“I don’t need to go to church. It is easier for me to connect with God when out in the natural world”
How many times have you heard something like that from someone you know? I expect you have had similar experiences when you, too, have been on a beautiful beach, or on a walk in the Peak District or maybe even in our local cemetery in the Rivelin Valley.
The natural world is awesome! We can marvel at the size of mountains or trees, at the power of the waves crashing on to the shore at the coast, at the beauty of a bird, flower or insect. It can make us feel small compared to the vastness of the land. It can encourage us to respect the elements, realising that we don’t have control over the weather. We appreciate that the natural world is beautiful but can be dangerous! Our reaction to the natural world is “Wow!” It can lead us to feel God’s presence. It can lead us to worship God the creator!
Sometimes our response to experiencing the awesomeness of creation is to create something ourselves. So we might paint a picture or make something from wood, clay or cloth for instance. We might play music or sing a song. We might write a poem or tell a story. Creating something of our own is good. We get a sense of joy from it.
And through creating something ourself, we can find that it helps us to make sense of the world about us. It helps us to tell others about our experience too. So for generations the world over people have told stories, created paintings and sculptures and made music and drama. And so they have passed their experiences of the created world and human life on to each other.
Sometimes we build the stories into the fabric of our buildings. You can see this in old churches. When many churches were built, most people couldn’t read. So the buildings themselves told the story of the faith. Stained glass windows, carved stonework and wooden features all told bible stories or sometimes the lives of the saints. If you look up at the roof of the church, it’s like the inside of a boat – a reminder perhaps of the boat Jesus and his disciples were in when he calmed the storm. Or a reminder of the sea journeys made by Paul. Or a reminder that we are all on a voyage of faith together. The pillars represent the ordinary people of faith from the earliest Christians nearly 2000 years ago to us here today.
Some scholars think that the Jerusalem temple told a story too. It told the story we heard this evening, of the very beginnings of time, the well-known and well-loved story of the 6 days of creation. You may remember me mentioning it in passing a few weeks ago. Here’s how the scholars suggest the temple told the story:
At the front of the temple was the “Holy of Holies” – the area no-one except the high priest was allowed to enter. This contained the ark of the covenant. This was where God and the Holy Spirit symbolically resided. This represented Day 1 – or a time outside of time.
On the 2nd Day the story tells us that God separated heaven from earth. The veil separating the Holy of Holies from the rest of the temple represented this.
On the 3rd Day the story tells of God separating land and sea. Plants and trees covered the land. In the temple this was represented by the golden table for plant offerings – bread, wine and incense.
On the 4th Day the story tells that God filled the heavens with lights. This is represented by the 7-branched lamp – the sun, the moon and the 5 planets known at that time.
On the 5th Day (and half of the 6th) the story tells of how God then filled the seas and skies with fish and birds. He filled the land with animals. In the temple this was represented by the altar of sacrifice.
And then on the 6th day, human beings, both male and female, were created to tend the earth and to take care of the animals. And they were represented by the high priests.
The story itself reads a bit like a religious liturgy. Notice how certain phrases are repeated…And there was evening and there was morning…the first day. And God said: Let there be…. And God saw that it was good. You could imagine how as part of their worship, the people might move round the different areas of the temple, telling the story as they went.
So it seems that for ancient Israel, the temple “was” creation. Worship in the temple protected and preserved the creation. As long as worship was carried out in the right way, creation would be protected. Worship and creation go hand in hand. So we have those strange bits in some of the psalms where trees are clapping their hands, or mountains, hills and sea monsters are being encouraged to praise God. The psalm we read this evening was a bit like that.
If the worship went wrong and the people sinned, it would have a knock-on effect on creation. Much of the rest of the Bible focuses on this. We are reminded in Romans 8 that creation has been marred. God’s plans for the earth have not yet come to completion. Creation is still going through the pains of labour, but God’s promise of new life and new birth is there.
Christians have sometimes had the reputation of not caring that much for the environment. And this can mean that the people we try to share the Gospel message with don’t have much time for it. Things have thankfully changed a lot over the past years – each Christian denomination now has its own environmental policy. And today, this second Sunday before Lent, is now called “Creation Sunday”. We are actively being encouraged to celebrate God’s work in creation.
So it’s not only ok to care for creation, it is part of our response to the God who is good. You cannot worship God and neglect creation. And as we care for creation, so we spread the Good News about God’s love.
Male and female, we are all called to care for creation
Male and female, we are all called to worship the Creator and to encourage others to join in.
Catherine Burchell – Reader
Readings for the sermon and links: