Till and keep the earth

Homily St Mary’s Marlborough 24th February 2019 8am
Second Sunday before Lent: Genesis 2.4b-9, 15-25 & Luke 8.22-25

Inevitably, when teaching Religious Studies to fourteen- and fifteen-year-olds, when we look at the story of the Creation, the question comes up whether I believe in the Big Bang Theory. Some of the pupils ask out of pure interest, others because they think that they have found an easy way to proof that religion is based on non-sense, on a story that is so clearly untrue and inconsistent on a lot of levels.

Trying to explain that for me, as well as for many other Christians, the story in Genesis is more like a myth than a chapter in a science book, proves more difficult than it may seem. For many, teenagers and adults alike, in cases like this it is hard to think beyond the black-and-white of true and not-true, although in many other aspects of life we do it all the time.

eco church

The story of the creation in Genesis two is thought to be older than the preceding, and probably more well-known, version in Genesis one, in which God creates the world in six days. The version we hear this morning is more about the place of human beings within creation, and hence, in a way more personal. God does not just create man and woman, but ‘forms him from the dust of the ground, and breaths into his nostrils the breath of life’. We see an image of a God who makes us with care.

After this, the sentence that particularly stuck me this time is that ‘God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it’. Again, I don’t believe that the Garden of Eden was a physical place, but this sentence conveys the responsibility that we as human beings have in looking after the world.

I don’t want to discuss here whether indeed we have been given this responsibility, or whether we have arrived there by a process of evolution, or both, but it is undeniable that at this stage in history, we have a relationship with the planet on which we live that is unique amongst the species in the animal kingdom. Currently, we can control our environment to a degree which one could say has become ‘unnatural’.

Flying over back home to the UK last night – and I perfectly well realise the irony in what I am going to say – it seemed to me that we have gone beyond ‘tilling and keeping’ the earth: we have colonised it, and indeed with effects that are starting to become disastrous. I realise full well my own part in this: my travelling, looking around me at home: the amount of plastic I see, let alone what has ended up in my bin already, and the fact that I live in a poorly insulated, but warm flat.

I am not someone who campaigns, but I do think there is something we all need to change, individually and as societies, if we want to take seriously our responsibility to ‘till and keep’ the world that is ours to live in, but not ours to have, and indeed to destroy.

The fundamental belief of Christianity is hope, but I do have to admit that I find it hard to look with hope at this issue. Change is happening, but far too slowly and believing the vast majority of climate research we do not have much time.

Maybe our hope, however cautiously, lies in our faith. Just as the disciples in the boat, so we too are in danger. As soon as they shout to Jesus that they are perishing, he wakes up, rebukes the wind and the waves, and there was a calm. So we too need to realise the urgency of the situation, see what we not just can but must do, but not lose our faith that there is still hope.

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