I led worship at St Luke’s Methodist Church, Pukerua Bay today – 19 June 2016.
Here is the text of my sermon. I have added links to online resources.
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Let’s pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O God. Amen
On the internet I follow an American Presbyterian minister John Schuck who does half hour interviews with authors about their recent books. His website is called Progressive Spirit and I download and listen to the interviews on my phone. These are free. He has just talked with Patricia Tull, who is another ordained Presbyterian minister and a professor of the Hebrew Bible. Her book is called Inhabiting Eden: Christians, the Bible, and the Ecological Crisis. A couple of points she made struck a chord with me.
First she talked about the Exodus and the lessons that God wanted the Israelites to learn during their years of wandering in the desert. Manna was provided from heaven each morning. There was enough food for each day, but it did not keep for long. This meant that the greedy or entrepreneurial couldn’t hoard the manna and try to sell it later at a profit. And the considerate people who held back politely, waiting for others, could also gather enough. As it says in Exodus Chapter 16: “…those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.”
On the sixth morning of the week a double helping of manna was provided, so the people could gather enough for that day and the Sabbath, the following day, when they could rest from the work of gathering and preparing food.
God wanted the people to see food as nourishment rather than a commodity to be hoarded and commercialised. And the people needed to learn to be grateful to God who could be relied on to provide for them. These principles were important training for the time when the people came to the promised land, the land of milk and honey, where food was plentiful. Then in the time of plenty the people would respect the land and treat each other fairly.
Another point that Patricia Tull made was about the verses in Genesis Chapter 1 that talk about God giving people dominion over the land, the animals, the fish of the sea and all creation. We people have been all too ready to translate that word as giving permission to dominate and exploit the land and the world’s natural resources. For instance, in America there are many Christians, who take a conservative, literal view of the Bible, as giving them permission to exploit coal reserves by ploughing the tops off mountains to get at the coal. They also deny or ignore the effects of human caused climate change, when the coal is burned for electricity generation, on the basis that they will be saved by the rapture if the end of the world comes in their lifetimes. Yes, that really is a commonly held attitude.
Food production methods in America are a cause for concern today. A hundred years ago farms were small and held by families. They had a few cows, pigs and chickens. They planted a variety of crops, rotated where the crops were planted from year-to-year and enriched the soil by ploughing back in the animal manure. Topsoil was retained. The farms supplied local communities. The food was healthy and varied.
Today most crops are grown on huge farms owned by corporations. They plant vast expanses of a single crop. The topsoil is lost through wind erosion, so the fields have to be fertilised with artificial fertiliser, which runs off into streams and aquifers. Beef cattle, pigs and poultry are raised in feed lots – huge sheds and barns – where they are given corn to eat, rather than grazing in fields of grass. They produce so much manure that the farms cant handle it and it runs off into streams and aquifers. The food they produce is lower quality and less healthy, with a lot of corn starch getting into people’s diets through processed foods. These farming methods are bad for the land, the animals and for people.
New Zealand is little better. Early European settlers clear-felled the native trees for timber and to make way for pasture for sheep and cattle to graze on. As a result in the hilly country we have slips and soil erosion, and need to top-dress artificial fertilisers to keep up the grass growth. On the flatter land big dairy farms create problems with needing to irrigate their pastures, so putting pressure on scarce local water resources. Run off of fertiliser and effluent from the stock pollutes streams and rivers. The government therefore lowers the standards of water quality in our rivers so that being able to wade in them is good enough – forget about swimming in them.
I am very concerned about the current and future impacts of climate change. The sea levels are rising now and will rise a lot more in the rest of my life-time. Storms are becoming more intense and extremes of rain or the lack of it will cause bigger floods and longer, harder droughts. Continuing dumb farming practices will put food security at risk, even in countries like ours.
How should we respond the these issues? Despair and anger are two entirely reasonable options. But I suggest instead that we increase our knowledge and understanding of what is happening, and cultivate an attitude of hope.
There are many good books, documentaries, news articles and internet resources that describe what is going on and the imaginative options for changing our approach. I like watching YouTube videos by climate scientists which give me the latest facts and findings.
There are also lots of inspiring local initiatives around the world to discover. Local farmer’s markets are a great way to buy fresh food direct from the growers. Many smart dairy farmers in New Zealand are planting trees alongside streams and fencing them off, and the quality of the water in their streams is slowing being restored. Some are milking only once a day and finding that the improvements in the health of the animals, their land and the quality of the milk, make up for the lost income caused by producing less.
As people of faith we have the stories and lessons of the Bible to sustain and encourage us. We need to interpret them with good hearts and intellectual honesty. Instead of treating Genesis chapter one as permission to dominate the earth, we should read it as a reminder to be grateful for all that God has given us, and to take seriously our role as servants and guardians of the land. We hold the world in trust for future generations – our children and their children and so on. And as the Israelites in the desert learned, we too can learn to be satisfied with having enough, and put aside the greed that causes us to always want more.
In the letter to the Galatian church (Gal 3: 23-29), Paul tells us that he turned around his thinking. He admits to previously having a legalistic, literal interpretation of the Law that kept him prisoner and led him to persecute those with a different approach to faith and to life. Paul interpreted the Law – that is, the first 5 books of the Old Testament – especially Leviticus and Deuteronomy – in a pedantic way. He forgot that the original intent of the laws was to help people live well together in community. His spirit-filled experience on the road to Damascus changed him.
Listen again to this beautiful new vision: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
Warm hearts, open minds and wise actions are necessary to safeguard the earth. We all need to work together.
May the winds of the spirit blow freely among us, and fill and inspire us with life-giving joy. Amen.
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I then led the congregation singing my recent song Breath of the Spirit. The sheet music is below. Click this link to download a free PDF of the sheet music: Breath_of_the_Spirit – Melody. Click here for a video of me performing the song in a lunchtime concert as part of our Winter @ Wesley programme.
Your comments are welcome. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Philip Garside, 19 June 2016