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Tuesday, April 5, 2011

'For Such a Time as This...'

This is a speech I delivered at St George’s Uniting Church in Eden on the 3rd of April 2011 while we were there for the Christians in Community Gardening Exposure Visits to Canberra, the Monaro and the South Coast (for more information see Uniting Earthweb site). One of the lectionary readings was 1 Samuel 16:1-13 and Peter Skelton (from Eden) was kind enough to suggest a couple of themes I could expand on, one of which was the common complaint ‘what can one person do?’ or ‘how can I do anything, I’m only one person’. He also included a little cartoon of a whole crowd of people saying this in their heads at the same time. I was inspired by that to write the following speech.

Since this was at Eden, who currently hold the most Five Leaf Eco-Awards of any church in Australia (for more about the program see the pages of this blog), the main aim of this speech was not to inform or persuade, but to encourage. Afterwards Miriam asked me to post it here, and I hope that through this network it might be an encouragement to other churches and Christians caring for God’s creation. You are all heroes. - Jessica


1 Samuel 16: 1-13

One day the LORD said to Samuel the prophet, “It is time for you to get over your misery about King Saul. I have had a gutful of him and I am going to end his reign. Fill up your flask with olive oil ready to anoint a new king. Go to Bethlehem and find a man named Jesse there, for I have chosen one of his sons to be my king.”

Samuel protested, “How can I do that? If Saul gets wind of it he will kill me.”

But the LORD replied, “Take a calf with you and tell everyone that you have come to a hold a feast offered in honour of me, the LORD. Invite Jesse and his family to join you for the feast, and then I will let you know what to do next. I will pick out one of Jesse’s sons, and you are to pour the oil on his head to mark him out as the next king.”

Samuel followed the LORD’s instructions and went to Bethlehem. The town officials were unnerved by his arrival, and went out to meet him asking, “Have we done something wrong to bring you to town, or are you just passing through in peace?”

Samuel replied, “Nothing’s wrong. I am here to offer a feast to the LORD. Go and prepare yourselves properly and then come and join me for the occasion.”

Samuel also invited Jesse and his family to the feast and instructed them to prepare themselves properly. When they arrived, Samuel took one look at Jesse’s oldest son, Eliab, and thought to himself, “He has got to be the one the LORD has chosen.”

But the LORD said to Samuel, “Don’t be fooled by how big and impressive he looks. He is not the man for me, because I, the LORD, am not impressed by the same things that impress you people. People judge others by their outward appearance, but I look beneath that and see what makes them tick.”

Then Jesse introduced Samuel to his next son, Abinadab, but Samuel said, “No, this is not the one the LORD sent me to find.”

Jesse introduced his next son, Shammah, but Samuel said, “This is not the one the LORD sent me to find either.”

Jesse introduced seven sons to Samuel, but Samuel was convinced that none of them was the one the LORD had chosen. So he asked Jesse, “Are all your sons here?”

Jesse replied, “My youngest boy is not here. He is out on the farm taking care of some sheep.”

Samuel said, “Send someone to get him as quickly as possible, for we will not sit down to this meal until he arrives.”

So Jesse sent someone to get his youngest son, David, and bring him to the feast. David was a good-looking, fresh-faced kid, and his eyes were full of life. As soon as he walked in, the LORD said, “Samuel, get up and anoint him, because this is the one I have chosen.”

So Samuel took out his flask of oil and poured it on David’s head in full view of his brothers. The Spirit of the LORD took hold of David and was powerfully at work in him from that moment on. Samuel, with his mission accomplished, got up and headed back home to Ramah.
©2002 Nathan Nettleton

Today’s reading from 1 Samuel is about the triumph of an underdog, and as Australians, it’s one we tend to find easy to appreciate. Here is David, the youngest member of his family, the one thought so unimportant that his father has left him out tending the sheep when the great prophet Samuel is visiting, who is not as good looking or tall as his elder brothers, and yet God chooses him to be king of all Israel. God doesn’t care if we are basically powerless, or if others think we are insignificant, as long as we use the gifts God has given us to the best of our ability. But sometimes doing so can be hard. We wonder who we are to think we can make a difference, and we tell ourselves that we are just one person and there is nothing we can do, especially about scary things like the ecological crisis. The funny thing is, how many billions of us are telling ourselves we are just one person so we can’t make a difference?

