Caring for God’s Creation
Live from St Mary's Church Barnes as the congregation prepares for Lent. Preacher: Bishop Richard Harries.
Live from St Mary's Church Barnes as the congregation prepares for Lent. The Church of England's themes this year 'Live Lent' examine what the bible has to say about human responsibility to the environment as a Lenten observance. Featuring the voice of Anna Haestrup, BBC Radio 2 Young Chorister of the Year, who is a member of the Choir. Leader: the Revd James Hutchings (Rector); Preacher: Bishop Richard Harries; Director of Music: Henry Chandler.
JAMES:Grace, mercy and peacefrom God our Fatherand the Lord Jesus Christbe with youALL: And also with you.
JAMES:Good morning and welcome to this church dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. Barnes is in the London borough of Richmond, bordered on two sides by the river Thames, on the course of the annual Oxford and Cambridge boat race. Although in London, with its pond and common, independent shops and cafes, Barnes has a village feel and people here have a strong sense of community. This church is situated at the heart of that community and while parts date back 800 years much was rebuilt in the early 1980s after a devastating fire, enabling it to be the venue for a wide range of community and church activities. That mix of old and new characterises both the age range within our church family and our desire to live out afresh the unchanging good news of God in Jesus Christ.
Members of the church family are active at serving people in need, both in the local community and further afield. One of the Anglican Marks of Mission is ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth’. On this the last Sunday before the beginning of Lent our theme for today’s worship is caring for God’s creation. Here and in churches throughout the Church of England we will be undertaking a 40 day challenge – “Live Lent” – to act and pray in new ways to help the environment. More than 800 years ago, St Francis of Assisi placed love of God’s creation and of our fellow creatures at the centre of his teaching. Our first hymn today, which are based on his words, calls on us to raise our voices in praise with ‘All Creatures of our God and King’.
CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: All creatures of our God and King1 All creatures of our God and King,lift up your voice and with us sing,Alleluia, alleluia!Thou burning sun with golden beam,thou silver moon with softer gleam:[Refrain:]O praise him, O praise him,Alleluia, alleluia, allelluia!
2 Thou rushing wind that art so strong,ye clouds that sail in heaven along,O praise him, alleluia!Thou rising morn, in praise rejoice;ye lights of evening, find a voice: [Refrain]
3 Thou flowing water, pure and clear,make music for thy Lord to hear,Alleluia, alleluia!Thou fire, so masterful and bright,that givest us both warmth and light: [Refrain] 4 Dear mother earth, who day by dayunfoldest blessings on our way,O praise him, alleluia!The flowers and fruits that in thee grow,let them his glory also show: [Refrain]
7 Let all things their creator bless,and worship him in humbleness;O praise him, alleluia!Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,and praise the Spirit, Three in One: [Refrain]
JAMES:Our opening prayers and responses are drawn from the Iona community and are led by one of our Lay Readers, Christabel Gairdner.
CHRISTABEL:In the beginning, God made the worldWomen: Made it and mothered it,Men: Shaped it and fathered it,Women: Filled it with seeds and signs of fertility,Men: Filled it with love and its folk with ability.
All that is green, blue, deep and growingALL: God’s is the hand that created you
All that is tender, firm, fragrant and curious,ALL: God’s is the hand that created you
All that crawls, flies, swims, walks or is motionlessALL: God’s is the hand that created you
All that speaks, sings, cries, laughs or keeps silentALL: God’s is the hand that created you
All that suffers, lacks, limps or longs for an endALL: God’s is the hand that created you
The world belongs to the LordALL: The earth and all its people are his.JAMES:This Wednesday, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of Lent. Here, as in churches all over the world Christians will receive the sign of the cross on their forehead. As each of them does, the same phrase, in many different languages, will be spoken: ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return’. These words are a yearly reminder of the circle of birth, life, and death, present in all of God’s creation. They also look back to the story of creation in the Book of Genesis which describes God forming Adam ‘from the dust of the earth’.
As today we give thanks for everything God has given us, we are also mindful of how we have so often misused these gifts and the creation around us. Each year, during the season of Lent – before the joyful celebration of Jesus’ resurrection on Easter Day – we are called to reflect, and to renew our trust in God, our creator. We recall the forty days that Jesus spent in the dust of the desert, before his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, and ultimately his brutal death on the cross.
This Lent, the Church of England is calling us to rebuild our relationship with our planet, and also with the God who is Lord of all creation. Before our words of confession, our next hymn is a prayer for the Holy Spirit to make his dwelling place within us. We sing: Come down, O Love Divine.
CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: Come down, O Love divine1 Come down, O Love divine,seek thou this soul of mine,and visit it with thine own ardour glowing;O Comforter, draw near,within my heart appear,and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.
2 O let it freely burn,till earthly passions turnto dust and ashes in its heat consuming;and let thy glorious lightshine ever on my sight,and clothe me round, the while my path illuming.
3 Let holy charitymine outward vesture be,and lowliness become mine inner clothing:true lowliness of heart,which takes the humbler part,and o'er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
4 And so the yearning strong,with which the soul will long,shall far outpass the power of human telling;for none can guess its grace,till he become the placewherein the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.
JAMES:Human sin disfigures the whole creation, which groans with eager longing for God’s healing.
We hold now before God all that separates us from him, in confidence that when we confess to him in faith we are assured of his forgiveness
We confess to you our lack of care for the world you have given us.Lord have mercyALL: Lord have mercy
We confess to you our selfishness in not sharing the earth’s bounty fairly.Christ have mercyALL: Christ have mercy
We confess to you our failure to protect resources for others.Lord have mercyALL: Lord have mercy
May the God of love and powerforgive you and free you from your sins,heal and strengthen you by his Spirit,and raise you to new life in Christ our Lord.Amen.
JAMES:The later stories written about Saint Francis speak of him preaching to the birds, saying ‘Oh birds, my brothers and sisters, you have a great obligation to praise your Creator, who clothed you in feathers and gave you wings to fly with, provided you with pure air and cares for you without any worry on your part.’ In his canticle, written in 1224 – just two years before his death – Francis talks of ‘Brother sun, and sister moon’, calling on all creatures, and all of creation to sing in praise to God.
We were delighted when it was announced in December that Anna Haestrup, who has been a young member of the choir here at St Mary’s for several years, was one of the two winners of BBC Radio 2's Young Choristers of the Year 2019. So I am pleased that Anna is now going to sing an anthem which is based on words by St Francis: Make me a Channel of your Peace.
SOP SOLO/ORGAN: ANTHEM: Make Me a Channel of Your Peace JAMES:The issue of how we care for our planet, and particularly the impact of climate change, is rarely out of the news – from bush fires in Australia, and melting ice in Greenland, to student protests inspired by the teenage activist Greta Thunberg. Just this week communities up and down the country have been devastated by flooding after Storm Dennis, we’ve seen reports of protestors digging up the lawn of a Cambridge College, and the world’s richest man, Jeff Bezos, setting aside ten billion US dollars to finance work by scientists, activists and other groups in order to fight climate change. Earlier this month the Church of England’s national assembly, the General Synod, set an ambitious target for all parts of the church to become carbon ‘net zero’ by 2030, fifteen years ahead of the original proposal. At times it can feel as though these may be impossible obstacles to overcome. However the Christian tradition encourages us to believe that by playing our own small part as individuals, together real change is possible.
As we reflect this morning on the Christian calling to care for God’s creation and to be proactive in combatting climate change, our reading from the very first chapter of the bible in Genesis – beginning at verse 20 – reminds us that humanity is just one small part of what God has created and that God delights in that creation.
PATTY: (Genesis 1, 20-25)God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.
And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good. JAMES:Our preacher this morning is Bishop Richard Harries, the retired Bishop of Oxford who is now an active independent member of the House of Lords. Bishop Richard and his family have had a home in Barnes and worshipped at St Mary’s for many years. In a moment he will be reflect further on the Live Lent challenge.
First the congregation sings a hymn written in 1864 by Folliott Sandford Pierpoint. It’s a song of praise for the beauty of the world around us and of the gifts and bonds of affections God gives to each of us: For the Beauty of the Earth.
CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: For the Beauty of the Earth1 For the beauty of the earth,for the beauty of the skies,for the love which from our birthover and around us lies,Refrain:Lord of all, to thee we raisethis our sacrifice of praise.
2 For the beauty of each hourof the day and of the night,hill and vale and tree and flower,sun and moon and stars of light: [Refrain]
3 For the joy of human love,brother, sister, parent, child,friends on earth, and friends above,pleasures pure and undefiled: [Refrain] 4 For each perfect gift of thine,to our race so freely given,graces human and divine,flowers of earth and buds of heaven: [Refrain]
5 For thy church which evermorelifteth holy hands above,offering up on every shoreher pure sacrifice of love, [Refrain]
RICHARD:When the 16th century Venetian artist Tintoretto depicted God creating the birds and animals he painted great flocks of birds springing out of God’s hand and the ocean teeming with fish. Alas, as we know, this is no longer the case. A UN report last year warned that one million species of plants and animals were at risk of extinction.
