Sermon No 74
Creation: ‘A duty to sustain and renew the earth’
2nd Before Lent
A sermon preached by Roger Laing (Parish Evangelist) on Sunday 24th February 2019 at the 8 & 10 am Eucharist Services at St. Paulinus Church, Crayford, Kent. (Based on Luke 8:22-25, Revelation 4, Genesis 2:4b-9, 15 to end and Psalm 65)
May I speak and may you hear in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Our gospel reading this morning recalls the story of the followers of Jesus aboard a boat on the Sea of Galilee and being caught in a violent storm. The story is a powerful one and highlights not only the fear of the disciples as they lose control of the boat, but also puts the spotlight on the forces of nature. However, the story is not really about the storm in itself, it draws our attention to the disciples momentarily losing faith in their leader Jesus, who was fast asleep below deck, seemingly oblivious to what was going on around Him.
Now it would be very easy to draw analogies to the present world around us, as our political leaders appear to be sleeping while the country and the wider world plunge deeper into a crisis to which there seems no solution, but it is not my desire or purpose to communicate any political message this morning and definitely not to mention the ‘B’ word!
Of course, as we heard in the story, ultimately Jesus had it all in hand and there was never any need to be anxious. In an instant Jesus calmed the storm and the disciples must have questioned why they ever had concerns in the first place.
The bible my friends is as true and relevant today as it was when the events took place, and so it becomes easy to place ourselves in the position of the disciples when things get tough and our faith weakens, and in some cases is lost all together.
And so, one of the reasons, in attending church regularly, is to build up that strength of faith that we need, to see us through the inevitable hard and difficult times that we all face at some point in our lives.
It might be through a bereavement of a loved one, or it might be that we are suffering financial hardship, or we might even look to the wider world, to the horrors and madness of war or natural disasters and consider whether there is a God at all?
These thoughts are perfectly natural, and we shouldn’t think of ourselves any less faithful than the next person. For the reality could be that the person who portrays the ‘perfect faith’ from the outside is writhing with anguish on the inside.
Outspoken atheists like Stephen Fry and Richard Dawkins, like to focus on the pain and hurt in the world and question how a loving God allows a people, he claims to be his children, to suffer so much?
Stephen Fry in answer to a hypothetical conversation with God about suffering angrily states, “How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right; it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain? That’s what I would say.” (https://www.bethinking.org/does-god-exist/stephen-fry-and-god)
And on the face of it, it would be easy to align ourselves with such thoughts, because unfortunately that sort of reality can be the world in which we do actually live, and so it would be strange if we did not question the existence of God from time to time.
Indeed, some Christian teachers and theologians believe it is good thing to suffer, to enhance our Christian understanding of what Jesus went through on the cross, in order to save us from an even worse eternal torment. Now I wouldn’t want to be so hard line as that, but it is certainly true to say, that through experiencing hardship and difficulty, we can come through the other side a stronger and perhaps better person, more able to understand the pain and difficulties of others.
But turning back to what is going on in our current world. I think most of us would agree, we are currently enduring a crisis not just politically, but environmentally too, the ramifications of which we cannot fully anticipate. Whether that is global warming, or plastics in the oceans, we seem as a human race to have got ourselves into a bit of a pickle and are finding it more and more difficult to find a way out, not just from that personal suffering that I have spoken about earlier, but from the suffering that is being inflicted on the environment.
But where there is suffering, we need to have hope, and that currently seems to be coming not from our politicians, but from our young people. Many of you might have witnessed just over a week ago now, the protests up and down the country from our young citizens, many of which were school students, as they expressed, quite eloquently in some cases, their anger towards our politicians, in what appear to many as having an ambivalent and selfish attitude towards the destruction of the planet and an unwillingness to take urgent action to save our environment, to save God’s creation.
The Book of Genesis, that very first book in the bible is often seen as the book that tells us of the story of creation and how God intended his world to be in the Garden of Eden, where man lived with his woman in perfect harmony.
Now whether you believe the story of creation to be a literal event that happened in seven days or whether you might think of it as an allegorical tale, is really unimportant. The point is that the present world that man has created is not the world that God intended it to be when He breathed it into existence.
The stories throughout the bible record time after time man’s inability to do what is right for himself and what God has asked him to do. You may recall in Genesis 3 it states, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15.) Well, we don’t seem to be currently doing such a great job of caring for it now, as we walk further and further away from the path that God would want us to walk.
