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.

Sermon for Season of Creation 2 – 12th September 2021

On this second Sunday when we have been focussing on ‘Creation’, I’d like to say how very heartened I have been by our commitment to taking this relatively new season in our church calendar year seriously. It’s great to see the banner outside St Andrew’s Church in Tain announcing the season to all who pass by and the tree springing back to life with thoughts, prayers and promises in the church porch.

At St Finnbarr’s in Dornoch, we’ve put together a self-directed reflection available in church throughout the Season of Creation – between 11 and 12 on a Wednesday. If you would like to an opportunity to stir your thinking about  our planet and the impact we have on it, please do go along. Much of the reflection focuses particularly on water which, of course, features heavily in scripture.

You will recall stories of baptism in the River Jordan, Jonah on his way to Tarshish, tossed overboard and being swallowed by a big fish and of course the great flood from which Noah and his family were saved.

And what about the parting of the Red Sea – a miracle performed by God through the prophet Moses. I imagine it to be both awe-inspiring and terrifying – remember the scene in The Ten Commandments – the film released in 1956 starring Charlton Heston as Moses?

moses in the bible

After the Passover, which spares the Israelites’ firstborn children but kills those of the Egyptians, Pharaoh finally agrees they may leave his country. It’s now been seven days since the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt and Pharaoh changes his mind. He and all the chariots of Egypt pursue God’s chosen people to the water and are about to overtake them.

With their toes touching the Red Sea, it appears that the Israelites will either be slaughtered or drowned. In their panic, they cry out to Moses and he knows his people are scared, so he reassures them. And then he prays to God who calls Moses to stretch out his hand over the sea, causing a mighty east wind to blow all night long. The waters split apart and become walls on their right and on their left.

The Israelites march through the parted sea on dry ground during the night, with God’s pillar of fire overhead. When the Egyptian pursuers follow, God instructs Moses to raise his hand a second time sending the waters crashing down, drowning them in its depths. Recognising the great miracle that had occurred, Moses and the people of Israel sang the Song of the Sea, and Miriam led the women in song and dance.

In this season of creation, as we intentionally reflect on the earth around us – it sometimes feels like we are bit like the Israelites on the edge of the waters, watching the Egyptian chariots draw closer and closer. Sometimes we, too, feel like we are in an impossible situation regarding our precious creation, with no way out.

Yet even though we might feel like the Israelites with our toes touching the edge of the Red Sea, our situation is different. We know that there is danger in thinking we are too much like those fleeing Israelites. Because if we follow this line of thinking, we might come to believe that God will intervene in a similar way. That God will save us from the fires of our warming earth.

Perhaps if we trust enough?

Pray enough?

Believe enough?

We say to ourselves, “God will surely save us, despite our careless behaviours or our polluted waters and skies”. After all, doesn’t God promise, “behold I make all things new in creation”?

Now just park that idea for a minute and we’ll come back to it later.

Let’s go back to the beginning, the very beginning when God creates humankind in His own image. “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’” (Gen. 1:27–28).

God said to them, have dominion over every living thing that moves upon the earth.” Now I believe dominion means that we have sovereignty over and responsibility for the well-being of God’s Creation. We are called to cultivate and care for the Earth in the way that God does – that is with love and wisdom. We are called to exercise dominion in ways that allow God’s original creative act to be further unfolded.

The word Dominion comes from the Latin word domus – meaning house, temple, or even the dome over the earth. And so just as we care for members who share our individual houses, individual domus, we are also called by God to care for the fellow inhabitants of our earthly dome.

To be a wise and holy householder we are to do this out of compassion, not just for ourselves or our children, but for all people, and all people’s children. And their children’s children. And their children’s children’s children. We live under this dome together, so we must care for one another and show empathy for one another’s pain.

With this in mind, the fact that the climate crisis is perpetuated primarily by human beings and primarily affects other human beings should be of our utmost concern. It’s about justice. We as human beings are all created by God, in the image of God and loved by God. We are all equal in His eyes. And as we are all created under this same dominion or earthly dome – we should care for one another in such a way. 

