Between now until Harvest, the church celebrates Creationtide – remembering the gift that God has given us in Creation and our responsibility for it.
2 Corinthians 9:6-12 New Living Translation
6 Remember this—a farmer who plants only a few seeds will get a small crop. But the one who plants generously will get a generous crop. 7 You must each decide in your heart how much to give. And don’t give reluctantly or in response to pressure. “For God loves a person who gives cheerfully.” 8 And God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others. 9 As the Scriptures say,
“They share freely and give generously to the poor.
Their good deeds will be remembered forever.”
10 For God is the one who provides seed for the farmer and then bread to eat. In the same way, he will provide and increase your resources and then produce a great harvest of generosity in you.
11 Yes, you will be enriched in every way so that you can always be generous. And when we take your gifts to those who need them, they will thank God. 12 So two good things will result from this ministry of giving—the needs of the believers in Jerusalem will be met, and they will joyfully express their thanks to God.
Mark 4:1-9 New Living Translation
4 Once again Jesus began teaching by the lakeshore. A very large crowd soon gathered around him, so he got into a boat. Then he sat in the boat while all the people remained on the shore. 2 He taught them by telling many stories in the form of parables, such as this one:
3 “Listen! A farmer went out to plant some seed. 4 As he scattered it across his field, some of the seed fell on a footpath, and the birds came and ate it. 5 Other seed fell on shallow soil with underlying rock. The seed sprouted quickly because the soil was shallow. 6 But the plant soon wilted under the hot sun, and since it didn’t have deep roots, it died. 7 Other seed fell among thorns that grew up and choked out the tender plants so they produced no grain. 8 Still other seeds fell on fertile soil, and they sprouted, grew, and produced a crop that was thirty, sixty, and even a hundred times as much as had been planted!” 9 Then he said, “Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand.”
Sermon (by the Rev’d Kate Massey)
I wonder if any of you have heard of the five marks of mission? Basically mission is any way in which we participate in and communicate God’s love. To help us think about how we do this, the Church came up with 5 marks of mission – five ways we live out our mission as God’s people. They are:
- To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
- To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
- To respond to human need by loving service
- To seek to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation
- To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
For those, like me, who struggle to remember too many words, the five marks of mission can be remembered using the five Ts: TELL, TEACH, TEND, TRANSFORM, TREASURE. We tell people the good news of Jesus, teach those who wish to do so how to follow Jesus, tend to one another in need, transform those things which are unjust and destructive and treasure the world God has entrusted to us.
I wonder if any of those marks of mission surprise you? Which one do you resonate with most? If we were to miss one out which would it be?
The one that surprised me most the first time I heard them was number 5: to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth. At the time, I came from a church which really majored on the first two marks of mission – telling people about Jesus and helping them to know how to follow him. I could understand that three – caring for each other – was important and four made sense, but five? Wasn’t that just a bit new agey?
Our readings today are focused on telling people the good news and the challenges that prevent them become fruitful disciples in the parable of the sower and in sharing generously with those in need in our letter to the Corinthians. That’s marks 1, 2 and 3 right there. But actually, for me, they also point to number 5 and the importance of creation. Creation – in both cases today the simple task of growing seed – can be a way of learning about God, encountering God and meditating on the truths of God.
This is perhaps not a surprise. Our holy books opens with an account that tells us that God is behind the wonders of our universe. Psalm 19 tells us that the heavens declare the glory of God and the earth shows God’s handiwork. In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he says no one has an excuse not to honour God as God’s presence is encountered in the wonders of our world. And we know it from our own experience too – walking on a windswept beach, gazing at a spectacular sunset, the smell of living earth on the allotment, listening to birdsong. Many of us find it easiest to be with God in the creation God has made. So if creation is a place where we encounter God and learn about God, surely it is vital we treasure it.
One of God’s first commandments to humankind in Genesis was to steward and be responsible for the universe God had made. Like all God’s commandments, it was given with our good in mind. Creation was made to sustain us. Its cycles of growth and renewal help us as God’s children to trust the goodness of our loving heavenly Father. We cannot thrive without our world and so we abuse and destroy it at our peril. There is a Native American saying: Only when the last tree has been cut down, the last fish been caught, and the last stream poisoned, will we realize we cannot eat money. In this country, we have been insulated from some of the damage done to our world. Our wealth and power means that when others go hungry, we still eat. But we will not be immune forever. And as people who believe ourselves to be part of a global family, like Paul speaking to the Corinthians today, we should care about the struggles of others, including those for whom climate change is causing poverty and hunger.
