Prov 1: 20-33
Mark 8: 27-38
WEEK TWO: ECOLOGY – PROTECTING OUR COMMON HOME
“Oikos-logia” the study of the home
The word ecology comes from “oikos – logia”- the study of the household. We root our theme in the concept of oikos – home. This points to the integral web of relationships that sustain the wellbeing of the whole Earth. Each creature – not only animals, insects and plants, but also non sentient creatures and minerals form part of this web and contribute to the health of the Earth. The Creation story in Gen 1 reminds us that as humans we were created on the same day as all the animals, we are not separate to this glorious, diverse earth community.
When we look at the words “oikos-logia- ecology” and “oikos-nomos- economy” we see the fundamental connection between Ecology and Economy. “Whatever befalls the earth befalls the children of the earth” (Chief Seattle).
Ecology and Economy are two interrelated perspectives on God’s household of life – oikos. Ecology then is a study of the relationships between creatures and the eco-systems that sustain them.
Do we see a forest as a financial resource – to be cut down – or do we see it as our home, which provides food, shelter, medicine and fuel for the generations to come? The current economic system which is based on unlimited growth is having a disastrous effect on this earth.
“What went wrong is very clear. It’s humanity- humankind went beyond the boundaries, ate beyond the limits – that is what greed is about and the tragedy with our world today – greed is so systemic, it’s so engraved in the global economies and it’s also bred inequalities and also bred the abuse of the environment, the abuse of nature.” Bishop Zac Niringiye.
“Earth Overshoot Day” marks the tragic day each year when our demand for ecological resources exceeds what Mother Earth can regenerate in that year. Last year it fell on August 22nd, which means that for the last four months of the year we have been stealing resources from the generations to come.
“There is a real danger that we will leave future generations only rubble, deserts and refuse” Pope Francis
Please go to www.seasonofcreation.org for more resources for the Season of Creation
by Rev Tim Gray, Diocese of Johannesburg
If ecology is the study of our common home, then we need wisdom to guide us in how to care for it. In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom is personified as a woman, present at and involved in creation (8:22-31).
But since you refuse to listen when I call, and no one pays attention when I stretch out my hand, Prov 1 : 24
In this passage we see how humans are ignoring the voice of lady Wisdom. The simple (morally immature youth), the mockers (the arrogant and skeptics) and the fools (the immoral) are warned of the consequences of their disregard of her voice. Her advice is readily and traditionally available – her voice is heard in the squares, streets and city entrances. The failure and fall of those who will not respond will be calamitous and distressful. There will be no way out of their predicament and their judgement will be the consequences of their own actions (eating the fruit of their own schemes (Prov 1: 31). The teaching and lesson of these verses is “the waywardness of the simple will kill them and the complacency of fools will destroy them” (Prov 1:32). We can no longer plead ignorance about environmental destruction, for Wisdom is calling even in the street.
Looming over our planet is a threat of extinction, acknowledged now as a sixth extinction. The Season of Creation is an appeal for new awareness and response. Every sphere of planetary life reveals a human history of selfishness and anthropocentricity. The living soil, the seas, rivers and oceans are being polluted – planetary degradation reveals the extent of the human footprint. Just as the simple, mockers and fools in the Proverbs reading of today, are told by lady wisdom that they will suffer the consequences of their strategies, so that same wisdom calls us to new perspectives in our relationship with the earth. Unless we listen to the voice of wisdom, faith and science, we too will have to endure the consequences of our behavior. Wisdom, known not only in the streets, plazas and city gates, but present at the formation of creation, continues to call us to listen to her voice. (Proverbs 3:19-20). Clearly, our own mandate as Christians is to care for and nurture Creation.
Wisdom, personified as a woman, one who permeates creation, warns us of the consequences of foolishness, let us not ignore her prophetic voice. Let us be guided by the Wisdom of the Holy spirit, the wisdom we find in science and the wisdom of our ancestors and indigenous peoples. We can see the consequences of our actions. It is time to act!
