Season of Creation
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The Consequences of lifestyle
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Texts (Revised Common Lectionary)
Philemon 1-21 (Roman Catholic, too)
Luke 14:25-33 (Roman Catholic, too)
We often hear people say that we must care for Creation. In reality the Environment is well able to care for itself. Where there is a wound Nature heals itself. If humans were exported to Mars, the planet would quickly recover. What we need to do more is to care about what is happening to the planet. We need to care that we are producing excessive amounts of carbon, air pollution and plastics. We should care about the effects on vulnerable communities and on species at risk.
When we start caring about what is happening to the Earth, we inevitably end up needing to examine ourselves and our lifestyles. If we do this honestly we will be motivated to campaign against ourselves – to reduce our insatiable greed, our uncontrolled desires, our own selfish demands.
And so the theme of this week: the cost of discipleship, the consequences of lifestyle challenges us to care about what is happening and to examine how our lifestyle might need to change. [i]
Hearing the Word
Comments on Jeremiah 18:1-11
Why does God allow drought, famine and floods? This passage gives us some hints. The image of the potter shows God as the potter and the people and nations as the clay. God’s sovereignty is balanced by our responsibility. God’s plan was to create a perfect creation, but humans resist that plan, we are the flaws in the clay of the perfect pot that God was creating. From a human point of view it seems that God will scrap that bit of the plan and start again – but his ultimate plan – a perfect creation – is never thwarted. The choice is ours, do we bring disaster on ourselves, or do we change our ways now to avert that future and allow God to re-mould us.
As we consider the fate of the Earth, this image of the potter is powerful. The Old Testament prophets saw the natural world as being responsive to human actions (Jeremiah 12:10-13; 22:6-9; 31:12-14; see also Isaiah 24:4-7; Hosea 4:1-3.) In our modern culture we see environmental abuse only in economic, political or technological terms. But there is a profound spiritual dimension that we often miss: ‘When read in the light of Jeremiah’s theological reading of the imperial geopolitics of ancient Mesopotamia, global warming, like the exile of ancient Israel, represents both the threat of judgement and the promise of a better way of living on God’s earth than the neoliberal vision of a global market empire.’ Humans and other creatures form a complex web of interrelationships – our actions will bring consequences- negative or positive. Ecological abuse will have negative consequences on the future generations and the most vulnerable will be most impacted. [ii]
Comments on Psalm139:1-6; 13-18
This beautiful Psalm tells the wonder of the creation of a human being, each one of us is precious in God’s sight, each one of us is wonderfully made and has a purpose in life. And yet we are reminded in verse 14 “your works are wonderful” that all of God’s handiwork is also precious in His sight. We have tended to concentrate on the love of God for human beings, forgetting that we are part of Creation. On the sixth day, God did not only create human beings, he created the whole web of life – living creatures with humans as part of the web.
Comments on Philemon 1-21
In Paul’s letter to Philemon, we find relationships being addressed within the context of a church community, which meets in a home. Onesimus is a slave who was serving Paul in prison and has become a Christian during that time. Now Paul returns Onesimus to Philemon with a request that he should be welcomed back with the status now of a Christian brother. v16 “no longer as a slave, but as a dear brother.”
Philemon, presumably a wealthy Christian who hosts a church in his home, is asked to respond with welcome, forgiveness, and generosity. [iii]
This passage challenges us within the global community of the church, where the gap between the rich and poor is widening so hugely. According to Oxfam, eighty two percent of the wealth generated last year went to the richest one percent of the global population, while the 3.7 billion people who make up the poorest half of the world saw no increase in their wealth[iv]. Climate change is impacting hardest on those most vulnerable and yet it is the wealthy who create most of the carbon emissions. If we really consider ourselves a global family, the body of Christ – then what do we need to do for the sake of our brothers and sisters?
Comments on Luke 14:25-33
Our tendency in Church is to make the message more attractive “to draw people in”. And yet
Jesus does not lower the bar of discipleship in order to avoid ‘putting people off’. He actually does the opposite! When he meets someone who is very enthusiastic, he confronts them with very difficult demands. The crowds were following Jesus and yet instead of encouraging them, he emphasizes rather the cost of discipleship.
The phrase about ‘hating’ one’s relatives and even life itself is not of course a rejection of family or an encouragement to self -hatred. It means that nothing should take priority over our allegiance to Christ. Cultural norms or family traditions may need to change – we will have to ‘count the cost’ as if we were engaged in a military campaign.
We will need to make decisions about our lifestyle, consumption, political allegiance, holiday habits, travel choices etc. We may need to reject some of the values of our peer groups and families if we are to be true to God’s call to care for Creation.
