Creation Our Sister (Proper 18C)

Creation Our Sister (Proper 18C)

Sunday 8 September 2019 | The Rev’d Clare Barrie

In many parts of the wider Church, the month of September has come to be a time for celebrating and reflecting on the Creation – God’s Creation, in which we all share. This new tradition began in the Eastern Orthodox Church in the 1980s when their Patriarch issued a letter encouraging all Orthodox Christians to offer prayers for the preservation of the environment on the first Sunday in September, and it has spread to many other denominations including the Anglican Church.

This points to the increasing importance of creation theology – a way of understanding all of Creation as belonging to God and somehow part of God’s revelation. We are at once part of God’s creation, interwoven with it and dependent on it, and also partners in caring for it.

God did not need Creation. It is rather an outpouring of generosity and life in incredible complexity and diversity. In this way, the Creation reflects God’s generative and abundant nature. Today in Jeremiah we have heard of creation being like clay in the potter’s hand. Psalm 139 also had images of how we are created, woven or knit together in our mother’s womb. There are images of land, heaven and earth, life and death, trees planted by streams of living water. The gospel speaks of considering the cost and simplifying our lifestyle

Here in Aotearoa New Zealand our understanding is enriched further by te ao Maori – within Maori understanding, the land is whenua, and the same word, whenua, also means womb. The land is a source of life and identity. 

The church’s theology and mission imperatives around the care of creation have taken on increasing urgency with the effects of climate change. In 2015, Pope Francis published a widely applauded encyclicle called Laudato Si’ – On Care for Our Common Home. It is a world wide wake up call to help humanity understand the destruction that we are rendering on the environment and thus, on one another. Laudato Si’ means ‘Praise be to You,’ which is the first line of a canticle or poem by St Francis. 

Francis writes in his introduction: 

“1. In the words of this beautiful canticle, Saint Francis of Assisi reminds us that our common home is like a sister with whom we share our life and a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us. “Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs”.[1] 

2. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will. The violence present in our hearts, wounded by sin, is also reflected in the symptoms of sickness evident in the soil, in the water, in the air and in all forms of life. 

This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom 8:22). We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth (cf. Gen 2:7); our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”

Even with this extraordinary call to recognise the holiness of creation and the interdependence of all life with that of the earth, there is now a huge sense of crisis. Youth around the world began striking and protesting earlier this year. Extinction Rebellion activists are stalling central London. The young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg has just sailed into New York. Amazonian fires have captivated media attention. 

One of the voices speaking out to criticise the political and corporate interests which are fueling the fires in the Amazon by furthering intensive farming and mining is the Brazilian Catholic Archbishop, Erwin Krautler. Krautler has lived and worked in the area for more than 50 years and has called the current fires a ‘true apocalypse.’ The Catholic church has a long history of working amongst the poor communities of the Amazon and has often been at odds with powerful business interests and government authorities. Though he is now retired, for 10 years Krautler had so many death threats he needed police protection. 

Along with Colin and Hilary, I’ve spent the last 2 1/2 days at the Cathedral for our Diocesan Synod. Amongst a number of debates were several related motions calling for responses to the climate crisis. A number of initiatives are being led by a network of groups who are offering leadership in the diocese. A key motion passed is as follows:

That this Synod:

  1. endorses the motion passed by the Anglican Consultative Council in April 2019 at its meeting in Hong Kong, calling for action on the climate crisis.
  2. Requests that the Diocesan Council provides resources and help to all Ministry Units in the Diocese, to develop action plans and resources for sustainable living and the reduction of greenhouse gases at individual, ministry unit and diocesan levels….
  3. Recommends the means to this action be the establishment of the volunteer role of ‘Sustainability Champion’ within each ministry unit.”

I am encouraged that on a larger scale, our province is in the process of divesting our largest investment funds from fossil fuels. Meanwhile, here at St Luke’s, we already have amongst us skills and expertise in sustainable living that we can share. 

As Anglican Christians it is one of our mission imperatives to care for creation. It is more urgent than ever that we examine our lives in the light of the gospel, and offer leadership and a critical voice in our society and amongst our friends and families. These are themes I hope we can continue to wrestle with over the month of September, a Season of Creation. 

Remember these words from Luke’s gospel: 

Jesus said also to the one who had invited him, “When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, in case they may invite you in return, and you would be repaid.

But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind.

And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Pope Francis’ metaphor from the introduction to Laudato Si, invites us to see Creation as a beautiful sister or mother who now cries out at our abuse and dishonouring of her. She is poor, wounded, deformed. 

It is beyond time that we learnt to give our sister, our mother, the place of honour so that we can all have a place at God’s banquet – the abundance of life in all of creation.