This blog post has been adapted from a sermon originally delivered at All Souls Church, Sutton Green on Sunday 20th October as part of our sermon series theme of ‘Caring for the World’.
What image comes to mind when I say the words, climate change?
What impact does climate change have upon your daily life? Did it affect you going to church on Sunday? Will it affect your plans for this week?
Personally, I would say that climate change has had very little impact on my life. I may have noticed some changes in our weather patterns: If you can remember the ‘Beast from the East’ two years ago when it snowed in March; that was actually the weekend that Robin and I got married. Snow in March was not something that we had planned for, and it did mean that some people couldn’t get to us, but on the whole, this was inconvenient more than anything.
Other than inconvenience, climate change is largely something we see from a distance. We hear of more and more natural disasters on the news, maybe see pictures of melting ice caps, but it’s not something that interferes with our everyday lives. It doesn’t stop me from doing my job, from seeing my family, it doesn’t affect where I choose to live or what food I can eat.
But this is not the case for everyone. Imagine you’re a farmer in Africa for example. Rising temperatures and declining rainfall are causing draughts, your crops aren’t growing, you’re losing income, and you’re losing food. You’re living in a country where you are without food because your year’s supply has been depleted, but because of shifting seasons and unpredictable weather patterns, your next harvest isn’t ready yet.
Then, as food becomes more difficult to produce, prices increase and those living in poverty find it harder and harder to access food. As food becomes more difficult to produce, people begin to compete for the remaining arable land, increasing tensions and often escalating into conflicts.
Maybe the situation has got to the point where you can no longer stay in your home. Maybe a natural disaster has struck, maybe you can no longer earn a living, maybe sea levels are rising and you must move inland, many you are fleeing conflict to a place of safety.
Climate change is also linked to a number of serious health conditions, with research suggesting that between 2030 – 2050 it could cause around 250,000 deaths each year, through illnesses such as malnutrition, malaria, diarrhoea, heat stroke, heart and lung disease, and bacterial infections.
Whilst we can continue living our lives scarcely touched by climate change, there are people around the world for whom climate change is threatening their income, their health, their safety and their lives. Is this fair? Is this just?
The Bible tells us that our God, is a God of justice.
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore, he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him.”Isaiah 30:18
“He is the rock, his works are perfect, and all his ways are just. A faithful God who does no wrong, upright and just is he.”Deuteronomy 32:4
“He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.”Psalm 146:7-8
Each of us is made in the image of God, inheriting his love for justice ourselves. When we see something unjust, we want to see justice. When someone has done something wrong, we want to see a fair punishment. This is called retributive justice.
But in the case of climate change, this isn’t so simple. There isn’t just one thing that one person has done to create this unbalance between people, this injustice.
To tackle the injustice demonstrated and caused by climate change, we must move into the realm of restorative justice – going out of our way to help the vulnerable, to challenge current norms that push other people down, and to prevent further injustice from happening.
Even though we can’t always see the impact of climate change with our own eyes, this is why we choose to change our own lifestyles in the ways that we hear about so often: recycling, taking public transport, using re-usable bags, growing your own food. We do these things, not just for our own benefit, but because we are stewarding this planet to protect those who will be most affected by the consequences of climate change.
We are called to steward this planet, not just for ourselves but also for those in need; and we see a great example of this in the book of Ruth. Here we meet Naomi, and her daughter-in-law, Ruth. Both are widows, and Ruth is from the Land of Moab, an ancient enemy of Israel. She is an outcast in this community: a foreigner, and without a husband.
Yet, when she goes out to gather food for Naomi and herself, she meets Boaz, an Israelite farmer. When Boaz hears Ruth’s story, he offers her food and drink, and allows her to gather grain from his land. He has cared for this land, worked upon it, stewarded it; yet he does not do it all for his own benefit but also for the benefit of the outcast, the downtrodden, those without hope, just like Ruth.
And we too are called to seek justice for the downtrodden.
“Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, for the rights of all who are destitute. Speak up and judge fairly; defend the rights of the poor and needy.”Proverbs 31:8-9
“This is what the Lord says: do what is just and right. Rescue from the hand of the oppressor the one who has been robbed. Do no wrong or violence to the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place.”Jeremiah 22:3
Stewarding the planet is just one way that we can seek justice; but it is an important one because of the immense consequences that we discussed earlier. And this injustice will only increase as the planet continues to deteriorate, as we see more natural disasters, more flooding, more draughts, as more land is lost and fewer farmers are able to continue producing crops, as more communities are displaced, as more people have to go without food. We are called to stop, to reverse, and to prevent this injustice.
In James, chapter 2, it says:
“Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead”.James 2:15-17
So, it’s not enough for us to simply want justice, if we then do nothing to help justice to occur.
It’s not enough for us to feel annoyed about all the plastics in the sea and the impact this has upon sea creatures, if we then continue to use plastic bags and plastic straws.
It’s not enough for us to think that the world should use planes less because of their environmental impact, if we then continue to order clothes or toys or other products from overseas that have to be transported here, by plane.
It’s not enough for us to say that we want to limit our contribution to climate change in order to support those who are most affected, if we then make no effort to find out how we can do this.
Our faith should move us into action. When we see injustice, and damage done to God’s creation, we should want to do more, we should want to take action to make a change.
So, are we going to see this injustice caused by climate change, recognise the dignity and value of every person made in the image of God, and let our faith move us into action? Are we going to start growing our own food? Are we going to cycle to church rather than drive if we can? Are we going to buy a bag for life and remember to take it every time we go shopping? Are we going to commit to praying for those affected by climate change? Are we going to save what can’t be put in our recycling bins, and take them to the local recycling centre? What actions are you going to take to steward this planet and seek justice?
Dear God, thank you for this planet that you have created. Thank you for its beauty and for its resources that we are able to use for food, for medicines and for fuel. Help us to steward this planet well, to find ways that we can reduce our impact upon climate change in order to reduce the injustice that it causes. Be with all those who are affected by climate change on a daily basis, we pray that you will protect them, provide them with the food and income that they need, and bring them hope for the future. Amen.