Virtual Services

Easter 4, Environment Series: Land and Plants – Sunday April 25th 2021

Welcome

Good morning and welcome to All Saints Totley this morning. It’s a pleasure to have you join us wherever and whenever that may be.

This week we have had a reminder of the real and pressing need to respond to climate and creation challenges and problems during Earth Day, on the 22nd of April. There was a wonderful quote I saw on Twitter from a climate scientist that went ”If you are a human being living on this planet, then you are already the perfect person to care about climate change.”

As we are continue our series on the environment today, hopefully it will continue to help us see that Christianity must look to not only personal salvation, but to collective salvation. The biblical understanding of creation, value and resource should fuel a participatory response to the climate problems and politics around us, grounded in an ethic of justice, care and compassion.

 

Let’s pray together before we begin a time of worship

Prayer of Approach

Creator God, we bring to you all that is growing within us:
for you to bless and nurture.

We bring our prayers for the spread of your kingdom:
for you to bless and nurture.

We bring the initiatives for justice multiplying among nations:
for you to bless and nurture.

We bring the hopes and dreams, tiny and big,
of all your children around the world:
for you to bless and nurture.

In Jesus’ name.
Amen.

Roots on the Web (https://www.rootsontheweb.com/)

Worship

Word

When we look at the impact that humanity has had on the world around us, some of the most widespread and scarring are those that relate to the land and plants. We as a species have ravaged the earth for the resources in, and under it. The Industrial Revolution was fuelled in part by the growing awareness of the Earth’s mineral deposits and so coal, and iron ore began to be mined in vast quantities. In the 1960s, oil replaced coal as the dominant source of energy being consumed in the world. We have razed huge sections of woodland and forest to the ground to make way for urbanisation, infrastructure and both industrialised and subsistence farming impacting the global biome and local climates. No part of the world is free from this threat: In Africa the Congo Basin. In South America the Amazon. In Asia, the highlands of the South East. In Europe, Siberia.

The combustion of fossil fuels mined from the earth combined with widespread deforestation has resulted in levels of carbon dioxide being emitted in ever-increasing amounts in the past two-hundred years, with a significant escalation in the past fifty.  A direct result of these combined activities the global warming effect we are all now too familiar with.

 

It goes further of course. There is also the impact of deforestation on water cycles, the disruption of lives and livelihoods as environments change and the human rights abuses perpetrated by companies and countries engaging in this work.

The human impact on the land is not limited to simply stripping of vital resources, but it too raises rights questions when we consider ownership of land and colonisation. Throughout history those in power have forcibly acquired the land they desired, and set in motion a chain of events that leads to displacement of peoples from their ancestral settings, the contexts in which their history and identity reside. This continues today, couched in terms of governmental control or policy, of statutes and laws, of company policy and progress, that all disproportionally impact the poor, the vulnerable and the powerless leading to the modern-day dispossessed and homeless in all forms and scale across the globe.

The damage being caused by human activity is not abstract, nor are the impacts, real and potential, equally felt. Poor and developing countries disproportionally feel the effect, and future generations will be impacted in a greater manner than the current. The grief and lament for what is already lost will continue to build as, more and more, humanity as a whole wakes up to what is at stake.

 

You may have seen that we had Earth Day this week – which took the form of three days of climate action and a lot of content streamed from the website (https://www.earthday.org/earth-day-2021/). This began with Global Faith Prayer and Land Acknowledgement – a nod to the fact that the organisation recognises that climate care, and proper care for our world as a whole, is not a technological, political, or even an economic issue at its heart. It is more an issue of religion, spirituality and worldview.

Therefore as we look at our reading today, we do so as part of our series in an attempt to find our God-given place and responsibility in the world. To recover and to be illuminated by the message of scripture that we might not be trapped in inaction or overwhelmed by scale but encouraged and empowered to change, to act and to speak.

 

Then God said, “Let the waters below the heavens be gathered into one place [of standing, pooling together], and let the dry land appear”; and it was so. 10 God called the dry land earth, and the gathering of the waters He called seas; and God saw that this was good (pleasing, useful) and He affirmed and sustained it. 11

 So God said, “Let the earth sprout [tender] a]">[a]vegetation, b]">[b]plants yielding seed, and fruit trees bearing fruit according to (limited to, consistent with) their kind, whose seed is in them upon the earth”; and it was so. 12 The earth sprouted and abundantly produced vegetation, plants yielding seed according to their kind, and trees bearing fruit with seed in them, according to their kind; and God saw that it was good and He affirmed and sustained it. 

13 And there was evening and there was morning, a third day.

Genesis 1 (AMP)
9-13

Our reading today covers a lot of ground. No pun intended. The spaces created today are the land and vegetation, the plants and it is there we are focussing in our climate series. The reading today from the Creation narrative is the third of the creative days of God. This is the last of the spaces that are created in days 1-3, before they are then populated in days 4-6.

