Sermon from Martin Randall on 22nd September

St Magnus…Climate Striking….and the Sun.

We’ve recently spent a few days on Orkney so it was only right and proper that we should pay a visit to St Magnus. From our campsite in Birsay we saw where he was born and where his early formation took place. It was also where his body was first taken after his death on Eglisay (which we didn’t get to), to Christ’s Kirk in  Birsay. And of course we visited St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall, the shrine to his memory and resting place of his mortal remains.

The story of St Magnus is well known and often told. But the “so what” is perhaps made less explicit (but then the best stories stand on their own!) For me, the Magnus story is about self-sacrifice – very literally in this case. When his cousin Hakon tries to seize complete control of the kingdom and lures Magnus into a trap at the meeting on Eglisay, Magnus offers his own life rather than plunge the country into inter-neicene conflict. Famously, Magnus forgives the servant who is required to deliver the fatal blow.

Self-sacrifice, self-giving is right at the root of our Christian understanding. The death of Jesus was by no means inevitable. He could easily have kept his head down, been less provocative of the  religious authorities. But the glory of his death is that it was a willing act of self-giving, of self-sacrifice.

I don’t suppose it’s difficult for any of us to recall acts of self-giving, be they mundane or dramatic. The very act of parenting or the selfless care shown to a loved one with dependent needs. Moving stories of mothers going without so that their children might eat. Any occasion when we can declare, “She didn’t have to do that”. Invariably and almost by definition, these selfless acts are deeply, deeply moving – be they grand or unseen. Actions which go against our own self-interest.

And by contrast, we find ourselves repelled the obscenity of gross self-indulgence, the polar opposite of self-sacrifice.

Bonhoeffer The Cost of Discipleship. He himself was a famous example of Christian self-sacrifice. But it reminds us that to follow Jesus is both a joy and a burden, hopefully not in such an extreme way as Magnus or Bonhoeffer, but in countless smaller ways where we make deliberate choices and take specific actions – for Jesus’ sake – that cost us. It might be giving our time to someone else when we’re really pressed for time ourselves. It might mean financial support for a particular cause and doing without something ourselves. Or taking a less financially rewarding job working for a small charity. It might mean taking a moral stand which puts us at odds with family or colleagues. Actions that are costly in some way.

Which brings me to the Market Cross at midday on Friday as we mingled with the so-called Climate Strike. I think, well I certainly have the feeling, that the vast majority of “ordinary people” know that “something needs to be done”. We need to act to head off the catastrophic damage being done to our planet, to Mother Earth. We need to act in our personal choices and lifestyles; local communities need to act; nations need to act; the multi-national corporations that bestride the earth need to act; the world community needs to act. We need action at all these levels as well as the change of heart which needs to underpin our actions.

Putting things right will be costly. There will need to be some sacrifices at all levels. The choices we all need to make if we’re to live more sustainably may come at a price – and they may be inconvenient or unattractive. If we are to re-order our economy so that it cherishes rather than plunders the natural world  – there will need to be wholesale re-ordering and disruption. If our vast corporations work for the planet rather than mercilessly exploiting her, there will be a cost. The radical inversion of our priorities from profit to planet – well, the consequences are almost too vast to contemplate.

If we’re to be serious and realistic we mustn’t shy away from the cost (in the widest understanding  of that); sacrifices will be needed. Part of the challenge is sure to ensure that such “costs” do not fall disproportionately on those people and communities who are least able to bear them.

So finally, from St Magnus to Climate Strike to…..the Sun. Talk about sacrifice about self-giving, about cost  – is gloomy stuff. Not particularly attractive. No politician ever stood on a ticket of “Vote for me : you’ll be worse off”! I want to end with a fairly lengthy quote from Brian Swimme (a cosmologist but not necessarily a Christian) who puts our tales of sacrifice and self-giving in, well, a cosmic context. I hope you “get” it! If not, you can beat me up over coffee! (Copies at the back of church)

“The Sun, each second, transforms four million tons of itself into light. Each second a huge chunk of the Sun vanishes into radiant energy….In the case of the Sun we have a new understanding of the cosmological meaning of sacrifice. The Sun is, with each second, giving itself over to become energy that we, with every meal partake of….So for four million years, humans have been feasting on the Sun’s energy stored in the form of wheat or maize or reindeer…And every child of ours needs to learn the simple truth : she is the energy of the Sun….the Sun’s extravagant bestowal of energy can be regarded as a spectacular manifestation of an underlying impulse pervading the universe. In the human heart it is felt as the urge to devote one’s life to the wellbeing of the larger community…the Sun’s story will find its climax in a story from the human family of those women and men whose lives manifested the same generosity and whose sacrifice enabled others to reach fulfilment”.

(Brian Swimme The Hidden Heart of the Cosmos)

To spend our lives for others should be a joy.

Whoever wrote “Jesus wants me for a sunbeam” was more right than they could ever have known.