Overview: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” (Ps 24:1) How to Save the World - in 12 minutes…
Is our Commitment to the World simply a matter of recycling bottles, saving the rain forests and bathing with a friend? Of international agitation with Amnesty, Oxfam or Save the Children? Is it nearer to home with Barnardos, Food Banks or Payday Lending? All are laudable.
From Genesis’s “Fill the earth and subdue it” to Revelation’s consumption of the earth in a ball of fire, Christians are called into a specific stewardship of God’s creation.
We talk about ‘creating a better world’: but what exactly do we mean? Clearly there are lots of different answers depending on who you ask. The UN Declaration of Human Rights was the immediate post-war vision of the world we’d like to create and the fundamental behaviours that might both bring it about and maintain it. The trouble is, of course, the more specific you become, the more room both for controversy and for avoidance. Once principals are reduced to rules you’ve literally lost the plot.
God didn’t create us to obey rules; God created us to absorb principles. And I’m going to suggest that there are probably only two principles to absorb in our commitment to the world.
But what exactly does all that mean and how does that usher in the New Heaven and New Earth as the former things pass away (Rev 21:1)? What does it mean to Save the World?
I googled “Save the world” – and learned that, depending on who you ask or what you read, the answer is either air, yoga, eating insects, mushrooms, or piano…
Not a lot of help there!
Then I came across an article by one Eric Lindberg who argues that the markedly different positions staked out by well-meaning, informed people on this issue stem from their different worldviews — the way they see our human culture operating and functioning, how they perceive the world really works.
That sounded a little more hopeful. So I read on…
What underlies those worldviews, he says, are our narratives, our stories of how we believe humans got here, and how humans think and act, individually and collectively, which is largely a combination of our own personal stories and the stories of others we’ve chosen to read and integrate with our own. What differentiates these diverse worldviews and narratives, Lindberg argues, is our perception of what humans are capable of doing, individually and collectively.
So as Christians our worldview, our narrative, is of a creator God, loving, merciful, personal but also explicit in placing expectations on us: to love in return and to take care of the creation stewarded to us. To be loved and to love, if you will.
Now there’s an interesting implication here: God is creator, yet we also have the gift of creativity – which sets us apart from other creatures. So these are my two Principles for Commitment to Changing the World: be creative and be created.
[Principle 1: Creative]
In our non-biblical reading, the writer Mike Riddell reminded us that in each soul there’s a divine spark of creativity, which has the potential to ignite and flame the whole of life. He argued that when allowed to burn unhindered this blazing force can produce life-changing work.
I love his image that we’re called to paint on the whole canvas of life with the soft brush of our individual talents. Life not so much a chore as an invitation to artistry.
This is the first Principle of our commitment to the world. To recognise that every one of us is capable of transforming the base materials of our life into gold once we give ourselves permission to do so. The Principle of Creativity.
We simply bring the materials that life (or God) has given us, the experiences and events, the base ingredients, and paint them onto the canvas of life, making us part of that divine creation. The amazing thing is that not only is nothing wasted but also that everything is needed in order to complete the picture. There is balance and completeness. So the pain that we feel in a bereavement can create in us healing empathy for a fellow sufferer. The painful silence of the jilted lover can be minted into the words of a poem or the letter that brings solace to another. Or a little money might be dedicated to enabling a new venture that also provides a source of employment.
So the image for the 1st Principle is of artist, the painter, the poet, the writer. It can be a slow process. Michelangelo didn’t carve David overnight; we may not be very clear about the ultimate outcome but we’re working with the divine inspiration to become more fully the person we’re called to be; to embrace that role which is uniquely ours and without which both we and the world are the poorer.
We are not passive participants in a drama over which we have no control. We are given the potential to not only shape our own lives but also to contribute in some small but crucially unique way to the entire canvas of the universe. To be a creator and an artist is to know that our life has dignity and significance. No wonder Riddell reminds us that we all harbour the spark of creativity in our hearts and part of the responsibility of being human is to tend the ember until it is fanned into flame. The 1st Principle: creativity.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes, in her remarkable book ‘Women who run with the wolves’, writes: “The creative life is this: having so much love for something, whether a person, a word, an image, an idea, the land or humanity, that all that can be done with the overflow is to create.”
This moves us on to my 2nd Principle: Created. We are created as the babbling brook of love, God for us, us for God.
Things that are created can of course be either a force for good or a force for evil. Babbling brooks can be the inspiration for pastoral poetry or raging torrents for destruction as the last few months have graphically shown us.
The interesting thing is that the babbling brook sustains plants and feeds those who come to the river, equips them and empowers them. It’s essential that the babbling brook be sustained so that others may depend on it and feed from it.
But the raging torrent is also needed. I’m thinking here about those places where the torrent clears out years of accumulated debris, allowing fresh growth and life to spring up. Both are an essential part of being in the stream of God’s love.
So, often it depends on the way we see and tell that narrative. That was Eric Lindberg’s point about our narrative, how we combine our own personal stories and the stories of others.
One of the opportunities of Lent is to pause, to take time, look around and consider our narrative, the things that have happened to us and the way we tell that in our narrative, both privately to ourselves and ore publically to others. Lent’s a time to draw breathe, separate ourselves out from the ‘normal’ melee and gaze with fresh eyes at the world around us, the whole of God’s creation.
The Genesis creation parable tells us that as the 6th day drew to a close, “God saw all that he had made and it was very good”. The Gardener admired the work.
Now I’m not a gardener, as Hilary will be able to tell you. I can’t tell you Latin names or optimum soil conditions. Mind you, I’m pretty good at pruning and hacking back and tying up.
So I’m very glad the Gospel parable reminds us we are all God's seeds. This is this is my image to illustrate the 2nd Principle of our commitment to the world: not as the gardener but as the SEED. We are both creative and created. And as God’s created beings, our role is simply - to grow well. When we do that not only do we flourish but we also provide nourishment and growth for others. The seed has no other requirement but to grow. But that growth also allows others to live and grow.
Now it’s probably worth pointing out here that seeds also have a life-cycle: a time for growth and flowering, then a time for dying back, pruning, resting, followed by a time for sprouting new growth and flourishing. Followed by yet another iteration of that cycle. So there are times in our lives when we may be in pruning or rest or growth or blossom: we’re created as cyclical rather than linear beings.
As seeds all that’s required of us is simply to rest in the soil of God’s love so that we grow and flourish. And as we do that we’ll also fulfil our part in God’s creation for nurturing the rest of God’s creation.
We grow through the time we spend Sunday by Sunday (and beyond) in worship. And there’s a sense in which we then feed on that in order to fulfill our creative role Monday to Saturday. That’s a little too simplistic. But there is a sense in which we’re fed in worship in order to feed others in service. One of the Mass Dismissals proclaims: ‘The Worship has ended; the Service begins…” Or, if you want to be provocative, ‘the service has ended, the worship begins…!
So in closing let me go back to my original premise. How do we save the world? We simply work in partnership with the Loving God to be the person God wants and needs us to be: created and creative. That’s our Commitment to Saving the World.
When the Worship ends - Let the service begin!