Homily for Pentecost 21 – Thanksgiving Sunday
Last week I saw an amazing video on the TV news about a young woman interacting with a dolphin from a boat while holidaying in the Bahamas. Suddenly she dropped her cell phone into the ocean. Moments later, the dolphin had gone down, retrieved it for her and gently gave it back.
The woman’s reaction had more to do with the fact that the phone would no longer work than with the amazing thing – the natural miracle – that had just unfolded before her eyes – a wild creature had just done her an enormous favour for no particular reason.
The dolphin retrieving the cell phone could be interpreted various ways, but maybe the dolphin was just saying, “you humans need to stop dumping your stuff into the ocean – you need to take us more seriously and realize you are polluting the places where we are trying to live and breathe and eat.
Dolphins are pretty talkative, so it’s not entirely impossible that that might have been its message. St Francis, whom we celebrated last week, routinely communicated with birds and wolves, and scientists acknowledge we are only just beginning to understand and interpret what birds and animals (and even plants) are saying.
Nature has been kind to us. At Thanksgiving, our focus is generally (and obviously) one of gratitude, which is very appropriate, but for too long our attitude has been one based in entitlement, celebrating what we take from creation. I have been thinking in recent years that the focus needs to shift, so that along with a deep sense of gratitude, respect and even reverence for creation, there needs to be a strong encouragement toward stewardship of the earth – an awareness not only of what we gain from the earth but of how we are giving back, sustaining, nurturing. We take so much from the earth, but what do we ever give back, other than garbage and sewage?
Around the world, churches are becoming acutely aware of the environmental crisis and expressing it in a variety of ways.
In February 2015, Anglican bishops from around the world gathered in South Africa to reflect theologically on the environmental crisis. Their declaration, “The World Is Our Host: A Call to Urgent Action for Climate Justice”, stated: “At this time of unprecedented climate crisis, we call all our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion to join us in prayer and in pastoral, priestly and prophetic action. We call with humility, but with urgent determination enlivened by our faith in God who is Creator and Redeemer . . . We believe that the problem is spiritual as well as economic, scientific and political, because the roadblock to effective action relates to basic existential issues of how human life is framed and valued: including the competing moral claims of present and future generations, human versus non-human interests, and how the lifestyle of wealthy countries is to be balanced against the basic needs of the developing world. For this reason the Church must urgently find its collective moral voice.”
The bishops noted the “increasingly strong and more frequent extreme weather events; changes in seasonal weather patterns; rising levels of seawater; acidification of seawater and depleted fishing grounds; the devastating impacts of pollution; deforestation, and destructive mining and energy extraction and transportation practices” as well as largescale “displacement of people.”
Ancient people wrongly interpreted scripture to say that God gave the earth to human beings to dominate and exploit, and that attitude resulted in terrible abuses and the oppression of all other forms of life.
The Anglican Bishops said: “We recognized that we have been complicit in a theology of dominion (Genesis 1:26), and realized that human dominion over the earth can only be exercised in the light of Jesus’ teaching that the greatest is the one who serves (Luke 22.26).”
Pope Francis, in the spirit of his namesake, has had powerful things to say about the importance of caring for creation. In June he wrote an encyclical (Laudato Si) saying that our Sister, Mother Earth “is protesting for the wrong that we are doing to her, because of the irresponsible use and abuse of the goods that God has placed on her. We have grown up thinking that we were her owners and dominators, authorised to loot her. The violence that exists in the human heart, wounded by sin, is also manifest in the symptoms of illness that we see in the Earth, the water, the air and in living things” (Laudato Si, paragraph 2). The document has been praised even by scientists like David Suzuki.
The prophet Isaiah offered a powerful image when he suggested that those who are alienated from God are like the restless sea, casting up mire and dirt. Amos, commenting on the corruption of his day and the excesses of the wealthy, said: “They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth.” Every bit of reasonable evidence and study suggests we cannot keep on doing what we have been doing. Yet every country in the world wants to keep ratcheting up economic growth, production and consumption.
97% of the scientists working in the field of climate change have indicated that we are at a crisis point and need to make substantial changes to the way we live, but there are still large numbers of people in denial about what is happening to our planet. And there are those who think it is in their best interest to promote denial. The prophet Amos reminds us that people in power don’t like being corrected – this is especially true of big corporations. In her book This Changes Everything, Naomi Klein quotes a report in the Guardian (UK) that revealed that “between 2002 and 2010, a network of anonymous American billionaires had donated nearly $120 million to ‘groups casting doubt about the science behind climate change,’” which in turn destroyed any opportunity the US congress had to act on President Obama’s environmental agenda (This Changes Everything, p. 44).
