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Creation 3, 19th September 2021

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James 3:13-4:3,7-8a – Creation

 

Today is the third Sunday in the Season of Creation.  But I am also going to be talking about our lectionary readings, which are quite appropriate – though they may not seem so at first.  Though I have read it many times before, I was particularly struck by the passage from James.

 

The Season of Creation always catches me out, as it never used to be part of the church’s calendar.  There was a seemingly inexhaustible series of Sundays after Trinity that went on to the start of the new church year with Advent.  In preparing this, I looked up where this new-found season came from.  It actually dates back originally to 1989, when Ecumenical Patriarch Dimitrios of the Orthodox Church proclaimed 1st September as a day of prayer for creation.  The World Council of Churches was then instrumental in using this as the start of a special season for creation, and it has been picked up by the Anglican Communion Environmental Network, Global Catholic Climate Movement, Lutheran World Federation, and others.  It runs through to the feast of Saint Francis of Assisi on 4th October.

 

There is an ecumenical organisation (www.seasonofcreation.org) that coordinates the season, and which has suggested that this year’s theme is A Home for All? Renewing the oikos of God.  Oikos is a Greek word meaning, variously ‘home’, ‘family’, ‘society’, and being the root of English words such as ‘ecology’ and ‘economics’.

 

The idea is that the whole inhabited earth, which belongs to God (The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it – Psalm 24v1), is our home, and we, and all societies are inextricably bound together in it.  Caring for creation is part of the wider work of building peace between people, striving for justice and equality for all.  Our political, social and economic systems need to function in a way that equitably shares our common home and respects it.

 

A day of prayer for creation in 1989 was quite prophetic, but today the need to take our responsibilities to our home the earth is plain.  Climate change seems to be taking hold, with wildfires and floods devastating many countries in many parts of the world.  There was a UN statement this week about global warming, warning that we are on target for increasing our carbon emissions by 16% by 2030, when they need to go down by 45% to avoid the worst impacts of global warming.  The International Panel on Climate Change, the IPCC, published its latest report in September, saying that “It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land.”  The IPCC provides much of the scientific basis for our understanding of global warming, and I would recommend that you have a look at its most recent report (www.ipcc.ch/report/ar6/wg1/).  The full report is a bit daunting, at 3,949 pages, but there is a summary report that is just 42 pages, and a longer Technical Summary at just 159 pages if you want most of the detail.  I have put up a few of the graphs on the screen here, showing where global surface temperature, Arctic sea ice, and sea level is going for various scenarios.  The top two are ‘do nothing’, the middle one is serious and immediate cuts in carbon emissions, the bottom two involve reducing emissions and actually taking carbon out of the atmosphere.

 

And as well as global warming (though partially related to it), we have a huge loss in biodiversity on earth, with major reductions in wildlife numbers across the planet, and the extinction of many species.  Human activity is so widespread and invasive that we have major plastic pollution in the oceans.

 

You have heard all this.  It is worrying, and can be really depressing.  What are we doing for our children and our grandchildren.  And while our lifestyles contribute to the problems, the changes we can make seem insignificant compared with what is required.

 

How does our reading from James help?  Well, I have to admit up front that it does not present a simple solution to the problem.  But what it does point to is the attitude that those of us who follow Christ should take to life generally, and to issues like this specifically.  James was not thinking of climate change when he wrote his letter.

 

He was concerned with behaviour, behaviour that flows from what is within us.

 

The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy (3v17).

 

Wisdom for James is not just knowledge, but practical insight with spiritual implications.  This is an extraordinary list, with deep implications for how we do things.  Pure, not dishonest or acting out of hidden motives.  Peaceable, not looking for an argument or a fight, hoping to build bridges.  Gentle, not forcing your opinion on others, not using superior knowledge or fluency to talk over the other person.  Willing to yield, listening, being prepared to take on board other opinions, to change your mind.  Full of mercy, prepared to forgive, accept.  Good fruits, reminds us of the fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control (Gal5vv22-23).

 

James contrasts this with envy and selfish ambition, which leads to boastfulness, dishonesty, conflicts and disputes.  So often in our discussions we are defending our own images, not wanting to admit failures, or trying to get what we want.

 

This picture of the behaviour God wants is attractive, but not easy.  In fact, following these few verses demands a wholesale conversion our selves, allowing the Spirit to work within us to change us.  It is a life’s work, but it is, and should be our objective.

 

And creation?  The problems we have in our world come down to relationships between people, nature and God which are deeply broken.  Envy and selfish ambition are major drivers in our misuse of the world and its resources.  A Christians we are trying to restore those relationships.  What we are bringing to inequality and unsustainable lifestyle choices is not confrontation, but an attempt to be peacemakers and bring reconciliation.  Behaving as James is describing: A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace (3v18).

 

Which is not to say that Christians should be push-overs.  Jesus is our example, and he threw the moneychangers out of the temple, and called the Jewish leaders hypocrites, whitewashed tombs, broods of vipers…  But our action should be coming out of a sense of wanting to reintroduce right relationships, God’s perspectives, into the situation.

 

Much of what we see in modern society works the other way.  I think this is obvious in much of what we see in the USA (possibly because it is easier to see in something we are removed from), where politics is increasingly partisan, where Republicans and Democrats do not cooperate on anything, see having any common goals or views as fatal concessions that could lead to a loss of votes or influence.  Where honesty is not a consideration in defeating an opponents argument or trying to trash his reputation.  And it is not just in America; it happens quite a lot here.

 

In the way the media works, particularly with social media and the way the internet works, where we are funnelled into articles and videos and groups that reflect what we naturally think, pushed into ever more extreme expressions of our own preferences.  Where we miss necessary interaction with those who are different or who disagree with us.  Where those who take a different position become remote, stupid, biased, not really human.

 

What we see in James is that attitude and integrity are important foundations, whether of our personal lives, or of any movement or renewal.  It is not just results we are after, it is how we get there.  Which makes it more difficult of course.  But then we have God on our side.

 

Jeremy Thake, St. John & St. Stephen.

 

James

Two Kinds of Wisdom

3:13 Who is wise and understanding among you? Show by your good life that your works are done with gentleness born of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not be boastful and false to the truth. 15 Such wisdom does not come down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. 16 For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 18 And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.

 

Friendship with the World

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? 2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts. You do not have, because you do not ask. 3 You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, in order to spend what you get on your pleasures.

 

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.