A Sermon for Harvest Festival

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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.

Claire George

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Stoptober!

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This October will you love those around you enough to join Stoptober? Sign up here to find out.

For non-smokers spending time in buildings where people smoke is a miserable experience. The World Health Organisation assesses that spending a lot of time around people smoking will significantly increase their lung cancer risk.

For children and babies living with smoking adults increases their risk of asthma, lung infections, middle ear infections and sudden infant death. If they don’t grow up angry with their parents for exposing them to so much smoke, they may take up the habit themselves.

As for the environment. Tobacco farming in some places keeps poor farmers in poverty, it exposes child workers to dangerous amounts of nicotine and pesticide, and it contributes to loss of forests.

If you really can’t give up smoking, do it away from other people and don’t pollute homes with this terrible smoke which contains 4,000 chemicals, some of which are poisonous and cause cancer.

If you can give up smoking, why not use Stoptober to start you on your way? Your lungs and heart will thank you, the people around you will thank you, and planet Earth will thank you.

Humans of New York in South Sudan

Late Winter and early Spring was a particularly tense time in the Church of England. The House of Bishops responded to the legalisation of equal marriage by instructing against the blessings of these marriages and against any Gay clergy who might marry their partners.

There were Church of England members who supported the Bishops’ move.  Others were disgusted and appalled.

It’s hardly surprising that church members weren’t of one mind. The Church of England is a large diverse denomination that ranges the spectrum from ultra conservative through to ultra liberal. According to the Church’s own statistics 1.7 million people take part in a Church of England service every month. That many people are not going to agree on anything.

In the middle of all the fuss strode the issue of Anglicans in Africa, and South Sudan in particular. In April both the Archbishop of Canterbury and South Sudanese bishops expressed the view that English Anglican support for equal marriage could have murderous consequences in Africa. Click here to read the full story on the Church Times website.

Whether one could agree with the Archbishop or not, it was clear that he was deeply concerned about South Sudan’s very troubled situation. The only problem was, for most people in England hearing his words, South Sudan was a very long way away and difficult to imagine. It was difficult to understand why English bishops might feel so passionately about it; or why English bishops were bringing international affairs into English lives.

This week we all have a chance to learn more about South Sudan. The photographer Brandon Stanton, the genius behind “Humans of New York”, is on a 50 day street portraiture tour of the world. Using his classic take a shot, collect a story method, Brandon has so far photographed numerous individuals in the Middle East and East Africa.

This week Brandon has been sharing photographs taken in South Sudan. The stories they tell are moving and somewhat heart breaking. The links below will take you to three pictures. More will be posted on the Humans of New York website in the next few days.

We need security

My father never came home

I’ve seen a lot of death

We are connected to the people of South Sudan. That connection doesn’t come from shared faith in Christ. It doesn’t come from us being Anglicans and many South Sudanese being Anglicans. It doesn’t come from whatever views on equal marriage we hold in common or apart.

The connection is there because whether Gay or Straight, Christian or not, English or South Sudanese, we were all made in God’s image and are all equally loved by him.

There are so many good causes that need our support. Too many good causes in fact, so the best thing each one of us can do is pick one or two favourites and focus on those. If you want to take a special interest in South Sudan you can do so through UNICEF. (Click on the link.)

If you are interested in the status of Gay and Transgender Christians within the English church there are two organisations that might interest you.

Diverse Church exists to provide pastoral support to young Gay and Transgender people who have come up through conservative evangelical churches. It doesn’t seek to persuade youngsters to change whatever they might sincerely believe about issues such as equality, celibacy or what the Bible says. Click here to read their DNA.

Changing Attitude is a campaign organisation for equality in the Church of England. It attracts a broad range of support from folk of all gender and sexual identities. Its website also lists churches where Gay and Transgender  Christians can be confident of an unconditionally accepting welcome. Click here to visit their website.