A Sermon preached by The Revd Ken Masters at Pen Selwood
on 2nd Sunday before Lent, 20 February 2022
Readings: Genesis 24b-9,15-25; Luke 822-25
There was nothing surprising in a storm on the Sea of Galilee. In the afternoon, now as then, the wind can sweep down from the Golan Heights and stir up violent waves – that then subside, just as quickly. More surprising was the reaction of the disciples. ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?”
Today, especially after Storm Eunice, we may think about storms the other way round. Human beings are having such an effect upon the Earth’s climate – with all the pollution and carbon dioxide we are producing – that we are causing more storms, as well as higher temperatures, as well as all the plastic.
Scientists, ecologists and many young people tell us that a 4 degree increase of average temperatures by the end of the century will drastically change the climate and the sea levels. Will we be able to rise to the challenge of the effect we are having on the Earth? This is not only for our own sake, but for the sake of our children and grandchildren – and, as always, for the sake of the poorer and less powerful peoples of the world.
From a human perspective, we are all called to face this challenge. Politically and economically, we have to make choices. To avoid global disaster, we need to consume less energy – to reduce our carbon footprint – and both give an example and help the developing countries to do the same.
A question for us is how we do this as followers of Christ. It’s not, of course, the first time the Christian Church, along with the society in which it is set, has had to face disaster. The Early Christians, only 40 years after Jesus’ Crucifixion and Resurrection, saw the Roman armies destroy Jerusalem and the Temple in 70 ad. In the Middle Ages, there was the Black Death, which swept round from the Far East to Europe and then England in May 1348. It had a mortality rate of between 20 to 50% – profoundly affecting rural society and the national economy. There were further plagues in the 1350s, the 1370s and subsequent centuries.
So, what do Christians do in the face of disaster? Most of the time we caught up in it just like anyone else. But we have a vocation to look for God – and to worship, serve and trust Him in whatever happens; as well as a corresponding vocation to love our neighbours. One outstanding example was in 1665, when bubonic plague struck the village of Eyam in Derbyshire (which I visited last September). To prevent spreading infection the villagers followed the advice of their rector and his predecessor and confined themselves strictly within their parish boundaries. It took 14 months and claimed the lives of 260 villagers, but their strong Christian commitment, personal courage and self-sacrifice prevented the plague spreading.
In the very different circumstances of today, their example may inspire us as we face the challenges of our time. Other pointers come from today’s Bible readings. The second story of creation in Genesis, part of which we heard this morning, tells of God making the earth and the heavens – and then of a time of innocence, in the Garden of Eden. After that came The Fall. That pictured the fact that we are sinful human beings. Not, a very fashionable thing to say, but it may help get us past the barriers of self-satisfaction and thinking we are always right. An awareness of sinfulness can positively lead to repentance – part of the meaning of which is to change our life style.
After Jesus had stilled the storm, he asked the disciples, ‘Where is your faith?’ St Mark’s version asks : ‘Why are you such cowards?’ In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, ‘Do not be anxious about tomorrow.’ Instead, ‘Set your mind on God’s kingdom and his justice before everything else, and all the rest will come to you as well.’ [Matt 634,33]
As followers of the One who died on a cross and then was raised to eternal life, we are to trust God and find his will for us. We have the basic challenge as individuals, and as a parish church, to be far more careful in our use of energy. This includes such obvious details in our homes and in our church building – as LEDs or low energy light bulbs, turning lights off, insulation, and forms of heating. It also covers more corporate issues, such as decisions about waste, travel, finance, donations, and influencing politics and economics. As a Church of England parish, we need to take our part in tackling this whole problem.
With love of God and our neighbour in mind, we are to do our best for His Creation and our Earth. And we remember that God’s spirit and grace will be with us. But we really need to do all that we can – and then commit the rest to God.
I’ll finish with a prayer used at my theological college:
May the sacred feast of thy table, O Lord, always strengthen and renew us; guide and protect us in our weakness amid the storms of this world, and bring us to the haven of eternal salvation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. [Cuddesdon Office Book]