Environment Sunday Address by Anita Shaw

Environment Sunday: June 3rd

Readings: Deuteronomy 5:12-15, Colossians 1.15-20,  Mark 2:23-3:6

Psalm 19 "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and redeemer."

We are keeping today as Environment Sunday and I come today wearing several hats, as you can see. I am a member of the choir here but in addition I carry the rather lofty title of Environment Champion for the Leeds Episcopal Area. Here at St Michael’s, we are fortunate to have a thriving environment group, the Green Group which benefits from the inspirational leadership of Luke but today I would like us to reflect why, as Christians each one of us is called to take our environmental stewardship seriously.

It begins of course in Genesis where we have that wonderful story of creation, such rich and wonderful language which points to a loving and awe inspiring creator. Our Old Testament reading for today picks up the importance of rest and renewal on the Sabbath day, an opportunity to focus on the goodness and beauty all around us, an opportunity to take a deep breath, allowing God in, to recall that everything we have comes from God and that we bring nothing into this world and take nothing out. The Psalms, so regularly sung in our church often reflect the beauty of creation and many are full of joy – there are psalms which paint wonderful scenes of meadows and streams, mountains and valleys. The Old Testament paints an extraordinary tapestry of life in all its fullness and Christ himself grew up richly steeped in this tradition of scripture.

We will each have personal memories of when we may have been moved by the grandeur of God or perhaps we have been stopped in our tracks when a small child makes a simple comment which is very profound. I recall quite vividly the wonder that our daughter (aged 4 at the time) would show when encountering garden worms – one occasion in particular when she held a worm in her hand and was carefully removing the soil surrounding it, she lowered it back to the earth with the instruction “Off you go, you’re all nice and clean now”. And so it is perhaps that we can learn something from our Old Testament lesson amidst the frantic pace of modern life, that we ought to find time to stop and gaze and wonder – we are in fact ourselves a part of creation, made in God’s image. Everything we have comes from God.

One of the most influential books in my teenage years was a book by Erich Fromm: ’to have or to be’. The book focuses on the difference between modern industrial society with its acquisition of material possessions and holds that in contrast to the joy and fulfilment of caring for our neighbours and the whole of creation.

It fascinates me that a book printed 40 years ago has such relevance today but of course it should come as no surprise when we consider our calling as Christians to reflect on the Old and New Testaments to discern what God is calling us to be.

Our second reading from St Paul’s Letter to the Colossians expresses something fundamental to our Faith that Christ was sent into the world to save the world, the whole of creation, everything in heaven and on earth, not just humankind, this ought to inspire us on our environmental journey as we recognise that we are part of creation and as followers of Christ share responsibility to treasure the Earth and all that is in it.

Following on from that, the gospel reading for today shows Christ turning traditional values upside down or perhaps the purpose was to shake up the disciples and encourage them to think beyond the confines of rigid rules which in some cases would see crops rotting in the fields while the poor may be left hungry? It seems in some ways that Christ was calling his disciples to challenge authority and to think for themselves whilst drawing attention to the fact that the earth is bountiful with sufficient to feed all. The story of healing on the Sabbath liberates the disciples from the rules of the Pharisees which at that time would neglect human need in order to please the authorities. We may ask ourselves what we are called to be – are there opportunities for us to challenge greed and profit when we see that our neighbours in other parts of the world are starving?

Where is this leading on Environment Sunday you may wonder? World environment Day, falls on June 5th each year, it is one of the most important days in the UN calendar in raising awareness globally for the protection of the environment. This year India will host the event and the theme will be focusing upon plastic pollution and the impact which it has upon our natural world. It’s interesting that the Church of England encouraged a Plastic-Less Lent challenge this year and that our MP Alex Sobel is encouraging us to join him in giving up single use plastic next week from June 4-10. I have written recently in our parish magazine about the challenge – it seems that the momentum for change is gaining pace and it gives us real hope that individuals can make a difference by questioning the overuse of plastic - from local coffee shops to global suppliers. Of course  the winning combination of stunning cinematography from the BBC during The Blue planet series along with Her Majesty and Sir David Attenborough playing pivotal roles has raised the profile of the campaign but there has been remarkable change in a relatively short time. Most of us here at St Michael’s are enjoying a more plastic free life than they did only a few months ago. A lot has happened in a short time and it should fill us with hope.

