Sermon for Rogation Sunday – 2019

The Revd Canon Chris Newlands, Vicar of Lancaster at Lancaster Priory

I am conscious that there are those present today who have made a lifelong study of the Environment and how we can tread more gently on God’s good earth and be kinder to this planet which has been the home of the human race for as long as it has been in existence; and for many, many millennia was the home of the species that preceded our short time living on Dear Mother Earth, as St Francis calls it.

I, alas, have not dedicated my career to this issue, though of course I am in complete support of the dedication of those who do make it their life’s study.

So I am not at all intimidated by those present who know far more about this subject than I do, for as luck would have it, I find myself preaching today.

So I have studied a great academic work on the subject of the environment. It was written by Dr Theodor Seuss Geigel, and I was able to read it in a day, I found it so fascinating. With a name like that, he is bound to be highly intelligent, of course.

To his many devoted followers, he is just known by his middle name, usually with the American, rather than the German pronunciation, so he is just known as Dr Seuss. And the treatise I read is this: it is called The Lorax. I do thoroughly recommend it to you. It takes about 5 minutes to read. I have wasted far too much time reading things of far less worth than The Lorax.

Let me summarise the book for you – with a few quotations thrown in, because his use of words is just … so braggadocious.

The story is told in the past tense by the anti-hero of the story, a man known as The Once-ler, whom we meet leading a sad and lonely life in a depressed post-apocalyptic world. A young boy goes to see him and to hear his story, and this is what he tells him. He remembers the beautiful, colourful world he once encountered.

“Way back in the days when the grass was still green

And the pond was still wet

And the clouds were still clean,

And the song of the Swomee Swans rang out in space,

One morning I came to this glorious place,

And I first saw the trees! The Truffula Trees!

The bright coloured tufts of the Truffula Trees!

Mile after mile in the fresh morning breeze.”

The beautiful countryside is filled with lovely creatures, the brown bar-ba-loots, which fed on the truffula fruits; the humming-fish swam delightedly in the rippulous pond.

But the Once-ler is seduced by the soft texture of the truffula tufts that were softer than silk, “and they smelt of fresh butterfly milk!”

So of course the Once-ler knew what he had to do. He chopped down a truffula tree to take the soft tufyt, and he knitted it into … a Thneed! But as soon as he’d finished, he heard a ga Zump, and out of the stump of the tree he’d chopped down, he saw an odd creature emerge.

He was shortish, and oldish, and brownish, and mossy, and spoke with a voice that was sharpish and bossy. “Mister!” he said with a sawdusty sneeze I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees! I speak for the trees for the trees have no tongues, and I’m asking you, sir, at the top of my lungs, “What’s that thing you’ve made out of my Tuffula tuft?”

The thneed was the most ridiculous garment you ever would see, like a onesie but even more ridiculous.

The Lorax said, “Sir, you are crazy with greed! There is no one on earth who would buy that fool thneed.” 

But right then a man walked up and paid the Once-Ler £ dollars 98 for the thneed.

So, with an eye for business, the Once-ler calls his whole once-ler family to come and make a fast buck from making the thneed, which no one really needs! He even invented a Super Axe Hacker to chop down the Truffula Trees even faster.

Then the Lorax once again calls on the Once-ler to say that the poor bar ba loots who used to eat the truffula fruits were now really unwell as there were not enough truffula fruits to feed them all. So the poor bar ba loots had to leave the land to find food elsewhere.

The Once-ler continues to expand his business, or in his own words,

I meant no harm, I truly did not. But I had to grow bigger, so bigger I got. I biggered my factory, I biggered my roads. I biggered my wagons, I biggered the loads of the thneeds I shipped out, and I biggered my money which everyone needs.

And the Lorax returned again to see the Once-ler, because now the poor Swomee Swans could no longer sing because the air was thick with smog from the factory, so they all flew off to find air they could breathe. He also has to send away the humming-fish because the gluppity glop from the factory was poisoning the pond where they had contentedly swam. So they had to walk on their fins to find a new home also. And the they heard a loud whack. From outside in the fields there came a sickening smack of an axe on a tree. Then they heard the tree fall. The very last truffula tree of them all.

So – no more trees, no more tufts, and no more thneeds!  So all his family all his workers upped and left, and all that was left was the Onceler, his big empty factory, and the Lorax. But the Lorax soon was gone, too as he lifted himself yup by the seat of his pants. But when he left, there was one thing on the spot he took off from. A small pile of rocks with the one word, “Unless.” But the Once-ler couldn’t guess what that word meant at all.

But then after years of pondering the awful mess he had created he tells the young boy (you remember the young boy who came to talk to the Once-ler?) and he said:

But now that you’re here the word of the Lorax seems perfectly clear

UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot

Nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

And then he does something he’s never done before. He gives something to the boy.

“Catch!” called the Once-ler. He let something fall.

“It’s a truffula seed, It’s the last one of all! You’re in charge of the last truffula seeds. And truffula trees are what everyone needs! Plant a new truffula, treat it with care. Give it clean water and feed it fresh air. Grow a forest, protect it from axes that hack. Then the Lorax and all his friends may come back!”

I make no apology for telling you that story. But I want to ask some questions about it, and I will try to answer those questions for you.

The first question is this. The Lorax spoke for the trees, the bar-ba-loots, the swoomy swans and the humming fish. Who speaks for all the creatures in the planet today that are at risk?

I hope this is where God (finally) comes into the sermon. The God who made all of the creature on this planet, those that are, those that are no more, and those that soon may be no more if we do not intervene to stop the extinction of entire species. It is only God’s voice calling humanity to stop, in the same way that the Lorax called the Once-ler to stop chopping down the trees. But how do we hear God’s voice today?

It was Saint Teresa of Avila who said this:

Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

And to this I would add, “Christ has no voice on earth but yours” when you speak to defend His creation. So let us speak boldly to defend this wonderful planet we share with all God’s creatures.

The second question is this:

Once he had gained wisdom, the Once-ler regretted his actions and said, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not!” So – who is it today who cares a whole awful lot? Do we care? Or more pertinently, do we care – enough!? Do we care enough to speak out against those who are biggering their own empires at terrible cost to the future generations? Will we speak our forcefully against those who are only growing their tree-destroying machinery, and growing their Super-Axe-Hackers as bigly as they can, even though it may cost us to be so outspoken? It is called prophecy, and it has been needed throughout the history of God’s people calling out injustice for as long as there has been evil and destruction in the world.

And the final question is this: if you are in charge of the last truffula seed – do you care enough for the future to treat it with care, give it clean water and feed it fresh air, to grow a forest?

Well today you are in luck – because we are going to give you all a truffula seed. Look after it really carefully and plant it somewhere it can grow! (It might look a little bit like a sunflower, because truffulas don’t really exist – its only a story!) but for the purposes of our story today, you are the guardians of the truffula seed!

Jesus told lots of stories about seeds, and he told stories about people. One story Jesus told said that if people can look after little things with great care, they will be trusted to look after much larger things.

So here is a little thing to look after! And if you look after it well, the big thing you will be asked to look after – is our beautiful home, this planet, the Earth. Our fragile, beautiful home. It needs our love and our care. Will you protect it and see it grow? I really hope you will.