 

We must remember that it is the ordering of creation that is key in this narrative, not the chronology. God is gathering and separating in order to create environments that will then be populated in subsequent days. We must resist the temptation in all of this to retroject a sense of complexity and progression – a post-Enlightenment and Modern sense – and any hierarchy implied by it. This is a theocentric, God-centred, story of preparing environments for their inhabitants, their autonomy and their roles.

 

The verses we read contain two of the ‘God saw that it was good’ statements of Genesis 1. At each stage of creation this statement is repeated. What this implies is that each of these components of creation enjoys an inherent value apart from each of the others. The environments, the spaces, that will support the inhabitants of each of these domains are not simply valued for their purpose of supporting those inhabitants, but have intrinsic worth. Richard Baukham in his work Bible and Ecology simply puts it ‘God values the trees and plants also for their own sake’.

 

This strikes to the heart of interrogates a worrying and problematic theology – a dualism between natural and spiritual, and by extension between body and soul.

 

This connection was tacitly understood by Israel in the past. The Hebrew understanding of the temple and tabernacle was, in part, as a representation of creation. Significantly the separation into two parts; the holy of holies from the holy place represented the visible and invisible creation as well as, by the time of Jesus, the present and eternity, or a timeless state. The Hebrew words for hidden and eternity share the same root, and in temple cosmology these were not distinguished; the hidden world of the divine was within creation, not beyond it and separated from it.

 

 So often we think of the world as broken, and hopeless, and the spiritual escape and future of heaven a thing to hope for and look forward to. But here we see God creating a good creation, one with inherent worth and a future (Rev 11:15, 18; 21:1-3, cf: 5). We should also note that the same is true for the God-in-flesh of the incarnation and then the new post resurrection body of Jesus – not a replacement of the past but an identification with and regeneration of it. This has huge implications for the way we live in the world and our local context, the way we think about resources, our diet, our consumption, our fuel and our clothing – all part of the care and regeneration of creation in the here-and-now. It should even impact the way think about ourselves and those around us as it has implication for body image, normative body values and the disabled. (cf: disabled, those who differ from the ‘norm’).

 

This value is important in another way. Note that God calling the land and plants good is based on them being and existing. It is intrinsic to what they are. The value they have is not the extrinsic value of work, productivity. This too can teach us a lot. We in our Western lives occupy a world where value is based on productivity, and success. On job progression, pay rises, education, home ownership, and on and on. From this instrumentalization of the land and plants follows on – they become commodities to be used, having only value in what they can produce, or what can be obtained from them. This is completely antithetical to the theocentric picture of creation.

 

More than that. Scripture as a whole points to the fact that the wider creation has a relationship with God too. We acknowledge that the Bible is ahistorical and anthropocentric –  the story of humanities relationship with God – but it is not exhaustive as regards the relationships of God. The land itself praises God (Ps. 148) and creation in total groans in expectation of regeneration and rebirth (Rom 8:19-22). The secret lives of animals take place before His eyes and by His provision.

 

Our picture of creation in v11 and v12 of our reading speak to the abundant provision of God, the generous extension of the always-giving triune diety. And abundance is right– yes God gives plentifully, but that is set within limits. Our, Western developed way of living has stretched those limits, and disproportionately re-distributed resources from the land. Scripture shows us Adam’s role in the garden in farming had an aspect of maintenance and preservation. Land features in the covenantal relationships with the patriarchs (eg: Gen 12). Israel’s use of the land was limited in order to prevent exhaustion and to ensure the fruits bore from us were available to all, not only human, inhabitants (Lev. 25:23). Other living creatures in creation enjoy the right of use alongside humanity.

 

We are lucky enough to live in Sheffield. A green city. The outdoors city. It is estimated we have 4.5 million trees, giving us more trees per capita than any other city in Europe. In scripture the imagery of plants and trees, as well as their recorded use is a rich vein. From the garden of Eden and the trees of knowledge and life, through repeated vine imagery in the building of the tabernacle and temple, the Prophets and right through to the New Jerusalem of Revelation with its return to trees of life (Gen 1:31; Ps. 1; Ezek 47:6-12; Rev 22:2 to name a tiny fraction.)

 

One image that speaks volumes is from the Gospel of John. The fourth Gospel in chapter 15 recounts the upper-room discourses – the intimate conversations Jesus had with the disciples before his death. You may well be familiar with it an know that in there Jesus gives the disciples, his followers, the imagery of the vine, with Jesus as the vine itself and his people as the branches – interconnected and dynamic. A vital, a living relationship mystically sustained by the Spirit. A relationship to God, by Christ. The same Christ that identified with creation by becoming a part of it, joining us to God and because of our relationship to God drawing us into that living relationship with the land and the plants around us. Reconciliation to God and to creation are components of the same puzzle, not divisible components. We are a part of the community of creation, called to evoke and affirm our interconnectedness with the rest of the world.

