Worship Together Online 7th February 2021
Taking a View of Creation
John 1. 1 – 14
2 before Lent, Year B,
Last week people who rely on the Church of England’s pattern of Bible readings – the lectionary – and who rely on different forms of technology to receive those readings, were thrown into confusion. Somehow the printed lectionary got out of synch with the C of E website, and that got out of synch with the readings on the Daily Prayer App, and different versions of the App got out of synch with each other. I was on a course with 14 other people and at one point in Morning Prayer there were three sets of readings among the group.
You will be pleased, I hope, to know that we are correct for today, but I begin in this way because there is careful thought behind the choice of readings on these Sundays before Lent. Before we jump into the season of penitence, reflection and discipline from Ash Wednesday the lens pulls back and gives us the widest and highest possible view of where we are and who we are and in whom we live and move and have our being, God our creator.
Next Sunday we are given the widest and highest possible view of Jesus Christ, in whom we live and move and have our being, revealed in the Transfiguration. As our lockdown horizons have been shrunk unto a screen sized, four walls view of the world, these Sundays both widen the lens and deepen the focus, looking broad and deep into the transcendent and intricate glory of God.
Let me offer a pictorial version of this. In the late 1960s Time Magazine featured a picture of the earth from the moon. It was taken on December 24, 1968, exactly 75 hours, 48 minutes and 41 seconds after the Apollo 8 spacecraft lifted off from Cape Canaveral, becoming the first human mission to orbit the moon. The astronauts were Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders. As they rolled their spacecraft to adjust their orbit, the earth ‘rose’ in front of them, and they – it was a joint effort - managed to get the famous “earthrise” photograph.
When it was printed people saw the earth in a new light, and themselves in a new way. The change of perspective gave visual form to the understanding that we are part of one environment, and inextricably linked together. Fifty years to the day after taking the photo, Bill Anders observed, "We set out to explore the moon and instead discovered the Earth." Many people would say that the modern environmental movement, though not originated by the photo, received an enormous boost from it. It’s interesting to me to note that the imagery of the website of the COP Climate Change Conference to be hosted in Glasgow in November derives directly from it.
(If you didn’t know either, COP stands for the “Conference of Parties”)
Similarly, the church’s thinking about and liturgical response to the doctrine of creation has been transformed in the last forty years. It used to be very hard to find anything to say or pray, beyond giving thanks that the earth and seas provided food and beauty. Now it has become very clear that, within the belief that creation is a gift of God which we did not demand or deserve, it is entirely possible for humanity to so affect the environment that we can, and, unchecked, will, contribute irretrievable damage to the planet. The generation which created the technology to take a picture from the moon used the same technology to create the capacity to destroy the world in one go in a nuclear apocalypse, and to ruin it slowly by heating things up until much of life will be ruined for good.
Human induces climate change is, however, not the perspective offered today. Seeing our planet as a whole, and in relationship to the wider universe, offers a perspective which rejoices in, wonders at and ponders on, where this came from and what it is for. Scripture is not as confident about the means of creation as some might think: the language is more poetic and metaphorical than hard line creationists might want, and not as certain than the caricatures some new atheist thinkers would construct. But the deep belief and humble assumption of much of scripture is that this creation is because of the divine, who is its originator, and that the God of who brought creation into being is not then absent from it, that every aspect of the universe is a proclamation of the creative life of the Godhead.
David Attenborough’s latest series is called A Perfect Planet. I know that the premise of the title is that there is no other celestial body in the universe that has the precise conditions for life, that this world has the perfect combination, but it would be easy to slip into the thought that it would all be fine without these pesky humans. The wider perspective is not as simple. The ‘perfection’ of creation is in fact marked by destructions and extinctions way beyond the responsibility of humanity.
Paul’s letter to the Romans speaks of all creation “groaning, in bondage to decay”. Humanity plays its part in that, and undoubtedly can make things worse: no other species has wreaked as much havoc as we have. But everything longs for re-creation, and the promise is that, in the overarching undergirding creation filling love of God there will be new life, a new heaven and a new earth, a new creation. That should not mean that we simply give up and wait for it, happily wrecking the earth for our selfish gain. We are called to bring the kingdom near in everything we do, and to be the first fruits, the first glimpse of that new creation.
Loving our neighbour means loving generations yet to be born who will have to cope with our mess. I heard this week that every plastic toothbrush made since the 1930s still exists, because, in some form, all plastic still exists. Loving our neighbour means buying and using in ways will sustain and not destroy. Loving our neighbour means recognising that, if we believe God to have created all this, the animals and plants and environment are our neighbours too, and we have responsibility to and for them, humbly accepting our place and boldly accepting our challenges.
James Rebanks’ wonderful book called English Pastoral traces a remarkable journey in recognising that farming practices designed to subdue creation have revealed humanity to be both arrogant in sucking the life out of the land, and blinkered in not seeing how humble and generous interaction bring creation to life. We will leave always footprints, but we can tread lightly. That interaction is the stuff of life.
An Earthrise perspective is about seeing everything as connected, about rejoicing in transcendent beauty, about wondering in prodigal complexity, about humbling ourselves to be an active part of creation and about reining ourselves in when we subdue creation beyond what it will sustain. It is a John 1 perspective. En arche en ho logos: in the beginning was the Word. We live in the love and creative force of God. We live to love our neighbour in every aspect of the created order. We live to proclaim the new creation to come. And we do that when we brush our teeth and heat our homes in such a way as to give to the God of the universe. Amen.Print This Page