A sermon preached online by Nikolaj Christensen on 7 February 2021, our 2nd annual Environment Sunday.
I want to start with a bit of good news this morning, which is that it seems momentum is building behind the need to finally really do something about our impact on the climate. That’s true in the church, but more importantly in the wider world as well. The United States is re-joining the Paris Agreement. The UK is aiming to cut emissions by over two thirds this decade. Even China has pledged to achieve net zero by 2060. And on an individual level, for many of us there is a growing awareness of the impacts on the planet that our choices have. A survey by Which? Magazine showed that about a third of people ‘would be prepared to pay more’ for renewable home energy. Though it also found that renewable tariffs can be among the cheaper ones. So that’s all great!
But I also want to bring a word of caution here. It’s tempting to reduce our relationship with the natural world to a set of numbers and promises, with the idea that we are somehow placed above creation and are able to manage and control it with the sheer force of our will. There is another side to our relationship with nature that we also need to grow in awareness of: that’s our connectedness with the environment, our dependence on it, both physically and spiritually. If we are to sustain a healthy relationship with the natural world, we need a spiritual renewal as well – a renewal of joy and not just of determination. And that’s something the passages from Scripture that we have heard this morning speak powerfully to.
From the Book of Proverbs we heard the poem of God’s Wisdom as a partner or a muse in the work of creation, a partnership in which there is a sense of delight and joy out of which everything comes into being:
I was beside him, like a master worker;
and I was daily his delight.
That sense of joy is reflected in the natural world itself, as we heard in our Psalm, which praises God for his ‘creatures beyond number’, including the sea monster ‘Leviathan which you have made to play in the deep’. The world is incredible complex and varied, and yet everything fits together and depends on the other parts. God holds it all in his hands.
But we have lost a sense of humility faced with the majesty of creation, and of the creator who ‘looks on the earth and it trembles’, as it says here. We have lost a sense of the fragility of our own existence, when, for example, we insist on having houses in areas prone to flooding. We need to recapture a sense of joy in our smallness faced with a big, wonderful world.
So then we turn to our passage from the Gospel of John, which introduces a unique human life, the life of Jesus. His followers came to see him as embodying the relationship between God and creation, what the Book of Proverbs calls ‘Wisdom’ and John calls ‘the Word’. He is the source of creation, and the one who can put it back together again. And he ‘became flesh’ – a biological, living, mortal being, not above but in the world.
Elsewhere Jesus reflects on his looming death by comparing himself to the prophet Jonah: ‘as Jonah was for three days and three nights in the belly of the sea monster, so for three days and three nights the Son of Man will be in the heart of the earth’ (Matthew 12.40). This is the culmination of what theologians call the ‘incarnation’, not just the Son of God becoming human but being consigned, committed, to the earth itself.
And then rising from the earth, like the plant from a seed, with a fresh and glorified body – the ultimate renewal and restoration, which we all long for.
So, as Lent approaches, and Ash Wednesday will remind us of our mortality, in order to follow Christ what good things in creation may God be calling you to give up enjoying for a time – in order to better appreciate those things at other times, and in order to better appreciate other good things that sometimes fade into the background?