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HOPE FOR CREATION (Part One) Rom 13.8-end; Matthew 18.15-20

Introduction
So it’s official: we’ve had the dullest August on record – it’s nice to have our suspicions confirmed! Hurricane season is upon the Caribbean and Gulf Coast region across the Atlantic and other reports of disastrous flooding reach us daily. We are aware, more than ever, of something going on in our environment and global warming seems to be the cause. So it is with such concerns in mind that we are going to spend the next five Sundays considering the theme of ‘Creation Time’. We do so along with all the major churches across Europe, seeking to use the period from 1st September to 5th October (which includes Harvest and St. Francis’ tide) as a season to reflect on God’s purposes for the non-human creation. We have tended to see the Christian story and read the Bible in a very human-centred way. It is time to see how the whole of scripture includes God’s purposes for humanity and the rest of creation bound together inseparably. We will be looking at familiar stories, but perhaps asking unfamiliar questions.

Reviewing our relationships
For the next five weeks the gospel readings are from Matthew 18-21, the final block of teaching Jesus gave before his death and resurrection. These teachings are mainly directed towards his disciples, not to the crowds but to those who’ve chosen to follow Jesus. They are instructions for the journey.

Today’s Gospel from Matthew 18:15-20 is at first reading all about settling arguments between individual Christians (‘brothers’) as quickly and quietly as possible. Jesus encourages us not to avoid confrontation and let resentments rumble on, but to gently confront and deal with issues that arise. First, we should attempt to resolve issues face to face, not complain and gossip behind each other’s backs (“go and show him his fault” and try to “win your brother over”). We should only involve third parties if we’ve tried and failed to resolve differences directly. Broken relationships break up churches, so Jesus is quite clear that if people refuse to listen, refuse to mend broken fences, in the end they exclude themselves from fellowship.

The passage finishes with two sayings of Jesus that are often taken out of context. First, "I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven.” This is not a licence to ask for anything we want, as if God were some heavenly sugar daddy just waiting to indulge our selfish whims. The ‘agreeing about anything’ is in the context of those who have been in disagreement and are now reconciled – who have made up their quarrel. God is pleased when fellowship is restored. The last words of the passage: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them" follow straight on. Although we can legitimately apply this to Jesus being present whenever Christians meet in his name, its direct meaning here is about God’s special presence amongst those who come back together having been apart – those who are reconciled after disagreement.

Creation Time
So, what does this passage have to say about creation and the environment? The passage makes clear that our relationships with each other are closely connected to our relationship with God. If a person refuses to be reconciled with their brother or sister, it affects all their relationships – with everybody around them, and with God, because God’s very character is relational. Father, Son and Spirit are a community of persons in the one Godhead. And because God is relational, it is not only humanity that is relational but the whole of creation – flowing out of the creative love of a relational God. God’s character is reflected in the way that the whole of creation is interconnected and interdependent. Just as Father, Son and Spirit relate to each other in a community of being, so we are to relate to each other. That is why divisions and arguments are not just unpleasant; they also go directly against the character of a loving relational God.

In Romans 13 we read ‘Love does no harm to its neighbour’ (vs.10). Our neighbour is not only the person in our church, or who lives down our street, but those who our lives affect all over the world. One biblical term that sums up this relatedness of all people - and all creatures - on planet earth is the Greek word ‘oikos’ meaning household. It is the root word for a number of English terms including ecumenical – the household of Christian faith, and also for both ecology and economy. Ecology is about the relationships between living things in an ecosystem – a natural household, and the more we learn, the more we discover that all living things – ourselves included – are designed to need and depend on each other. Economy is not just about money – it is, or at least it should be, about how we carefully manage the resources within our global household. The biblical understanding of ‘oikos’ is not of human beings as autonomous individuals, but as persons in community. We are connected ecologically and economically with people all over the world, and with the other species God has created too.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu speaks of an African concept that is very different from our western individualism, but perhaps closer to the idea of ‘oikos’ or household. He says: “I want to suggest that the West might consider a small gift we in Africa just could offer. It is the gift of ubuntu … It is the essence of being human, it declares that my humanity is caught up and inextricably bound up in yours... I am because I belong.”

I am because I belong. We exist in relationship to each other and our relationship with God is connected to how we treat all our global neighbours. ‘Love does no harm to its neighbour’. In our inter-connected, relational world, the lifestyle I lead, the energy I consume, the pollution I cause, the waste I discard can indeed cause harm to my neighbour. Plastic bags thrown away in England can be found in the stomachs of Albatrosses in the Pacific. Acid rain from Britain can harm forests in Scandinavia. Carbon emissions from the west can cause extreme weather, and even sea-level rise in Bangladesh or Malawi. Here in the UK our average emissions are approximately 9.5 tonnes of carbon dioxide per person per year. In Malawi the average emissions are about 0.1 tonnes, and in Bangladesh about 0.2. As the UK Government’s Stern Review on the economics of Climate Change puts it: “The impacts are inequitable: poor countries will be hit hardest and earliest, when it is the rich countries which are responsible for ¾ of Greenhouse Gases currently in the atmosphere.”

Conclusion
In our Gospel we heard ‘If your brother sins against you go and show him his fault’. In today’s world, we are being shown with increasing clarity that it is largely our fault in the West that over-consumption and over-use of fossil fuels are harming the world’s poor, and harming the planet. If we know this and yet choose to do nothing about it, then we not only insult our neighbour, we are turning our backs on the character of God. God longs for us to love our neighbour as ourselves, yet love does no harm to its neighbour. Over these weeks, as we explore creation time, and open our eyes and ears to God’s purposes for his whole world, let us also open our hearts and be prepared to be challenged about the way we live our lives.

Copyright © Rev Paul Smith

   


 
 

God of all mercy,
your Son proclaimed good news to the poor,
release to the captives,
and freedom to the oppressed:
anoint us with your Holy Spirit
and set all your people free
to praise you in Christ our Lord.

Amen

 


 

 



Acknowledgements