Sunday 1st May
Our New Testament reading records an encounter between Jesus and several disciples after the resurrection. The disciples, at a loss to know what to do after this momentous event fell back to doing what they were familiar with. They went fishing. Jesus appeared on the shore and called them to him and invited them to eat some fish that he had cooked. The story now continues.
Reading: John 2112 – 19
Talk: Did you find that reading easy to understand? Some of it was pretty straightforward but, even having heard it possibly 50 times in your life, some of it poses a few questions. The problem with John’s Gospel is that it gets quite deep at times and it’s not always easy to work out how to apply it to our every-day lives and our dealings with the people with whom we come into contact.
What about this exchange between Jesus and Peter which comes after 3 years in each other’s company? It was a sort of summing up after all the teaching and miracles and now, of course, the astounding resurrection. It was a brief but powerful message to Peter; and because we are now followers of Jesus, to us. I wonder how many Bible studies have been carried out on this passage (and of course hundreds of other Bible passages) over the last 2,000 years? Bible studies on the New Testament try to look at short episodes in depth and get to the heart of them. But it’s easy to get bogged down in the details and fuss about particular phrases. What really matters is what we correctly discern about the mind of Jesus and of God. In this particular case, what do we feel compelled to do, when we listen to the instruction ‘Feed my sheep’ and ‘Follow me’?
The feeling is that the question ‘Do you love me?’ which Jesus asked Peter three times was to match the three denials that Peter made after the arrest of Jesus; denials that he even knew Jesus. But also, after this conversation between the two men, Peter could feel totally forgiven even though he let Jesus down, not once but three times and could, in freedom and with a light heart, carry out his mission to spread the Good News that God loves us and all creation.
Peter was asked ‘Do you love me?’ And so we have to ask ourselves “Do we love God and respond ‘Yes, God, of course we love you’?” and, like Peter, feel free and unfettered and therefore step forth and show this love to all creation?’
As far as John was concerned this was the final directive that Jesus gave to the disciples before his departure from earthly life. It was fairly general but embraced the full range of his teaching and example during the last three years. Today I will try to apply them to our concern for the environment. This is not too easy insofar as the Gospels have Jesus saying very little about it. We’ll consider it further after our Old Testament reading. … We’ll now have a moment of silent reflection.
Reading: Leviticus 251 – 12
Talk: I suspect we all like the great outdoors. Gwynn and I, like many other people have been on walking holidays, like the Norfolk Coastal Path, or shortish walks on a day off or as part of a holiday. The longer walks, unfortunately, are now resigned to history. We still enjoy getting about of course and, in particular, going down to Felixstowe and always find a green area to amble about in. Landguard Common, near the docks a biological Site of Special Scientific Interest, is a favourite for us. Gently walking in this natural environment makes me feel connected with creation. For that brief time, I am part of it. I also feel responsible for it in some small way. Were a housing development to appear on it (after enormous protests of course), there would be a huge sense of loss for thousands of people, a wildlife habitat would disappear and Global Warming would increase minutely.
However, we have a Bible reading from Leviticus to consider. The Bible was written over a period of about 2,000 years. The Old Testament spanned round about 2,000BC to 500BC. There are no books in the Bible for the next 500 years and then we have the Gospels and letters of several early Christians. Scattered through it are sections on farming, the wilderness etc. and accounts of droughts and a little about allowing the land to lie fallow but nothing about over-fishing, degradation of the soil or pollution and certainly nothing about resources being used up nor global warming and its dire consequences.
These verses from Leviticus, however, are quite pertinent to the crisis that the world faces. What they are telling us can be expressed in many ways but the gist of it is ‘Don’t take the land for granted. It’s pretty robust but in some respects, it is fragile and you certainly can’t keep taking what you want from it regardless. It must be treated with respect and managed carefully. How much the idea of allowing the fields to rest every seven years was chosen by experience and how much by the notion that seven is a sort of significant, complete or perfect number I don’t know. The number seven occurs in the Bible numerous times; for instance, the number of days of creation, there are seven churches in the book of Revelation, seven holy days etc. But the idea of allowing the land to rest or regenerate for a period of time has been practiced by many cultures. I remember being taught at school about crop rotation in the Middle Ages with the land lying fallow every three years.
Unfortunately, particularly in modern times, though I’m sure it happened throughout the ages, making money from the land in the short term and on as much land as possible has overridden the wisdom of allowing the soil to recover. But more and more, in recent years, the practice of leaving uncultivated areas to maintain biodiversity in the land as a whole has been advocated. The grubbing out of hedges has largely been stopped and patches of land have been rewilded or sown with plants that are wild-life friendly.
Long-term, encouraging a wide range of native species keeps every part of the environment healthy and productive. We are even being encouraged make our gardens less neat. A few wild bits, mowing the grass less often, not so much digging will all help to produce healthy gardens with abundant wildlife. I’m sure mistakes will be made but hopefully we will all learn to live with nature instead of twisting it entirely to our own fancies.
Global Warming isn’t of course just about farming and gardening. We have, for too long, taken the world for granted and used its resources without thought, other than perhaps turning mined-out quarries into pretty lakes. We’ve thought that the world is so big that surely our puny activities can’t harm it. But I can remember writing an article in the 60’s for my church newsletter in which I liked earth to a spaceship, (an enclosed space,) and how resources were going to run out and what would we do then? I suppose it was an attempt to be prophetic but it elicited no response from the church folk and quite possibly it didn’t change my own lifestyle very much. The way we ravaged the world and manufactured more and more did concern me but it spoke of a time too far in the future to be truly worried.
Since then, we have gone through phases of prophetic warnings: – pollution of rivers, the ozone layer being destroyed, oil spillages, an increasing incidence of asthma etc. We’ve used science to solve some problems but we’ve learned very little about adjusting our lifestyles. We’ve assumed that ‘those clever scientists out there’ will solve all problems. To be fair on the church, it has at times been outspoken on the environment. The Church Ecology Group made a splash when they produced a leaflet called ‘Live Gently on the Earth’ and Archbishop Rowan Williams conveyed the same message. Numerous small Christian and secular groups work locally but the impact of all this has been minimal on us as the general public. People like David Attenborough and the Swedish schoolgirl, Greta Thunberg has raised the profile of the environment lobby and Greta should have stirred great swathes of people into action in her pronouncement that ‘Our house is on fire’. It hit the news headlines and I’m sure made people sit up for a moment. And yet the airports are jammed with people wanting to fly hundreds or thousands of miles, cars still flood our roads and adverts still fill our television screens telling us we need new 3-piece suits, vacuum cleaners, carpets, driveways. ….. you name it; you need to buy it despite the fact that each item has an energy cost and thus a global warming cost, a resources cost and a degradation of the environment cost.
Cigarette packets have a large health warning on them. Smoking kills. Maybe everything we buy should have a variety of pictures and warnings about some animal or plant that is being harmed in some way or other. You buy a mug and it is stamped with a picture of a dead butterfly and the words ‘I couldn’t find any food’. You buy a new coat and there’s a big label on the back with a picture of a tree and ‘Chopped down to build a road.’ That’s not likely to happen and I’m not saying ‘Don’t buy anything’ or ‘Don’t travel anywhere’ but God’s world is beautiful and fragile and we have been savagely attacking it with little regard for its fragile and defenseless inhabitants because we want to live indulgently and comfortably. I’m trying not to be judgemental here but somehow we need to change our mindset and lower our expectations and drastically change our overall lifestyle. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if there weren’t several think tanks around the world that have worked out how much energy and other resources the average person can consume if we are to avoid global warming. I imagine, if figures were published it would frighten us because we in the UK use a greater share than someone in Nigeria or Sri Lanka or Costa Rica.
Although Jesus said nothing about global warming, he did instill a wonder of nature when he said ‘Consider the lilies of the field, not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed like one of these.’ And, on another occasion, ‘Not a sparrow falls to the ground without God noticing.’ The implication is that God cares about every aspect of creation and expects us to as well.
What of the story I told earlier? The lad found the secret of happiness we hope. The story tells us that we must maintain our sense of wonder at creation but, at the same time, nurture it; keep our eyes on the drops of oil, the everyday things of life. The two must work together in harmony.
To my mind, Christian behaviour stems on three things: – Love, Justice and courage. Not physical courage but the courage to do the right thing. The courage to show love and the courage to carry out justice. It’s not easy to love the unlovely and living our lives justly may be personally very costly. I know I’m being very simplistic. Our relationship with the 8 billion other people in the world as well as elephants and oak trees and spiders, and dolphins and dogs and daffodils and sheep is very complex but, as Christians, somehow we’ve got to grasp the nettle to please God and care for our neighbours. We’ll stay silent for a while