Pleased to share here a fine sermon by a colleague from the Diocese of Toronto. thanks Elin for some very fine thoughts and illustrations.
Good morning! My name is Elin Goulden, and I am the Social Justice & Advocacy consultant for the Anglican Diocese of Toronto. In this role, I consult with and advise our bishops on social and ecological justice issues. I also help Anglicans throughout our Diocese to live out our baptismal calls: to seek and serve Christ in all persons, to strive for justice and peace and respect the dignity of every human being, and to safeguard God’s creation, helping to sustain and renew the life of the earth.
I’m very excited to be with you here this morning at St. Bride’s. I know this is the beginning of a month-long focus on creation care, and creation care is one of my favourite topics to preach about, especially during Eastertide. Because Easter is all about God’s redemption, not only of humanity, but of the whole creation. This is a thread that runs through the Bible, but especially through the Gospel of John. I will be looking at several passages today, but let’s start with today’s Gospel.
Slide 1: Jesus and Thomas
“The Incredulity of St. Thomas,” by Guercino
In our Gospel reading today, we meet Thomas, who alone among the remaining disciples has missed seeing Jesus on Easter Sunday. Thomas demands to see Jesus in the flesh, to put his fingers in Jesus’ hands and side. He’s not going to be content with a ghostly apparition.
We often tend to focus on how Jesus rebukes Thomas’ doubt, saying, “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet believed.” But in doing so, we often forget that Jesus does accommodate Thomas’ desire to verify his bodily resurrection. Jesus is resurrected in the flesh, and he is happy to prove it. Granted, his risen body has capabilities beyond what our finite bodies are able to accomplish – he can, somehow, pass through a locked door. But he is not a wraith or a projection – he is a real body, bearing real scars.
Slide 2: The Word became Flesh
This hearkens back to the opening chapter of John’s Gospel. The Word is not just made “man”, or “human being”, but flesh – the same word that is used of every living creature. The one “by whom all things came into being” becomes identified with all of creaturely life. Just as the first Adam is made from the dust of the Earth, so Christ, the Son of Man, the Second Adam, is incarnated into creaturely existence.
A recent article in the Christian Century, by Mennonite pastor Melissa Florer-Bixler, reminds us that Jesus, like all human beings, consists not only of flesh and blood but of all the myriads of bacteria and other microbes that live within the human body, helping us digest our food and protecting us from infection. “From birth, Jesus is bound up in creaturely mutualism. He cannot exist without other creatures.” The accounts of Jesus eating after his resurrection, in both Luke and John, suggest that even the microbes of his digestive tract participate in his risen life. Jesus’ risen body is thus a microcosm of the redemption that is promised to all flesh.
Slide 3: God so loved the world
John 3:16 is perhaps the most famous verse in the Bible. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son….” Again, we are so used to it that we often skate over God’s love for the world, or “cosmos” in Greek. “Everything that has come into being”, everything that God has created, is encompassed in that world that God loves and redeems. This is echoed again in the first chapter of Colossians, where Christ is described as the one “in [whom] all things in heaven and on earth were created”, in whom “all things hold together, and through whom “all things are reconciled to God.” The salvation that flows from Jesus’ incarnation, death and resurrection is not limited to the human race – it encompasses all of God’s creation.
Slide 4: The Lord God took the human bring and put him in the garden to till it and keep it.
I mentioned that one of our baptismal calls is to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. This was added to the baptismal rite of the Book of Alternative Service at the Anglican Church of Canada’s General Synod in 2013, and echoes the 5th Mark of Mission, which was made one of the Marks of Mission of the Global Anglican Communion in 1990. Yet as recent as these developments are, the call to care for creation is one of the first commandments God gives to humankind. In the first chapter of Genesis, it is framed as having dominion over the earth – a dominion we have persisted in misinterpreting as exploitation, rather than the kind of dominion we are meant to exercise as creatures made in the image of God. But in the second chapter of Genesis, the command is much clearer: humanity is to “till and keep” the garden. The Hebrew verbs here are “abad” and “shamar” – which, as Biblical scholar Ellen F. Davis points out, would be best translated “to work it and serve it, to observe and preserve it”. This commandment, like those to love God and to love our neighbours as ourselves, we have, on the whole, spectacularly failed to do. As Genesis 3 points out, all three of these fundamental relationships are damaged in the fall: the relationship between humanity and God, humans with each other, and humans with the rest of God’s creation.
