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Advent: Last Things First

A series of 4 varied and challenging reflections giving an alternative -but valid – view of familiar Advent (Lectionary) Readings. Filmed on location in the Flow Country of North-East Scotland and (Week 1 only) the Pentland Hills near Edinburgh. Also All 4 Gospel readings and 2 from Isaiah, all on location.

Advent Calendar ( Daily short reflective clip, 2 mins 20 max) : click here !

**** One tree was planted in the Eco-Congregation Supporters and Friends Grove for each ‘sermon’, to acknowledge , not offset, the footprint.

Below everything else: [bottom of page ] a ‘Stilling Video’ filmed at Forsinard Flows

Main Video Reflections (readings and approximate script below each)

Week 1

The reflection for week 1 is a series of linked thoughts, rather than a continuous ‘sermon’. Location: West Kip Hill in the Pentlands, near Edinburgh

Gospel reading for Advent Sunday 1
OT for Advent Sunday 1

Week 2

Sermon/Reflection for Advent Sunday 2
Gospel for Advent Sunday 2

Week 3

Sermon/Reflection for Advent Sunday 3

Week 4

Sermon/Reflection for Advent Sunday 4

Stilling video [introduction to prayer, worship or reflection ]

Christ the King [Draft Sermon] for churches on the Isle of Mull

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The four ruling  R’s of our time are reduce, re-use, recycle, repurpose.  

Broadly in that order, since we’re now at a completely unviable level of pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. 

The latter is of course not easy for folk like yourselves who reply on lifeline ferries, though that immediately gets us into the question of who bears responsibility for the harm that’s done, and whether what seems “unavoidable” can be offset in some way:  though if the islands are part of Scotland and the UK,  then that responsibility should be carried by those who can change it, rather than blamed on those who can’t.

Is it the responsibility of the  people at the sharp end – and I may here also think about those I’ve met who live on the fast-disappearing islands of the Pacific – or of those who have been given the power to make changes for the good of all?   

For most of the world church, this last Sunday of the Christian year is observed as something on the lines of “Christ the King Sunday”.  

The message it can’t and must not be allowed to carry, though is this:

“Here’s your king…. keep your head down, your nose clean, and don’t argue. “

The name and title ‘Israel’ which we’ll be pinning on Jesus in Christmas carols not many days from now, is that of someone who argues, wrestles, even, with God.  And a good king listens, rather than crushes, dissenting voices.

In the UN climate conference just concluded, some countries have more influence over the organisation than others, either due to their size, military power, or effectiveness in international diplomacy.

Yet, this is one of the genuine positives about COP: that the big polluters actually are under some pressure from voices never heard at other meetings.  The cats really do look at the kings. 

You’re meeting today as Reformed Christians: heirs of a movement in European Christianity, which for all its faults encouraged everyday folk in  the language of love-songs to address  Jesus. 

An intimacy which strict royalists would surely find improper. Reclaiming the closeness which power and privilege would steal away.

Like when we use the word ‘Heaven’ to suggest something distant and apart, as if the word did not also encompass the reality of the sky above us, part of the unity of Creation. 

 For God is the maker of Heaven and Earth, sky and soil. So many many times we read that in Scripture. Whatever else you need it to mean, “heaven” is part of creation. Intimately, dynamically connected with the Earth. 

It’s taken  more than a century for the unifying idea of the greenhouse effect to become widely credible. That those  “laws which never shall be broken” can be shattered.

Surely the earth is big enough that we can pollute with impunity? Not when there’s that many of us. Held together, like it or not.

It’s not  done the church any good to try to separate one part of Creation – the Earth – from another -Heaven, or the Sky, though Jesus in the Lord’s Prayer teaches us to pray that God’s will be done throughout

Some nervous Christians, perhaps mindful of the same faults of kingship which exercised the writers of  1 Samuel,  have softened it to “reign of Christ”. As they might put it:

“We know what kings do, and we want none of that!”

But with the urgency  which enriches our faith in the awareness of a global climate crisis no longer future or straightforwardly to be solved, it might be better to go with it: to recycle and carry forward whatever is good and true about Christ as king,  who himself said his kingdom,  really is not like that so arrogantly thought of as “this world”.  

This year it feels different, not least because we actually do have someone we call “king”,  which brings it just slightly  more down to Earth: all those worship songs still being written that go on and on about the “king” are now confronted, for better or worse, with flesh and blood.  A wee bit more ‘incarnate’ you might say.