Some Questions:
  • How do you feel about the dualism of body/spirit, nature/heaven and how we sometimes treat the natural as inferior? Have you ever noticed or thought about this? How do you feel after our reading and reflection today?
  • How aware are you of your connectedness to the land? What helps you feel more connected?
  • How do your actions and personal choices in travel, clothing, food and all the things you consume impact the land and vegetation of our world? Is it something you might consider?
  • Read Psalm 1 and take some time to reflect on being rooted in God and creation in the rhythmn and practices of life.
 
Suggested Activities:
  • Let these words of former Archbishop Rowan Williams inspire you to act today: “Receive the world God has given you. Go for a walk. Get wet. Dig the earth.”
  • Can you plant a tree? If not, the Woodland Trust can plant one for you. Or why not encourage your church to plant a tree whenever someone is baptised?
  • Reduce your paper use this week.  Always ensure it is 100% recycled or from sustainable forests.* Only print if you really have to – and always double-sided.

    *Find out more on the FSC website.

  • So much news today reports bad things happening to our planet, yet most people do care. Pray for those leading positive change and encourage environmental action by your own local church community.
  • Prune your life and create space by taking items you no longer use to a charity shop or recycling centre.
  • Buying local seasonal produce helps support biodiversity as well as reducing carbon emissions. Try to buy local for at least two meals in the coming week.
 
Activities for kids
  • Get in touch with nature – Spend time outside noticing any plants, trees and wildlife. Go for a walk. Get wet. Dig the earth
  • Find out how trees help the planet – Trees do so much to support other life around them: people, animals and plants. Research the different ways they do this.
  • Save paper – and trees – today – Think of ways you, your class or your family could use less paper. Make sure you use both sides of the page and recycle all you can.
  • Pray for people leading action on the environment  – Pray for those who are working hare to encourage changes that will help to tackle climate change and conserve the natural world.
  • Prune your stuff – Sharing and re-using things is good for the environment. Do you have unwanted things like toys or games you could give to a friend, or donate to a charity shop.
 
Useful Links:
 
Advocacy and campaigning:
 
Further Church Resources:
 
Useful Reports:

Witness

Prayers of Intercession

As disciples of Christ we must learn to recognise and respond to his his voice when he calls.

May our hearts become a home for the word of God.
Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer

Our vocation is to be children of God, our hearts filled with love, integrity and joy. May we answer his call to serve our community in whatever ways and avenues we are blessed to do so.
Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer

We pray for all those who worship God, May we all sing for ever of his love and work together for peace and justice today.
Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer

We pray for Missionaries everywhere, may their faith and courage be strengthened with love and compassion.
Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer

We remember especially the sick, those in hospital and those who are housebound, those of our own families wherever they may be.
Lord in your Mercy, Hear our Prayer

Take a few moments in silence for our own needs and intentions.

A prayer from El Salvador
Prayer for trees and earth

God of creation, you have taught us to love life. That our longing for life should be above all other desires; a transcendent longing that values all of creations living creatures.

The earth and trees groan because of our failure to care for and protect them, ruling over and profiting from them rather than protecting them from death. We have viewed the earth as a resource to be exploited rather than as our mother.

We accept the challenge of taking care of ourselves in order to care for the earth our mother and our common home, for the trees and for life itself. We recognise that you have given us an understanding greater than other living creatures in order to reflect your creative, communal and loving character towards everything that exists.

Lord, we commit to live caring for all nature, guarding our hearts from selfish desires and not living as proprietors, but as brothers and sisters in community with all living things, especially the trees that are the source of life.

Prayer by Gerson Ramírez 

From ‘Saying Yes to Life’ by Ruth Valerio, London, SPCK 2020

Close

Loving Father,

we praise you for the beauty and plenty of nature.

Help us to do all we can to protect plants and trees and to tread more gently on the earth

Amen.

Community

The community of S17 has drawn together during these unusual times in a very special way. This is reflected in the great work of the S17 COVID-19 Community Support group.

The group aims to support those in the community who may be in need and to provide a support network to the S17 community at this time.

“If there are needy people in our community let’s ensure we help them out with things like bringing shopping to their door.”

The Wardens of All Saints Totley have been producing regular newsletters with helpful links, thoughts and resources. The latest of these is here.

We have also started to add resources for the younger members of our church, to add to this virtual service. They can be found here, and here.

Reminder

If you have any feedback on this service or any other ideas, suggestions or contributions, for future services please do send these to comments@allsaintstotley.church