Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Readings: Genesis 2:4b-19, 15-25, Psalm 65, Revelation 4, Luke 8:22-25
Last year I found an unmarked envelope at the back of the kitchen drawer. It contained some dry dusty seeds. I had no idea what they were but I scattered them in the garden without too much care. Shortly afterwards green shoots appeared heralding a fine crop of beautiful flowers! How did that happen? Nothing that I had done could have converted those dry dusty seeds into flowers. So how? The answer can be found in our Old Testament reading which describes the creation of the world. God had created the world but there were no plant or herbs growing yet as God had not caused it to rain upon the earth and there was no one to till the ground. So, God provided the rain to water the earth and someone to work on it. That way the seed could grow. Yet that still doesn’t answer the question; how does the dry seed turn into a flower or vegetable? Again our Old Testament reading provides the answer: ‘then the LORD God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.’ Once again, it is God who breathes life not only into man at his creation, or birth, but into the seed as well enabling it to develop into a flower, fruit or vegetable!
Now, whilst some may dismiss this version of creation as an out dated legend since scientists have shown that we humans evolved over millions of years, nevertheless someone or something must have breathed life into the first organism, whatever it was; a someone we call God, so maybe this is not so far-fetched after all.
What is clear is that God loves all his Creation; including the human being he made to care for it. He showed that love by creating not only food for man to eat and birds and animals to help him care for the planet but a companion, in the form of a woman.
The Lord God created you and me. How then should we respond to that love? This morning’s Psalm is a hymn of thanksgiving for the earth’s bounty. The opening words ‘Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion’ make that very clear right the way through the psalm, ending with the words: ‘the valleys deck themselves with grain, they shout and sing together for joy’, whilst the reading from the Revelation of St John the Divine, reinforces that response with everyone singing: ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things’
God created all things and God loves His Creation. In fact so much that in St. Matthew’s Gospel we learn that; ‘he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous.’ Matt.5:45 NRSV. So that is why the weeds in our garden flourish! And so although Adam and Eve sinned and were cast out of the Garden of Eden, yet God still showed his love and compassion for them by providing them with clothing to cover their nakedness as they wandered the earth.
Now, the one point is very clear throughout all three of our readings, and the psalm this morning and that is that God created Adam, and by extension us, to act as stewards of his creation but we do not own it. It is not ours to do with as we wish, it is God’s creation. Our Gospel reading tells us that when the storm threatened to sink the boat and drown the disciples, despite being experienced fishermen who would have known the lake like the back of their hand, there was nothing they could do to prevent the storm, only God, in Jesus could do that: ‘And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm.’
God’s Creation, not ours, and we must respect that. Yet we treat it as if it were provided just for our own benefit. We mine for coal and other precious resources, we drill for oil and we tear down trees, we pollute the rivers and oceans with our discarded plastic. All to give ourselves a better standard of living with no thought about other people or future generations. As a result the earth is getting hotter so that we are experiencing more violent and devastating storms and floods as we have seen over the last few days and record summer temperatures.
It is clear that as stewards we have not done a very good job so far, but time is running out for us to work for a sustainable planet, since climate change affects everything from geopolitics to economies to migration, shaping cities and life expectancies. We are quite capable of making the necessary changes to our lifestyle, if we have a mind to do so. But do we have the will to do so?
Much was expected of the recent UN conference on climate change in Glasgow but whilst some progress was made, cuts in global greenhouse gas emissions are still far from where they need to be to preserve a liveable climate, whilst support for the most vulnerable countries affected by the impacts of climate change is still falling far short. “The approved texts are a compromise,” said UN Secretary-General. “They reflect the interests, the conditions, the contradictions and the state of political will in the world today. They take important steps, but unfortunately the collective political will was not enough to overcome some deep contradictions.” “They reflect the state of political will in the world today”. In other words it is someone else’s problem not mine. But, YES IT IS. Each one of us must play our part to show more respect for God’s Creation.
So, what can we do?
Well, we can lobby our politicians, and big business, to make a real commitment to the challenge.
