September 6, 2020

Romans 13:8-14
Matthew 18:15-20

“Loving our Neighbours by Caring for Creation”

From September 1st to October 4th, the Christian family celebrates the good gift of creation. This global celebration began in 1989 with the Ecumenical Patriarchate’s recognition of the Day of Prayer for Creation and is now embraced by the wide ecumenical community.

During the Season of Creation, we unite as one family in Christ, celebrating the bonds we share with each other and with “every living creature on Earth.” (Genesis 9:10) The Christian family celebrates the season by spending time in prayer, considering ways to inhabit our common home sustainably, and lifting our voices in the public sphere.

Here in Canada in 2020, faith communities and faith-based organizations are coming together under a unified banner to mobilize Canada-wide education, reflection, action, and advocacy for climate justice. The Presbyterian Church in Canada has signed on to this initiative called “For the Love of Creation” with other people of faith, hoping to make a meaningful contribution in the next decade towards a sustainable future for all life on the planet. The goal of the movement is to work together to build healthy, resilient communities, and a better future for all beings in Creation.

And so today, at First Church in Regina (and online, wherever you are) we are celebrating the beauty and goodness of God’s Creation, and considering what more we may do to care for the Earth and all its creatures.

When churches began marking the Season of Creation, they didn’t change the Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sundays in order to choose texts that would be particularly applicable for reflection on our stewardship of Creation. We could have read the first chapter of Genesis about the creation of the world and noted that God made it to be “very good.” Or we could have read some of the psalms or other texts that highlight the wonders of the natural environment, and give glory to God for creating them and giving us the responsibility of caring for them.

When I looked at the Scripture texts for today, I wondered how they could be relevant to the theme, and considered changing them myself. But then I read a few reflections from the World Communion of Reformed Churches’ resources for the Season of Creation, and I decided to stick with them.

In our passage from Paul’s letter to the Roman Church, he doesn’t mention the environment at all, and creation-care would not yet have been a concern in a pre-industrial culture in which people lived simply and without significant impact on the environment.

But Paul does call the Christians in Rome to live according to God’s commandments, summarizing them simply as to “Love your neighbour as yourself.” He teaches that “love does no wrong to a neighbour,” and that “love is the fulfilling of the law.”

This should prompt us in modern society to ask ourselves “Who is my neighbour?” and perhaps also, “What must I do to show love for my neighbour?” One commentator suggests that our neighbours include “the people who live downstream of our waste. Our neighbours are those who are impacted by climate change because of our choices of energy or investment of income. Our neighbours are the generations to come who will live on a bleak and barren world because of our consumerist society. Our neighbours are also the many living creatures who make up the web of life on which we depend, and which God has called us to safeguard.”

After encouraging Christians to love their neighbours, as the greatest commandment and the one that sums up all the rest, Paul preaches the urgency of the command. He says, “you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep.” Paul uses the Greek word KAIROS in this sentence, a word that we have come to know means “time.” You’ve probably heard the word KAIROS as the name of our Canadian Churches’ social justice organization.

KAIROS doesn’t just mean “time” like minutes or hours measured with a clock, but it means the right time, the opportune time… the time is NOW when we must wake up, and make a change, and obey God’s command to love our neighbours as ourselves. We must live honourably, as Paul encourages, choosing to set aside our own desires and comforts in order to love our neighbours by caring for creation.

This week I picked up and read a little book by Norman Lévesque called, Greening Your Church: A Practical Guide to Creation Care Ministry for Parishes, Dioceses and Religious Communities. Norman describes a church program that he calls “Creation Care Ministry” whose objective is to care for the environment through the promotion of action and awareness, and to develop a Christian eco-spirituality.

“As pastoral care in hospitals supports people who are sick or dying, Creation Care Ministry supports endangered ecosystems. As social ministry defends victims of injustice, Creation Care Ministry defends people and creatures who are vulnerable to the consequences of ecological destruction.”

He notes that “the current environmental crisis affects the whole world, but there are three main categories of victims,” (or we might say, three categories of neighbours that we must strive to love). These are “the vulnerable, future generations, and endangered species.”

