Sermon for a Reconnecting EcoCongregation

Cross from scrap wood: Jacob and his pillow-stone

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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!