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Sermon - 22 November 2009
Bible Verses: Genesis 1: 1 - 4 & John 1:1-14
(click the verses above to read the passages online)

CLIMATE CHANGE - Revisiting the Creation stories

preceded by UTUBE video "Apollo 8 40th Anniversary"

And "God saw it was Good" and we get to the end and
"God saw that it was very good."
That is the refrain, the earth and everything in it was good and pronounced good by God who made this earth..

In a time where people are panicking about climate change and when we are faced with fast moving extinction of some species caused by human activity which warn us that maybe we are not living in harmony with the rest of creation it is helpful for us to look at the familiar words of Genesis one - [only one, by the way of the many creation stories in the Bible.]

The Hebrew people wrote this astounding declaration of faith about 2500 years ago, despite the odds around them. The gods of other nations looked like they had manoeuvred more skilfully, and given more wealth and power to their peoples. But this little group of former nomads from the highlands of Judea had the audacity to claim that not only was their God, Yahweh, more powerful than all the others, but also had made everything and unlike the capricious God around them, had made it good. Yahweh had no territorial boundaries but operated even through other nations, because Yahweh had made then too.

I've said before that the scripture is carefully written. It is not right to translate this with the words Sun and moon but the lesser and greater light because the sun and moon were worshipped, were gods to the Babylonians and other peoples of the ANE. Other gods were not named in this creation chant. It is only the one God, Yahweh, who is mentioned.

The astronauts on Apollo 8 in their Christmas message in 1968, chose well for their message when humans first sighted the planet earth from afar. Giving glory to the creator with the ancient Hebrew words of Genesis while surrounded by their modern technology. Form their vulnerablity so far away, they looked and saw it was good.

But what is meant by good? Think about it. Does it mean to preserve it? We know about preserving. Our society is involved in all kind of preserves. We want to preserve our forests, our land, our animals, our fish, our seas. We want to preserve our fruit, our vegetables. Some people want to freeze their bodies at death so they can be revived. We have enough preservatives in our lives that you would think we live forever. We work to preserve food so much that our food will last a hundred or even a thousand years on the shelves.

Or does it mean to keep it pristine? How many of us have objects or gifts or items that we have put away to keep them good? I remember when I was about 10. I had carefully got my mother some of the perfume she liked. She didn't use it because she was keeping it good. It dried up and never got used. Is it good to not use a gift for the purpose for which it is given or made?

Some conservationists act as though the earth needs to be put on hold and humans removed from areas of it then it will all go back to some good and perfect state. Is that what God sees as good?

It is clear in the Biblical, that God created humanity with the potential for creating new things, for exploring and discovering and when our relationship with God and one another is good then so is the relationships with the earth and its creatures. But humans are also trusted with the choice as to how we exercise that creativity.

The old Bible stories reflect us well. The relationship between men and women and nature deteriorates, then brothers fight, clans dispute, and at one stage its every man for himself. This affects everything else, and none of those things work out for good.

Its not surprising that we do the usual thing of blaming anyone but ourselves and many many religions blame the earth or material things as being somehow evil. Genesis 1 says no, you can't use that excuse, its God's creation and God's creation is good, humanity is God's creation and we are made good.

The ancient Greeks and Egyptians thought [and some of our churches today still think] good is a static ideal, keeping something perfect, unchanging, preserved.
It then follows that humans are interlopers, agents of change, dangerous and unholy. We will contaminate the holy if we act, have feelings, we have to suppress our essential humanity.
Good in this sense is not doing anything wrong - anything that will disturb the perfection.

Some conservation groups work with this unstated religious underpinning. One can understand why when we look at human behaviour and the consequences.
Yes, we humans, when we are grabbing the earth's resources for ourselves and depriving others of food and shelter cause enormous damage, not just to other humans - but if there are wars - huge damage is caused to the environment and the animal and plant life. The devastation caused by war produces directly and indirectly a lot of the famine in the world. Farmers can't grow crops - you need peace for that - hungry people can't keep seeds to plant, water can't be fetched and supplies are cut.

In places where there have been huge landslides - I'm not talking about those caused by earthquakes but those billed as natural disaster, "Acts of God" no less, many have a history of deforestation by human greed, companies where the Board room decisions are made for profit and who don't care about the future of the people and areas they are plundering. The poorest and most vulnerable people who have to live on the leftover land are also the greatest sufferers in many disasters.

At a Conference on Science and theology this year at Auckland university it was pointed out that the high statistics of hurricane deaths in one area were in fact not acts of God but preventable deaths. They gave some fascinating facts about hurricane damage. It had been worked out that hurricane shelters with a warning system would prevent most of the deaths that were caused by the frequent hurricanes in one country. In one part of that country that was fine, the shelters worked, but in another it was realised that the statistics showed that there were still a high number of deaths among women and children. Further investigation found that cultural customs were causing the deaths. The women would not go into a shelter with the men, so they and their children died. [It was not a country .with a Christian heritage]. This was dealt with, the cultural customs given a different priority, and the statistics changed. Human cultural customs which discriminate were causing the deaths, not the hurricanes.

It is tempting to freeze and not explore, not do things, not develop land, not experiment with new plants which can feed more people, not to love enough to challenge old customs.
But is that what God meant us to do? Never cut a tree down? Never clear land for planting? Never use any of this planet's resources? To do nothing because it might disturb the perfection? Is that the message we get about God?
Not to use the good gift of this earth given in trust to humanity to care for it.?

The scriptures point to something far more risky and with the potential for far greater good and far greater destruction.
God made the earth good for the purpose for which God made it
- To be enjoyed and celebrated, to be cared for and used well.

I doubt that we can stop climate change - the climate has fluctuated for millennia , we cannot stop the volcanoes erupting or the earth continually reshaping itself. We are not God. I doubt that paying money to stop cows grazing in NZ will make any difference at all to the atmosphere. However what will make a difference is far more threatening yet so simple. It is obvious that filling the air and water with pollutants is stupid, that removing the good earth in which our food is grown is foolish. That fishing so the shoals of fish and shellfish cannot replenish is shortsighted. That recklessly destroying habitats of animals is unnecessary. . So why do we do it?
Human selfishness lies at the root of our destruction of our planet..

If we truly loved one another, then we would not take more than we need, we would not make profits on fragile rain forests and leave deserts behind so no one any more can see them or use their trees. We are always wanting more for ourselves, our family, our country our own group. It is the human heart that must change , so relationships can be restored with one another and when that happens the rest falls into place.

God made the earth good and gave it to humans to care for and grow. Not to keep it good, not to misuse it, but to live in along with the rest of creation. And we made such a mess of it, simply didn't get it. So God came, God's own self came into God's good earth and lived among us. Telling us how to care for it, telling us to use the most powerful gift of all, the love which enables us to live together, asking us to follow him and do as he does.
We looked away because it was too horrible to see that death of that good man Jesus.
But God did not leave it at that but showed us that we are worth it. There was the resurrection, giving us a glimpse that there is more, far more, than we can imagine. We are invited to enter into a way of life by this Jesus and take the risk of loving God and one another.
For there is life which is good and lasting for everyone which starts now on this good earth

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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