What should a “king” do?  When I was involved in dedicating a jubilee tree on Colonsay this year, the people there came up with the beautiful truth, that we’d had a monarch who, for seventy years, had planted trees. 

If you would rule, then live an exemplary life.

Though for Charles 3rd thus far, being king seems to involve trying hard not to have an opinion, and doing what you’re told by whoever happens to be prime minister in any given week. Despite a life-long interest in environmental protection.  “No you shall not go to the Ball  (in Egypt.)!” 

We’re just a day or two past that gathering, some three thousand miles from here, of more nations than we’ve ever heard of, to discuss what can be done to respond to a mess they’ve made together. 

The similar great circus I witnessed in Glasgow is a competition of magics. Everyone screaming about how much they care, how much they’ve invested in nature based solutions, and terribly nice young people trying to convince you that small nuclear reactors are such a good thing after all.  And the man on the National Pavilion of Qatar who gave me a delicious coffee to assure me that his country wasn’t as bad as the Saudis because they only produced gas, not oil.

But our king is not allowed to go.

There’s a certain irony there: the custodian of power in the UK state absolutely must not use it. Not even to encourage other countries.

Irony is perhaps the most powerful tool of language, and in God’s hands it only grows in sharpness. 

We can marvel that  in the treatment of Jesus by those he was first sent to,  it’s through wood and nails that he becomes one with the Tree of life. The blood of the Cross, the Tree, as the Bible also puts it [Acts 5:30]

Which unlocks the deeper aspects of God’s covenant with the Earth and with All Flesh: and of course it’s the efforts completely to eradicate God’s authority in Christ  that reveal not just that authority, but authority arising from connections: that idea in the Bible letter of “holding together” in something those concerned with the environment are increasingly calling ‘the web of life’. 

Christ as King is not about domination, but rather the sustaining of life-giving relationships;  and as is made clear elsewhere in Colossians, diversity, not uniformity, is how Christ achieves unity, be it in the church or in this planet. 

So too, the multiple layers of divine irony in the events of the crucifixion: Jesus, born and adopted into the same dodgy  claim as half the Jewish population to descent from King David, labelled a king in the eradicating humiliation of the cross by Pilate, in a sickeningly calculated insult to every aspiration of the people the Roman Empire had asked Pilate  to rule,… this same Jesus risen from the dead is praised as king through centuries, by hundreds of millions. Undermining  (- or it ought to be undermining, wouldn’t you think -?) the model of domination that Empires prefer. 

For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

The past couple of hundred years, there’s been a slightly different power struggle: a game of thrones and crowns, you might say, about who and what rules whom. 

Some like to think that human beings rule the planet, and therefore, whoever can pull off the stunt of forcing them into line, might reasonably be entitled to the title of king, or monarch, as it were.  Rule this one species and you rule the world. Whether through war and guns or through an addiction to fossil fuels, which also causes wars. Or through continuing, as does the UK government, to offer licences for additional oil and gas exploration whilst claiming leadership in carbon reduction. 

I hope you can think of the right words for that.

In the Pope’s letter to ‘everyone of good will’ in 2015, he noted that the Earth ‘rules’ us. Almost without exception, even those who commented favourably on that letter completely ignored that point.  And it’s the ‘not being in charge’ that even churches – especially larger churches – have most difficulty with. 

[What if you gave your loyalty to a King  who ruled by delegation? By putting you on a throne, in order, in turn, to pass that parcel?]

I like the story of King Canute, who in the eleventh century, would have claimed overlordship of the Isle of Mull. Knut let himself be talked into sitting on the beach and commanding the tide not to come in and wet his robes.

But the sea came up as usual, and disrespectfully drenched the king’s feet. Jumping back, the king cried: “Let all the world know that the power of kings is empty and worthless, and there is no king worthy of the name save Him by whose will Heaven,  Earth and the Sea obey eternal laws.’

Mind you, Knut carried on as King. Presumably “by the grace of God”.

Amongst people of faith, more widely, there is nonetheless that awareness that since we remain very much at the mercy of the cycles of nature, God alone can be said to rule.

However mighty a given human organisation might aspire to be, we’ve managed to disrupt, rather than rule the Earth of which we are part. 

Floods and famines and droughts have always reminded human beings of the power of God as creator, and in the book of Job, it’s accepted that God does have very much more on their plate than providing a sunny day on Mull for those with a bit of time on their hands.

But look a few verses either side of the most frequently quoted verses on justice and upright living in the Bible, and you’ll find Creation, one way or another, enlisted to hold human beings to account. So what is happening in Pakistan this year both is and isn’t a ‘natural’ disaster. This is what you’d have heard from the scientists in Egypt, because I heard it in Glasgow last year.

