SERMON: Harvest Sunday Service

SERMON: Harvest Sunday Service

A sermon preached at St. Mary’s, Iffley by Phil Evans on 1st October, 2023

Reading: Matthew 21: 23-32

You’ll have been hard pressed to miss the recent news that Rishi Sunak has made a rather staggering U-turn on our countries’ plans that will enable us to reach net zero by 2050, plans such as banning the sale of new petrol and diesel cars or gas boilers as well as energy efficiency regulation for landlords and levies on flights have now been pushed back or removed altogether from government plans.

The PM cites the cost of living crisis as one of the key reasons for this decision. Now whatever your party political stance is, it is easy to see that we are indeed in the middle of a cost of living crisis with fuel, food and other stables costing vastly more than they did 18 months ago. For many UK families life is harder than it has been which does make considering the environment a tall ask. Yet the climate crisis is not just something that effects the environment in which we live. It, increasingly dramatically, impacts the lives of those we share this planet with. Our brothers and sisters.

It is unquestionable that those with the most in this world are the ones who are doing most to damage the climate. Whether you look at that on a global or national scale. The wealthiest countries have so far done the most damage to our fragile climate. Additionally the wealthiest in this country have often done far more than those who are struggling to put food on the table. Those struggling to buy new school shoes are not the ones who are taking multiple polluting flights per year to visit their overseas properties.

Harvest is a time of gathering in. Of reaping what we have previously sown. We are receiving our delayed gratification – the rewards for all of our previous hard work. It doesn’t take a theologian to recognise the parallels with our current climate crisis. As a nation and as a global community we are beginning to reap what we have previously sown. Except it’s slightly different isn’t it. We’re not the only ones reaping here. For many of our global brothers and sisters, they are reaping what we have sown for decades.

And in a very literal sense too our brothers and sisters are harvesting – or attempting to. Yet for many, crops are failing. Floods, droughts, storms, and rainy and dry seasons that have lost their regularity and predictability mean that for those that rely on the land directly to feed their families and raise livestock it is indeed a very bleak time.

Countries that we work with across East Africa provide grim examples of the realities faced by communities who have done least to cause the climate crisis.

Since October 2020, this part of East Africa, one of the world’s most impoverished regions, has been gripped by its worst drought in 40 years as an unprecedented five consecutive rainy seasons have failed.

The drought has brought catastrophic impacts to large areas of Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia: Tens of thousands have died, crops have shrivelled, livestock have starved and chronic hunger and water insecurity are widespread and growing.

In a world without human-caused climate change, this devastating drought would not have happened with such intensity and the consequences would not have been so catastrophic. At its height, over 23 million people were facing food shortages including some 5.4 million people in Kenya. A recent study directly linked the severity of this drought to the climate crisis. 

In Marsabit county in Kenya, years of drought were followed by sudden heavy rains and flash flooding. Our local partner Community Initiative Facilitation and Assistance (CIFA) has supported communities across Marsabit impacted by drought and flooding.

41-year-old Yarey Madim Dika lives in one of these communities. She is chair of the Yaballo self-help group who received a grant from CIFA thanks to funding from Christian Aid’s East Africa appeal. The group used their grant to rent a building in the village and buy food in bulk to set up a shop where they sell various foodstuffs.

Many families in the community rely on rearing livestock and farming crops. But for the group’s members, having an alternative source of income through the shop means they are not totally reliant on herding and farming to survive. 

The group split the profits they make amongst themselves as well as put some back into a savings and loan scheme which members can borrow from.

“We give members loans to start businesses themselves. Every member has their own needs, some members have medical bills and others have school fees to pay so that’s what we do with the savings,” Yarey explains. 

Through your generous donations, Christian Aid is able to help communities like Marsabit to find some kind of solution to the climate crisis and improve their resilience.

Thinking back to the reading from Matthew, where the father asked his two sons to undertake a task – One of them said all the right things but didn’t actually do what was required. The other refused to help but in the end did what the father required. Which of the two sons did the will of the father? The one who didn’t talk the talk, but he DID do what was asked of him!

As a Christian, I ask myself, what does the father require of me regarding climate change and the environment?

In Romans 1 we are told: “For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

In Psalm 24, we read that are not the owners of creation; rather, “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”. Christians acknowledge creation care as an act of discipleship; we are stewards of the earth, summoned by God in Genesis 2 to “work it and take care of it” (Genesis 2:15). Our uses of the earth must be designed to conserve and renew it rather than to deplete or destroy it.

