On 16 October we celebrated creationtide. Helene Milena preached the following sermon in the Anglican Cathedral on Epiphany Island in Second Life. The readings were Psalm 104: 1, 11-23, Job 39:1-8, 26-30, Luke 12:22-31.
Anyone who has followed news from the UK may have seen an item about a dispute between the Tesco supermarket chain and Unilever, an Anglo-Dutch firm which produces a variety of items usually stocked in supermarkets. Tesco objected to a 10% price rise across the range of Unilever’s products, which was blamed on the UK vote to leave the European Union. As a result, several items were no longer available to online shoppers and there was a risk that they would not be on the shelves in shops unless the dispute was resolved. Unilever’s website claims that 98% of UK households buy their products, so the potential impact was huge. Thankfully the problem seems to have ended. Fans of Marmite (yeast extract) or Hellmann’s mayonnaise or Magnum ice-creams can rest easy that their source of supply is not cut off.
Of course, when we read other items in the news which tell of children starving to death in war-torn Yemen or of people living on leaves in Aleppo, it puts all this into perspective. Even if we can’t have our favourite brands, most of us have access to enough food to be able to waste some. In the UK alone we throw away 7 million tonnes of food and drink every year from home, costing us £12.5bn a year. That doesn’t include all the food thrown out from supermarkets and restaurants.
Whether it be as a result of market forces, war or extreme weather, we can’t escape the fact that we are not fully in charge of our food supplies. Even in the UK which has relatively benign weather, success in food production can rest on a knife edge. As a farmer at my offline church said today, some tasks on the farm have to be done immediately the weather allows it or it won’t be possible to do them at all in preparation for the next year.
Today we are celebrating creationtide and thus acknowledging our dependence on God’s goodness and provision. As the psalmist expresses, it is God alone who provides the water which allows trees, grass and plants to grow to give food and shelter to animals and to humans. He created the seasons which determine when seeds should be sown for the best outcome. As we meet today, farmers in the Northern Hemisphere are completing their harvest and planting crops which can over-winter. In the Southern Hemisphere the days are warming and lengthening. Everything is beginning to grow. In parts of the world around the tropics and equator, harvests can happen at different times of the year. Wherever we live, success depends on working with the system that God has provided rather than deciding we can ignore the conditions of the world we live in.
God loves his creation. We have the privilege of listening in to his conversation with Job. God was no doubt trying to help Job understand his place in the world, his smallness and lack of knowledge. In the process we hear of God’s pride in all that he has created. It’s obvious that God is still interested in the cycles of nature which he set in motion. He cares about birth and growth, about homes and family life, about provision of food and shelter. Despite all our developments in science, there are so many mechanisms in life which are as much a mystery to us as they were to Job. Only God knows it all.
We could interpret God’s words to Job as a way of putting him down, of lording it over him. It’s true, of course, that God is Lord of all. However, rather than God’s observations being a reason for resentment, I think they are a reason for gratitude. As Jesus told his disciples, God knows and values us even more than he values other creatures. God understands our needs and he sees the big picture of life. We are invited to rest in that knowledge and trust God with our futures.
In the final analysis, we are not in charge of creation and that’s a very good thing. We make enough of a mess of what we can influence, plundering the earth and leaving it in a terrible state. We need God to be in charge because we really can’t be trusted fully with God’s precious creation. Of course, that is not an excuse for doing nothing. We should work as well as we can to undo damage, to help the natural world to flourish, to fight for fair distribution of resources. In this way we are working to bring in the kingdom of God, a task which Jesus gave to us.
There’s a risk that we can become too busy doing things. It’s good for us to stop and just ‘be’ now and again. With the Psalmist, let’s try each day to turn our attention away from the ‘to do’ list for a moment and turn our minds with gratitude to God and his wonderful creation:
Bless the Lord, O my soul.
O Lord my God, how excellent is your greatness!
Helene Milena – Lay Pastor