When I sat down and planned the service schedule for this autumn and decided that this themed evensong would be about the environment I had no idea that the Caribbean would have inflicted upon it some of the most violent storms ever experienced; our prayers must go out to those who have lost life, home and livelihood and also to all involved in seeking to bringing relief.

The environment has been very much in the news for other reasons such as President Trump’s decision to pull out of the Paris agreement and, our own governments decision to phase out petrol and diesel cars by 2040. Now I don’t want to get overly political but I do want to say that I am glad that the environment is very much on the political agenda.

As Christians we need to make sure the environment stays very much on the theological agenda.

 

The reading we have heard from the book of Deuteronomy paints a wonderful picture of the created order: ‘a land lowing with streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, of vines and fig tress and pomegranates, a land of olive trees and honey,’ a land of good things in other words. And, the writer is correct to direct us to the essential goodness of the created order, after all the creation narrative in Genesis stresses time and again that God looked at his handiwork and saw that it was good. When God looked at human kind he saw the potential that we might become ‘very good.’

God, if you remember the creation stories makes three important moves: first he creates, then he lets go (let it be is God’s constant refrain) and, then he appoints human kind as stewards. So the question arises as to how our we to respond to the environment, what virtues should guide our environmental decision making if we truly want to be ‘very good.’  Let me suggest four:

 

First, awe and wonder. The created order is God’s artistry. We are should enjoy it and seek God through it. Secondly, gratitude. If the Psalmist is correct to thank God for the fact that he is ‘wonderfully made,’ then it follows that we should be grateful for all that God has made. Thirdly, we should approach the environment with humility remembering that it is the Lord our God who ‘gives the power to get wealth,’ we are the created and not the Creator,- ‘do not say to yourself my power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth -   and fourthly sufficiency or even simplicity.

 

Just because we can take more from the environment does not, cannot, mean that we should, Perhaps, we all need to learn to live within our limits, to take less, to leave more for others? After all the environment is given by God to all of humanity. As Christians we are called on to love both God and our neighbour. I would like to suggest that the natural environment, the created order, is the proving ground for love of God and love of neighbour. Our love for God is in part evidenced by the awe and wonder through which we regard the created order, our love of neighbour is evidenced by our ability to exercise restraint and our willingness to share that which God deemed good with our neighbour and particularly our neighbour in distress.

 

So let me end in offering you the opportunity, in the silence of your hearts, to thank God for the environment and for his guidance in how we might act as God’s environmental stewards. Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown

Approximately thirty years ago I lived in the North West of England, in Lancashire, and whilst there I very much enjoyed playing club rugby for Preston Grasshoppers; yes I did play with Wade Dooley and his much more frightening brother! One of the teams we used to play against had a changing room which was entirely covered with road signs which were presumably ‘liberated’ on the journey home from some far flung destination.

I imagine that road users across whole swathes of the North were frustrated by the kleptomaniac tendencies of (………..) Rugby Club! Signs and signals are after all important in helping us get to our destination.One of my frustrations is when I am driving somewhere and my destination is clearly signposted until it suddenly, on the whim of the road side sign people, disappears. I can’t tell you last week how much time I spent in nearly, but not quite, getting to St. Minvera!

 

But, what of religious or faith based signposts? How do they make us feel? Well, I suspect that if most of us would die of embarrassment if we had to walk around town wearing a sandwich board on which was written ‘repent now, salvation is near.’

 

And yet, as a Christian community, we are called to be a visible sign that ‘salvation’ is the destination;  indeed the epistle makes this perfectly clear: ‘salvation is nearer to us now than when we became believers.’ As a missionary and evangelistic church we are mandated to proclaim salvation’s song. We need, as individuals and as a community, to be effective signs of the gospel story. But how are we to do this? Fortunately our readings give the answer: honesty and integrity in our internal relationships,  reconciliation, forgiveness and above all the art of ‘loving one another.’

 I would want to suggest that learning to live this way means intentionally grasping one of Bishop Steven’s three Cs: courage. Intentionally living a life that is honest, forgiving and loving, allowing ourselves to be agents of reconciliation transcends vague and ambiguous notions of niceness.  Honesty, forgiveness, reconciliation and love all take work and effort and all carry the risk of hurt, failure and rejection. The exercise of Godly living is always potentially sacrificial, but also, always, signposts the way to the Kingdom and salvation.

 

Let me finish by telling you the story of Bishop Leonard Wilson: Bishop Wilson was serving as the Bishop of Singapore in 1941 and was subsequently imprisoned in a prisoner of war camp. Wilson gave evidence to those investigating the nature of systematic torture in the Sime Road Internment Camp but, he also ministered to some of the worst perpetrators of violence. He led both some his fellow prisoners and his captors to faith and, after the war, returned to confirm the man who was his own torturer. In the worst of circumstances through his insistence on honesty, forgiveness, reconciliation and love Bishop Wilson was a signpost to the fact that ‘salvation is near.’

 

As Christians – believers- we too, through the way we live our lives, through our commitment to the Divine Virtues, must also be living signpost to the fact that ‘salvation is near,’ irrespective of the potential cost. Amen.

 

Rev. Andrew Lightbown