Cheetah racing for its life

by Oct 1, 2023Sermons

Luke 17:11-19

The Thankful Samaritan Leper

The cheetah is the fastest land animal, reaching speeds close to 70 miles per hour in short bursts as it hunts. It is a graceful and much-loved animal, prized as a domestic animal by the pharaohs of ancient Egypt, and a much-desired sighting for visitors to Africa’s national parks. It is also critically endangered. From a population of about 100,000 in 1900, there are now only 7,000 cheetahs in the wild, the majority in Namibia and southern Africa. Habitat loss, poaching, and conflict with agriculturalists have left the cheetah fighting for a future. I had the privilege of meeting a cheetah close-up at Cheetah Outreach in Somerset West, near Capetown. At Cheetah Outreach members of the public can encounter and touch cheetahs which have grown up around humans. The cheetahs are ambassadors for their species, and visit local schools to inspire the next generation. Cheetah Outreach also funds projects to protect the cheetah in its natural habitat, such as through providing dogs for farmers to reduce the conflict between cheetahs and farm animals. The cheetah’s future is far from certain, but without conservation projects such as Cheetah Outreach, the outlook would be far worse.

Today we are celebrating both Harvest and Creationtide, a time both to thank God for his gifts in creation and to focus on the environment and our responsibility as Christians towards it. Why should the environment be of specific concern to people of faith?

The cheetah is just one example of a species on the brink. In the Cape region of South Africa, the most diverse area for flora on the planet, the rate of species loss is also the highest on Earth. Expanding cities, the loss of habitats to agriculture, and pollution from human activities have totally unbalanced natural ecosystems, putting species which have adapted over thousands of years to their environments under immediate and sustained threat. Many will not survive.

And of course the biggest environmental threat of all, that of climate change, poses even greater perils. Each year is hotter than the last, storms and droughts devastate the globe, with the poorest least resilient to the changes they have done least to cause.

The Methodist and environmentalist Bill McKibben paints a bleak picture. Writing in New Republic he issues a call to arms. The world is at war with climate change, he argues, and our leaders – like Neville Chamberlain at Munich thinking he had done enough to keep trouble at bay – are failing to see the urgency of the times. McKibben writes: World War Three is well and truly underway, and we are losing. This is no metaphor. By most of the ways we measure wars, climate change is the real deal; carbon and methane are seizing physical territory, sowing havoc and panic, racking up casualties and even destabilising governments.’ And McKibben’s prognosis for the future is equally bleak. What we need is a mighty Manhattan Project for our era, the creation of half a billion solar panels within four years to break our carbon addiction and avert disaster. Will this happen? McKinnen writes: What we have now is the biggest boom in personal consumption the world has ever seen, a very thin sense of social solidarity, and possibly the return of President Trump.

McKinnen comes from a US perspective, but the urgency for action in the UK is no less. The bishop and environmentalist David Atkinson, writing in Church Times, said this: In the UK we need a commitment to putting a price on our consumption of fossil fuels and working for renewable energy as a matter of urgency. But from the perspective of Christian discipleship we need more. The call to stewardship of God’s earth, to love of our neighbour, and to justice requires among other things a rethinking of our economy in terms not of unrestrained consumption but in terms of the common good, greater social equality and the sustainability of the earth system.

It is this call to stewardship of God’s earth which gives us as Christians the impetus to become leaders in the war against climate change and environmental loss. In the book of Genesis, using rich poetic metaphor, God plants a garden and fills it with creatures, presumably including the cheetah. As his last act of creation, humans are introduced. They are charged with the care of creation. And yet it is not long before it all goes wrong, and humans turn against their environment, eating from the forbidden tree, and at conflict with God’s creatures. The restoration of our right relationship with God, made possible through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, includes a restoration of right relationships on earth with all God’s creation. We are called not to despoil and exploit our environment, but to live in harmony with it.

The Christian environmental charity A Rocha UK launched EcoChurch to help Christian communities take this leadership in caring for the environment. I offer my congratulations to you here at All Saints for recently gaining the bronze award, and over the coming months and years as a community there is much you will do to reduce tour environmental impact and strive for Net Zero here on Childs Hill, to support others in our area and beyond in advocating for environmental protection, and facilitating individuals and families to take personal responsibility for our planet.

So what practical steps can we take? My approach has always been to take one step at a time, rather than feeling everything needs to be done at once. Our unsustainable lifestyles are deeply ingrained and take some changing. But change them we must. Among changes we might consider are:

driving and flying less,
investing in LED lighting,
considering veganism or vegetarianism,
switching our energy and gas to a green supplier,
supporting an environmental charity,
recycling more,
using less energy,
and, importantly, becoming an advocate.

This one is crucial. Christians need to be leaders. Everything we do personally is only of value when others follow our lead and become part of a movement for change.

I have had the privilege of being Creation Care champion in the Two Cities area, and we have recently set up the Westminster Churches Net Zero Forum, to work together in accelerating our transition away from fossil fuels and towards a sustainable community life.

So speak to friends and family, write to councillors and MPs, encourage other local churches to embrace EcoChurch and help foster a spirit of mutual accountability for society’s stewardship of the earth.

The consequences of runaway climate change and species loss are potentially terrifying. But those consequences are not inevitable. There is time to save the earth, though that time is short. God has given us one earth – as the saying goes, there is no Planet B. Our choices will determine whether future generations are the heirs to an abundant earth, or an arid and lifeless wilderness.

As the wise writer of the book of Ecclesiasticus says: Before each person are life and death, and whichever one chooses will be given.

Let us then, this Harvest, choose life, and share with Jesus in the redeeming work of restoring creation as God would have it be. Amen.

The Reverend Robin Sims-Williams

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Sunday Mornings

8.00am Said Eucharist
10.00am Parish Eucharist with choir and Sunday School

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Morning Prayer Monday through Wednesdays at 9.20am
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