- The Revd Camellia Flanagan
Climate Change Sunday
Fourth Sunday in Creation: Climate Change Genesis 6:11–14; 7:11–8:4; 9:8–15 Psalm 24:1–6, Mark 16:1–8
+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
When I was a child, I was fascinated with the story of Noah and his great big boat that could hold all the animals and birds and reptiles. And that they did not kill and eat each other as they do in the wild. I was also, and still am to a degree, delighted by the vista of a rainbow in the sky – a symbol of the promise of God.
We have no idea when the flood stories originated but it would have been well before writing systems developed 3400 years before the birth of Christ. However, with the hindsight of geological and archaeological research, there is no evidence of a worldwide flood described in Genesis chapters 6-9 so we can say it is not historical, but mythical and probably a combination of at least two flood stories. These stories would have been found in the early oral history of the Israelites and there are similar flood stories in the oral History of the Peoples of Mesopotamia. The Contact between the Assyrians and the Israelites was known in the time of the prophet Isaiah, from the conquest of Israel and its then capital Samaria in 721 BCE by the Assyrian King Shalmaneser V (727-722 BCE) and from the attempted conquest of Jerusalem by the Assyrian King Sennacherib (704-681 BCE) Over time the ancient adopted flood stories were apparently changed to conform to faith in one God, to conform to the theology of Israel, but retained the essence of the stories. For example, the destruction of all living things by a massive flood and the salvation of a few people and animals by the construction of a boat to enable them to begin life again.
In both of the Genesis stories even though there are discrepancies such as about how many animals were saved, Noah, Shem, Ham, Japheth, their unnamed wives and an ark full of creatures are rescued by God from the flood which destroyed life in the known world. Even though humankind had apparently been so evil, a remnant is saved. In the various cultural legends, the supreme deity is sorry for the destruction and promises not to do so again. We are told that God made a covenant with Noah and his family that never again would the world be destroyed by flood.
It is interesting to note that Isaiah, the prophet writing during the period of conquest by the Assyrians, sheds light on what happened at the flood (Isaiah 54:7-9.) He does not try to explain the cause or reasons for the flood, but we learn about what God was doing during the flood. Many people believe that God was the one who sent the flood, but Isaiah suggests otherwise. Israel is feeling abandoned by God, described as a childless woman feeling abandoned, and disgraced because of her childlessness. But God tells them to sing for joy, forget the shame and look ahead. (Isaiah 54: 4) God for a moment was totally exasperated with his people, but God promised that with great mercy and everlasting kindness, He will gather them, protect them, provide for them, love them and take care of them. (Isaiah 54:7-8, 11-15) God’s wrath is the consequences of earthlings using God’s good gifts in a wrong way. God gave us the ability to love and make free choices, but when we abuse our freedom and make bad choices, we experience the natural consequences of these decisions and Isaiah 54 shows us that behind the terrible destruction of the flood there is the redemptive power of God’s love, grace and mercy.
God seeks to rescue people from the storms of life and the consequences of lifestyle and the selfish use of creation. Even though mountains and hills disappear, God will not abandon his people and His covenant of peace will never be removed (Isaiah 54:10) Isaiah reminds us (64:8) that the Lord is our Father; there is a brilliant future if we are malleable as we are the clay. God is the potter; we are all the work of His creative hands. You will see this in the painting by the Reverend Sophie Watkins showing the living clay, and the work of creation in the firm hands of the potter.
Noah in Genesis teaches us that God speaks to earthlings, and sometimes even inspires people with specific information. Noah got clear instructions as to how to build the ark and he was obedient, even though everything around him was chaotic. This reminds us that even though our own lives may be falling apart God is near and with us. We are reminded that God never forgets us. In the story of Noah’s ark, it is impossible to ignore that God keeps his promises. Even though the flood was severe, and Noah was shut up in the ark, “God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark”. Again, God did not abandon them. “And God made a wind blow over the earth and the waters subsided.” The water went down and left the ark aground on Mount Ararat, and Noah his family and the animals left the ark to begin living on the earth again.
What about us in our time? According to mythology, is it about time something came to destroy our world? Let us look at where we are. We have the devastating effects of climate change right in our faces with increasing unpredictable and violent weather. We have the evidence of mindboggling numbers of species that have been lost. Floods of immeasurable damage, droughts which threaten the lives of people and animals, the destruction of air quality, and rapacious use of land, minerals and underground water. In our use of creation there is little thought of care for it, or for setting up systems that will assist in the replenishment of what has been used. We are also coming to the realisation that pandemics such as COVID-19 may also be a warning for us to change our ways of living.
The story of Noah and the ark in Genesis Chapters 6 -9 reminds us that God keeps his promises and covenants, and all we need to do as humans is trust in the same way Noah did.
Can we also take seriously the fact that the earth was created to be cared for and loved? The earth is the Lord’s and the Lord seeks those with clean hands and pure hearts to share that creation.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a message of hope to all who will walk with the living God. The resurrection of Christ is also a message of love and redemption and that with Christ, the earth will, with all creation be redeemed. Like the women at the empty tomb, the prospect can fill us with terror and amazement, but calls us to action.
What is each one of us doing, or ceasing to do, to assist in the re-creation and restoration of creation and to halt the degradation of our environment? There are many people in the world who struggle to survive.
I invite you to seriously look around you with new eyes for ways to reduce your impact in the way you use resources available to you. I invite you to seriously look at your own use of energy, how you recycle or throw out what you do not want and how you can reduce your acquisition of what you do not need. Amen