When I sat down and planned the service schedule for this autumn and decided that this themed evensong would be about the environment I had no idea that the Caribbean would have inflicted upon it some of the most violent storms ever experienced; our prayers must go out to those who have lost life, home and livelihood and also to all involved in seeking to bringing relief.
The environment has been very much in the news for other reasons such as President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement and, our own governments decision to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Now I don’t want to get overly political but I do want to say that I am glad that the environment is very much on the political agenda.
As Christians we need to make sure the environment stays very much on the theological agenda.
The reading we have heard from the book of Deuteronomy paints a wonderful picture of the created order: ‘a land lowing with streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig tress and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,’ a land of good things in other words. And, the writer is correct to direct us to the essential goodness of the created order, after all the creation narrative in Genesis stresses time and again that God looked at his handiwork and saw that it was good. When God looked at human kind he saw the potential that we might become ‘very good.’
God, if you remember the creation stories makes three important moves: first he creates, then he lets go (let it be is God’s constant refrain) and, then he appoints human kind as stewards. So the question arises as to how our we to respond to the environment, what virtues should guide our environmental decision making if we truly want to be ‘very good.’ Let me suggest four:
First, awe and wonder. The created order is God’s artistry. We are should enjoy it and seek God through it. Secondly, gratitude. If the Psalmist is correct to thank God for the fact that he is ‘wonderfully made,’ then it follows that we should be grateful for all that God has made. Thirdly, we should approach the environment with humility remembering that it is the Lord our God who ‘gives the power to get wealth,’ we are the created and not the Creator,- ‘do not say to yourself my power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth - and fourthly sufficiency or even simplicity.
Just because we can take more from the environment does not, cannot, mean that we should, Perhaps, we all need to learn to live within our limits, to take less, to leave more for others? After all the environment is given by God to all of humanity. As Christians we are called on to love both God and our neighbour. I would like to suggest that the natural environment, the created order, is the proving ground for love of God and love of neighbour. Our love for God is in part evidenced by the awe and wonder through which we regard the created order, our love of neighbour is evidenced by our ability to exercise restraint and our willingness to share that which God deemed good with our neighbour and particularly our neighbour in distress.
So let me end in offering you the opportunity, in the silence of your hearts, to thank God for the environment and for his guidance in how we might act as God’s environmental stewards. Amen.
Rev. Andrew Lightbown