The Pope calls for a “drastic change” in “lifestyle, production and consumption” from unsustainable habits to more mindful means of caring for “our common home.” As he says, “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”
As Jesus teaches, the richest person in the world cannot with all their wealth match the beauty and integrity of the simplest aspects of creation. And eventually, their selfish actions come home to roost in the kind of world they are creating for their own grandchildren. Let us all think about the legacy we are creating in every choice and action.
Traditional celebrations of Thanksgiving have ignored the obvious Colonial overtones, never bothering to wonder how First Nations people feel about Thanksgiving — maybe more like the turkey! Again, our Bishops state: “We believe that the voices of Indigenous peoples, whose relationship with creation remains integral to their spirituality and relationship with God, is of central importance to ongoing ministry on climate justice.”
A recent Anglican Church of Canada article by Matt Gardner states: “In a world wracked by inequality, poverty and hunger, the biblical call to care for the poor and needy—one of the most vital aspects of Christian ministry—has taken on an increasingly global dimension. Gardener quotes PWRDF executive director Adele Finney, who says: “Jesus talked more about the kingdom of God than anything else . . . it’s about the kind of world of equality that includes justice and forgiveness, and a table where everyone is invited and not only fed, but fed abundantly. The very centre of our worship is a table where all are invited inclusively and fed equally, and sent out to carry that message of a common table of abundant life to the rest of the world.”
We are a sacramental people in that we believe that the divine can be experienced through material things like bread and wine and water, but only recently have we begun applying that theology to the earth itself, even though poets like William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins and theologians like Meister Eckhart and Pierre Teilhard de Chardin (and certainly St Francis of Assisi) were articulating it many years ago. The pope says: “Saint Francis, faithful to Scripture, invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness” (Laudato Si, para. 12).
To see eternity in a grain of sand and heaven in a wild flower is a profoundly spiritual and sacramental perspective — to be able to appreciate the beauty and complexity of the creation and not reduce it to mechanisms and functions that serve our limited and short-sighted purposes is an act of grace. Pope Francis, speaking of St Francis: “The poverty and austerity of Saint Francis were no mere veneer of asceticism, but something much more radical: a refusal to turn reality into an object simply to be used and controlled” (Laudato Si, para. 11).
I think we need to expand the meaning of the word “conversion” so it is understood not merely as a turning away from “the world, the flesh and the devil,” as turning toward God in some abstract sense, but as a process or experience that changes us from being compulsive consumers, oblivious to the world around us, to becoming people who embrace the spirit of Jesus, who taught his followers to pay attention to the birds of the air and the flowers of the field, and to dwell in the world as peace-makers. In Christ, the anxiety of getting and having gives way to the freedom and peace of simply being.
Pope Francis says that what Christians especially need “is an ‘ecological conversion’, whereby the effects of their encounter with Jesus Christ become evident in their relationship with the world around them. Living our vocation to be protectors of God’s handiwork is essential to a life of virtue; it is not an optional or a secondary aspect of our Christian experience” (Laudato Si para. 217).
Pope Francis: “I believe that Saint Francis is the example par excellence of care for the vulnerable and of an integral ecology lived out joyfully and authentically . . . He was a mystic and a pilgrim who lived in simplicity and in wonderful harmony with God, with others, with nature and with himself. He shows us just how inseparable the bond is between concern for nature, justice for the poor, commitment to society, and interior peace” (Laudato Si, para. 11). St Francis, in communing with the birds and living simply was trying to be as much like Jesus as he could. I pray to God that more people would do the same – we need far more people in the world imitating Jesus rather than envying and emulating the rich and the powerful.
Theologian Dr Elizabeth Johnson says: “In spiritual terms, what this time calls for is nothing less than a conversion of our hearts and minds to the good of the Earth . . . [Christians] need to learn to relate anew to the natural world not as dominators, not even as stewards – which does not go far enough – but as real kin in the one creation of God” (as in Spiritual Questions for the Twenty-First Century: Essays in Honor of Joan Chittister).
We are not God; we are not owners; the earth is not our property. We do not have an automatic right to exploit; other creatures are not to be seen as products to be used. As St Francis understood so well, we are fellow creatures, guests on this planet, and our affinity with them must be regained. We must expand the biblical attitude that says when one suffers, all suffer together. As The Earth Charter says: “As never before in history, common destiny beckons us to seek a new beginning… Let ours be a time remembered for the awakening of a new reverence for life, the firm resolve to achieve sustainability, the quickening of the struggle for justice and peace, and the joyful celebration of life”.