Scripture describes the good, sustainable earth, full of feedback mechanisms and cycles that are created to provide abundant physical life; but through our sin we have polluted and defiled it. We have depleted and devastated many of creation’s resources instead of working to conserve and live in balance within the created order. We have polluted the air, water and soil with thousands of harmful chemicals. This has led to a great loss of bio-diversity, which threatens quality of life now and even more for future generations.

In Romans 8, the Bible teaches us that God is not only redeeming his people, but is also restoring the whole creation (Romans 8:18–23) For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope  that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. As the redeemed people of God, we are called to follow our Risen Lord and to restore creation as we prepare for our Lord’s return. Just as we show our love for our Saviour by reaching the lost, we show our love for the Creator by caring for his creation.

I believe obedience to God involves unwavering benevolence towards our global brothers and sisters AS WELL as those struggling closer to home. That includes living lightly by reducing our carbon footprint as individuals and as a church community, supporting local lobbying on water quality and supporting insulation initiatives on the local estate, AS WELL AS lobbying, campaigning and voting for political policies that do not cause the poor in this world to suffer at the expense of the rich be they near or far from us. People like Yarey, living on the frontline.

Thank you to those who already give so generously via Christian Aid, through Christian Aid Week, those delicious Lent lunches, regular direct debit giving or those who have pledged to leave a gift in their will to CA.

What further steps could you take as a EcoChurch community to live more lightly in the parish as well as helping our sisters and brothers around the world?

Well as a Bronze EcoChurch, I know you have been very committed, with activities like ensuring heating & lighting are as efficient as possible and using sustainable suppliers ; and tree planting around the local area ; engaging with Low Carbon Iffley & Rose Hill.

But how have church activities made a difference?

The Church of England is committed to be net zero by 2030; DiOx is committed to becoming net zero by 2035 or sooner. Over 6000 churches have converted to sustainable power including many cathedrals; Church funds have been moved out of fossil fuel investments – these are all powerful witness to a sceptical world – taking a stand that is mirrored and magnified by activists in wider society. ( I read about much of this in the Guardian – a newspaper that’s generally pretty sceptical about Christianity and its effect on society!)

I was speaking recently with one of our local Bishops -he told me that hew was on a climate march, easily identifiable in his purple robes and he met a group of young people who told him: If we’d known the church was up to this we’d probably go back to church!

The church has an important role in calling for climate justice, a response that embraces theology, discipleship AND practical action.

What further steps are possible? Perhaps focussing more on active travel rather than jumping in the car. Sourcing eco-friendly suppliers whenever possible. Engaging with local schools on environmental issues. Speaking up in the community. Focusing worship and teaching on our care for creation throughout the year rather than just for a season. Supporting insulation and heat pump initiatives for those who can’t afford them. I have seen many churches installing electric car charging points with grants from power companies, local authorities or the Diocese. What other opportunities can you think of?

And looking beyond our parish, we can all multiply our impact through lobbying those in authority. Whether that’s water companies, councillors and MPs over local pollution or MPs and our government to campaign for those impacted most by climate change.

But many people ask me: Does campaigning work? My first experience of campaigning was the Jubilee/Drop the Debt campaign. In total about $130 Bn of developing world debt was cancelled. It would take Christian Aid about 1,000 years to raise that much from fundraising!

In June 2019 I took my children up to Westminster to give a message to our MP Anneliese Dodds asking her to push for the UK government to legally commit to achieving net zero CO2 emissions by 2045. Soon afterwards the government committed to achieving net zero by 2050. Under pressure, in 2021, the government also set two additional interim targets to run a net zero power system and reduce emissions by 78% by 2035. 113 countries and over a third of the world’s largest companies have also set net zero targets

What campaigning actions could we all take?

Lobby your MP

  • Send a collective letter
  • Invite them to a church service & give them time to take questions
  • Host a coffee morning or a dinner and ask your MP as a special guest
  • Visit them in their office when seeing constituents at a regular surgery slot

Host an awareness raising event

Organise or join a demonstration or Pilgrimage

Christian Aid’s current campaign focusses on Making Polluters Pay – Last year at COP27 governments agreed to create an international Loss and Damage Fund, but the fund is empty. We need to ensure that the countries and companies that have most contributed to climate change provide funding to mitigate the impact on those who suffer the most from climate chaos. (I’ll share more about this and answer your questions over coffee afterwards)

Ther is of course one key action I haven’t mentioned – Pray – I’ll conclude with part of a prayer by Bishop Geoff Davies, known as South Africa’s green Bishop:

We pray that our words, our pilgrimage and our actions may be a witness to our neighbours, communities and world leaders, encouraging and inspiring them to make radical commitments. Commitments that will restore the earth and lead to justice for communities confronted by the climate crisis. And may they lead us onto a new path for a sustainable future where we live in harmony with all life. Amen.