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Thornbury Parish


A sermon for Environment Sunday

Have you heard of the term speciesist? Like racist or sexist, we talk about being speciesist these day, or those who debate issues of ethics do. Speciesism means that we favour our own species over others, we think our species is more important than any other species.  As Christians, when we talk about salvation, we usually mean the human race being saved, people like you and me; we don't usually open that up to other species let alone the whole environment around us.

Now this is quite a big and tricky topic and it involves theology as well as ethics and environmental concerns - or rather we can’t actually separate all those, they are connected.

As a human race we are one species on the planet among billions of other species. And as a matter of historical record, our activities have wiped out unknown numbers of other species and continue to do so. That is our responsibility; in the past we were unaware that it was happening; now we do know - to some extent, and so our responsibility, our guilt, is all the more.

Now you might be thinking, but God gave humans a special place didn't  he, and humans have dominion according to Genesis. Set alongside that, that in the same context God makes each creature and each form of the habitat around and calls it all good. As we study different species we become more and more aware of the intelligence of many species and the capacity and skills they have, often vastly exceeding our own. Think of migrating birds; elephants mourning their dead; whales communicating across vast oceans; and so many wonders that we hear about in wildlife programmes on TV. In Uganda in February we had a lovely day visiting the chimpanzee sanctuary on Lake Victoria and saw the intelligence of those animals. In fact I bought my son a souvenir tee shirt with the words ’98.7% chimp’ on it - that is the similarity in our DNA.

The story that tells us that God placed humans in a lovely garden and told them to till it and care for it, encapsulates an early understanding of our responsibility towards the environment. It is our job, in short, to look after it. To use it, yes - it’s there for our food, our enjoyment, our use - but to protect it and preserve as well - after all without the environment we, like any other species, would cease to exist.

At this time of year we are celebrating the Ascension of Christ and anticipating and praying for the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost; as you know it’s a time of special prayer in the cycle of the church year. I’m asking you this year to think perhaps a little differently about it to usual - to think about how what Jesus accomplished in his death and resurrection is not only about our salvation - us humans, but has a wider reach.

The New Testament is well aware of this because it draws parallels between Jesus and Adam.

Adam is the figurehead of the human race going wrong. Jesus is the figurehead of the human race going right. Jesus, as it were, undid Adam’s sin, or showed the potential for us to change direction and go a different way to Adam, to the human race in general, that means. Paul spoke of the whole of creation groaning in travail until it could be saved,   waiting to bring forth a new creation, a redeemed one; and in the visions of Revelation, St John the divine sees a new heavens and a new earth, a renewed creation, made perfect by God - note that it includes a new earth as well as heaven, that’s rather interesting.

As far as the human race is concerned though, we have just the one earth and it is irreplaceable and invaluable. We are its stewards, entrusted by God with its care and its use. As we rejoice in the salvation that Christ wrought for us on the cross, let’s extend that to the earth and all its life and its creatures - let’s live out our salvation, not only in worship and praise of God and in service of each other, but in service of other forms of life as well.

It is for this reason that our PCC has an environment policy and indeed this is part of our mission action plan. The church recognises 5 marks of mission, which are:

 • To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom

 • To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

 • To respond to human need by loving service

 • To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation

 • To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

So the 5th mark of mission is to care for all of creation - it is part of our task as Christians in the world, and this is our focus on Environment Sunday.

Hence our environment champions, Jack, Becky and Marian, hence the beehive in our churchyard, our recycling policy, our use of power point in Family Services to reduce paper use, and so on.

Do look at the display at the back which Marian has prepared; and do spend some time reflecting on how your faith relates to the way in which you live in the world and how we treat and appreciate and protect our environment and all the many millions of species that we share it with.