When you think of that dolphin retrieving and returning the cell phone, you realize that what that dolphin did could be described as an act of grace. The Creator and Creation itself have graced us in countless ways. The dolphins, and indeed creation itself, need corresponding acts of grace from the human community.
The Venerable Grant Rodgers+
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15 Seek the Lord and live, or he will break out against the house of Joseph like fire, and it will devour Bethel, with no one to quench it. Ah, you that turn justice to wormwood, and bring righteousness to the ground! They hate the one who reproves in the gate, and they abhor the one who speaks the truth. Therefore, because you trample on the poor and take from them levies of grain, you have built houses of hewn stone, but you shall not live in them; you have planted pleasant vineyards, but you shall not drink their wine. For I know how many are your transgressions, and how great are your sins— you who afflict the righteous, who take a bribe, and push aside the needy in the gate. Therefore the prudent will keep silent in such a time; for it is an evil time. Seek good and not evil, that you may live; and so the Lord, the God of hosts, will be with you, just as you have said. Hate evil and love good, and establish justice in the gate; it may be that the Lord, the God of hosts, will be gracious to the remnant of Joseph.
1 Timothy 2:1-7 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings should be made for everyone, for kings and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God; there is also one mediator between God and humankind, Christ Jesus, himself human, who gave himself a ransom for all —this was attested at the right time. For this I was appointed a herald and an apostle (I am telling the truth, I am not lying), a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and truth.
Matthew 6 6:25-33 ‘Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, “What will we eat?” or “What will we drink?” or “What will we wear?” For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.
The full text of the Bishops’ Declaration follows:
THE WORLD IS OUR HOST
A Call to Urgent Action for Climate Justice
Volmoed Conference and Retreat Centre (A Community of the Cross of Nails Partner), South Africa, 23 to 27 February 2015
In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.
We, a group of Anglican Bishops from dioceses across our global Communion greet our sisters and brothers in Christ throughout the Anglican Communion on this most Holy Day, Good Friday. On this day, when our Saviour poured out his very life for the world, we share the following statement in a spirit of sacrificial and reconciling love.
The covetous desires of people and nations to possess what is not their own, Father, forgive.
The greed which exploits the work of human hands and lays waste the earth, Father, forgive.
At this time of unprecedented climate crisis, we call all our brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion to join us in prayer and in pastoral, priestly and prophetic action. We call with humility, but with urgent determination enlivened by our faith in God who is Creator and Redeemer and by the pain of our people’s experience in our dioceses and provinces, and their need for seeds of hope.
In different ways each of our own dioceses are deeply impacted by climate injustice and environmental degradation. We accept the evidence of science concerning the contribution of human activity to the climate crisis and the disproportionate role played by fossil-fuel based economies. Although climate scientists have for many years warned of the consequences of inaction there is an alarming lack of global agreement about the way forward. We believe that the problem is spiritual as well as economic, scientific and political, because the roadblock to effective action relates to basic existential issues of how human life is framed and valued: including the competing moral claims of present and future generations, human versus non-human interests, and how the lifestyle of wealthy countries is to be balanced against the basic needs of the developing world. For this reason the Church must urgently find its collective moral voice.
Over the past year, facilitated by the steering group of the Anglican Communion Environmental Network (ACEN) we were invited through email, personal study, and virtual conferencing, to begin considering how we might live out, with urgency and in hope, the Fifth Mark of Mission “to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth.”
Our reflections entered a new depth when, in February 2015, ACEN chair Archbishop Thabo Makgoba graciously hosted a face to face meeting in South Africa. This gave us further opportunity to share the experience of our dioceses and, within a context of daily Eucharist and prayer, to hear again God’s calling in Scripture and in Creation (Psalms 104, 148, 24) and to discern ways forward. We held fast to our hope in the promises of God, the one who will restore all creation (Romans 8:18-25) and who will make all things new (2 Corinthians 5:17; Revelation 21:5).
We listened to stories from dioceses affected by increasingly strong and more frequent extreme weather events; changes in seasonal weather patterns; rising levels of seawater; acidification of seawater and depleted fishing grounds; the devastating impacts of pollution; deforestation, and destructive mining and energy extraction and transportation practices. We lamented the displacement of people because of the effects of climate change and environmental degradation, and the consequent loss of culture, identity and belonging. We know that God committed the care of creation to us, God’s children (Genesis 1:28-29, 2:15) but we have been care-less (Jeremiah 2:7). Therefore climate justice for us as Christians demands a faith response.
