Sunday 3 September - Pentecost 13 - Eucharist - Clephane Hume

Ex 3  1-15;  Rom 12  9-21; Mt 16  21-28

When I read the list of readings for this morning, I queried why we were having them for Creationtide. They didn’t seem to me to have a vast amount to do with water – our theme for this year.

A bit of googling revealed that they are part of an overall plan, devised by eco-congregationScotland, with a different focus for each week. And within a general theme of journeying with God. Waking up to the realities and uncertainties of the world around us. Considering the challenges that face us, the changes required to meet them, taking the risks and assessing the potential consequences of our actions. (We’ve been doing a bit of that in the last few years!)  I could have downloaded an entire service, complete with sermon, to illustrate the environmental focus for today, which is forests.

But I regard that as cheating. Or, less censorially, laziness on the part of the preacher.

Creationtide. Some people will tell you that the end of theEdinburghfestival season marks the beginning of a downward trend towards autumn and winter. That’s a bit gloomy. It is definitely cooler, but even though the leaves are turning, there is still evidence of abundant life. Creative activity. I can watch teenage semi delinquent sparrows trampolining on the bush housing a birdfeeder, find bumblebees sunbathing on my front door and, at last, wild flowers from my mother’s day seeds!! So there is plenty to celebrate at this point in the season.

I will attend to forests later. So, considering our local theme of water. It’s all too evident at present that some parts of the world are experiencing an excess thereof. Attention to the ravages of the annual monsoon floods in Asia has been largely superseded by the media coverage of the situation in Texas, but the level is one of the highest for years. This is contaminated, unhealthy and undrinkable water. The people ofBangladeshstoically carry on as best they can each year, even casting fishing lines out of the window when the water reaches its height. They know about climate change there. By way of illustration, on average the water reaches the height of a seat on a bus shelter. This year it would be over the top.

Texasis, as modern parlance puts it, something else. An unfamiliar situation. It will take years to tackle that level of trauma and devastation. But it brings home to us the power of nature. And our share in influencing and affecting it. In contrast what about sub Saharan Africa, where droughts are propelling people into leaving their families and migrating to find food and employment in cooler climes? That’s the other side of the coin. An issue that’s not going to go away.

Our pastoral ancestors settled to dwell by rivers or water sources, because that made sense. Moses and his wandering followers in the desert were seekers of water. Water to drink in order to survive, water for their flocks, and the spiritual water that comes from being followers of God. The burning bush symbolises the unquenchable love of the Lord. Who took pity on his people and promised them a land of milk and honey.

And as Easter people, we know that life comes to us through the water of baptism and the sacrifice of God’s only son – hence the gospel reading in which Jesus refers to the next stage of his journey. Something the disciples were understandably reluctant to hear.

Where and when there is water, things grow. Hence some brief attention to forests.

Because that’s a problem with settlers. They seek wood for fuel and shelter. Long ago,Britainwas largely covered in forests but with the loss of woodlands, there have been changes in the landscape. Reduction of trees leads to erosion and flooding – which people in some parts of the country know all about. More non productive water.

One of my childhood books is entitled “The singing forest”. It’s a story about the lifetime of a deer in the highlands – the Caledonian forest. A habitat which conservationists are making strenuous efforts to preserve. Now, new woodlands are being created in various places and in this church, we have been planting a grove to reverse deforestation.

Water. Within our Christian lifestyle, how do we use it? Despite the deluges, it’s not a finite resource. There are inherent issues of justice and sharing. I never got an answer to my query a while back, as to whether it was better to buy fair trade roses grown inEast Africawhere water is scarce, or in heated greenhouses in colder places, thereby impacting on climate change. Income, or food production? I don’t know.

So as we journey, we are faced with challenges in stewardship of God’s creation. Last weekend I read an article describing how the demands of modern life clash with nature. The building of the Kariba dam drew that to our notice years ago and it’s not the only reservoir to obliterate a village or forest. There are other causes now. Ancient woodlands are currently threatened by the planned route of HS2.

In addition, we are asked, by the Creationtide organisers, to think about sustainable tourism. Another dilemma. Most of us enjoy travel. But consideration of the justice issues relating to our impact is required. Banquets, when people down the road are struggling to get a bowl of rice. It takes a bit of thought to recognise the potential advantages of showing tourists the elephants that wreck your crops.

And how else do we behave? Consider the use of showers in hotels versus local needs. I don’t want to take all the joy out of travel but it behoves us to think before we act. Even in this country we can’t take water supplies for granted.

Forests can be cut down in order to plant other crops – think palm oil, present in so many items. There are swathes of barren land caused by felling timber. And the consequences of that are widely reported. Reduction in species among them. People are now becoming aware of all this, but much damage has already been done. We can’t stop tsunamis creating devastation in their wake but we can attempt to limit our own paths of destruction.

We heardSt Pauladdress the Romans with fairly blunt words. Hold fast to that which is good. Let love be genuine. If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Which I am taking to mean not just people, but the planet. Much of the future does depend on us – it’s not a responsibility we can slip away from. Rather, it’s our duty as Christians to make others aware. 

Water, trees. It was fairly fatal to put me up here when such issues are on the agenda but theology encompasses much more than commentating on bible passages. It’s something live! And challenging. Where is God in all these issues? Go home and ask yourself that question!

Mortimer Batten H 1958 TheSingingForest. Puffin