St. John's Uniting Church Wahroonga

Hope for Creation

Psalm 148 | Revelation 21:1-6
This morning we’ve welcomed Harper into our community of faith: we’ve joined with her family and friends in celebrating this incredible gift of new life, of potential, this gift of an unknown and unknowable future that is a child.

And when we look at a baby like Harper, or at any of the other children we know, it’s natural to wonder what the world they will grow up in is going to be like.

For it is a truism that the world is rapidly, and ever more rapidly, changing. Ten years ago, when talking with a youth group about heroes, I was shocked to discover that none of them knew who Nelson Mandela was: there are children today whose parents were not born on the day he was set free. For whom the fall of the Berlin wall and the end of the cold war is a detail of history. There are children in high school now who weren’t even alive when the twin towers fell on September 11th. How much the world has changed in a single generation.

And of course nowhere is the rate of change of society more evident than in technology. There’s an entertaining list that did the rounds on the internet a year or two ago entitled “100 things your kids will never know about”; cassette tapes, floppy discs, the sound of a modem connecting (although I discovered the other day an orchestrated version of that sound is now available as a ring-tone…), or even a computer that isn’t connected to the internet. John Benton, the principal at the Bush School wrote in a recent newsletter of his struggle to answer when one of the kids asked him what his favourite computer game had been when he was young.
How much the world has changed, how quickly.

But at the same time as we wonder what amazing things the future holds for our children and grandchildren – will theirs be the generation that returns to the moon and walks on Mars? Cures cancer? Eliminates absolute poverty? Sees Australia win the soccer world cup? – alongside all these dreams walks our fear that the future might not be so bright; that, in particular, we are bequeathing to our children and grandchildren an environmental catastrophe in the form of climate change. Will the great barrier reef, pushed over the edge by a combination of rising temperatures, ocean acidification, and maritime pollution, be as distant a memory to the next generation as the Walkman and the cold war? Will those images of polar bears clinging to shrinking ice sit next to the grainy footage of the Tasmanian tiger in the halls of extinction? Will our pacific neighbours in Tuvalu and Kiribati look back to the time when their homes were above sea level as a distant memory?

Over the past couple of weeks we’ve been exploring the Christian hope in the resurrection of Jesus – hope for reconciliation two weeks ago, and hope beyond death last week. But what does the resurrection have to say to the deep and genuine need of the natural world? To the fear and threat of catastrophic anthropogenic climate change – and to be clear, that threat is very real. Even the well-known environmentalist hippies at the world bank recently wrote that “there is no certainty that adaption to a 4 degree increase in temperature (the current projections for the end of this century – within Harper’s lifetime) no certainty that adaption to a 4 degree increase in temperature is even possible”.

For those of us brought up in the reformed tradition, it sometimes comes as a bit of a surprise that the Bible actually has quite a lot to say about the natural world. The age of rationalism, and the social struggles of the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries, saw the environment, the natural creation, demoted to a sort of background, a stage upon which the actors, divine and human, played out their parts. But in the scriptures, the creation is often described almost as if it were playing a role itself; in the goodness of creation in the poem of Genesis 1, the praise of the sun, moon and stars, and all the living creatures in our psalm, the stones crying out if the children were silent in Jesus’ words at the triumphal entry, the creation groaning as if in childbirth in Paul’s letter to the Romans, the fantastical twistings of creation in the book of Revelation. And allegorical or apocalyptical as these words might be, they capture the sense that creation is not a neutral backdrop, with humans the only part of creation with eternal meaning, but a meaningful part of the whole of the story.

Of course, the scriptures were not written, as I have often noted, with our modern concerns in mind, so we should not expect, and do not find, simple answers to our questions directly embedded in the text.

Nonetheless, some Christian theologies jump to readings like that which we had from the book of Revelation, and take them as the answer to these very concerns: the present state of creation is truly meaningless – it is going to pass away! There will be a new heaven and a new earth! Why are we worrying about this earth that God is going to destroy anyway?

I hope we can do better than that. For the Harper’s sake, for the sake of all our children and their children, I hope we can do better.

The hope that we claim, as the people of Jesus Christ, the people of the story, has to be more than “God will replace everything in the end”. It has to take seriously the words of God in the refrain of the story of Genesis: “and God saw that it was good”. It has to encompass the song of God’s praise in creation echoed by the psalm. Above all, it has to reflect the nature of the incarnation – God entering into creation – and the resurrection – God at work in re-creation. It has to hear Jesus’s words that God so loved the world (not just the people, the world) that God sent his son, and Paul’s echo that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Godself. There is no warrant in the scriptures for arguing that creation does not matter – indeed, over and again it is clear that it does.

If we take our faith seriously we cannot, dare not, ever fall back on the too easy hope that God will fix it. Instead we live in the far more challenging hope: that God, in Christ, and God’s Spirit, in us, is fixing it. That there is hope for creation; but that that hope lies not in some future apocalypse but in the present work of the Holy Spirit – at work in the quest for truth of scientists drawing the crisis to our attention, at work in the creativity of those who find alternatives to our addiction to fossil fuels, at work in those who campaign for changes in policy to bring these developments online. But most of all, at work in the lives of people of faith and people of no faith, breaking us out of self centeredness, out of short sightedness, out of greed and fear and self protection and mindless consumption, offering us a vision of the kingdom of God; a kingdom in which value is not measured by material possessions but by richness of relationships; with one another, with God, and with creation itself.

