Sermon at St Mary’s Church Hadlow 19th February 2017 – Creation and Redemption
Romans 8 vv 18 – 25 The whole creation waits patiently for its redemption
Matthew 6 vv 25 – E Do not be anxious but seek first God’s kingdom
Text: “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God” Romans 8 v 21
Introduction. The Christian Gospel is a very earthy faith as Bishop James Jones, former Bishop of Liverpool, makes clear in his little book, ‘Jesus and the Earth’. This perspective derives, for both Jews and Christians, from a belief in a creator God. Jesus tells us not to be anxious about our daily needs of food and clothing for we have a Heavenly Father who knows our needs and has provided for us in his creation. Yet, because of the Fall, there are tensions in this statement. Humankind and the natural order are so interrelated that one affects the other and vice-versa. I want to consider with you this interrelatedness, our ultimate destiny and the implications for us now.
- Interrelatedness. Following almost every period of creative activity we read in Genesis 1, “God saw that it was good” (vv 10, 13, 18, 21, 25, 31). However, mankind’s rebellion against God, as recounted in the fall in Genesis 3, results in the created order, as well as mankind, being affected. Firstly, we are told that God said to the serpent, “Cursed are you above all livestock” (v14). We tend to focus on the serpent, as representing the work of the devil, but there is an implication in the use of the word ‘first’ that the rest of the animal kingdom is cursed also. Then God says to Adam, “Cursed is the ground because of you” (v 17). The whole created order, at least on the earth, is affected by the sin of Adam and Eve. There is this interrelatedness. What we do, results in bad effects in the created order. Poor agricultural policies in the long term affect our ability to grow good crops. We see it in an extreme case in Zimbabwe, where unjust and unwise policies affecting the ownership of land, have resulted in a country, which was to some extent the bread basket of Southern Africa, becoming a country of dreadful poverty and food shortages. The current civil war in Syria, the many wars of the last 100 years especially, have had serious affects. The most serious issue now for us all is climate change, probably resulting from the activity of a growing, more affluent world population. We are seeing more frequent and more serious natural disasters, earthquakes, floods arising from tsunamis, tornados and other severe weather. The Apostle Paul picks up on this in our epistle reading, where he writes, “The whole creation has been groaning, as in the pains of childbirth up to the present time.” (v 22). One can almost hear the tectonic plates grinding over one another.
But it is not only that we affect the natural order but that the natural order affects us. Somebody in our Church said to me recently that a single cosmic ray, having set out from a distant star some millions of years ago, can hit an individual person here on earth and change a critical part of that person’s DNA, to then pass on to the person’s children a significant change, for good or ill. In a very ordinary way, you may go out for a walk on a cold and wet day without good protection and go down with a cold the following day. On a bigger scale an earthquake destroys houses and kills or injures many people, albeit we are quite capable of building houses that will withstand most earthquakes.
I have been emphasising the negative interactions between people and the rest of the created order, because this is the emphasis in Romans 8. There is of course much that is good. We live on a planet with a good climate, an abundance of natural resources, an ability to grow a great variety of food crops for ourselves and for animals, sustaining a world population of over 7 billion people. There is a very positive side to this interrelatedness. Jesus emphasises this in our Gospel reading, when he tells us that our Heavenly Father knows our need of food, drink and clothing. Jesus tells us therefore repeatedly, about each of these needs, not to be anxious, not to worry.
- About two weeks ago, the cat of a family living nearby was killed on the main road. I spoke to the wife and mother of the family and expressed my sadness at such an event. Subsequently I wrote a note to the whole family. In the note, I referred to Psalm 36 in which it says, “God saves both man and beast”. One finds there, a concern and future hope not only for people but for the animal kingdom. We so often think of heaven as just for people. Although the book of Revelation is largely symbolic, it includes four living creatures which praise God continually (4 vv 6 – 11), another pointer to such a future for animals. St Paul makes this quite explicit when he writes “The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8 v 21). Moreover, St Paul is so enthusiastic about this future redemption that he can write, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (8 v 18). Paul had certainly known suffering for he writes elsewhere of being beaten many times, being stoned and left for dead and being shipwrecked three times (“2 Cor 11 vv 24, 25).
This idea of the redemption of the whole created order is not something exclusive in the Bible to the writings of the Apostle Paul. The great prophet Isaiah looks forward to a time when “the wolf will lie down with the lamb” and “the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord (11 vv 6, 9) and later on in his writings we find him saying that God will create new heavens and a new earth (65 v 17). John in the book of Revelation develops this theme of the new heaven and the new earth in which there is no pain, no crying and even death is abolished (21 v 4).
- Response. What then is our response to this plan of God’s redemption of the whole created order?
One response might be, “Whoopee, forget climate change, we can keep going for a little longer and the God will intervene and completely renew everything.” One problem about that is that although there are indications of this time drawing near, as various prophecies are fulfilled, we don’t actually know when that time will be. God’s timescale is not our timescale for as the Apostle Peter wrote, “With the Lord a day is as a thousand years and a thousand years as a day” (2 Peter 3 v 8). Another aspect is that we are called to responsible living with a care for the poor whether in Hadlow, Tonbridge or Kibakwe. In today’s Gospel Jesus bids us to “Seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness. At the outset, God gave man a creation responsibility to work the ground and to take care of it (Gen 2 v 15) as well as having dominion over all living creatures (Gen 1 v30). Such a responsibility is not abrogated in the New Testament but rather enhanced.
In the immediate context of our day, a major concern must be sustainability and meeting and mitigating the challenges of climate change. Each of us has a part to play, for example by increasing the amount of waste that goes to recycling, by reducing car usage where we can walk, cycle or take a bus and/or train, by installing PV panels just to mention a few day-to-day ways of doing something.
Let us then like the Apostle Paul look forward to a great future, the meanwhile not being anxious about our daily needs but seeking first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.
Word count: 1387 Christopher Miles