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Friday, April 29, 2011

New Salt and Light Available!

Hi everyone,

Issue 17 (April 2011) of Salt and Light is now available from the "Most Recent Salt and Light" page on this blog or by emailing me.


Palm Sunday Sermon on Creation and Praise

This sermon was delivered at Springwood Uniting Church in NSW on the 17th of April 2011 (Palm Sunday) on the occasion of the presentation of their Five Leaf Eco-Awards Basic Certificate.

“The Lord is king! Let the earth rejoice; Let the many coastlands be glad!” (Psalm 97:1)

“Let the floods clap their hands; Let the hills sing together for joy at the presence of the Lord” (Psalm 98:8-9)

Today we celebrate Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem riding on the back of a donkey colt as he walked over the branches put before them. It is a happy occasion, one we like to re-enact by playing with palm fronds and donkey costumes. But have you ever thought about what we might get out of the story if we looked at it from an environmental perspective? According to the Christian Ecology Link, Jesus’ use of the donkey demonstrates his peaceful and positive mission which includes all God’s creatures and the use of the branches on the road can be linked to the sustainable use of plants and flowers to decorate our churches to the glory of God. But what I want to focus on today is stones that shout.

In Luke 19:37-40, we are told that “the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power they had seen, saying ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’ Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’”

As a kid, I really liked that last verse. The idea of stones shouting was so exciting I kinda wished the disciples might have been quiet for a bit, just so the Bible could record the stones themselves actually praising God. Alas, we will never know what the stones would have said, but their readiness to step forward and praise God is significant. Jesus is basically saying that if his human disciples fail to bring sufficient glory to God, the rest of creation will take up the call.

The Psalms tell us many times that creation praises God. For example Psalm 19:1-4 tells us:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;

the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech;

night after night they reveal knowledge.

3 They have no speech, they use no words;

no sound is heard from them.

4 Yet their voice[b] goes out into all the earth,

their words to the ends of the world. (NIV)

Psalm 66:4 says: “All the earth worships you; They sing praises to you, Sing praises to your name” and Psalm 96:11-12 says: “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice;

Let the sea roar, and all that fills it;

Let the field exult, and everything in it.

Then shall the trees of the forest sing for joy”.

As he often did, in our passage from Luke Jesus has extended the Old Testament understanding to fit a higher ideal. Psalm 150:6 in the Old Testament says, “Let everything that breathes praise the Lord” but Jesus corrects this, bringing even the inanimate objects of creation, like stones, into the family that praises the Lord.

Someone who seemed to intrinsically understand the importance of creation’s service to God was St Francis of Assisi, a man who preached even to birds and wolves, and who called the sun and moon his brother and sister. He follows Jesus’ theme, saying:

“All creatures of our God and king,

Lift up you voice with us and sing,

O brother wind, air, clouds and rain,

By which all creatures ye sustain,

O sister water, flowing clear,

Make music for thy Lord to hear,

Dear mother earth, who day by day

unfoldest blessings on our day,

O praise ye!


We in the church have a tendency to think of ourselves as the main source of the praise and worship God receives, but in truth, all our praise makes up only a tiny fraction of the total. Just think about it, even though it is beyond our senses, every single rock, tree, bird, fish, blade of grass and stick is singing praises to God. It boggles the mind, doesn’t it? What an incredible chorus of praise that must be to hear, if we had the ears of God.

Of course, this praise is probably not actually in the form of a song. It has been suggested that animals praise God by existing, and by being true to their own design and nature. So a beaver building a dam is praising God, but so is a wolf pack hunting for a deer, or a plant growing towards the sunlight.

So we know that creation praises God faithfully, but it also brings us to praise by bearing a constant silent witness to God for all humankind. In the days before missionaries covered the world, the only way people could know God was through creation. According to Iranaeus (120-202) “the initial step for a soul to come to knowledge of God is contemplation of nature.” Even now, many people come to believe in God through nature before they understand God in a more church-related way. Others, hurt by the church or those in it, find comfort and continuing reassurance of God in nature.

