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The Rector: Rogation Sunday

Rogation Sunday
26 May 2019
10.30 Eucharist
Revd Nicholas Mercer

There is a story of a vicar who had just arrived in his parish and was wanted to get to know his flock

There was a house high up on a moor and the earnest vicar was determined to go and say hello to the new owner

One day he climbed the hill and found the new occupant in front of the house

The vicar saw the beautiful garden that he was in the process of creating 

“You and the Lord are doing a good job” he said

“You should have seen it when God had it by himself” the new owner replied

The story has always appealed to me

It is obviously humorous and one can almost believe that the conversation is real

Perhaps it is………

Real or not, the new owner makes a good point

God’s creation needs a steward

It needs a human agent in creation and that agent is us

As it says in the Book of Genesis, God has given us dominion over all creation (Genesis 1: 26-31)

In a world where the environment is ever more in the spotlight, we also need to increasingly think about our stewardship at the same time

In essence, we need to ask ourselves, “Have we been good and faithful servants”?

Today is Rogation Sunday

It comes from the Latin “rogare “meaning to ask

And, in this context, it means asking for God’s intercessions for agriculture

Interestingly, although abolished in the reign of Edward VI, Rogation Sunday was re-instated by Elizabeth I in 1559

In Tudor times, the parish would walk the parish boundaries with crosses and green branches

And prayer was offered

“For God’s blessing upon the earth and human labour”

I always struggled with agricultural sermons ever since a priest held up a tin of sweetcorn at school

To me, it seemed to present so many philosophical and theological problems

It is said, however, that there are three ways of celebrating the earth and its bounty

  • The first/ancient way is to give thanks to God for the weather and produce
  • The second/modern way is to speak of the distribution of these gifts (political)
  • And the third/post-modern way is concerned with the individual and their response

Dealing with the ancient first, the giving of thanks to God for the weather and produce is both easy and difficult at the same time

The giving of thanks for favourable weather and produce is, superficially, straight forward

Indeed, I rejoice at the weather

  • The warmth of the summer sun
  • The icy coldness of the winter

Sun, snow and rain are all part of God’s creation- nourishing and shaping the earth

It has never rained during my time at Bolton Abbey (!)

In a sense it hasn’t, but, just like a parish, we don’t live in a saccharine world

Things go wrong in the countryside, things go wrong with agriculture, and we all have to contend with those disasters

Whilst I was in the Falkland Islands, my lovely neighbour Wendy would go out to West Falkland and help with the shearing of the sheep.

On one occasion, there was a terrible storm just after shearing was begun

I remember the storm well because it destroyed the poly-tunnel at the Deanery

The only problem was that it destroyed sixty sheep at the same time

Newly shorn, they had been caught out in the extreme weather, and perished as a result

The climate can be hostile wherever you live in the world

Storm, earthquake, tempest all have to be weathered, but the consequences, as we know, can be devastating

These are examples of what Church calls theodicy –or natural evil

As Dom John intimated in his sermon last week, there are no easy answers to the problem of evil

All I can say is that:

A world without these extremities/ would be a world where /we would not be challenged/our ingenuity tested/ and where our capacity for love would, potentially, be diminished

Moving on to the modern view of farming

The modern view of farming is concerned with the distribution of these gifts which is a political as well as a theological question

The argument goes as follows:

If God provides us with the conditions and gifts to enable us to farm

Then it is only right and proper that the fruits should be fairly distributed

It is not wrong to make a profit but it is wrong if that profit is inequitable

However, viewing the world through this paradigm, the statistics do not make for comfortable reading

  • 1 in 7 people in the world go hungry
  • 3 million children each year die as a result of poor nutrition
  • 1/3rd of our food is wasted

By contrast, if we reduced our intake of meat, then the whole world could be easily fed- simple as that

As Gandhi said

There is enough food on the planet for everyone’s need but not for everyone’s greed

He also said

There are some people on the planet who are so hungry that God cannot appear to them except in a piece of bread

Think of this, closer to home,

  • Last year, the Trussell Trust’s distributed 1.6 million food parcels to people in crisis,
  • More than half a million of those were children.
  • 88,000 were distributed in the North East

As one Labour councillor put it last week

“That hunger is a daily lived reality for increasing numbers of children and adults, in one of the richest countries in the world should be a badge of shame” (Shaista Aziz) 

How on earth can this happen? 

Finally, coming onto the post- modern view of agriculture, how do we respond to all this?

On one level, we have responded very badly

In our thirst for production, profit and consumption – including agriculture – we have, at the same time, endangered our planet

Due to overheating /through the production of CO2/ we are now facing a man-made disaster on a global scale

The Bishop of Salisbury, said this year

“Climate change is the greatest moral issue facing the world”

To quote David Attenborough

“If we have not taken dramatic action within the decade we could face irreversible damage to the natural world and collapse to our societies”

In our post-modern view of agriculture, we are going to have to work out how we respond

At an International level, this means coming together collectively and making legally binding treaties

On a national scale this means setting our own national targets and, if needs be, declaring our own climate emergency – thank you Greta Thunberg

It means investing far more in renewables (hydro/solar/wind/tidal)

As individuals, both collectively and individually

We have to ask ourselves difficult questions such as “How green is our Church” and what will it cost us?

It means cutting back individually

Each of us is responsible for approximately 13 tons of carbon each year

Food is 1/3 of that footprint

  • If we reduced waste
  • Reduced our intake of meat and dairy
  • Reduced our reliance on air freighted food

We could all reduce our footprint by at least two tons a year and, collectively, that would make a massive difference.

Conservative leadership is currently having a bad press at the moment and with good cause

However, Mrs Thatcher, a scientist and Christian, said this

“We are the Lord’s creatures, the trustees of this plant”

And she is quite right

The lovely reading from the Book of Joel this morning reminds us of all the gifts we have been given

Do not fear, O soil; be glad and rejoice, for the Lord has done great things!
 Do not fear, you animals of the field,    for the pastures of the wilderness are green;  

The trouble is that we now have everything to fear and nothing to be glad about

We have not been, as the parable asks, “Good and faithful servants”

And so returning to my story at the beginning of the sermon, imagine the story told in a different way?

There was a house high up on moor which God had just let out and he was determined to go and say hello to the new owner

One day he climbed the hill and, instead of the finding the house and garden in good shape, it had been plundered instead

The fixtures and fittings had been removed and the garden stripped of all its plants and trees

It was desolate

God looked over the fence and said,

“You have destroyed my house, I am revoking your tenancy”

But the man pleaded with God and said “but I haven’t got anywhere else to live”

God said,

“Alright, I’ll give you ten years”

In the name etc