SEI Journal on Climate Change

The Autumn issue of the SEI Journal contains seven articles on various aspects of Climate Change and Climate Justice, including one written by James (pp 37-55).

The contents page for this section of the Journal is:

Sermon for Creation 3B – 19th September 2021

Jeremiah 11:18-20; Psalm 54; James 3:13 – 4:3,7,8; Mark 9:30-37

I don’t know about you, but the bits of the Bible that tend to give me most difficulty, especially in writing sermons, are the passages that seem very familiar. The problem is, I think, actually hearing what such passages are saying, in their time and also in our time. It’s just so easy to simply say

Ah yes that bit where the disciples are arguing about who is the greatest and Jesus gives them a ticking off”.

It’s in such passages that we need to be most attentive, most aware and really listen to what’s going on. Marcus Borg wrote a book with the intriguing title “Reading the Bible again for the First Time” and if you think about it, that’s what we need to do every time. It’s, for this reason that I prefer to listen to, rather than read the Bible passages, especially the Gospel, and by doing so, perhaps hear them again for the first time.

Taken together, today’s readings are about spirit-centred relationships. They challenge us to see beyond our own or our nation’s self-interest.  In them, if we are brutally honest, we might catch a glimpse of ourselves. Of course we don’t rate possessions or status above people or success before our relationships with those around us, do we?

So what’s going on in our Gospel this morning? Earlier in the chapter, Peter, James and John have accompanied Jesus up a high mountain, where He was transfigured in dazzling white and Elijah and Moses appeared with him. This event mystified the three disciples and when, on the way down the mountain, Jesus talked about rising from the dead, they didn’t understand what he was talking about. Now this morning, Jesus is trying to teach a larger group of His disciples some pretty difficult ideas –

The Son of Man is to be betrayed into human hands, and they will kill him, and three days after being killed, he will rise again.

Mark 9:31

Unsurprisingly, they don’t understand and after the public ticking off that Peter received when he effectively told Jesus not to be so silly, in last week’s Gospel, none of them has the courage to admit that they didn’t have a clue what He’s talking about and ask for explanations.

They don’t understand what Jesus is talking about, so what do they do? Well they start arguing about who’s the greatest, who’s the best. Now of course none of us do that sort of thing do we? We don’t do it at home, we don’t do it at work, we don’t do it is our recreational activities, and such a thing would never ever take place anywhere near here would it?

This Gospel is the second of three attempts by Jesus to get the disciples to engage with his coming death and resurrection. The disciples don’t understand and are just a little bit upset that He’s speaking like this.  So instead of listening to Jesus they’re arguing about their role in the kingdom and what will happen to them.  Will each of them have a high status, a special position and a designated role?

As Jesus explores the anger and denial of his disciples He also addresses us – What concerns are closest to our hearts? Do we, too, worry about our status, our authority or the perks we think we deserve?  Do we engaged in the disciples’ game of comparison and oneupmanship?

The summer’s a time of competition – Wimbledon, the Olympics and Para-Olympics and of course the US Open tennis and that amazing achievement by Emma Raducanu. Does our Gospel today frown on such things?  

No, it isn’t that we shouldn’t strive to be good at things, even when we might well fail to be the best. It’s how we react to our successes and failures, how we deal with them and how we treat others who’ve been more or less successful than us. Without doubt, Jesus was a great deal better at many many things than you or I could aspire to be. At prayer for instance. It’s not in trying hard, in failing or in being good at something where the devil lurks. It’s in how we treat others in their success and failure and especially their success and failure relative to our own.

Jesus is frustrated by the fact that whilst He’s nearing the end of His time on earth and trying to prepare the disciples for coping with what is about to happen and for life without Him, they’re just arguing about who’s the best, and quite frankly none of them is doing particularly well. It’s, as James reminds us in our Epistle this morning:

“For where there is envy and selfish ambition, there will also be disorder and wickedness of every kind. Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?

James 3:16 and 4:1

Envy and jealousy are powerful motivators – just look at some of the spats between nations that we’ve seen in the last week or two. There’s a serious crisis looming for our planet and instead of all pulling together, we’re engaged in trying to be the greatest, in envying what others have, in competing for scare resources and in not giving sanctuary or support to refugees, migrants and those displaced by disease, war, famine, flood and drought or sharing our vaccines with them.

Jesus is asking His disciples and us to see things afresh, to become more fully aware and attentive to the everyday, the ordinary and the things that really matter even though the world thinks are unimportant – the socially and culturally invisible, the marginalised and everything that’s happening to God’s Creation. Jesus is saying to us and our leaders:

“‘What were you arguing about?’ But they’re silent, for they are arguing with one another about whois the greatest. He sits down and says to them, ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ Then he takes a little child and put it among them; and taking it in his arms, he saysto them, ‘Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’

Mark 9:33-37

In November World leaders and many others will be gathering to discuss how to address Climate Change.  Into their midst, young people are converging on the COP26 conference in Glasgow. And those in power may well think, even if they don’t actually say,

What would they know about it? Who invited them, they’re just children?

