In 2005 there was an expedition to one of Asia’s most isolated jungles. It is in the Foya Mountains of western New Guinea. There, incredibly, scientists discovered a lost Paradise – unspoilt. It was described by the media as a new garden of Eden.
Steve Hucklesby opened his address with those words when at Romsey Methodist Church, and he continued to teach us with the following message.
It made me very happy to think that for 100s of years these animals and plants were happily getting about their business without any help or protection from humans. There is a beauty in these birds, mammals and plants that we appreciate because we ourselves are made in the image of God. We know from the creation story that God delights in his creation. ‘God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.’ So the Berlepsch 6-wired Bird of Paradise doesn’t need to be discovered by us to be appreciated – it is appreciated all the time by God.
The Foya Mountains discovery seems to be a modern parable that illustrates for us the meaning in Psalm 104 in which all God’s creatures, even creatures like myself, belong to God:
You bring darkness, it becomes night,
and all the beasts of the forest prowl.
The lions roar for their prey
and seek their food from God.
The sun rises, and they steal away;
they return and lie down in their dens.
Then people go out to their work,
to their labour until evening.
All creatures look to you
to give them their food at the proper time.
Psalm 104: 20-23, 27 (NIV)
In this Psalm we see people and animals each equally depend on God for their sustainability and survival. As we come up to Easter we think about the costliness of Christ’s death on the cross that has enabled us to enter into God’s presence and experience new life with him. And what I would like to reflect on this morning is that as Disciples of Christ we are both redeemed by Christ and also involved in the work of God’s ongoing redemption of the world.
I would like to focus on one particular aspect of Discipleship …. how do we respond as Disciples of Christ when our world, God’s creation, is facing global stress through climate change?
In Isaiah 43 we read of the Coming of the Son of Man – God says:
“I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. The wild animals will honour me, the jackals and the ostriches; for I give water in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, to give drink to my chosen people, the people whom I formed for myself so that they might declare my praise.”
Isaiah 43:19-21 (NRSV)
The jackals and the ostriches are redeemed alongside God’s chosen people. God has a plan for his creation. Jesus spent the beginning of his ministry for 40 days in the wilderness – the same wilderness that Isaiah describes as inhabited by jackals and ostriches. In Jesus’ own parables there are references to the animals and plants of creation. In his warning against putting trust in money Jesus says “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them” (Matthew 6:26). An echo in a sense of psalm 104 that states that creation depends on God in the here and now. In this work of sustaining creation we act as God’s hands and feet. As God’s redeemed people we become co-redeemers with God of his creation.
And I believe that we do that in small straightforward ways every day. Whenever we take action to save energy or cut down on the use of plastics and other resources we are honouring God. However small the action, reusing bags, avoiding unnecessary packaging, repairing broken equipment rather than buying new, switching off computers and other equipment when it is not in use – all of these actions help. We may consider ourselves motivated by a sense of justice – justice towards those who are already suffering the impacts of climate change and justice too towards future generations yet to be born.
One of the crucial questions for society is whether we should burn all the oil and gas available or whether, in order to prevent climate change, we need to leave some of that oil and gas in the ground. This might be costly we are told – although I think that the cost of clean renewable energy is over-emphasised. The question of oil and gas reserves raises the question of when does our interference in the balance of God’s creation become sinful?
It seems today that we have lost our connectedness with nature. Instead, our economies operate as if we ourselves are the owners of God’s creation. We see resources, water, oil, forest and indeed animals, as primarily existing to serve our benefit. Psalm 104 states “All creatures look to you to give them their food at the proper time.” But today it seems that there is one set of God’s creatures that have lost that sense of a proper time and are using up the earth’s historic oil and gas resources in the space of a few generations.
And as a Church we need to speak out. During the Copenhagen Summit in 2009 there were hundreds of thousands of people present in Copenhagen and 50,000 people on the streets of London. I saw on that occasion that, as on others, a large number of those people were connected with churches and Christian agencies. And it makes a difference.
At Methodist Conference at the end of June this year there will be a debate on the investments of the Methodist Church – some of which are in oil and gas companies such as Shell and BP. The Central Finance Board of the Methodist Church has already excluded from its portfolio shares of 9 companies that don’t meet the criteria for its Climate Change policy. Along with the Church of England and others the Methodist Church has had success in requiring Shell and BP to routinely report information on carbon emissions and on their climate policies. We can have some small influence at least through investing and in discussion with companies as a concerned investor. The debate at Methodist Conference this year will be about challenging these companies even further. Methodist Conference will debate disinvestment and will take a view on how long these major companies should be given to put their house in order if we are to remain invested.
Caring for God’s creation is just one way in which we honour the redeeming work of Christ. Together as a local church we are God’s hands and feet. We look for the redemption of human hearts and ask him where we might play our part.
This is an extract from an address given at a service at Romsey Methodist Church in April 2017 by Steve Hucklesby, Policy Advisor of the Methodist Church.