This very much came home to me last summer. One of my greatest pleasures is to go out into the garden in the evening, lie on my back, and watch the swifts darting and diving and weaving in the sky. Last summer I saw hardly any. In their migration from the South they follow the insects, and in recent years insects have been much reduced. “It’s only an insect”, people might have thought in the past-but now we know that all life depends on them. The decline in insects is so precipitous that there are warnings that the whole eco-system is in danger of collapsing.
I am aware of damage to the environment by what I no longer see. For others, the effects of climate change for example, are much more devastating. Low lying islands and parts of countries like Bangladesh will be flooded as sea levels rise cause of melting ice caps. And as always it will be the poor who are worst affected, for it is they who live in the low lying areas most at risk.
Many people, who do not regard themselves as religious, still feel that there is something deeply spiritual about our concern with the future of our planet. They are right to do so. After all, why do we feel distressed about so many species being lost every year? Behind this distress there is, I believe, a profound theological conviction- that creation is good in itself for itself. This loss of species matters not just because they might be of use to us but because they are of value in themselves, for themselves. This insight reflects those wonderful verses in the book of Genesis we heard just now. God saw what he had made, and behold it was very good. Birds, butterflies, fish, trees, flowers-even weeds are little miracles.
We sense the goodness of creation in the way nature refreshes us, whether it is a pot of flowers in the room, or the sky as we look out of the window. As the poet Gerard Manly Hopkins put it “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things”. In the same poem he goes on to say that this life giving power is the work of the Holy Spirit.
Christians, and many others, believe that behind the beauty of nature there is a supreme beauty. Worship is about being taken out of ourselves to acknowledge this reality as good in itself, for itself. As St Augustine prayed “O thou beauty most ancient and withall so fresh”. So it is that sometimes when we are taken out of ourselves by beauty in nature, say a magnificent tree, we teeter on the edge of wonder to feel awe before the unimaginable source of all things. One of the great great marine biologists of the 20h century, Sir Alastair Hardy, said about his work shortly before he died “Just occasionally I became so overcome by the beauty of the natural world that for a moment or two I fell to my knees in prayer.”
In the light of this supreme reality, this surpassing beauty, creation come to us as a gift. Suppose in a family there has been handed down from our grandparents an ancient clock. It is not hugely valuable, but it is a much treasured possession. Our parents loved it, we love it, and we want our children and grandchildren to have it when we are gone. If that is how we feel about something like a clock, how much more important is it that our grandchildren and their children are not deprived of what means so much to us. As we have benefited from the labours of generations before us, we have an obligation to those which come after. We are, as the political philosopher Edmund Burke said “a partnership not only between those who are living, but between those who are dead and those who are to be born.” Life is a gift. We have been given a beautiful earth not just for our own use but to look after for those who come after us.. As the first book in the Bible makes clear, we are stewards of the earth, custodians, caretakers, not the owners of it. On present predictions we will leave it in a worse state than we found it.
People have been warning about the destruction of our environment for a least 60 years, and the effects of climate change for 30. What we have begun to realise is that the situation is now critical and urgent. Things will get worse anyway. The point is to avoid disaster on a massive scale.
There are small actions that each one of us can take in our immediate environment and there are changes that are needed in the economic and public spheres. To act politically without acting personally is hypocritical. Equally to act personally but not politically is to be ineffectual. Both individual actions and public policies matter and the more we are committed to one the more likely we are to be committed to the other.
Recycling our waste is one obvious small action we can and should take at a personal level. But at the moment recycling rates vary hugely in different parts of the country. The highest is East Riding with an average of 64.8% of its waste recycled. The lowest is a London Borough, which I will resist naming and shaming, with only 14% of its waste recycled.
At a more institutional level we can press that financial institutions no longer invest in fossil fuels. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has found that emissions from fossil fuels are the dominant cause of global warming. In 2018, 89% of global CO2 emissions came from fossil fuels and industry. Through our pension funds very many of us now have a stake in this. I am glad that The Pensions Board of the Church of England from which I draw my pension has invested £600 million in a new stock index linked to the way companies perform in relation to the Paris Agreement on Climate change.
There are in fact a range of ways in which we can respond to the crisis, and many bodies, including the Government and the BBC set out 10 basis steps on their website that include issues like driving, flying and the food we eat.