Many people find that rainforests, mountains, wilderness areas, baby animals and other spectacular natural sights make them think of God and lead them to praise. Saint Augustine (354-430) said “some people, in order to discover God, read books. But there is a great book: the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below you! Read it. God, whom you want to discover, never wrote that book with ink. Instead He set before your eyes the things that He had made. Can you ask for a louder voice than that?”

The poem ‘I see his blood upon the rose’ by Irish poet Joseph Plunkett reflects how we can see Jesus in nature:

“I see his blood upon the rose

And in the stars the glory of his eyes,

His body gleams amid eternal snows,

His tears fall from the skies.

I see his face in every flower;

The thunder and the singing of the birds

Are but his voice—and carven by his power

Rocks are his written words.

All pathways by his feet are worn,

His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,

His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,

His cross is every tree.”

In contrast, few of us find inspiration in rubbish dumps, grey city streets and recently logged forests. For myself, nature has always been the wellspring of my faith, and a constant call to prayer. Every time I see those rays of sunlight breaking through the clouds that they call the fingers of God – I praise the Lord. Every time I run into a plant or creature, even if it is just a beautiful little insect – I praise the Lord. When I see the seedlings in my garden grow – I praise the Lord. In the sunset, the rain and the waterfall – I see God, and it calls me to praise. I cannot immerse myself in a beautiful forest or grassland without my thoughts turning into a litany of praise. Trap me in a concrete jungle for long enough, I get depressed and my faith life suffers.

Many people respond to nature the same way I do, but not everyone does. We all have our different sources of spiritual connection with God – mine just happens to be nature. But whether yours is or not, it is important to reflect on our actions that impact the environment in the light of the large group of people who suffer spiritually, in addition to physically and psychologically, when nature is degraded.

But what if it is not only animals and people, but God who suffers from environmental degradation? My reflections on creation’s praise of God have led me towards some challenging thoughts. We believe in a great and almighty God. All loving, all powerful, all present, all knowing. A God worthy of praise right? Indeed, not just a God worthy of praise, but a God worthy of as much praise as possible, of all praise. So when I look around and see the destruction we have wrought upon the planet and its creatures, I have to ask – do we have the right to take away God’s praise and worship like this? Because when we kill an animal – be it tiger, shark, elephant or ant, we are removing a creature that praises God.

The next question that raises for me is what happens when we wipe out a species? Does every species have its own unique song or vocal range (like a soprano or an alto in a choir), which we are removing completely from the orchestra when they go extinct? How does God feel about the way this simplifies the tune and reduces its depth? We know God values diversity, otherwise why would God create an estimated between 5 and 8 million species of beetle alone?

I don’t have the answers to these questions, but I keep them in mind as spurs for action. They remind me how important the work I do for the environment is, and keep my passion for working to save endangered species from extinction alive.

So we have started with a celebration, but progressed to something more serious. The triumphant procession of Palm Sunday was a brief window of celebration and joy before Jesus faced the more serious work of the cross. In a similar way, our celebration with, and inspired by, creation has no meaning if it does not inspire us to act.

If you are wondering where to start, there are a series of challenges that arise from what we have discussed. Firstly to celebrate creation by promoting a connection with nature. If nature brings you to praise God, then make sure you experience as much of it as possible. Don’t trap yourself inside. Make some time each week to go out and just ‘be’ with nature, allowing your soul to sing in praise as you watch the flight of a bee or the sway of leaves in the breeze. Give yourself permission to watch the grass grow. Basil the Great (329-79) said “I want creation to penetrate you with so much admiration that wherever you go, the least plant may bring you the clear remembrance of the Creator.”

While you are doing this, be open to what creation can teach you about God. Creation is not God, but God is in creation, and if we look hard enough we can see God there. Psalm 111:2 says, “Great are the works of the Lord, studied by all who delight in them”. Martin Luther and King Solomon agree, saying “Whenever you listen to a nightingale, therefore, you are listening to an excellent preacher” and “Go to the ant, you sluggard, consider its ways and be wise!” (Prov 6:6). According to John Stott’s excellent book, “The Birds Our Teachers”, we can learn faith, repentance, self-esteem, gratitude, freedom, joy, love and more just from birdwatching. Meister Eckhart (1260-1327) says, “If I spend enough time with the tiniest creature – even a caterpillar- I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.”

