Earth Sunday Sermon
It’s three days after the crucifixion. Two people trudge along the road to Emmaus. They’re very sad. Their leader has been executed and they are returning home, defeated. A third joins them. He asks what’s bothering them. At first they don’t recognize him despite experiencing a burning feeling as he talks about the tradition that their leader represented. Later, in the breaking of the bread, the two men recognize the risen Jesus. They return in excitement to Jerusalem. Out of the pain and defeat of the crucifixion, a new movement is born.
No matter how many times I’ve heard that story, it never ceases to inspire me. May it continue to help us understand our world and learn what St. Aidan’s is called to do today.
A group of us have been talking about what St. Aidan’s might do to respond to the environmental crisis. It’s been almost a year since we first met. What we share is a deep conviction – a burning feeling, you might say -- that our church can and must make a contribution to efforts to protect and heal the planet. Our confidence that we can make a difference comes, in part, from what happened on the road to Emmaus.
For decades, arguably for centuries, Anglicans have been concerned with the environment. Our baptismal covenant includes the pledge to safeguard the integrity of God’s creation, and to respect, sustain and renew the life of the Earth.
Like most of you, I have heard the steady drum beat of concern about the environment throughout my life.
When I was growing up we spent summers on Stoney Lake in the Kawarthas. I fell in love with the natural world. I did not see a connection, however, between the tin cans we’d sink in the middle of the lake and the pledge I’d make at a little church on a rocky island to be a good steward of this beauty.
In the 1960s, Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring awakened me to the fact I was contributing to the death of hundreds of species. In the 1970s I heard David Suzuki issue a warning that time was getting short. Al Gore’s 2006 documentary The Inconvenient Truth shook me.
Last summer, when some of us from St. Aidans first met to discuss these issues, there was no denying the urgency of environmental issues. The news was full of stories of:
the degradation of the oceans
the deadly warming of the climate.
The usual responses – like petitions and demonstrations – well, they have value. But the question we faced was: why are these actions not enough?
We couldn’t have predicted then that the Covid-19 crisis would disrupt everything – creating another moment that is at the same time frightening and exciting. A moment not unlike the one experienced on the road to Emmaus. A moment of loss and grief when God starts something new. A moment that calls us to move – to walk with intention and in faith together.
Like the first disciples, we are witnesses to the hope and opportunity inside this painful and disorienting moment.
Air quality has gone up and greenhouse gas emissions have gone down because human activity has mostly ceased over the last six weeks.
But the dramatic changes we need to deal with climate change and its threats remain.
When the pandemic is brought under control, will the urgent need to move forward in a new direction on climate change override the intense desire to go back to “normal”?
The book we’ve been discussing, led by our deacon Michael Van Dusen is Pope Francis’ 2015 Encyclical — Laudato Si’: On Caring for our Common Home.
The Pope’s words help answer our most pressing question:
What can churches like ours do to turn things around for our planet at this critical moment?
The first point is to renew our understanding that Creation is of God, not of us. Being in right relationship with Creation is perhaps one of the central tenets of our tradition. That is the starting point. The very first words in Genesis are these: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth…” And God saw that it was good. It is a source of joy and delight for us. That knowledge – and our direct experience – should be the basis of our connection to the Earth and to all that is therein.
The second point is that humans are unique among creatures for how we exploit or ignore the Earth for private benefit. We’ve constructed economic structures with complex technologies to increase our extractive and exploitative capacity. Sheer human greed fuels the single-minded pursuit of more and more complex technological productivity and efficiency. They actually prevent us from reversing the life-threatening and potentially fatal damage we are doing to the Earth and ourselves.
The third and final point is that it will take a dramatic change in culture to overcome inertia. The Pope calls what’s needed an “ecological conversion”. And this is the work of the Church. Our work. Changing hearts, minds and cultures – through the human act of breaking bread together, building a beloved community, listening to the stories from the tradition, and taking faithful and courageous steps on the road that leads to new life.
St. Aidan’s is already on this road. Expressions of concern for the environment are woven into our liturgy. During Lent, parishioners were invited to reduce or eliminate single-use plastics and other containers. Before the pandemic made it unsafe to meet in person, we gathered for presentations by two environmentalists who helped us engage theology and science as resources for this moment.
This journey continues. Fuelled now by a sense of urgency and open to the possibilities for transformation in how we care for our common home.
St. Aidan’s eco-spirituality group has met a few times virtually during this time of social distancing. We’ve decided to organize three small groups with a single purpose: to equip us for the next leg. One will focus on spiritual formation. Another will study the issues more deeply. The third will mobilize us to take action out in our neighbourhood and beyond with others who share our concerns.
Each group will feed the others. Our children and young people will be invited to fully participate and to lead. Clergy, staff and parishioners are coming together, pooling our gifts, and combining their efforts to strengthen this ministry. It is moving to the centre of our life together. We hope this work will become a core feature of our identity as a parish church in these times.
You are invited to join us on this road – and to walk with grounded hope and in the confidence that there will be surprise encounters, challenging stretches but also camaraderie and laughter. On this road, no one walks alone – even when we walk six feet a part.
It is an invitation that each of us is called to consider prayerfully today. So, let us pray:
Risen One, just like the disciples on the road to Emmaus, we struggle to recognize you in the everyday journey of our lives. We seek your wisdom in the midst of the questions we have about the difficult circumstances we find ourselves in—circumstances sometimes beyond our control, but often of our own making.
Open our eyes to your work of transformation in and around us. May your new life be made manifest in what we do and say. Help us to recognize and offer our gifts – to channel our energy – for your will to be done in this moment and in the service of this movement.
Thank you for travelling with us in our joys and our concerns – for each other and for the Earth – our common home.