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God fill our hearts to the brim [hymn poem based on the Prayer of St Basil the Great, C4]

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God fill our hearts 

Hymn poem to meter  11 10 11 10  cf CH4 327 Was lebet, was schwebet.  [**Nb quick “dotted” extra syllable at the end of  v2 and  v4  line 3 ]Based on the prayer of St Basil the Great – c.330-379AD And inspired by Matthew 18:18

1) God fill our hearts to the brim for all sharing

life that you give and the life  you sustain:

microbes to whales as from nations  to oceans:

Deep Hospitality too, is your Name.

2) God, keep us robustly loving, with wisdom:

mindful of when to step in and step back;

mindful of harm when we claim Earth exclusively:

unjust exploitative selfish attack!

3) God you gave senses to read every warning;

even as praise is supplanted by pain.

Blinkered and armoured, our rich ones denying:

favouring ruin and death as their ‘gain.’

4) Give us  delight, now,  in every life’s sweetness

lived for the good of the Earth and your praise.

Stories be told that will celebrate unity:

Heaven and Earth, woven beautiful ways.

Hymn Poem Proper 13A: With Time running out!

Hymn for Proper 13A: Genesis 32.22–31  Matthew 14.13–21

Tune: St Denio (CH4 132)

1) On margins, with nothing,  but time running out,

God’s people discover what faith is about:

Tell  stories discarded when all had seemed well

Whilst  sifting and sorting and bidding farewell!

2) When crowds gather, desperate, with violent intent

Christ heals and Christ teaches to channel dissent

to peace for the Earth and for feeding of souls:

resilience, compassion, forgiveness enrolls.

3) When Heaven’s in crisis and Earth has grown hot

fires, storms, on the acid seas, cry out to God.

We’ll hide from injustice – or will we take heed

how hope faith and joy can transform times of need?

4) The Earth is a prophet, proclaiming God’s Word

who wrestles with those who pretend they’ve not heard:

Injustice harms people and planet and flesh,

though hope, by God’s grace, may Earth’s  future refresh!

Sermon for a Reconnecting EcoCongregation

Cross from scrap wood: Jacob and his pillow-stone

Downloadable PDF


Let anyone with ears listen!”

What better  starting point for reflection today on these powerful stories preserved and interpreted as resources for our guidance and nourishment today? That final phrase, 

Let anyone with ears listen!”

a pun in English and in Greek

the final phrase   of our reading, which Jesus uses more than once, within a body of teaching on the importance of vigilance hard-wired to with responsiveness-to-threat throughout the New Testament. 

And this is why, as a church of EcoCongregation Scotland – though I gather you’ve got a bit lost with that identity, no matter – as a church who at some point has had an openness to the integration of Care for Creation with your life, work and worship, your prospects for a harvest of spiritual resilience, of hope, and even some joy, are pretty good.  

Though from what I’ve encountered recently of some of the workings of the churches, to talk in a sermon about the end of the world will come as light  relief!  

Because even if despair might commend itself as a merely rational response, hope, with eyes wide open,  emerges as a far more practical and rewarding path.

The level-headed farmer who puts the brakes on premature weeding is both hopeful and practical, and intensely realistic. They don’t hide from the truth, they don’t pretend it hasn’t happened, and especially, they don’t pretend that everything’s going to be all right because God’s in charge.  

Jesus is certainly not encouraging any such thing with this story. But rather alertness, cunning, hope, and perseverance, rather than neutral patience. 

Our faith – and of course we have no monopoly on this – makes all the more sense, the more we allow ourselves to hear, with such ears as we do have;… the more we read, as Jesus assumed we’d be able to, the signs not just of remote poetic heaven, but the climate-bearing sky above you. 

Jacob’s dream of connection is the  unveiling of a reality previously blinkered. Jacob’s Ladder– and by the way, there is a steep staircase in Edinburgh with that name – connects not two worlds, but the upper and lower parts of the same town.

The parable of the weeds and the wheat  follows after the story of the sower, in which, a scarily imperfect situation, nonetheless results in an abundant harvest. 

Some seed is lost, some eaten, some strangled, but that’s  the way of Creation. 

Which is also what the wise farmer here refuses to lose sight of. 

