It’s overwhelming – the constant account of gloom and despair that is coming at us daily from the news, whether from traditional sources or social media. Famine, war, Brexit, Trump, earthquakes and the displacement of 68 million people worldwide. We find ourselves caught up in a litany of lament which leads easily to despair. This can induce a number of reactions – apathy, ‘What’s the point, it’s all too big and I can’t solve it all, so I won’t try.’ Anger, ‘Why should I bother, I didn’t make the mess, leave it to those who did!’ Despair can lead to depression and a burden of guilt at our own part in systems that oppress the vulnerable and continue to harm children, women and men.
Lament, as Jill Baker helped us to see last year, is an appropriate response to the complexity and grief within us and around us. It is a ‘from my lips to God’s ears’ response – a recognition of our own part in the chaos and a plea to God to hear our cry and to notice the cries of those who are suffering.
The Prophet Jeremiah had every right to lament, we read in Chapter 32 that he was hemmed in on all sides. He had made it clear to Zedekiah, the King of Judah, that his and his people’s days in the promised land of milk and honey were numbered. The Babylonian King was poised to invade, to trash the temple and all the wealth of Judah and would take the leaders and educated of the land into exile. This infuriated Zedekiah and the Prophet was thrown in prison in the palace guardroom. Jeremiah did not despair however, he demonstrated hope in a future for his people, even if it was not a future he would share in. He bought a piece of land and had the deeds placed in an earthenware jar, so that they would be safe for generations to come. This was an act of confidence to offer hope to the King and to the people, that in the end, they (or their descendants) would return to the land they had been granted by God.
In the midst of the inevitability of climate change and our increasing understanding of the effects that human beings are having on God’s creation, it is easy to remain in a posture of lament. True lament allows us time to grieve and to acknowledge just how grim things are but it is also a space to listen to God’s words – sometimes given clearly, as they were to Jeremiah, often whispered amidst the cacophony of a chaotic world. God continues to offer us hope and to counsel us against our own worst habits. If we see our world, or even the part of the world that we live in, as a land of milk and honey, then we need to look carefully. We have milked the cow dry and even the bees that make the honey are in trouble. We have filled the seas with plastics, mountains with nuclear waste, the air with pollutants and the fields with pesticides and landfill sites.
As we begin a new Methodist Year, it’s natural to wonder what lies in store for our Church and our world. Like Jeremiah, we might find ourselves on the wrong side of those in power for asking difficult questions and pointing out unpalatable truths. Methodists have an honourable tradition of raising our voices against injustice and in calling for good stewardship of God’s earth. The alternative is to stay silent in the face of the oppression of children, women and men in all sorts of desperate situations. The alternative is to turn our backs when the politics of hate is preached instead of the ethics of love. The alternative is to ignore the consequences of our own use of the world’s resources. We are called to respond to God’s message of hope and the demands of the Gospel, the challenge is to choose where to focus our prayers and our actions in a way that honours God and demonstrates love to our neighbours.
What would be an equivalent act to that of Jeremiah’s purchase of the land? What might we do to demonstrate our hope in God’s future? 1,000 churches have now signed up to be Eco-Churches, taking practical steps to reduce the harmful impact that our activities can have on creation. To choose to be good stewards is an act of hope – and we can do that in our personal lives as well. Despair says, “I’m too small to make a difference.” Hope says, “How can I play my part, along with others, to make a change?” I wonder too if there might be ways of ‘reclaiming the land’ – by working with agencies such as Christian Aid, working to lobby governments and to work with the United nations to prevent the forced removal of indigenous people from land that is stripped for palm oil, or is flooded because of dam construction. We might ‘reclaim the land’ by supporting All We Can in their work with refugees – those, like the people of Judah, no longer able to live in the land that was their home. What act of hope in God’s future might any of us take, moving us from lament, through confession, to an active confidence that God is with us in our efforts for a more just and sustainable world?
‘Hope in God’s Future’ can be downloaded here:
For details of how to sign up as an Eco Church:
Christian Aid’s Campaign on Climate Change – The Big Shift Global:
Christian Aid’s Work with Displaced People: – Uprooted – Overlooked
All We Can’s Resources supporting their work with refugees: