Eleventh Sunday after Trinity - Choral Evensong

  • Preacher

    Reader - Caroline Clifford

This afternoon, I would like you to join me in imagining some contrasting colours and images.

Let’s begin with the alluring yellow of summer sunshine, when throughout the year, travellers on the London Underground feast their eyes on posters advertising beautiful holiday destinations in other countries. Summers in the UK are notoriously unreliable and in winter we dream of escaping to warmer places, where the weather doesn’t change from morning to afternoon.

This year has been different. July temperatures were at record level. Without air conditioning, the Underground felt like a sauna, most people still had to get to work, and popular European holiday destinations like Spain, Portugal and Greece, became too hot for comfort, while in Japan, many died. The colour of the sun didn’t change, but its intensity became unbearable.

London is famous for its green parks but the heat of the sun turned the grass into orange straw, and in some open areas, wild fires left scorched black stubble, endangering the lives of firefighters trying to prevent the fierce red flames from reaching people’s homes. This also happened in Greece and more recently, California. Farmers have reported ruined crops.

Pictures of beaches and swimming pools also feature on posters, but this year in Britain fatalities have been caused by people jumping into dangerous expanses of water to try and keep cool. The surface may have looked blue and inviting but sadly this summer it brought death, rather than life-giving energy. Hospitals, already stretched by a particularly cold winter, have had to deal with a surge in heat-related illness as well as accidents.

Of course, in the UK the weather has already begun to get cooler, with some persistent rain, so you may be wondering why I am reminding you of all this, but the point is that some forecasters believe unusually warm weather will continue till October. We have also been told that these extremes are likely to be the result of climate change and that even a two-degree rise in temperature could trigger another Ice Age, which would end human life on the planet. There has been a great deal of argument about global warming but there now needs to be a serious international initiative if we don’t want to bring about the end of life on earth.

R.S. Thomas’ poem Soliloquy begins:

And God thought: Pray away,

Creatures; I’m going to destroy

It. The mistake’s mine,

If you like. I have blundered

Before; the glaciers erased

My error.

- although I personally do not hold this view.

Turning to the Creation story in Genesis, we are told at every stage that ‘God saw that it was good.’ Man and woman were made in his image to look after the earth and its creatures and to ‘Be fruitful and multiply’. In the Garden of Eden, God planted ‘every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food’. In other words, the trees were not only intended to be functional but also to bring aesthetic pleasure to human beings, as they have done throughout history, whether in nature, in paintings or on film.

But alongside this image of paradise, we have to juxtapose pictures on our screens of fish and birds ingesting plastic waste, which then enters the food chain, and of humans having to wear face masks as protection from urban pollution, caused by unlimited car travel and unsuitable fuel.

In the First Lesson, God reminds Job of his power over the wild animals and birds, which makes Job feel humble: ‘I am of small account’ and silences his challenge.

In Psalm 91, God himself is described as a bird:

‘He shall defend thee under his wings, and thou shalt be safe under his feathers:’

- a natural image, like the one in John’s Gospel, where Jesus compares himself to a vine, and his followers as the branches, though here, Jesus and his followers are one entity, rather than a separate God offering protection.

In the Lord’s Prayer, we ask God to ‘Forgive us our trespasses’, often concentrating on daily personal transgressions. However, we also have to ask forgiveness for our communal failure to look after the planet. If we seriously value God’s gift of Creation, and his pleasure in both it and us, we need to act both individually and collectively to prevent the destruction, rather than procrastinating and hoping everything will somehow be all right.

The Lesson from Hebrews talks of the Lord’s disciplining of those he loves, reminding us of Esau, who lost his father’s blessing because of selling his birthright. We cannot expect God to be happy if we ignore his love for us as expressed by his amazing gift.