Environment Sunday (Year C Trinity 2) pet service
(Luke 7:11–17, Julian)
During the Gathering:
Thank you all very much
for bringing yourselves and your pets.
Perhaps some of you, like me,
aren’t able to bring your pets
with you in flesh,
but rather you bring them with you in your hearts.
On the back inside page of your orders of service,
you will see a photograph
of ‘our girls’, whom I’ve brought
with me in my heart
I grew up with five Wheaten terriers
all mothers and daughters or sisters to eachother
Tess was our eldest, and these four are
Bronwen, Dilys, Megan and Gwyneth.
Our dogs were always part of the family,
or perhaps we were part of their pack!
I’ve not brought our dogs here in the flesh,
because Essex is far,
and also they’re all dead.
But I’ve brought them in my heart.
You see, our family-love is,
hope many of us know this,
not necessarily limited to humans.
G*d created all things.
G*d is our Parent — Mother and Father,
so all creation are our siblings — sisters and brothers.
Yes, the stories of the bible
tell us that there is something a little special about humans
— that in some sense we have the ‘image of G*d’
in some unique way —
and that G*d has made us stewards.
I love language. I love to find out about how words work.
So please indulge me.
The word steward in English comes from something like
house warden — someone, a senior servant in old times,
who supervises the care of the house for their master.
It can mean someone who’s a placeholder for that master —
like the Germanic stadtholder or French lieutenant.
This sense chimes, I think, quite well
with the Hebrew word used in the creation stories
of the book of Genesis when G*d places
the earth-person Adam to work and keep the garden
That ‘keep’ is šamār, and it means to keep,
to guard, to watch over, to protect.
We are charged with being G*d’s lieutenants,
caring for G*d’s creation in G*d’s stead.
Creation is suffering.
And when she suffers, we suffer.
The other picture inside the back of the booklet
alleges to be of a farm in Syria.
For years now, Syria has been suffering
nothing short of ecological disaster.
In a country where there is a lot of reliance on farming,
there have been years of drought.
Whether this is caused directly by human interference —
water management and so on —
or by human-caused climate change,
humans have changed the environment there,
and humans have suffered for it.
I can’t claim to know exactly
what has caused what,
but there’s a lot of suffering
throughout the world.
I wonder how much of it is closely linked
with our continued abuse of this planet’s resources.
Creation is more vulnerable than ever,
and G*d has entrusted her to our care.
What does she need from us?
What can we do to meet creation’s needs?
So, what’s the most important detail
in this story that we could easily miss?
“He was his mother’s only son,
and she was a widow.”
Now, to know how important this detail is,
we need to know a little about 1st C. Palestinian society.
Women could inherit neither land nor wealth.
So this widow was entirely dependent on her only son.
Then he dies.
She is not only bereaved of her only son,
but now she has no-one to support her.
Her husband’s, then her son’s, property
would be inherited by some more distant relative,
who might not be bothered with helping her,
or might have too many dependents already.
So that widow of Nain is very vulnerable.
Jesus sees the widow, in this vulnerable position,
he sees her need,
and he has compassion for her,
and he does what he can.
It has been my pleasure and honour
to be here with you for eight weeks.
Eight weeks with have flown by.
I’ve been privileged to spend time in this building,
in worship with you all,
in the centre,
with but a few of the many groups there.
I’ve been privileged to go out and about with John,
to visit people in their homes,
to go with a family to their father’s burial,
to simply walk this wonderful place and observe.
I am immensely thankful for the privilege I’ve had here:
the time and the space
to see and experience
So here’s what I’ve seen:
here’s what I’ve learned;
and here’s what I’ll take with me in my ministry:
Every church community is called to be like Jesus:
in the reading, Jesus sees what the widow needs,
he has compassion, and he does what he can.
I hope you can see where this is going.
This community sees what is needed in Old Trafford,
you have compassion, and you do what you can.
And the thing is, in the story,
Jesus isn’t interfering.
He’s not the social services, he’s not some kind of
outsider deciding what ‘they’ need.
He is part of that community,
and he is helping as a brother.
When I look at all that happens here and next door,
these aren’t things that some authority or other
has decided must happen
for the good of those folk in Old Trafford.
The things that happen here
are the things that the community sees the need for.
You see the need,
you have compassion,
you do what you can.
There is a need for English language classes.
You made them happen.
Our friend Tariq saw the need for newcomers to Manchester
to get to know their new home.
He’s making that happen with his walking tours.
St John’s Sunshine grants are another great example —
they recognise where people are coming forward
to do what they can to help.
But at the same time some of that money has come
from our solar panels,
which are themselves one small part
of how we can react to creation’s needs:
by reducing the carbon energy consumption
of the church and centre,
we are seeing creation’s need,
we are having compassion,
and we are doing what we can.
Perhaps we can do more on that?
As a community, as households, as individuals,
where else can you see that creation is suffering?
What other needs can you see?
then do what you can.
Dan Barnes-Davies, 3 June 2016
Given at St John’s Church, Old Trafford, Environment Sunday 5 June 2016