Plastic use and abuse is in many ways more tangible to grasp than Climate change which is one of the most pervasive and even more threatening issues of our time, it has far-reaching impacts for each one of us in the twenty-first century but as is so often the case the vulnerable and those without a voice suffer the impact first. Climate change is expected to have unprecedented implications on where people can settle, grow food and build cities alongside functioning ecosystems necessary for balance and survival.

In many places, temperature changes and sea-level rise are already putting ecosystems under stress and affecting human well-being as millions of displaced climate refugees are forced to move away from their land. We are talking about potentially as many as 20 million people driven out of the Sahel (sub-saharan) region of Africa where drought has driven people from their land. There are islands in the South Pacific where people are leaving their island homes as a result of rising sea levels. The USA have recently experienced terrible flooding in Baltimore - torrents of water gushing through the streets. In addition the state of Louisiana is paying millions of dollars in order to relocate the predominantly indigenous population of Isle de Jean Charles which is sinking beneath the sea.

I don’t wish to turn this address into a geography lesson but it is perhaps something we may check up on in our own time. It all looks desperately bleak, especially when we look at the current leadership in the world.

We are called to hold the bleakness of this world before God as we reflect that we are called to be a people of Hope and it is God who motivates us to take action that can in turn lead to transformation.

Our reading from Colossians highlights the truth of the redemption of all things in Christ, in whom all things are reconciled to God, and in whom heaven and earth are joined. We need to recover the way of the cross and resurrection, love and service, sacrifice and restraint, and the corporate life of the Spirit.

This is our human responsibility as God’s image-­bearers, in union with

Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit. It is also the pathway to human flourishing and the healing of all creation.

 

In practical terms how might we do this? Well the good news is we are not on our own but we are each a part of the Body of Christ and we may find a calling to make a difference in various ways. Careful prayer and reflection is a good place to start.

We may reflect that fossil fuels have been the primary driving force for the industrial revolution and that in turn are responsible for the increase in greenhouse gases, raising the average atmospheric temperature and creating change in the earth’s climate, exacerbated of course by deforestation. Where might that lead us?

Well, our pewsheet this morning carries with it several links which we may follow with encouraging suggestions of how we may take small steps in order to reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. We can measure what we use in our daily life following the wwf carbon footprint link as listed (world wildlife fund) it offers a wealth of information to assist us in choosing more environmentally friendly options which do not cost the earth. It came as a surprise for me to learn that meat, (particularly beef) carries a high carbon footprint, due in part to the grain production in order to feed the cattle but also the methane gas produced by the cattle. We may choose perhaps to reduce this by possibly pledging to eat a vegetarian diet a couple of days per week. Small steps on the journey which each add up and make a difference.

There are opportunities to take an interest in the air quality of our city and look at improving public transport through Headingley. We may engage with our local councillors – sharing ideas for the development of green space in the community. We may speak out for our poorest brothers and sisters in the world, supporting Christian Aid and climate refugees some of whom arrive on our doorstep. We may look at our savings and investments (if we have any!) and take a more active interest in pension providers and banks – looking towards more ethical savings which may invest in new sustainable development. Why would we do these things – we do it because we are Christ’s body in this place connected to the wider world and we have a responsibility to love and care for all creation.

I’ve thrown rather a lot at you this morning but it’s the small things we do which can make such a difference – we might grow fruit or vegetables and grow bee friendly plants, we can start out small using a plant pot and gradually build up?

So many ideas but to encourage you today I’ve brought several tomato plants which I hope you will take away, place them on a sunny windowsill and water now and then. There has never been a more urgent time for us to step up to the challenge of caring for creation, (it is in fact the fifth mark of mission as agreed by the Anglican Communion).

I hope that you will marvel at creation as your tomato plants grow and that each of us can leave here with a spring in our step as we venture forth and make a difference in this wonderful world.

Amen


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