Growing up, I never questioned that one person could make a difference. With the books and movies I watched, it would have been hard to. As a kid, I watched the purple alien Widget the World Watcher save the planet from pollution countless times and was told “the power is yours” by Captain Planet and the Planateers until I believed it. Later, I was inspired by classic heroes like Simba the Lion King, Pocahontas, Frodo, Harry Potter, and Spider Man. I came to particularly love books with unlikely heroes, like Emily Rodda’s Rowan of Rin or Deltora Quest, where Lief, a lowly blacksmith’s son in a kingdom under the oppression of the evil Shadow Lord is sent on a quest to recover the lost gems of the Belt of Deltora, only to eventually find out at the end of the quest that he is the rightful king and the only one who can wield the power of the belt and save the kingdom. It’s a twist you don’t expect, having guessed that just about everyone else in the story might be the king, but never Lief. We are too close to Lief, too familiar with the character, to realise that there is more to him than meets the eye.

We know of course that most people can’t really save the world single-handedly. But it is within community that an individual has the most power. It’s one of the reasons I work with churches – because they are centres of genuine community. And they are places where we can all learn to lead within the many communities of which we are part. History has been shaped, for better and worse, by great leaders. There are extensive debates about whether leaders have to be born or whether they can be trained, but I think everyone is a leader to some extent. And even if your only expression of leadership is picking what to have for dinner occasionally – this can still have an important impact on the environment, thus you can still use your leadership to make a positive difference.

Another important area where we can all lead is in our conversations. It’s easy to forget just how many people we interact with each week, and the way our words, thoughts and behaviours can impact on them. By acting out and speaking of God’s love for the world, we can challenge people’s assumptions and make them rethink their own attitudes. We have to remember that the ecological crisis is not a fight against evil; it is a fight against apathy. It is a fight against good people standing by and doing nothing. So give them a reason to wake up, give them a reason to become concerned about God’s creation, and give them a reason to hope. I know all this makes me sound like a massive idealist, but I think hope is essential. Giving up guarantees people won’t change anything. Giving up means that we all lose.

I think as kids we all think we can change the world. Then we grow up and people explain to us why one person can’t change the world or why our dream is impossible, and we tend to eventually accept this as truth and move on. We lose hope, and we lose that spark that makes us believe we are special, that makes us believe we are significant enough to make a difference. I really like the song ‘ Through Heaven’s Eyes’ from the Prince of Egypt, and I think it demonstrates really well why we should always try to change the world for the better, even if we don’t think we can, so I’m going to read the lyrics for you to reflect on. In the movie this is sung to Moses by his father-in-law, Jethro, Priest of Midian.

“A single thread in a tapestry

though its color brightly shines

can never see its purpose

in the pattern of the grand design

And the stone that sits up on the very top

of the mountain's mighty face

doesn't think it's more important

than the stones that forms the base

So how can you see what your life is worth

or where your value lies

you can never see through the eyes of man

you must look at your life

look at your life through heaven's eyes

A lake of gold in the desert sand

is less than a cool fresh spring

And to one lost sheep, a shepherd boy

is greater than the richest king

Should a man lose everything he owns

has he truly lost his worth

or is it the beginning

of a new and brighter birth

So how do you measure the worth of a man

in wealth or strength or size

In how much he gained or how much he gave

The answer will come, the answer will come him who tries

to look at his life through heaven's eyes

No life can escape being blown about

by the winds of change and chance

and though you never know all the steps

you must learn to join the dance

you must learn to join the dance

So how do you judge what a man is worth

By what he builds or buys

You can never see with your eyes on earth

Look through Heaven's eyes, look at your life

Look at your life

Look at your life through Heaven's eyes

(Brian Stokes Mitchell, slightly altered).