Recalling the story of the Red Sea today reiterates this call to community. We are reminded of God establishing the people of Israel as His own people and how He saves them so that the covenant with Abraham may be fulfilled. We hear about valuing community and doing all we can to protect our lives together.

As we focus on the environment during the Season of Creation, we are called to look at the land we share with our communities and around the earth. We are called to look at how we treat land – both the developed and undeveloped spaces. How are we caring for the creatures displaced by urban sprawl? How are we caring for the people living in the lands of food deserts? How do we care for the common spaces that are naturally wild? Do we have an interest in the places we do not own?

So, just come back to that idea that we parked.

A number of young activists have been telling us a lot lately that “we have 14 years to turn the earth around or else it will be too late.” Sometimes as older people, we find it hard to hear these apparently angry younger voices and I honestly have no idea where they get their numbers or even if they are true. But what I do know is that they deeply believe that what they are saying is true and they are calling us out on our sometimes selfish and careless behaviours.

Fourteen years – that feels an awful lot like being backed into a corner with no further options. Will God intervene? Will God save us, despite our careless behaviours or our polluted oceans?

God’s biblical promise is not that He will forever save us from ourselves and our selfishness. The promise is that God will forever stand with us, urging us to move in the divine way of unity and wholeness with all created beings under this shared dome. I don’t believe our God will swallow up the CO2 levels or cool the oceans or extinguish wildfires through a heavenly breath. But I do fully believe that our God will continue reminding us that we are connected to one another.

While God may not intervene to save the planet while we stand idly by, I do believe that God is in the process of saving us. God is working on us and through us at this very moment to turn us toward the healing of the planet and the healing of all people living together under this great dome.

Amen.

May God Bless you and all those you hold dear during this coming week.

Fr Simon

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.

Diocesan Prayer Cycle for September

 

During the whole of September (and until 4th October)
The Season of Creation
For our World, all of God’s Creation and for Climate Justice

1 September 2021
For Mark, our Bishop.

2 September 2021
For local tourism and hospitality businesses.

3 September 2021
For churches in their engagement with environmental issues.

4 September 2021
For our link Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry.

5 September 2021
Pentecost 15
For the congregation of Gordonstoun School: Chaplain – Philip Schonken

6 September 2021
For all who teach the Christian faith in schools and colleges.

7 September 2021
On Youth Mental Health Day,
for those who struggle with their mental health.

8 September 2021
For those who read, lead intercessions or assist at Communion in our churches.

9 September 2021
For schemes aiming to improve recycling.

10 September 2021
For those affected by recent wild fires throughout the world.

11 September 2021
For immigrants in our land who feel lost and alone.

12 September 2021
Pentecost 16
For St. Ninian, Invergordon.

13 September 2021
For all church organists and musicians.

14 September 2021
For Christians in the arts, sport and the music and entertainment industry.

15 September 2021
For parents who are having difficulties in bringing up their children.

16 September 2021
For those trying to rehabilitate former prisoners and young offenders.

17 September 2021
For MPs and MSPs to stand up for righteousness, freedom and truth.

18 September 2021
For those working to combat corruption in this country and overseas.

19 September 2021
Pentecost 17
For the congregation of St. Columba, Nairn: Alison Simpson, Kathryn Sanderson. Lay Reader: Jen Abbott

20 September 2021
For those around the world who lack access to eye treatment.

21 September 2021
Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist
For the use of the Internet in Christian mission.

22 September 2021
For those working in medical research.

23 September 2021
For all who are struggling with illness or other life-limiting conditions.

24 September 2021
For those experiencing isolation and depression.

25 September 2021
For the people and leaders of Syria.

26 September 2021
Pentecost 18
For the congregations of Christ Church, Huntly; Holy Trinity, Keith; Gordon Chapel, Fochabers; St. Michael, Dufftown and St. Marnan’s, Aberchirder: Michael Last. Lay Readers: Jacqueline Kemp, Megan Cambridge.

27 September 2021
For high standards of integrity amongst journalists.

28 September 2021
For parts of the world facing drought or flood.

29 September 2021
Michael and All Angels
For an awareness of God’s presence in our communities.

30 September 2021
For those working in the courts and judiciary.

Canticle of the Creatures

Most High, All-powerful, All-Good, Lord! 
All praise is Yours, 
all glory, all honour 
And all blessing. 

