care for creation – St Bartholomew

Sermon given by Revd. Tim Hewes on St Bartholomew’s Day, 23rd August 2020, at St Mary’s Buckland

Bartholomew was a mysterious figure but like the other apostles he was steeped in the culture and legacy of the Torah: 

the allegory of the forming of life and the garden of Eden, the early history, the psalms full of songs about the restorative integrity and beauty of the natural world, with heart felt prayers for justice and mercy, the prophets who were constantly ignored and a new order that was to be founded on the Messiah. 

This is what he and the other apostles brought to their faith in Jesus, to their worship, their pastoral work and their ministry. But they not only had a profound understanding of their Jewish heritage, they understood their spiritual ancestral responsibility.

They worked for and looked to the future, for a time, as we recall in the communion prayer, when justice and mercy will be seen in all the world.

This morning’s reading from St Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians was written to a people who lived among beautiful stone buildings that, 2000 years on, remain with us as a legacy of architectural delight.  The sacrificial ministry of worship and expressions of love of Bartholomew and all those early Christians, are our particular heritage from those middle Eastern Christian people, here and now.

With this intergenerational aspect of the Christian faith in mind, I’ve just read a new book called ‘The Good Ancestor: How to think long term in a short term world’, by Roman Krznaric.  

Krznaric is an eminent academic who, I believe, lives in Oxford. Comments on the book, include, “This is the book our children’s children will thank us for reading.” And the Astronomer Royal, Professor Martin Rees said of it, “The book deserves to be read by policy makers, and indeed all citizens who care about the prospects for their children and grandchildren.”

The author explains how we are inheritors of gifts from the past, such as the immense legacy  left by our ancestors; those who sowed the first seeds in Mesopotamia 10,000 years ago, who cultivated land, who founded cities, who made scientific discoveries, and in particular he mentions Jonas Salk.

In 1955 Salk developed the first vaccine for polio; an extraordinary breakthrough as at that time polio paralysed or killed over half a million people worldwide each year. But he was not interested in fame and fortune – he never sought to have the vaccine patented. His ambition was “to be some help to humankind and to leave a legacy for future generations.” Clearly – he succeeded. 

Salk expressed his philosophy of life in a single question: “Are we being good ancestors?” 

He believed that, just as we have inherited so much, we must also pass on a rich inheritance to our descendants. 

He was convinced that to do this and to control the global crises, such as humanity’s destruction of the natural world, we needed a radical shift in our perspective to one far more focused on long term thinking, on the consequences of our actions beyond our own lifetimes; rather than thinking in the scale of seconds, days, months. 

I must emphasis this is a very positive book and as one critic said, ‘it fizzes with ideas’.

The author says: the biblical aspiration to be a good Samaritan is no longer enough. It’s time for a 21st Century update: “how to be a Good Ancestor.”

This is a formidable task at a pivotal point in human history. 

We live in an age of pathological short-termism. 

Short-termism is like texting while driving – short sighted, myopic focus – then BANG!!

Politicians can barely see beyond the next election, the latest opinion poll or tweet.

I quote:- “Businesses are slaves to the constant demand to ratchet up shareholder value. Markets spike and then crash in speculative bubbles driven by microsecond algorithms. 

“Nations bicker around international conference tables, focused on the near-term interests, while the planet burns and species disappear. Our culture of instant gratification makes us overdose on fast food, rapid fire texting and the buy now button.”

He goes on to say that,  “the moment has come, especially for those living in wealthy nations, to recognise the disturbing truth, that we have colonised the future

We treat the future like a distant colonial outpost devoid of people, where we can freely dump ecological degradation and which we can plunder as we please.” 

Please bear with me a moment longer on this tack.

Krznaric considers a few powerful ways to become Good Ancestors, including: 

imagining the future; having a legacy mindset; a sense of intergenerational justice; and planning for the future beyond our own lifetimes,  

He proposes that 100 years is the minimum term for long term thinking.

But just a minute! Long term thinking is impossible for people who live hand to mouth, for someone with a mortgage, a precarious job and children, for someone with dependants, for the poorest in our world.

In fact we could all make an argument for not thinking long term. And that of course leads us back to our colonising the future while leaving the rainforests to be protected by the innocent  and unarmed indigenous peoples.

Let us assume that we all want to pass on a world of beauty and wonder that the psalmist sang of, and that the apostles walked in with Jesus; a world that revived them, that spoke to them.

The Word of God, embodied by Jesus, and witnessed to by the apostles is Love. Love is the heritage and legacy of the followers of Christ. 

In nature, Love is expressed by divine beauty.

Christian responsibility to the restorative integrity and the beauty of the natural world is as important as our words of love. It is our heritage, our present responsibility, and the legacy we may, or may not leave. 

The beauty of nature is a one-off gift, to  all peoples, the world over, in every age, from God  – not for us to own, to possess, or despoil but for us to protect, to sustain and to nurture for the future inhabitants of this planet. We are stewards, not masters.

So may the Lord of All Life, bless us all with the wisdom and courage to work for that day when justice and mercy will be seen by all humanity – and equally by all the life of this beautiful and fragile natural world. Amen.