Stewards of Creation

Sunday 15th September 2019
Holy Trinity, Hurstpierpoint
[passage=Genesis 1.26-31, 2.15/]
Matthew 25.31-45

We all know what stewards are: they are people who tell other people, nicely of course, what to do. There are stewards at sports events and concerts, there are stewards on aircraft and ships, there are stewards at the Jockey Club, all important people telling other menials and the public what to do; and in the Gospels we often read of a master calling his Steward, his general factotum, to do this or that, which usually means somebody lower down the hierarchy getting it in the neck.

That meaning of the word steward could not be further away from its meaning in the context of today's creation Reading: it is not for us to tell anybody else what to do about God's gift to us of the universe; it is for all of us to be stewards, to hold the earth's resources in trust on behalf of God for the benefit of all humanity.

And that does not just mean playing our full part in conservation measures, it also means ensuring that every human being - let me repeat that in case any of us have missed it - it means ensuring that every human being has the means to live a dignified, full and effective life as a child of God and one of our sisters or brothers in Christ.

Staving off climate change and achieving social justice for the least advantaged amount, in many parts of the world, to the same thing. No matter how we may be inconvenienced by global warming, its greatest effects will be on the poor, with islands submerged, deltas inundated, flat lands flooded, deserts expanded and crops threatened by drought and non-endemic pests.

What can we do as stewards? In the first place, we must totally reject the argument that says we cannot do anything until we can do everything. Every piece of plastic foregone, every package re-cycled, every item used for longer, every drop of detergent saved, every item of food eaten or given away and not wasted, makes a difference. That is our proper, individual, pragmatic and moral response to our situation but we must go further. Since the Paris Climate Accord came into force in November 2016, the UK Parliament has passed no significant environmental legislation but has confined itself to aspirational, non-binding targets. We have been so entangled by the snares of Brexit that we have turned our back on a world that is melting, flooding and burning; and we should bear in mind that many of the rich and powerful supporters of Brexit want to escape EU environmental legislation, and rules which protect the poor from the worst effects of cut-throat economic competition.

Now it has long been argued that people like me should say nothing about party politics because that is quite a separate set of issues from being a Christian. You can, goes the theory, be a good Christian and pick and choose your politics. Well, you can't. The idea that the poor benefit from 'trickle down' prosperity resulting from ever more income and economic freedom for the rich has been completely discredited: first of all, the Laffer Curve which says that the less rich people pay in taxes the more tax is collected, has been shown to be totally bogus; secondly, Thomas Picketty has shown that all the growth in the West since the economic crash of 2008 has gone to the top 1%. It doesn't matter what our gut feelings are, or what our family traditions are, or where our personal economic self-interest lies, it is our responsibility as Christians to study the facts, to be prayerful and to vote for whichever politicians will best look after the interests of the planet and the interests of the poor. When Jesus spoke of Good News for the poor he was not talking about some notional, heavenly banquet, he was talking about justice, there and then; and he was talking about the obligation of his followers not just to proclaim the Good News but to realise it. It is all too easy to fall into the trap of seeing Jesus wholly in the manner of John and Paul and forget the radical teaching of the Jesus of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Too often there is a false dichotomy between these two visions as if we have to choose between them when the answer is that we must both come to grips with the reality of Jesus our Saviour but also come to grips with his social Gospel. To think that we can attain the Kingdom through faith alone or through our own efforts are both equally bogus. The Reading from Matthew is as unequivocal as any statement by Paul and Christ's Redemptive role. The argument in Western Christianity about Justification through Faith, as opposed to the "Works of the Law" is sterile and introverted, it is a story of 500 wasted years of inter denominational power politics.

his is tough stuff but we have had it too easy for too long Since the Second World War we have managed to stay comfortable with ourselves because the poor have benefited from a small degree of state redistribution and, more significantly, from cheap credit; but the systematic dismantling of the social state on both sides of the Atlantic and the need to accept that if we are to save the planet we must first stabilise and then reduce the size of the global economy, both mean that the rich will have to moderate their scandalously high lifestyles; but the irony is that the ideology of unfettered capitalism has been based by Christians on our reading where man is given "dominion" over everything else which is taken to mean that the plundering of the planet to the detriment of many of its present occupants and most of its future occupants is justified on Biblical grounds.

But this also means that all of us, for we are the rich, will have to live on less: less meat, less fish, less petrol, less water, fewer clothes washed less often, fewer gadgets, fewer air miles and fewer imported garden plants; and, most difficult but important of all, we will have to live on less money if the poor are to have their rightful due from us as our sisters and brothers in Christ.