To You alone, Most High, do they belong. 
No mortal lips are worthy 
To pronounce your name. 

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through all that You have made, 
And first my lord Brother Sun, 
Who brings the day; and light you give to us through him. 
How beautiful is he, how radiant in all his splendour! 
Of You, Most High, he bears the likeness. 

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Moon and Stars; 
In the heavens You have made them, bright 
And precious and fair. 

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air, 
And fair and stormy, all the weather’s moods, 
By which You cherish all that You have made. 

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Water, 
So useful, lowly, 
precious, and pure. 

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Brother Fire, 
Through whom You brighten up the night. 
How beautiful he is, how gay! 
Full of power and strength. 

All praise be Yours, my Lord, through Sister Earth, our mother, 
Who feeds us in her sovereignty and produces 
Various fruits and coloured flowers and herbs. 

All praise be Yours, my Lord, 
through those who grant pardon 
For love of You; 
through those who endure 
Sickness and trial.

Happy those who endure in peace, 
By You, Most High, 
they will be crowned. 

All praise be Yours, my Lord, 
through Sister Death-of-the-Body, 
From whose embrace 
no mortal can escape. 
Woe to those who die 
in mortal sin, 
Happy those She finds 
doing Your holy will! 
The second death can do 
no harm to them. 

Praise and bless my Lord, 
and give Him thanks, 
And serve Him with great humility. 

Amen.

Attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi

Diocesan Prayer Cycle for August

1 August 2021
Pentecost 10
For the congregation of St. Trolla at the Crask: Bishop Mark, James Currall.

2 August 2021
For Mark, our Bishop.

3 August 2021
For nations where the vaccine is hard to come by.

4 August 2021
For local food and drink producers and providers.

5 August 2021
For our link Diocese of Quebec.

6 August 2021
The Transfiguration of the Lord
For the Church to be radiant with the love of Christ.

7 August 2021
For the people of South Africa after the recent violence.

8 August 2021
Pentecost 11
For the congregation of St. Mary-in-the-Fields, Culloden.

9 August 2021
For the work and witness of the Mothers’ Union worldwide.

10 August 2021
For unaccompanied child refugees.

11 August 2021
For local sporting venues, teams and societies.

12 August 2021
For all who administer church websites and social media pages.

13 August 2021
For those in hospital with covid.

14 August 2021
For all those whose lives are marked by trauma.

15 August 2021
Pentecost 12
For the congregations of St. John, Inverness; St. Michael and All Angels, Inverness.

16 August 2021
Mary the Virgin
For refugees and victims of human trafficking.

17 August 2021
For all who have been married in our churches this year.

18 August 2021
For those who will be starting university this autumn.

19 August 2021
For those who have suffered loss of any kind as a result of the virus.

20 August 2021
For the work and witness of the Salvation Army.

21 August 2021
For the Queen and members of the Royal Family.

22 August 2021
Pentecost 13
For the congregations of St. Anne, Strathpeffer; St. James the Great, Dingwall: Julia Boothby, Barbara Chandler.

23 August 2021
For care home residents and staff.

24 August 2021
Bartholomew, Apostle
For the Tokyo Paralympics beginning today.

25 August 2021
For the people and leaders of Afghanistan.

26 August 2021
For the lonely.

27 August 2021
For those carrying heavy responsibilities.

28 August 2021
For those facing redundancy or bankruptcy.

29 August 2021
Pentecost 14
For the congregations of St. Mary the Virgin, Ullapool; St. Gilbert’s Kinlochbervie; St. Gilbert’s Lochinver; St. Boniface Achiltibuie: Clare Caley, Nicholas Court, John Green.

30 August 2021
The Beheading of John the Baptist
For courageous people who speak truth to power.

31 August 2021
For those in other lands who have to live without access to clean water, and for Scottish Water.

Bread for Lammas

Greetings to you dear sisters and brothers in Christ. The month of August is upon us and in some quarters the very first day of this month is celebrated as Lammas Day (or Loaf Mass Day) – when a loaf baked with flour from newly harvested corn is brought into church and blessed. To be honest this tradition is not so commonplace as it used to be in the past. Lammas Day was one of the oldest points of contact between the agricultural world and the Church and the introduction of the Harvest Festival in the Victorian era has kind of replaced many of such agricultural celebrations.

