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Pentecost 14 - 1st Sunday in Creationtime

Sunday, 3 September 2023
Marion Chatterley, Vice Provost

Set your mind on divine things - that might not be appealing, but it's probably essential.

Pentecost 14 - 1st Sunday in Creationtime

Jesus said to Peter: Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.

I always feel really sorry for Peter at this point in the Gospel narrative. He has barely managed to process the moment when Jesus tells him that he is the rock on which the church will be built, when he asks the wrong question and is severely chastised. From rock to stumbling block in just a couple of sentences. It’s such a good reminder of the humanity of the apostles. However hard they tried to discern the things of God they didn’t, couldn’t, always make the right call. And that is such a comfort. Even in the physical presence of Jesus, it was possible to be seduced by the things of this world.

Setting our minds on human things is perhaps something we would think of as a particular issue in our increasingly secular society. It’s very easy to look around and see the rich array of temptations that the secular world presents us with. From an endless range of items that we don’t really need to a plethora of ways to spend time – most of which achieve very little.
And our social media age has exacerbated the situation. It’s possible to spend many hours on Tik Tok or Instagram or wherever just scrolling through content that other people have made. And time passes…

Those are perhaps very obvious ways in which we set our minds on human things. We might add into the list some of the more nuanced forms of temptation. There are some things that we clearly know to be wrong and then there are temptations that can come to us dressed up as things of God. We may convince ourselves that God is calling us along a particular path, may be rather pleased that our understanding of God’s will is conveniently resonating with our desire. St Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises talks about false consolation – that is the times when we convince ourselves that we are doing God’s will without allowing ourselves the space to discern whether or not that is the case. Ignatius would say that those temptations present themselves in the guise of all that is good. They might make us feel good. A simple example would be making a donation to an ecological charity whilst not making any moves towards changing our own day to day behaviour.

Of course there is a value in giving – but of itself it’s probably not enough. The divine way is to also give of ourselves. To find a way to allow ourselves to be involved or changed. Now that is clearly a more viable proposition in some areas of life than others. We can’t all become international peacemakers or diplomats. But we can use the political power we do have. We can find ways to use our collective voice, to speak God’s truth to those in power.

This is the first Sunday of Creationtime and I want to set my thinking this morning in that context. We are in the midst of an ecological and environmental crisis which we see played out on a daily basis. There is no longer debate about whether or not the rise in global temperature is a result of human decision making. The debate now is about what to do and how to move towards sustainable solutions. One relatively recent change is that our world has shrunk because we are better connected. We can watch the devastation caused by wild fires in real time if we so choose. We have a better understanding of the impact of our choices on farmers and producers in the poorer parts of our world.

We recognise the difference we can make by using our economic power wisely. And yet, like Peter, we can so easily get it wrong when we are trying really hard to get it right. One example is fairtrade. Many of us have been committed to Fairtrade for a number of years, trying to support farmers and makers to be paid a fair price for what they produce. We now know that nothing is that simple – there is fair trade and fair trade – and one is more fairly traded than the other. It takes no time for multinationals to get into something they perceive to be good for sales and to exploit it.

This world that is connected 24/7 gives us more insight into the plight of people who are experiencing crisis of one kind or another. If we take the time to look and listen and reflect, it gives us insight into the root cause of many of our world’s ills. And that is the climate and ecological emergency. If your land, which perhaps just about produced enough food for your community is now parched and producing a quarter of what it once did, you will look for new land. The instinct to survive will kick in. Therein lies at least one of the root causes of the migration crisis and of the emerging conflicts in less stable parts of the world.
Our response to the global crisis most readily comes from putting our attention on human things. There isn’t adequate housing; the health service is already failing to cope; the infrastructure isn’t in place. All of that is true. But what is the response that comes from paying attention to divine things?

We can find some direction in this morning’s reading from the letter to the Romans. Paul offers us a way of dealing with the overwhelming and relentless cycle of news, some guidance on how we might engage a little more fully – rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. Honour the humanity of those whose plight you observe. It is all too easy to opt out. To switch off. To join the voices that condemn. To find ourselves in a place of despair. But we are called to more than that. We are called to bring life to all that is good; all that supports the infrastructure of our planet and our communities; all that brings us back to the things of God. We are called to honour God in all creation.

That means recognising the obstacles that make us stumble. Recognising how easily we lead ourselves astray. Recognising that following Christ isn’t the easy option. Jesus told his disciples that they must deny themselves, take up their cross – and follow him. Self-denial isn’t a fashionable idea. The solutions we seek to the climate emergency are mostly seeking to maintain the comfortable lifestyles we live, simply to do so in a more sustainable way.

That might not be possible. It may be that in order to respect the situation our world is in, a situation that each one of us, knowingly or not, has contributed to, we may have to find ways to deny ourselves. Find ways to use less of the world’s resources. Find ways to reuse and renew, to reduce our consumption. That may not be entirely appealing, but it is probably essential.

Set your mind on divine things – whilst recognising that you have no option but to respond to and engage with human things.

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