Think about every part of nature as belonging to God and praising God. As a Christian, does this change the way you believe you should relate to God’s creatures, and act as steward of the earth’s resources? Through prayer and reflection, think about how you might act on this.

In Saving God’s Green Earth, Tri Robinson says, “God speaks to all of us in many different ways, yet it’s through nature that He so easily grabs our attention. Among other things, Jesus primarily saw nature as a way of illuminating the Gospel and elements that are central to our faith. Parables of seeds, crops, soil, and trees abound in Jesus’ teaching, unfolding deep spiritual truths and revealing elements about God’s nature.... If there’s so much beauty in nature and we experience God speaking to us through it, doesn’t it make sense that the church should lead the way in caring for the environment?” (2006) p43-44

The good news is we are not alone. All around the world, Christians and the Church are rediscovering their connections and indebtedness to nature. Particularly in the UK and US, large movements have started to re-embrace creation theology and more peaceful ways of relating to the environment around us. The church is gearing up to play its part in finding solutions to the ecological crisis, helped along by the belief that at its root, this is really a spiritual crisis.

James Sire (Forward in Van Dyke et al.(1996)) says, “In 1967 Lynn White in his essay ‘The historical roots of the ecological crisis’ laid the responsibility for the crisis squarely on the shoulders of Christians and what he took to be the biblical view of nature. A case can certainly be made that Christians bear a major responsibility for our ecological crisis. But the fault is not their biblical but their unbiblical view of nature. Christians have long failed to understand what the Bible really teaches concerning nature and our responsibility for it. For this there is no excuse. Repentance must be our first response.

Our second response must then be to right the wrongs of our faulty understanding and act accordingly. We are responsible to know what can be known of God’s will for nature, and we are then responsible to act on that knowledge.”

Here in Australia, we are fighting as well, and churches like yours are leading the way in coming to more sustainable and eco-friendly ways of being church. This has brought me here today to present you with the Five Leaf Eco-Awards Basic Certificate for your work in greening your buildings, worship, congregation, outreach and leadership through actions like your water tanks, solar panels and guest speakers.

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. There are currently about thirteen churches involved in the program and several more in process of applying for awards. It’s early days yet, but I am excited by the progress we have made so far.

So I wanted to say ‘hi’ today, congratulate you for your achievements, present this award and encourage you to keep fighting the good fight.

If I can now present Janice with this certificate on behalf of the congregation…

Please give yourselves a round of applause.