Fortunately, however, the bible does offer us a message of hope, and we can look forward with some degree of certainty to what will come in the future, as we the faithful leave this mortal life and head into an eternal existence with our Creator.
So on that note, let us jump forward from the beginning to the end of the bible where we find the book of Revelation. A weird book full of fantastical imagery and prophetical messages that can be rather difficult to interpret when looking at it in isolation, but taken in the context of which it is set and in relation to other prophetical books such as Daniel, Ezekiel and Isaiah, we can begin to piece together this imagery to the rest of God’s Word and His plan for us might be?
And so, as we heard in our reading from chapter four this morning, we find John, the disciple of Jesus, on the Island of Patmos glimpsing into a supernatural realm through a window and seeing the Father God sitting on a throne.
This particular section of the bible describes what is known as ‘The Throne Room of Heaven’ and sets the scene for what in later chapters depicts the time of judgement and the last days..
Now, there are many different interpretations of what that imagery might mean for us both personally and collectively, and I wouldn’t want to begin to go into that in any detail this morning.
However, when we hear this accounts by John there are certain facts or inferences if you like, that we can assume to be correct. And amongst the foremost of these is that what John is seeing is the sovereignty of God.
We see a Father God sat on His throne, sovereign and powerful, and the imagery that John communicates is one of beauty and magnificence that is beyond what we as mortal humans have ever witnessed. John communicates an almost indescribable sense of adoration for the Lord, with angelic creatures paying homage day and night saying, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). The same words incidentally you might recognise from the 1826 hymn by Reginald Heber?
Revelation four ends with the words uttered by the twenty-four elders, who are most likely being the redeemed representatives of the Church in Heaven, saying, “For You created all things, And by Your will they exist and were created” (Revelation 4:11)
These words enforce our understanding that creation and all that that involves belongs to God the Father, and so any thing that we might do to harm His creation and creations is contrary to how God envisaged His created beings to act.
As an Evangelist in training back in 2006 I was taught the Five Marks of Mission, which was an important statement on mission within the Anglican Communion made in 1984, as it expressed the commitment and understanding we have of God’s holistic and integral mission in the world. The fifth Mark of that Mission is linked directly to the importance of treating creation with the utmost importance. (https://www.anglicancommunion.org/mission/marks-of-mission.aspx)
It says, ‘To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth.’
Now I don’t claim to be a tree hugging radical anarchist, neither would I support the truancy of children to protest in central London, but there can be no doubt of the seriousness we as adults need to take this mark of mission in terms of our environment. If the young people are getting it and we as adults are not, we really need to examine ourselves and the way we are presently doing things and how we might plan to do things in a better way in the immediate future. For it is the future generations to follow, who will suffer as a consequence of our failings if we do not sustain the creation of God.
In the Throne Room of Heaven as described in Revelation, we see an image of unparalleled beauty and lustre, but the truth is, is that same beauty is here all around us on earth, if we take the time to open our eyes to God’s creation. Indeed, the Lord’s Prayer calls us to will His kingdom ‘on earth as in heaven’
I can sense a shift beginning to move in these matters of climate and environmental change, especially seeing our younger members of society taking such an interest, but let us as Christians, not stand aloof in the background, but take the reigns in what needs to be done to save God’s creation and do ‘His’ will as He wants us to do. For God has given us custody of this planet until that time when He makes all things new.
I’ll leave you with a poem I found about creation by a Gabriele Embry, and it is a reminder of the creation and the beauty of the earth and its inhabitants that in the business of the day we sometimes just forget.
‘I look around, and everywhere I can see, The beauty of God’s creation smiling back at me.
A precious baby with velvety soft skin, wiggling its tiny hands and feet, On its face an adorable grin.
First morning dew on a pink rose; A beautiful butterfly drawing to it close.
The suns golden rays gently warming the ground; Luscious plants covering the soil abound.
Humming birds singing high up in the tree; White sand glistening in the turquoise sea.
Snow capped mountains, so majestically high; A colourful rainbow adorning the afternoon sky.
Countless stars above, sparkling oh so bright, Decorating the horizon and illuminating the night.
Thankyou, Dear Lord, for giving me another day, To enjoy the beauty of your creation, And to worship You and pray.’ Amen
(The Beauty of God’s Creation by Gabriele Embry, USA http://www.voicenet.com/displayonepoem.aspx?poemid=121864)