Rogation Sunday

1 May 2005 at :00 am

Sermon at Eucharist, 1 May 2005
Westminster Abbey
by the Reverend Canon David Hutt, Sub Dean and Archdeacon of Westminster

Rogation Sunday

In the run-up to the General Election, all the political parties seem determined to pursue a succession of themes ‘The war’, ‘Don’t mention the war’, pensions for pensioners, crime, law and order, immigration and asylum seekers, schooling and education, employment and wages, health and health care – the list is predictable and familiar. Somewhere ‘Green’ issues have been allowed a platform but the treatment on offer is that of a prophylactic – a precautionary measure – a protection against foreseeable consequences – global warming for example – than an appeal to something more fundamental.

Today is the sixth Sunday of Easter. Today is also Rogation Sunday and the fact that it no longer gets a mention is, perhaps, an indication of how far we’ve become distanced from the soil and the seas that ultimately sustain us.

We get the work ‘rogation’ from the Latin ‘Rogare’ – meaning to ask. As with much in the Christian tradition the custom of invoking a blessing on crops has its origin in pagan, pre-Christian, practice. The rogation days that follow fall just before the Ascension and relate to the text from the Epistle to the Ephesians which runs: “Grace was given to each of us according to the measure of Christ’s gift… so it is said: When He ascended on high he led a host of captives and give gifts to mankind.” (Ephesians 47ff)

So what particular gifts do we anticipate? I guess the things we so readily take for granted. Unlike most children of today I grew up sufficiently close to the countryside for hymns about ‘seed time and harvest’ to have meaning. The cycle of ploughing, sowing, reaping and gathering became ever more sophisticated – but it was observable and provided a link with something profoundly primitive. Today, with supermarkets open around the clock, seven days a week, products out of season from around the world are readily available. And the problems that most of us encounter are not to do with crop-failure and famine but with glut and obesity. That’s probably true in what we call ‘The West’ – meaning the affluent nations of the world but as our collection boxes remind us we live in One World - a world of One People - One World in which climatic and economic changes have implications for everyone who occupies the planet.

Many years ago I heard a lecture which left me with a quotation that continues to haunt me: “In harvesting the earth’s resources the human input cannot simply be at the stage of consumption.” It originated in a little paperback first published here in the UK in 1973. It was by a man called Fritz Schumacher and the title was ‘Small is beautiful – a study of economics as if people mattered.’ What Schumacher did was to question the idea of ‘economics of scale’ taking the distinctions between capital and income and applying it to the planet. What he claimed was novel and revolutionary. Production and consumption were not generating an income for society – instead they were having the disastrous effect of depleting the earth’s finite resources of fuel and raw materials – in a word – its capital. Schumacher’s was one of the first dissident voices to question the viability of nuclear power, the proliferation of motorways and the consequences of modern farming techniques. His ideas were wholly at odds with the conventional wisdom of the day and never so much as when he examined economic issues from the perspective of the human spirit. In one chapter of the book he looked at economics through the eyes of a Buddhist in order to point out that Western assumptions were not universal – either in theory or in practice.

Put simply: in the West the ‘standard of living’ is measured by the amount of consumption – assuming all the time that those who consume moreare ‘better off’ then those who consume less.

The Buddhist economist would consider this irrational taking the view that if consumption is merely a means to achieve well-being the aim should be to maximise well-being with the minimum of consumption.

Since Schumacher’s ideas became influential in the re-thinking of economics worldwide consumption of diminishing resources has continued to rise. Cities have grown bigger, pollution increased, ice-caps diminished, the ozone layer thinned, rain forests eroded, fish stocks depleted.

In many parts of the world the contrast between those who ‘have’ and those who ‘don’t have’ has become more acute and as the latter become more demanding so the former take steps to protect their assets. In the book of Revelations there’s a vision of another world. ‘The river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb… on either side of the river the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month; and the leaves of the trees were for the healing of the nations.’ (Revelation 22ff)

Its a vision we must grasp and hold. It’s a vision that a new generation must embrace and make real or else the consequences of our present ignorance will become a horrifying reality.

When people prompted by conscience and anxious to be of practical help in preserving the environment asked Fritz Schumacher what they should dohe offered advice that’s as timely as it timeless:

“Change starts individually and comes from within”. You want to change the world? Then why not begin with your own life? Why not put the good ideas into practice? Why not put your own house in order first?

On this Rogation Sunday, the sixth Sunday of Easter – we would do well to be reminded that Faith doesn’t mean clinging to ideas and theories but rather resolving to make the right choices in the course of daily living.

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