New Wine Ireland Seminar Presentation - It's time to Care for God's Creation

New Wine Ireland is a Christian conference that takes place in Sligo each year. It aims to help local churches change nations.

I spoke at a seminar this year along with David Ritchie, the Chief Executive of the Church of Ireland's Representative Church Body. The seminar was on how local churches can help care for God's creation. The audio of the seminar is available from New Wine Ireland but I have put the text of my talk and a video of the slides below. The Church of Ireland also released a press article giving a summary of the seminar.


It's time to Care for Creation


Introduction

Today David and I are going to give you two short and complementary perspectives on God’s creation and the actions we can take in response to environmental issues. Then we’ll take questions and hear what you have to say.

I’m going to cover three points:
  1. A call to care
  2. A call to act, and 
  3. Time to Take action
So first,

[Slide 1] A call to care

Conferences like New Wine are great at stirring us up and giving us something to think about in our Christian lives and churches.

I had one of those moments back in 2014 when [Slide 2] The Rev Dr Chris Wright came to speak at our church. Chris Wright is an Anglican clergyman and an Old Testament Scholar and author. He was the principal of All Nations Christian College and now he is the International Ministries Director of Langham Partnership.

What he said that evening is so profoundly simple that it really struck me. It also opened up an entirely new area of my understanding of mission. He said that many evangelicals had been reading the Bible wrong – in fact, we have left off important chapters at the beginning and the end,

[Slide 3]“The Bible does not begin at Genesis 3 (or end at Revelation 20). You might think so when you listen to some presentations of the Bible’s message and mission. The Bible is not just about the solution to our sin problem and how to survive the day of judgment. It begins with creation and ends with a new creation.”

When someone says something like this, you look to see what these chapters are about. What have I missed?

Of course we have the very first verse in the Bible, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” And the story of creation is spelled out of how God created the sky, the earth, waters, plants and animals and mankind. And what does it say seven times? [Slide 4] That is was good.

But the story of creation is so important that it is spelt out again in Genesis chapter 2. Verse 4 says, “This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the Lord God made the earth and the heavens.” And it briefly spells out how plants, waters and humans were created.

And then God gives human beings their role in relation to creation, in [Slide 5] Genesis chapter 2:15 It says, “The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.”

Our role is to work it and take care of it – the first command God gave us is to Care for his Creation.

So that’s the first two chapters, what about the last 2 chapters of the Bible in Revelation?

These are about the New Creation.
[Slide 6] Revelation 21:1 says, “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”.

This verse echoes Genesis 1 verse 1 doesn’t it? “In the beginning, God created the heaves and the earth” and “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth”.

In Genesis 3 death and pain enter, Revelation 21:4 “death shall be no more, neither shall there be or mourning, crying or pain.” Genesis: Death arrives, Revelation: Death leaves.

There are echoes all through this chapter of Genesis. Genesis 2: Streams came up from the earth, Revelation 21 has: “the spring of the water of life”

Then chapter 22 begins with a beautiful picture just like a restored Garden of Eden. There is a river, the tree of life is there, everything is restored, verse 3 says “No longer will there be anything accursed”. And God walks in the recreation of the garden and we will see his face.

The Bible begins with creation of the earth and the garden, and it ends with a new creation, a recreation of the earth and the Garden of Eden. And the creator is Jesus Christ himself – Revelation 22:6 “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.”

So we can see the story of the Bible, as Chris Wright states, does not begin at the Fall and end with Christ’s return. It begins with creation and ends with a new creation. God calls creation ‘good’ and commands us to look after it.

But what does the new creation look like? Is it a case that the current earth will be a destroyed and replaced by a new planet? [Slide 7] Hitchhikers video of blowing up the earth.

Bishop Tom Wright is excellent on this theme of New Creation. He said, “There is a great theme in the scriptures which gives meaning and purpose to all of our life.” That theme is new creation.

Tom Wright says, [Slide 8]“Heaven is important, but it’s not the end of the world; God will make new heavens and a new earth, and give us new bodies to live and work and take delight in his new creation. [Slide 9] And the ‘good news’ of the Christian gospel is that this new world, this new creation, has already begun: it began when Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead on Easter morning, having faced and beaten the double enemy, sin and death, that has corrupted and defaced God’s lovely creation.”

And Wright draws our attention to Romans chapter 8 - one of the most important chapters that explains the good news of Jesus Christ and Life through the Spirit. And what does it say in Romans 8:18-21?

18 I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. 19 For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.

All of creation waits for renewal.

A renewal movement like New Wine should have three elements:

1. renewal of faith,
2. renewal of community and
3. renewal of the creation.

An important part of our mission and in renewal in the church is to [Slide 10] Care for Creation.

As Tom Wright says, “The resurrection of Jesus and the gift of the Spirit mean that we are called to bring forth real and effective signs of God’s renewed creation even in the midst of the present age.”

So that was a Call to Care, next is a call to action.

[Slide 11] A Call to Action

There has been an awakening within the church worldwide in the last 10 years. Senior Christian figures have called for action on the environment as part of our mission.