Together we struggled with the practical and spiritual dimensions of climate justice in light of the insights and imperatives of our Christian faith. We recognized that some of us serve in cultures and nations that are major contributors to global warming, while others live in places which contribute little to the problem but are disproportionately affected by it. We also acknowledge in humility the cultural, political, historical and theological differences between us that we struggle to set aside in framing a united response to this crisis.
The language we use to confront this issue and the interests and powers we must confront vary significantly from place to place. The crisis is however shared, and its resolution can only lie in increasing unity of thought and practice in order to demolish hurdles to inequality and injustice in our common life.
We shared the understanding that creation is holy, and that we are called to serve (ebed) and protect (shamar) the earth now and for future generations (Genesis 2:15). We recognized that we have been complicit in a theology of dominion (Genesis 1:26), and realized that human dominion over the earth can only be exercised in the light of Jesus’ command that the greatest is the one who serves (Luke 22.26). We acknowledged that there are large economic and political issues at play in this complex conversation around unexploited fossil fuel reserves and the development of sustainable and renewable forms of energy: including the subsidization of fossil fuel industries and the powerful influence of big business on government policy throughout the world.
We believe that the voices of Indigenous peoples, whose relationship with creation remains integral to their spirituality and relationship with God, is of central importance to ongoing ministry on climate justice. We were profoundly moved as we participated in an Indigenous Eucharistic rite which connected Creation, Morality, and Redemption in a biblical, integral and comprehensive way.
We were painfully aware that women frequently bear a disproportionate burden of climate change largely because they make up the majority of the world’s poor and are often more dependent for their livelihood on natural resources threatened by climate change. The voices and contributions of women are therefore essential in responding to climate change.
There is a compelling need to listen to the voices of our youth who will inherit the challenges and catastrophes we fail to address and pre-empt. We believe we must be reconciled to Creation and to one another and that there is an urgency to this call. We believe the issue of climate change is a moral issue at its heart.
We acknowledged that salvation in Christ calls us to responsibilities beyond ourselves. Especially in the developed world our view of salvation has often focused on our individual souls and journey to heaven. Our responsibility to care for God’s Creation has been overlooked or ignored. We have acted as if Christ only died to save the human race. The truth of the redemption of all things in Christ, which is the message of the life-giving cross, must be reclaimed (Colossians 1:20; John 3:16).
Listening to one another we learned that attending to the current and future life and health of our planet will require sacrifices now, both personal and collective, a deeper appreciation of the interdependence of all creation, and a genuine commitment to repentance, reconciliation and redemption. This calls for a profound change of heart and mind. In keeping with 1 Corinthians 12:26, our study and discussions served to underline the connection between lifestyle and use of resources in one part of the world affecting the whole. We discerned a call to revitalize our human vocation that refuses to leave some poor and others rich, and to rediscover our joy and awe in the wonders of God’s creation (Psalm 96: 11-12). We were challenged to go beyond advocacy for action by governments and big business interests, and undertake to practice the way of repentance and restraint, practicing justice between north and south, male and female, human and the more-than-human creation within our own common life as a Church.
The churches of the Anglican Communion are local and global. Rooted in our theology of creation and in solidarity with one another we can take responsibility for action across the Communion, using all our God-given resources of intellect, spirit and determination.
To live in the way of our Saviour, who unites all to himself, we therefore commit ourselves to the following initial actions and to developing a strategic plan of action in the months ahead. The initiatives listed below are important first-steps as we call upon Anglicans everywhere to join us in these endeavours:
As bishops in our provinces, dioceses, congregations and communities:
• We commit ourselves as brothers and sisters in Christ in humility, and acknowledging our differences of circumstance and polity, to support one another in conversation and in prayer, to continue to discern God’s leading, to develop ecotheological resources and form strategic proposals for global and local action.
• We undertake to fast for climate justice on the first day of every month in solidarity with the earth and in acknowledgement that our own common life as a Church has contributed to the current climate crisis. Our fast will continue for as long as we prayerfully discern that we stand in need of repentance as a Church.
• We will work to strengthen our ecumenical and inter-faith partnerships globally and in our own jurisdictions standing in solidarity with all people of goodwill in response to the climate crisis.
• We will develop and distribute educational resources for everyone (adults, youth and children) on climate change, climate justice, and the ethical and practical principles of sustainable living in global and local contexts.