A couple of weeks ago we were on holiday visiting old friends and neighbours in Yorkshire. One of the people we met up with was Anita (Our next door neighbour). Now Anita is a world class specialist in Food Education and has been instrumental in a number of national food education initiatives. One of her greatest challenges though was to teach me to make bread. Those of you who have any idea of my skills in the kitchen will realise just what a challenge this was! Anita persevered and I have to say I did find the hands on process of bread making very satisfying.

One of the fascinating things about it is the yeast: that unprepossessing lump of putty-like substance, or even more unlikely looking granules of dried yeast. Give yeast warmth and sugar and liquid, and miraculously it grows before your very eyes. And then it makes the dough rise and double its size. It seems irrepressible. Knock the dough down and leave it to its own devices, and it will double its size again. 

In the Middle Ages, one of the names for yeast was ‘goddisgoode’ – written as one word as though it were God’s email address. No one understood its chemistry and it was seen as gift from God. A pure gift. God is Good – that’s what lies at the heart of bread.

Jesus said that he is the Bread of Life, embodied for us now in the Eucharist. He offers himself as a gift that is fundamental to meeting our inner needs as bread is to meeting our physical needs. Through feeding on him, God gives us himself, and that is what we need.

When Jesus gave himself as bread, he said it was for the life of the world. At Lammastide let’s remember that when we come to the altar we share God’s life so that we can be the truth that God is good. Our task is to share the news of God’s goodness and invite others to share the Bread of Life too!

Blessings
Fr Simon

Climate and Justice

The climate crisis, which has been creeping up on us for years, is a reflection and also a cause, of deep injustice in our world. This crisis arises from the abuse of God’s creation, and our broken relationship with our neighbours worldwide and especially the poor and those in less developed parts of the world who are already suffering most from its consequences. 

Climate change and other forms of environmental degradation are caused by over-consumption, primarily in the developed world, and so any solution has to be underpinned by reduced consumption. Consumption is something for which we are all responsible. Everything we buy has a carbon footprint, everything we use has a carbon footprint and everything we consume has a carbon footprint. The earth doesn’t belong to any of us, each of us lives on it for a while and during that time, we’ve a duty to be good stewards of what we inherited.

Since the root of the problem is that the population of the developed world vastly over-consume the resources of the world, that means us. The only real solution is a reduction in consumption for each of us individually and for us collectively. How we do that depends very much on our individual circumstances and it’s for that reason that prayer and reflection must lie at the heart of our approach.

This problem isn’t simply about Carbon Budgets or Environmental Degradation, this problem is about Justice. Those most affected by these matters are the poor, the disadvantaged, those who live in the Third World and less developed nations. We should therefore refer to this matter as Climate Justice, which helps us to think of it not only in scientific/technological terms. We need to reflect on how our decisions affect others in our society and our brothers and sisters around the world and also how they will affect our children and grandchildren.

During the UN General Assembly’s High-level Meeting on the Protection of the Global Climate for Present and Future Generations back in March 2019, Mary Robinson, the former President of Ireland spoke about Climate Justice.

Climate justice insists on a shift from a discourse on greenhouse gases and melting ice caps into a civil rights movement with the people and communities most vulnerable to climate impacts at its heart,” … “Now, thanks to the recent marches, strikes and protests by hundreds of thousands of schoolchildren, we have begun to understand the intergenerational injustice of climate change,”

Mary Robinson 2019

The Young Christian Climate Network are staging a relay from the G7 meeting in St Ives to Glasgow to coincide with the start of COP26 at the end of October, when heads of state, climate experts and negotiators meet to discuss action to address the climate emergency. It’s clear that this group of young Christians care deeply about Climate Justice and the care of creation and they want to see systematic change on a global and a local scale. After all it’s the world that they and our children and grandchildren will have to live in for rather longer than most of us. The least we can do is to pray for them on their pilgrimage – may God bless them.