Well maybe it’s Jesus who invited them and maybe these young people do have something important to say. Young people with, no learned degrees, no office staff and no special expertise, haveeverything.  And they’re going to be there to ask the politicians the question:

What sort of planet are you lot going to leave for us to inherit and for us to bring up our children on?

God, grant me heavenly wisdom which is pure, peaceable, gentle and willing to yield…” 

Prayer from James 3:17

Amen.

The Crask is Back

Today, on the Feast of Ninian of Whithorn, the 3rd Thursday noon service at the Crask restarted – and a joyous occasion it was too. We offered praise for creation and the congregation of sixteen were in fine voice accompanied by Mike on the keyboard. Afterwards as usual, we shared lunch together.

A huge thank you to Douglas and Denise, hosting us a couple of hours before they set off on holiday, and to Michael, John and Mike. It really was good to be back.

The intention is to hold services on 3rd Thursday of each month whilst conditions allow. Because numbers are restricted, there is a booking system in place – please contact James if you wish to attend one of these services.

Kneel down before all Creation

You may not have noticed that beneath the seats in St Finnbarr’s there are seventy tapestry kneelers with highland themes. They were designed and made over a twelve year period from 1981-1993 by fourteen members of the congregation.

Of these, 12 are mammals, 16 are birds, 9 are plants, 1 is a fish and 1 is a fungus.

During the Season of Creation (1st September until 4th October) many of these ones are on display along the front of the communion rail for all to admire, both the beauty of creation and the skill of the 14 people who lovingly crafted them.

Chess, Coventry and Thanks at Evensong

A splendid service of choral evensong in St Finnbarr’s this evening, when Simon was licensed as Priest in Charge at St Finnbarr’s and Lizzie given her warrant as Assistant Priest in Sutherland and Tain.

In his address Bishop Mark thanked everyone for keeping going over the last 18 months and for caring for one another. He said it was lovely to be back in St Finnbarr’s and to enjoy his first service of choral evensong since March 2020. In responding to the New Testament reading from Revelation, he spoke of Coventry Cathedral and its role as a centre for reconciliation giving hope against the forces of darkness.

Addressing Simon and his new role, he likened what he was doing to moving chess pieces around and mentioned that today he had found a large chess set in the boot of his car,

The choir of four (including Simon and Lizzie) were superb and the congregation also were in good voice. Suffice to say that a good time was had by all and we all look forward to another evensong in the not too distant future.

Our prayers and good wishes are with Simon and Lizzie as they share in ministry in this part of our beautiful diocese.

The collection taken at the service will go to the Scottish Episcopal Institute to help in the training of future clergy and lay readers.

Only Three Wednesday Mornings Left

Only three Wednesday mornings left to experience the St Finnbarr’s Church (Dornoch) reflective walk – with a particular focus on water and the oceans – around the inside of church.

In the church there are a series of images and original artworks to contemplate, with a helpful leaflet to guide you.

Everyone is welcome to come along and take part in this self-directed activity and the church will be open from 11am – 12noon on each of the next three Wednesday mornings finishing on 29th September.

We hope you enjoy this reflection, but we also hope that you are challenged to consider the part you are playing in the climate crisis.

Here are some pictures to whet your appetite:

Delayed World Day of Prayer Service

Yesterday in Clyne Parish Church in Brora, we had a lovely World Day of Prayer service – prepared by the women of Vanuatu and led by ladies from the churches in Brora.

Whilst some services were held online on the first Friday in March, in Brora, they held off until they could have us all physically present.

A huge thank you to everyone involved.

Sermon for Season of Creation 1 – 5th September 2021

Isaiah 35:4-7a; Psalm 146; James 2:1-17; Mark 7:24-37

Imam Hodja was invited to a banquet. Not wanting to be pretentious, he wore his everyday clothes. When he got there everyone ignored him, including the host. So he crept back home and put on his fanciest coat, and then returned to the banquet. Now he was greeted enthusiastically by everyone and invited to sit down and eat and drink. When the soup was served to him he dunked the sleeve of his coat in the bowl and said, “Eat, my coat, eat!” The startled host asked Hodja to explain his strange behaviour. “When I arrived here wearing my ordinary clothes,” explained Hodja, “no one offered me anything to eat or drink. But when I returned wearing this fine coat, I was immediately offered the best of everything, so I can only assume that it was the coat and not myself who was invited to your banquet.