• We will develop and distribute liturgical materials on Care for Creation for use in parishes and other places of worship.
• We call for a review of our churches’ investment practices with a view to supporting environmental sustainability and justice by divesting from industries involved primarily in the extraction or distribution of fossil fuels.
• We call for the strengthening of ethical investment guidelines to include consideration of justice for the non-human creation as well as the interests of future generations of humanity.
• We call for programmes of theological formation for ordinands, and in-service formation for ordained clergy, to include in-depth components of eco-justice and ecotheology.
• We call for Anglican educational institutions to integrate issues of environmental sustainability and ethics into their curricula and community life and by teaching a theological approach to climate justice.
We encourage Anglicans everywhere to:
• Join in prayer and fasting for climate justice on the first day of each month as an integral part of life and worship.
• Implement energy conservation measures in church buildings and moving to renewable energy sources as quickly as possible.
• Take measures to conserve, recycle and collect water around church buildings and properties.
• Nurture biodiversity on church land by creating safe habitat for indigenous species.
• Support local communities by sharing water, energy and arable land resources for local food production.
• Support sustainable land use initiatives, including a halt to the clearing of native forests.
• Advocate for sustainable water, food, and agricultural practices in our communities. It is imperative to take into account the interwoven relationship of food, water and energy systems.
We call upon political, economic, social and religious leaders in our various constituencies to address the climate change crisis as the most urgent moral issue of our day. We urge them to:
• Work with all possible commitment and speed toward fair, ambitious, accountable and binding climate change agreements at national and international levels.
• Develop policies that genuinely assist environmental and climate refugees and promote mechanisms of intergovernmental co-operation that ensure their human rights, safety and resettlement
We affirm our belief with the words of the Creed “We believe in God, the Father Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth.” And we affirm that this statement is foundational for the Gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Our declaration is offered in prayer, with thanksgiving to God, creator, sustainer and redeemer of all to whom be glory and praise, now and forever.
Almighty God, You created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them. And you created humankind in your own image and it was very good; Grant us the courage to recognize our failure to maintain your creation. And by your grace help us to halt the degradation of our environment. Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Who came that we might have life in all its fullness. Amen.
The Initiative was attended by the following Bishops
The Archbishop of Cape Town and Primate of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba
The Bishop of Edmonton, Anglican Church of Canada, the Rt Revd Jane Alexander
The Bishop of Western Kowloon, Hong Kong Sheng Kung Hui, the Rt Revd Andrew Chan
The Bishop of Davao, Episcopal Church of the Philippines, the Rt Revd Jonathan Casimina
The Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church and Bishop of St Andrews Dunkeld & Dunblane, the Most Revd David Chillingworth
The Bishop of New York, The Episcopal Church, the Rt Revd Andrew Dietsche
The Bishop of Northern Argentina, Anglican Church of South America, the Rt Revd Nicholas Drayson
The Bishop of Harare, Church of the Province of Central Africa, the Rt Revd Dr Chad Gandiya
The Bishop of Salisbury, Church of England, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam
The National Indigenous Bishop, Anglican Church of Canada, the Rt Revd Mark MacDonald
The Bishop of Eastern Zambia, Church of the Province of Central Africa, the Rt Revd William Mchombo
The Bishop of Johannesburg, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Rt Revd Stephen Moreo
The Bishop of Namibia, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Rt Revd Nathaniel Nakwatumbah
The Bishop of Madhya Kerala and Deputy Moderator of the Church of South India, the Rt Revd Thomas Oommen
The Bishop of Vanua Levu and Taveuni, Fiji, Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand & Polynesia, the Rt Revd Apimeleki Qiliho
The Bishop of Swaziland, Anglican Church of Southern Africa, the Rt Revd Ellinah Wamukoya
The Assistant Bishop of the Diocese of Perth, Anglican Church of Australia, the Rt Revd Tom Wilmot
The Moderator Bishop, Church of Bangladesh & Bishop of Dhaka, the Most Revd Paul Sarker, and the Bishop of Amazon, Episcopal Anglican Church of Brazil, the Rt Revd Saulo Mauricio de Barros, and the Bishop of Iglesia Episcopal de Cuba, Bishop Griselda Delgado have participated in the initiative but were unable to attend the meeting.
The statement and its contents are Copyright: The Anglican Consultative Council and the Anglican Communion Environmental Network 2015. Permission is given to reproduce portions for publication. Copies may be made for distribution with appropriate citation.