Last Saturday, I went out with my daughter and her daughter for a little mall shopping and lunch. As we poked around the many stores I spotted a banner that was wonderful and we all looked at it and remarked how the presentation cleverly delivered an important message. Later at lunch my daughter pulled the banner out of her bag and wished me happy Mother’s day. It now has a place on the wall beside the sliding doors that take me out to the refuge that is my back garden. I want to share it with you this morning. It says Only after the last tree is cut down, Only after the last river is poisoned, Only after the last fish is caught, Only then will you find that you cannot eat money>. The banner identifies this as a Cree prophesy.
In a recent corporation meeting we were discussing what could enliven our church. One warden commented that his children really were concerned about the environment and climate change. Environmental issues have been almost a lifetime concern of mine. As a toddler, my family moved into the house that I lived in until I went to college. When we moved in we were part of the township in a small post-war housing development amid orchards and farms. As I grew, the land was given over to houses and a superhighway. Now it is in the center of the city of Burlington and a shopping mall covers what was the biggest apple orchard. I worried about this development as I walked by it going to and from school. I wondered where the food would come from to feed all these people. Where would we get fresh apples, would we have enough water – the creeks were now barely running and put out a pretty bad smell. I moved away over fifty years ago and the growth has not stopped.
The portion of the Revelation of John that we heard this morning talks about heaven coming down to earth and God dwelling among mortals – Eden is restored on Earth. To the thirsty, I will give water as a gift from the spring of life. What if there is no earth for heaven to come down to; what if there are no mortals for God to dwell among? What if the spring of life is polluted? That’s a dark view I know. I sometimes get discouraged by the alarmists who say that dealing with pollution and carbon emissions will kill jobs. In the midst of the horrible flooding our neighbours in this province have experienced, how can we cut budgets to deal with protecting our environment?
Even as we pat ourselves on the back for our Canadian willingness to accept refugees, we hear of attempts to restrict certain clothing choices for our newcomers, and resistance in our schools to teach children about gender issues that admittedly are not what our parents learned, but nevertheless are becoming an accepted part of our social structure and church communities. The world is changing.
Peter experienced this problem in the early church. The laws that had described his relationship to God – diet, clothing, relationships to gentiles – were being challenged by the Greeks and other Gentiles who were finding the new faith a source of hope and excitement. Did they really need to restrict their diets and did the males need to be circumcised to be part of the body of Christ? Could the holy spirit not dwell in them? Peter had a vision and became convinced that God had called these people into the fellowship of the new church just the way they were. They did not have to fit his image or follow his rules. It was enough that they wanted to follow the way of Christ and that was the way of love and inclusion
Jesus tells us that we who follow his way of relating to God, one another and God’s creation is about love. His understanding of love is service to one another, protection of one another and all of creation. I truly believe that this is God’s creation, and I do not mean a construction that took 6 days less than ten thousand years ago, but a birthing of a beautiful world that emerged through the spirit of a creator God who loved it into being over billions of years. Are we going to be so concerned about money that we destroy its ability to support us?
If my response to the banner my daughter gifted me and my musings over the lessons stopped there, I would not be preaching this sermon. I want to preach good news with hope and opportunities for us to make a difference in the world. However as I was driving home from visiting my Mom I was listening to Ideas in the Afternoon on CBC radio. The subject was the greening of Sudbury. It was a documentary on how, beginning in the 1970’s, a movement inspired by the people and educators and then enfolded in provincial legislation began to address the issue of acid rain and the devastation of the ground and water, vegetation and animal life. The mines and smelters in Sudbury were emitting more sulfur dioxide into the air than anywhere else in the world. Pollution levels in other areas were described as a fraction of the level of Sudbury. The greening program took time but the differences were almost immediate. Where once the ground was nothing but black rock, now grass was growing and shrubs were appearing and then trees. The waterways and lakes began to support life again. Today there are forests and fish to catch in the rivers and lakes. Acid rain is no longer killing everything in its path.
One of the biggest changes came from Inco and Falconbridge, the two main polluting industries. Resistant at first to the government program, they became enthusiastic about what was happening. They not only met the emission standards that had been set but exceeded them. It began to be easier to attract better executive help and foreign investment. Best of all they found they were saving money. Sudbury began to change, inviting new clean industry, educational facilities, parks and commerce. People became proud of who they were becoming. There was new life everywhere, where once there had only been death and despair. They discovered that investing in the health of the environment increased their joy and improved their vision of what the future could be.
Easter is the story of new life that springs forth from what seems like a sure death. It is about the power of people to believe that they can make a difference. By the grace of God, it is possible to bring life back. New life brings new hope, new energy and the reassurance that giving up the careless exploitation of the earth can bring rewards beyond every expectation.
Jesus invites us to have visions of what the world might be like if we loved this world and everyone and everything that dwells around us. What would the world be like if our goal in life was to create beauty and protect what is good and holy? What if we looked for the glory of God instead of the meanness and evil that scares us? What if we looked for the gifts that strangers bring when given a chance in our towns and cities? What if we listen to the stories of those who see the world through different eyes? Would we discover that we can work together and love together not for wealth and power but for health and joy?
What is happening in Sudbury may seem like a miracle. The miracle is that people saw beyond the size of the project and the financial costs and realized that if they did not do something soon, more than Sudbury would die. Even if it takes fifty years or a hundred years to recover from the indignities that the scramble to exploit the potential mineral wealth to be used to build and exploit the land here and abroad, it can be done. We just need to make the healing of a devastated world a high priority. Otherwise, our children and grandchildren will be living in a world that is not so beautiful and healthy. But by the grace of God we can do this – must do this if we are to be good stewards of the world that has nurtured humanity. We just have to start doing it and stand up to those who see the creation of jobs today as a good reason to put the health of everyone in peril. So this sermon is for the warden’s kids and mine. This sermon is about bringing new life and healing to a broken sick creation by starting to do whatever it takes and stopping whatever is causing the illness.
This is God’s world and we have been given stewardship of it. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Fifth Sunday of Easter, Year C, May 19, 2019
St. Paul’s, Newmarket, Eucharist.
Acts.11:1-18, Ps.148, Rev.21:1-6, Jn.13:31-35