Are you going on holiday? What will you make sure you take with you? Camera … bathing costume … toys (how many …? Your school clothes … the television … the beds … the furniture? When going on holiday, you have to think quite carefully about what you need. You mustn’t leave behind anything that is really important, but if you take things you don’t really need it could spoil your holiday by giving you too much luggage to carry around.
What is the most important thing of all to take with you? Yourself! Including your eyes and ears and your mind.
In a way our whole life is a journey, but often we don’t stop to think about what we really need for it. Jesus taught us some things about this. He said that many people are struggling through life with too much luggage: too many possessions, too much money, too many worries, too much care for their own importance …
He told a story of a man who had a super-rich harvest. What did he do? What did God say to him?
We will be judged not by what we have, but by what we are.
Luke 12:13-34 (Good as New);
The Old Testament prophets are often labelled as ‘prophets of doom’. We Christians don’t like that kind of thing. We prefer the New Testament.
There are many ‘prophets of doom’ today – we often prefer not to listen to them too. They warn us that:
- The burning of coal, gas and oil is harming the atmosphere and causing global warming: this is leading to chaotic extreme weather conditions
- The polar ice is melting: this threatens not only to raise the sea level but also to expose the ground and release methane into the atmosphere and increase global warming even further; also, the ice reflects heat back, and with less ice more heat will be trapped in the atmosphere
- Forests are being cut down, reducing the amount of oxygen being released into the atmosphere
- The soil is being exhausted by artificial fertilisers and intensive farming
- species of wildlife are threatened: some, like bees, are essential to our food supply
- Plastics are filling our oceans, not only killing fish but getting into the food chain
Young people are campaigning for governments and big companies to do something about this. But some scientists are saying it is already too late. In the next few decades – i.e. in the lifetime of many people living today – the human population will be drastically reduced by extreme weather events, disease and starvation. Those who are still left will have a much more austere lifestyle forced upon them.
So it’s not just the Old Testament that’s giving us prophecies of doom. The people of Bible days did not know about global warming, and their industrial activity was nowhere near being a threat to the global environment. But they could see that wrongdoing – greed, injustice, aggression – would inevitably have bad consequences.
Note Isaiah 24:1-13:
- v 1: ‘The LORD is going to devastate the earth and leave it desolate’: ‘earth’ and ‘land’ are the same word in Hebrew. What does he mean?
- v 2: ‘Everyone will meet the same fate – the priests and the people, slaves and masters, buyers and sellers, lenders and borrowers …’: that puts our concerns about the economy in their place!
- v 5: ‘The people have defiled the earth by breaking God’s laws and by violating the covenant he made to last for ever’: does that have new meaning today?
- 10: ‘In the city everything is in chaos, and people lock themselves in their houses for safety’
Jeremiah (4:22-26) gives us an even more chilling vision. It is the undoing of creation:
‘I looked at the earth – it was a barren waste; at the sky – there was no light. I looked at the mountains – they were shaking, and the hills were rocking to and fro. I saw that there were no people; even the birds had flown away. The fertile land had become a desert; its cities were in ruins because of the LORD’s fierce anger…’
We may have some doubt about those last few words. The prophets saw environmental disaster as God’s judgement on injustice and idolatry – we today are bringing it on ourselves. To them, when the land was devastated by war it was the end of the world. Today we could be facing the literal end of the world. Their poetic imagination is our frightening reality.
But their warnings were not of total destruction, nor were they predictions of the inevitable. They were a wake-up call. God wanted the people to live, not die, and promised great things if they heeded the warning. In that same book of Isaiah we find: ‘The desert will rejoice, and flowers will bloom in the wilderness … The blind will be able to see, and the deaf will hear. The lame will leap and dance, and those who cannot speak will shout for joy.’ (Isa 35)
The same is true today. John F Kennedy said over 50 years ago:‘We have the power to make this the best generation of mankind in the history of the world or to make it the last’.
But who are ‘we’? Humanity has the power, but what can you or I do? More than we think. We may think we can’t change our whole way of life – though that may come whether we like it or not – but we must not let that discourage us from doing the little things, e.g.: economising with electricity, water, fuel etc., recycling, avoiding plastic bags, choosing unwrapped goods, thinking twice before using the car, eating less meat, being content with local and seasonal food, planting bee-friendly things in the garden – basically, being aware. We may feel the bit we can do is insignificant, but it can have influence on others.
But beyond all this, the challenge to us as Christians is to live out our faith more seriously. As believers, we are called to honour God’s creation.
‘God saw all that he had made, and it was very good’ (Genesis 1:31). ‘The Lord GOD took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Genesis 2:15)
There are questions and arguments about how much climate change is really the result of human activity, though in fact there is no real room for doubt. If 100 surveyors examined a bridge, 95 said us in danger of collapse and 5 said it was quite safe, would you drive your car over it? But that is not the real point. The point is that as children of God we should honour and cherish God’s wonderful creation. Gardeners don’t think about how much rubbish they can dump on the garden and still get away with it: they think of all the ways they can make it healthier and more beautiful.
The chief thing holding humanity back from doing anything about the threat to the environment is the relentless rush for profit. I came across this quote recently on Facebook:
‘The world is increasingly designed to depress us. Happiness isn’t very good for the economy. If we were happy with what we had, why would we need more? How do you sell an anti aging moisturizer? You make someone worry about ageing. How do you get people to vote for a political party? You make them worry about immigration. How do you get them to buy insurance? By making them worry about everything. How do you get them to have plastic surgery? By highlighting their physical flaws. How do you get them to watch a TV show? By making them worry about missing out. How do you get them to buy a new smartphone? By making them feel like they are being left behind. To be calm becomes a kind of revolutionary act. To be happy with your own non upgraded existence, to be comfortable with our messy human selves, would not be good for business.’
Here we are challenged to take the teaching of Jesus seriously: ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth … Store up for yourselves treasures in heaven …’
We argue sometimes about how Christians should view other religions. There is only one religion Jesus specifically condemned. He said, ‘You cannot serve God and Money’.
More than ever today, we are challenged to take his teaching seriously and become much less materialistic.
The teaching of Jesus is relevant in another important way too. The prospect we face is is not only of a poorer world, but of a much more turbulent world too. As parts of the world become less habitable, there will be a huge increase in migration, with all the resulting conflict. We are seeing this already, but it will get worse. It will test our tolerance – vast numbers of refugees, more and more social tension. Worse still, as resources become scarcer, society may become more violent – we may be fighting over food and water, robbing and killing each other. Rich people are already trying to defend themselves against the rest of the world with their gated communities and so on. We are all becoming separate people cutting ourselves off from the world behind our locked doors and in our locked countries that try more and more to keep everybody else out. In the end, will it be only the rich and the powerful who survive? What a world!
But Jesus said: ‘Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth’, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers; for they shall be called the children of God’. The future may see us Christians challenged as never before to be radical followers of Jesus: to love our enemies, to turn the other cheek, to give to those who ask of us, to overcome evil with good, to live the life of the Kingdom. This is not an easy way. It is real Christianity, the way of the cross. But our faith tells us it is God’s way, the way of victory.
We need to avoid both pessimism and optimism. Pessimism says: ‘We’re all doomed, so what’s the point?’ Optimism says: ‘It will sort itself out and be alright in the end, so why worry?’ The Christian attitude is hope: it looks reality in the face, is ready to make sacrifices, and believes that with God all things are possible.