Is there any point in eco-church?

2 Chronicles 7:12-14
Romans 8:18-25

I wonder what you put in your dustbins? Recently Waverley Council employed a couple of people to come around and put stickers on the grey bins reminding us not to put food waste in them, leaving us a few disposable bags. Clearly not enough people have been using their food waste caddies!

Yet, I remember when we came to Farnham in 2005, there was outcry about the introduction of recycling. I remember several church members saying to me, with all seriousness, that because they’d paid their council tax they would put just whatever they liked in their bin. So, how amazing that we managed to achieve an eco-congregation award!

In 2012, we were awarded the eco-congregation award, which lasted for three years. As many of you know, we began to apply for another one in 2015, but the criteria have been changed, and it will be impossible for us to get another until after we’ve done the work on the building associated with the Pilgrim Project.

You might be forgiven for thinking that we’ve done it, and all that we can do now is wait until we have a largely new building, and then fill in the form again, and hope that we can get another award. You won’t be surprised to say that I think that’s not the answer. That reading form 2 Chronicles, not something we read often in church, reminded us that we damage God’s earth at our peril, but that there are still ways that God can heal.

There’s much that we have done. All those years ago low energy bulbs were still a novelty, and now they’ve gone and been replaced by LEDs. Hybrid and even electric cars have become realistic, and every year that goes by they become more mainstream, although we need to remember where the electricity’s coming from. Solar panels and wind turbines are routine considerations on properties now. Recycling is a fact of life. Some of these things have been forced upon us, but they are all becoming normal. The sketch we heard, of course, reminded us that sometimes we do some very peculiar things, and there’s always more that we can do.

What worries me is that the actions that we have taken have to help protect the environment become too normal. It’s very easy to think that we have done our bit, and can now have a clear conscience. Back in the sixteenth century, the Protestant Reformer Martin Luther wrote and spoke against the idea that people could earn God’s love, earn their way into heaven, by what they did, when what actually mattered was nothing but faith in God. The church at the time had a whole system whereby people could do certain things, such as purchase indulgences, make pilgrimages, venerate holy relics, and so on, to buy their place in heaven.

When thinking environmentally, this line of thought becomes, “If I just do my part, and everyone else does their part, we can save the planet.” The reality scientists tell us is that there are systemic forces in place that go beyond what individuals can achieve. We need to turn our attention to a whole new level.

In the early stages of the movement to abolish slavery in the United States, one or two white owners granting freedom to their slaves, while admirable, was not sufficient for liberating an entire race of people. What was needed was a national movement that captured the moral imagination of large groups of people. When organized, those groups insisted that the laws of the land be changed, and they were willing to accept the consequences of transitioning an entire economy away from slave labour.

The same sort of thing needs to happen today. This time we need a global movement to activate the moral imagination of people who demand that laws be changed and our economy transition away from fossil fuels. This is not to say that we shouldn’t reduce, reuse, recycle, and repurpose, we must keep doing these things, but we can’t let this fool us into thinking everything is going to be okay. The catastrophic effects of climate change require much more than changing light bulbs. This, I suggest, is one aspect of creation groaning, that Paul talked about in our reading from his letter to the Romans.

At the very least, we need to hold our government to the highest standards of science and research, and urge them to hold other governments to the same standards. This is surely an all-hands-on-deck moment in the history of the church, and in the history of the human species. The time is overdue for a concerted, organised effort to reduce carbon emissions. We need to help the poorest communities in their efforts to transition away from fossil fuels. We need to ramp up research and development for clean-energy technologies.

The crisis for our planet may seem insurmountable. But as Christians, we need to remember that we are in it for the long game. Legend has it that when Martin Luther was asked what he would do if the world ends tomorrow, he responded, “I would plant an apple tree today!”

So, plant a tree. Change your light bulbs to LEDs. Put solar panels on your roof. Wait for a new eco-church award in our new building. But make sure that we are also pushing for the bigger goal of a massive reduction in CO2 emissions, and a complete transition away from a fossil fuel economy.

Through us, may God come and heal our land. May there be light in our darkened, soulless cities; may there be green in our wasted, industrial sites; may there be letting go of our wrangled, unhealed memories; may there be gardens in the ghettos of our church’s story; may there be loving for the soil from which we came; May there be a neighbour in us for the nations of the world; through you and through me, may God come and heal our land. May it be so.

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