In the past people tended to think that creation was just a backdrop for the great drama of human salvation. Now we have woken up to the fact that not only are we a part of creation but that creation matters in itself, and for Christians Christ is at the heart of it.
In a remarkable passage from the letter to the Colossians it is said of Christ that “In him everything in heaven and earth was created…the whole universe has been created through him and for him…all things are held together in him.”. So for a Christian care for creation is not just an expression of gratitude for a precious gift but part of our response to Christ, the ground of our being and the goal of our longing. He calls us to care for the beautiful earth we have been given. If we want it to be good for our children, grandchildren and future generations everyone agrees that we will need to respond now with a much greater sense of urgency.
JAMES:Our next anthem is by the contemporary British composer Bob Chilcott and is his reworking of the much loved 8th century Irish hymn ‘Be Thou my Vision'.
CHOIR/ORGAN: ANTHEM: Be Thou my Vision (Bob Chilcott)
JAMES:Let us pray to God, that he will bring to fruition all that he desires for his creation.
CHRISTABEL:You have created the universe by your eternal Word,and have blessed humankind in making usstewards of the earth.We pray for your world,that we may share and conserve its resources,and live in reverence for the creationand in harmony with one another.Father, Lord of creation,ALL: in your mercy, hear us.
You have given the human race a rich land,a land of streams and springs,wheat and barley,vines and oil and honey.We have made by sin a world of suffering and sorrow.We pray for those who bear the weight of affliction,that they may come to share the life of wholeness and plenty.Father, Lord of creation,ALL: in your mercy, hear us.
In Christ you call us to a new way of life,loving our neighbours before ourselves.Help us to treat with care and respect the world as it isas we live in hope and anticipation of the worldas it will bewhen your kingdom comes and your will is done.Thank you for those, living and departed,who have shown a true respect for your creation …Help us to follow in their footsteps,until, with them, we see you face to face,where all is made new in Christ our Lord.
Merciful Father,ALL:accept these prayersfor the sake of your Sonour Saviour Jesus Christ.Amen. JAMES:We join together in the words of the prayer Jesus taught his disciples:
ALL:Our Father in heaven,hallowed by your name.Your Kingdom come’Your will be done,on earth as it is in heaven.Give us today our daily bread,and forgive us our sins,as we forgive those who sin against us.Lead us not into temptation,but deliver us from evil.For the kingdom, the power and the glory,are yours, now and for ever. Amen
JAMES:Thank you for joining with our church community here in Barnes this morning. As we come towards the end of our worship in which we have prepared to rededicate ourselves in Lent to the care of God’s creation, we sing our final hymn, a great song of praise for all God has done, and in sending his son Jesus to heal us and all creation: “O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder consider all the works thy hand hath made”.
CHOIR/ORGAN/ALL: HYMN: O Lord my God1 O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder,Consider all the worlds thy hands have made;I see the stars, I hear the rolling thunder,Thy power throughout the universe displayed:
Refrain:Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee:How great thou art! How great thou art!Then sings my soul, my Saviour God, to thee:How great thou art! How great thou art!
2 When through the woods and forest glades I wanderAnd hear the birds sing sweetly in the trees,When I look down from lofty mountain grandeur,And hear the brook and feel the gentle breeze:[Refrain] 3 And when I think how God, his Son not sparing,Sent him to die, I scarce can take it in;That on the cross, my burdens gladly bearing,He bled and died to take away my sin:[Refrain]
4 When Christ shall come with shouts of acclamation,To take me home, what joy will fill my heart!Then I will bow in humble adoration,And there proclaim, my God, how great thou art![Refrain]
JAMES:May the peace of the Lord Christ go with you,wherever he may send you.May he guide you through the wilderness,protect you through the storm.May he bring you home rejoicingat the wonders he has shown you.May he bring you home rejoicingonce again into our doors.And the blessing of God Almighty,the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,be with you all evermore. ALL: Amen.
ORGAN: VOLUNTARY: Prelude in E major, BWV 566 (Bach)
RADIO 4 CLOSING ANNOUNCEMENT:Sunday Worship came live from St Mary’s Church in Barnes, it was led by the vicar, the Reverend James Hutchings, and the preacher was Bishop Richard Harries. The Director of Music was Henry Chandler, the organist Alexander Little, and the producer was Ben Collingwood. A link to the Live Lent materials which Radio 4’s worship programmes will be following over the coming weeks can be found on the Sunday Worship webpage. In next week’s Sunday Worship for St David’s Day, the Bishop of Bangor, Andrew John, leads a meditative reflection marking the centenary of the Church in Wales.