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Evensong Sermon

St Margaret’s Church, Binsey

Evensong on Sunday 9th April  2017 [Palm Sunday]

Revd. Professor  Martin Henig

Psalm 80; Isaiah 5: 1-7; Matthew 21:33-46

Now will I sing to my well-beloved a song of my beloved touching his vineyard. My well-beloved hath a vineyard in a very fruitful hill. [Isaiah 5:1]

 

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 This morning we heard and  re-enacted Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, during which the palms symbolic of victory were showered before him by an adoring populace. It will not be a surprise to you, as educated, churched people that he would shortly be betrayed, deserted, arrested and killed, for we are at the start of Holy Week. Our readings this evening are all about a vineyard which does not live up to its owner’s expectations, and in Matthew’s gospel is central to a parable in which that owner is clearly God, who sends his son, in other words Christ, who is murdered by the wicked tenants or in other words by us!

 

 

 

 If this morning’s reading reminds us of the fickleness of human nature, this evening’s hint more darkly at our lurking sinfulness. This is the third of my meditations in this holy season and I want to highlight our fickle regard for the vineyard of the world, and our destructive energy which is imperilling the very life of the planet, our common home as Pope Francis reminds us in Laudato Si’. Of course, almost all of us delight in this time of year, in spring flowers and the leaves breaking forth on the trees. We delight in the landscapes of our own country and pay large amounts to enjoy beautiful landscapes elsewhere. We pay fortunes on our gardens in garden centres.

 

  And yet, all is not well. We might as well begin with palms, not the date palms which I assume provided the fronds for  Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, but the oil palm which has come to be grown in vast plantations displacing the rainforests, upon which both bio-diversity and the very climate of our earth depend. Ultimately the driving force here as elsewhere is human greed. The rainforests are under more extensive threat from logging, from the world-wide greed for exotic woods, resulting in devastated habitats. The plight of  native peoples, the plight of primates, for instance orangutans in Borneo, and of many other animals in South-East Asia, Africa and the Amazon basin in South America is well known and yet appears to be almost unstoppable. Sometimes clearances of forests goes forward so that  cereal grains and soya may be produced for animal feed in order to assuage the world craving for meat.

 

 

 

  The industrialisation of agriculture, the expropriation of small subsistence farmers, the use of toxic pesticides and the pollution of waterways are further offenses against God. Human greed results in gluts, leading to massive food waste, in the prosperous parts of the world and shortages and famine in countries less able to look after themselves. And of course, wars like the dreadful conflict in Syria not only kill and maim millions of people but they inevitably devastate vast swathes of countryside: They, the warmongers, ‘create a desolation and call it peace’, as the Roman Historian Tacitus has a Scottish chieftain proclaim.[1] Have we learned any better in two millennia, in two millennia since Christ was nailed to the cross? I doubt it!

 

 

 

Far too often governments, our representatives, are more interested in power than in responsible stewardship of the planet. For that vineyard of which we are stewards is nothing more and nothing less than our world, and we should be far more conscious than we have ever been before of a duty to look after it before God. If some of us are caring as Christ is caring, statements by the President of the USA and other powerful leaders which marginalise an environment which depends ultimately on natural plant cover, fill me with despondency. We are building too much and obliterating vital environments.

 

 

 

    There is some hope, even some hope from within the Church, both from organisations such as A Rocha and the leadership of Pope Francis and the Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew in particular. More and more Christians are questioning why we have been deaf for so long to the cry of the Earth.[2]  Nevertheless, it is all too easy to be deflected onto minor matters. For example on the day I prepared this sermon there was a storm-the BBC described it as  in an egg-cup- because the National Trust had apparently omitted the word ‘Easter’ from their annual  chocolate egg hunt. Surely more important is teaching children to respect the countryside of which the Trust is guardian; more important than a mere word (actually the name of an ancient English goddess called Eostre,  is teaching our successors to respect the creation of which we are part with everything else and it was for that creation, we have so often abused and which we continue to abuse, that Christ came as redeemer. This evening’s readings remind us of so much more that we have done or not done, sins of commission and omission but all of them lead back in one way or another to our stewardship, and all three of them as well as this morning’s readings ask us to repent, the Greek word is metanoia – we need to change our approach here on earth and to remember that God:

 

  Looked for justice, but behold oppression; for righteousness, but behold a cry.

    

 

 

 

 

+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

 

 


[1] Tacitus, Agricola 30

[2] See Sean McDonagh, Why are we deaf to the cry of the Earth? (Dublin 2001), and especially Ghillean Prance, The Earth under threat. A Christian perspective (Glasgow 1996)