Sermon: The Man with the Plank

Sermon prepared by Andrew Atkinson for St Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields

Sunday 6 September, 10.00 a.m. and 11.15 a.m.

Ezekiel 33: 7-11; Romans 13: 8-14

Sunset: Sebastian Gabriel/Unsplash

Do you remember the old slapstick comedies, with a workman carrying a plank of wood? His mate calls to him and he turns round, knocking over an ornamental plant pot with the end of his plank. Then turning back to see what has happened, he smacks his mate on the back of the head with the other end of the plank.

We may laugh at the careless workman, but perhaps we also do things without thinking. It’s easy to meander along in a daydream, getting through our day without considering the consequences of our actions. If you take someone for granted, they may feel unappreciated and their self-esteem could suffer. If you buy cheap imports rather than fairly traded alternatives, you may be playing a part in exploitative and unjust working conditions. If you buy more than you need at the supermarket, the next customer may have to go without. If you buy lots of single-use plastic and always have to have the newest and best of everything, what effect will that have on the environment?

We have a need to be more intentional in how we live our lives. If we think about our actions, we can take deliberate steps to make a difference for the better. It’s not as easy as just drifting along, following the flow, but it is more satisfying to know that our actions are in tune with our faith.

Both our Bible readings talk about personal responsibility. The prophet Ezekiel was appointed by God as a sentinel or watchman over the city of Jerusalem. It was his job to sound the alarm when danger was approaching. If he doesn’t tell it like it is, then he will have failed in his duty. Do we as a Church have a duty to speak up?

On 10 July 2020, the Mission Council of the United Reformed Church, acting on behalf of the General Assembly, recognised the climate emergency and challenged all councils, committees and local churches to do everything possible to make URC events and activities eco-friendly, as urged by URC Youth Assembly. Many local churches, including St Columba’s, are working towards bronze, silver or gold awards from Eco Church.

Ezekiel’s message is that God does not want us to continue down wrong paths, but to recognise our mistakes, and make changes whilst there is still time.

St Paul, in his letter to the early church in Rome, sums up the Law of Moses in the commandment to love your neighbour. It is a good rule of thumb. Paul also urges his readers to wake up and realise what time it is. The night is far gone, the day is near (v12). An urgent repentance of worldly ways of behaving is needed. We are instead to clothe ourselves with Christ (v14).

As we learn more about the world through scientific discoveries, we realise both how wonderful and unique it is, and also how fragile it is. Plastic bags don’t just disappear, they pile up in third world rubbish tips and pollute the oceans. Burning fossil fuels for manufacture, transport, heat, and millions of electrical gadgets all takes its toll on the earth. We may currently be distracted by the pandemic or by Brexit, but in reality, isn’t climate change the biggest crisis facing us all? As weather patterns become more extreme, the seas become warmer and more acidic, ice sheets melt and sea levels rise, plants and animals struggle to adapt.

As Ezekiel reminds us, we are not without hope. We can change. We have a responsibility to play our part. We can think about our own carbon footprint and how we might reduce it. Could we use cars and aeroplanes less? Could we reuse and recycle more? Could we give unwanted goods to charity shops or granny’s attic rather than just throw them out? The power is in our hands.

So let’s not be like the man with the plank. Let’s listen to the warning of the watchman, let’s love our neighbours, and let’s be intentional about how we live out our faith. And may God have mercy on us all. Amen.

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