{If the weed is darnel, by the way, it can only be distinguished from wheat late into the season. Scream “weeds” and you have no harvest at all.}

And so our  early twenty-first century wisdom no longer simply writes off  the birds ands the weeds and the needs of the Earth as if these are in some sense evil. 

The treasured hedgerows we’ve torn up in the quest for productivity, with their weeds and birds and  biodiversity were part of a wider living community, rather than something sustained by plastic barriers and by poison. The ocean floor is about more than catches of fish.  Likewise the peatlands, treasures of carbon capture, in which we’re filling in the same drainage ditches they paid folk to dig thirty years ago.

It’s through listening to industrialists and planners, as well as the scientists who were gathered in Glasgow in November 2021, for the United Nations Climate Conference,  that I’ve moved on recently to talking not just of a climate emergency, but a ‘Nature and Climate Crisis’.  

It’s so much more all-embracing that we’d considered. And it’s about us too. As a friend in the South Pacific reminded me on Facebook this week: 

We are a part of not apart from Creation … we are the biodiversity we destroy…we are the biodiversity we protect.

Not just poets and preachers, but science too, shows more and more how what we thought was merely beautiful and therefore expendable, is vital to our survival.

That’s what Jacob realised, when he set that stone in place and named nowhere in particular  the House of God.

Indeed, as I look around the holy sites of Scotland,  the thin places, as George MacLeod of the Iona Community liked to call them, we do not create, but we only discover the connectedness of  holiness. 

Discover rather then manufacture it.  

Jacob, in common with prehistoric Scots and so many in the Old testament set up a standing stone to mark the site, but the connectedness, in a place  was there with him or without.

 As is their way, the ancient writers  don’t comment on the validity of the conclusions he jumps to after his dream of the complete interconnectedness of the sky  and the soil,  or ‘Heaven and Earth’ as churchy folk like to put it, which is fine, as long as be do not let Heaven be seen as a science fiction dimension of separateness, rather than including our terrestrial, pedestrian experience of Sky.

As long as, when we pray in the way that Jesus teaches, [lord’s prayer/Our Father] we do not any more take for granted the integrity of heaven as of Earth. 

Do we want God’s will to be done as badly in Heaven as we do it on Earth?

But then the Prophets – it seems pretty well all of them- made that link between injustice and environmental harm that we’ve been content to write off as mere poetry.

 The Psalms may sing presumptively of ‘laws that never shall be broken’  and of the reliability of the cycles and seasons, but it’s all these things that are in danger.

Which is why, all the more, faith as a dynamic source of hope and of such meaningful  action as is given to each of us, and perhaps to each church, each denomination, has, I’m comforted and encouraged to say,  a value few would dare have claimed until now. 

The interdependence, the relationship, the partnership with the web of life and the cycles of the Earth,  which is built into the consciousness of the Biblical writers, is daily being reinforced by a culture of science which has long overtaken the brutal human utilitarianism which led even some churches to teach that our species was the purpose of Creation, of which, of course, we’re the pinnacle, and to replace references in some bibles to “all creation” with the minimal “all people”.

  Life isn’t  like that. God’s  rainbow Covenant of Genesis is not just with Noah, but with all flesh: with the Earth.

I recently checked on the story of how in China, around the time I was born, a campaign to eradicate small birds like sparrows led to plagues of the insects the birds would have eaten. But like so much of our current culture, it’s terrifying to take the risk of moving on from the things you’ve grown up believing you can’t survive without.  

Which is perhaps why the UK government, disregarding even their own advisors, let alone those of the United Nations are hugely subsidising and issuing licences for new oil and gas. 

To do so, in this day and age, is like bringing in a contractor to add extra weeds amongst the wheat. Indeed, given the harmful effects of darnel on cattle and people alike, we could be said to be a darnel economy, the enemy of which has begun at last to sow the heat of sustainable energy sources. Of sun, of water,  of wave and tide, of wind and the deep heat of the Earth’ self. 

In this rather peculiar story of the weeds sown alongside the wheat, the ruler of the farm likewise counsels against a panicky tidiness. 

Against  throwing out babies with bathwater. Against the desperation which looks for absolute and watertight solutions, rather than transformation of a difficult situation with patience and cunning. 