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


Friday, April 22, 2011

It’s not all lost, just remember to compost

By Michael Rhydderch
It is very easy to become disillusioned with what “you” as a single entity can do about Global Warming, or as it’s widely referred to now “Climate Change” (more user-friendly). Most people in the community want to have a positive effect on keeping this Earth in a liveable condition, but with the Government talking about complicated schemes like “carbon tax” and “clean coal” it is easy to become annoyed and confused as to what you can do yourself.
There is no doubt that renewable energy usage like wind and solar power is a big way to move toward the future in our homes. This change is much needed but the reality is that these devices come at an expense. There must be something more that we can do; something that can happen right away without taking too much out of our pocket...
The answer is COMPOST!!! No matter how small the space you live in you can turn your green waste into a useful and tasty bi-product for your garden. 
What is compost and what does it generate
Compost is made from “our” organic waste. It consists mainly from food-wastes, garden refuse (including green clippings and weeds), non-treated wood clippings, coffee and tea waste and many other things.
 Most of what we throw into the bin each week could be instead become compost. Compost is created by the breakdown of organic material by microbes, and it is happening constantly all around us on the forest floor.
The most amazing thing about compost is that you can take waste and make it into something so nutrient rich your plants will be thanking you forever. This product is called humus. Humus is the altered organic material that you put in at the start, broken down with a little bit of bacteria and fungi thrown in (Thompson 2007). It is extremely nutrient rich, will add to your soil organic content hugely and your plants will thrive.
Why should we compost
All of what we put into our rubbish bins ends up at the local landfill.
Landfills are not bottomless pits and they are rapidly running out of room. The last thing anyone wants is a landfill on their doorstep, especially when that is avoidable. Even more problematic than landfills filling up though, is that they can leak. When organic waste from our household breaks down in landfill it does so anaerobically (without air). This means that it turns into an acidic compound. This acidic compound can then break down all the plastic in the landfill, creating a toxic concoction caused leachate. If a landfill is not properly layered with material to prevent this leachate from escaping it will leak out of the landfill into the waterways and potentially into our water supply. There is a bad case of this happening in Rhodes in Sydney. A big issue was how to clean up the land for residential use after so many years of careless dumping of waste, some forms much more toxic than house-hold green waste.
By composting we can reduce over half of what ‘we’ put into our bin each weak, which means, over half of what was ending up in landfill each week is now being recycled into a useful product that will help your plants, vegies and/or herbs thrive at any time of the year.
From global perspective, as waste breaks down in landfill it releases gases, the majority of which are greenhouse gases. The two major gases are carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane (CH4). These are commonly known as major climate change contributors, although naturally occurring, because we are increasing their presence in the earth at an unnatural rate.
On average, CO2 makes up 57% of gas released in landfill and methane makes up 40%. Here methane is the concern, because although not widely talked about as CO2 it is actually 27 times more damaging as a greenhouse gas than CO2 ( So, 40% of the total gases released in landfills being methane is quite significant. Therefore by composting you are actually doing a great deal for the world.
How do we compost, what do we need:
No matter how much space you have in your home you can compost. Whether you’re on a farm, in a suburban family home or an inner city apartment, and anything in between. All that will change is the type of compost design it is most appropriate for you to use.
Here is a simple list of what to put and what not to put in your compost:
Vegetable and food scraps
Fallen leaves (in layers)
Tea leaves and tea bags
Coffee grounds
Vacuum cleaner dust
Soft stems
Dead flowers
Old potting mix
Used vegetable cooking oil
Egg shells
Old newspapers (wet)
Grass cuttings in layers
Sawdust (not from treated timber)
Wood ash
Human and animal hair