The Church of England has drawn up a Route Map to net zero carbon emissions by 2030. Now, getting to that level in the next eight years can sound a bit like pie in the sky but the aim is for us to do what we can, not what we can’t. We need to be realistic about what we can afford, and what is good value in environmental terms. So, as a church we at St Mary Magdalene must consider how we might become more environmentally sustainable. Prayer is, as ever a good place to start but the Diocese has a great deal of good advice on its website. Why not take a look?
But how can we as individuals make a difference? How can we reduce our carbon footprint? I offer a few ideas for your consideration:
Could we share cars, or maybe use public transport? Could we turn the heating thermostat down by 1°C or reduce the time that the heating is on by 15 minutes. (We need to be aware of the health and age of our family before turning the heating down too much. Hypothermia is a killer.) We might install low-energy light bulbs and think about switching to green energy. The Energy Savings Trust has some good advice. Again, we might look at how many air miles our food has travelled before reaching the supermarket shelf. Is there a more local alternative available? One of our neighbours eats a vegetarian diet one week but a meat diet the next. Is that an option?
We need to remember that God loves each of us and we are called to love him in return. One way we can do that is by a more careful stewarding of his creation, because unless we do something about reducing our carbon footprint now, things will only get worse. By doing something, even something quite small, we will show our love for God and for our neighbour, whoever and wherever he or she is.
So this week let us ‘sing and shout for joy’ in praise, gratitude and thanksgiving to our loving God and Creator for the beauty and bounty of His Creation. And let us take some positive step, however small, to care for God’s planet more carefully than we have done in the past.
Readings: Genesis 45:3-15, Psalm 37, 1 Corinthians 15:35-50, Luke 6:27-38
Jesus came down from the mountain where he had been to pray to level ground where the people from the surrounding Galilean countryside could assemble – and a substantial number of people were present. Doubtless many were attracted by Jesus’ healing powers, but He did not lose the opportunity to teach them. The lessons He taught them that day we now know as the Beatitudes. Earlier Jesus has called His first disciples but this teaching was not intended specifically for them but for all His followers – including you and me.
Throughout His ministry Jesus always said that He did not come to abolish the Law but to fulfil it. The Law of Moses, with which those listening to his teaching would have been familiar, states ‘You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbour as yourself: I am the Lord.’ Leviticus 19:18. In today’s Old Testament reading we heard that Joseph did not hold a grudge against his brothers even though they had tried to kill him. He obeyed the Law of Moses. However here Jesus takes that one stage further by saying: “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. …… Do to others as you would have them do to you. …. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for He is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked. Be merciful just as you Father is merciful.” Now, that is something to get one’s head around, and I can imagine a few people hearing Jesus’ message that day saying “You are asking me to love the Romans who have taken my land; who have imposed excessive taxes on me; who have made life almost impossible for me? You want me to love them, to do good to them? Forget it!” and then walking away. And we might have sympathy with them since we sometimes feel the same way.
Our country may not be ruled by foreign invaders but we do live in a multi-ethnic society. And so we may ask ourselves do we really love those of a different race, religion, sexual orientation or even political opinion?
But let me tell you a story, a story of one community’s commitment with put their faith into action. It is a story I use by kind permission of the Community of the Cross of Nails which is based at Coventry Cathedral:
‘On the night of 14th November, 1940, Coventry and its Cathedral endured a one-off, but relentless, bombing campaign. Overnight, the ‘Moonlight Sonata’ offensive destroyed much of central Coventry, hundreds of its people and left its Cathedral in ruins. Only the outer shell of the walls and the tower remained standing.