Equally in agreement with Scripture and current experience,  is that the poor suffer first and hardest, which judges all the more those who sit on the sidelines and do nothing at all.  (Not even what is promised under “loss and damage”.)

Or allow their own rulers to do nothing at all.  We sang that hymn before the readings ‘Crown him with many crowns’ – it’s an open secret that no ruler, no regime,  can hold power in the long-run, without the consent of their people.

In the letters of the New testament, despite a somewhat skewed presentation, it’s clear that the criterion for whether a pretender to kingship or whatever is that they’d always seek the common good.  

But we do need good leaders. Social activists like to write letters of protest to their MPs or MSPs – when did you last think of writing a letter of appreciation, when they get something right?  

What do you do to express your loyalty to Christ the King …..through the rulers you are given?

EcoCongregation Scotland Advent Calendar 2022

[an alternative, ecumenical, international, multi-lingual environmental calendar, taking Advent as a season in its own right]

Full-length reflections for each week of Advent are HERE.

(today’s mini reflection is at the top of the page, which will be updated throughout the season. Please Allow a few seconds for loading, according to your internet speed)

2nd December Day 6

3rd December Day 7

4th December Day 8

5th December Day 9

6th December Day 10

7th December Day 11

8th December Day 12

9th December Day 13

10th December Day 14

11th December Day 15

12th December Day 16

13th December Day 17

14th December Day 18

15th December Day 19

16th December Day 20

17th December Day 21

18th December Day 22

19th December Day 23

20th December Day 24

21st December Day 25

22nd December Day 26

23rd December Day 27

24th December Day 28

A reflection for an interfaith meeting on Gender Justice and Climate Justice

From Gender Day at COP26 Glasgow

Ocean and Orphan: powerful street theatre in Glasgow at the time of COP

As a Christian minister of a Reformed tradition which has ordained women to leadership  for more than a hundred years, my ‘ecclesiology’ is one in which leadership is no longer gender specific.  

No one who disagrees is appointed to a leadership role in my church, where female, male, lesbian gay and trans folk serve equally.   I’ve been a celebrant for same-sex marriage since 2016.   These things are not always unopposed. 

But  in places in our  Scripture, even God does not silence opposition. 

I am  reminded by the teaching of Jesus of two priorities : both not to wear myself out with those who are completely determined to take no notice  – and that’s the divine origin of the beautiful rude phrase “pearls before swine”….  

….but also to go out of my way, in company with others to bring round those who dig in to what continues to harm every excluded community of the Earth. Including the Earth.

The transition from where my church was we were before we formally embraced equality took far too long, but it came about both by means of – rather than in spite of  – Christian theology repurposed by the recognition of the gifts of women staring us all in the face.  We finally noticed what we should have read :that “in Christ there is neither male nor female” 

That’s partly why I choose to speak  tonight within role, not outside of it.  I’m not suspending anything of my belief and trust in God, who is known in liberation rather than domination.

Indeed, the more I become aware of the climate crisis, the more that faith makes sense.   Emergency does prompt us to reassess, recycle, repurpose even our most cherished beliefs,  which are often strengthened and refined by such questions.. 

I find it hugely affirming that the breaking down of barriers to the education, empowerment and equality of women are an objectively valid and mainstream part of human response to the climate emergency.  You don’t get there otherwise.  You don’t get a better life.

But I also have to speak up when folk talk of overpopulation, then blame the poor, when the lifestyles of the richest and most powerful people on the planet have environmental impacts tens of times or more of those in poverty. 

 And the birth rate – and childbirth mortality  drops rapidly when poverty is addressed. Praise the Lord.

Would we be looking in churches at the legacy of slavery if the historic  dynamic of obstruction and denial were not so similar as that over the need to act on this crisis?

And is it providential that during lockdown, when ‘Black lives’ were seen the more to matter,  and ‘Me Too’ became more visible,  and public consciousness of climate issues held steady or even grew, according to the presentation by Mori Polls at COP last year?

I thank God for those scientists and researchers who in this and other fields, are teaching us that what is beautiful is also real and vital to our survival.  The Westminster govt would probably call it a “double lock.

Now …as EcoChaplain:  gender and indeed racial justice might be included  specifically because effective climate justice requires this.  And just as Creation is the first casualty of any war,  those who suffer most are most likely to find common ground with the Earth. ….Specialists can’t be separatists.

