On this second Sunday when we have been focussing on ‘Creation’, I’d like to say how very heartened I have been by our commitment to taking this relatively new season in our church calendar year seriously. It’s great to see the banner outside St Andrew’s Church in Tain announcing the season to all who pass by and the tree springing back to life with thoughts, prayers and promises in the church porch.
At St Finnbarr’s in Dornoch, we’ve put together a self-directed reflection available in church throughout the Season of Creation – between 11 and 12 on a Wednesday. If you would like to an opportunity to stir your thinking about our planet and the impact we have on it, please do go along. Much of the reflection focuses particularly on water which, of course, features heavily in scripture.
You will recall stories of baptism in the River Jordan, Jonah on his way to Tarshish, tossed overboard and being swallowed by a big fish and of course the great flood from which Noah and his family were saved.
And what about the parting of the Red Sea – a miracle performed by God through the prophet Moses. I imagine it to be both awe-inspiring and terrifying – remember the scene in The Ten Commandments – the film released in 1956 starring Charlton Heston as Moses?
After the Passover, which spares the Israelites’ firstborn children but kills those of the Egyptians, Pharaoh finally agrees they may leave his country. It’s now been seven days since the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and Pharaoh changes his mind. He and all the chariots of Egypt pursue God’s chosen people to the water and are about to overtake them.
With their toes touching the Red Sea, it appears that the Israelites will either be slaughtered or drowned. In their panic, they cry out to Moses and he knows his people are scared, so he reassures them. And then he prays to God who calls Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, causing a mighty east wind to blow all night long. The waters split apart and become walls on their right and on their left.
The Israelites march through the parted sea on dry ground during the night, with God’s pillar of fire overhead. When the Egyptian pursuers follow, God instructs Moses to raise his hand a second time sending the waters crashing down, drowning them in its depths. Recognising the great miracle that had occurred, Moses and the people of Israel sang the Song of the Sea, and Miriam led the women in song and dance.
In this season of creation, as we intentionally reflect on the earth around us – it sometimes feels like we are bit like the Israelites on the edge of the waters, watching the Egyptian chariots draw closer and closer. Sometimes we, too, feel like we are in an impossible situation regarding our precious creation, with no way out.
Yet even though we might feel like the Israelites with our toes touching the edge of the Red Sea, our situation is different. We know that there is danger in thinking we are too much like those fleeing Israelites. Because if we follow this line of thinking, we might come to believe that God will intervene in a similar way. That God will save us from the fires of our warming earth.
Perhaps if we trust enough?
We say to ourselves, “God will surely save us, despite our careless behaviours or our polluted waters and skies”. After all, doesn’t God promise, “behold I make all things new in creation”?
Now just park that idea for a minute and we’ll come back to it later.
Let’s go back to the beginning, the very beginning when God creates humankind in His own image. “God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth’” (Gen. 1:27–28).
“God said to them, have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Now I believe dominion means that we have sovereignty over and responsibility for the well-being of God’s Creation. We are called to cultivate and care for the Earth in the way that God does – that is with love and wisdom. We are called to exercise dominion in ways that allow God’s original creative act to be further unfolded.
The word Dominion comes from the Latin word domus – meaning house, temple, or even the dome over the earth. And so just as we care for members who share our individual houses, individual domus, we are also called by God to care for the fellow inhabitants of our earthly dome.
To be a wise and holy householder we are to do this out of compassion, not just for ourselves or our children, but for all people, and all people’s children. And their children’s children. And their children’s children’s children. We live under this dome together, so we must care for one another and show empathy for one another’s pain.
With this in mind, the fact that the climate crisis is perpetuated primarily by human beings and primarily affects other human beings should be of our utmost concern. It’s about justice. We as human beings are all created by God, in the image of God and loved by God. We are all equal in His eyes. And as we are all created under this same dominion or earthly dome – we should care for one another in such a way.
Recalling the story of the Red Sea today reiterates this call to community. We are reminded of God establishing the people of Israel as His own people and how He saves them so that the covenant with Abraham may be fulfilled. We hear about valuing community and doing all we can to protect our lives together.
As we focus on the environment during the Season of Creation, we are called to look at the land we share with our communities and around the earth. We are called to look at how we treat land – both the developed and undeveloped spaces. How are we caring for the creatures displaced by urban sprawl? How are we caring for the people living in the lands of food deserts? How do we care for the common spaces that are naturally wild? Do we have an interest in the places we do not own?
So, just come back to that idea that we parked.
A number of young activists have been telling us a lot lately that “we have 14 years to turn the earth around or else it will be too late.” Sometimes as older people, we find it hard to hear these apparently angry younger voices and I honestly have no idea where they get their numbers or even if they are true. But what I do know is that they deeply believe that what they are saying is true and they are calling us out on our sometimes selfish and careless behaviours.
Fourteen years – that feels an awful lot like being backed into a corner with no further options. Will God intervene? Will God save us, despite our careless behaviours or our polluted oceans?
God’s biblical promise is not that He will forever save us from ourselves and our selfishness. The promise is that God will forever stand with us, urging us to move in the divine way of unity and wholeness with all created beings under this shared dome. I don’t believe our God will swallow up the CO2 levels or cool the oceans or extinguish wildfires through a heavenly breath. But I do fully believe that our God will continue reminding us that we are connected to one another.
While God may not intervene to save the planet while we stand idly by, I do believe that God is in the process of saving us. God is working on us and through us at this very moment to turn us toward the healing of the planet and the healing of all people living together under this great dome.
May God Bless you and all those you hold dear during this coming week.