In the days that followed, two enduring symbols emerged from the rubble: two charred roof-beams which had fallen in the shape of a cross were bound and placed at the site of the ruined altar, and three medieval roof nails were also formed into a cross, which became the original Cross of Nails (now located at the High Altar in the new Cathedral). Shortly after, the words ‘Father Forgive’ – deliberately neutral in content – were inscribed on the wall of the ruined chancel, and Provost Dick Howard made a commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible. During the BBC radio broadcast from the Cathedral ruins on Christmas Day 1940 he declared that when the war was over we should work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’
The Cross of Nails quickly became a potent sign of friendship and hope in the post war years, especially in new relationships with Germany and the developing links between Coventry and the cities of Kiel, Dresden and Berlin, ( which had all suffered as a result of Allied bombing). Many were gifted, in thanks and in friendship, to contacts all over the world. By 1974 such informal friendships were numerous, and they were all drawn into a brand new Community of the Cross of Nails, which has continued to grow globally to this day. By this time, the new Cathedral, a landmark in post-war architecture, had been opened in 1962. Coventry Cathedral is thus one of the world’s oldest religious-based centres for reconciliation, and its work in preceding decades has involved it in some of the world’s most difficult and long-standing areas of conflict. Today the medieval ruins of Coventry Cathedral, freely open to all, continue to remind us of our human capacity both to destroy and to reach out to our enemies in friendship and reconciliation. They stand today as a memorial to all civilians killed, injured or traumatised by war and violent conflict world-wide.
The Community became a worldwide network of some 250 churches, charities, peace-building centres, and educational and training organisations. All partners adhere to the three guiding principles of the Community of the Cross of Nails: Healing the wounds of history, Learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity, and Building a culture of peace. Today, their greatest number of partners are in Germany, the UK & Ireland and the USA, but they also have sizeable numbers in South Africa, Canada, the Netherlands and Central and Eastern Europe; overall, they have partners in 45 countries across five continents. Different partners may focus on political, racial, religious, social or economic reconciliation; they may address war and violent conflict, post conflict restoration or healing; their work can have broad and far-reaching, national or regional consequences, or it can make a significant difference to local communities and individual people’s lives.’
So what can we take from that story? Jesus’ command really tests our motivation and challenges us. The idea of loving our enemies is just as hard for us to put into practice as the listeners on that day would have found it. After all, it was all his fault. He started the argument. All I did was to give my opinion, but he wouldn’t listen. Why should I apologise to him? Why should I want to have anything to do with him? No, best to forget all about it. But remember the Provost’s commitment not to seek revenge, but to strive for forgiveness and reconciliation with those responsible; to work with those who had been enemies ‘to build a kinder, more Christ-like world.’ In other words he was echoing Jesus’ message in today’s Gospel reading – Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you.
You see, Jesus was illustrating an attitude of heart, a lightness of spirit in the face of all that the world can throw at us. We are called to be like this because that is what God is like; God is generous to all people, generous, providing good things for all to enjoy, the undeserving as well as the deserving. And, let’s face it, if we lived in a society where everyone believed in this God there wouldn’t be any violence. There wouldn’t be any revenge or divisions of class or colour or race. Owning property or possessions wouldn’t be nearly as important as making sure our neighbour was ok. Wouldn’t that be a better world in which to live? We are being invited to have a heart like Jesus, to reach out without wanting anything in return. We can have a non-judgmental and compassionate attitude to the faults of others. In return, we can accept God’s unconditional and generous love.
So, perhaps over the next week or so we might ask ourselves, “Do I have to be right all the time? Could I not listen to the other person’s point of view?” Am I prepared to welcome Jesus’s way of loving? There may be people I find difficult to love. Can I hold these people in prayer, helping me to love generously? Prayer is, after all the most powerful weapon we have in our armoury. But maybe we could give the other person a ring, or write a letter, or even an email. Just make the first move. Nothing may come of it but we will have tried. Again we cannot change the world overnight. On our own we cannot stop the wars raging round the world but we can pray for our leaders, for those in power that they may see sense and work for peace and justice.
Let me end with a prayer, the prayer that serves as a reminder that when we pray about the problems of the world around us, we need to begin by acknowledging the roots of those problems in our own hearts. This prayer, the Litany of the Cross of Nails, is freely available for use. It is prayed at noon each weekday in Coventry Cathedral and in the Cathedral ruins on Fridays:
‘All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class,
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own,
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth,
Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,
Our indifference to the plight of the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,
The lust which dishonours the bodies of men, women and children,
The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves and not in God,
Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. AMEN
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK