SERMON BY THE VICAR
September 20th 2015 St Matthew
On Friday, 36 new members of the Community of St Anselm from 5 continents were commissioned in Lambeth Palace by the Archbishop of Canterbury as Abbot of the Community in a moving and historic service. At the heart of the Service was the personal commitment of each member as they were called out by name and each responded, in their own language, “Here I am”. This is of course a biblical phrase from the calling of Samuel. I want to use this phrase in a brief reflection this morning, as we commemorate St Matthew in the middle of a Time for Creation. The reflection is on Pope Francis recent encyclical entitled, Laudato Si or “Praised Be” from the Canticle of the Sun by St Francis, his Patron. It addresses the twin themes of climate change and population movement – I’m not going to give a general summary as I did this in June and you can see this on our website. The 190 pages of the document are all downloadable for free from the internet. The reason I want to use the phrase here I am is because it evokes an inescapably personal response. The twin themes of population movement and climate change are not somebody else’s problem – they are mine and they are yours. Here I am is also a profoundly empowering approach. When we realise we are part of the solution by our actions, then the feeling of helplessness which these global sometimes engender disappears. None of us is helpless to act.
So First of all, “Here I am” and population movement. The present large scale movement of people out of war and conflict zones should not surprise anybody. We did not need a crystal ball to foresee this – and yet our policy makers and politicians have been unable to act and are seemingly frozen by fear of doing the obvious and right thing. The response of Europe collectively has been shamefully absent leading many to ask what is the point of a union which is no union and which cannot act collectively when it is required to do so for the Common Good. The Common Good lies at the heart of Pope Francis encyclical and at the heart of Catholic social teaching. Listen to these words from the encyclical “The warming caused by huge consumption on the part of some rich countries has repercussions on the poorest areas of the world, especially Africa, where a rise in temperature, together with drought, has proved devastating for farming.” This will inevitably lead to large scale and mass movements of populations forced from their homes by drought or conflict over scarce resources. This is what we see now, and unless Europe and our world can act collectively for the common good, the population movements we see now will be chicken feed compared to what we will experience in the future – “ we aint seen nothing yet.” So on the principle of Here I am, let’s bring this closer to home. The UK Government has given an undertaking to take 20,000 Syrian refugees over the next 5 years. The UNHCR points out that this is roughly 40 people per Constituency – hardly an unmanageable figure, and it is the view of many that this is too low. Moving yet closer to home, what can we do as a Parish and what can I do as an individual. There are many ways in which each and every one of us can act – if you want to see some of them, there is a handout at the end of this service which will be on the website on Monday morning. We are fortunate in having some direct access to the human stories behind every refugee, and do not always have to relay on the filter of our media. Next week I will be in Macedonia and Albania, which is already on the radar as the next flashpoint, so I hope to bring back more insights in which we can be directly involved. As a Parish there is much we can do, blessed as we are with resources – principally our human diversity. Tomorrow at your PCC meeting, we hope to be able to plan direct support for at least one migrant family thank to some generous funding which will enable us to do this. Here I am amidst movement of people.
Now here I am and Climate Change. This is what Pope Francis writes “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost for ever, “and this “Technocratic domination leads to the destruction of nature and the exploitation of people, and by itself the market cannot guarantee integral human development and social inclusion.” Here the principle of Here I am is obvious. We are again fortunate in the Parish in having a vigorous Green for God movement which brings before our eyes the countless ways in which each one of us can act. . Here are words from the encyclical “An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness,” he writes. We should also consider taking public transport, car-pooling, planting trees, turning off the lights and recycling. The times are urgent. This December in Paris the COP21 gathering takes place. (http://www.cop21paris.org) Leaders and representatives of more than one hundred and ninety countries will be meeting together to try to agree measures necessary to avoid damaging changes to the planet and its inhabitants, including a possibly catastrophic 2°C rise in global temperatures. Having seen the total failure of governments to act collectively for the Common Good, it would be easy to become cynical about their ability to rise above self-interest, but I do beleivethat our Christian faith will keep on calling out to everyone “ Here I am” We can and must act.
For us, it is our Christian faith which makes all the difference. We are not left feeling helpless or powerless to act because at the heart of our faith lies reverence for the created order and each other. The whole point of the pope’s encyclical is summed up in an almost throwaway line towards the end. This is what he writes, Individuals must act “By the way, why are we here on Earth in the first place? “What kind of world do we want to leave to those who come after us, to children who are now growing up?” Responding to these two big issues, when we say “here I am” will liberate the mind and the heart and lead to a metanoia or change of consciousness. It’s no accident that I’m speaking about these things when we commemorate Matthew, Apostle and Evangelist who was called from the selfish pursuit of money to something more liberating. He was set free, and so can we be when we say “Here I am. Send me.”