Changing our ways

Pentecost 15

Ezekiel 33:7-11- Psalm 119:33-40- Romans 13:8-14 – Matthew 18.15-20

The Very Rev’d Bertrand Oliver, Dean and Rector


‘Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.’

Well, it is good to be here on Welcome Back Sunday – the day in the calendar when most people are back in town ready for the autumn, when those starting new jobs or courses of study have moved in, and the day when the choir returns to us after their summer break.

Today is a day to share stories of summer with old friends, and also a day to meet new people, so make sure to smile broadly at everyone and especially to speak with people you have not met before, as we gather on the forecourt after the service for refreshments and special cakes.  As the saying goes: you never know, in that way you may be entertaining angels unaware.

Here at Christ Church Cathedral, we look forward to a new season of worship, learning and friendships, and welcome all of you to join in the activities of this community as you are able.  Information will be available at the end of our service and of course on our website.

The readings prescribed for this morning seem to focus a lot on sin, not necessarily the most auspicious way to restart the year, we might think, even if it is good for the church to have been given a process through which to work to resolve differences caused by sins against one another, as we heard in our reading from the gospel of Matthew.

Sin, a small three letter word which we find so difficult to understand for and recognise in ourselves, even if we readily see in in others – in what they do to themselves, to others, to the world.  As Jesus say, it is easier to see the speck of dust in the eye of the person next to us, than the plank in our own.

Still, what is very interesting in our set of readings today is the emphasis in all of them on the fact that judgement is the very last thing that God is looking for, God who after all made us in God’s image, and who wills us to live life in all its fulness and fruitfulness – instead of for our life to go to waste.

And so, the message we get today loud and clear is that, when we are not quite up to scratch, then God is looking for us to change our ways and return into the fold.

In the reading from the prophet Ezekiel, we read the divine words – ‘As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from their ways and live’.  Surely, for God, it seems like the better option.  And of course, that is the better option for us too, if we pay attention.

And in our second reading, we heard the apostle Paul – in his letter to the Christians in Rome – summarising God’s earlier commandments – in all their starkness – into the positive benchmark of love – Love your neighbour as yourself.
We need to learn to love ourselves – not simply by giving in to everything we want, but instead by striving for wholeness – and then seek the same for others around us.

Now Paul had a strong belief that the second coming of Jesus was imminent, and there was always a great sense of urgency in his message.  And indeed, we never quite know how much time is left to us.

So for Paul, action and change need to take place in the here and now – no time to waste in debauchery and carousing, to focus on the flesh and its desires as he puts it.  An image which may bring all sorts of things to our mind.

And the key word here is focus of course. It is not that we should not enjoy the God-given pleasures that derive from being human, from good food to a fulfilling sex life.  These should not be the things that drive us.

One of our failings which we fail to recognise is the way in which we make our lives comfortable even without thinking about it, and without thinking about the impact this has on those around us, those we don’t know, and our planet, with its limited resources.

We are so conditioned to our modern life that many of our actions are automatic.  We have a need, we fulfil it.  We don’t often make time to think carefully about the cost of our focus on ourselves, the consequences of what we do, how we live, what we buy.

September has been reserved by churches around the world for the Season of Creation, a time to ponder on our beautiful world, and to think particularly about our impact on the environment.

As we leave behind the summer months, it will have been hard to have missed all that happened over what would normally be a quiet period: raging floods, uncontrollable forest fires – the many stories of people who had to flee their homes under the threat of flames, or who lost everything because of rising water.

Here in Montreal, weather patterns were unusual, with rains so sudden and so heavy that our sewer system could not cope, causing damage and devastation in certain areas.

Climate change seems now commonly accepted, even if a cause attributable to human is still contested by some sceptics.  World temperatures are continuing to rise faster than predicted while governments keep getting cooler about implementing major changes to their reliance on fossil fuels, at a time when budgets are stretched, and the oil industry lobbying coffers are full.

Some of you will know that I am a member of the Iona Community, a dispersed ecumenical Christian community, seeking to live under a common rule.  As part of that rule, members account to one another every year for our use of money, time, and in recent years, carbon.

I was brought up in France, and the first oil crisis of the 70s and the increase in energy cost meant that we all learnt all sorts of ways to save energy.  Short showers, home and office temperatures at 19c during the winter and only when needed, more efficient cars, these and other energy saving behaviour changes became second nature at the time.

For years, I tried to continue to reduce my carbon footprint – I chose not to own a car, I use public transport, cycle in the summer, and I became a vegan at the beginning of the pandemic.  I try to faithfully recycle, shun single use plastic and fast fashion.

I was therefore quite depressed when doing my carbon accounting this year, when the result of the online calculator still returned me as an average north-American energy consumer because I flew over the Atlantic to visit family and more locally for a couple of meetings.  Despite all my efforts, my impact was still much greater than I strived to.

Carbon footprint calculators being blunt instruments, that’s even before counting the energetic cost of using smartphones, the internet, google searches or even just leaving loads of unnecessary digital stuff on cloud servers – data centres being such power guzzlers.

Perhaps as we begin this term in the Season of Creation, we all have an opportunity to reflect deeply on our behaviour – individual and collective – and to identify the changes we can continue to make to reduce our fossil fuel consumption even as we also continue to campaign for systemic change in the energy industries, in order to avoid catastrophes we can’t even begin to imagine.

Because we have to live the change we want if we want it to happen.

This is one way in which we can show our love of neighbour, ensuring that the natural resources continue to be available to all equally, now and for future generations.

In September 2019, Greta Thunberg – the young Swedish environmental activist – led a major protest here in Montreal to highlight the urgency of climate change.  In what ways have you changed your life to change your impact since?

The Cathedral will continue to explore this theme in the season of creation and beyond – we hope you will take part in that journey too.

Amen

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