Pentecost 15 – 2 September 2018 / Season of Creation
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9; Psalm 150; James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
‘This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
I was recently having a conversation with someone working for a Canadian Government Agency, charged with looking after landing strips around the country. He had spent much time in the north of Quebec, and had recently come back from a trip to evaluate the maintenance needs of some of these airport infrastructures.
Routinely in the past, maintenance would have included the re-tarmacking of the runway. However, in recent years, things have been changing.
The land is giving way under the runways, making the ground unstable preventing any tarmacking.
The only option now is to infill the gaps so that planes can still land in relative safety.
The reason of this unwelcome development?
The permafrost underground has now started to melt, making the soil liable to caving in. This is a major issue for those areas inhabited by our first nations neighbours, which might have consequences not only on those airports. Other infrastructures relying on strong foundations such as pipelines are also at risk of caving in and rupturing, with the consequential loss and pollution by oil and further damage to the environment, and on the lifestyle of our First Nations brothers and sisters.
There are also further, more dangerous consequences, as highlighted in a blog this week by Bishop Mark McDonald, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop for the church of Canada.
He writes: ‘A potential danger has been recognised in the permafrost that lies throughout the Arctic north.
The carbon that is likely to be released by the melting permafrost is thought to contain a potential multiplying effect on the warming global climate.
Concealed in the permafrost is something that appears to have quickening consequences for a world that is already teetering at the edge of global catastrophe. Though this recognition is alarming, it is only a beginning glimpse of some of the veiled hazards found in the Arctic.’
Today, with churches around the world, we are joining in the Season of Creation, a season highlighted this year by Arbishop Justin Welby, our Archbishop of Canterbury, and many other church leaders worldwide as an increase in signs of global warming and environmental changes continue to ring alarm bells around the globe.
The theme for this season, which spans the whole of the month of September, finishing on 4 October, the feast of St Francis, is: ‘Walking Together’.
Remembering that God gave us the charge to look after our planet, not just to plunder it and throw it away, that we are joint custodians of a finite resource, and that this resource is not simply for us but also for all other human beings as well as the many other creatures of God, is a salutary and urgent call during this season of harvest.
It can be easy to believe that our Christian life begins and ends with ourselves and the way we organise our own personal lives within frameworks of accepted morality. The question of link between faith and work is central to the letter of James, as it was in the writings of Paul. Whilst we may be saved by our faith, that faith compels us to act in accordance with God’s desire for our world.
‘Fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly’.
Our gospel writer today does not pull punches in reminding us of the things to avoid, and most of us I am sure are happy to nod sagely. These big words are well understood at a gut level, and if we will only refrain from any of these, surely we will be OK, even if we feel discomfort at hearing them read aloud.
But there are many sins that are not explicitly listed in our Bibles, because they would not have been recognised in the time of Jesus, and which are as – if not more – important.
They are the sins that are disfiguring our environment, threatening our planet, and which may eventually lead to its extinction as we know it, with the consequences that this might have on human flourishing and the human race altogether.
Our greed which destroys the Amazonian rain forest for the cheap growing of palm to produce oil for our chips, or pastures for the cattle to fill our hamburger outlets.
Our overuse of plastic – 300 million tons a year, half of which is single use. 500 billion plastic bags used every year, that’s more than 1 million bags per minute, with an average useful life of 15 minutes.
Our overreliance on carbon fuel, shown vividly in world Overshoot day, on 1 August, the day on which we have used more from nature than our planet can renew in the entire year. The date for Canada was 18 March, quite considerably earlier. Experts currently estimate that we use the equivalent of 1.7 earth to feed our lifestyles.
All these figures are beyond our comprehension and it is hard to understand our part in them, and the changes we might implement in our own lifestyles that might have a potential benefit.
And yet, stopping and taking stock we must.
Because there is one sin on the list of our gospel reading today that is relevant to this. The sin of folly.
The folly in thinking that all this is just fabrication by biased scientists to derail our lifestyle dreams, or that this will all simply go away.
The folly in thinking that we can do nothing about it, that the small steps we take don’t matter and won’t make a difference.
The folly in believing that we cannot influence our politicians and beat the big corporate lobby groups, and that the battle is lost.
The folly in forgetting that we need to walk together with our brothers and sisters that are directly affected by these developments, from our own first nations neighbours in the used-to-be frozen north to inhabitants of small islands around the world now threatened with disappearance under the oceans’ water.
Because there is plenty we can do:
Recycling, reducing plastic use, campaigning for better transport and energy infrastructures, using non carbon alternatives, reducing air con during the summer, and heating during the winter, convincing large towers to turn off their lights, and ourselves changing our light bulbs for low energy options, turning off the lights and equipment we don’t need. Using public transport more and sharing our cars. Lobbying our own politicians. There is an endless list of things we can do.
It is estimated that 100 google searches cost as much energy as running a 60w bulb for 28 minutes. In 2016, Google’s energy consumption was 6.5 billion megawatt hours, enough power to keep a city like Mississauga going. Can we rely less on search engines and save energy?
Walking together would mean turning back the clock on our Overshoot day, aiming to get back to using no more than the earth can sustainably give us, ensuring that it is not the rich who have it all at the expenses of the poor and vulnerable, at the expense of the permafrost and the rainforest, at the expense of future generations.
Restoring the injustices of the colonialism of the past in order that we may use our share of the earth’s resources, equally with all our brothers and sisters in Christ.
To focus our thoughts, the Montreal based Green Churches Network has produced a handy Calendar with thought provoking actions for this season, which you can download from their website (https://greenchurches.ca/season-of-creation/) .
And our own Environmental Social Justice Action Group ESJAG will be planning an activity a month for the coming year as part of theme of environmental justice, starting with a plastic free picnic next week.
This will be a fun opportunity to reflect on how we might use different ways of packing what we need and how dependent we are in our everyday thinking on disposable plastic items. I hope you will want to join us for that and will keep an eye out for other events in the future.
As we joyfully and reflectively embark on this Season of Creation, let us re-examine our lives and their impact on the world, and let us, in small and great ways, contribute to the love and care of all that God has made, that we may pass it full of promises on to the next generation.
And so we pray:
God, of the living earth
You have called people to care for your world –
you asked Noah to save creatures from destruction.
May we now understand how to sustain your world –
Not over-fishing, not over-hunting,
Not destroying trees, precious rainforest
Not farming soil into useless dust.
Help us to find ways to use resources wisely
to find a path to good, sustainable living
in peace and harmony with creatures around us.
This we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord, who cares for all that God has made.