You may have seen in the news in the past week or so that the Uniting Church in NSW has voted to disinvest from all fossil fuel extraction, that the money we hold, as a Church, will no longer be used to invest in an industry which is, inadvertently but unquestionably contributing to radical and destructive changes to our climate, and that those funds will be redirected towards investment in renewable sources of energy.

What struck me as I sat in that debate at Synod was that the consensus around that proposal was so strong. There was debate around the details, the process, the wording, but the 400 representatives of the Uniting Church voted unanimously in favour. And within a few days we were joined by the city of San Francisco, making the same decision. I’d love to claim a causal link.

The hope of the gospel for creation is that people can change. That those who disagree can come together to work as one. It is the hope of the resurrection, the hope of new life, of reconciliation, worked out in practical, day to day detail.

And it is the hope that, inspired and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we can live lives that make a difference – not just to one another, but to God’s creation.


Hope beyond death

Revelation 7:9-17 | John 10:22-30
Death, and dying, and what happens thereafter, holds a deep fascination for the human mind. It’s probably safe to say that all cultures and religions have their own distinctive understanding of death, and that this understanding lies close to the heart of most systems of belief. The Egyptian weighing of the heart in the hall of Maat, the ancient Greek crossing of the Styx into Hades, the indigenous Australian dreamtime, the reincarnation of Hinduism, the heaven, hell and purgatory of Dante, or some combination thereof in much Christian, Jewish and Islamic though, the simple extinction anticipated by modern existentialism – or, perhaps most common today, some sort of vague and uncertain mix of several of the above.

The uncomfortable, almost slightly taboo nature of the subject of death also makes it a great source of memorable quotations Continue reading

Hope of Reconciliation

Psalm 30 | John 21:15-19
Stressful times do not always bring the best out of people. Certainly the last few days of Jesus’ life didn’t bring the best out of his disciples. All of them, in one way or another, let him down. None of them lived up to their promises, their brave words and big commitments.

At the Last Supper, Jesus warned them what would happen “You will all become deserters; for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered’ … But Peter said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.”

But when push came to shove, all those good intentions meant nothing. Judas, whether out of frustration or greed or disappointment, betrayed Jesus to his enemies; most of the disciples fled; Peter denied he even knew him. Continue reading

The Messy Mystery of Easter

Messy Church on Sunday April 7th was an amazing and creative experience for the 80+ children and adults who attended.
To start there were six activities designed to give people a chance to do a creative activity and relate the outcome to some aspect of Jesus’ teachings. The amount of thought and resources put in to each activity was commendable and each event was guided by two or three dedicated supervisors – all wearing the distinctive ‘Messy Church’ T shirts.
If there was a stand out presentation it had to be the tableu of the Last Supper. The attention to detail was remarkable and creative in its interpretation of what it must have been like in that upstairs room. Foods typical of what constituted such a meal were present for people to select and sample. Drapes and soft lighting created a mood symbolic of the occasion. In the background was the sounds of people partaking and conversing as would happen at a meal for the group of disciples. Interspersed with these sounds was the occasional voice over speaking some of the words and phrases recorded as being spoken by Christ at the supper. Everybody was impressed with the extent of thoughtful creative detail put into the tableau of the Last Supper as a postlude to Easter.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA Chris addressed the group in Church with an intriguing box of ‘sorry’ thoughts garnered from the middle hall in the activities segment. Undoing the suspended box revealed the mauve coloured cross which when reversed became clean white, representing the transition from lenten sins to the forgiveness brought by the resurrection.
Afterwards another group of hard working helpers served a meal which was consumed with gusto and lots of talk by attendees in the lower hall.
A good time was had by all. Try to attend the next Messy Church on 26th May.

For more photos, check out the Facebook album


Psalm 150 | John 20:19-31
What do you say after the resurrection?

The gospel writers each spend a large chunk of their work on the days leading up to the death of Jesus, to the crucifixion itself, and to the events of Easter Sunday, the miracle when death ran backwards and Jesus was alive and with them again.

By contrast, Matthew devotes just 5 verses to Jesus’ appearances after that first day; Mark has half a chapter; Luke has the story of the Emmaus road, and then Jesus appearing to all the disciples and eating fish to prove he wasn’t a ghost; John gives us most, with the story of Thomas, breakfast on the beach, and the restoration of Peter.

It’s as if the writers are struggling; struggling to put into words just what has happened, struggling to make sense of the descriptions passed on to them by those who were there. You get some sense of this struggle in the way the appearances of Jesus are described: the writers stress the very physical nature of the resurrected one – he eats, cooks, shows his wounds – but at the same time he seems to come and go at will, to be unrecognisable at one moment and clearly himself at another.

There’s a sense here that something has changed in the resurrection; Jesus is back with them, still Jesus, but somehow different. Somehow more than he was before. More like an inhabitant of the heavenly realms walking the earth. Continue reading