“Who is my neighbour?” a sermon for Creationtide

Genesis 2:4b-17, Luke 10:25-37

Holy God, who creates all things, redeems all things, sustains all things, give us hearts and minds open to your word to us today. Amen.

Today we are beginning the season of Creationtide. This is an opportunity for us to think afresh about what it means for us to be stewards of God’s creation, and we’re going to do that in a number of ways over the next few weeks.

Most of us, I imagine, are increasingly concerned about the state of the environment and the future of our planet.  With the language of ‘climate change’ being replaced by the more dramatic but more accurate ‘climate catastrophe’, and many around the world including our own city council declaring a ‘climate emergency’, the urgency of the situation has never been more apparent. Perhaps, like me, you are trying to do your bit – reusing your carrier bags, sorting your recycling – and perhaps, like me, you may sometimes wonder how much good these efforts are actually doing, in the face of such an overwhelming situation.

But what, you may be wondering, has all this got to do with our faith? I hope that over the next few weeks, and starting today, we will all begin to see more clearly how our care for the environment can be a lived expression of faith in God who creates, redeems and sustains all things.

The first of our readings today may seem like a fairly obvious choice for Creationtide. But what of our gospel reading? What does this familiar parable of the Good Samaritan have to say to us about caring for creation?

Let’s return to the question “who is my neighbour?” It is in answer to that question that Jesus tells this parable. “Who is my neighbour?” asks the lawyer, not because he really wants to know, but ‘wanting to justify himself’. But Jesus does not reply with a neat set of criteria with which he might justify himself in loving some and not others, drawing boundaries around his neighbourliness. Jesus responds with a story.

So, who is my neighbour?

pic 1

Here are some of our neighbours at a recent street event. We know our neighbours. We know what it is to be part of a neighbourhood. We try, and very often – though not always – we manage, to love our neighbours, and to allow ourselves to be loved by them.

But our neighbours are not only the people we meet.

People and Children of Pu Mai, Himalayas (China: 2007)

Here is a neighbour who lives on the other side of the world, high up in the Himalayas. These people rely on water from the glaciers on Mt Everest, and as the glaciers recede they are struggling to survive. The glaciers are receding because of climate change caused not by the people who depend on them, but by us. Most of us will never meet most of the people currently affected by climate change, by the floods, droughts and extreme weather it causes. But they are our neighbours.

Are our neighbours only human?

pic 3

Many of us will have watched documentaries about the way our use of plastics is devastating the ocean environment and the animals who live in the sea. Like us, they are part of God’s creation. They too are our neighbours.

The answer to “who is my neighbour?” can be complicated.

pic 4

As huge swathes of the Amazon Rainforest burn, the devastation affects not only humans and animals, but plants, trees, whole ecosystems, and the atmosphere far beyond the immediate location of the fires. And all of them, created and loved by God, are our neighbour.

But the answer to “who is my neighbour?” may also be very simple, which is not to say easy.

pic 5

Everyone and everything that God has created is my neighbour. And all of us who long to walk with Jesus, to follow the God who creates all things, and live in the power of the life-giving Holy Spirit, are called to care for the whole of creation.

burst

It’s a call which is right there in today’s reading, at the very beginning of scripture. God creates humanity to care for all that God has created, “to till it and to keep it”. Very often that calling has been mistranslated and misunderstood as God putting humans in charge of creation, to subdue or dominate it for our own ends. And very often, that is exactly how we have lived. But that is to misread both the text, and the way God uses power in relation to God’s creation. Here God gives to human beings a duty of care for all that God has created, which is re-iterated in the command to love our neighbour. I wonder how different the world could look if that was how we lived?

This is not a new idea. Hildegard Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century wrote: “Glance at the sun. See the moon and the stars. Gaze at the beauty of earth’s greenings. Now, think. What delight God gives to humankind with all these things . All nature is at the disposal of humankind. We are to work with it. For without we cannot survive.” Our interdependence as part of God’s creation is vital to understanding our calling to care for the world we live in. We are not set apart from or above creation, but intimately bound up in it, our own redemption bound up in the redemption of the whole creation, as God draws all things to Godself.

If we accept that the whole creation is our neighbour, and that we are called to care for all that God has created, how then should we live?

It is easy to become paralysed by anxiety, despair, the sense that whatever we do will not be enough. But that is not how God calls us to live.

Let’s look again at the Good Samaritan. He doesn’t have all the answers. He isn’t going to solve the generations-old conflict between Jews and Samaritans, or eliminate the problem of highway robbery. But he does what he can. Perhaps, in the face of seemingly insurmountable problems, we are called to do likewise.

Video of “Drop in the Ocean” by Harry and Chris.

In the face of issues as huge as climate catastrophe, we are all just a drop in the ocean. And that’s ok. We don’t have to do everything, or have all the answers. But we do need to do something.

lorax

In the wise words of The Lorax, Dr Seuss’s rather endearing guardian of the trees, “unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not”.

I hope and pray that this Creationtide we will become more aware of our responsibilities as stewards of God’s creation, but that we will do so not from a position of despair or helplessness, but from one of hope and above all love for our neighbour. That together we will become drops in an ocean of transforming love for all that God has created.

The Jewish Talmud has this to say, “Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.”

talmud

There has never been a more urgent time to consider afresh what it means to care for God’s creation. The task is enormous, and the stakes could not be higher. We do not need to have all the solutions. But we do, like the Good Samaritan, need to stop and tend to the woundedness of our neighbour, our planet, our environment. And God who created all things for good, who sustains all things by God’s own breath, and draws all things to redemption and completeness in Godself, will be with us in the work.

Amen.

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