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Home Who's who Bishops The Right Reverend Nicholas Holtam. Sermons, articles, and speeches Sermon on BBC Radio 4, September 2019

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Sermon on BBC Radio 4, September 2019

by Michael Ford last modified 30 Sep, 2019 12:29 PM

Bishop Nicholas gave this sermon as part of a live BBC Radio 4 broadcast from St John’s Parish Church in Devizes on Sunday 29 September 2019.

The Wiltshire parish was celebrating its Harvest Festival and the service went out as BBC Radio 4’s Sunday Worship this week.

At the beginning of the book of Genesis is a story of God creating the heavens and the earth in six days – Bishop Nicholas reflected on this in relation to Harvest.

The readings were Genesis 1.24-31 and Matthew 5.13-16 and the choir of St John’s led the congregation in hymns including 'Come ye thankful people come' and of course 'We plough the fields'.

The whole service can be downloaded from the BBC sounds app.

”God saw everything that he had made and… indeed, it was very good.”

Seeing earth from space changed the way we think about ourselves. This beautiful blue planet looks different to any other. Having an atmosphere and water makes an environment where life flourishes. It is very good. 

Life on earth is extraordinarily strong and it is also very fragile.

For the past two hundred and fifty years we have been burning fossil fuels that took millions of years to lay down in the ground. They have given us rapid development and brought enormous good, unevenly distributed around the world but producing astonishing economic prosperity and population growth. 

For all of my life, Harvest Thanksgivings have included thanks for the industrial harvests of processed foods in tins and packets. We once had a tractor in the church along with the fruit and vegetables. Coventry cathedral had a car as part of the harvest thanksgiving of the West Midlands. 

There were prayers for the just distribution of what we grow in a world in which half of our economic wealth is owned by 1% of the population and two billion people live on less than $2 a day. 

Now our Harvest Thanksgivings have an environmental focus. As Greta Thunberg said last week, “The science has been clear for thirty years.”

The World Meteorological Organisation tell us that the last five years have been the warmest on record . David King, our UK government’s former Chief Scientist, said warming is happening faster than was generally predicted five years ago and it is connected with the rise in extreme weather events. The impact on the ice caps and oceans is greater than we thought.

The beginning of the Book of Genesis has two creation stories. That tells us they aren’t science or history but give and account of what it is to be people, under God, with one another, in this marvellous creation. 

When God gave people dominion over the fish, animals, plants it can’t have been the sort of lordship that dominated, abused and selfishly exploited creation. Adam and Eve, all people, were to serve and conserve the earth. The lordship of Jesus is of service and love.

Our ecosystems are interconnected and easily damaged. Fires in the Amazon affect us all.

As the words of this poem by Malcolm Guite, composed by Ian Stephens in this new Song for the Season of Creation  remind us, as we give thanks for the Harvest, everything holds together, everything

From stars that pierce the dark like living sparks,
To secret seeds that open every spring,
From spanning galaxies to spinning quarks,
Everything holds together and coheres,
Unfolding from the center whence it came.
And now that hidden heart of things appears,
The first-born of creation takes a name.


Last week, scientists spoke of being scared about the extent and speed of the unfolding ‘climate emergency’. Greta Thunberg gave an impassioned speech at the UN. Both were raising awareness and stirring up action that recognises the seriousness of climate change.

Doctors report they are seeing more people with anxiety and depression about what is happening to the planet. The scale of the problem is overwhelming. Some people feel paralysed.

Yet life goes on. We plough the fields and scatter in one way or another, build houses, have families, and try to do things more for better than for worse.  How can we renew hope and make a difference? 

Increasingly scientists and politicians realise that spirituality and community matter in making the connections between what we know and what we do. Faith matters if we are to make major change. It’s an exciting venture to create new ways and sustainable economies.

The Christian faith began at an empty tomb. Death is real but can point to resurrection. We come to church on Sunday through burial grounds to be renewed in our relationship with God, one another and all creation.

We can start with our own actions, learning to live more lightly on the face of the earth. ‘Reduce, reuse, recycle’ is a helpful mantra.

In local communities – and churches are getting better at this through schemes such as ‘eco church’ – we can learn together about what is needed and what works. Loving God doesn’t make sense without loving one another and loving God’s earth. 

But we’re not going to make enough progress without changes of policy and production. We are in the early stages of an industrial revolution that will have to move fast if we are going to be carbon neutral by 2050. 

Change is happening. Up on the Wiltshire Downs farmers are changing the way they work to improve the soil and renew the earth.  By the water cooler in some offices are cups that are not plastic but made from plants. There have been days in this country when 50% of our electricity was renewable energy and a few days when none came from coal.

When we pray, we place ourselves consciously before God as people who are prepared to be about the truth and accountable to it; to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God and one another. 

A spirit of thankfulness for creation is reverent, hard-working and with God renews our hope.

You good people are the salt of the earth.

God the Father, who created the world,
give you grace to be wise stewards of his creation.
God the Son, who redeemed the world,
inspire you to go out as labourers into his harvest. 
God the Holy Spirit, whose breath fills the whole creation,
help you to bear his fruits of love, joy and peace
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be among you and remain with you always.


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