April 23, 2023

Genesis 1:1 – 2:4a
Psalm 8
Romans 8:18-27

“Creation Groans!”

Mardi Tindal, a former Moderator of the United Church of Canada, was a vocal member of the World Council of Churches’ delegation to the UN Climate talks in 2009 and 2011. She wrote this about her experience in worship in Copenhagen.

“I gasped as worship began. It was December 13th, 2009 and I stood in Copenhagen Lutheran Cathedral, alongside other church leaders from every region of the planet. Exposed glacier stones from Greenland, dried up maize from Africa, and bleached coral from the Pacific Ocean captured my attention as they called us – dramatically – into worship. As these three ‘members’ of the procession found their way slowly through the packed congregation, my eyes brimmed with tears. I wasn’t alone. These silent three – symbols of global climate change – spoke loudly. They led us into soul-deep lament over what we are doing, into high praise of our Creator, and into a wide hope that we might be revealed as Children of God.

“The Secretary General of the National Council of Churches in Denmark read the epistle, Romans 8:19-25: ‘For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God… in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God…’

“Paul wrote about the whole of creation. Alice M. Sinnott makes this point within The Season of creation: A Preaching Commentary. She writes that Paul is ‘drawing on Genesis 3 and other Jewish traditions that portray creation itself in bondage – in the wilderness, as it were – and therefore in need of its own exodus.’

“Paul suggests that our freedom as God’s children, is found in becoming agents of God’s restorative, healing, birthing work. He was speaking to the early Christian community in Rome – a community that was suffering and felt itself to be in the wilderness. Paul reminds them – and us – that God is still involved in all of creation. ‘Paul explains to his Roman audience that the appropriate stance and activity for God’s people while in the wilderness awaiting birth into new life is to wait and pray patiently’ as Sinnott explains. In such ways the Spirit works in us, so that we, with a deepened trust in God’s lead, will participate more fully in the birth that God is bringing about.”

Earth Day is an appropriate time for Christians to join with people of many faiths or no faith around the globe who are learning about and advocating for the care and restoration of the natural environment.

As Christians, we are motivated by the conviction that the world and everything in it was made by God, and loved by God, and declared by God to be very good. But the actions and inactions of human beings in the world have marred its beauty, threatened its integrity, and called into question how long God’s good earth will survive for the health and well-being of all its good creatures, including human beings.

Sallie McFague, writing back in 2008 about theology and global warming, said “Climate change, quite simply is the issue of the twenty-first century. It is not one issue among many, but, like the canary in the [coal] mine, it is warning us that the way we are living on our planet is causing us to head for disaster. We must change. All of the other issues we care about – social justice, peace, prosperity, freedom – cannot occur unless our planet is healthy. It is the unifying issue of our time.”

When I was at the World Council of Churches’ Assembly in Germany last year, the thing I heard again and again was that we need to stop talking about “climate change” and start acting on the fact that we are in a “climate crisis.” While some of us are able to continue on with our lives relatively unaffected, except perhaps the growing unpredictability of weather patterns that we find annoying, people in other parts of the world are suffering from the climate crisis in ways that threaten their livelihoods, their homes and communities, and even their very lives.

Citizens for Public Justice, a Canadian social justice organization, points out that climate change is not just an environmental issue: “It affects social stability, economies, and educational systems. It impacts pursuits of equality and global peace. It plays out in ecosystems and community health, technology, and transportation systems.

“The current legacy of climate change is mostly the fault of developed countries and wealthy consumers. However, it is communities in least developed countries, low-lying states, and small-island nations that will be most negatively impacted by climate change.

“Extreme weather events, climate variability, and sea level rise due to climate change are already uprooting communities. Fierce typhoons in the Philippines have displaced hundreds of thousands of people; changing rainfall patterns in Peru have severely threatened food production; and unusually heavy monsoon rains in Pakistan have caused flooding that killed thousands and displaced millions.”

A CPJ collection of “Moving Stories” sharing the voices and experiences of people who are forced to move because of environmental change, includes these and many more testimonies:

A fisherman in Indonesia writes this: “I live on the island of Kapoposang in Matiro. I have been speargun fishing in these waters since I was a child, but now I have noticed changes. Parts of the coral are white and algae has started growing on them. If I consider the coral reefs today there are not as many things to catch. There are fewer fish because the reef is broken. I can spend the whole day motoring around, paddling and swimming, I’ll try everything. Sometimes I don’t catch any fish and we’ll go a whole day without eating any. These days, the coral reefs around Kapoposang are degrading. If the reefs continue to degrade then there won’t be any fish here. There won’t be anything left for us to do.”

