Bible and Ecology 10: Lent homily (Smug Suggestions for More Righteous Living).

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2011-03-06 by Jeremy Clarke

Preacher: Peter Haslehurst
6th March 2011
Reading: James 1:19-25
Well, we have come to the end of a fascinating and challenging journey – our sermon series on environmental issues. There have been many highlights, but perhaps my favourite moment was discovering during Jane’s sermon the other week that speaking about animals in church is “an abomination”. Anyway, if you want to review the excellent material that was presented to us, you can find it here on our sermon blog.
James 1:19-25 (NIV)

19 My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry,

20 because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

21 Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you.

22 Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.

23 Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror
24 and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like.
25 But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it – not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it – they will be blessed in what they do.

So, I have somehow landed the awkward job of challenging us to actually do something about all this. As James said in our reading, hearing the message is all well and good, but it is critically important (unless we want to fall into self-deception) to act on what we have heard.

It seems to be human nature to ignore our prophets. As in Jeremiah’s day, we prefer to listen to the people who say “Peace, peace” even when there is no peace. In a recent interview James Lovelock, father of modern climate science, foretold the coming climate catastrophe in the starkest terms. Much of Europe Saharan by 2040. Britain a lifeboat for refugees from Europe. 80% of the world’s population dead of starvation by 2100.

The scale and seriousness of the current environmental crisis is enormous. It would be easy to despair – in fact James Lovelock does seem to have despaired. According to him climate change is now irreversible and the best we can do is enjoy life while we still can. But we are Christians and we believe in the God of hope. And the power of small beginnings. Jesus’ parable of the mustard seed encourages us not to despair, but to trust that God can use even seemingly insignificant acts of faith and discipleship to transform the world. In his book Planetwise, Dave Bookless quotes Nick Spence and Robert White: “Climate change is not one big, intractable problem but billions of tiny tractable ones.”


So my challenge, to myself as well as to you, is to do something small and mustard-seedy this Lent, a little gesture of love and care towards creation. Often our Lent disciplines are turned inwards towards self-improvement or a slimmer waistline. But this year maybe our Lent can look outwards, inspired by our sermon series to take on a discipline which, if only for a few weeks, will mean that we are living more lightly in God’s world.

There are plenty of places to go for ideas. Tear Fund are suggesting a Climate Fast for Lent this year, with all sorts of ideas. For example:

• Turn your heating down to 17ºC and wear more clothes.• Cook simply with local and seasonal food.

• Save time and emissions by not ironing unless absolutely essential. (I’ve been doing this for years but perhaps for the wrong reasons!)

• Meatless Monday. If everyone in the UK gave up meat once a week, the emissions savings would equal taking 5 million cars off the road.

• Power down. Have a technology-free day. It cuts carbon and gives you space.

• Buy only products with little or no packaging.

• Pray every time you throw something in the bin.

• Give up baths for Lent (I know some of you probably do this already!) Take a quick shower instead.

• Learn how to sew, knit or darn, so you can make and mend rather than buy new.

• Start growing vegetables, herbs and fruit in your garden. If you don’t have one, use pots on a windowsill or in a sunny spot indoors.

Here’s something from the A Rocha website:• Plant a tree. As well as sequestering some carbon you’ll be providing a little bit of habitat for birds and insects. If you have no garden or no space in your garden there are plenty of ways to fund or help with tree-planting further afield.

And a couple of suggestions inspired by Dave Bookless in Planetwise:

• Put the car away for Lent and walk cycle or bus instead. Or maybe if that’s too difficult enjoy a careless carless day just once a week.

• An Easter electric fast! Bookless describes how one year he and his family did without electricity and gas from Good Friday to Easter Sunday. This involved, among other things, going to bed when it gets dark or sitting chatting by candlelight, and going out into the garden to build a fire to heat the water for a morning cup of tea.

So you’re probably all hating me by now. No-one likes receiving smug suggestions for more righteous living. I suppose I guessed this might happen when I accepted this assignment.

No-one is saying you should do all these things – and some of them may well be part of your lifestyle already. But please think about using this Lent as an opportunity to respond creatively to all the thinking, preaching and studying we have done together over the last few months about our place in the community of God’s creation.

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