A week’s a long time in politics and often in our everyday lives too. This week we’ve heard desperately sad stories and seen harrowing images from Afghanistan, New Orleans, Auckland, to name but three. Thousands of ordinary people – people just like you and me – whose lives have been turned upside down by violence, war or natural disaster. Their ordinary relatively comfortable lives torn apart. Just hard working people trying to bring up their families, look after their elderly relatives and make an honest living.

In our Epistle this morning, James warns his readers against favouritism. Against sooking up to the rich and powerful whilst being dismissive of the poor and humble. We’re challenged to join God on the margins, displaying our commitment by our actions.

The impulse to show generous hospitality to those who need it the least and can repay it goes against the values of God’s kingdom. True faith leads to a difference in lifestyle and a change in our relationship with our sisters and brothers. Those who are needy and broken show us the good news of the kingdom.

James’s letter is a direct challenge to us in a world of climate injustice. It’s not enough to send ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those impacted by floods, droughts and other extreme weather events.

If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and eat your fill,’ and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that? So faith by itself, if it has no works, is dead.

James 2:15-17

In a world of climate injustice, where careless use of fossil fuels and overconsumption leads to insecurity, disaster, and suffering primarily for the world’s poor and marginalised, we can no longer simply send our ‘thoughts and prayers’ to those who are victims of the result. We must do something, take action.  Action starts by recognising the part that each of us plays in what is happening and through repentance making changes in the way we live our lives accordingly.

Politicians and businesses will only take action if we ‘persuade’ them to do so through how we vote and through how we spend our money. When doing those things, we need to hear the cry of the poor, the hungry and the exploited.

For those of us who live relatively comfortable lives, we can no longer live as if we are ignorant of the links between the comforts we enjoy in the developed world – often built on exploitative and unsustainable economic practices – and the suffering of those in the less developed world.

The Syrophoenician woman and her daughter are both at the margins of society: firstly, they are women and secondly, they are gentiles, and as such, considered unclean. Thirdly the daughter has demons which makes her doubly unclean.

Regardless of these barriers, the woman risks rejection and comes to Jesus and asks him to heal her daughter. The deaf-mute man is also a gentile. Jesus spits on his fingers and touches the man’s tongue at a time when saliva was considered unclean. But as with other healing miracles, the contagion is reversed, and the man is healed. These two healing stories show how Jesus heard the voices of the marginalised. 

Jesus allows himself and his ministry to be transformed by their pleas. It is however hard to understand why he uses such a derogatory word, but in referring to the woman as the ‘dog’ he’s reflecting the views of his society and social group and is challenged by her reply. In the healing of the deaf mute – a man whose voice cannot be heard, Jesus extends the realm of God to the least noticed, those pushed to the periphery by their condition. This extension of God’s kingdom to those on the margins serves as a challenging model for the church today.

As the Jesuit Catholic priest and theologian Jon Sobrino has suggested:

from the world of the poor and the victims can come salvation for a gravely ill civilization”.

Jon Sobrino

Do we too easily assume that salvation comes when we, the church, draw people from the periphery into our midst? Do we similarly assume that those on the margins just need to be a bit more like us in order to be saved?  But maybe a lesson of today’s readings is that it might be the other way around!

For all the talk, we still participate day by day in the system that continues to push the poor, the earth and its creatures to the margins. We participate in systems that generate scarcities, dehumanize people, and destroy the environment.

Is Jesus inviting us to follow him to the margins? Perhaps he is challenging us to allow ourselves to be challenged and transformed, as he was by the Syrophoenician woman. Is he inviting us to participate in the work of healing, not from our comfortable position at the centre, but by going out to the margins?

Many churches and individuals are involved in relief efforts, when they hear about people affected by hurricanes, floods or drought made worse by climate change. In the face of media photos and news footage we give, we donate, and we pray. But perhaps we need to go further and support projects helping people to adapt to climate change. But we also need to challenge the structural injustices and root causes of climate change and environmental degradation. 

We need to re-activate the prophetic voice of the church. And we must be willing to be converted ourselves, by the voices of the marginalised.  It’s ourselves and not our status and what we have that’s invited to the banquet of God’s Kingdom. As Mahatma Gandhi said:

If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.”  

Mahatma Gandhi

Amen.

Prayer Tree for Creation and Climate Justice

During the Season of Creation, members of the congregation of and visitors to St Andrews, Tain are invited to write their prayers for Creation and Climate Justice on ‘leaves’ and hang them on the tree in the porch.

Over the month, the bare 2020 Christmas Tree will acquire new leaves and take on a new life.

A Banner for Creation

During the Season of Creation a splendid banner will announce the season outside St Andrew’s, Tain.

The Banner in Position
In the beginning …
Hard at work
Drying in the sun

A huge thank you to everyone who contributed to this project, the result is testament to the creativity and industry of all involved.