Interpreting the Word
This section of Luke is presented as teaching for all the crowds who were following Jesus. It is placed immediately after the parable of the Great Banquet, which illustrates God’s welcome for everyone especially the most vulnerable. We are challenged to become disciples, not just followers and that has a cost. We need to sit down and look at our lifestyles and decide what must change – just as in building an extension on your home or preparing for a battle, if we do not plan the potential consequences range from ridicule, through to financial ruin or and military occupation. The potential costs of discipleship are spelled out. We have to consider our priorities, and understand that following Jesus will take precedence over family ties and obligations, over relationships and commitments, over security and comfort, over possessions and finances, over popularity and crowds. We are reminded that our lives are not our own – they are a gift from God, and all of life comes under Jesus’ way.
When we consider God’s creation, there are many voices to listen to – firstly those living with the consequences of climate change and environmental destruction right now, but also scientists, economists, campaigners, theologians, and future generations. The costs of inaction are becoming clearer every day – because inaction is a path of “business as usual”, and we are called to a path of transformational love. The blessings from listening to God’s call to care are tangled up in struggle and costs to our current way of life – but the invitation to follow, and find new fruitful life, is there too.
Preaching the Word
Why should we therefore make the huge changes to our lifestyles that are necessary for climate change to be slowed down? These passages unpack some of the reasons why:
The story of the potter shows us that although God is Almighty, yet he allows us as human beings to make choices. Climate change and environmental degradation are results of the choices that individuals have made in our personal lifestyles and governments have made in their choices around economics and technology. Although the situation is bleak, it is not yet too late, the clay can be remoulded. Romans 8:19 reminds us that “Creation is standing on tiptoe for the children of God to be revealed”. Our individual choices make a difference – and when those many small changes are networked with multitudes of others, they can lead to transformational change.
We are part of the web of life
Our Psalm reminds us that Creation is wonderfully made and every creature is precious in God’s sight. We need to take time to lament the loss of each member of God’s family of Creation and act to protect the great biodiversity that still exists before it is too late.
Care for other members of our Global Family
The story of Philemon and Onesimus reminds us that we have a responsibility to care for people who are vulnerable. We recognise as sisters and brothers people from all across the world. There is an urgency to act, as floods and drought increase we will see a rapid increase in climate refugees and impact on safety and security.
We are called to be disciples
Jesus called people to be disciples, it was not just a physical following. Following involved a “metanoia” (radical turning around) of lifestyle, world-view and spiritual orientation. As Paul says ‘So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!’ (2 Cor 5.17). If our lifestyle as Christians is the same as those who are not Christians then we need to ask ourselves questions – have we been transformed from the culture of the day which worships consumerism?
Living the Word
Where can I start? The environmental challenges are so huge and what can one person do?
The place to start is here: follow your heartbreak. We cannot all be involved in all the environmental issues, so identify the one breaks your heart.
Perhaps it is climate change and the face of drought and famine. Educate yourself about the impact of climate change on a country or community where you have links. Commit yourself to doing an electricity and fuel audit of your home and your church. See how you can make small changes (geyser blanket, lift sharing, changing light bulbs). Get others involved in bigger project – solar panels for the church or school – and find out what your politician’s stance is on renewable energy and challenge them in letters to the press. Get your Church denomination to divest from investments in fossil fuels. Look at where your pension money is invested, can it be taken out of fossil fuels?
Perhaps it is plastic which breaks your heart, clogging our oceans and lands. Commit yourself to stop using plastic bags for shopping. Reduce one-use plastic for your family. Start a campaign at church! Get the local churches in your community to put pressure on supermarkets to stop using plastic bags. Sign a petition to get the Minister of the Environment to ban plastic bags – as has been done in Kenya and Rwanda. For example churches have started the “Bring your own bag” campaign. (1. Commit to bring your own bag when shopping; 2. invite unemployed church members to make bags; 3. Put pressure on your local store to stop using plastic bags; 4. put pressure on the government to ban plastic shopping bags)
Or perhaps it is the loss of biodiversity that breaks your heart, as animals and birds die out due to our neglect and greed. Commit yourself at home to stop using chemicals and products that kill insects. Promote them at church and school. Start an organic garden. Find a part of Creation near you that you can care for and encourage others to get involved in (river clean -up, local park or nature reserve). Get involved in an international campaign to protect an animal you care for.
The needs are huge – but the principle is this: start with what breaks your heart. Find an action you and your family can take. Inspire others, join networks. Research tells us that transformation change come when networked individuals change. And have fun!!- God is with you.
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Southern Africa
[i] [i] Martyn Goss: Easter “Green Action News” Diocese of Exeter
[ii] Michael S. Northcott, A Moral Climate; The Ethics of Global Warming (London: Darton, Longman and Todd/Christian Aid,
[iii] Eco-congregation Scotland: Creation Time Resources 2016