There are some  headline-grabbing  but impoverished presentations of the key foundation of global Christianity – that ‘God was in Christ, making friends with the Planet ‘. 

These are faith approaches  which amputate the visceral earthiness of who Jesus is,  and it’s difficult to see how they are not related more to a right-wing capitalist, imperialist culture of domination, rather than a dynamic and relational spiritual appreciation of human beings as creatures amongst creatures.  

I could add ‘western,  white, straight  male’ to those qualifications. .. a culture which does not nurture the girls of today to be the wise  grandmothers of tomorrow.

It’s also very noticeable how, when you conflate ‘more’ and ‘better’ in all circumstances, you even exclude the endings and fragilities of life. 

 And act as if they will never catch up with you.

You live the lie of endless growth, endless control, and the biggest fiction of all, that there’s no problem which can’t be fixed with more money, power or technology. 

The powerless – and how often these have been women – know that the exercise of soft power can still transform.  A response may be better than a solution. 

“Final solutions” were what  Nazism was about.

We’re very happy, in EcoCongregation Scotland, that COP put us more in touch with indigenous groups for whom Christianity amplifies and completes, rather than competes with their spirituality of straightforward  relatedness to the Earth.  The Earth that holds humanity to account for how we live.

And how wonderful it is too, that the Paris Agreement from 2015 onwards recognised the treasure of wisdom amongst groups who care for 85% of Earth’s biodiversity. 

How very well this fits with mainstream Christian teaching, such as that ‘the last will be first’  and that   those who are despised and rejected carry the wisdom that even the oppressors require to survive.

Faithfulness requires change, requires sharing of  power and listening… if all of us want to survive.

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Hymn poem: God is love for all Creation

Copyright Yvonne Bell” And God saw that it was good

God is love for all Creation

(for the days/Sunday of All Creatures, Souls and Saints)

Meter:  8787D  eg Abbot’s Leigh, Hyfrydol, and many many more in the metrical index of most hymnbooks

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1)God is love for every creature.

God whose image our kind bear

And the church called to be teacher

And practitioner of care

List’ning for prophetic voices

Of the Earth, the poor, the sky

Interweaving, ever cycling 

Though a mystery, love is why.

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2) God sustains, remakes all living;

Gives humanity as gift:

Tilling, keeping: we are medicine:

We, Earth’s blessing, spoiled by grift;

Jesus teaches: “love your neighbour

recognised where need is met”

Sky and soil and sea and stones, though 

sore abused, teach justice yet.

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3) So attend to all the lessons:

all the loving warnings given: 

Cries of Sky and Sea and creatures,

from the Tree where nails are driv’n.

Faithfulness requires repentance:

transformation of our heart.

Injuries to Earth make urgent 

healing: listen: today we start!

Grappling -sermon in-between times

For a church considering joining EcoCongregation Scotland

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Forth Bridge

Download the PDF, or copy the text :

Working with appointed readings in a local church….

Gen 32:22-31

The same night Jacob  got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 2Then he said, ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’ 27 So he said to him, ‘What is your name?’ And he said, ‘Jacob.’ 28 Then the man[b] said, ‘You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel,[c] for you have striven with God and with humans,[d] and have prevailed.’ 29 Then Jacob asked him, ‘Please tell me your name.’ But he said, ‘Why is it that you ask my name?’ And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peniel,[e] saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.’ 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip. 32 Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the thigh muscle that is on the hip socket, because he struck Jacob on the hip socket at the thigh muscle.

2 Tim 3:14-4:5

14 But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, 15 and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All scripture is inspired by God and is[b] useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work. 

In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favourable or unfavourable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching. For the time is coming when people will not put up with sound doctrine, but having itching ears, they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own desires, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander away to myths. As for you, always be sober, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, carry out your ministry fully.

Luke 18:1-8

18 Then Jesus told them a parable about their need to pray always and not to lose heart. He said, ‘In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.”’[b] And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. And will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long in helping them? I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them. And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?’

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After  four years with churches developing their relationship with Creation, I’m all for  that  idea in Paul’s letter to Timothy  that scripture “equips us.”  

Our immersion into the poems and stories  of the Bible is a real resource for justice, for resilience, for survival. 

Christianity –  especially in the diversity of  the World Council of Churches,-Christianity finds identity as one of God’s great gifts for the good of the Earth. Though we can’t do everything for everyone.