And short of living in a cave, you cannot be unaware of the damage we are doing to our world. Climate change is fulfilling all the prophecies which campaigners and scientists have been trying to communicate for decades. The summer news has been full of wildfires devastating communities and nature. Life-threatening hurricanes and typhoons are more regular occurrences bringing a real fragility to those who live in affected regions. Low lying countries in the Pacific face being annihilated by rising sea levels as polar ice caps shrink. And then, each year at Christian Aid Week, we hear about how climate change is affecting millions of small farmers and landowners who simply want to provide for their families as rains don’t come and crops fail.
Caring for God’s creation is not an add on – it undergirds all the other marks of mission. It is a way in which God’s goodness is revealed to us. It is a place from which we learn as a disciples. Stewarding it well is a way in which we care for one another and make the world a fairer, more peaceful place. As Christians, we need to care about the climate crisis and be involved in putting things right.
So what can we do? Well, of course we can and should consider our own consumption and carbon footprint. We can reduce what we buy, reuse what we can and recycle what we cannot. We can eat a more plant-based diet and turn our central heating thermometer down a degree or two. All of this will make a difference. We may also want to look at ourselves as a church community – if we have a group of people interested, we could begin to work for our Eco Church awards.
But real change needs to come at the level of countries and corporations – it is only by working together that we can tackle this huge worldwide problem. And that is why the COP26 summit (26th UN Climate Change Conference of the Parties) which is happening in Glasgow this November is so important. It is a chance for leaders from around the world to commit to real change. Our task is to tell them what we want to happen.
So there are a few things we can do as COP26 approaches. Firstly, we can contact our MP and tell him that we care about this issue. Christian Aid has produced a draft letter https://www.christianaid.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/engage-your-mp-cop26 I have written one on behalf of the church inviting him to come and meet with us and assuring him of our prayers. We can also pray – pray for our world, pray for those most affected by climate change, pray for those leaders who must show courage and creativity in the face of this challenge. We can make prayer boats to be included in some of the installations which Christian Aid are display around the summit as a visible sign of our concern and prayer. We can add prayers for the climate and creation on our prayer wall in the parish centre. We can use the creationtide resources to reflect and pray at home: https://www.churchofengland.org/about/environment-and-climate-change/creationtide/creationtide-resources
Whatever you do, do something. May our concern and care for God’s creation be a way we participate in and communicate God’s love for our world. Amen.
Prayers for the Earth based on the fifth mark of mission:
To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation and sustain and renew the life of the earth
God, creator of the universe,
Fill us with your love for the creation,
for the natural world around us,
for the earth from which we come
and to which we will return.
Awake in us energy to work for your world;
let us never fall into complacency, ignorance,
or being overwhelmed by the task before us.
Help us to restore, remake, renew. Amen
Jesus, Redeemer of the World,
Remind us to consider the lost lilies,
the disappearing sparrows;
teach us not to squander precious resources;
help us value habitats:
seas, deserts, forests and seek to preserve this
world in its diversity.
Alert us to the cause of all living creatures
destroyed wantonly for human greed or pleasure;
Help us to value what we have left
and to learn to live without taking more than we
Integrity of Creation…
Spirit of the Living God
At the beginning you moved over the face of the waters.
You brought life into being, the teeming life
that finds its way through earth and sea and air,
that makes its home around us, everywhere.
You know how living things flourish and grow
How they co-exist; how they feed and breed and change
Help us to understand those delicate relationships,
value them, and keep them from destruction. Amen
God, of the living earth
You have called people to care for your world –
you asked Noah to save creatures from destruction.
May we now understand how to sustain your world –
Not over-fishing, not over-hunting,
Not destroying trees, precious rainforest
Not farming soil into useless dust.
Help us to find ways to use resources wisely
to find a path to good, sustainable living
in peace and harmony with creatures around us. Amen
Jesus, who raised the dead to life
Help us to find ways to renew
what we have broken, damaged and destroyed:
Where we have taken too much water,
polluted the air, poured plastic into the sea,
cut down the forests and soured fertile soils.
Help all those who work to find solutions to
damage and decay; give hope to those
who are today working for a greener future. Amen
Anne Richards, Mission Theology Advisory Group,
The Dispossession Project: Eco-House
Resources available on http://www.ctbi.org.uk