Eucharist Sermon - 26 September 2021

The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity
Numbers 11:4–6, 10–16, 24–29; James 5:13–end; Mark 9:38–end
The Venerable Guy Elsmore, Archdeacon of Buckingham

Among the many wonderful and powerful words in today’s readings, I would like to focus on eight words from this morning’s Gospel:

Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us”.

I’ll come back to that text in a few minutes but first I’d like to reflect on some events in the news.

The M25, is sometimes referred to as Britain’s largest car park. The number of stationary cars on the M25 has been greater than ever over the past couple of weeks as traffic has been brought to a series of sudden standstills by the climate protestors belonging to the group “Insulate Britain”.

The protestors, many of whom have also been part of the “Extinction Rebellion” movement have been seen to run out into the traffic, bringing cars and lorries to a sudden halt. They have then sat down across the carriageway until removed by the police.

Speaking to the Times Newspaper last week, a member of Insulate Britain spoke about these highly controversial and dangerous tactics as being necessary to achieve a greater good and he likened this direct action in the struggle for climate justice to the actions of the Suffragettes who, earlier in the last century, brought publicity to their cause through a series of similarly dangerous and daring protests.

It has been widely reported that among the protesters are a number of clergy, one of whom, The Revd Mark Coleman, I know rather well from several years working in nearby parishes in Liverpool Diocese.

Mark retired from parish ministry a few years ago and having been involved in environmental projects throughout his ministry, has continued into retirement through involvement in Extinction Rebellion and now Insulate Britain.

What is it that radicalises a gentle, mild-mannered, scholarly priest to achieve such notoriety on the front pages of the national press?

All of us are aware of the pressing issue of climate change. As we extract more and more fossil fuel from under the ground, the additional Carbon Dioxide in the atmosphere adds to the Greenhouse Effect whereby the warmth of the sun is trapped by the Earth’s atmosphere. The more CO2 in the atmosphere, the warmer the atmosphere becomes.

The knock-on changes: increasing temperatures, melting glaciers and ice caps and destabilisation of long-term weather systems and ocean currents are frequently reported on the news and we see increasing numbers of wildfires, catastrophic floods, and other effects worldwide.

The climate scientists tell us that the need to change our ways becomes move urgent every year – and we have less and less time left to avoid the worst effects of climate change.

People are increasingly playing their part: sales of green energy tariffs are booming as are sales of electric vehicles. All of us are encouraged to think carefully about the effects of our actions on the climate and the younger generation are leading the way in living more ethically and in tune with the needs of the planet. Encouraged by environmentally conscious employees and investors, businesses too are beginning to look at their carbon footprint and at new ways of working which will reduce the overall CO2 emitted in the course of their work.

The Diocese of Oxford is taking action in various ways, seeking to reduce our carbon footprint, targeting our investments away from high carbon economic sectors and by taking action across the whole spread of activities to encourage churches, schools and parishioners to do everything they can.

Action by individuals, families, companies, universities and churches is important but so too is government action. This global issue can only be fully dealt with by lasting commitments to action by all the governments of the world.

An important UN Climate Change Conference, known as COP26 takes place in Glasgow next month. The aim of COP26 is to agree concrete actions that will make the agreements made in Paris six years ago to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees, a reality.

Let’s come back to the text from Mark’s gospel I mentioned at the beginning:

Jesus said, “Whoever is not against us is for us”.

This enigmatic, powerful little saying has much to offer to us about how we might become, in Justin Welby’s recent phrase, not just the Church of England, but the Church for England.

As I look back over my ministry, more and more, I am coming to see that our greatest achievements are achievements of partnership.

The former Bishop of Liverpool, David Sheppard’s phrase for this was “better together”. He is remembered for the partnership between Catholic and Anglican fostered by him and Archbishop Derek Warlock but “better together” applies to so much more than ecumenical collaboration.

In this time of Climate Crisis “Whoever is not against us is for us” is a profoundly helpful text to carry in our hearts and minds.

There is much to do. More than any of us can do alone.

But, seeking alliances across boundaries, building bridges into broader society, and seeking partnerships, we might achieve some great things.

I have been really encouraged recently by many parishes seeking to rewild areas of churchyard and other land controlled by their churches. In doing this, often they are working not alone but with community groups, youth groups and schools.

Climate action also gives us rich ground to work on across faiths and the joint witness of grassroots faith communities collaborating for the common good. A recent Citizens Assembly in Milton Keynes is just one example of inspiring work happening across the diocese.

When it comes to climate action, no one person, no one group, no one organisation, no one country can do everything that is needed but every person, every group, every organisation, every country can do something… and if we work in the spirit of the One who said “Whoever is not against us is for us” we will find more and more ways to work together and so multiply our efforts. For when we work together, in David Sheppard’s words, one plus one equals much more than two.

If, like me, you have taken some actions to reduce your carbon footprint, but are aware you could do more, then COP26 is a moment at which we can all look at our lives and make changes for the better. As Chief Rabi Mirvis said this week. “If not now, then when?”