This Sunday our church is doing a choral service called Care for the World. It doesn't actually have space for a sermon in it, but you know me, any opportunity... So here's what I'll be preaching...
I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.
Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.
A sermon about caring for the world ultimately has to be one about trust; trusting in God, and waiting. It has to be a sermon about tears and smiles; about joy and fear; about gratitude for what has been and concern for what is inevitable. You see whichever way you look at it, and whatever perspective you place on it, and however much joy and delight we have dancing in our hearts on a warm summer’s day, this creation has a sell-by date, and however good it seems, it’s not designed to last forever.
If we look into the far future, perhaps a billion years from now our sun will have warmed enough to make earth uninhabitable. It will be several more billion years before the sun swells and perhaps swallows, or at the very least roasts our planet. But that is only the beginning. We now believe that the expansion of the universe is accelerating.
Galaxies are racing away from each other ever more quickly. And whilst we know that nothing can travel faster than light it is also quite possible that the rate of expansion, that the growth in the space between galaxies will outstrip lightspeed. Distant galaxies will no longer be visible as they race away from us faster than their light can rush towards us. Our horizon will get smaller.
Stars will gradually convert all the available hydrogen into heavier elements until there is nothing left to burn. Slowly the universe will cool and turn black. Ultimately even the forces holding atoms together will decay as everything breaks down into its constituent parts. All will be dark. All will be quiet. All will be lifeless. Chaos will reign once again. If I were a secularist, this is when I would be really depressed, for truly this universe has no final future. Everything will be lost.
And we can feel it even now in our bones. Over in the school there is youth and vitality. There is energy as children are on the upward curve; soaking in, or perhaps borrowing is more accurate, the nourishment that the universe provides as they head towards maturity. For them the future is all. For us, we already know the state of decay. We already know that we don’t bounce out of bed now, but have to slowly stretch out the aches. Our bodies prophecy the future of the universe.
This is called entropy - the measurement of disorder, and there is nothing we can do about it. God has built this universe for a limited lifespan, for a specific task, and like a fine old car, one day it will wear out. But St. Paul has seen far, far beyond this. You can sense that he understands everything that I’ve just said even though he had none of the science. He can tell that the universe is somehow, just not working out. It’s groaning. So where does he look for answers?
Surprisingly his first glance appears to be at us, not because we hold the answer but because we bear the first-fruits. The universe’s groans are of labour pains as it gives birth to something new. Jesus, the Son of God, was also born as a human. He lived as a human, and he died as a human. Proper real death. Death like we will all experience. Except he didn’t stay that way. As we celebrated back at Easter, Jesus was raised, and he was raised as we will be raised, with a body that is so much more than our bodies are.
Jesus, that union of divine and human, fully God and fully a man, received a resurrection body; a body fit for heaven and for the new creation. Elsewhere St. Paul refers to him as the first fruit, and his promise to us is that we will also be raised with new bodies; bodies which will never again go wrong. I love that hope from the Old Testament about rising on wings like eagles, and running and never growing weary.
That is our future. That is what is to come. That is the resurrection hope. This universe, this little corner of it that we call planet earth, even with all of its beauty; even with the glorious sunshine flooding our little corner of the planet, this is just a shadow of what is to come. And we, with all of our aches and pains, with all of our illnesses and terminal old age, are one day going to be made new.
And our creation will be made new as well; that’s what we’ll hear about in the final reading. (Rev 21:1-5) This is what St. Paul is talking about; about the hope for that which is as yet unseen. We can’t see this new creation yet; but it’s coming, and Jesus in his resurrection body is the first fruit of it.
If you have never read it before, I highly recommend a little book by C.S. Lewis called The Great Divorce. In it, through the medium of story, Lewis makes clear his belief that when we get to heaven, to the new creation, what we’ll find is that actually it’s more solid, more real than this creation. He talks of visitors to heaven having to tread carefully on the grass because it’s so real that it hurts their feet until they become a little more solid.
This is the hope of what is to come. Because whichever way we look at it, this world is groaning
and longing to be set free from its decay. Our real hope is in the future, beyond the veil.
Except that’s not enough really is it. This service is all about caring for the world, and however much hope I can inspire for the future, we are also children of Adam and Eve, entrusted with a world. And what a mess we have made of it, and the children in Splash! and Splish Splosh! should be our inspiration for responsibility. What kind of world have we bequeathed them? You see whilst we may hope for the new creation, we are responsible for this tiny corner of the old one until such time as God chooses to wrap it up.
There was a time when scientists were talking about the future ‘Tipping Point’, and that if we could rein in our carbon footprints we could still stop global warming from going to far. But now a growing body of environmentalists are saying we’ve passed the tipping point, perhaps some time ago. We’ve fluffed it, and the world we were given care of is going to suffer dreadfully.
What that really means is that our children, and their children, are going to struggle. More and more scientists are saying that we now need to be concentrating on equipping the next generation to live in a hostile world. The power hungry nations of the west and the rapidly developing nations of the east have pushed us over the edge and the world is going to warm dramatically. There may no longer be any way of turning the tide.
That does not for one minute mean we should give up caring. Nor does it mean that we can’t slow things down. Our children depend on us caring for their future, and God has entrusted us with this world. We need to show them how to live and set an example. For my part I do not believe that capitalism and continuous growth is sustainable. There are too many of us and not enough resources.
It’s common sense really. Economies cannot grow without resources, but the resources are drying up. So there are practical things we can do to help. The simple answer is stop consuming as much. We need to set a good example. For example I’m happily using a car which remains reliable, mostly, despite being fifteen years old. In fact I hope to get a few more years out of it yet.
Every purchase must be weighed. Do we really need this? If so do we need a new ‘this’ or would a second hand one do? That way around we keep something off the rubbish dump for a little longer.
We need to stop putting things on standby mode and switch them off. Wear something out before replacing it. Recycle, recycle, recycle, and for goodness sake show our children and grandchildren that there are alternatives to continuous consumption. These are all basics but they all help slow the process.
And not wanting to be too apocalyptic about it, but we need to start thinking about how to cope with an over-crowded, over-heating world. That now seems to be inevitable. We have sown the wind for generations, and now we must be prepared to reap the whirlwind. Whilst we give thanks for the world of the present, we must prepare for the world of the future.
Whilst we care for what we have, we should repent for what we have squandered. And somehow we have to teach our children not to repeat our mistakes. If we are going to care for what’s left, we simply have to stop consuming, or our civilisation, our species, has no future. And the universe that was created to receive the love of the Trinity will become a little more quiet. Amen