Sermon – 24th August 2014

Notes from the sermon preached by Paul Magnall

Exodus 1:8–2:10
Romans 12:1–8
Matthew 16:13–20
And Jesus said “who do you say that I am”?
And Peter replied “You are the eschatological manifestation of the ground of our being, the enigma of which is borne out in our interpersonal relationships”
And Jesus said “What?”
Maybe it is a sign that I am having an early mid-life crisis but reading this passage in Matthew leads me to ask the question “who am I” and “Who do we believe ourselves to be?”
One thing is clear to me, I am one person, one of 7.25+ billion people in the world, a population that is growing at a rate of about 80 million people a year. We live on a beautiful but finite planet occupied by over 8.7 million different species of life – excluding bacteria and single celled organisms.
Unfortunately many of us are living a lifestyle that would require several planets if we wanted to maintain that lifestyle. We are consuming resources faster than they are replaced.
In the last two hundred years we have used up fossil fuels that took millions of years to form. Over those millions of years carbon dioxide from the atmosphere was absorbed by plants and organisms which were then trapped deep underground. We have been releasing this trapped carbon in a way that is dramatically affecting our planet.
The mechanisms that initially trapped that carbon dioxide are still functioning – trees and plants continue to absorb the gas, organisms in the sea and the soil still sequesters carbon, and although we are beginning to understand all these systems we are destroying our rain forests, polluting our seas and trashing our soil.
And we are not content with wrecking our planet, our life support system, we also trash each other. We use something called economics, which no one really understands, but is a god that must continually be fed in order that its growth is maintained. As long as there is economic growth then all is well. And to maintain this growth
– we make sure that part of the population is working too hard whilst another part of the population has nothing to do.
– We make things we don’t need and then persuade people that they do need them, that they can only be attractive to others if they have them.
– We maintain the economy by making sure that things have a short life, that they either break or that they go out of fashion.
– We maximise profits by mass production of food and other goods even if it means that quality is poorer and choice is reduced.
– And we stimulate the economy by creating weapons that destroy and then selling them to anyone who is likely to use them particularly if it means that they might be our friends and supply us with other rare resources.
We are making a huge big mess.
So back to the question “who am I in all this?”
I, personally, believe that I am someone who is loved by the creator so much that he wants me to be redeemed and sustained. That love is shown in the life and death of Jesus.
And the 7.25 billion people, they also are loved by the creator, just as much as me. As is the planet and all the life that exists on it.
Realising this amazing love, should I not also love what my creator has created?

My change of lifestyle over the last few years has allowed me to slow down, to take time to observe. As I look at the view over Leeds from this garden and as I walk, cycle and work around Leeds what do I see?
– Hungry children in schools and on streets
– Supermarkets so full of food they have to throw huge amounts of it away
– Homeless people sat on street corners begging
– All the lonely people, where do they all come from?
– Ridiculously expensive cars
– So much waste
– An economic system that favours the rich and keeps the poor in their place with a middle class who keep their heads down in case they rock the boat and fall out
– A media that encourages a climate of fear and greed and encourages people to express their prejudices
The world that Jesus lived in wasn’t that much different? The area around Galilee had once been a wonderful place to live. Fishing was good, everyone had sufficient food and a place to live. But now the occupying forces and the local rulers and business men had taken control of the economic system paying ridiculously low prices for the fish which was transported around the empire. The occupying forces taxed the local people and the money and profits went to the rich people back in Rome and to run the Roman military machine which kept the Pax Romana by force. Society was split into the rich and powerful minority, the middle classes who kept their heads down and the poor.
And Jesus stood in the middle of this world and said “who am I?”, “who do you think I am?”

Peter’s response was that he saw Jesus as the Messiah, in other words, “the anointed”, the one who is our saviour or liberator.
Saviour or liberator from what?
I believe that the way Jesus lived demonstrated a “counter culture” to the issues of the time. He talked of revolution but it wasn’t a violent overthrow of the oppressors. He showed how people could live in harmony, overcoming the barriers that divide, bringing people of different backgrounds and politics together so that they could understand one another and accept each other, see that they are neighbours and dependent upon one another. That together they could be, as Gandhi is supposed to have put it, “the change they wanted to see in the world”.
This is why I am excited about Permaculture.
Permaculture has many definitions, the word originally came from “permanent agriculture” but now has been expanded to “permanent culture”. It is essentially a design tool with a philosophy of working with, rather than against nature. Of observing how things work and then working with them.
There are three core tenets or ethics in Permaculture which can summarised as Earth care, People care, Fair share and I hope that no one here would disagree with them!
Many people who practice Permaculture believe that by observing nature and carefully designing systems we can produce enough food and other resources in a way that builds a sustainable pattern of life on Earth for everyone and everything. In order to do this we do need to learn from nature and our mistakes eg we need to find a way of controlling our population, we could live more simply, embrace the concept of enough is enough, etc
Permaculture isn’t just about agriculture though, it is also about culture, about how we choose to interact with each other and the world, how we run our businesses, spend our leisure time. It’s about how we choose to live.
Permaculture has a series of principles, the number varies depending upon which of the main practitioners you read. I have put some information about these on the garden noticeboard, there are loads of books and articles on the Internet and I will write a little about them on the website at some point but these principles can be applied to just about every area of our lives, the aim being to produce a sustainable way of living in harmony with the rest of the world.
So I see Permaculture as a useful tool that can help us to care for each other and for the world. In our society it is a “counter cultural” tool because it is counter to the economic system that controls our society. It says “enough is enough” when our economic system demands more growth. It says “let us think of the next generation, and the next, and the next” when our society can’t get past the next election. It says “everyone is of equal value” when our society favours the rich and the powerful and devalues the dispossessed and those who are different.
But isn’t that what Jesus was saying? Isn’t that what his life and death demonstrated? A counter cultural, non-violent revolution? A change of mind and heart? That the abundant creator has provided us with more than enough? That we should love one another because we are all part of God’s beloved creation?

In our Roman’s reading Paul told the Church in Rome not to think more highly of themselves than they should, that they should “not be conformed to the pattern of this world” but be transformed. He then goes on to describe how they are all members of one body and how they should love one another using their skills and gifts in the service of all. The way Paul was calling the church in Rome to live was “counter cultural”, a reaction to the Roman society around them and that they should “not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good”
So, back to that question Jesus asked and to Peter’s reply – you are the Messiah, the liberator, the saviour. As we open up our lives to God’s creative and sustaining spirit I believe that we can see the power of the resurrected saviour and redeemer working in us and transforming our interpersonal relationships not just between ourselves in this congregation but with our community, our environment and throughout the creator’s world.


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