Sermon by Bishop Geoff Davies: Dr Ian Player Memorial Service

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Bishop Geoff Davies

My welcome to you all. Many of you will have known Ian better than I. From my experience he was a deeply spiritual man. He was a faithful member of St Mark, the little Anglican Church in Karkloof. It is right that we honour him here in Hilton College Chapel.

Like many of us, I have a personal gratitude to him. When we were considering establishing a faith based environment institute, he was most encouraging. About time! was his response.

And so SAFCEI, the Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute, which involves all the major religions of southern Africa, came into being and we are most grateful for Ian’s encouragement.

He was supportive for, as Sheila Berry reminded me, Ian rightly berated the Church for not being more involved in caring for the environment.

In turn, and in honour of Ian, I encourage all of you who are involved in a faith community and have connections with religious leaders, to recognise our responsibility to care for creation and to encourage them to act, and act urgently!

Thank God, we now have Pope Francis recognising the importance of doing so, as are other mainline churches. Next month the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town, Thabo Makgoba, is hosting a conference of Anglican Eco-bishops from around the world. The eco-faith movement is growing – about time indeed.

From both a Jewish and Christian perspective, we have good reason to be involved:

Recall how the Bible begins: Genesis 1, verse 1

Genesis 1:31. God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good.

Everything – not just us humans.

And Genesis 2:15. The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

And in the New Testament we hear St John saying (3:16): “For God so loved the world”. The Greek is Cosmos. God loves the whole cosmos, all of life.

Psalm 104:

For our reading I want us to share together in saying a part of Psalm 104 which gives us an inkling of God’s care for all of life. Please join together in the verses in bold.

These are just a few of the many passages which show that our anthropocentric theology is seriously misdirected. God is not concerned only with us humans, but with all of life on this incredible planet.

Read the Bible with green spectacles and you will know that God is green!

Why is it so important for faith communities to be involved? Religions have the most widespread community networks in the world, and SAFCEI is proof of how we can work together to care for the earth.

We also need courageous prophets to speak out, like of old “Thus saith the Lord”, not foretelling the future but telling the truth, like Archbishop Desmond Tutu did over Apartheid, and Alan Paton and Ian over the environment. They were all saying “If you continue on this path of injustice, the consequences are going to be horrendous”.

They all spoke boldly, and clearly said that we must do the right thing – do what is right for people and planet – for God’s creation. There are transcendent values which we must uphold – values of love and compassion, Justice and equity, tolerance and inclusivity, upholding the diversity of life on this beautiful planet.

As the Bishop of Natal, Rubin Phillip, wrote in his tribute: “In the prophetic tradition, Ian challenged the values that give rise to the destruction of nature – self centeredness, greed and the ever growing consumerism that devalues nature.”

In honour of Ian, I again encourage you to follow his example:

We must become activists and speak out boldly.

Let’s face the truth. We are bringing about the unravelling of evolution. Millions of years of creativity is in the process of being destroyed. We face a precipitous future with the prospect of fifty percent of living species becoming extinct. But there is hope if we change our ways.

So no longer think that the pursuit of wealth is our purpose in life. Don’t fall into the trap of agreeing to so called “developments” because they make money.

Ask if development proposals – these human initiatives – further the well-being and good of people and the natural environment – NOT will it make money for me?

Jesus said very clearly ‘You can’t serve God and Mammon’.

Mammon is not money as such, but accumulated wealth.

Our contemporary world is obsessed with and worships Mammon.

This is a planet of abundance. Our injustices have made it a planet of scarcity.

Ian knew this. He understood that our global obsession with money and the growth economy requires that we pump more oil, cut more trees, sweep the oceans of all life, poach Rhino and pollute the earth with our waste. This is destroying the natural world on which we are all totally dependent and causing increasing inequality and poverty.

The time is coming, nay has arrived, when (Shell, BP, Exxon, EXXARO) the big oil and coal conglomerates can no longer justify their existence by claiming, “We are making a profit for our shareholders”. They have to consider the impact their fossil fuels are having on the natural environment – and on people.

If we burn all the fossil fuel that is still in the ground, we will roast the planet.

The best thing you can do – we should do– is to off-load oil and coal shares.

Disinvestment brought pressure on the Apartheid regime. Now, as Archbishop Desmond has said, we can bring pressure over this greatest threat of climate change through divestment in fossil fuels.

If you think I am being a bit too challenging, I have a strong sense that Ian would be saying “at last, at last!”

Finally, and most importantly, for God and Ian’s sake – and ours – we must protect Wilderness areas. They are sacred. They are places where we can reconnect with nature and restore our souls. Once destroyed, we can never bring them back. Government, you simply cannot allow coal mining to defile Mfolozi. To protect it would be a fitting monument to Ian. We ask the Government to ensure the protection of wilderness areas. They are a most important part of our national heritage.

We are most grateful that the Minister and Deputy of Environment were able to attend and bring a message from President Zuma.

And so we open this memorial service with a prayer as we honour a person of immense stature who, through his life, showed courage, vision and passion in his quest to care for God’s creation.

It is a Prayer for Healing. This time I ask you to start, with the bold verses:

CLOSING PRAYER

Creator God, we have come together in Thanksgiving for the life and example of Ian Player and your calling to him to care for life –the life of all your creation.

We give thanks for his initiatives:

In canoeing;

For his delight in the wonder of life and his work and commitment to preserve creation from extinction;

For his delight in the indigenous people of Africa.

For his inspiration to so many to know the wonder of the wilderness and the priority of preserving it.

For his inspiration to train others, so that they too may follow his example.

We pray your blessing that from this gathering we may be so inspired, in giving thanks for the life of Ian, that we may be encouraged to follow his example.

Amen

Prayer of St Francis: St Francis is the patron saint of animals – and compassion, such compassion that the animals came to him in trust.

We join together in praying it.

A Prayer of Commitment

Finally, I ask that we join in a Prayer of Commitment, asking you again to say the lines in bold.

It ends with a commitment.

We commit ourselves to do all we can to uphold and preserve life in all its diversity.

I can’t make you say it, but hope you would like to do so.

SENDING FORTH

Go forth now to care for God’s world.

Share your knowledge.

Sacrifice where necessary. Live in harmony with all creation.

Go out into all the world as prophets of a new way of living

And preach the good news to all creation.

And the blessing of God Almighty, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,

Be with us all now and always.

Amen

Bishop Geoff Davies, Patron, Southern African Faith Communities’ Environment Institute (SAFCEI) 0837545275

 

 

 

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