Sermon preached at St. Mary’s Church, Fordingbridge on the First Sunday in Lent. 2016.
What do the following have in common -connections, sequences, connecting wall and missing vowels? Yes, they are part of BBC 4’s quiz programme ‘Only Connect’ compeered by Victoria Creswell. Teams are pitted against one another to find connections from various clues. The name of the programme is related to a famous saying by the 19th century author E. M. Forster from his book ‘Howard’s End’. He wrote,
“Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be seen at its highest. Live in fragments no longer. Only connect!”
That is my question this morning. What is the connection between the Lenten Season (started on Ash Wednesday), St. Valentine’s Day (which is today, 14 February), and the theme for the today’s sermon in Lent which is Christianity and the Environment?
The clue to the answer was staring me in the face very loudly. It is LOVE! It is not a surprise I guess, when we think a little bit deeper about our three clues. Those of you who have read the front of Partners will have had a précis of what I am going to say, so if you wish to have a snooze, now is your moment, but please don’t snore!
I want to suggest that a constant theme between all our clues is being connected by love or in a relationship of love and what might that mean in our daily living. Traditionally Lent is a time when we might give a little more time to reflect on the meaning of our Christian vocation. The title of this year’s Lent Course is called ‘What’s the point in being a Christian?’ I want to suggest that the starting point for our reflection is how I connect with God who lives within me and outside of me in his world. The divine love lives within us as Spirit and in our moments of prayer, meditation and contemplation we seek to be at one with this divine love-to renew our connection with the source of all loving and compassion. The Mother Julian of Norwich was able to say, ‘Love was his meaning’. But how we become distracted! The gospel narrative this morning from Luke’s gospel tells in graphic poetic form that experience of wilderness within us when we lose that connection with the Spirit of divine love within us-unable to establish communion, feeling isolated and abandoned. As Harry Williams writes, ‘To love is to give. To give is to be. To be is to find yourself in communion with all about you. And this communion is glory. Christ’s glory and yours’. We press on in our many Lents knowing that love and glory awaits those who love God.
Pope Francis in his Environment Encyclical ‘Laudato Si’ stems from his belief that ‘everything is connected by love’. At the heart of the mighty act of creation there is a resounding shout of love which connects us to God, to each other, to ourselves and to God’s creation in all its glory. Maybe that is the point of us being here-to love and be loved-that is all that matters. All the rest flows from this mighty act of loving.
The scientists create for us a picture of ecological systems and networks of molecules and atoms between plants and animals. We cannot consider the environment in isolation. We are intrinsically bound up with nature and nature with us. Pollution of our planet, for example, is as much a social, economic and political problem, as it is environmental. Therefore any solutions must include consideration of all the factors affecting the environment. Climate change is but one factor in whole changing nature of the planet.
Bishop John Taylor once called our attitude to consumerism as like ‘a child’s spoilt nursery’ where we play momentarily with a product, discard it and move on to the next new one. Our TV screens constantly sell us the lie that more goods mean a richer life.
Last week I watched the story of Joshua, a seventy year old man who lives on the rich island of Madagascar. For years as a young man to survive he hunted and killed the lemur monkey for meat. Gradually the forest trees were used for timber and the lemur became stranded from their habitat and eco system. Now in his seventies he shares in the Joshua Project seeking to preserve the endangered species of lemur from hunters, and to help restore the natural habitat. All are connected.
As Christians Pope Francis calls upon the church to involve itself in this environmental enterprise. Out of love for love God creates and continues to be co-creator in the world. Humankind is constantly tempted to exploit and spoil the creation simply for its own selfish consumption. This is for us spiritual journey. Those first words from the reading from Deuteronomy spell out the essence of the intention of the Creator, ‘When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance……..’ (26:1). Our planet earth, is a gift to be treasured. It is a place where all belong. It is a place held together by the mystery of God in his great love for us. Again and again we must ask ourselves the question, ‘What is the purpose of our life in the world? Why are we here? What is the goal of our work and all our efforts? What need does the earth have of us? How are we exercising our responsibility to pass on this gift to generations to come?
Pray, give thanks, reduce your carbon footprint, hold governments to account, alleviate poverty, move investments to a zero-carbon portfolio, examine the values of trade agreements, hold our government to account for increased overseas aid, deepen the links with places like Kinchesi-nine suggestions for action made by Bishop David Atkinson and Ian Christie (Church Times article 2016).
Finally and briefly we celebrate St. Valentine a 5th century Roman priest defending the values of Christianity in the face of persecution. He reminds us that if we will love, then it is costly. 100,000 Christians are persecuted and killed annually. How many more of other faiths and none? For all of us belong to each other. Bonheoffer, the German Pastor reminds us that to be a Christian is the preparedness to share in the world’s sufferings for love’s sake after the manner of Jesus. For us also it holds a romantic connotation. In a moment we shall share the joy of Christine and Graham Fry in a blessing for 50 years of married life.
Love connects all, sustains all for as the Mother Julian reminds us ‘Love is his meaning.