A Sermon on the Environment, Peace and Hope in Creation

NOTES FOR A MORE COHERENT SERMON
Rev. Brian Burch
Kitchener-Waterloo House Churches
Sunday, February 9, 2003

Texts: Genesis 1: 1 – 2:3
Revelations 21:1 – 6
Matthew 4: 43 – 48

Current news brings forward images from the past. I hear of bombing raids in Iraq and I think of the burning of the oil fields in Kuwait. This image of uncontrolled fire remains with me—it shows war and its effect on the natural world in a terrifying way. War has become a attack on the natural world, an attack on the gift of creation itself. The turning our back on something declared by God to be good is separate from all the other wrongs inherent in war, a clear enunciation that war itself is inherently evil and thus unjustifiable.

Creation, existence, life itself is inherently good, an offering from God. Peace and justice exist in response to this grace, this gift of creation. We have these dreams as echoes of the spirit that moved upon the waters, offering something new and delighting in the process of giving. Repeatedly we are told that it is good—water and air and animals and humanity. And the process wasn’t isolated—let us create man in our own image is a statement of appeal to a community; at the moment of existence of humanity we were declared a social being. Social beings care
for one another.

As well, humanity is to care for creation—a dominion is held for the future. Our relationship to nature, to creation, is that of a caretaker and not an exploiter. We live within creation and not separate from it. Humanity seems to have lost some of this emphasis over time—turning our backs on a divinity that is reflected in creation is a return to a view that one’s relationship to God does not necessarily demand any practical embracing of a creation theology. Just like living out the love of Jesus for all is not restricted to followers of Christ only caring for those that follow Christ, living out an inclusive view of God’s gift of creation has universal applications. Indeed, the passage from Matthew makes it clear that the gifts of creation are for everyone, not just for a chosen few. The responsibility to care for creation is not a responsibility to care for part of creation and to separate the benefits into separate approaches for deserving and undeserving recipients.

Both the vision of creation and the vision of the end times focuses on good—the creation of life; the ending of suffering; God being intimately with us. We reflect this in the radical consideration of the moment—each moment when we do not act to harm another, we do not act in ways harmful to the earth, we accept the possibility of the beginning and ending of time spiraling in the moment we are in.

Respect for the goodness of creation does not mean that we hold a view that the physical world does not include danger. Much of the danger we experience, though, is due either to humans being willfully blind to the realities of nature—building on flood plains or the side of an active volcano or, much more significantly, due to our collective despoiling of nature. We pollute air and water; we clear cut forests and create deserts; we pillage and loot the life that is intended to sustain us. And, through the use of depleted uranium, military toxic waste dumps, incendiary devices, defoliants and other long lasting attacks on nature, we combine attacks on one another with attacks on creation.

Creating a world where war isn’t looming over us requires the building up in the here and now of models that show that violence is not the way to deal with the stresses and conflicts of daily life. The more that we live in peace with ourselves and in harmony with our neighbours, the harder it becomes to coerce us to embrace violence, to participate in evil. When we establish a community kitchen or find a home for a couch surfer; when we work for victim-offender reconciliation programmes or prepare a relief kit for a war refugee we help weave together a stronger civil society. And to the extent that we share these efforts across cultures and communities, to the extent that we learn from those we rarely notice, to that extent we undermine the culture of violence, the culture of war.

The wonder of a sunset is based on the weaving together of hundreds of delicate shades into a powerful vision. Revolutionary change is built on small things, not the dramatic. Apartheid was doomed not when the African National Congress picked up weapons in the 1950s, but when women of all races started meeting in each other’s kitchens in the late 1970s. A just peace in the Middle East can’t be build upon suicide bombings or the bulldozing of buildings but by groups of Christians, Jews and followers of Islam supporting each other in difficult times, one visible example being parents sharing their grief and support across the artificial barriers of Israeli and Palestinian after the death of their children as a result of political violence. The stopping of clear cutting near Grassy Narrows is a task taken up by first nations people and those from Christian Peacemakers sharing together the responsibility of being stewards of creation.

Perfection, to Christians, is an achievable perfection, not a transcendent concept. It is rooted in actions practiced during easy times to the extent that they are ingrained during times of crisis. Caring for one another can become a habit, a way of relating to one another and therefore to all of creation.  Jesus, in the passage from Matthew, makes the demand that we become perfect. We are actually to care for everyone. Jesus reminds us that the gifts of creation aren’t withheld from some but are for everyone. Jesus expects his followers to extend this—the blessings of a practical, loving and transcending faith are for everyone. We feed everyone that is hungry, we visit everyone in prison, we ask for healing of all the ill, we care for our opponents as people sharing in creation.

In France, there are fields of grain where war once raged. In Assisi last year representatives of all faiths joined together to call for peace. There are signs of hope, of a return to the simplest demands of loving one another, of loving our God all around us.  We need to hold onto such visions at a time when flames are being prepared for cities in a foreign lands. We need to state publicly and firmly that war will not be waged in our name. We need to live as those that remember that God declared creation to be good.

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