Learning from Creation: Mountains

Learning from Creation: Mountains

"In many ways, the quest for climate justice is a search for what is lost. The desire to return to the way things were before industrialisation. But that is a lost cause. The task is to stop further degradation and to ensure that we adapt to the changing climate equitably."

A sermon by Vaughan Jones (@VaughanJones3)

This is the second of our series of services during this Creation Season. I don’t need to spell out why the church has designated September as a time to think, pray and act for climate justice. The world needs the church to lend its voice, alongside people of all faiths,  in protection of the earth’s ecology.

We should be confident and bold in our fundamental belief that The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it. [1]

In this season we are called to listen to creation - to what the earth is telling us.

To listen to all whose lives are impacted by climate change,

and above all to listen to the Creator.

Having worked for probably too long in the not for profit sector, I know full well the training courses that are available to workers. Fundraising of course is the big one.

But somewhere at the top of any list would be courses on Listening skills.

Listening is essential to our Christian life.

Our Jewish brothers and sisters pray the great prayer from the Book of Deuteronomy – Shema Israel – Hear, O Israel.

Before we can hear, we must listen.

Listening is a recurring theme in Luke’s Gospel.  Jesus is speaking God’s word and Israel is called on to listen and hear.

Our reading this morning from that Gospel tells us that tax collectors and sinners came near to listen to him.

To listen you need to come in close.

These hearers are not the respectable but the unlikely and the unpopular.

Tax collectors.  - Well Liz Truss knew she was onto something when she promised tax cuts!! No one likes a letter from Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs.

Sinners – I think Luke is referring to people of the land – rural workers, peasants, maybe including shepherds, nomads who were outside of the system and didn’t pay their tithes to the Temple – that was their ‘sin’.

It is the people on the margins who come close to listen to Jesus and it sparks the disgust of the powers that be.  The ones who begrudge paying taxes to Roman authorities and the ones who resent paying their Temple Tax knowing that there are plenty of people who avoid it. I suspect they read the Daily Mail as well.

In response, Jesus tells a story of a lost sheep and a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep to graze, whilst searching for the one who has wandered off.

It is a story of the lost and the found. 

It talks tenderly of the shepherd who cared enough to search and on finding the sheep put it on his shoulders.

In many ways, the quest for climate justice is a search for what is lost. The desire to return to the way things were before industrialisation. But that is a lost cause. The task is to stop further degradation and to ensure that we adapt to the changing climate equitably. 

It is not equitable that the people of Pakistan are under water while the wealthiest are buying safe houses in New Zealand because they think that will be safe there from any apocalypse.

And the quest for justice is equally illusive. We seem to have lost the wisdom we need to change gear in our economics, politics, international relationships and ethical behaviour patterns.

So let’s think about mountains. Half of the hot spots for biodiversity are on the mountains.

At the same time mountains have become safe areas for species displaced by human behaviour. A safe haven from humans. Of course, Jesus retreated into the mountains to escape the crowds.

Significantly, of course, the high mountains contain glaciers, which for the last thirty five years have been losing rather than gaining ice each winter.

As the glaciers melt the ecosystems are changed.  Altered water temperatures change the habitats for fish and other river creatures.  Sediments are deposited on river beds and banks, altering direction and flow.  The chemistry of the water changes and pollutants which have been stored in the glaciers over thousands of millennia are released [2].

We can see the result of that in flooding in Pakistan where an area the size of the UK has been underwater, displacing millions of people and carrying water borne diseases.

The largest and highest mountains are in Asia and in South America. The Himalayas and the Andes are dramatic and majestic. But they do spell a significant threat to the people who live in their footfall

And what of the people who live on the mountains.  They approximate to ten per cent of the global population. Most of these are in developing countries.

These are often difficult environments with harsh living conditions and food insecurity.  Mountain populations are often remote from the mainstream of national political and economic life and vulnerable to lawlessness.

So if we were to listen to the mountains this morning, what would we hear?

The constant drip of melting ice.

The rushing sound of overflowing streams.

The bewilderment of creatures as the familiarity of long established habitats disappear.

The impoverished campesinos and nomads.

And distressingly perhaps we can also hear the sound of guns and money as war lords, guerrillas, and drug barons take advantage of the remoteness and vulnerability of the people of the mountains.

The prophet Jeremiah has a reputation for being a bit of a misery. As indeed he was!

His writing does contain some vivid apocalyptic passages.  You know the ones I mean, where the moon turns to darkness or the sun is blocked out and a long list of calamities are foreseen.  I used to gloss over those.  I saw them as an exaggeration of a more primitive mind-set.

Nowadays, I pause and take a closer look. They seem much closer to our reality than we like to admit.

Moaning Jeremiah telling us that God is speaking to his people. There is a strong wind blowing from the mountain tops and it is heading in the direction of the poor people in the valley below.

He says the wind is a judgement from God.

He is talking, obviously, about the threats and dangers of his own day.  But we are also meant to understand it as a warning that the challenges of our own day cannot be dismissed, ignored, with a que sera sera, whatever will be will be.

To prophetically identify something as the judgement of God, is to say things have to change.

Climate change is a judgement of God.

Put out of your mind, an angry white man with a beard pointing the finger.

Perhaps it is the angry white men so keen on finger pointing, who are in need of the judgement.

The judgement of climate change lies in the simple truth that the amazing advancement of humanity over the past few centuries, whilst providing so much that we can call ‘progress’ has come at a cost.

There is a price to pay and it is heavy.

In the Bible God’s judgement is absolutely not a gateway to hell but a path to repentance, change and transformation. And that is what we desperately need.

This it seems to me is what Jeremiah is saying.  He describes a desolated earth.  He describes a denuded environment.

Imagine the prophet in the market place shouting this to the people of his day.

‘I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void; and to the heavens, and they had no light.  I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking, and all the hills moved to and fro.  I looked, and lo, there was no one at all, and all the birds of the air had fled.  I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert, and all its cities were laid in ruins before the LORD, before his fierce anger.’ [3]

Now imagine another prophet standing in the foothills of the Himalayas or on the Andean mountaintops and saying the same words.  They would not be out of place.

The prophet Jeremiah tells us that the earth is in mourning.  The earth is grieving for a lost past.

And it is.

Yet tucked away in this prophecy of doom is the promise of God:

‘Yet I will not make a full end.’

The prophetic imagination is always honest about our reality not as an expression of doom but a promise of something new and an encouragement not to give up.

So today then we listen to the mountains, to the people and creatures who live there. We are listening to the prophetic voice and to God.

It was the unlikely outsiders, who came close and listened to Jesus.  They heard how the lost were found.

How easy it is to ignore what is happening on the margins of our world.  How easy it is to carry on as normal in the hope that the disasters will not happen.

But the prophet tells us not to do that.

And Jesus tells us to look to the margins. Go and seek out the sheep that has wandered astray.  Out of a flock of 100 it would be easy to overlook the one that had been lost.

Just as it would be easy to forget the indigenous people of remote parts of the world who are at the sharp end of climate change.

This is a challenge to our government.  There is an overwhelming agenda facing our new Prime Minister.  No one would envy her in-tray.

But fracking, drilling for more oil, dismissing alternative energy sources, caring for the wealthier is to sit happily with the 99 sheep feeding comfortably in the grassy meadow.

On the mountaintops, in the flooded valleys of Pakistan, there are millions suffering, displaced from their homes.  There are birds, animals, insects losing their habitant. There are people who fear for the winter ahead.

We need a rescue operation for the planet.

We need a shepherd who will grab hold of the lost sheep and place it on his shoulders.

Our world needs the broad shoulders of a Saviour who can stare the death of our planet in the face with the power of resurrection.

So in listening to the mountains and all who live in them, and listening to the prophetic call of judgement, we can hear the tender voice of Jesus, who elsewhere in Luke’s Gospel, says:

‘Let anyone with ears to hear, let them hear.’ [4]

If we listen, we must also hear. And in hearing, act.


[1] Psalm 24.1

[2] https://wedocs.unep.org/bitstream/handle/20.500.11822/8101/-High%20mountain%20glaciers%20and%20climate%20change%20-%20Challenges%20to%20human%20livelihoods%20and%20adaptation-20101128.pdf?sequence=2&%3BisAllowed=

[3] Jeremiah 4 28ff

[4] Luke 8.8 

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