Creationtide: A Sermon given by Rev Charlie Royden
I was asked by Lucy to speak about the Environment, drawing from my experiences as Chair of the St Albans Woodland Burial Trust, at Keysoe which we set up in 2007 and as Environment Portfolio Holder with Bedford Borough Council for 14 years. At St Andrew’s you have been involved in both of these things, you came and helped us plant lots of trees at the woodland burial ground and you successfully applied for grants from the Mayor’s Climate Change Fund which helped fund your solar panels. In the Borough Council we have reduced our carbon emissions by over 60% and we committed the council to be net zero by 2030. I suspect that Lucy asked me at this time to speak about this subject because we are now in what the Church of England was thinking of Creationtide which runs from 1st September to 4th October.
There is a story told that the 11th century King Canute tried to use his great power and authority to turn back the tide. The story is used in a context of showing his futility. However the exact opposite was true, Canute was demonstrating to his courtiers that he had no such powers over God’s creation. Poor Canute, doing his best and being completely misrepresented. This misrepresentation comes as no surprise to anybody who is involved in leadership and public debate. When St Mark’s started the process of trying to acquire a location for Christian burial in a way which was less damaging to the environment, in a woodland setting, we were accused of a multitude of sins including bringing in pagan burials and that was just from fellow clergy. A lot has changed since 2007 and we are no longer seen as much as environmental fanatics. But there are only two consecrated woodland burial grounds in the country most folks are still cremated. We are no longer mocked in the way that we were but neither are we understood by the wider church, in spite of the fact that we are doing something fairly obvious to help the environment.
We Christians should be much more engaged in thinking about how we care for this place which God has given us to look after and live in for a short time. The sad fact is that what we were doing in 2007 was welcomed more and still is, by people outside the church who just care for the environment. Creationtide is an opportunity for the church to recognise that it has been slow to recognise the responsibility which we have towards creation. There is a massive debate going on which we must engage with. Yes it includes insulating homes, stopping pouring untreated sewage into our rivers, why do we do that in Bedford? It is not an easy debate withy simple answers because I don’t want an electric car which has been made on the exploitation of children forced into mines to dig the metals for my batteries. But engage we must because this world belongs to our God. Our faith is bound up in the fabric of the created order.
The Old Testament is very clear that God made creation out of nothing God looked at the earth and what he made and declared that it was good. So the Psalmist can quite rightly say ‘The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it’ In the New Testament the Apostle Paul looks forward to a new creation when creation will be restored. Revelation 21 speaks of a New Heaven and New Earth, that is a very physical world in which there is renewal not an alternative, and the vision is of a physical river, with crops and a tree with leaves for the healing of the nations. If we needed any more convincing of the importance of creation then look no further than Jesus who is God incarnate, God in flesh. This gives us a clue of how much God loves this world that he has made and that is why he wants to redeem it. That is why the resurrection of Jesus was a bodily resurrection and we communion with our God, as Jesus commanded, with the fruits of creation using bread and wine.
Christians have been slow to recognise the importance of looking after creation in exactly the same way that we were slow on so many other things and we have not learned. Too often we have followed in the tail lights of others who have led the way, guided solely by their God given conscience and not by any scriptures. We were behind the curve on slavery Remember the Church was an advocate of slavery before it eventually turned against it. Church of England Clergy received the equivalent of £46m of financial compensation when slavery was finally abolished in the 1830s. The Society for the Propagation of the Gospel (now part of USPG) owned slaves in Barbados, who were branded with the word “Society”. We were behind the curve on women, we still are. We are turning ourselves in knots over gender and sexuality when all around us the created world is literally on fire. Creationtide is an opportunity for us to try and catch up with what is going on in the world around us and offer leadership and a Christian perspective on how we should live peacefully with one another and with creation.
Let me outline just one of the problems we face and why we need creationtide. Human activity has increased the presence of carbon dioxide in the earth’s atmosphere, usually from the burning of fossil fuels. We call this greenhouse gas because it stops the heat of the sun escaping. Its like a nice cosy blanket around our planet. However this causes global surface temperatures to rise. Oceans are becoming warmer, ice is melting, seas are rising If emissions continue unchecked then global warming could be between 2.6 and 4.6 degrees by the end of this century. That is in the lifetime of some of your grandchildren and it would have apocalyptic consequences. However even at the much lower increases we have now there are mind blowing consequences. Climate change is the single biggest health threat facing humanity. The injustice is that the people whose health is being harmed first and worst by the climate crisis are the people who contribute least to its causes, and who are least able to protect themselves and their families against it - people in low-income and disadvantaged countries and communities. Global warming might seem a nice change for us after cold winters but we are already seeing the deathly consequences with more freak weather events like wildfires across USA and Europe. But this is just the tip of the melting iceberg it is going to get much worse.
Already we are seeing arable land being turned into deserts Rising sea levels are covering land with salt. This is not just a problem for them. People can no longer live in parts of the world and must migrate. Zurich insures our woodland burial ground. Zurich expects that with the extreme weather, rising seas and damaged ecosystems there could be over 1.2 billion climate refugees in the next two decades. If this takes place then it will destabilize societies across the western world. In Syria farming land was made desert between 2006 and 2010. This meant they had no crops, 85% of the animals died. The population was rife for recruiters of Islamic state and the civil war and Arab Spring followed. This fuelled the worlds worst refugee crisis in decades with 6.6million Syrians forced to flea. You can see some of them on the TV every week. I don’t know the mind of the Archbishop of Canterbury but I suspect that the reason why he joined others in the House of Lords in condemning the asylum bill is not just because it feeds the narrative of criminalising people from Syria who seek refuge in the UK as in his words ‘liars, scroungers or less than fully human.’ I am sure he is aware that unless we all work together to do everything we can globally to reverse the wider problem of climate change then the world as we know it today will change beyond recognition.
Let me wrap up John Bell wrote a lovely hymn, ‘will you come and follow me if I but call your name.’ It speaks powerfully about him coming out as a gay man, but there is a verse in it which speaks powerfully to all of us in encouraging us to be unafraid to speak our faith to help bring about God’s change in the world Will you love the ‘you’ you hide if I but call your name? Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same? Will you use the faith you’ve found, to reshape the world around through my sight and touch and sound, in you and you in me?
I am going to leave you with a prayer from the vigil for climate change, you can find this and many more resources on the Church of England website for Creationtide. I particularly like it because it starts three verses with the words call us out of our sleep and I do feel that we are sleepwalking into a climate disaster.
Call us out of our sleep; Awaken our hearts and minds to the reality of so many lives. Awaken us to our connectedness as a global community. Awaken us to a future free from poverty and climate change. Father, call us out of our sleep.
Call us out of our sleep; Awaken us to the suffering of others. Awaken our hearts and minds to our choices and their impacts. Awaken us to be renewed with creation. Awaken us to the joy of enabling others to live life to the full. Christ, call us out of our sleep.
Call us out of our sleep; Awaken our hearts and minds to your hope. Awaken us to be renewed with creation. Awaken us to the joy of enabling others to live life to the full. Holy Spirit, call us out of our sleep.