Meat and dairy products
Diseased plants
Metals, plastic, glass
Animal manures (especially the droppings of cats and dogs)
Large branches
Weeds that have seeds or underground stems
Bread or cake (may attract mice)
Sawdust from treated timber
Your compost needs four important components for it to be successful. (Where successful is defined as compost that produces humus, doesn’t smell, and does not produce greenhouse gases.)
Firstly your compost needs carbon, and secondly your compost needs nitrogen. But it is the ratio of carbon to nitrogen that is the key in making it work.
The microbes in the compost need a balanced diet just like we do (Thompson 2007). The microbes need the energy which they get from the carbon and they need the nitrogen to make vital proteins. The ideal C:N ratio is 30:1.
The best way to think of it is to add 30 times as much carbon based waste to the compost as nitrogen.
When you’re thinking carbon, think brown. Dry leaves, wood clippings, hedge clippings, paper, and broken branches. It is important not to have too much carbon though; otherwise your compost will take so long g to break down you will forget about it.
When thinking nitrogen, think green, think moisture. Things like green garden clippings, most leftover food from the house and coffee grinds are rich in nitrogen. Nitrogen is very important but don’t add too much of it or all the moisture can turn your aerobic compost into anaerobic compost. This will start to turn smelly and produce greenhouse gases…..and nobody wants that.
The third thing your compost craves is air. Air is what stops greenhouse gases being produced like they are in landfills. Air helps the microbes in our compost to survive. Once again you need a balance, if there is too much air it will cause the compost to break down very slowly, probably because there will not be enough moisture. On the other hand, if there is an odour coming from your compost, you don’t have enough air. Turning your compost always helps to introduce more air and cut down on the anaerobic processes that may have started.
The fourth thing that compost needs is moisture. The tiny little microbes we need for our compost live inside the films of water. Obviously, as discussed before, if we have too much moisture in our compost this will turn it anaerobic and lead to smelly gassy compost. The aim is for a 50-60% moisture level, which is equivalent to a well wrung out sponge.
So, if you have dry compost, give it a quick spray with water and turn it or add some more nitrogenous material. On the opposite side of the coin, if your compost is too wet any paper or cardboard (not magazines) you have lying around the house will be perfect to add to the compost to dry it out.
Ideally your compost should be layered with tough carbon organic material and soft nitrogen rich material. You can put a few spadefuls of soil in to help the process of the microbes along. Even better would be putting a few spadefuls of compost that has already broken down onto the new heap.
Aim to put the compost in the sunniest part of your backyard and the bigger the better. The bigger the compost is the better the insulation will be, and the more successful your compost will be at making humus. The ideal size is around 1 cubic metre in size (Thompson 2007), which is basically the size of a bin. For the backyard compost, basically you want a paper/cardboard type layer at the bottom, followed by the kitchen wastes/green clippings. After that it can be in any order you like.
A key ingredient that I have not included as of yet are worms. You want worms in your compost. They will keep the air circulating through the compost without you having to turn it all the time. They help the compost breakdown. The few spadefuls of soil you put in will hopefully give you the worms you need to start with.
There are many different ways to construct a composting operation. It is possible to just have the compost in a heap with no cover. The material will compost, though it may take longer to get the final product and there is a higher chance of windblown seeds entering the compost. It is also less tidy. Having an open compost might work for you if you are living on a large area of land, but may not work for you if you have a small backyard. 
There are simple bins that are available, not unlike the bins we use for our garbage. These have an access at the top to put the waste in, and when you want to get to the humus underneath you lift off the whole bin.
It is also possible to go out and buy a fancy compost bin for your home, but is even easier and cheaper to make your own from things you would probably be putting out in the next council clean-up.
All you need to do is create a structure like a bin that has an easy access at the top for you to put the compost in, not too many gaps along the side (otherwise too much air will slow down the process of decomposition), and easy access for you to collect the humus at the end.
Here is a list of things that you can make compost bins from:
1.      Untreated wood-will last a few years, however if in constant contact with moist soil, it will eventually rot.
2.      Treated wood- will last longer than untreated wood, but double check what it is treated with.
3.      Chicken wire/wooden or metal poles- stick the four poles in the ground and wrap the chicken wire around it.
4.      Old tyres- these can be stacked up, providing good access and good insulation.
5.      Bricks/concrete blocks-easy and effective. If you are using untreated wood aim at putting a few bricks or blocks at the base. This will slow the decomposition of the wood.
6.      Cupboards- provide support and easy access.
These are just a few things you can make a compost heap from. I think you get the idea that you can make it from pretty much anything. This is important to know because people can be creative in what they make their compost bin from. They don’t have to go out and buy anything. It is extremely cheap to begin composting.
Composting without a Backyard?
I did mention at the beginning of this article that anyone can compost no matter what their living arrangements are. However most of the options I have talked about (bins, open heaps, and DIY from bricks, wood, concrete or even cupboards) are not suitable for someone living inside an apartment.  This high density style of living does not allow you a lot of room to take up practices like composting.
But all is not lost, you can still compost…..Just think smaller.
Any plastic/metal container around the size of your normal bin can be turned into a compost maker. You want to store it in a warm place, like under the sink, in the sun on the balcony or even in the closet. Punch holes in the sides at the bottom to give it sufficient aeration, and place it on a large tray so it doesn’t get all over the floor the (plastic lid of a large container will do the trick).
Apply the same rules as any other compost. Layer the bottom with carbon rich material, and follow with a nitrogen rich layer and so on. Add some soil (from a friend’s house or anywhere where soil is….which is everywhere). The soil is to add of worms. These wonderful worms will help breakdown the keep the compost nice and aerated. Finally turn the compost every two weeks and you will have successful compost (
This small compost may take longer than a larger compost to create the final product-humus. But it will work, and while it’s busy doing its thing you are doing your thing for the environment.
It would also be handy to have another spare bucket at your disposal so that when your compost is full and almost ready you can take the top layers of that compost and put it into the next container to help that compost along.
So what do we do now?
Now that we have all this compost, what do we do with it? The first answer is to feed it to your plants. Humus is the “wonder-drug” for you plants. It gives them everything they need for healthy living. It provides all the nutrients they will ever need, helps to keep the soil aerated and retains water for the plant to drink.
If you aren’t growing any plants or vegies/herbs….What a great reason to start! Not only will they thrive with the addition of your humus, you will be having another positive environmental impact on this world. By growing a couple of your own vegetables and herbs you are stopping yourself from buying as many from the supermarket. It is imperative that we support our local farmers, don’t get me wrong, but a lot of the produce we are buying is from overseas. Overseas food produce (which allows us to buy any vegetable, fruit and or herb at any time of the year) is damaging not only to ‘our’ farmers, but there are also has environmental costs to getting that produce here. Therefore, by saving yourself from buying as many vegetables at the supermarket and growing your own, you are saving yourself money, saving food miles, putting your compost to use and also wasting less.
How much compost you create should be more or less be relative to what you could realistically grow in your home. For example: a suburban house with a backyard has the possibility of growing plants as well as vegetables and herbs on a small scale, whereas someone living in an apartment could grow herbs and maybe some climbers on the balcony (eg. snow peas).
Splashing some cash on compost
If your DIY skills are few and far between (like mine), and you don’t feel like testing them, there are fancy compost bins you can purchase that will do the work for you. You won’t have to worry about sorting out the smell and the humus produced, and the compost will be exactly of the same quality as if you constructed your compost out of old tyres.