That’s why it’s  best to put Paul’s  idea of scripture-as-treasured-resource together with Jesus’s own image of the scribe of the kingdom, who brings out of their box of treasures both new and old.  [Matt 13: 51-2]

Discernment is involved, making the best of what comes to hand. In an emergency, there’s only so much treasure you can carry with you. 

The stuff we leave in the box may be treasures, but not what we need right now. 

You don’t get the Christmas tree out for Easter Sunday.  Though, powerfully,  some churches  upcycle an Easter cross from the  Christmas tree. Tracing the living Tree in the life of Christ.

Times and seasons change. Likewise choices we urgently  need to make, like Jacob’s  choice as to which limb of the attacker to hold on to. What to take,  what to leave?  The people on the front line of the crisis, who first raised the alarm, know all about that. 

As do those made homeless even in the USA, in Germany, and other rich countries, by extremes which human activity has made frequent.

Faith offer so many different ways of conveying good news. We may not need all of them all of the time. Could we travel lighter, and still be God’s faithful people?

And, taking that idea of seasons more  broadly:  as the figures on global warming, sea-level rise, ocean heating and acidification, the melting of glaciers, the extinction of animals and the destruction of ecosystems consistently worsen day by day – in the season of climate crisis, might it mean rethinking the usefulness of the already multiply recycled seasons of the Christian year? 

The Earth has tended until now, to get left behind in our project. Strange, that! A character mentioned something like a  thousand times in the Bible.  See what it  does for how it feels, when you think “who” rather than “it” for the Earth, and spell Earth  with a capital, too!

There’s another jewel languishing in the basket, which is the consciousness not simply of the cycle of seasons, but the succession of ages

Matthew’s version of the Great Commission offers us Jesus’ promise to be with us ‘to the end of the Age’, which pious eagerness has often smoothed out into an open-ended ‘always’. 

But ‘always’ is misleading. ‘Always’ can seem like “no further cause for wrestling, or engaging with change”. 

And yet our heritage is one in which faithfulness is validated  by the readiness to read the signs of the times. Including their endings. 

Indeed, the earthly life of each one of us, will come to an end. That’s how we’re made. Sharing the fragility of all life. Even the life of the planet; their balance and stability which has cradled our cultures and religions since the last Ice Age. 

Now, of course, our horror  -and I hope you do feel horror –  at Bible stories, like the genocide of the Amalekites,  the ethnic cleansing campaigns of  Ezra/Nehemiah, and Joshua, blaming God for mass murder of women, children and animals at the Battle of Jericho, let alone the enslavement of starving  Egyptians by Joseph, who might as well have worked for one of our energy companies…  all of these things should remind us never to take it for granted that scripture is  simply exemplary.  

Though some of the songs we learned as children might have suggested that.

Sometimes Scripture  shows us where not to go.  What not to do.  

Thus not to wrestle with the Bible, is neither really to read it, nor, as the sun rises, to receive its blessing. As Jacob, who stayed the fight, was blessed. 

The journey from baffling  ancient text to living and beneficial Scripture for our day is not a solitary  one.  It’s a journey – or perhaps a wrestling  tag-match – with  good company and discernment. 

First of all, the translators, with their very particular agenda. 

Then what we add ourselves. Which is fine, as long as we accept  that Scripture is a process, a relationship. 

Paul supports this with details  which it’s easy to skim over: scripture and tradition, morals and customs  are never neutrally presented.  Get used to that. 

Because it means that someone somewhere  has made a choice about what you hear and how to hear it.

It may well be a good choice. But will it be well-enough informed, without your own choice,  to activate those treasures which will help you, your neighbour, your church, your world?

As Paul, chancing it  on reputation, wrote to Timothy: our most trusted teachers give us a glimpse of what it might be that the Spirit is saying to the churches today.  

But even to respect and value them, a wee bit of wrestling might be in order, if we’re to savour their blessing.

Which means that, in this Age of Endings -although environmental chaplaincy  is here to support and encourage local leaders, priests, pastors ministers, lay-leaders or whatever fits the bill – ….in this age of locked-in change, which will be with us well beyond our own lifetimes, the greater priority is to build up  confidence  of leaders and congregations in their  own ability and calling, responsibly to recycle, even to repurpose, rather than dutifully, submissively and unquestioningly  to re-use our wonderful spiritual heritage as global Christians.  

People in the pews of the local churches  today  know more about the climate crisis than big-name theologians  for whom it never appeared on the radar. You all have a contribution to make to Good News for every creature.

This, though, is not one of those sermons which says simplistically: previous generations all got it wrong, whereas we, modern sophisticated people have finally got it all right.  

