Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Ecological responsibility and Christian discipleship III: Recycle or repent?

The final piece of a three part series blogging a sermon preached at St Paul's and St George's 9 am service on 30th January 2011.

I. Human planet: Welcome to the Anthropocene.
II. The Community of Creation: Genesis 1.
III. Recycle or repent? Our response.

Recycle or repent? Our response
Mentioning Jesus reminds us that we're in a series on discipleship, on what it means for us to be called to be Jesus' disciples today. A disciple is a dedicated pupil and if we are to be disciples, it means devoting ourselves to learning everyday from Jesus, learning not just about God, but also about ourselves and our world. It means letting Jesus set the agenda for our lives, seeking to follow in the path that he pioneered. This isn’t a hobby or one aspect of life. Following Jesus requires every minute in our schedule, every pound in our wallets, every relationship, every thought, every breath. This doesn't mean that we spend all our time doing "spiritual things", but that we learn to see all that we do as spiritual.

And that includes our relationship to the created order, to the increasingly fragmented, polluted, scarred, strip-mined, deforested, acidifying, destabilised planet and its life systems that God still promises us is fundamentally good, fundamentally of value in itself, not just in what it can offer us. This too is part of Christian discipleship and demands our attention and reflection, our commitment, repentance and love.

We’re not just talking here about recycling and changing light-bulbs. We're not just talking about planting trees or cycling or taking public transport or flying less or shopping locally or eating less meat or switching to renewable energy companies or buying MSC-certified fish.

By all means, do these things – they are no-brainers. But behaviour modification barely scratches the surface. We need a heart change, which Holy Scripture calls repentance. Lying behind so many of the trends towards ecological degradation are our consumerist lifestyles and their export into the developing world. The whole world can't live at our levels of consumption. So out of justice, out of love, out of what it means to be human and a creature of God, we cannot go on living at our level of consumption.

We need to be turned upside down by the good news that Jesus died to reconcile all things to God. How can we preach the good news of liberation from sin without also proclaiming and pursing a life that turns from selfishness and respects the goodness and integrity of God’s world? How can we love our neighbours without considering their well-being as a whole: physical, emotional, social, spiritual and ecological? How can we pray that God’s will would be done on earth as it is in heaven and not pay attention to the earth for which we pray?

So composting and turning off the lights when you leave a room are just the tip of the iceberg. The good news of Jesus invites us into a whole-of-life creative resistance to ecological destruction.

First, be thankful. Christian discipleship starts in joy, not fear. It flows from peace, not anxiety. It is a liberation to do what is best, not being forced to do the minimum out of guilt. The world, however marred, is still good and worthy of our thanksgiving.

Second, repent of consumerism. We are not defined by what we buy. We do not need the latest fashion or the shiniest gadget. You don’t need meat every meal or international travel every holiday, we don't need to earn more and spend more. God gives us every good thing to enjoy, and so there is no need to hoard. We can learn contentment, which is grounded in step one: thankfulness. Smashing the hollow idol of endless consumption is not only good for the planet, but also necessary for the soul.

Third, embrace life. We belong to the earth. We are each members of something bigger than ourselves, bigger even than humanity: a creation awaiting its Sabbath rest in God. And so keep learning about the world, opening your eyes to the wonder, mystery and beauty – as well as the tragedy – around us. Find out what is happening to our planet. Mourn for what is being lost. And join with others in creative resistance. And then, perhaps, on a planet with all too many human scars, we may, by God's grace, become humans worthy of the name.
Readers with sharp memories may recall that I've ripped much of this post from the end of my related series on Why be green? Ecology and the gospel. What can I say? I love recycling! If you feel you've really missed out as a result, then try reading the expanded version: twelve easy very difficult steps to ecological responsibility.


Mike W said...

Byron, I'm wondering whether a side point to your second recommendation is : be poor. Poor people don't do all those things connected to consumerism, not because they are morally superior, but because they just can't afford to.
On any other moral issue, we wouldn't simply urge people to more moral effort, we would recommend them to take away the means of immorality. Don't give yourself the chance. Limit your ability to sin in this way.
What do you think?

byron smith said...

Spend less, earn less, work less.

Be rich in what counts and you can happily be poor according to the Joneses.