Here are some examples of things that are out there:                                   
NatureMill Plus- $ 299.                                NautureMill Pro- $399.                             
                                                                                                           Figure 2:
Figure 1:
Both the NatureMill Plus and the NatureMill Pro are electric composters the size of a normal bin. They will heat, mix and aerate your food scraps (though your microorganisms in the compost would normally do most of that anyway), and then deposit the ready humus into a tray at the bottom where you can collect it at your convenience (

The Bokashi Bin- $59
Figure 3:
The Bokashi Bin is even smaller. At just 20litres this can store up to 3-4 weeks food waste. You need to add microbial inoculants to help the process along. You can either buy this stuff as well, or basically just add some soil. This will still require manual handling but it is a nice and tidy, and not too expensive, way of keeping your compost hidden (

End note from Jessica:
One of the things I learnt on the Christians in Community Gardening Exposure Tour I attended in early April was that compost is like gold for gardeners. Some of the gardens we visited had communal compost heaps so people could put their scraps in and these would be broken down into humus for use on the communal plots of the garden. A good way to get rid of some organic waste people didn’t want I thought. I was wrong. In fact, most of the gardeners in the community garden didn’t use this communal compost heap because their compost was too valuable to them. Instead they had their own small composts within their plots so that their humus could go straight onto their garden plots to enrich their vegies. So I suppose it is time to stop seeing apple cores and potato peelings and waste and start seeing them as gardener’s gold!
Speaking of gardening… I know many of you are expert composters already, so if you have any magic tricks to share with those of us who are just learning, please email me and I will put them in the next issue. And if you have heard most of this before, why not pin a copy of this article to your church notice board so your whole community can get involved? Just don’t fight over the scraps from your next church lunch!
Liked this month’s article? Let me know so I can pass your encouragement on to Mike…
Thompson, Ken.  2007, Compost, Dorling Kingsley Limited, London.

Friday, April 15, 2011

World Environment Day Resources 2011 for Churches Available!

This year's WED resources are up. An essential tool for planning your church service on the 5th of June this year. Our theme is forests. Check it out at:

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.


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+