Indeed, one of my fondest discoveries has been a prayer from the 4th century, which affirms the value in their own right and the right to ‘the sweetness of life’ of fellow creatures.  That prayer is wonderfully useful right now.

Poetry and spiritual song cannot be valued only by price tags. Though scientists now are attaching them to natural assets in an attempt to convince the money-men that what is beautiful is also objectively valuable. 

The whale, who captures carbon throughout their life, might be said, like those online celebrities, to have a ‘net worth’ running into millions. 

And yet, equally,  our reverence for the Word of God  should  not exclude fringe benefits.  It doesn’t have to be financially useful, but neither is it required to be useless.  With apologies to Lloyd Webber, the church is not “The Really Useless Company”.

So if, as a church, you do  scour your treasures for appropriate responses of faith to the state of the planet, look for those which are most rewarding and encouraging. 

It might be attending to waste, getting rid of plastic in the church. It might simply be prayer with room for the voice of the Earth.  But what builds you up? Don’t under-estimate how much help  you need, even to get to the end of the week.

“To labour and not to ask for any reward…” is only half a sentence, made misleadingly macho by abbreviation.  That quotation continues with the huge reservation “save that of knowing that we do your will”.   That’s big. That’s greedy, even. Because the will of God is for justice, for delight, for health. God so loves the world….

Pray and live that that will be done.

The will of God was the justice that  widow was after from the judge. The will of God is to receive the praise of everything which has breath.

Look closely, and Creation is side by side, in the same breath, and thoroughly mixed up with justice. The ancient Hebrews made that leap, that the God who ends enslavement of their creatures is also the God who makes life good.

What I can’t evade, is that  a wall has been built up in the last couple of centuries,  obscuring  where Earth is called upon by God to police human injustice.  

And with the wall, the  unsustainable idea that God gives to our species exclusively, the world as a habitat which it turns out sustains and requires the weaving of every other thread in the web of life.

At college I was actively discouraged from bothering with the Great Commission of Christ Risen in Mark’s Gospel, ..to be good news for every creature. 

Now, there were scholarly reasons for that, but whose agenda, should decide what’s in and what’s out?  What is an appropriate criterion?  

How about: what do we need to hear today?  

How, like Jacob, can we be equipped to face these threats? The Deuteronomy Passage, reminds us that“Israel” which we’ll be pinning on Jesus in  Christmas carols in a few weeks time, is a name not chosen to tell truth that emerges through life and death struggle.  For the Bible usefully shares with us the experiences  of those who have been there. Done that, worn the blessing. Even if we limp.

A minister in a church I visited recently asked me why people come to church at all? Indeed, what is our faith for?

You may have answers, and each may be sufficient for you, but in amongst that repertoire, is one not yet dominant in our  culture of Mammon, where unlimited and exploitative  economic growth is presented – even incompetently – as the truth you mustn’t  argue with. 

For me, faith is the joyful shout at Palm Sunday – Hosanna – God help us!

A cry for help, which is a claim on relationship. Like the young woman from Pakistan to whom I promised I would pass on to you what she impressed upon me in Germany – that the floods in Pakistan are not a ‘natural’ disaster, but represent an injustice for which the richer nations are directly and causally responsible. 

And here it is in Old and New Testaments. Desperation. A struggle with a violent stranger in the dark.  The widow:  amongst the most marginalised and powerless in the society of Bible times, suffering Christ knows what hardship, humiliation, harm and danger under that umbrella of the need for justice. I’ve met her. 

At COP, at the World Council of Churches, online. She’s your sister in Christ. Protesting at the parliament . 

Are we the judge? or are we egging her on, learning from her determination.

That’s what we are here for. Not to preserve, but to live justly, then hand on life. 

Sustainable harvest vs single-use manna?

Video {downloadable] and Text: to complement or provide vigorous preaching on Harvest Lectionary.

A sermon on some lectionary harvest themes: taking scripture seriously, if not literally.

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Deut 26.1-1When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. 10 So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. 11 Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

John 6.25-35. 

25 When they found him on the other side of the lake, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’ 26 Jesus answered them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you are looking for me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. 27 Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures for eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For it is on him that God the Father has set his seal.’ 28 Then they said to him, ‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ 29 Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.’ 30 So they said to him, ‘What sign are you going to give us then, so that we may see it and believe you? What work are you performing? 31 Our ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, “He gave them bread from heaven to eat.”’ 32 Then Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 33 For the bread of God is that which[g] comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.’ 34 They said to him, ‘Sir, give us this bread always.’

