New Year 2016
New Year 2016 was one of the most sober experiences I ever had.
Scottish people call the 31st December HOGMANY. They stay up to
midnight, and when the New Year dawns, they ring bells, set off fireworks,
go visiting to neighbours, kiss people they don’t know and party until the sun
But not for me when 2015 turned to 2016. Because New Year’s Day was a
Sunday, and I had been asked to preach live on the main BBC radio station from
a church in Manchester.
So, the night before on my own in a small hotel bedroom I waited up till midnight
and then toasted the new year with half an inch of red wine, to ensure my mind
would be clear the next day…because there were some things I wanted to say
in my radio sermon which I thought were important.
Gentle, Meek and Mild
I began by saying that in a so-called Christian country, an amazing number of
people knew little about Jesus apart from that he was born and that he died on
the cross. And if asked to give adjectives about him, they would say that he was
GENTLE, MEEK AND MILD
…three words which. I claimed, we do not together in the Gospels.
Two days later I received a letter from ‘Indignant’ of Turnbridge Wells, an town outside London. This lady was appalled that I had dare to say that Jesus was not
gentle meek and mild, when twice in the Gospels the word ‘ meek’ was used.
I replied that she was right. Meek appears twice, but when the King James Version was written, meek meant humble, whereas in c21 ‘meek’ means spineless, unrobust.
However, my point still stood that this unholy trinity
GENTLE, MEEK AND MILD
did not appear together in the Gospels.
Good Shepherd Sunday
I mention this because ‘Good Shepherd’ Sunday is not a title I am familiar with.
In all the main British churches – Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Anglican,
& Episcopal, the same Gospel will be read as we heard here, but we don’t give a special name to the day.
And I am quite glad about that – not because I think that Britain has it right, but
because I fear that this is a Sunday when we could be seduced into seeing
Jesus as primarily a nice man, – pastorally sensitive
kind and considerate
full of integrity
…all of which are true.
But they are not the whole truth.
The Mission of Jesus
The one we call our Lord IS all these things, but he is also much more.
Because his mission and purpose was not simply to console, it was also
to show anger at injustice
to make a difference to the world
not just its people
And I say this with conviction because of a phrase which we often forget,
particularly those of us who are fond of the text of John 3: 16 which can be
found emblazoned on T shirts and coffee cups.
That verse begins: GOD SO LOVED….. what?
Episcopalians? … No
Human Beings? … No
GOD SO LOVED …. THE WORLD …. and the word in Greek is COSMOS.
…the whole created universe.
God so loved the world that in Jesus God became part of the physical universe,
one with the stuff of the earth God had made in love: flesh or our flesh and bone
of our bone.
The Hebrew Scriptures
We tend to conveniently forget that. We imagine that the created order – as
outlined in the first chapter of Genesis was set up for the benefit of humanity. And after people began to walk the earth, they were God’s primary focus, and all that
had gone before – light and darkness, sea and land, plants, animals – were no
longer of any account.
Not at all
Not at all
Since St Augustine Biblical theology seems to have concentrated on
human life, and whatever humans did wrong which Jesus came to put right.
The earth was regarded as being there to be exploited so that humanity
The Post Flood Covenant
And so we dismiss the significance of great truth stories like that of the flood
through which God destroyed the earth because of God’s despair over human
We lose sight of how when God made a covenant with Noah, it was not just
for the benefit of the surviving mortals. It was a covenant with the whole earth because it was the destruction of the whole earth that affected God’s heart.
God threw up into the sky his weapon of mass destruction – a bow. He put
it there in glorious technicolour rather than black and white to reflect the
intentional diversity of creation which had been destroyed and was now being
willed back to life. It was put in the sky as a sign to the smallest daisy and
field mouse as much as to the most pious believer that God would not destroy
the created universe again by divine will.
I don’t have time here to go through the Hebrew Scriptures – the law and the prophets and the psalms to indicate how in the Bible God stands in a direct
relationship to the earth, that the earth is a friend of God.
God delights in the regularity and irregularity of nature, as if it
were an offering to God, a love song.
The life and death of a sparrow is of consequence to God
The health of earth – as God made it – is dependent on its inhabitants.
respecting their habitat.
The witness of Jesus.
When Jesus appeared, he did not come to say, “…all the stuff about stewardship and care of the planet is Old Testament and therefore old hat. Now that I’m here it’s just humans beings that matter.”
Not at all… he comes not to abolish the law and the prophets, but to endorse, to
fulfill their teaching. He doesn’t have to restate what Isaiah and Haggai and
Jeremiah wrote, he stands foursquare on their testimony eloquent.
Donald MacLeod and the proposed Harris Super Quarry
So I want to introduce perspectives much more eloquent than anything I might say.
They constitute, for me, the most concise statement of Biblical teaching on creation
spoken not by some weirdy-beardy radical, but by a conservative Calvinist
academic and Gaelic speaker whose home island, Harris in the Outer Hebrides,
was the subject of public debate. An international civil engineering company proposed dismantling a mountain and then digging a quarry which would be one of the largest man-made holes in Europe – all to get stone aggregate for road building throughout the continent.
The British government held an enquiry at which the mining company made a good case for the prospect of jobs and wealth to be created in an island which had limited employment possibilities and a less than healthy economy.
To this enquiry came people to give evidence both for an against the proposed
destruction of the mountain. Arguably the two most distinguished contributions were made by Chief Stone Eagle of their North American Mi’kMaq nation and Donald MacLeod, Professor of Theology at the Free Church College in Edinburgh.
Here are just a few lines of what Donald said which, in my reading of the environmental debates in the USA hold as much relevance here as they do
to British concerns.
- God, as creator has sovereignty over the environment
We must use it only in accordance with God’s will.
- Theologically, the primary purpose of creation is to serve as a revelation of God.
To spoil the creation is to disable it from performing this function.
- Because of the unbreakable link between humanity and the soil,
rape of the environment can result in rape of the community which lives
of the land.
- It is commonly argued that the primary purpose of humanity is to be
the ‘keeper’ or guardian of the earth.
But in the Hebrew language, the implication is that humanity must also be
the servant of the soil.
I raise these matters on this day which ends Earth Week, not because such things
are topical, but because they are true.
And I want you as I want myself not to patronise or be possessive about Jesus
as if he were simply our personal saviour. Rather let us honour him as the saviour of the world, the cosmos. And let our care for the earth be regarded as a legitimate
and primary practice of discipleship.
TO THE ONE WHO MAKES THIS AND ALL THINGS POSSIBLE BE OUR
PRAISE AND GLORY, NOW AND FOREVER. AMEN.
Post Script: The outcome of the super-quarry inquiry ensured that the
environmental destruction never happened. The mountain still stands.