May I speak in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.
It was the 20th century theologian Karl Barth who famously advised that we should preach with the bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other and given some of the matters that have dominated our headlines this week, I have heeded this advice this weekend.
Let me begin with the Bishop of Chichester who spoke in the House of Lord’s a week ago within the debate on assisted dying - a matter of existential decision making that goes to the very core of what we believe. In a debate that included some rather dodgy Christology from other quarters, our Diocesan Bishop drew from his parish and estates ministry, rather pertinently pointing out - I paraphrase - that human beings simply can’t be trusted with choosing and facilitating the death of themselves or the death of another. It is just too profound a responsibility, he suggested, that could be distorted and twisted by others who have non-utopian intentions. He pointed towards the way in which disadvantaged communities lack the education and resources to make their case, who are already disadvantaged by the structures of power with their ingrained social inequities, bias’ and flaws… and so when we consider such a fundamental decision we have to come to the conclusion that humanity simply can’t be trusted with the responsibility of death, is too jaded by sin to be trusted to declare when the hour has come for another.
I was very struck by his words and have pondered them for some time alongside the other issues in the headlines this week— and I think he really does have a point. How can society handle such a grave and existential a policy as death … when it can’t even be trusted with handling life … as evidenced by the need for COP26 this weekend.
Jesus’ insistence on the need to love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength always paints an image for me of consciously and deliberately bringing oneself … with every muscle, thought and sinew, into the presence of God; not to feed some ego-maniac deity but so that we might, just might, be able to have our own hearts opened up enough to perceive of and receive the love that we then use to love our neighbour, to love God’s creation. I am pretty confident that God in Christ knows that even if we can only even glimpse his profound depths and fathoms of divine love, we will see something of our own potential to love beyond measure. Hence the call to love God with every single ounce of our being. It is our best chance of loving our neighbour, because we will begin to see what God sees.
This weekend up to 197 global leaders are meeting in Glasgow to discuss together the potential of humanity to better love her creation, though word love is unlikely to be used - instead scientific measures related to the various environmental issues will be spoken of - but let us be in no doubt that what underlies it all is the call upon humanity to better love the creation that God has entrusted us with, and in doing so to love our neighbours who are affected by our behaviours.
But I must confess, that I am very late to this … I must confess that I have always hesitated to preach on environmental matters because I am so aware of my own hypocrisies. I am so aware of my failure to act, my being overwhelmed by the scale of the issue that I regularly find myself in some sort of cognitive dissonance … along with so many others and not least our governments and leaders who this weekend will face the struggle to balance short-term popularity with long-term sustainability.
And yet, the hour has come.
It is overwhelming. We are drowning in packaging and consumerism and it can feel as if there is simply no where to turn. I hear some say that what needs to happen is not in this country, that what needs to happen is on a far greater scale … and then to query whether it is futile to ask for the scale required to change the outcome. Futility is then sometimes replaced by fatalism - the cycles of the earth were ever thus … and then sometimes fatalism is replaced by fantasy … there isn’t really a problem others will say.
Futility, fatalism and fantasy are manifestations of the human psyche when feeling overwhelmed - they becomes the cognitive dissonance that has up until now prevented our generation from taking the action that is needed. I regularly apologise to my children for this.
But. Jesus shows us in today’s readings that with God, by following him, futility, fatalism, and fantasy are revealed as the shrouding veils that they are over reality. Indeed, I would go so far to say that in the last eighteen months Christ has shown us that the entire world can change her behaviours, can adjust, can make swift and significant change … when it is needed.
The thing is, that we have been shown within yet another headline dominating issue, Covid-19, that human beings are able to change, and fast. The speed with which governments and societies, communities and individuals adapted their behaviours to meet the challenges of the pandemic were breathtaking. Costly, difficult, sacrificial … but necessary, possible and doable.
Overnight we were able to stop travelling, over weeks we were able to reign our passions in and focus on our local communities, and over months we have embraced new habits that have been literally life giving - that have loved our neighbour and have saved life. We needed the clear leadership of our governments to do this - the implementation of law and order to guide the way - but we have adjusted. It hasn’t been easy, but that we are stood here right now is testament to the fact that the need and adjustment was effective.
In a stunning moment of ecumenical agreement, the Pope, the ArchBishop of Canterbury and the Patriarch of the Orthodox church have called all Christians to pray - and to pray with all their mind, all their heart, with all their soul and with all their strength - that COP26 will not bow down to the principalities and powers of profit, but to the beating heart and pleas of the earth - that the breath of God’s creation will override the human pride and sinfulness that has caused so much damage.
How wonderful it would be in the weeks to come if I could preach - with bible in one hand and newspaper in the other - and give thanks that humanity did listen to God’s whisper on the wind in the depleted woods, had heard God’s screams in the polluted streams, and had recognised God’s tithe in the tide.
We may not be trustworthy enough to handle death, but surely - if we muster every ounce of our being - all our heart, all our soul, all our mind and all our strength
we might be trustworthy enough to handle life.
The hour has come.