September 23rd 2018, St Matthew – “How do We Keep our Sty?”
Lambeth Palace, where the Archbishop of Canterbury lives and works, has a two-year-old resident semi-monastic community, The Community of St Anselm. The members of the community are commissioned in a special service. At the heart of the Service is the personal commitment of each member as they are called out by name and each one responds, 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 draws 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. 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. We are also in the middle of a period where we look at our stewardship – namely how we use the things which are entrusted to us, including money. The word comes from the old Anglo Saxon “Sty-wardship” or how we keep our sty. How we keep our sty reflects our own priorities. How we keep our sty is generally down to us, down to me. “Here I am” reflects that personal commitment and it is also a profoundly empowering approach. When we realise we are part of the solution by our actions, then the feeling of helplessness which national and global challenges sometimes engender disappears. Nationally, for example, if we believed that the whole future of our country, in or out of the EU, was down to our bickering, back-stabbing and vision free politicians, then it would be too depressing for words as we rush like lemmings towards the precipice. But actually, it isn’t like that, because each and every one of us has the capacity to say, “Here I am” and in doing so to change the world. Yes, we can. None of us is helpless to act, especially when we start with the local and we start with our selves. Or when I start with myself.
So, first, “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. Watch Ai Wei Wei’s moving film Human Flow, if you want to see a dramatic representation of this fact. So, on the principle of Here I am, let’s bring this 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. We are fortunate in this Parish in having direct access to the human stories behind every refugee, and very trafficked person, and do not always have to relay on the filter of our media. The more our Parish and community reflects the global reality of people movement, the more we realise that we are all refugees, in one sense, as none of us has an abiding home here on earth. This helps us to challenge and redefine negative views of the foreigner and the other, with the reality we know. And at a time of the rise of political xenophobia in this country and across Europe, communities of faith like this will become increasingly important. 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. Like most people, I am not a particularly good role model, but when I got rid of my car, I felt enormously liberated from its growing tyranny, not least in freeing some funds and capital for a more positive use. For me, this was a demonstration of how I keep my own sty, and in a time when we are looking to ourselves to fund the ministry of the Church in schools and churches across London, this has enabled me to do a bit more. So, at this time of year, when we celebrate Creation and commemorate Matthew the tax collector, called from the selfish pursuit of gain to the ministry of an Apostle and Evangelist, we should feel really encouraged. We are not shy about explaining the finances of how the Church works. It isn’t magic, there is no hidden pot of gold, and the success or failure of a church will always depend on those who associate with it and benefit from the Church’s ministry. In this way each and every one of us becomes a “Christopher” – a bearer of Christ to the world as we all share in the apostolic ministry to which Matthew was called. Already there has been a generous response to our appeal, and we thank God for that, as we reach out to the wider community to help us make this community of faith shine like a beacon on a hill. We are, after all, on top of a hill. Let’s shine like the beacon we are. It would be easy to become cynical about people’s ability to rise above self-interest, but I do believe that our Christian faith will keep on calling out to everyone “Here I am” amidst climate change, and the right use of our resources. We can and must act.
Our Christian faith 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, “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 will tell us how we keep our sty, where our priorities are, what is important to us, and whether our faith is real and can be seen on our bank account. 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.”