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Sermon Preached on Climate Sunday
York Minster, Sunday 3 October 2021 by Revd Johannes Nobel (Green Ambassador for the Diocese of York)
Readings: 2 Corinthians 9.6-15, Luke 12.16-30.
Our Gospel reading for today is a strong favourite of mine. ‘Consider the Ravens’, Jesus says. You see, I am keen birdwatcher. I promise you, there aren’t many ravens in Yorkshire, so this verse gives me ample excuse to spent long days in the field, searching for ravens. After all, that’s what Jesus told us to do: ‘Consider the Ravens.’
It’s easy to take Jesus’ words out of context and apply them in such a way that they suit our own desires.
Take, for instance, that other well-known phrase from today’s Gospel reading: ‘Do not worry.’
We have so many things to worry about. Some of us worry about running out of petrol. We worry about our job security or about our pension. We worry about our family. We worry about Covid – a lot. We worry about the future. And an increasing number of us worry about the fate of our planet. We worry about Climate Change and Biodiversity Loss. About rising sea levels, about air pollution, about climate refugees, about extinctions, about what may be to come.
Last month, the University of Bath published research into climate anxiety among young people. They surveyed 10,000 young people aged 16-25 years in ten countries. They found that 84% of respondents were worried about climate change. Indeed, 59% of respondents indicated that they were very or extremely worried. Another finding of the report was that over 50% of young people felt sad, anxious, angry, powerless, helpless, and guilty.
‘Do not worry’, Jesus says.
What do those words mean in our context? Is this about ‘letting go of things we cannot change’? Is it about ‘hoping for the best’?
Neither of these. We can change, and in the words of Greta Thunberg: “Instead of looking for hope, look for action – then, and only then, hope will come.”
I have some issues with that statement, and if you want to know why, you need to come to my lecture at St Thomas church tomorrow at 7pm, about ‘How to talk to Greta Thunberg about God’. But let’s say she has a point. “Instead of looking for hope, look for action.”
Because action is what we need. When last month at the University of York, archbishop Stephen was asked why now is the time to take climate action, he responded with a story. He said: Imagine that a plane would crash, and all 150 passengers would be killed. It would be terrible news. Now imagine that the very next day it would happen again. And again. Two planes on one day. Over 300 casualties. And the next day it would happen again. And again. No doubt it would take less than a week for all air traffic to grind to a halt. All planes would be grounded. It would be the highest priority: People are dying. All else would have to wait.
The inconvenient truth is that the World Health Organisation estimates that in the next 30 years, on average, over 700 people will lose their lives due to climate change, each day. And that’s not counting the millions who die of air pollution each year. But 700 casualties is the equivalent of 4-5 planes, each day. And we know the cause. We even know the solution. Why are we so slow to act? It doesn’t make sense to Greta Thunberg and the young people who follow her.
‘Do not worry’, Jesus says.
Oh, really? How can you even say that, Lord?
In fact, Jesus says: ‘therefore, do not worry.’ His words are spoken in the context of that parable about the rich man, that wealthy fool, who thought he was safe and comfortable because he had ample goods stored up for years. Good management had brought him some great returns and a very nice pension. But his life was demanded of him. I imagine it happened in a flash flood, or freak storm, or a devastating wildfire. The man lost everything. And at that point he realised that he had not been rich toward God. He had not considered his Creator.
Don’t follow his example, Jesus says. Live simply, so that others may simply live.
‘Do not worry… For life is more than food.’ You don’t to eat meat every day. ‘Do not worry… for the body is more than clothing.’ You don’t need to buy new clothes every season. ‘Do not worry.’ You don’t need that foreign holiday. ‘Do not worry.’ You don’t need the latest gadget.
Don’t store up plastic treasures on earth. Learn to store up ‘enough’, and do not forget to be rich toward your Creator.
Being rich toward your Creator means this: Spend your resources, your time, your energy, your love, on caring for what God has made, be it human or non-human. This is how we praise and bless our Creator. This is how we are rich. Rich in thanks and rich in praise. Rich in faith, hope and love. Rich in action.
‘And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work.’ (2 Cor 9.8)
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