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2018 SERMON FOR SUNDAY 2nd of December 2018

Four things happened last week that were virtually unprecedented, at least in recent times. Only one of them could conceivably been seen as a sign of hope:

1. In Northern Queensland, some areas were five degrees hotter than anything formerly recorded, and the bushfires were classified "catastrophic” for the very first time. They are still burning.

2. In Sydney, there was a so-called "one in a hundred year” rain event.

3. On the same day that Gracemere had to be evacuated, the Adani group announced the start of their mega coalmine in Queensland’s Galilee Basin.

4. Around the country, tens of thousands of school students took a day away from their studies to protest the Australian Government’s lack of action on climate change.

On this first Sunday of Advent, we are LIVING IN HOPE OF A RENEWED WORLD. This hope is foreshadowed in the prophecy of Jeremiah: "In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (33:15)

There are two kinds of hope, and one is the enemy of the other.

One is also called "Optimism’” Some people are naturally orientated to be optimists, and they bring important energy to situations where otherwise the eeyores would have everyone in a pit of depression with them.

Nevertheless, hope as optimism has severe limitations, especially in situations of life and death where to simply ‘hope for the best’ is a highly risky non-strategy. Take climate change for example. There are cc deniers, and there are cc activists. Somewhere in the middle there is a quite large group who are simply hoping that the scientific consensus of catastrophic warming does not come about. This ‘hope’ that flies in the face of fact can also be described as ‘optimistic’.

This optimisitic hope also relies on ‘someone doing something about it’. Just who that someone is, is difficult to pinpoint. Those with the most power to act, including politicians and media commentators are a long shot, especially considering that, whenever there is a cold snap, someone will pronounce that if we have cold weather then world cannot be warming. Even the most powerful man in the world does not understand the difference between weather and climate. Even our own PM, whose government does not even have a climate of energy policy, criticised the school students who went on strike out of concern for the planet. "We want less activism and more school learning” he said. They said "We have learned the science. Have you?”

Thankfully there is another kind of hope, one that we celebrate during Advent. When a prominent theologian pronounced that "optimism is the enemy of hope” he was referring to the biblical variety, which has faith in a God who is graciously inclined to God’s created world. This God is the God of abundance, not scarcity. This God inspires the world with spiritual energy, bringing hope of a transformed world. Jesus is central to this hope, so we welcome the biblical announcements of his ‘return’, whatever we take that to mean.

The risk in all of this, is that we simply replace blind optimism with passive anticipation that God is going to do it all for us. Along this line, some Christians like to quote God’s promise to Noah that never again would a flood engulf the earth. That seems to give some the reassurance that even while catastrophic sea level rise is a realisitic possibility for a world that continues to ignore the warning signs, it’s OK because God will not let it happen.

I am glad that our Uniting Church does not subscribe to such lazy optimism. We heard from our president, Dr Diedre Palmer, about a number of important resolutions arising from the recent Assembly meeting. One of the is entitled "For the whole creation”, and outlines a series of resolutions which together emphasise that the people of God are entitled to be hopeful about the future of the created world when we all work together for its healing and restoration.

This is a five page document, and it would be really good if a group of people in this congregation were to sit together and study it. For now, let me just try and summarise the key points:

1. God is calling us into a relationship of mutuality and interdependence with the rest of creation

2. Our church recognises the growing urgency for significant action, heeding the voices of those already being impacted by the adverse consequences of Climate Change.

3. Our church has a prophetic role to speak out about these things in the public sphere

4.Dominant forms of the Christian tradition have been complicit in the abuse of creation. We carry some of the blame.

5. Our church has significant resources in its core documents, which call us to forward-looking concern.

6. Aboriginal people have much wisdom to teach us about caring for the earth.

7. We affirm the importance of "informed faith”, where science and theology work together for solutions.

8. To keep global warming to 1.5 degrees celcius requires Australia to play its part with a much stronger emission reduction target than we currently have. Such actions include no new coal-mines or mine expansion, a meaningful threshold of oil and gas extraction, leading to a divestment from and removal of subsidies for fossil fuels, and removal of barriers to renewable energy.

9. All UC members, congregations, groups, agencies and councils are encouraged to take practical action.

Our church theologians are saying that climate change is a sign of the times. Jesus invites the crowds to "interpret the present time” (Luke 12:56) Again, today’s gospel reading delivers a warning to notice the portents that arise in the natural world. We must avoid the temptation to use biblical texts literally and out of context to bolster our arguments. (there is far too much of that going on around us anyway) Having said that, It is clear that Jesus, in Luke 21:25, invites us to seek at least symbolic inspiration from "the roaring of the sea and the waves.” Following this, the parable of the sprouting fig tree is a reminder to think clearly and logically about how some things reliably happen as a consequence of other things. (I hate to even mention this, but I saw recently a photo of a young dead whale, who had been found with dozens of plastic cups and a rubber thong in its digestive tract. Actions reliably have consequences, and even when we do not actually see these things with our own eyes, we are required to have intelligence to anticipate the obvious.)

So we can walk along the beachfront at Merewether, or look out to sea at Strezleki, and when we see dolphins or whales, feel comforted that at least here, these creatures are still relatively abundant. But if we are alert, we will also know that, by all reliable scientific analysis, these things to are at great risk. We can think in wonder about a rare migratory bird seen feeding on the shores of Lake Macquarie, but we would be foolish to take this as a sign of hope when migratory birds all over the world are endangered by loss of habitat and changing climate.

So the scriptures, the Assembly Resolution and tons of reliable information in the public domain challenge our ignorance and blind optimism about the future of God’s good creation. This leaves us with the other kind of hope. It is based on two things:

1. God is good, and God’s spirit never stops working for the renewal of all creation. Christ, the righteous branch of David, is our hope for a restored world.

2. When people of good will and a heart for the common good, determine to act in cooperation with God’s renewing spirit, whether they know it or not, they find in nature an enormous capacity for regeneration. Yes, there are losses and extinctions that will never be recovered, but the scriptures also echo God’s heart in the words ‘Behold I make all things new’.

Early in this address I expressed a negative view of the role of powerful leaders who deny, for their own benefit, the reality of climate change. They thwart progress and stall regenerative action. At the same time, even this can change. During the week, LNP backbencher Julie Bishop expressed the view that the Government and Opposition should work in a non-partisan way to establish a realistic renewable energy policy for Australia. It seems that recent changes in the political landscape have concentrated the minds of some of the more intelligent in parliament on something that matters to us all.

Personally, I don’t care how or why things have got to this point. All I really care about is that we ACT on the hope that is within us. Some things just have to be done together, and this is truly one of them. I hope they can do it. And I hope that we can all put unscientific optimism or a "sit back and hope someone else fixes it” attitude well and truly behind us. For even when we do a little to help, we add to a growing sense that the energy is finally flowing in the right direction.

I will give the last word to a correspondent to The Saturday Paper, a publication which helps us to be more literate about the politics of our time and place. He was writing in response to an article on responding to our suffering creation by a former political leader, well known also for his immense general knowledge. He said:

"”Yes, Barry Jones, we must rescue our planet. It belongs to us all but direction comes down to those challenged and literate enough to spell out the truths. Eden revived is the only intelligent goal.”

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