Bishop Paul’s letter
Rev Paul Smith
Bishop, Lutheran Church of Australia and New Zealand
Mowing the footpath … and caring for the home that the Lord has given to us all.
Growing up in Australia’s tropical far north means I learnt a lot about mowing. In my home country, you can watch the grass grow almost daily throughout the whole year. Tending our own yard is a common way that we live out the call to care for God’s creation. Mowing the footpath is a sign of not just tending our own space, but of tending the spaces that we share with others.
In Genesis chapter one we read of the creation of humankind in the image of God. Straight after that creation, we find the command and commissioning from the Lord God to you and me regarding caring for God’s creation: ‘God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth”’.
Our Lutheran Church’s Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions is currently working on a statement with the title ‘Caring for God’s Creation’. In the opening section, the statement says, ‘we are called to live our daily lives as children of the light (1 Thessalonians 5:5) and guided by the Holy Spirit (2 Timothy 1:14). As people who live under God’s saving rule here on earth through faith in Christ, we are called to be caretakers of his creation and witnesses to God’s ongoing redemption of all creation’.
It is profound that the Roman Catholic Pope Francis chose the topic ‘The Care for our Common Home’ for his very first public papal statement in 2015. Quoting work by Pope John Paul II, he extended a challenge for Christians of all denominations to become more active in tenderly caring for the earth our God has gifted us. Francis wrote, ‘Christians in their turn “realise that their responsibility within creation, and their duty towards nature and the Creator, are an essential part of their faith”’.
I have recently become the owner of an electric car. Electric cars are not a quick solution to environmental issues, but they are a step towards reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and the waste produced by internal-combustion engines. I find people from all walks of life eager to talk about the future and care for creation. People often tell me that they are interested in finding ways to have an electric car themselves, once they can figure out the issues of range and charging. A recent survey in New Zealand revealed that 45 per cent of residents in Aotearoa would consider making their next car purchase an electric car. It is about the same statistic in Australia, but the number increases to much more than 60 per cent when speaking with young adults.
Young people are drawing our attention to another side of caring for God’s creation, as they ask governments to ensure that future generations receive a planet that has been tenderly cared for. Pope Francis also considered this in his 2015 work on care. He said, ‘Today, however, we have to realise that a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’.
So, we also ‘mow the footpath’. By that phrase, I mean that, as followers of Jesus Christ, we are led by the Spirit to serve our neighbour, asking, ‘How can we look after the earth and also care for our neighbour by ensuring that we leave the world in better condition than it was when we entered it?’
For the times we have failed in our call to care for the creation, Lord, have mercy on us.
For the times we have exploited our neighbour, Lord, have mercy on us.
Lord, give us eyes to see opportunities to work together for the care of the world and our neighbour.
Lord, grant us grace to walk by faith active in love. Amen.
‘Lord Jesus, we belong to you,
you live in us, we live in you;
we live and work for you –
because we bear your name’