Though the mode of patience the church embraced as I was growing up, where wanton procrastination wore the emperor’s clothes of wisdom, has run out of time. 

As the heatwave here a year ago, and the frightening temperatures of mainland Europe this week will testify.

Of the various responses in our economy to the nature and climate crisis, none of them are perfect: electric cars need batteries. The sun doesn’t shine at night, and the wind, as Jesus observed, blows when and where they will;  hydrogen, craftily and cleanly made when the grid is overloaded is subject to regulations on transport comparable to those which insisted that early motor cars had to be proceeded by someone on foot waving a red flag.

But but today’s batteries would have been science fiction ten years ago. Panic works – though only in the sense of being galvanised into ingenious action, rather than paralysed by fear, because  you’ve become dependent on what has to come to an end.

Discipleship – because it was designed for the powerless, not those in charge – includes a goodly portion of craftiness.

This is why, the more we’re aware of the crises of nature and climate, the more Christianity comes into its own by fruitful reflection with eyes and ears wide open. 

As human beings, you have eyes, you have ears, or failing that, you have awareness of one sort or another, and indeed just below the surface, we have various levels of  what have been called ‘fight or flight’.  

That, not the ownership of the Earth, is God’s gift. “Wake up sleeper” -sang  perhaps the earliest ever Christian hymn.  We’re recycling that once more today.

But reading familiar stories in radically different circumstances may rightly mean the outcome of our reflections, and the response that follows will differ from the last time round.  get used to that. Celebrate it. Recognise  it as faithfulness.

What Matthew then  gives is not a definitive interpretation of parable, but a methodology of interpretation rooted in the experience of the hearers.

And that’s the final connection today, the last ladder in place: don’t be scared of letting the stories of Scripture speak to where we are now, even if that means a leap or two.  


What else has the church ever done? 

Be Church! have Fun!

Get on with it!


Pentecost with a local church. Acts 2:1-21


Draft Sermon here, also downloadable as PDF at bottom of page

Now, if, in the next few minutes you’re inclined to think I’m drunk, the bad news is, I’m wide awake.

And I’ve never been more so.  As a Christian minister, I am moreover in a far more intense relationship with Christian scriptures in the five years of this job of Environmental Chaplain than in my  preceding quarter century of  grassroots local church experience on which it’s firmly built.  

As a visitor to many churches I need to assure you that my training and experience is not that of an ivory-tower specialist, but of everyday grassroots general practice Christianity,  which aims, with love and integrity, to build up the hope and spiritual resilience of worshippers: not to be rulers and dictators, but rather as Jesus put it, light for the world, yeast in the dough, salt for the Earth: working together with others without watering down the particular treasure you are and that you have to offer.  

The climate and nature crisis pushes us to be more rather than less reliant on our friendship with Christ the Word become Flesh; God incarnate in the Earth. We might enjoy playing at church, but wind-assisted by the Spirit at Pentecost, it’s a grown-up game. The game of Be more Church.

 In these last few days, has come the additional reminder that whilst I’m still in this job, ( and maybe whilst Gillean is still with you), we’ll see things more dramatic than those days last summer when Scotland’s  green hills turned brown overnight. Or the year before when Storm Arwen took out 16 million of our trees in one night.  But we’re only just beginning to take notice, and there’s huge investment in place in all sorts of devious ways to try and make sure we don’t.  

The entire budget of the Church of Scotland under discussion this last week is dwarfed by what’s invested to sow seed of doubt in this truth,  or provide premature reassurance that all is clean and safe and we have time to sit back like the rich  fool in Jesus’ parable.

My friends, it would be  dishonest  and unloving  to suggest other than this: that we are well beyond the time of reasonable doubt that the increase in extremes and the impact on nature is caused by  unjust choices of human societies.  

Immediately, for those even passingly  familiar with the writings of the prophets in the Bible, there’s a striking coherence in that human injustice goes together with environmental devastation in a way that, as I was growing up,  most sensible sober people were content to write off as so much hot air,  but which is spiritually coherent today.  Inspired by the Spirit, Peter stands up in Jerusalem and talks prophets. They’re not absent from  British and Scottish streets.

What do we want? – ask the climate protesters – not just the young and green , but the mature, sensible sober people of the churches- 

What do we want? -Climate justice- When do we want it? Now!

