Psalm 104: 1, 10-26, Mark 4: 1-10, 13-20
In the last couple of years, hundreds of churches all around the UK have included climate change in their sermons and have thought about how their churches can respond as part of their ongoing mission. Recently our Area Bishop, Bishop Richard, has asked us to embrace this subject and make environmental action a regular agenda item in our churches and meetings. It’s a really vital topic for Christians to engage with, and it can help us learn more about discipleship, worship, God’s justice and much more. Also, it is one of the five marks of mission which help define what mission means today in the Church of England. The fifth mark of mission is: To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
In my sermon today I want to draw from the bible passages we’ve heard in order to talk about: God’s love of creation; our damaging impact on creation and how that is impacting people in poverty; the hope we find in Jesus for the future of the planet, and finally what we can do to respond and help reduce climate change.
Our readings from Psalm 104 and the Gospel of Mark differ in purpose, setting and when they were written, but they also have a lot in come regarding their knowledge of creation and the love they express for it - both God’s and their own.
The psalmist who wrote Psalm 104 is overflowing with enthusiasm and joy for the natural world as God’s creation, ‘O Lord,’ they write ‘what a variety of things you have made! In wisdom you have made them all.’ Within the psalm there is also a deep and intimate knowledge of creation and how it works. They knew where the birds nested, for example, and where the mountain goats lived, the great skill of a lion as it hunts its prey, and the vast array of creatures living in the water.
It makes me think about how the author must have spent time observing and learning how all these things fit together within Creation, and it’s wonderful to think how this time and observation inspired them to worship God. I’m not sure how many of you are keen gardeners, but I enjoy growing things, especially from seed – there’s something about seeing seeds germinate and grow into plants that gives me a sense of hope, and of God’s presence. No matter what else is going on in life (and I think I felt this really acutely during lockdown), just as the seasons change, the seed and plants grow. In verse 31, just after the part we’ve heard, the psalmist expresses that God too revels in creation - its beauty and variety brings God joy.
Similarly, in our New Testament passage from Mark, Jesus demonstrates his own intimate understanding of creation in how he tells the parable of the sower. He describes what can hinder the growth of crops: he knows how drought can cause plants to wither, or how rocky ground prevents the development of roots. He knew the importance of nutritious soil for a bountiful harvest.
But Jesus shows us something else about creation too. He teaches us that we can learn about God through it. Whether it’s through those weeds that relentlessly grow back, the character of birds or the power of a tiny seed, time and again in this parable and other parts of the Bible, Jesus points to the Father and the way he works through creation. As the parable ending shows us, God’s creation is a thing of overwhelming and constant generosity. The seeds will grow and bear fruit thirty and sixty and a hundredfold if nourished and cared for in good soil. It is up to us to care for the earth to protect and provide that good soil.
For those of us lucky enough to have had an outdoor space during lockdown, we had the rare opportunity to remind ourselves of how valuable stopping and observing nature can be. We must hold onto those rare glimpses of God through creation as much as we can.
But when we look at the world today, we can see the many ways that we’ve damaged this beautiful gift God has given us. The ways that we live and work and consume have pushed creation to breaking point. Whether it’s plastic pollution littering seas and the poorest communities, or species going extinct at record rates, or the climate crisis making droughts, floods and storms more frequent and severe, we’ve misused and damaged this beautiful gift from God. We’re feeling some of the effects in the UK, but the impact is hitting people in poverty the hardest.
The story of Orbisa provided by the charity Tearfund, offers a real-life perspective. She’s a 35-year-old mother who lives in the Afar region of Ethiopia. A few years ago she could rely on the rains to produce food to feed the livestock on her small farm. Now because of the changing climate, the rains are far less predictable. Drought has killed nine of her ten cows. She’s lost nearly half her goats too
This is what she said to Tearfund: ‘We used to get rain every four to five months; the area was very fertile and green. But it hasn’t rained for six months and I don’t know when it will rain next. I feel worried whenever I think about the future.’
Around the world, millions of people like Orbisa are being pushed back into poverty because of climate change.
We have to act fast and change the way we live, and right now, we have a unique window of opportunity. How the government chooses to rebuild after the pandemic will shape our economy, climate and society in the decades to come. This is a crucial moment.
In the Bible Jesus tells us the most important commandments are to love God, and to love our neighbours. Tackling the climate crisis is vital to both of these – honouring God by protecting God’s creation and loving our global neighbours who are hit first and worst by what is now a climate emergency. So what can we do as Christians? Like the mustard seed, even the smallest things can have the power to do amazing things in reducing climate change, especially if we all commit to them. We’ve come up with five easy things you can do at home to help the environment and you can pick up this list at the back of church after the service. We can also keep this subject on our agenda and part of our mission focus as we move forward as a church. I hope this is just the beginning of our church continuing to embrace the fifth mark of mission: to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth, in how we operate as a church and community, and in how we inspire others. Amen Rev Melanie Harrington