Circumstances and debates around the inclusivity of our churches’ understanding of God’s Grace came to a head last week and resulted in this Sermon.
As I added it to this blog I asked myself the question, ‘Are debates around sexuality and Eco Church connected?’ What follows is the beginning of an answer.
The expression of Eco Church that we find ourselves part of in the Haven Benefice is one that is rooted in evolutionary biology, scriptural attentiveness – especially with the Gospels, to the teachings and life of Jesus and cultural sensitivity. It is also deeply indebted to the Old Testament Wisdom teaching and the understanding that the God we visualize is, ‘God in all things’. We began our journey together in the benefice with the book by Gerald Hughes, ‘God in All Things‘, and we were deeply moved by its inclusive and all-embracing description of God. We found in this a God that we loved and you can find a link to a review here.
This theology of Gods presence with, in and through creation is one that has deep historical root but also differs from some orthodox thinking of the church. Along side this inclusive thinking is the theology that would separate God from the created order. This was very neatly explained in our most recent book club book. ‘Walk Humbly’ by Samuel Wells. He described the world in classical Greek terms, the great favorite of theologians from Augustine onward, as Existence formed from Essence. The Essence we learnt is God and this is distinct, utterly separate, from Existence. There is not a bridge between the two for humans, or at least there wasn’t before Jesus and very neatly he describes Jesus as the singular and original combination of Essence and Existence. The influence of Augustine, and the primary adoption of Greek Philosophy into Christian thinking about God, has for some years been challenged and you could say that as far back as the Quakers who spoke of ‘ that of God in us’ there has been a parallel theology of Gods presence in creation. Although it may seem at first glance to be mere theological mind games the reality has been that the split between God and Existence is a major factor in the ecological crisis that Christianity is accused in some quarters of being in collusion with. Ideas of God ‘out there’ making a New earth, the primacy of the human species as above other life and even the mortifying of the flesh that this theology has under girded are clear. The separation of Body and Spirit, the removal of sexual pleasure from Christian understanding, the idea that mater is infused with corruption through original sin; all these things are rooted in this Greek/Augustinian thinking.
The new evolution of Christianity that engages with the environmental movement is changing us in many ways, it is helping us to read the bible afresh; to hear Wisdom as She calls in the market place, to read the Song of songs and walk in Garden with the God who is Creating.
This theology is essential to our project
As we journeyed on, motivated by our secular passion for a just ecological future, we found that the language of God’s abundant love for all of creation – ‘for God saw that it was good’ – added passion, hope and resilience to our activity. The old language of stewardship, of humans distinct and above nature, that had not sustained prolonged activity was replaced by connection, love and sacrament. Repentance, forgiveness, humility, sacrifice, love, joy and blessing give a subtle undertone of sacramental nourishment to our simplest activities.
So in our Eco Church we garden because we love the earth that God is creating, we wonder at the abundance that the Spirit of Life sustains, and understand that Jesus’ teachings connect us to the natural world and the beauty of growing things. We walk because we want to get to know our patch of earth and in our growing love for it, and for each other, we glimpse God. We refill our plastic bottle and reduce, reuse and recycle because we love our common creatures of the ocean and weep for the loss of their habitat. When we understand our place in creation we bow down in worship.
So what has this to do with debates about sexuality and blessing?
Well actually, everything.
Because of our scientific understanding of the nature of the evolved human we are content that there are many expressions both of gender and sexual preference as part of our human condition. We look to scientific method and 21st century research to inform our view of the world on this topic and the many issues that pertain to the environmental crisis.
Because of our vision of God as present in all things and alive in all life challenges us to welcome the stranger and embrace diversity and difference.
Because All means All!!