And of course, for those with ears  to hear and eyes to see, interpreted  by the honesty of science  – these voices add powerful authority and authentication to that call for justice. 

Just as in some of the most frequently cited passages from  those prophets, it’s the voices of nature, of groaning Earth, of the trees who breathe out what we breathe in; voices of the commonest  birds in population free-fall and the cutest ones under sentence 

-The gift of language is a two-edged sword: perhaps you get your point across to other creatures, who may be alien or foreign.  But the danger is you may hear something which makes you move on too. That happens all the time to faithful Christians. Faith is not single-use, not throwaway. Faith is always recycled.

Aid agencies like Christian Aid and TearFund have moved on from a narrow focus on people alone because no economy  can exist without dependence on what we used to think were merely beautiful and expendable, but turn out indispensable to our survival, as a species.  

Christians- who are Christians no less than we are –  elsewhere in the world are not hamstrung, by that brutal divide between the fate of humanity and nature. God’s  Rainbow  Covenant is with the Earth, with all flesh, not just Noah. Everything who has breath praises the God who sustains the unified Creation of sky and soil, Heaven and Earth.  

Whatever the fault, the fate is shared. And that is why the ‘Loss and Damage’ message of Christian Aid is completely coherent:  for polluter countries such as ours to invest in helping fellow people and creatures respond to the impact of what the global north chooses to cause is an investment in our own wellbeing as creatures of God’s same Earth.

Within each human  society are further nested injustices: you can’t ask those on lowest incomes to eat more sustainably, insulate their houses, install heat pumps  and drive electric cars when laws and regulations perpetuate inequality.  Do you think, before you vote, what might change this? And do you send messages of support to your leaders when they get it right? Salt, light, yeast. That’s what you’re here for.

Because you can’t blame the poor for having children, when it has been shown that the education and empowerment of women and attending to poverty lead to a rapidly falling birth rate and progress with greenhouse gas emissions.

Be inspired not with the paralysis of guilt, but the energy of responsibility, and the joyful liberation  of the truth that even in a small and easy way,  each of us can choose a different direction. 

There’s a lot of talk about ‘making a difference’ and at a local level, I have seen that  in litter-picks, beach-cleans, insulation projects, reducing waste, and other things which have brought joy  and deepens faith to the communities involved. ‘Making a difference’ is not a con-trick. But it needs con-text. I have not saved the world by changing all my lightbulbs to LED, even if I have saved myself money by doing so.  And encouraged myself and others. Because as Jesus said: if you do good stuff, shout about it,  to the glory of God.

But I have the advantage that speaking to you and to other churches, I’m with communities who value and trust the practice of prayer: we offer a small  commitment from our hearts, without requiring the authentication of laboratory conditions, and trust in the grace of God that God will make of it what is good for the Earth. That too is the Great Commission of the Risen Christ, to bring good news to every creature, though even that was suppressed in my own mainstream training for ministry.

I also know that in the last few years, some of the messages promoted about response  to the climate crisis have been naive and misleading. Shell was forced to withdraw a campaign which suggested you can ‘drive carbon neutral’  by burning their petrol. A couple of weeks ago I heard about enthusiasm for ‘decarbonising’ the oil and gas industry. This refers to reducing the  ten million tons of CO2 sloppily released in production, and has nothing to do with reducing the burning of oil and gas as a final product. Greenwashing ‘ is a major anaesthetic industry. Sleep well!

The earliest  of Christian hymns includes the line “wake up sleeper”. Because people who are not drunk but wide awake take notice: they see what’s heading their way,  and cope with the roughness of the path so full of stumbling-blocks. Karl Marx described religion as the ‘opium of the people’ – as an addictive anaesthetic. 

For some, that’s what it is.  Keeping your head down and hoping  it will see you out. And other realities  block our horizon. The cost of living – war in Ukraine – both of which are deeply connected with the choice  to continue making war on the Earth on whom we depend.

So after the experience of the wind and power and unexpected communication, which are so extreme as  to lead some to conclude that the church is intoxicated, Peter stands up and begins to recycle and repurpose those  Holy Scriptures which the global  Jewish Community had been reverently preserving and rehearsing. 

