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Celebrating Harvest, Caring for Creation

October 6, 2019

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Preached by The Right Rev’d Bishop Graham Cray at Hampshire Harvest Service on Sunday 6th October 2019, the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity.

 It is a privilege to come from North Yorkshire, to contribute to this celebration of the Harvest in Hampshire, to give God praise and to remind ourselves of the urgency of creation care. We celebrate the harvest this afternoon with traditional songs and prayers, but also with an unwelcome hesitancy.  Year by year we have assumed the stability of the seasons. That ‘As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ (Genesis 8:22) And that promise remains. But we also know that what has been called the ’slow catastrophe’ (Michael Northcott) of climate change is creeping up on us. Unknowingly, and particularly since the 1970s, our race has been living in a way that destabilises our Creators handiwork. We have moved from what climate scientists call the Holoscene, when the climate stable and enduringly warm, to the dawn of the Anthropcene when human originating greenhouse gas emissions become the dominant influence in the climate.  It is as though creation is being unstitched. God’s handiwork put into reverse. This was unknowing, but we can no longer claim ignorance, and we have to act. The State of Nature report published this week, warning that more than a quarter of UK mammals face extinction, is simply the latest evidence. Hence the title of this service ‘Celebrating Harvest, Caring for Creation’

What then as Christians do we have to say, and to contribute to the common good at this critical moment? Two insights are vital, first

The world is not ours

‘The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it’ says the psalmist (Ps 24:1) ‘The land is mine … you are but tenants’ says the Law of Moses (Leviticus 25:23) This afternoon’s reading from Leviticus makes that clear: ‘When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field.’  Why? because it is only our land as a tenant, not as an owner and we have a moral responsibility to treat it as the owner requires. That is a condition of our tenancy. The world is not our property.

Why did the creator and owner of the land, the Lord our God, require this? For the sake of ‘the poor and the alien’.  But the poor and the alien are no longer merely those adjoining our fields, in a globalised world they are the poorest nations on earth, who are the most immediately impacted by climate change, for which they have contributed little. As Climate change continues, it is the poorest in our world who will suffer the most.’ (Sir John Houghton) Climate change could push 100 million into poverty by 2030.’ (World Bank report) The challenges of migration,  which we have experienced in recent years, will seem trivial when climate driven migration accelerates.

It is when you see it for yourself that it really strikes home. Twice in recent years I have been to South Sudan, to serve the Anglican Church there. It is a desperately poor country, riven by war, even since independence. It has enough problems of its own. But since 1970 rainfall has decreased in South Sudan by 10-20 % (depending where you are) and temperatures have increased by more than 1 ºC. South Sudan has no resources to deal with climate change.

For the sake of the poor of the earth we must attend to creation care, and make the changes the climate emergency demands.

Our Western consumer culture shapes our desires, as though the resources of the earth are both limitless and exist purely for our pleasure. As Pope Francis says ‘When people become self centred and self enclosed … the more they need things to buy, own and consume. It becomes almost impossible to accept the limits imposed by reality. A genuine sense of the common good disappears’ (Laudate Si)

So we need to relearn our place. We are not as important as we think we are. The world is nor ours. When God addressed Job his question was ‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?’ (Job 38:4) You were last on the scene. I had done all the work before I created you? So who do you think you are?

But if we accept that the world is not ours, we can rediscover the dignity and responsibility of our true calling. According to the Genesis accounts we are created in God’s image, created to reflect God in our treatment of creation, stewards responsible for something we neither create,d nor own, placed in it to tend it, for the glory of God and the wellbeing of the whole. That is the proper perspective for creation care. We cannot properly address the climate crisis until we recognize that the world is not ours.

But for Christians there is more. The world is not ours, but

But we are Christ’s

We are a redeemed people. We belong to the one through whom and for whom everything was created. (Colossians 1:16) ‘You are not your own’ wrote St Paul ‘For you were bought with a price.’ (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) Through Christ we are a forgiven people. Until recently our complicity in climate change, was through ignorance. My colleague Bishop David Atkinson writes, ‘One of the things the early industrialists did not know is that by burning fossil fuels – as well as by some industrial agriculture, and by cutting down rainforests – we are putting a blanket around the earth, which is changing the climate. Our grandparents did not know this, nor did our parents. But we do.’ Yet we are also complicit. Another leading Anglican expert on Climate Change is the Revd Professor Michael Northcott, who says  ‘The predicted extent of climate change is a novel moral problem. … Most people in British Empire did not own slaves, even though an important proportion of the wealth of the Empire was built on the profits from slave labour plantations. — But every individual who has driven a car, or flown in an aeroplane, lived in an energy hungry modern house, bought clothes or computers made 10,000 miles away, or bought shares in a large corporation, is fractionally involved in global warming.’

As Christians we are to take our complicity to Christ’s cross, leave it there, and find through the Holy Spirit, the grace to live differently. For we are more than a forgiven people. We are people restored to our proper place as the stewards of the earth, sharing in the new creation. ‘Participation in the new creation rescues our stewardship of creation from the self-serving turn that it took at the Fall. …… We can become again the faithful self-sacrificing stewards we were originally created to be.’ (Douglas Moo) Creation care is at the heart of Christian discipleship. We are restored through Christ to what we were created for. It is central calling, not a peripheral choice.

If our society is to change it will need a spirituality, a source of strength from beyond ourselves, as in 12 step programmes. I have a particular colleague in the campaign against fracking, which we are engaged in, in Ryedale North Yorkshire. He is an early retired university professor, studying the contribution of methane to climate change. He is an agnostic, but he tells me that we will never achieve the change we need without a spirituality, am she believes the churches have a vital part to play.

Our consumer culture has to change. It has to become a culture of self sacrifice for the common good. That is at the heart of Christian spirituality. We are empowered by Christ, through disciplines of prayer, scripture, worship, and the sacraments to love God, and our neighbour, and to care for creation with all that we have. As the Pope says ‘God, who calls us to generous commitment and to give him our all, offers us the light and the strength needed to continue.’ Christians in particular have a world view and a spirituality which is crucial for engagement with the climate crisis.

And we do so because we are people of hope. We believe that the kingdom that will finally come, at the climax of history, when God makes everything new, has broken into the world in Jesus Christ, to whom we belong. And our calling is to bring that kingdom to bear on every crisis we face today. So however great the climate crisis, and it is the greatest threat the world has known in this human era, we engage it with faith and not with fatalism because we are Christians.

If year after year we hope to celebrate the harvest here, we must attend to creation care and to the climate crisis. We can do so, if we will acknowledge that the world does not belong to us, but we belong to Christ. Amen