A sermon given during the 10:30am Choral Eucharist, by The Rev’d Canon Jenny Wilson, on the 25th of September 2022.

Season of Creation

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16, Luke 16:19-31

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

There were three birds in the photo, in the Nature Photographer of the Year Exhibition in the South Australian Museum, three water birds, standing in the water at Moreton Bay in Queensland. The photographer had set himself up in a spot in the wet sand near some mangroves and he waited. Eventually the three eastern curlews came past, just before dusk, stopping for a nap. Two of the birds have their beaks snuggled into their feathers, the third gazes into the distance.

In another photo in the exhibition, a northern quoll is seen hiding in a granite outcrop at Mount Emerald near Mareeba, in Queensland. Its beady eyes looking nervously out from its hiding place. The rocks seemed to make a place of safety for the quoll. The photograph seemed to resonate with our psalm, a psalm of protection by God …

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,

   who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,

will say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my fortress;

   my God, in whom I trust.’

For he will deliver you from the snare of the fowler

   and from the deadly pestilence;

he will cover you with his pinions,

   and under his wings you will find refuge;

The northern quoll needs a safe place. For this quoll, and the three eastern curlews in the other photograph, are all listed as vulnerable on the IUCN Red list. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species, founded in 1964, is the world’s most comprehensive inventory of the global conservation status of biological species. The species in the photographs are under threat. Through human neglect.

Is this a prayer I wonder, our gazing at the photographs of endangered species in the Nature Photographer of the Year Exhibition at the SA Museum? A group of Cathedral parishioners visited the exhibition as part of our times of reflection for the Season of Creation. Is our gazing at such vulnerable beauty a prayer?

I thought it might be so, and further to that I found hope in this for the healing of creation, when The Rev’d Peter Balabanski, preaching on September 4th at Choral Evensong, quoted Gus Speth, a US scientist and environmental advisor: “I used to think the top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse, and climate change. I thought that with thirty years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.

A spiritual and cultural transformation is where we might play our part. Where the life of reflection on scripture, reflection on nature, wrestling with the words of Jesus and the words of the prophets, might lead us into the sort of transformation that might help bring healing to our planet.

Wrestling with the words of Jesus and the words of the prophets is exactly where we find ourselves when we listen to our gospel reading from the Gospel according to Saint Luke. Today’s reading is taken from Chapter 16 of Luke’s gospel. In this section of Luke’s Gospel, we hear Jesus telling a series of parables. The three parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, the lost or prodigal son in Chapter 15, and then parables about wealth in Chapter 16, the parable of the Dishonest Steward, that Lynn so helpfully preached on last Sunday and then this morning’s most demanding parable about the rich man and the poor man Lazarus, starving at the rich man’s gate. Each one of these parables is about the lostness of humanity, the longing of God that humanity is found, the rejoicing when the lost one returns, even in the case of the dishonest manager, when he is strangely praised for finding a way to be welcomed home.

The parable we heard read this morning is designed to cause us great discomfort. Jesus tells stories to reach not so much our minds as our hearts. We might reflect on how we feel when we hear such a parable and in the case of this parable, there is an array of possible responses.

Gathering as we are in this Season of Creation to ponder God’s love for our planet and the acute danger in which our home finds itself, the acute danger in which we find ourselves, we will spend time this morning exploring insights from the parable on this situation. How do we reflect on scripture in the light of creation?

A number of biblical scholars in Adelaide have developed what is known as The Earth Bible Project. This project involves reading the bible from the perspective of the earth, viewing the earth as a subject in the biblical text, acknowledging that the earth may have a voice in the biblical text and listening for the cry of that voice, the wisdom of that voice and listening for God’s response to that voice. Perhaps we might imagine the earth in the place of Lazarus. The earth, lying outside our gate, outside the gate of so many who live on ignoring its plight, consuming too much, damaging its ecosystems, neglecting the need to change our carbon footprint on its ground. Perhaps we might imagine the earth, ignored, crying out, covered with sores, longing to be cared for, longing for healing.

The parable tells the story of dire consequences for the ones who ignore the cry of the poor, the needy, …in our imagination today, the cry of our planet. And the parable concludes with a conversation between Abraham and the rich man who is in torment in Hades. The rich man is pleading that a warning is sent to his family that they might change their ways, that they might take heed of the cry of the poor. Abraham then speaks the words that are the crux of the parable.

 “They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.” The rich man in torment in Hades replies, “No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” Abraham says to him, “If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.”

If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets… And what did the prophets say:

Is not this the fast that I choose:

   to loose the bonds of injustice,

   to undo the thongs of the yoke,

to let the oppressed go free,

   and to break every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,

   and bring the homeless poor into your house;

when you see the naked, to cover them,

   and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

The feeling of the parable told by Jesus is deep fear at the chasm that is described between the place of torment and the place of comfort, at the fact there is a point when it is too late to change our ways. The feeling of the parable is profound regret at the consequence of neglecting the plight of the poor, of leaving it too late. And this Sunday as we reflect on the scriptures in the light of the suffering of the earth, we might sense the deep fear that we, too, have left it too late to attend to the plight of the earth. Jesus would have us feel this fear, and, I think, as we read and hear stories of the plight of the earth, the changes in climate, the damage to ecosystems the vulnerability of species created and loved by God, species like the eastern curlew and the northern quoll, we do feel that fear. We do wonder …Have we left it too late?

The scriptures speak of the ways of human beings and they also always speak of the ways of God. The parables are no different. And we might remember that chapter 16 of the Gospel according to St Luke is preceded by Chapter 15 and in chapter 15 we find the parables of the lost. And in those parables, we see of God’s longing that we might be found, be brought home and we see of God’s delight and welcome when we are found, when we are brought home.

So, what does our parable today say to us, say to the earth, that character, remember, in the story of God, the earth, in our imagination through this parable today, crying out at the gate of the well-off in our world.

The parable exhorts us to listen. Listen to the voice of God. The voice of God heard through Moses and the prophets. The voice of God heard in Jesus. The voice of God crying through the pain of the earth.

The scientist we heard earlier seemed to hint at this. Remember what he said:

The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy… and to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation, and we scientists don’t know how to do that.

The parable exhorts us to listen to the voice of God and in that listening to play our part in engaging in and nurturing the spiritual and cultural revolution that is needed if the planet is to find healing. If the planet is to know itself, in the words of this morning’s psalm, like the northern quoll seen in a photograph in the SA Museum,

Delivered from the snare of the fowler

   and from the deadly pestilence;

finding refuge under the wings of God.

Image Copyright Joel Evans