“When the environment is neglected, vulnerable people are greatly affected, through illness or poverty resulting from environmental degradation.” Norman gives the example of low-income families living next to the industrial zone east of Montreal. They have no voice to raise against the pollution that engulfs them, but they are also more vulnerable to lung disease, living in that environment.

Future generations should also be considered as our neighbours, because our children will suffer from our inaction. “The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change outlines a range of consequences of increased global warming for humans: displacement of those living in coastal cities because of rising sea levels, resettlement of refugees who have lost their homes due to more frequent and severe storms, health problems among the elderly caused by smog and heat waves, lower water levels in rivers and seaways after glaciers have melted, and reduced harvests and fish catches because of sea warming.”

Although most Canadians live relatively unaffected now, we already see these impacts affecting vulnerable people in other parts of the world, and future generations will undoubtedly be affected by our lack of timely action for change.

The third neighbour we are called to love is endangered species. Norman explains that “careless overexploitation of natural resources often causes irreparable damage to the biodiversity of ecosystems. [And] when a species is endangered, there are consequences for all the other species with which it interacts.”

While listening to this sermon or reading about environmental stewardship, “you may think that you are not to blame for the state of the environment, because you are not directly responsible for clear-cutting or the melting of the Arctic sea ice, the mistreatment of farm animals or the pollution discharged in mining and other kinds of irresponsible treatment of the environment.”

The Greening Your Church book reminds us that “we all share this responsibility, as we all use paper, drive a car, eat meat, purchase battery-operated devices, and so on. The sum of these actions leaves a huge environmental footprint that can be reduced when we make changes in our daily behaviour. As an individual, you shouldn’t take all the blame, but all of us are partly responsible.”

Reading that prompted me to think about today’s Gospel passage from Matthew 18. It’s the go-to passage for churches when we are dealing with conflict or when a church member is continually acting in ways that harm others in the community.

The text gives instructions for what to do when someone sins against you. We imagine someone being cruel, or stealing, or physically hurting others… and Jesus encourages us to go them first to work it out, and then to bring one or two witnesses with us if they will not listen, and finally to bring it to the whole community, if that becomes necessary.

Likely, sins against creation do not come to mind when we read this passage. But aren’t they just as destructive as our unkindnesses to others within our church communities?

The Patriarch of the Orthodox Church said this: “We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins.”

Indeed, when we fail to be good stewards of the environment, we sin against our vulnerable neighbours around the world, against future generations, and against so many creatures that are at risk of extinction.

Of course, we cannot speak to each other about this sin as if we ourselves are perfect, because we share responsibility for the environmental degradation that has occurred over the last few centuries and which continues today. But we can call ourselves to account by speaking about the issues, encouraging one another to make changes, and working together to find new ways of living more simply and treading more softly on the Earth.

Together with other faith communities in “For the Love of Creation,” Presbyterians are speaking out to the Canadian government regarding climate action in an open letter which will be released next week. Among other things, we will call upon the government to “Commit to reducing Canadian Green House Gas emissions by 60 percent below 2005 levels by 2030, while investing in a just transition to a fair, inclusive, green economy that creates good secure jobs, and promotes the well-being of everyone in Canada.”

At the same time, each of our communities must also be doing our part in Creation Care Ministry, and the Greening Your Church book provides both a theology of Creation Care, along with ideas for churches reduce the carbon footprint of the Christian community. It suggests things like improving energy efficiency, recycling more, cleaning with environmentally friendly products, avoiding pesticides, choosing sustainable means of transportation, and serving locally grown and fair trade food.

Norman Lévesque notes that “some decisions are easy to put into practice, while others involve costly sacrifices and take time to achieve.” But Jesus calls us to address the ongoing sin in our communities of which we are all a part, and Paul reminds us that “love does no wrong to a neighbour” and the commandments of God are summed up in these words: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”

In this Season of Creation, let us give thanks to God for the Earth and all its creatures which God made to be very good, and for which God made us caretakers. And let us strive to love our neighbours well by responding in this KAIROS moment by caring for creation.