Everything we have comes from Creation. The only real wealth we have is the Earth and all it does to support us. It’s easy to forget it in our society. We’re so far removed from nature our society would collapse and many of us would die if the shops closed for a couple of months.
Nature should be enough for us. If we were content to live in small homes in the forest and to devote our days to finding or growing food and sharing it with others, nature would be enough. God has given us everything we need, but it’s because of how we behave that people are starving.
Overpopulation comes from people not trusting that their neighbours will look after them in old age. Deforestation, species extinction and quite a bit of developing world poverty come from folk like us in wealthy countries buying products we don’t really need. So many of the world’s problems are because of people, not because Creation isn’t enough for us.
God has given us much to thank him for.
It’s very hard to walk away from the bad habits that cause so much damage to the world. Just before writing this sermon I ate a piece of chocolate that contained unethically grown palm oil. Unethical palm oil production is driving the orangutans to extinction. I knew that when I bought the chocolate, so that’s a real blemish on my soul.
We all have bad habits that harm Creation, whether it’s cigarettes, having the heating on full blast or buying too much stuff. It’s very difficult to go cold turkey and cut ourselves away from all that. Uncomfortably for us, it’s what Christ calls us to do. Christ’s attitude to giving things up is radical and uncompromising.
One of the earliest examples of a man going cold turkey for Christ is St Matthew, whose saint’s day it is today. He was a wealthy tax collector who dropped everything to follow Christ into poverty. That was a very brave decision. I can only conclude he must have felt God calling him in his heart.
The Good News is that in the spiritual sense, St Matthew didn’t abandon wealth for poverty. He gave up the spiritual poverty of a life lived for the sake of money, and took on the richness of life lived on the path of compassion and kindness.
God’s wealth is about the heart, not material goods. That is amply illustrated in today’s Gospel story about the rich man who hoards his wealth instead of sharing it with others. In the end he dies suddenly and is called a fool by God because rich man riches are not the riches of the soul.
Coming back to this year, 2014 …
What are we to do in our own lives? If you have lots of people depending on you, you can’t really do a St Matthew and just give everything up at once. It’s not practical.
But we can ask God to help us go cold turkey on the many little bad habits that harm his Creation. Driving when we could walk. Buying luxury products that they had to cut down forests to grow. Being too lazy to hold onto your rubbish until you find a recycling bin.
That’s how we can pay respect to Creation and thank God for what he has made. If we don’t care for nature and all that is in it, all the songs of gratitude we sing at Harvest will be empty, meaningless, nothing more than lip service.
If we need reminding to do this, and we will, let’s think about what our society looks like to the indigenous peoples around the world.
I’m talking about the Native Americans, the First Nation folk, the aborigines, the Inuit, the Arctic circle reindeer herders, the Maori, the peoples of the rainforests.
They are many many nations, but traditionally they all know how important it is to live in harmony with Creation rather than work against it.
To them (I gather this from reading what some say on the internet) our society looks like a big giant, a big baby giant, that tramples over Creation, too concerned to get what it wants to think about the consequences for the next generation.
Now, don’t be too miserable about all this. Moaning and whinging never accomplished anything. In today’s Gospel reading Christ tells us that worrying does no good. We need to act, not worry.
We need to stay positive and be full of thanks because God has given us teachers in the indigenous peoples of the world. The time has come for Christians to listen to them.
We mustn’t idealise them or stereotype them. White people talking about them as if they were almost magical woodland spirits has put a heavy burden on them in the past. They’re not nature saints, they’re ordinary human beings of the modern world just like us – but their societies and the ways they follow God, are two things we need to pay attention to. There are things out there for us to learn.
So, this St Matthew’s Day, let’s not forget to say a prayer of thanks for our Native Alaskan and Non-Native Alaskan friends at St Matthew’s church in Fairbanks. Long may they work together and continue to inspire us.