35 Jesus said to them, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.

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May the words that are spoken, and everything which we share here and now, convey your living Word of comfort and of challenge,  Our Rock and Redeemer, Christ the fruitful Vine, Wild Wind beyond control, all for the Good of the Earth…

Amen, Amen.

Yes, I did say Amen twice. That was a distinctive habit of Jesus, stylistically hidden by most of our English translations. Amen Amen.Let it be so, Let it be so…  Amen at the end of a prayer is not so much a punctuating conclusion, but ‘Get on with it!’ 

Though at the beginning of a speech, as it occurs twice  in our Gospel reading, perhaps, it’s something more. 

A call to open up our minds and hearts to possibilities which we might otherwise dismiss as unrealistic, untraditional, unacceptable. 

Or indeed, to hear voices  which we might have dismissed as primitive, backward, earthy. Like  the witness of the indigenous peoples of the from the Pacific to the Arctic, on a relationship with fellow creatures which does not reduce them to commodities. Things which challenge the foundational expectations of our  imperial, single-use, throwaway culture of addiction to fossil fuels, and of values built around the soul-less values of money above all else. As if we were the only life God made.

Amen, amen..

Such a challenge confronts us in the scientifically attested fact, that almost everything in the natural world cited  in Scripture as being reliably permanent – the seasons, the climate, the migration of birds and animals  – all these things are already out of balance and becoming more so.  

And it’s serious.  And it’s dangerous. And the things we put our trust  in, which determine how we act and spend money, use our premises, insulate our homes, travel and pray, are part of this.

‘What must we do to perform the works of God?’ Jesus answered them, ‘This is the work of God, that you trust in him whom God has sent.’ 

From that trust, rather than trust in money, in the superior  value of our nation or our species, will flow your contribution to the healing of the Earth.  Your harvest!  From that trust will flow your own resilience to what lies ahead, in the things which cannot be halted, but may be transformed.

From that trust, and from awareness of the fragility of life, will flow prayer expressed as it is now in so many local churches, in the lessening of waste, the banishing of plastic….

From that trust derives your place and purpose.  

Today we are looking at what that might mean.  But also what it means in that passage from Deuteronomy about possessing land as an inheritance. “As” is a big wee word. Wildlife is given the world as a habitat. The fish are given the seas, the birds the air.  God’s gifting is gracious, though seldom exclusive.

In Jeremiah 8:7: Even the stork in the sky knows her seasons; and the turtledove and the swift and the thrush observe the time of their migration; but my people do not know what the  LORD requires.

Built into that saying is the unity of the laws of God and of nature. How often have we quoted such poetry and not made the connection?

An inheritance is something which is received, enjoyed, and passed on. It’s what the people from the Amazon who spoke last year at the United Nations Climate Conference in Glasgow described as wealth. Wealth as something to share, and to be jointly responsible for, rather than to keep to themselves. 

It is sacred obedience and justice that the stranger and the dispossessed are not just tolerated but welcomed. So too, livestock and wildlife both, share in the richness of the Promised Land. Inheritance is not buried with one generation, but recycled, repurposed – or lost!  

As “food which endures” is a crop where seed corn is set aside  for the next planting. The temporary, emergency manna is a provision  in which the people have no hand, thus it is neither harvest, nor an inheritance. 

Selfishness, exclusivism, and the abolition of diversity are not just immoral, they are thrombosis in  the circulation of Creation.

Inheritance is  a concern which draws many older people to become deeply engaged with the Care of Creation: bequeathing a safe, healthy, beautiful  planet, a common home, for their children and grandchildren. To delight in what delights us.  In a climate crisis, the older generations,  whose contribution, likewise; has been devalued, have the work of encouragement to do: the handing on, rather than the taking it with them. In so many ways.

A number of times this year I’ve been face to face with the most beautiful and inspiring fellow creatures. But will there be puffins in the Scottish islands in fifty years’ time? Quite possibly not. 

Because the crisis of nature, that accumulation of disasters which can no longer be seen as natural, is right now. 

At the World Council of Churches  in Germany  a few weeks ago, a young woman from the churches of Pakistan made it abundantly clear; that the unprecedented floods in her country are not merely tragedy without a cause, but an injustice with a cause. And with responsibility.

In the disruption of climate, even heaven itself – as the writers of the Bible present and understand it – is shaken out of balance.  For whatever else we may understand Heaven to be, it’s also always sky.   

