Rogation Talk 2019: Treasure the Earth

Readings: Job 28:1-12,20-28 and Mark 4:26-29

I lived in a small agricultural community and went to a small rural primary school in North Wiltshire. Once a year in May we would pour out of our classrooms and trail around the bounds of the parish behind the vicar. I remember the brown fields, the blue sky – it was always sunny – and the skylarks. I don’t remember the religious bits but I bet we sang All Things Bright and Beautiful and asked God to bless the crops and help the farmers.

Fifty years later, the countryside and village communities are much changed. Rogation has been largely forgotten. It is not quite so vital to ask God’s blessing on our fields because science on the whole can take care of it and much comes from overseas anyway. Where churches like ours today are using seasonal markers like Rogation and Plough Sunday to talk about God’s creation, it’s against a very different background.

You would have to live in a bubble with no television, newspapers, or internet not to be aware of the environmental situation we are facing  today. I could use measured vocabulary and talk about issues or challenges, but I am going to use the word catastrophe and say we face an unprecedented climate apocalypse, and the rich man in his castle, the poor man at his gate, we will all be in it together. That’s the bad news. The good news is we have a small window of opportunity to avert what otherwise will be devastation.

We are not short of present day prophets, so diverse that there is someone to suit every personality type. There is Sir David Attenborough, still active in documentary making at 93, who quite suddenly has switched from celebrating the wonder and diversity of the natural world to making a powerful appeal for its protection. And there is Greta Thunberg, a 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl, who has stopped going to school on Fridays so she can campaign for political action and finds herself lecturing English MPs in Parliament – because obviously there is no point learning for the future if there is no future, and so what are legislators going to do about it? In addition we have the Climate Alliance, A Rocha, the UN, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams … they are all warning us in no uncertain terms of the harm we are doing to the world. We might have turned a deaf ear to these inconvenient truths for years but we can no longer do so.

Many of the changes we need to implement have to be at governmental and international level, but none of it will prevail unless we all play our part. We as individual Christians and the church as the Body of Christ are called to be in the forefront of environmental initiatives. It is one of the marks of a missionary church to treasure the earth – to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew its life. We can be left in no doubt from scripture that care for his world is in the heart of God and at the top of his agenda.

Today’s reading in Job has a really contemporary ring about it. Just like today, people three thousand years ago, were lording it over the earth, beating it into submission, wringing from it its bounty, and twice the writer asks, “Do they know what they’re doing? Do people know where to find wisdom?” And the answer is of course, with the Creator God, who is the first cause behind every act of life and growth, as Jesus observed in his parable. We know the biochemistry, but it is a mystery how life is created and sustained. The interconnectedness of all things is remarkable to contemplate. For example, we might not care too much about bees, we might not even like honey, but one in three mouthfuls of food we eat exists because of pollinators such as the humble bee, which is responsible for propagating 75% of leading global crops.

We are finding out to our cost that the earth is expendable and that either through ignorance or wilfulness we have misused it. Our carelessness over decades has caught up with us and the future of our children and children’s children is at stake.

What then should we do? It’s easy to feel overwhelmed and give way to despair. When we take small steps in the right direction it can seem pretty futile. But faith says we each have a unique contribution to make and together we are much more than the sum of our parts. God by the power of the Holy Spirit, the power of love at work in the world, takes the little we do and magnifies it beyond what we can achieve by ourselves. Think of the boy’s small packed lunch and the thousands fed because he offered it. Small actions alone won’t change the ecosystem, but because I can’t do everything, that’s no excuse for not doing anything.

Life will be different for future generations. In the two generations since my grandmother, I think I’ve had the best life has ever offered. I have owned and done things she could never have imagined. But the peaks we have reached this century are unsustainable. It’s likely we have reached peak stuff, peak oil, peak travel, peak convenience. The consensus is it’s all going to look very different from now on and we must all be agents of that change.

So what will you do? The media these days are not short of suggestions and we must all decide for ourselves. But one thing is certain. The earth is not so robust, its resources not so infinite, that it can continue to endure relentless human hammering. Pope Francis talks about the tenderness we need to have for the earth. We must respect its fragility and be better stewards of its precious resources. God so loved the world that he gave, and the world now needs humanity to give back. Amen.