In 2010 the Lausanne Movement, a core evangelical movement, wrote the [Slide 12] Cape Town Commitment - it is a confession of faith and a call to action.

It calls for action on conflict, modern slavery, poverty, disability, HIV, and creation.

Specifically, on the environment, it says we are to:
1) Live environmentally friendly lifestyles
2) Persuade governments to act on environmental destruction and climate change;
3) Recognize that part of the mission of God is the conservation of habitats and species.

Next [Slide 13] Pope Francis published his Encyclical ‘Our Common Home’ in 2015. In this he says, “I urgently appeal, then, for a new dialogue about how we are shaping the future of our planet. We need a conversation which includes everyone, since the environmental challenge we are undergoing, and its human roots, concern and affects us all.”

The encyclical is very worth reading because it is a theological perspective on the environmental destruction of creation and presents ideas for changing direction.

So the calls to action from evangelicals, Catholics and all church leaders are sounding the same note – we need to act individually, and collectively through our churches and political representatives.

So this leads on to the next theme.

[Slide 14] Time to Take action

For anyone to take action there needs to be a moment in your life that that acts as an emotional trigger. Let me share the story of my emotional trigger.

On the 8 November 2013 the most powerful storm ever to make landfall devastated parts of the Philippines. It killed more than 6,300 people, made 2 million homeless, and caused $2.8Bn dollars’ worth of damage.

[Slide 15] This is Joshua Cator, an 11-year-old boy from the devastated city of Tacloban in the Philippines. Joshua was swept away by the storm surge clinging to his father, but then the current separated them and he was swept away alone. He survived but his mother and sister had been killed. His town was completely devastated.

It was in reading his story that I realised that climate change is not simply an academic argument about how much carbon dioxide causes global warming, it’s about people’s lives.

The Church of Ireland Bishop’s Appeal asked for disaster relief funds to help people like Joshua. Like many others, I gave a contribution and encouraged others in the church to do the same. In total, about 200,000 euro were donated.

But later that year I discovered the Church of Ireland had millions of euro invested in fossil fuel companies. The church was invested in the industry that causes the pollution that fuels global warming.

It was this connection between Joshua and my own giving that was the trigger for me to take action.

Think about the stories you have heard about injustice. Is God saying to you [Slide 16] ‘It’s time to take action.’

Here are some things you could do:

Campaign,
Green your church,
Change your lifestyle.

Campaign

After reading about the Church’s investments in fossil fuels I started to campaign for the Church of Ireland to remove the invested funds from coal, oil and gas companies – this is called divestment.

Divestment sends a signal to other investors that fossil fuels are too high a risk because of climate change and that investing in them is immoral because of the harm they do to people.

I spoke at General Synods calling for our church to divest. In 2016 and 2017 the church divested from coal and tar sands, then in 2018 General Synod voted to divest from all fossil fuels by 2022. It resulted in this [Slide 17] headline in the Irish Times.

Divestment from fossil fuel extraction companies goes hand-in-hand with corporate engagement with fossil fuel consuming companies. Institutional investors join forces to pass motions at Annual General Meetings to put pressure on companies to rapidly decarbonise their operations and switch to renewable energy. David might be saying more about this shortly.

There are lots of ways to take part in campaigns.

[Slide 18] Christian Aid – the Big Shift, ask your bank to move your money,
[Slide 17] Tearfund – Light up the darkness with solar lighting
[Slide 19] Trocaire – Divest Irish Parliament.

These websites have all the tools you need to campaign - sign a petition, email your bank, organize an event in your church to raise awareness.

Start today [Slide 20] using Trocaire to contact Dail rep before 12 July.

Also, build a relationship with your local political representative – even if you did not vote for them yourself, get to know them. Share with them that helping extreme poverty, climate change and reducing pollution are important to you.

You could start a blog and document your journey. Other people around the world will gain inspiration on what you have done.

Next,

Green your church

Does your church use plastic cups and photocopy too many notice sheets? Raise it with your church leaders and find an alternative.

This spring our parish hosted the Diocesan Synod and it was a [Slide 21] Sustainable Synod so we used compostable cups to reduce single-use plastic waste.

There are lots of things you can do and there are many ideas on the [Slide 22] Eco-congregations Ireland website.

Finally,

[Slide 23] Change your lifestyle

Change begins at home as they say. For example,
  • Reduce your food waste – plan your meals, use leftovers
  • Go flexitarian - some days you eat meat, others you’re vegetarian. 
  • Get on your bike – drive less, use a [Slide 24] carpool.
  • Get educated - read quality books, newspaper and websites about how to solve the crises. 
Two big ideas to leave you with:

[Slide 25] Half-Earth – we’re losing species so fast some call it the sixth mass extinction. We need to protect 50% of the earth for nature.

[Slide 26] Net zero emissions by 2050 – if emissions from all sectors can be reduced to zero by 2050 then global warming will stay below the Paris target of 2 degrees.

The changes ahead are as big the industrial revolution, but they need to happen at the speed of the digital revolution.

We need people like you who understand these changes, who campaign and are passionate for more rapid change, who have compassion for the refugee and want to care for creation.

It is time for each of us, and our churches, to take action.

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