Damage From Hurricane Fiona, PEI.   Tony Davis, CBC.


Preached at All Saints, Collingwood, Anglican Diocese of Toronto, 9 October, 2022.   Texts for this Sunday: Deuteronomy 26:1-11; Psalm 100; Philippians 4:4-9; John 6:25-35.


Ian and Fiona.   They sound like a nice couple, don’t they, the kind of folks you might meet on holidays.    Except that Ian and Fiona aren’t people.    They’re the latest in a series of hurricanes that now seem all too frequent.   The destruction they cause seems to be strangely at odds with their bland human names – roofless buildings, flooded streets, homes washed out to sea, residents looking lost and bewildered.   It’s hard to tell if massive storms and hurricanes are becoming more frequent and more destructive – it seems that way – but it’s clear that you don’t want to be in the way of weather events like Ian and Fiona.


Jane Compton and her husband Del were not able to get out of the path of Hurricane Ian.   They rode out the storm in their Baptist church in Fort Meyers, Fl, praying to God to spare them.


“Floodwaters swept under the pews, driving the congregation to the pulpit and further testing their faith. The intensifying storm ripped the church’s steeple away, leaving a large gap in the roof. The parishioners shuddered.

“Good Lord, please protect us,” Compton prayed, with her husband, Del, at her side.

She compared the deluge to the biblical story Noah’s Ark, saying they had no idea when the water would stop rising. When it did, there were hallelujahs.”

Jane’s comparison of her experience to the story of Noah’s Ark shows how powerful the biblical stories can be in our times of stress.     It’s also very appropriate, because the early Christian fathers like to say that Noah’s ark was an early example of church, in that the church, like the ark, would save the faithful.   That’s why, by the way, we call the long part of the church the nave, from the Latin word for ship, navis  

A more relevant point about the story of Noah’s Ark is that it ends with a reaffirmation of God’s commitment to the world God created.   God will never again punish humans by destroying the world, and assures us that the world and its natural cycle of the seasons will continue to look after human needs.


“As long as the earth endures,

seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, 

summer and winter, day and night,

shall not cease.”  (Gen 8.22)


The only problem with this promise is that was never mutual.  God promised never again to destroy the earth, but God never required humans to make the same promise.   God left us free to look after creation, or to destroy it.   And so here we are, slowly coming to terms with the fact that the fate of the earth is now squarely in the shaky hands of our species.  


To be sure, the science isn’t entirely agreed on what’s happening, but what science has agreed on is alarming.   We know that global warming is real. There is “unequivocal” evidence that “humans have caused the earth’s climate to warm, with a likely human contribution of 0.8 to 1.3 degrees Celsius to global mean temperature since the late 1800s”.  


We do know that the glaciers and the polar ice caps are melting.  Massive wildfires are followed by torrential rainstorms, as we see in British Columbia and Australia.  Severe droughts are drying up rivers and reservoirs; in the Southwestern US, they’re realizing that they may be just a few years away from massive water shortages.  To return to that lovely couple, Ian and Fiona, the scientists are now thinking that it “is likely that greenhouse warming will cause hurricanes in the coming century to be more intense globally and have higher rainfall rates than present-day hurricanes”.


Well, I could go on, but this isn’t a news article, it’s a sermon, which leads me to ask, what are we, the people of God, supposed to think about the earth on this Harvest Thanksgiving Sunday, at a time in history when the earth feels more and more fragile and dangerous?    


The celebration of Harvest Thanksgiving is intended to instil in us a deep appreciation for the creation, particularly for the fruits of the earth, as part of God’s good creation.   This attitude of appreciation is an intrinsic part of Judaism that we as Christians inherited.  In our first reading from Deuteronomy, we heard that Israel, “the land that the Lord your God is giving you”, will care for God’s people.   Just as God fed his people in the wilderness, so will the promised land, “a land flowing with milk and honey”, care for them and feed them.   In return, the gift of the first fruits of the harvest that God asks in return is to remind God’s people who gave them this land and the food it produces.


It’s said that all good theology begins with a sound doctrine of creation.   As Christians, like our Jewish older brothers and sisters, we don’t think of nature or the planet in purely scientific or rational terms.   We also think of nature as creation, as God’s handiwork entrusted to us, and central to this idea is the very biblical idea of the dependability of nature, the regular turning of the seasons, the growth of seeds into crops, plants and animals supplying human needs.  Our beloved thanksgiving hymns, such as We Plough the Fields and Scatter (Matthias Claudias, 1782), or Come Ye Thankful People Come (Henry Alford, 1844) remind us of creation as God’s good gift.


For the Fruit of All Creation, which we sing today, expresses this idea in the lovely verse which talks about how plants and crops grow “silently while we are sleeping, future needs in earth’s safe keeping”.     Last Thursday night here at choir practice, as these thoughts were running through my head, it occurred to me that we need to change this verse.   Today we live in what’s called the Anthropocene Era, when human activity is having a profound effect on earth’s geology.  Surely, today, it is the “earth’s future needs” that are “in our safe keeping” and we have to wonder how well we are doing at the safekeeping part.


I know you understand these things well, dear saints.   I know that this parish wants to care for God’s good creation.  Every day I look out the my windows and see the solar panels on the church roof and the garden beds on the rectory lawn.  I know how deservedly proud of are of the Green Church award and recognition that All Saints has received.  I know you get this.   So how might this critical time in the history of creation inspire us to go forward?   Here are three quick ideas to conclude.


First, we need to remain hopeful.  The enormity of climate change, the warnings of disaster, the rate of extinction of species, and the seeming inability of governments to act, all these things can create paralyzing despair and pessimism.    I see this particularly in the young adults I know.     We need to always remember that we are people of hope.


The Sunday after Hurricane Ian, Fr. Charles Cannon, priest at St. Hilary’s Anglican (Episcopal) church in Fort Meyers preached outside the church, by the remains of fallen oak trees.  He said “People think they have lost everything, but you haven’t lost everything if you haven’t lost yourself and the people you love”.   We must always remember that we as people of God we are stewards of creation, we are people of hope, and we are people of the resurrection.   We need to remain just as hopeful that we can pass this world to our grandchildren and their grandchildren.


Second, we need to be people of generosity.    Today’s gospel reading from St. John, the discourse on the bread from heaven, follows the miracle of Jesus feeding of the five thousand with the five loaves and two fish (Jn 6.1-14).  It would be strange to conclude from the “bread of heaven” speech that Jesus only wants us to focus on the spirit, and to ignore the hungry and those in need.    We thrive spiritually when we live the gospel by serving those around us, as this church knows well.


So today we’re asking you, the people of All Saints, as you’re able, to consider helping the people of Atlantic Canada who have been hit by Hurricane Fiona.   The wardens and I have agreed to donate $1000 to the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund, which will work with the dioceses in Nova Scotia and Newfoundland to get help to where it’s needed.   It’s a small thing, but it matters, and no doubt in the future, as we live through more climate disasters, we will face many more calls on our generosity.    Yesterday I met up with friends from the UK who marvelled at how safe and prosperous the farmlands of Ontario are.   I think it’s safe to say that in the years to come, millions displaced by floods and droughts will look to Canada for help.  The Church’s work will continue.


Finally, let’s continue to be creative in our green initiatives and not rest on our laurels.     Let’s think about how All Saints can work with our regional ministry partners and with our community on new green initiatives.   Maybe there’s something we can do around refillable containers, or the like.    I haven’t had given this much thought, but surely there are ways we can continue to show our care for what God has given us.


May God give us thankful hearts for this beautiful earth we have been given, May God give us courageous hearts to face an uncertain future, and may God give us generous hearts to share with those in need.   Happy Thanksgiving, dear Saints.