The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson

In the name of God, creating, redeeming, sanctifying… Amen.

Environmental Initiative Launch

Last year we heard the voice of David Attenborough, the naturalist and broadcaster who understands and loves so many things about our planet and has inspired many of us through his television series to love a little more his great love. David Attenborough has spoken about the health of the planet and the bird and animal life with which we share our home. He speaks about the effect of plastics on the environment. “We’ve seen albatrosses come back with their belly full of food for their young and nothing in it. The albatross parent has been away for three weeks gathering stuff for her young and what comes out? What does she give her chick? You think it’s going to be squid, but it’s plastic. The chick is going to starve and die.”[1]

Each one of us have seen pictures in social and news media of whales with their stomachs choking in plastic bags, of birds with their stomachs filled with tiny and less than tiny pieces of coloured plastic that they are enticed into believing is food. We have seen photos of sea shores covered with plastic bottles. We pondered this problem of plastic waste last year when we were reflecting on the story of Jesus healing a leper. The leper had cried out to Jesus, “If you choose, you can make me clean”? And we heard Jesus say, “I do choose, be made clean.”

 And then we imagined God looking at our planet.

What does God see as God looks upon our planet from the sky? We wondered. A white film of plastic on the shores and seas that were to be a safe home for sea life, for human life? A white film of this substance that threatens to choke us…. A white film not unlike leprosy, perhaps, on the planet?

Does the planet cry out to God …”If you choose, you can make me clean”?

Somehow, though, it seems God can only respond through us. With God’s spirit encouraging us, inspiring us. We may choose to help make the planet clean from plastic waste.

David Attenborough sees hope. He said this:

“Plastic manufacturers happily say when you’ve used it throw it away, discard it. There is no away. Plastic is so permanent, so indestructible that when you’ve cast it into the ocean it does not go away. … I am certain that when people understand the consequences of what they are doing that they will care for the rest of the world in a profound way … There are simple things that we can do….” [2]

Here in our Cathedral as part of our 150 Festival celebrations we have embarked on a project that is one of David Attenborough’s “simple things”. Our Festival 150 tag line is “celebrating the past-imagining the future”. We have had a hessian shopping bag designed by John Hamilton  and sponsored by our Cathedral Shop with a slightly different tagline: “celebrating the past – protecting the future”– the words on the bag with our Festival 150 logo are in green of course! Professor Chris Daniels – the Head of Cleland Wildlife Park – is passionate about caring for the planet and the wildlife in our care. Chris is our guest speaker this morning and he is going to speak to us at midday at morning tea after our 10.30 service before he launches our shopping bag project. And so my words to you today are fairly brief because I greatly hope that we will all be able to come together in the Cynthia Poulton Hall after the service to hear Chris’ words.

You may ask, what is the point of a few shopping bags? Let us remember what David Attenborough said: There are simple things we can do. I hope we will each buy one or more bags and use them when we go shopping to help us remember never to use plastic shopping bags and to help us remember not to buy things – when we can – that are wrapped in plastic, to ponder, also, what we are putting into our shopping bags. And when we do this we will know that we are not alone. We are doing this together. We are doing this together as a community. We are doing this with people of different faiths, different nationalities. We are doing this with the people of our city, our country, and across the world.

Our hessian bags are sacraments, really. A sacrament is a window into something. It may seem a like a small gesture, a whisper, but a whisper hinting of a great truth. We are accustomed to sacraments, to these whispers, here in our worship. Each Sunday morning in our cathedral we reach out our hands for the sacrament of Holy Communion. Our open hands seem a sign of our vulnerability, our need for God’s love and healing presence. What we receive is a snippet of bread, a sip of wine. Or a few quiet words spoken in blessing. This snippet of bread, this sip of wine, these few quiet words, point, though, to a great truth. They point to the love of God for us. The redeeming presence of God turning towards us. The forgiveness of God for whatever we have done wrong, of whatever we are ashamed. Yes, we are accustomed to small gestures that point to great truths. We are accustomed to expressing our vulnerability. And today we express the vulnerability we feel when we face the problem of caring for our planet.

Yes, we are accustomed to small gestures that point to great truths. We name them sacraments. Our faith, our worship work like that. So this morning when we commit as a community to celebrating the past and protecting the future of our planet we might treasure the truth that our hessian bags are also sacraments, small gestures that points to a great truth, a powerful hope. A hope for the healing of our planet from the plastic waste that threatens to strangle many forms of bird and sea life, threatens almost to strangle our seas and shores.  We might treasure the truth that our 150 Festival hessian bags are a sign of hope for the healing of our planet and an encouragement to each one of us to play our part.