A man in Bangladesh writes this: “The land here used to be 1 km out to sea … We lost mosques, a school, shops, farms. We are scared of the sea now. Gradually it comes closer to our homes. When we sleep, we are scared. Every year the tide rises more and comes in further. Next year this village may not exist.”

A Lau woman from Sudan, living in a Refugee camp in Ethiopia writes this: “Because of severe drought, my family and I moved permanently to the river some distance away. But this was difficult because of fighting going on in that area, and eventually we moved because of it.”

An Inuit man living in Nunavut writes this: “About five years ago the sea ice used to take longer to melt. It lasted about 10 months but now it’s only 8 months. This harms our way of life, our way of hunting, our way of fishing, and our way of traveling from one place to another.”

A young couple in Pakistan write this: “The rains came in the middle of the night, while most people were sleeping. When we woke up, there was water of about 2-3 feet and we did not know how to escape, because our village is far from the main road. The water was very dirty because the floods had damaged our [sanitation and water] facilities. I was very pregnant at the time, and our livestock are our livelihood so we didn’t want to leave them to die, so we did not know what to do. We were rescued in boats by the army and NGOs. We are thankful to be alive, but we lost our livestock and now we are trying to rebuild our livelihood by starting from the beginning.”

An older man in Bolivia writes this: “When I was young, it was quite mild, not such a hot heat. That’s why Illimani is melting. It’s three times as hot. It did not used to be so hot. I am very sad when I see the snowline going up. I don’t want it to be like that. I don’t have any children, but other compañeros in the community, they do have children. They are going to suffer the last days, if there is no water. I am 67 years old, and I am not going to suffer as I am going to die. But the other villagers, yes they will suffer. That’s why I am so upset that there is not going to be any water. I am going to live another ten to fifteen years, but the others … I am not going to see it. But the young will witness the end of Illimani.”

Can you hear the Creation groaning through the voices of our siblings around the world? It may seem quiet in our neighbourhood, but it is our way of life that is causing the problems, polluting the air, land, and waters, exacerbating climate change, and causing pain and suffering to vulnerable people.

A 2011 statement by Canadian Interfaith Leaders put it this way: “We recognize that at its root the unprecedented human contribution to climate change is symptomatic of a spiritual deficit: excessive self-interest, destructive competition, and greed have given rise to unsustainable patterns of production and consumption. Humanity’s relationship with the environment has become distorted by actions that compromise the welfare of future generations of life.”

The Apostle Paul, however, does not only speak of the groaning of Creation and the suffering of the people, but he also speaks about hope. He says that “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.” He suggests that “the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”

And we are those children of God. We are the ones who are called to work with God and one another on the healing of creation. We are called to be people of hope, who do not despair that we’ve left it too long and act as if nothing can be done about the climate crisis.

Mardi Tindal reminds us that “Christians are people of hope. We’ve seen God transform lives, breaking hard hearts open to others, and to all of creation. We know that transformation is possible.”

And then she explains that as Christians from around the world left worship in the Copenhagen Cathedral that day, “each of us clutching a candle of hope and commitment, we heard the bells overhead ring 350 times, joining a chorus of bells atop churches throughout Denmark, and around the world. They chimed a joyful sound of commitment both to patient prayer and urgent action. [Specifically,] They called us to return to a 350 parts per million concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere (and global ocean). To return to a safe limit for humanity, and the rest of creation: to slow the melting of glaciers, the drying up of maize, and the acidification of ocean coral.”

On this Earth Day, and every day, we are invited to join the global chorus, in the silence of lament and the loud joy of participation in God’s healing work.

Pope Francis, in an Inauguration Homily put it this way: “The vocation of being a ‘protector’… means protecting all creation, the beauty of the created world, as the Book of Genesis tells us and as St. Francis of Assisi showed us. It means respecting each of God’s creatures and respecting the environment in which we live. It means protecting people, showing loving concern for each and every person, especially children, the elderly, those in need, who are often the last we think about… In the end, everything has been entrusted to our protection, and all of us are responsible for it. Be protectors of God’s gifts!”

If you have heard today the groaning of Creation, I invite you to consider what you can do for the healing and protection of God’s good earth – what you can do as an individual or family, what we can do together as a congregation, how we can advocate with our governments and policy-makers, and how we can stand in solidarity with all our relations throughout the world – the very good world that God made.