He lovingly and respectfully takes the things which define them as a faith community and finds something serious and relevant for there and then.  It’s a dangerous strategem. Jesus himself nearly got thrown off a cliff for suggesting to people that the spiritual resources of their faith were to be taken seriously. They are. Because time has caught up with us as hearers. It’s time to be livers.

An awareness of the climate-and-nature crises  has a bearing on how we perceive time: is it, as Jesus suggests  in the way he begins the prayers recorded in the Gospels, time to get on with things. Time to take seriously  the protests of the young  and the worries of the aged? Globally,  and also throughout the  world church?   Those visions and dreams  in which God includes all of us, and in which I believe it’s time  to include  voices and rights beyond our own species.

What sort of deadlines hang over us?  And should or do deadlines change the way we act and think?  And what if we don’t?  What if we sit back like the builder of the house on the sand, who  just like the builder of the house on the rock could not change the climate, but took no notice and made no changes to their plans? 

Do we dig in to a story of ‘everything’s going to be all right’  and ‘God’s in charge  so we don’t need to worry’  or are we going to take that catalogue of disasters and warnings and even ultimatums we call the Bible seriously, because it also offers ways of encountering and responding to threat and turmoil, and even, in the most defining Christian festival  of Easter, a promise of hope beyond  that point that the disciples were sure was  ‘too late’.  At the crucifixion, the disciples were sure “that was that”.  Were they wrong?  I don’t think they were. 

But despair – even justified, rational despair, turned out not to be the only story.  And that, my friends is why, given what I’ve read, what I’ve heard from friends around the world whose homelands are already in crisis with rising of sea-levels, the disruption of animal and bird migration and of growing seasons for crops,  given what I heard at COP26 in Glasgow from the scientists and their  final jigsaw pieces of cause and effect between the way we live and what’s happening  to the planet, the oceans, the ice-caps  and more, and finally, given Jesus’ intoxicated(?) call not to worry about tomorrow, is how I keep going. And keep finding hope in the responses of churches.

Jesus says truth sets us free. And the truth is, that by any stretch of the imagination, we are in one version  of the last days of the way the world has been.  No great surprise if we listen carefully to the promise made by Jesus at his resurrection: I will be with you every day until the end of the age.  That’s a good deal, a great deal, full of grace and help and solidarity, though what it absolutely is not, is a promise of open-mindedness or an assurance of indestructibility of the home we share. But I believe it’s also a promise of solidarity in transition. The best deal going. 

That Day in Jerusalem was not the first or only  time it’s right to think of the “last” days.  But 

young ministers are still  taught that in the face of the world stubbornly refusing absolutely to end, you find a way of ignoring it. 

I think we should be – because the writers of scripture are –  a lot more realistic and a lot more creative than that.

In times of crisis, the best way to live  out our faith is as if each day is our last. To make different decisions, open up different futures.  Nothing to lose, except perhaps  that  story of the end of the church in despair and irrelevance.  Do not worry about tomorrow. Get on with it now!

Scottish Government, Place-based Engagement

The Climate Policy Engagement Network is an important project seeking to bring together a range of stakeholders, organisations and experts who wish to input on key climate change policy milestones delivered by the Scottish Government.

Throughout 2023, the network will focus on the upcoming Just Transition Plans and Climate Change Plan. Eco-Congregation Scotland is actively supporting this for engagement activities, providing opportunities to feedback either on policy engagement plans or directly on policy development. The network has a first ask for us to respond to over the coming week and we are keen to read views from across Scotland's Eco-congregations and our volunteers.

Place-based engagement – places and communities of special interest

Background information
During June and July 2023, the Scottish Government will be undertaking climate change place-based engagement across Scotland. To support the planning for this round of engagement, they want your views on which communities and places around Scotland they should engage with. Where would have a particular interest or experience in any of these four topics and that you feel are important to include in their place-based engagement?

1.  Transport

2.  Land use and agriculture

3. Buildings and construction

4.  Adaptation to climate change

The Scottish Government are planning to do approximately 10 in-person events across the mainland and want to make sure they reach a range of places. They will also hold 3 events across the islands, and we are considering whether these would be best held virtually to allow as broad a range of people to engage as possible.

If you have any suggestions please answer the questions below.

Eco-Congregation Scotland needs to pass on your views by Friday 28th April so please submit any answers as soon as you can.