We have entered the beginning of autumn. The leaves are starting to turn and fall, and round by our garage the conkers are dropping too. Harvest has been under way for some time, is being gathered and stored. During this time our minds naturally turn to all that sustains our life and our dependency on the earth. We are creatures who depend on all that God gives and enables to be provided, without which life could not survive. And so during this period, in which our harvest celebration next week will fall, we are encouraged to think about creation. Our order of service gives these weeks that flavour. Environmental concerns are probably the biggest threat facing the planet, and the damaging contribution of human beings to global warming has been and is devastating. The poorest will feel this acutely but so will we living in one of the wealthiest nations. We are seeing it in the weather and rising sea levels, which for this part of the country is not good news. Noah is seeming less like a story!
Our readings may not look that obvious to fit with this theme, but they carry a stark message and warning to us. The letter of James (4:1-3) warned of cravings at war within us. These are the source of conflicts and disputes, and lead to violent acts. It is the desire to have what cannot be sustained and the refusal to accept that we have to limit our cravings, our wants, that are damaging the very earth on which we depend. And for those of us who love the technological advances with electronic gadgets and the ability to travel, there are sharp realities for us to confront. The technology on which I depend in so many ways uses scarce and finite resources. Even solar power has its down side in that the components of the panels and the electronics have to be mined and processed. This too is not without an environmental footprint.
According to a report this week, across the country there are 39 different versions of what can be recycled by the local authority. Peterborough is pretty good, as local authorities go, since it recycle far more of our waste than many others do. But recycling is only one of the three ‘R’s of environmental concern. Reusing and repairing come above it. Crucial in this is another ‘R’ – reducing what we use and throw away. Plastic drinking straws and disposable, single use bottles have both recently been targeted. And quite rightly too. Even combustible disposable plates and cutlery still require use of land and power to excess. It is our excess and lack of moderation to feed our endless and restless cravings that have driven so much of the problem. For some of us this has been a lifetime’s concern and it feels like it has been a long wait for everyone else to catch up. At yesterday’s Diocesan Synod the diocese has joined the trend for reusable cups, sourcing a bamboo cup which can be bought for £7, branded with the diocesan logo.
We are stewards of the earth. We have evolved and developed into sentient, intelligent and highly dexterous creatures. We subdue the earth, harness it and shape it in ways no other creature or species can. This brings with it responsibility to manage what we do in a way that doesn’t just consume with no regard to the consequences or impact. As moral creatures, we have to be aware of the effect what we do has on everyone and everything. This planet can be damaged. The rich and delicate eco-balance can be tipped to a point when it will no longer sustain us. And then it will continue without us. And it is incumbent on us to pass on to future generations a world we would like to have inherited, not one used up and polluted. This moral and spiritual imperative is one of the 5 marks of mission: to care for creation, to treasure, to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.
To do this, we have to master our cravings and learn some self-discipline and self-denial. As we grow up we have to learn to moderate our desires and our consuming. If we don’t we get into trouble and that has been a problem with the economy as well. Endless consuming does not lead to our wellbeing. We need to develop and strengthen the concept of ‘enough’, sufficient and no more.
So when Jesus tells his squabbling disciples, arguing about who is the most important, that they should be like children, we might spot the irony (Mark 9:33-37). They are after all behaving like spiritual infants, who haven’t learnt how to control their cravings and their gluttony for power, prestige and position. But what he does is to take a child, embrace it and set this person of low status and not power, prestige or position into the position of honour. Welcoming the unimportant, being concerned for the one of lowest status, having regard for those we can’t see and who can’t do anything for us, is how we welcome and honour Christ. Caring for the environment is a key way we do this. It honours the poorest, who suffer most. It honours those who come after us and don’t want to have to clear up our mess or worse reap a whirlwind from our carelessness and disregard.
So in our church seasons sits these few weeks at the beginning of autumn. In these we are to be mindful of God’s creation on which we depend so greatly, of our stewardship responsibilities to treasure creation and be mindful of the effects of what we do. Into this embrace we will hold our harvest celebration next week. We will be thankful for all the good gifts around us and show that thankfulness in lives that bless and treasure, that are satisfied with enough, that seek to live in harmony and balance with the natural rhythms which sustain life on this planet. This is a moral and spiritual imperative and a mark of Christian mission.
Sermon preached in Peterborough Parish Church – Sunday 23rd September 2018