Today – you may not know this – is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation, and the beginning of the season in the church when we are asked to give special attention to the Creation of which we are part, and which we have as a species failed so spectacularly to look after. It is perhaps symptomatic of our continuing ignorance that I didn’t know until I started to write this post that the World Day of Prayer for Creation even existed, let alone when it was. Like so many other worthy things that people ask the church to remember, the idea that there was a season of creation around now was there in the back of my mind, but never centre stage.
This year, that needs to end. Caring for our common home has to move to the front of our list of concerns, because if it doesn’t we may not have one. We are now at crisis point: in the very literal sense of the word crisis. Krisis in New Testament Greek does not mean ‘impending disaster’ – it means ‘judgement’. We are now at the time of judgement in relation to our planet and its future. The time for lengthy discussion and moderate action was a generation ago, and collectively we did nothing – or so very little that it has left us still looking at disastrous changes to our planet. The need for action is as urgent and as great as it was when the coronavirus epidemic began to spread. Over the last few years the strategy originally developed by tobacco companies has been used very effectively: the 3 D’s of deny, delay and deflect. Climate change is now becoming undeniable, but the dragging of corporate and government feet, and the reluctance of us as citizens and consumers to actually change our lives, continues to delay real change. And if all else fails there’s always the final tactic, of trying to get us to think about something more palatable or entertaining.
For the churches and for us as Christians, this is not some side issue: this is about God’s judgement on us as disciples. The excuses are gone, the argument is over: if we are to take seriously the mandate of creation, to be stewards of God’s creation, we have to act, and we have to act now. It will be costly, and complicated, and messy – but we have no alternative. The church’s purpose in existence is to live out and call others into the life of conversion: to join in with God’s purposes of love for the world. At this present time, that joining in with the mission of God calls us to be converted from our destruction of creation in order to restore and care for it.
It may feel to you – it certainly feels to me – as if this is yet another emergency when we’ve had quite enough. Sadly emergencies don’t form an orderly queue or wait until you’re feeling strong enough to deal with them. By definition, they have to be responded to right now. But for us as Christians there is always also hope, and even joy, to be had when we are doing the thing which is God’s will for us. Caring for creation is also caring for ourselves: we are a part of that whole ecology of which we are stewards. In focusing again on this calling, we are also focusing on our own wellbeing. One of the paradoxes of the ongoing process of conversion is that when we allow God’s Spirit to be at work in us, painful as it may be, the new life that opens up for us is more joyful, more fulfilling, and most of the time just happier than the life we were living. Even neuroscientists are catching up with the fact that acting with kindness makes people feel better – well, who knew? Caring for our world is not a chore or a penance, but an invitation to joy, an invitation to be part of the original purpose of our creation. Remember, the command to be stewards of creation came before Adam and Eve ate the unfortunate apple. It was what they were to do in Eden, in the world as God wanted it to be. It’s rooted in our humanity, deeper than our DNA.
Caring for creation is mission; it is witness to the difference that Christian faith makes; it is conversion to the way of Jesus Christ. As we begin, however slowly and tentatively, and still carrying levels of exhaustion, to emerge from the pandemic, now is the moment to think about how the church will look in the years to come. The strapline for the Church of England’s national initiative is that we should be ‘simpler, humbler and bolder’. I think those are the right words – as long as they are held in combination, each qualifying the others. And a key part of being bolder, I believe, will be having the courage to recognise where we must speak and act. The Church of England has an honourable history of not wanting to exclude any who disagree, the downside of which can be a paralysing inability to take a position on anything except the most anodyne of issues. We need to move that balance, and recognise that in some things moderation is not a virtue – in fact it is a sin.
The future of the church, if it is to have one, is in the renewal of parishes as communities of action, as the conscience of their locality, as leaders in witnessing for a changed society. I have focused here on climate change: if only that were the only issue that requires our attention. Don’t let it be thought that I’m ignoring the needs of the world’s poor, of refugees and asylum seekers like those we have seen desperate to escape from the Taliban in Afghanistan, or victims of racial or other discrimination. And I am only too aware that coronavirus hasn’t gone away, and that there is much pastoral care to give as we continue to deal with that threat. It is only by God’s strength that we can be sufficient to these things.
The situation we face around us must drive us to prayer. One of the most appropriate prayers for our present time comes from that ancient observance of Rogationtide – days of prayer for the fruitfulness of the earth and human labour.
God our Father,
you never cease the work you have begun
and prosper with your blessing all human labour:
make us wise and faithful stewards of your gifts
that we may serve the common good,
maintain the fabric of our world
and seek that justice where all may share
the good things you pour upon us;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.