For the summer doldrums, I’m calling in a pinch hitter, my friend Jim Mein, recently retired as Archdeacon of the Diocese of Edinburgh in Scotland. Here’s part of a sermon he preached last September.
For the last seven years I have been teaching students how to preach. A while ago I decided to preach a really bad sermon, for them to criticize.
They caught on to my monotone, looking down at notes and not at them, dropping my voice at the end of sentences and so on. But I wanted them to comment on the content—and with that they seemed amazingly happy.
I raved on about how God was providing all that we needed, the fruits of the Earth, the rain and sun, the trees and flowers, the food and drink—and so on.
Every night on our TV news, there were starving children. Floods in some places, drought in others. An earthquake leaving thousands homeless. Fish stocks declining; coral reefs disappearing. Pollution and plastic litter threatening the survival of many species. Global warming a clear threat.
I mentioned none of that. And not one student seemed to notice or care.
The environment has not been a big issue in Christian history. I suppose that in Biblical times creation was so big, so beyond any actions of puny humanity to affect it, that people simply prayed God would control it in their favour.
Things have changed. The most likely scenario for the rest of this century sees bio-diversity critically reduced. Many low-lying parts of the world flooded. Wars over food and water.
And what has theology—talk about God—got to do with the crisis in our oceans and the future of life on Earth? I think it has to do with what makes humanity what God intended it to be.
Who are the human beings I admire most? Dietrich Bonhoeffer facing death in a German prison; Nelson Mandela imprisoned on Robben Island; the paralympians we watch with amazement at Special Olympics; my friend Malcolm in those last painful weeks of his life.
These people have faced suffering or disaster to a degree I can’t imagine, yet retained their humanity, their interest, their generosity, their love for others.
So I’m not talking about practical responses to environmental threats (though I’m all for doing everything we can). Rather, I’m suggesting that Christian faith is not a comfort blanket, promising that God will protect us from disaster. Small children may think their father, or mother, can protect them from all bad things. But we are not infants, and I no longer believe in a God who treats us like infants, or who wants us to behave like infants.
So it is not the powerful, miracle-working Jesus who inspires me today. It is the man who continued to love, to act generously, to go without his own comfort, who calls us to walk bravely and with integrity even when the future looks bleak.
It’s not an image that most of us have felt called to follow in these past 60 years of continual growth.
But it’s one to which our young may well be called over the next 60 years.