The parable of the Snowflake. I promise we will come back to the Mustard Seed but for now, The Snowflake. It goes like this:
‘Please tell me the weight of a snowflake’, the Fieldmouse asked the Dove. ‘Well’, said the Dove, ‘I would guess that it weighs about nothing more than nothing’. ‘Hmm. Then I have seen a miracle’, said the Fieldmouse. ‘I was sitting here yesterday when the snow was falling and I counted the flakes as they landed on the branch of the tree. There were exactly 1,374,921. And then one more snowflake fell – nothing more than nothing, you tell me – and the branch of the tree snapped off and fell to the ground.’
Small things really can make a big difference.
It is a real pleasure to be here with you this morning as you focus your Eucharist on how we might live out our lives as Christians in the midst of both Climate and Biodiversity Emergencies. This is, without doubt, the biggest challenge that humankind has ever faced. I don’t wish to diminish in any way the real difficulties and enormous sadness that Covid has thrown in our direction, BUT unless we collectively get our act together pretty soon Climate change will make Covid seem like a very small problem.
I’m sure you are well aware of the issues. They have, thankfully, been very much in the news recently as COP26 gets closer – that crucial Climate change Summit taking place in Glasgow in November. (By the way, thank you to those of you who provided refreshments for the Young Christian Climate Network walkers as they passed through Whitkirk last week.)
Here is just a quick reminder of some of the issues that COP 26 has to deal with:
- As we have so far failed to control emission of global warming gases like Co2 and methane, the earth is continuing to heat up at an alarming rate. It is already 1.2 degrees hotter than in pre-industrial times, and present data suggests we are heading for an average rise of 3.5 to 4 degrees. That doesn’t sound too bad, until we remind ourselves that global warming leads to dramatic changes in climate. One climate scientist estimates that unless we act, a third of the world’s population – 3 billion people – could be living in desert by the end of this century.
- As deserts expand there will be more famine AND as parts of the world become less and less habitable, there will be mass migration of people across the globe, seeking out the ever-shrinking environments that will support life.
- Global warming means that ice is melting rapidly in polar regions and sea levels are rising. Our most vulnerable sisters and brothers are already suffering, in Bangladesh for example, with increased flooding of coastal areas and river basins. I read recently that one very well respected climate scientist has suggested we may need to relocate our capital city to somewhere other than London as that could disappear if rising sea levels are not dealt with.
- And then there are the rainforests – sometimes described as the lungs of planet earth. We continue to chop them down, mostly to graze cattle, or to grow crops to feed to intensively reared animals, or to grow palm oil. And as we chop those precious trees down, we displace indigenous people, we release more global warming gasses into the air, and we destroy the biodiversity on which we depend. WWF research suggests that about 10,000 species a year become extinct, and they are confident that this massive rate is not one of the natural extinctions that have happened from time to time in earth history, but that this is being driven by human activity – by our activity.
I truly haven’t come here this morning to fill you with gloom and doom. BUT we do need to face the truth of climate change head on. Because only then will we stir ourselves to the action that is needed. And our Christian Faith gives us a million and one reasons to get stuck in to the task of caring for creation. (I won’t mention them all!)
Think back to that reading from Genesis – the image of the Garden of Eden. The first person is made from the dust of the earth. We are Earthlings, deeply connected to this planet on which we live, part of the whole. Eden is full of trees, and life-giving rivers run through it. It is a paradise garden and the human being is given the job of tilling it and keeping it: in other words, ensuring it remains fruitful and continues to flourish. And the animals? when they come into the picture? They are created to provide companionship, not to be used or exploited, but to live in relationship with the human. The Garden of Eden offers us a vision of creation where everything is connected and living in peaceful relationship, and where the role of the human is to try to keep it that way. Clearly, that is not where we are now. And maybe it will never be quite like that. But we need to hold on to that vision of a peaceful and flourishing earth. We can use that vision to inform and inspire us, to shape our actions and to guide our decision making. We know what God wants us to do: to help all life on this planet – human and other-than-human – to flourish.
It’s a big job. It’s a massive job. Let’s be honest, it may feel like a totally overwhelming and possibly impossible job.
Which is where we come to the Parable of the Mustard Seed. What a hope-filled and encouraging story that is. Even after 2000 ish years we can all still relate to the picture of a growing seed. The mustard seed is pretty small – probably not quite as small as a poppy seed, but small. And yet it grows into a large shrub, maybe 10 feet tall – not sure what that is in metres – sorry! When Jesus told that parable he was talking about the Kingdom of God. It’s beginnings were as insignificant as a tiny mustard seed. Jesus had just a small group of followers and a ministry that lasted at most 3 years. He lived in a part of the world regarded as a backwater, he had no standing in society and no wealth. And yet … Look what happened. Here we are today. WE should never underestimate the power of small things to make a big difference.
So how do we apply all this to Climate Change? To our task of Creation Care? To the need to seek Climate Justice for our more vulnerable sisters and brothers in different parts of the earth? I know that you are already doing a lot as a church: using a green energy supplier, offsetting your carbon emissions, insulating your new build, you use low energy bulbs and you are caring well for your churchyard. On the bigger stage, perhaps you have written to your MP and told then how important it is to you that COP26 delivers what we need it to.
But don’t forget the mustard seed. Those small and apparently insignificant changes that we can all make to our personal life styles WILL collectively have an impact. Have a good look at the display that Catherine and her team have put together for today. Find out about eco friendly cleaning products and toiletries; explore recycled or bamboo toilet paper; know what you can recycle; if you have a garden, grow some vegetables and do what you can to make it wildlife friendly; avoid using the car when you can; fly less; use a green energy supplier; check out the green credentials of your bank (many still invest in fossil fuels). You will know this list as well as I do. One more for you to think about – and I know some people find this hard – but one of the biggest contributors both to global warming gases and deforestation is animal agriculture, especially sheep and cows. So have a serious think about how you might reduce the amount of red meat and dairy products in your diet. There are so many good products and recipes out there now.
So there it is: a list of small changes that could make a big difference. But knowing the list is not enough. WE have to actually plant those tiny seeds, each one of us. Plant them and they will grow. And we will be doing what we can to work with God in restoring the creation that God entrusted to our care.