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Bishop Richard's Weekly Video Message - Transcript 31/03/2022

Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.  As you can probably hear from my throaty voice I am isolating at present with the dreaded COVID. I’ve managed to avoid it for the last two years.  I’m very thankful for the jabs that mean its much less serious than it would have been a couple of years ago.   

It would be easy to focus on my own experience of this rather than the bigger picture.  This virus is a grim illustration of the interconnectedness and interdependence of our world.  Our actions affect others and vice versa, even across the other side of the planet.  

Caring for the earth is part of our Christian discipleship, not a woke bolt on extra. In fact, the command to take care of creation is one of the first commands in the Bible.  There are two creation stories to be found there.  In Genesis 1, at the end of the list of what is created day by day, human beings are told to fill the earth and subdue it.  The unfortunate King James translation of this sentence – have dominion over, lies at the root of much environmental exploitation, especially in Christendom. Part of the underlying idea is that human beings are seen in the story as the pinnacle of creation with unique agency.  But this must be read alongside the idea that human beings are in an unbreakable relationship with the created order, and that their authority is delegated.  They are stewards not owners. The second story in Genesis 2: 15 makes this clear when it says that God put man (there was only a man at this stage in the story) into the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.  

These are of course metaphors and stories: a poetic attempt to give meaning and purpose to our role in the created order. However, the message is clear; the earth is the Lord’s, not ours.  We have agency, but we are not free to do as we please.  It is hard to imagine the God who looked over the creation at the end of Genesis 1 and said it was very good, being sanguine about the wholesale devastation human beings have caused through their greed and incompetence. 

God’s original vision is for human beings to work in harmony with the created order, to add their own creativity to God’s original, and be co-creators of something new. It is the catastrophe of Genesis 3, the story of human fallenness, where the dissonance, struggle and exploitation become apparent. In that brutal exposure of human motivation. we see humanity replacing wholesome and willing submission to God’s way replaced by a self-referential moral decision making based on our limited knowledge and feelings.  This is the pickle we are now in.   

It means we look at the part rather than the whole. Wet animal markets, which are cheaper and often cater for unscientific medical theories lead to hybridising viruses which go on to evolve and cause the devastation they have. Economic interests, often driven by powerful special interest groups and pure greed ride roughshod over local sensibilities.  Forests are destroyed; the breathing lungs of the planet choked and burned. We make lifestyle choices that are only sustainable by using (in the West at least) roughly three times the output that the earth can sustain.  

But this is not the end of the story.  The New Testament makes it clear that Jesus came not just to redeem individual souls but to build a kingdom leading to a new heaven and a new earth.  Christian faith is not just about the Church institution but the redemption of the cosmos. The end of this story, which we read in Revelation, is not just a burning up of everything, but heaven coming to earth to complete the job that Jesus and his church have begun. It’s a new heaven and new earth, not simply disembodied souls, floating on clouds with harps, but a new creation rooted in this one. 

So, when we take part in creation care; when we review our lifestyle choices in the light of the effects they have on others; when we lobby government about policies that may lead to a lower carbon footprint, we aren’t just engaging in political activism we are putting our faith in to practice.  

There may be a lot fewer of us in the Church than even two years ago. However, in our communities we still have a convening power to bring others together around this agenda.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit we also have a significant home ground advantage. The Holy Spirit is the power of God placed within those who follow Christ to strengthen, empower and help us keep going when things look pretty bleak. May he strengthen all of us in the endeavour.   


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