Sunday 13 September 2009

Creation in Crisis

An address given at Templederry and Killodiernan on 13 September 2009, the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, on the theme Creation in Crisis suggested by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland for Creation Time.

God’s creation is in crisis!

Well, perhaps not the whole of creation, but this planet is in crisis. And it is we human beings who are making an unholy mess of it - this beautiful world, our wonderful Garden of Eden, which we share with so many others of God’s creatures.

There is room for very little argument about the facts of climate change, nor that human beings are playing the dominant role in causing the crisis of global warming.

The message from the climate scientists working in the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) is very clear. The concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere has gone up, largely due to people burning fossil fuels – coal, oil and gas, but also due to people cutting down forests and intensifying agriculture. This is causing average global temperatures to rise inexorably – by about 1°C already, with more inevitable. As a result:
  • sea levels will rise - probably by around a metre by 2100, what ever changes we make now – threatening coastal communities around the world;
  • extreme weather events – storms, floods and droughts – will become more frequent, causing increasing death and destruction;
  • and eco-systems world wide will be disrupted, with potentially serious consequences for the entire web of life on earth.
Aid agencies like Christian Aid and Trocaire warn, correctly I’m sure, that in the immediate future those most threatened will be the poorest of the poor in the Third World. But as temperatures rise, we will all pay the price.

Scientists also warn that unless we limit global warming very soon, the planet may pass one of several points of no return and undergo run-away heating, with quite apocalyptic and irreversible consequences.

Wouldn’t it be wise for people all over the world to heed these warnings and start to make the changes necessary to limit global warming? The UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen in December will be an opportunity for the leaders of the nations to do just that. But there are wishful-thinkers and sceptics who refuse to believe the climate scientists, and there are those who selfishly procrastinate, waiting for others to act first. Will global leaders rise to the occasion? We must pray that they will.

All this echoes today’s OT reading (Proverbs 1:20-33)

Wisdom is personified as a woman, appealing to the people in the street. She calls them to ‘choose the fear of the Lord’ – in other words to do God’s will not their own. But many – the simple, the scoffers, the fools, she calls them - refuse to listen to Wisdom.

‘How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple? How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing and fools hate knowledge? Give heed to my reproof’, she begins.

And she goes on to warn them of the consequences of not listening: ‘Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the Lord, would have none of my counsel, and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way and be sated with their own devices. For waywardness kills the simple, and the complacency of fools destroys them; but those who listen to me will be secure and will live at ease, without dread of disaster.’

The climate scientists and the climate activists are calling all of us to change the way we live and work to limit and reverse global warming, in much the same way surely, as Wisdom called the people on the street to ‘choose the fear of the Lord’ in the Book of Proverbs. Will we listen to Wisdom, or will we respond like the simple, the scoffers and the fools?

The climate change crisis is one part of the Crisis of Creation – but not all of it, I think.

We are also experiencing a social crisis on a global scale, where millions of people live on the edge of starvation in the poor world, while millions of people in the rich world live on a treadmill of consumption, using up the earths finite resources at an ever increasing rate which cannot continue. And we are also in the middle of an economic crisis, with asset prices crashing and people being thrown into unemployment, impoverishing millions.

All these crises are I think deeply linked. And as Christians we should be able to recognise the root cause of them all very well: it is human selfishness and greed – old fashioned sins to which people have been liable since the dawn of time.

Jesus challenges us to believe in the good news about God – that if we repent he forgives. And that enables us to follow the way Jesus shows us, seeking and working for God’s kingdom which is coming near. That is the way we must overcome the crisis of creation.

But today’s NT reading (Mark 8:27-38) reminds us that the task will not be an easy one. He tells the crowd and his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.’

Now, in rich Ireland – and compared to many others we are still rich, despite the crash – not all of us are particularly selfish and greedy. But most of us have become trapped – within my own lifetime - in a lifestyle of high consumption fuelled by lots of cheap fossil energy. That will have to change or we will destroy God’s planet for our children and grandchildren. The change can only start with individuals - with you, with me. And the change will be painful.
  • Will you deny yourself unnecessary consumption and make a start to tackle the crisis of creation? Will you?
  • Will you take up the cross, changing the way you live and work to reduce damage to the planet? Will you?
  • The ball is in your court and mine. What will your decision be?

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