Harvest & Creation with St Francis & Sir David Attenborough

Sermon for Parish Harvest
October 4, 2020

Psalm 148:7-14
Galatians 6:14-18
Matthew 11:25-30

We are not unawares that the seasons are changing! I am still somewhat resistant to socks and coats but have turned the heating on. This change of season tells us that it is the time for the harvest; time to pause and give thanks for God’s provision and goodness to us. I am under no illusion that many people will find it difficult to give thanks this year. More jobs are at risk, the food banks are busier than ever, times remain uncertain and the rules are changing.

Yet – God is bigger and beyond our circumstances. Jesus addresses God in the Matthew reading by saying, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth.’ Let us try to start today with that big view of God.

Over the last few years, there has been a growing movement in the church to celebrate ‘Creationtide’ or a ‘Season of Creation’ over the Sundays in September, culminating on Harvest Sunday. We are encouraged to not only give thanks for the harvest but also to consider the environment, creation, the current crisis and how we play a part in damaging God’s creation but also how we can work to fix it.

No one is exempt. We might not want to take responsibility, but we cannot deny that our actions of everyday life have an impact on the environment. If you woke up this morning in a warm house, had a cup of coffee or tea with milk & sugar and some breakfast food, washed and put on clothes – you have made an impact on the environment.

I was struck this past week as I watched Sir David Attenborough being interviewed on BBC Breakfast. He was asked by Louise Minchin, ‘if there’s one choice to make today, what choice would you like people to make?’ He paused for a moment, and then said, ‘don’t waste. Don’t waste anything. Don’t waste electricity. Don’t waste food. Don’t waste power, just treat the natural world as though it is precious, which it is. And don’t squander the bits that we have control of.’

I think he is absolutely right! We should do as much as we can to reduce our waste. It may mean living beyond our convenience, which, if we are honest, we do not like to do! It means new ways of doing things, paying more attention to what we buy, how it was made and what to do about the waste.

I don’t want to flog or guilt anyone this morning, I am very aware of the considerable stress and pressure many people are under currently. This needs to be balanced with the urgency to be more aware and better education on our impact on our planet. Notice I didn’t say ‘the planet’ – it is our planet.

How as Christians can we do this?

The answer is reasonably straightforward: Root it in the Gospel. By this I mean worship the Creator and then the created! Many people will say that they don’t need church, they experience God in creation, in a sunset or on a mountain top, at the beach. I take the position that unless your life is orientated towards God in the first place, you will not meet him in rainbows and flower petals. This is worshipping the created and not the Creator.

I admire David Attenborough; I think that the work he does is magnificent. He has captured the attention of millions of people around the world like few else have on issues of the environment. He is a great man of science but not of faith as a professed agnostic. We should follow the science and yet we need to go further and worship the Creator.

If we love Him first – then we will love his creation, the creation he gave us to look after, care for right from the beginning. In Genesis 2, Adam was given responsibility for working and caring for Eden and the naming of the animals. So huge was this job that he needed a suitable helper and God created Eve.

The responsibility to care for God’s creation has not changed since then. It may have fallen out of fashion, we may have forgotten about it or dropped it as a priority, but God certainly has not. We are part of the created order and need to renew our commitment and reclaim our responsibility for it. It is not just about our practices and habits but about our attitudes.

I have been surprised and inspired by the conviction of many young people over their concern for the environment. I may not fully agree with the way they protest in some cases but their dedication to the cause is unwavering.

As Jesus proclaimed in Matthew 11:25, ‘I praise you Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.’ Maybe it is the voice of the children that we are to listen to. They are the ones who must care for creation long after we are gone.

Today is also the Feast of St Francis which would have been celebrated at St Francis this morning. St Francis lived about 900 years ago and a quick Wikipedia search indicates that he lived a very interesting life in Italy. Although he is the Patron Saint of Ecology and animals, he did a great number of other things: had some big issues with his father, bucked all family expectations, founded the Franciscan order of friars and then an order for sisters with St Clare of Assisi, he travelled extensively, was blessed with the stigmata of the nails marks of Christ on his own hands, and he even tried to negotiate peace during the Crusades (unsuccessfully).

All through his life and ministry, St Francis had a deep love for creation as he saw God in it. He wrote Canticle of the Sun, which praises and thanks God for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brother Wind, Water and Fire, all of which he saw as praising God. St Francis invited all animals, plants, natural elements to give thanks and praise to God. This is no tree hugging stuff!

Francis provided a bigger vision of the creation we are all part of, he reminds us that God is very much at the heart of creation and all creation worships him. In 1982, Pope John Paul II said that love and care of creation by St Francis was a challenge to contemporary Catholics to “not to behave like dissident predators where nature is concerned, but to assume responsibility for it, taking all care so that everything stays healthy and integrated, so as to offer a welcoming and friendly environment even to those who succeed us.”

In and through Jesus, we are a new creation as Paul tells us. We are made in God’s image and part of his created order. We have a responsibility as part of that order, to listen to the voice of the children, to worship the Creator, not to waste creation for our convenience but to love and care for Creation. Creation is a great gift of God, it is precious. Let us treat it better than we do.

Author: Sue Lepp

Newly appointed Priest-in-Charge of the Hambleden Valley Group of Churches and will start later in January 2021. Time for a new start at the beginning of a new year. I served my curacy in the Parish of Langley Marish and trained at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford. Former Nurse in both Canada and the UK. Specialised in Palliative Care, Gynaecology-Oncology and a bit of Orthopaedics (just to keep me travelling). Worked as a MacMillan Nurse Specialist in a few specialities in London.

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