God and COP 26

A Sermon Preached on The Last Sunday after Trinity
(the Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost)
October 24, 2021, at 11:00 am
at The Anglican Church of St. Thomas the Apostle, Kefalas, Crete.

The readings we used were Job 42:1-6, 10-end, Psalm 126, and Mark 10:46-52.

Does God have anything to do with COP 26? It is now one week before the beginning of the United Nations Climate Change Conference known as COP 26 (i.e. the “Conference of Parties”, and in the 26th year since governments, NGOs, trade unions, businesses, and everyone else with any interest in climate change have met to review and negotiate global action). COP 26 is being hosted by the UK in Glasgow, in partnership with Italy.

Isn’t this just a political-economic-environmental issue that the church should stay out of?

Not according to the major Christian leaders of the world. God is deeply concerned with how we steward creation. Last month the Pope, the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople, and the Archbishop of Canterbury issued an historic letter to the leaders of the world, all Christians, and all people of good will. Between the three of them – Pope Frances, Patriarch Bartholomew, and Archbishop Justin Welby – they speak on behalf of 1.6 billion Christians, or two out of every three people who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ.

The insignia and title of the Joint Statement

In any case, I am a priest of the Church of England – a church established in the realm of England where twenty-four bishops and two archbishops sit in the House of Lords and speak regularly on legislation. So, in law and practice, there is no separation of church and state, the temporal and spiritual. Every matter under heaven is potentially within the competence of the church to discuss.

The main theological points in the joint statement are:

  • God calls upon us to choose life, according to the Book of Deuteronomy. You will recall that God speaks through Moses to the people of Israel. He has given them his instruction in the Torah on how to live. Today God speaks to us through the Book of Creation and the science is clear – our current trajectory of consumption and carbon gas production will have devastating results for the sustainability of life.
  • Jesus calls us to be mindful of the poorest among us, to treat them as if they were the Lord himself, as seen in Matthew 25. It is likely that you and I will be okay, and our grandchildren and great-grandchildren will probably be all right as well; after all, we belong to the developed world, and we can adjust. However, we are already seeing how extreme weather and environmental degradation is affecting the poorest of us in the world, the people living off of less that a pound sterling a day – cyclones are flooding parts of Bangladesh and India, and the rise of ocean levels will literally cover certain island nations in the Pacific.
  • Using a parable of Jesus, the three leaders caution us against building our house on sand instead of solid rock, by adopting short-term and seemingly inexpensive approaches to the stewardship of the world. They also refer to the wasteful and profligate expenditure of the prodigal son, who ends up hungry. They point to the farmer who has a barn full of grain and thinks all is well, but does not consider his own finitude and mortality. The three church leaders are concerned that this generation has maximized wealth and our own interests at the expense of future generations. Frankly, we are not responsible, we are not thinking ahead.
  • The three leaders direct us to understanding stewardship not as an unbridled license to exploit the world, as a dominion over all living things to our own exclusive benefit, as Genesis 1 has often been interpreted, but as Genesis 2 suggests, fellow workers with God with respect to creation, tillers of the soil.
  • They call us to repentance, a change of mind that leads to choosing to live, eat, travel, spend, and invest differently.

The only thing I might add is that this is a call to us as well to have the mind of Christ, as in Philippians 2.5-11, who does not grasp on to power and majesty, but empties himself into humanity. As a human being he becomes humble and obedient, thus transforming our understanding of the glory of God, as well as what we as human beings, made in the image of God, are called to do (this is called kenotic theology, from the Greek word for emptying).

However, I suspect that even we as Christians, some 2.4 billion, cannot do it alone. We need all the peoples of the world, whether of different faiths or of none, to act. While the theological points above may be persuasive for Christians, we need the political leaders of the world to act.

The top five emitters, in order, are China at 28%, the United States at 15%, and then India, Russia, and Japan in the single digits. These first three countries create 50% of the carbon gasses causing global warming, and none of them are doing much to lessen their impact. The EU’s total is some 18%, so combine China, the US, India, and the EU, and we have 2/3rds of the total emissions. The UK is only 1%, but my home country of Canada, with half the population of Britain, has a terrible footprint of about twice of what the UK produces – a per capita footprint four times the size of the average Brit. 

Of course, some politicians deny climate change, just as some Christians do. These are the same people who might deny that smoking causes cancer, or that evolution and quantum physics are just theories. They have the right to their opinions, but they are wrong, and their opinions tend to be self-serving.

As individuals we can lobby our governments. We can pray. We can try to examine our own life.  Like the story told in the Book of Job, this is a time of testing for us, and an opportunity to be faithful, and hopeful.

As Christians, we are a people of hope. As Psalm 126 says:

Restore our fortunes, O Lord, / like the watercourses in the Negeb.
May those who sow in tears/ reap with shouts of joy.
Those who go out weeping, / bearing the seed for sowing,
shall come home with shouts of joy, / carrying their sheaves.

As God restores Job, so may we be restored, so that our latter days are greater than our beginning.

May we all, like Bartimaeus in our gospel reading, be healed from our blindness, so that we can see and follow Jesus on the way.

About Bruce Bryant-Scott

Canadian. Husband. Father. Christian. Recovering Settler. A priest of the Church of England, Diocese in Europe, on the island of Crete in Greece. More about me at https://www.linkedin.com/in/bruce-bryant-scott-4205501a/
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