We've had a few guest speakers recently, while our minister has been away, and they have kindly provided us with some of their notes. These are from the sermon preached by Philip Webb on 2 June.
We believe in life before death - the challenging subtitle of many a Christian Aid Campaign.
One of the great central pillars of the Christian Faith is that we believe in life after death, but saying that is not enough. It is not good enough to speak from our own position of comfort and tell a mother who has watched her infant starve to death that they will meet again in heaven. It is not good enough for residents of this soggy land to tell those who have seen their crops fail yet again that one day they will share in the Bridal Feast of the Lamb in heaven. It is not good enough for those of us who live in a land of relative peace and justice to tell the bruised and battered victims of ethnic violence that in the next life the wicked will get their come-uppance and the righteous will be justified.
All these things are true; they are articles of our faith, but what about now? What are we doing to this earth while we continue our march towards heaven?
When Jesus walked the earth, he looked ahead to that future time of peace and perfection known as the Kingdom of God, when all suffering and imperfection will come to an end. But he also announced that, because of him, that Kingdom was already under way. The prophet Isaiah looked forward to a time when there would be freedom for prisoners, release for the oppressed and recovery of sight for the blind. And in his very first sermon, Jesus told the people in the Capernaum synagogue, “you don’t have to wait to the end of time - Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” (Luke 4, 21) No wonder his cousin, John the Baptist, had been proclaiming, “The Kingdom of God is upon you!”
But what are we doing to enable this to happen, to bring about a new heaven and a new earth?
When Jesus healed sick people and brought good news to the poor it was a sign that the Kingdom had come. Yes, heaven will be better by far, but the Kingdom of God starts here in a new earth that is renewed, not in one that has been vandalised and destroyed, laid waste by our selfishness and greed. Jesus commanded his followers to spread good news by loving the poor and disadvantaged in the way that he did. He wanted people to see Christians practically demonstrating love, so that they would clearly be recognised as men and women who belong to God (John 13:35).
When Christians take loving action on behalf of the world’s poorest communities, they not only put into practice the values of the Kingdom of God here and now, they are also beacons of what the Kingdom will be like when it is made perfect in eternity.
When we act to tend and protect our environment rather than rape it for our own selfish purposes, we are showing practical love, as Jesus commanded us, to the poorest and weakest, the most disadvantaged, who will otherwise pay the heaviest price if our environment collapses. When we are told to pray, “Thy Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven,” this is not a secular manifesto – it is at the very heart of our Lord’s own prayer!
As people are increasingly aware, our way of life – our whole planet – is currently under threat – not just from plastic, but from man-made Global warming. A global rise of 4°C by 2100 is a real possibility. The effects of such a rise will be extreme and require a drastic shift in the way we live or it will be the poorest who pay the highest price.
4° doesn’t sound much – we get that sort of variation almost every day here and it means the afternoons are rather nice. We hope for at least that much more when we go on holiday! However, an average heating of the entire globe by 4°C would render the planet unrecognisable from anything humanity has ever experienced.
Drowned cities; stagnant seas; intolerable heatwaves; entire nations finding their homeland uninhabitable… and more than 11 billion humans trying to survive. A four-degree-warmer world is not be a pleasant summer – it is the stuff of nightmares and yet that’s where we’re heading in just decades.
While governments mull various carbon-targets aimed at keeping human-induced global heating within safe levels – including new ambitions to reach net-zero emissions by 2050 – it’s worth asking what happens if we fail. You see, that rise is only a global average. It means people could be experiencing as much as 10°C of heating over land and in our cities, and when Jesus promised a new heaven and a new earth, I don’t think that’s what he meant.
My grandchildren may live to see this. What will I have bequeathed them? We are shaping their world and it will be a very different place unless we start loving others in their need more than we love ourselves in the comforts we have taken for granted.
Maybe next time I’ll bring some practical ideas about what we can do to make a difference, but for now let me just remind you of the times that Jesus told parables about a landowner coming to see how people had got on in his absence, how they had dealt with the land and resources he’d entrusted to them. Some had done little – others had even abused their privilege. But others heard him say, “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.” I know what I long to hear when that new day dawns – don’t you, too?