Reading the Bible, one has to conclude that God certainly believes in making a difference through a single person. Hebrews 11 gives us a great list of people that God used to change the world – David, Samuel, Moses, Noah, Abraham, Rahab, Deborah, Gideon, Samson and more. One of my favourites is Esther – a simple Jewish exile in Susa, the capital of the Medes and Persians, who becomes queen of the empire and saves the Israelites from Haman the Agagite. My favourite part is chapter 4 verse 14 where Mordecai tells Esther “For if you keep silence at such a time as this, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another quarter, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for such as time as this.” For such a time as this, I love that line. We are the people we are for a reason, and God puts us into the places he has assigned for us for a reason. And while God doesn’t need us to bring about God’s will God chooses to use us anyway. In the same way, God could thunder from heaven and save the world from the ecological crisis, but that is not how God works, instead God raises up heroes for just such a time as this, and who knows, maybe you are one of those heroes? You don’t have to do anything big to be a hero.

Every time you recycle a can, fix a leaking tap, or have a shorter shower, you are being a hero. Every time you pull out a plug when you stop using an appliance, buy sustainable seafood or Fairtrade coffee, or tell someone about the importance of acting for the environment, you are being a hero. Indeed, I already know that everyone here is a hero – because this church has already earned an incredible four of the Five Leaf Eco-Awards, and one of those awards is the Advanced Eco-Congregation Leaf Award, making you all heroes and leaders of the church greening movement in Australia. Indeed, I know for a fact that what your congregation has done has inspired many other churches around the country and I thank you for the loyal service you have shown the Lord in this.

For any of you who don’t already know, the Five Leaf Eco-Awards are a pilot ecumenical environmental change program for churches and religious bodies that provides assistance, inspiration and recognition for environmental achievements. Founding and running this program is how I practice what I preach by working to make a difference in the world. The program tries to be holistic, covering buildings, worship, congregation, outreach, and leadership. There are currently about thirteen churches involved in the program and several more in the process of applying for awards. It’s early days yet, but I am excited by the progress we have made so far. Especially when I read through the stories in the ‘Greening the Church’ booklet (available to download from and hear about what other exciting groups like Uniting Earthweb have achieved.

Since most of this congregation was not able to attend the Australian Religious Response to Climate Change (ARRCC)’s Eco-Awards Dinner last year for the presentation of this church’s Five Leaf Eco-Awards Basic Certificate, Eco-Worship Award, Advanced Eco-Congregation Leaf Award and Advanced Eco-Outreach Leaf Award, I wanted to say ‘hi’ today, to congratulate you for your achievements and to encourage you to keep fighting the good fight. So I would like to invite you all to give yourselves a round of applause.


I hope you will invite me back to present you with more awards in the near future.


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Important Lessons from the Bible

Why Jesus came:
"that the world might be saved through him"
John 3:17

Who Jesus is going to use to save the world:
"For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God."
Romans 8:19

Our role on earth:
"The LORD God put the man in the Garden of Eden to take care of it and to look after it."
Genesis 2:15

The Five Pillars of A Christian Theology of Sustainability

1. God is the creator, sustainer and redeemer of creation.

2. Covenantal Stewardship (we have a covenant with God as stewards of the earth).

3. The creation-fall-redemption paradigm (God made a good world; human failure broke the relationships between god, man and creation; Christ provides hope for all creation).

4.Bodily resurrection(we will rise with bodies, not as spirits)

5.New Creation (a new Heaven and new Earth refers to a renewal and an earthing of heaven, not starting over).

Adapted from When Enough is Enough: A Christian Framework for Environmental Sustainability, Edited by R.J. Berry, Published by Inter-Varsity Press, 2007, Nottingham p43+