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Second Sunday before Lent 2020          

Genesis 1; Matthew 6:23-34

This winter has, to my mind, been very mild apart from the odd cold snap lasting no more than a few days. It’s also been one of the wettest in living memory. As we’re all aware, the weather this weekend and last weekend has been extreme in some parts of the country and our hearts go out to the people of west Yorkshire whose homes and businesses are in danger of being flooded yet again as rivers burst their banks. All over the world there are extreme weather conditions – Australia’s heat sparking forest fires on a scale that we can hardly begin to imagine, parts of central Africa suffering terrible drought and famine in contrast to the floods 18 months ago over vast areas of east Africa, cyclones wreaking havoc in the Philippines and hurricanes similarly in the Caribbean and eastern USA. As the Archbishop of Canterbury has said, “It becomes ever clearer that climate change is the greatest challenge that we and future generations face. It’s our sacred duty to protect the natural world we’ve so generously been given, as well as our neighbours around the world who will be first and worst affected. Without swift decisive action the consequences of climate change will be devastating” .

This week the Church of England’s General Synod passed a motion calling on all parts of the Church to become carbon neutral by 2030, bringing forward this target by 15 years from the original proposal of 2045. It’s going to be even more of a challenge to achieve this within 10 years instead of 25 and I personally wonder how realistic it is. However, doing nothing is simply not an option; and all of us, each and every one of us, are going to be challenged in how we live and use the world’s finite resources in the decade ahead of us. Living well will be to live in a state of awareness of the fragility of our ecosystems, and to be conscious of how the plenty we enjoy in this country is affecting communities in other parts of the world. We share this beautiful earth with the whole human family; not only that, we are caught up in the continuous dynamic of God’s creation.

That is at the heart of creation story that we heard in Genesis 1 - creation is dynamic, not static. It’s highly unlikely that the authors of Genesis intended their narratives to be used, or rather misused as they have been, as a literal account of creation. Modern science is able to answer a lot of questions about HOW the universe came into being, but it doesn’t answer the WHY questions.  Genesis, on the other hand, is primarily concerned with the divine truths of God and creation and God’s relation to humankind. What they were trying to do was to locate human beings within the observable universe in terms of their relationship to God, to one another and to the world around. What the Bible provides is a sacred cosmology, a spiritual interpretation of the universe’s origin, nature and destiny, not a scientific cosmology.

The role of God the creator, in the words of the theologian Keith Ward, “is to draw back the veil that prevents things existing, to permit them to be, and to do so by pronouncing a word of liberation. So things are released into the expression of their own power. The Word does not impose a nature on things from outside, as it were. The Word of God releases things to express their own inherent potency.” 

To put it in scientific terms, physical and biological evolution are still occurring, and part of that has been and, sadly for those involved, is still, through various incredibly powerful movements of the earth, the oceans and the weather.  God does not will these disasters, and neither can God intervene to stop them – they are part and parcel of the continuing life-span of the planet.   Most of the time we human beings think we are in control of our lives and of our place in the universe.  We coast along until some disaster proves us wrong.

Jesus, in the gospel reading, is trying to remind us that we are all of us dependent on God.  Because we have the luxury of having enough to eat, enough to drink and enough to wear, we sometimes worry unnecessarily about how we are going to maintain these things. Verse 34 is the key text of Jesus’ ethical teaching in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7): “But strive first for the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” (6:34) This is about living well within the love of God and loving our neighbour as ourselves, which in the context of climate change includes respect for the planet and care for the consequences of global warming across the world. But sometimes it feels that climate change, slowing down the rate of global warming, especially in the face of those who deny that it is happening, is such a huge challenge that it’s easy to despair in the face of it.

As Christians, we are people of hope, but despite our best efforts, hope can remain elusive unless we downsize expectations. There is a distinction to be made between unreasonable and reasonable hope.  Kaethe Wenigarten, an American professor of Psychology, writes about this.  Unreasonable hope is when we think God will intervene or a magic wand will make everything all right. Reasonable hope “is the process of making sense of what exists now in the belief that this prepares us to meet what lies ahead”. It means that we become realistic, sensible and moderate, directing our attention to what is within reach instead of what is desired but unattainable. It acknowledges that the future is “open, uncertain, but that we are able to influence it, that we can set goals and make pathways to them”. In this way, says Wenigarten, we practice reasonable hope, “a profoundly creative process through which the future emerges.”

One of the signs of hope is when we join with others in order to achieve our goals. We cannot do this in isolation. In the Christian context this means that we seek to embody hope in the continuing life of the Church, to witness to God in Christ through serving our neighbour, working together on our goals to be carbon ‘net-zero’. Reasonable hope recognises life is always going to be uncertain, often messy, but if our hope is in God then the kingdom, all these things as Jesus says, will in the long-term come to us. The creation story tells of humanity being made in the image and likeness of God – and our vocation as human beings is to cooperate with God in bringing about his kingdom here on earth.  It’s not too late for us if we act now. The basis of our hope is that Jesus, the Word of God made flesh and living among us, has already embodied the life of God in historical form; through the Spirit we believe that all human lives will one day be united to the eternal Word.  And the Word is present in the continuous dynamic of creation.

Our help and our hope is in God who has made heaven and earth.    Amen

Celia Thomson

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