1 Peter 3:13-22
Acts 8:5-8, 14-17
66:1-3, 4-5, 6-7, 16+20
1 Peter. 3:15-18
I am living in North Yorkshire in England. As a nation we are suffering “a cost of living crisis” with levels of inflation which are unusual for this country, low wages and a number of strikes as wages have not risen in line with inflation. As a nation we are still quite divided about our exit from the European Union and we are still working out the implications of this. Environmentally, decreasing biodiversity and poor water quality (sewage released into rivers) are a concern. We have recently had the coronation of a new King, Charles III who is a committed environmentalist, and the General Synod has committed the Church of England to being “Carbon Net Zero” by 2030. This Sunday we will be celebrating the natural world as part of “Rogation Sunday” where we ask God’s blessing on the land and community.
SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS
Old Testament reading / Psalm
This week’s Old Testament reading is a challenging one when read against a backdrop of ecological instability. It describes the covenant made with God and the whole of creation, that “the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh”. It contains a promise that “As long as the earth endures seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter and day and night shall not cease”. We need to be clear that contemporary environmental disasters are not punishment from God, but the consequences of human behaviour. The covenant made with “every living thing”, can be read as emphasising the dignity of the non-human creation. At the same time, the rift between humans and the natural world, already evident in Genesis 3 become a chasm, people are given permission to eat meat and animals, birds, crawling creatures and fish will live in “fear and dread” of people. Humans are once again encouraged to “be fruitful and multiply” and fill all the earth. These tensions require careful handling which recognise both the power of humanity has over the rest of creation and the obligations that come with that, but also that humans are not God’s sole concern.
New Testament Reading
Paul was taken to the Areopagus, an Athenian council or court. He had been evangelising in the Athenian synagogue and market place and he was brought before the council. Paul is unlikely to have been on trial, although his ideas would have been judged but rather to have been engaging in a public exchange of ideas. Paul is familiar with the thought forms of those he is addressing and is able to find sufficient common ground to gain a hearing from his audience. Preachers may want to consider the idea of “ecological conversion” as part of Christian conversion and whether this is something that could be included in evangelism.
“If you love me, you will keep my commandments” can easily be linked to the commandment to love God and neighbour. If creation matters to God, as both the New Testament and Old Testament readings seem to imply, then the choice between abusing it, or loving and advocating for it is clear. Furthermore, loving our neighbours in today’s world would appear to require ensuring each has enough of that creation’s precious resources.
SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE
This weeks reading from the book of Acts, St Paul shows the futility of idol worship, insisting that if God “made the world and everything in it” and is “Lord of heaven and earth”, he cannot be contained by “shrines made by human hands”. Paul calls his hearers to turn away from idolatry to worship the one true God, who was hitherto unknown to them but is now being proclaimed by Paul. The passage gives us pause to ponder the idols of our own day, and those hearing our sermons could be invited to consider what are our contemporary idols, what do we worship in the place of God? Idolatry in some form is responsible for the gross global inequality the world faces, and its environmental challenges. Idolatry of wealth, power, success and status leading to the accumulation of vastly more resources than are needed on the part of some, whilst others are left with not enough. Idolatry that fails to recognise that God made the world not solely as a resource for humans to use and abuse, but as a source of delight and to tell of his glory. Idolatry whereby people seek to be their own gods and live without reference to the one who made them or concern for the needs of others. The call to repent from idolatry and turn to the true God is as relevant for our contemporary world as it was when Paul was preaching. Remembering whose world this is, and in whom we “live and move and have our being” will inevitably change our relationship both with the natural world and with each other. As we seek to unravel the multiple ecological and sustainability challenges facing humanity over the next decade, we would do well to remember the advice in Proverbs 9:10 that “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. This makes Christian engagement in the public sphere of the kind that Paul undertook in the Areopagus of vital importance.
Revd. Ruth Newton
Revd Ruth Newton, is an associate minister and theological educator. As member of the Church of England General Synod, Ruth serves on the Environmental Working Group and is vice chair of the General Synod Environment Group.