32nd of the Year, 7 Nov 21
How much waste do you create? It’s topical as we think about climate change and the benefits to the environment of using things as much as possible. On a good day, I’m not too bad: I’ve even been known to make chicken soup out of a chicken carcass. Any left over turkey after Christmas dinner, yes I’ve made a curry with it. But, if I’m honest, there are days when I really cannot be bothered! It can be hard work using up all the scraps. It’s a mindset though that is clearly in the heart of God and one for us to reflect on today.
In the Gospel we hear St Mark recording a widow who comes forward to place “two small coins, the equivalent of a penny“ in the treasury at the entrance to the Temple. The money that was placed here was used for the maintenance of the priests and the Temple and to support the poor of the community. That she is a widow is particularly meant to evoke sympathy for there was a real danger that in our Lord’s time women who had no husband to look after them would fall on financially difficult times. In the life of the Church there has been at different times a particular vocation for women whose husbands have died to devote themselves more clearly in prayer and devotion and this has been a source great blessing. Remember the Widow of Zarephath mentioned in our first reading who acts in obedience and testifies to the generosity of God. Remember too Anna in St Luke 2 who waits in the Temple for the Messiah and recognises the forty day old child to be the long-awaited for one.
In this event we are reminded that Jesus lived alongside the poor. He was born in a stable in Bethlehem, the least of the tribes, as mentioned in the prophecy of Micah 5:2. He is worshipped by Shepherds whose work was menial and unimportant as far as most people were concerned and it isolated them from society. His parents had to offer the poor person’s offering in the Temple of two turtle doves or pigeons (St Luke 2:24). Jesus learnt a trade as a carpenter, taught by His dad. There was no family grave and so Joseph of Arimathea has to lend them a tomb as our Lord is removed from the Cross on which He died (St Mark 15:43-46).
If you’re poor you can’t waste stuff, from cigarette butts you find on the street to bits of food left over. There’s a danger that we have created a wasteful society where it is all too common to throw things away, even to throw them on the street. Our humility then should mean we are learning how to live from the poor: they are to be our masters. We are therefore to have this appreciation of what might otherwise be wasted.
In St John 6:39, Jesus says, “This is the will of Him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that He has given me, but raise it up on the last day.” Jesus says this in the context of His teaching the crowds that He is the Bread of life. Here we find the image of crumbs being gathered up and the collecting of whatever was left over from the Feeding of the Five Thousand earlier in the chapter being an important metaphor of this. Nothing being wasted. But Jesus applies this to people.
I want to suggest four areas of life where we need to be less wasteful.
First, concerning others. One character of the relationships we have with each other as a congregation is people coming and going. Parishes in London particularly have to cope with this element of metropolitan life. It can be tiring: you just get to know someone and they head off or you don’t see them for a while because they’re working shifts. Somehow we have to live with the chaos of twenty first century life while ensuring no one is lost.
Finding out people’s names and getting their contact details is a good way to do this. Being willing to share your name. It’s the reason for our social gatherings like the ones we had at St Mary’s today and the drinks we’ll have at the Good Shepherd after Mass in two weeks time. It’s not just because Father likes a nice glass of wine! These are opportunities for us to get to know each other so it’s harder to lose folk,. to be wasteful about those whom God has placed in our midst. We show we want to respect our fellow Christians with whom we worship the Living God who calls us in to fellowship with Him.
We can otherwise be tempted to ignore certain people and to forget about them: they are lost to us. We might do this with the sick and the dying, who sometimes it is all too easy just to send off somewhere and leave someone else to care for them. We can be tempted to think the last few days of someone’s life are not important: “Oh, we can end the life because there’s no quality to it.” We can be tempted to forget the dead: one thing the Church reminds us not to do by having in our calendar days like All Souls’ Day which we celebrated on Tuesday. The dead, even if they’re not forgotten, can end up being abused in other ways, by being accused without any ability to reply, especially if they have no children or grandchildren to stick up for them. Our prayer for the dead accords them dignity and reminds us not to forget.
The second element where we can’t be wasteful is our worship. It’s good for us to know the structure of the Mass, what comes next and so on because it helps us to relax in to the worship. But because there are different bits of the Mass shouldn’t detract from the appreciation that the Mass is an entire unit, whole and perfect, in which we participate. We join in with the hymns whether we can be bothered or not because they’re part of our communal offering. We’re here for the whole of Mass because we’ve offered a less than perfect Mass if we miss bits out and God deserves the best of what we offer.
This symbolism of the totality of the offering was important in the Old Testament’s understanding of sacrifice. One of the themes in all the different types of sacrifice is that nothing was to be wasted. The first fruits was God’s and then could only be given to Him, using it in a different way was just unthinkable (Nehemiah 3:9-10). With the Passover, whatever was left was to be burnt (Exodus 12:10). The prophets criticised the sacrifices for being pointless if the offerer didn’t in turn offer the whole of himself to God (Amos 5:21-24). Don’t miss bits of our worship and think they don’t matter.
Thirdly, Not wasting anything is also important when it comes to our consideration of the climate. Christians must not be worried about the future of the planet. We know it’s going to end one day and Jesus tells us not to worry about tomorrow (St Matthew 6:34). Our way to engage with the debate in our day about climate change and COP26 and all that is to talk about us being stewards of God’s creation. Nothing to be wasted means we will use things up rather than throw them away. It means we won’t put the heating on when we’re only wearing a T-shirt in doors because that is wasteful. It means we won’t drive when we can walk.
Finally there’s a danger we can be wasteful with bits of ourselves. We hopefully know what we’re good at it and what we’re bad at. But God doesn’t only use the bits of us that we’re most proud of. If we’re an amazing singer we should use that to the glory of God, but it might be that you’re a rubbish singer but you singing your little heart out at Mass encourages others who are also not very good to do the same. We have to be careful not to too easily write off bits of our life, bits of our personality as not useful. God could have given that to us for a reason. We learn about this by laying it all before God and being open to the promptings of His Spirit.
So, my friends, as we marvel in the gift of God’s creation we see Christ’s Body and Blood offered for us on the altar through the simple means of Bread and Wine. Let’s have our actions and perspectives changed so we’re less wasteful: not disregarding any bit of our worship, nor anyone around us, to ensure the wellbeing of the climate and treasuring every bit of who we are. Amen.