Blessings
James

Grasping and Comprehending

The Passion, Resurrection, Ascension, Pentecost – we’ve travelled a long way in our journey with Christ since Palm Sunday on 28th March. Back then we were in lockdown, now the restrictions are easing and joy of joys, we were able to have our first wedding in church last week after a gap of nearly two years.

In many ways, living under restrictions is ‘easy’ You have a long list of things that you can’t do and also a list of things you must do and, as we’ve all done over the last 15 months, you learn to live your life doing what you must and trying not to do what’s not permitted. So at one level, it’s ‘easy’ but at a deeper level it’s very hard indeed. Not being able to see loved ones, not being able to do things that have been part of our lives for years and apparently small, but very significant things like being able to sit where you want in church or shake someone’s hand when you meet them.

Under the Old Covenant of Moses, the people of Israel lived under ‘The Law’. So in Exodus, we have 10 Commandments but there are 613 statements and principles of law, ethics, and spiritual practice (or Mitzvot) contained in the Torah (mostly Deuteronomy, Numbers and Leviticus) (248 of these are positive – things that one should do – and 365 negative – things that one shouldn’t do).

The purpose of these ‘rules’ is however to try to help people to find God through encounters with the holy. In a sense the summary of the Law, that we use at some times of year in our liturgy, is a pointer to the underlying principles, which is why Jesus came not to abolish the rules rather it refocus people on those principles.

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this:
“Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord.
You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul,with all your mind and with all your strength.”

The second is this:

“Love your neighbour as yourself.”

There is no other commandment greater than these.

SEC 1982 Liturgy

Living by rules, as opposed to something closer to the essence of things, has a tendency to separate the observer of rule from the real purpose of the rule, which in itself althoughrecognisable, is much more difficult to define. The practices that Jesus was reacting against, were a set of rules which, although they may have at some time had a role in helping people to approach the holy, had long since become somewhat divorced from that purpose and an end in themselves.

As Covid restrictions are relaxed, we’ll have to make more decisions for ourselves as to what to do and what not to do, without as rigid a framework as we’ve had. That means that we’ll have to understand the purpose or ‘spirit’ of the rules we’ve been used to and the likely effect of deviating from them. To use religious language, we’ll have to ‘discern’ what we should do in order to continue to keep ourselves and others safe, rather than be told what to do. There’ll still be rules, just fewer of them and we’ll have to continue to live our lives within them. However, just because a politician says that you’re allowed to hug other people, that doesn’t mean that you must or even that most of the time you should. The careful and judicious use of new and very welcome freedoms is what discernment is about.

Perhaps the simplest definition discernment is that it’s nothing more than the ability to decide between truth and error, right and wrong. Discernment is the quality of being able to grasp and comprehend what is obscure, it’s the ability to judge people and situations well. In the religious context however it’s no more or less than knowing or attempting to know the mind of God.

Under the New Covenant of Jesus, it’s not the rules that are important, it’s this seeking to know the mind of God. Religious practice isn’t in itself a route to the holy, but may help to get us to a place where an encounter with the holy may happen. Not the only route and absolutely no guarantees. We use practices that have traditionally been helpful, rather than trying to conjure up encounters with the holy all on our own.

Our joint task in ministry is to walk with others as they try to encounter something that neither they or we can ever fully understand – the Mystery of God, that unseen and unknowable force at the very centre of our being. That’s always going to be a pretty tricky task, just as is trying to protect ourselves and those that we care for, from an unseen and ultimately unknowable danger!

Blessings
James

A Prayer for Israel and Palestine

For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us.

Ephesians 2:14

O God the creator of all life

We bring before you all the people who call Israel and Palestine home.
We particularly remember those living in those parts of this land who are facing the constant fear of armed conflict.

We ask your forgiveness for the anger, hatred and violence that all of us have the potential to carry within us.

We beseech you to soften hearts and open minds so that the sanctity of life is always protected, the right to freedom of worship upheld and the security of a safe home defended.

We pray that justice will flow like rivers. That human dignity will be respected and, that each of us may strive to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with you our God.

Amen