Slide 6: Forest Fire/ Creation groans:
Our failure to care for creation has had massive impacts:
- We have destroyed the variety and richness of God’s creation: there has been a nearly 70% decline in world wildlife populations since 1970.
- Millions of tons of plastic waste finds its way into the waters of the world every year, causing negative impact not only on sea life, but as it breaks down it even enters the human bloodstream.
- Human-led greenhouse gas emissions since the late 1800’s have warmed the earth over 1.1 degree Celsius. This degree of climate change having adverse impacts on human beings and natural ecosystems in every part of the globe – from wildfires and droughts to spread of pests and diseases, stronger and more violent storms, flooding and sea level rise.
- At our current trajectory, we will not be able to hold global warming to the desired limit of 1.5 or even 2 degrees Celsius – we need rapid, deep and sustained cuts to greenhouse gas emissions if Earth is to remain habitable.
Creation is indeed groaning under the weight of human sin: our self-centeredness, exploitation, greed, and over-consumption.
Slide 5: Garden Tomb: Mary mistakes Jesus for the gardener.
The Garden Tomb, Jerusalem: Photo by Philip Benshmuel, 2008
But there is a Redeemer – Jesus, God’s own Son. In the Easter Reading from John’s gospel, Mary Magdalene first sees Jesus without recognizing him. She thinks he is the gardener. But in a very real sense, he is. Jesus is the second Adam, the Son of Man who perfectly fulfills God’s commands. The first Adam was meant to be a gardener: Jesus, the second Adam, is indeed the one who serves and preserves, and restores, the “very goodness” of creation.
Slide 7: Sunrise: Creation waits in eager expectation
In the Epistle to the Romans, the apostle Paul writes that “the Creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed.” Creation is waiting for us to be what God created and called us to be. We who have been redeemed in Jesus are set free to fulfill God’s will for us, to turn away from our sinful ways and follow God’s commands.
Slide 8: Hands with sprout:
Dave Bookless, director of theology for the Christian conservation organization A Rocha International, puts it this way: “Because of Christ’s saving work on the cross, restoring all the relationships broken in Eden – with God, each other, and creation – we can now envision the possibility of a transformed relationship between humanity and nature.”
In place of our hubris we can approach creation with humility, being willing to watch and learn from nature what it needs and how we can best steward it. We can learn ways to foster biodiversity by planting native trees and pollinator-friendly gardens that give food and habitat to wild creatures. We can help get involved in community litter clean-ups and efforts to combat invasive species while protecting those at risk. In place of our greed and over-consumption, we can learn to live more simply, in ways that reduce waste and pollution and cut our greenhouse gas emissions.
Instead of treating land as an infinite resource, we can stand up when valuable farmland, wetlands and wildlife habitat are threatened by urban sprawl. We can make our views known to our elected officials. There are many ways in which we can participate even now in transforming our relationship with the rest of God’s creation. There is a wealth of information out there on things you can do, and many local organizations which would be delighted to have you join them. And caring for the earth out of faithfulness to God the Creator is a compelling form of public witness.
Slide 9: You will show me the paths of life
In John 10, Jesus declares that he has come that all may have life, and have it to the full. The Psalm appointed for today, Psalm 16, tells us that God shows us the paths that lead to that abundant life, not only for us as human beings but for all God’s creation. The challenges before us may seem daunting: but we can trust God to guide us and help us along the way, and bring us joy as we go.
As we will sing in a few moments,
Now let the heavens be joyful; let Earth her song begin!
The round world keep high triumph, and all that is therein!
Let all things seen and unseen their notes in gladness blend,
For Christ our Lord is risen, our joy that hath no end. 
Images from https://pixabay.com/
 Davis, Ellen F. Scripture, Culture and Agriculture: An Agrarian Reading of the Bible. (New York: Cambridge, 2009) p. 30.
 From a sermon (?) posted April 9, 2023 at https://www.facebook.com/GreenAnglicans
 “The Day of Resurrection”, text by St. John of Damascus
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