial moment in the fight against climate change, which is pushing people deeper into poverty. Tearfund asks us to sign The Climate Coalition’s declaration, calling on the UK government to lead the world in delivering a healthier, greener, fairer recovery, which limits warming to 1.5°C. You can find the declaration here:

It asks three things

  • That no one should be left behind — the people in the poorer countries matter.
  • We should unleash a clean energy revolution — we cannot continue to release vast quantities of greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere
  • We should protect, restore and expand our green and wild spaces — we cannot continue to rape and pillage the countryside to satisfy our own cravings.

There are also prayer resources available if you would like to take a look and get involved. Here is just one example – By adding our weight to this campaign, we can together be a more powerful voice in ensuring that the recovery creates a better world for our children and not more of the old. 

We live on a broken world but in Japan there is an art-form called Kintsukuroi, which means “to repair with gold”, and there is an understanding that once a piece has been repaired, it becomes more beautiful than it was before it was broken.

Jesus introduced us to another art-form with the meaning “to repair with God” and I believe and pray, and I hope you do too, that, through him working in us by his Spirit, our world will one day be more beautiful than when it was first became broken and God’s kingdom will be restored.

So let us pray,
Lord God,
We thank you for the gift of life.
We thank and praise you for the mystery of creation.
Guide us, in our efforts to hand on the earth to future generations,
so that others can seek to understandyour will and purpose in the world.
Help us overcome godlessness with love.
Help us support and protect the victims of climate change everywhere;
those who’ve lost their homes or their livelihoods
to the ravages of famine, fire and flood.
And teach us to live in peace and harmony with all creation.
Lord, we ask this in your name,

Alan Dowen