The Vicar’s sermon for Climate Change Sunday

Climate change Sunday 5.9.21 Isaiah 35.4-7a

‘What’s God going to do about climate change?’ 

You and I? Well, if you’re going to buy a car within the next 10 years it’ll probably be a hybrid or fully electric vehicle. If you’re going to buy a house it may well have a hydrogen boiler. The messaging is becoming stronger by the day even if the international politics involved is mindbogglingly complicated: low carbon, no carbon (good), eat less red meat, walk or cycle more, upcycle and recycle, reject plastics, let go of habits of buying and throwing away…we are asked to do our bit but what is God doing? What is He up to as the floods pour into the cellars of New York City… the fires burn across Canada and Australia, and the waters rise over the Pacific Islands. Isn’t it time for Him to wake up and act?

I went to my prayer books to see what we might expect or ask Him to do. I took the old Book of Common Prayer off the shelf and carefully parted its thin, thin pages to see whether there were any prayers from our tradition that might give me a clue as to ow to pray about Climate change. There are, but you won’t find them in the regular order for Morning or Evening prayer. You won’t uncover them deep within the Communion service. They are tucked away amongst a collection of general prayers and thanksgiving – and for all that the Church of England proudly thinks that what we believe is expressed in how we pray they make hard reading.

There’s a rather sweet prayer for rain ‘Send us, we beseech thee, in this our necessity, such moderate rain and showers, that we may receive the fruits of the earth to our comfort and to thy honour…’ But this prayer is followed by three others: for fair weather, and two for use in time of dearth and famine.  These are somewhat disturbing, because they draw a direct 16th century line between our sin and wickedness and the drought, flood or famine being experienced: this quote will do:- ‘…grant that the scarcity and dearth, which we do now most justly suffer for our iniquity, may through thy goodness be mercifully turned to cheapness and plenty.’ Which translated seems to read: we have done wrong, you are punishing us, please stop because we’re sorry. The writer of these prayers was a person of faith: he (because it was almost undoubtedly a ‘he) believed that prayer would work. How do we know: because two pages later there are prayers of thanksgiving that mirror the prayers of intercession: he gives us the words to say thankyou to God for when the prayer is answered. But that theology of sin and punishment expressed through the weather? I can’t go along with it, can you? …and it is certainly of no use whatsoever to those whose carbon footprint is a fraction of ours but who feel the effects of the global rise in temperature most acutely.

Our thinking has changed from when the Book of Common Prayer was written. Our theology has changed too. If we wanted to find some common ground with the writers of the Book of Common Prayer it would be in believing that everything is of concern to God and worthy of prayer, of sharing with Him. Whether we like it or not we live several hundred years after the ‘Enlightenment’ – a way of thinking that pushed God deep into our hearts and removed Him from every other area of life. We ceded the universe to the blind forces of Nature’ (to which we might have given a ‘capital N) and the intricacies of Science (which we told ourselves had nothing to do with Faith) and imagined that God wasn’t interested in His creation. That’s not a Christian way of thinking is it. God is concerned about what is happening to His creation, so concerned that He gives Himself to redeem it. The prayers in our modern prayer books reflect this.

But they too connect creation’s travails with Sin: not individual, personal acts of sin but with the brokenness that the whole creation experiences when it falls short of God’s purposes. Instead of 3 or 4 prayers about the weather in the Book of Common Prayer our modern prayer books give us 50 pages worth of prayers addressing Creation and the Agricultural Year. These are shot through with a delight in God’s goodness, repentance for our abuse of the land, the sea, the air. Rejoicing in the diversity of creation and mourning for the way that we treat the creatures of the earth. They include prayers for justice and reflect a longing for the unity of creation to be restored. Human ‘Sin’ (with a capital S has broken God’s world (that comes through in the words of these prayers) but there is hope that it can be restored because that is God’s purpose, in Christ, whose resurrection uncovers the glory that all creation can attain.

I end with just some of these prayers:…but notice: they all require us to act, not just the Almighty

Upon the rich earth send a blessing, O Lord.
Let the earth be fruitful
and its resources be hallowed.

Upon human labour send a blessing, O Lord.
Prosper the work of our hands;
may all find dignity and just reward in their work;
free the exploited and oppressed.

Upon the produce of the earth send a blessing, O Lord.
Guide us into a sustainable future,
and give us the will to share the fruits of the world.

Upon the seas and waters send a blessing, O Lord.
Teach us to cherish the water of the earth,
and to conserve the seas, lakes and rivers.

Upon aid agencies send a blessing, O Lord.
Where the earth is parched and the well has run dry;
where war brings want, and children go hungry;
where the poor cry out for bread and for justice,
give hands to care and heal, and compel us to be generous.

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