So when Archbishop Justin Welby says of prayer,

 ‘it’s not about sending requests into the sky, it’s about allowing God to make us more like Jesus Christ’  

He’s both right and wrong, for spiritually, biblically and realistically speaking, the sky is no neutral dumping-ground. 

Jesus Christ, the Word as Flesh deals firmly with just such problems in the Gospel reading today.  Looking, as we pray  – in obedience to him –   in the Lord’s Prayer for the will of God to be done in the whole of Creation, in sky and soil. 

Or perhaps I should put it this way: for the will of God to be done in the Earth including Heaven. On this planet including the atmosphere. The sea and the sky, both warming, changing.

The Bible becomes far more coherent than I had ever been led to believe, when we accept that our cherished scripture is experiential – written out of the knowledge and practical learning of humanity. That is it terrestrial – written from the point of view of those who look up and see the curvature of the Earth as a dome which God has set in place.  

Scripture comes  with real knowledge of the natural cycles of air and water; indeed, the water cycle is mentioned in the same breath as the Word of God.  It speaks substantially the same language as  the indigenous peoples in respect and love for life beyond human life.  Scripture is built on the observable  habits of wildlife,  even of insects,  which is presumed to be schooled by God. The Wisdom of Solomon was in his familiarity with trees, animals birds, creeping things and fish.   ‘Speak to the Earth and the animals and the birds of heaven and the fish of the sea’, says the book of Job, and they will pass on that knowledge. 

But as we have done with minorities of language and race and identity, we speak about them, rather than to them. Stewards rather than partners. As if “heaven” were part of a superior Creation, and Earth the work of an inferior God.

Yes, it’s inspiring and wonderful to look  out into outer space, as with my children, I did last week, when Jupiter came closer  to the Earth than for sixty years, and from our back garden we got such a good view of the planet and five of their moons,  perhaps sharing something with those of Jesus’ disciples who were rudely admonished by the Angel at Christ’s ascension: we are here to be concerned in our life, our prayer,  our choices, with this common home we share with everything which, having breath, praises God. 

Even with the trees, who breathe out the oxygen which we breathe in.

It’s no accident that the central sacrament of Christianity,  for which our Gospel today is an important support,  is one which involves the most basic and visceral processes not just of our life, but of all life.  The bread of heaven is not given other than with the gift of the bread of Earth. The gift of God’s self, God’s Son is not given without the Word becoming flesh. Eating and drinking.

Scholars and preachers love to pile in at this point with the dismissive insistence that our human language is inadequate to the task.  They don’t “let it be so”:  for as they explain away the poetry of John’s Gospel, they point to the confusion amongst Jesus’ first hearers: which bread is which? 

And  yet, the more I work in churches with an awareness of the frightening gravity of the myriad environmental crises the more I face the  discipline of letting Jesus mean what he sounds like, rather than dismissing him as inaccessible and incomprehensible. Jesus is, after all, proclaimed as the clearest view of God we’ll get.

So many times in wider Scripture, God is recognised as the Creator of Heaven and Earth, of Sky and Soil both. Creation is that one unified realm into which Christ, risen from death, ascends, to be present wherever we engage with that “Work of God, which is to trust in the one”  who referred us to the birds, the trees and the signs of the times in the skies; to the flowers of the meadow; Jesus, who spoke  as firmly and personally to the wind and the waves as to any human being who was in need of healing or putting in their place.

Thus we meet Jesus in person on those occasions, in those places where the alienation between what we might call Heaven and Earth is swept aside. When we take at face value the holiness of what we touch, taste smell and love.

Because you cannot have the one without the other. You cannot enjoy Creation without Creation.

I managed to arrange things about 27 years ago, and indeed also at the ordination of my late wife,  that the first Eucharist at which we presided was a Harvest festival.  

That, in that tiny village church in Wales, the Lord’s Table was also a table full of the produce of the gardens and allotments of the congregation; it spoke of their partnership and the partnership of the Earth. How blessed are you, Lord God of All Creation.

Those Harvest tables, and the ones in my subsequent pastorates also displayed, by tradition, a piece of coal – that dirtiest of fossil fuels, which particularly in Wales had nonetheless been for generations, part of what had kept folk going. 

People have recently asked me whether we should take away the coal. I would say no. The coal, the oil and the gas are a sign of our current relationship with the earth, and if that’s problematic, we need not to pretend otherwise.

but bring that, with a listening ear, to God, who in Christ says to read the signs of the times and take note: 

we bring to God in openness and honesty, what we have and what we are, for God to make life better.

Amen….Amen!