Did you know that there are ‘two books of God’? God does not only speak to us through the written book of the Bible, but God also speaks to us through creation. We can see this clearly in Psalm 19, which contains two sections.
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech Psalm 19 1-2
In the first section – v 1-6, we see that for the psalmist, the heavens and skies bear testimony to the overwhelming presence of God and declare his glory. Our ancestors recognized the voice of wisdom as inherent in nature. For our psalmist the celestial realm is independent of human language. Inaudibly and uniquely the heavens and the skies declare what they know of God. This section reveals the glory and work of God observed in the wonders of the heaven where knowledge is displayed without words.
The second section 7-14 proclaims the written instructions of the law and their completeness, trustworthiness, rightness as well as what they produce and inspire in the individual – revival in the soul, wisdom in the simple (vs 7), joy in the heart and light to the eyes (vs 8). The Psalm extols the heart of wisdom which is the fear of the Lord (vs 9) and which is more precious than gold and sweeter than honey (vs 10).
The way the writer puts the two sections next to each other shows the harmony between the glory of creation and the law. The sections represent poems from differing eras, pre and post exilic respectively, and together provide a theological unity. The witness of the heavens to God’s authoritative presence in nature and, in the law, testimony to God’s historical presence in a covenant people.
The psalmist works from a premise that when each part of creation fulfills its natural role, it utters praise to its creator. The heavens and the skies are not simply memorials to God but a living language declaring God’s glory and ability – the work of his hands. The celestial sphere has intrinsic worth and meaning. They have voice and display knowledge.
There is a profoundly sacramental quality about the universe – an outward and visible meeting of all that is inward and divine – God’s glory is evident, and the universe proclaims its mystery. We come away not only having seen celestial objects but with a sense of the divine.
As Martin Luther said “God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and in clouds and stars”
God speaks to us through nature – the question is: are we listening?
James 3: 1-12
The context of this passage is the risk posed by self-appointed teachers. Teachers who are not qualified to teach and whose indiscipline and self-interest is able to cause communal disturbance and spiritual damage. The tongue is the metaphor used by the author for speech but in the sense that it is the agent of the person who is speaking. Ultimately the passage is an observation and comment of human willfulness which can manifest both good and bad things through what they say.
The tongue operates much as a bridle does to control a horse or the rudder to steer a ship (vss 3 and 4). It is small but influential. Negatively it can be destructive. It can be the spark initiating a raging forest fire. It can be the all- possessing evil which can consume an individual. For the person carrying the image of God it should not be like this. The brother cannot carry this duality any more than fresh and salt water can emerge from the same spring, figs come from olive trees or grapes from a fig tree (vss 10-12).
As faith leaders we are called to pass on knowledge and wisdom. Our tongues can do great good, but also great harm if we pass on fake news and incorrect truths. We can see how dangerous it is when fake news stories are spread around. There is an ‘anti-science’ sentiment which is often shared on social media which breeds climate change denialism as well as making people reticent to get vaccinated.
Mark 8: 27-38
Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?” Mark 8:27
In this passage Jesus seeks understanding from his disciples as to how people perceive and understand him. Some see him as John the Baptist returned, others as the messianic herald/forerunner Elijah, and yet others as one of the prophets. Peter, speaking for the disciples and responding to Jesus direct question says he is the Christ. As with others who have acknowledged him in some way, Jesus forbids his disciples to tell anyone. Commentaries explain this on the basis of them being on gentile territory in this case Caesarea Philippi.
Peter’s understanding of who Jesus is (the Confession of Peter), is found wanting when Jesus explains what is to happen to him in Jerusalem. In Matthew’s gospel (Matt 16:13-28) the story includes Jesus’ proclamation of Peter as the foundation of the church and bearer of the keys of heaven (Matt 16: 17-19). Both accounts clearly draw on the same source and Jesus’ dramatic rejection of Peter becomes an opportunity for Jesus to teach on the meaning and cost of being a follower.
Thomas A’Kempis wrote in the 15th Century[i] “The hardest struggle is to the struggle to overcome ourselves”. Our gospel reading tells us how crucial it is not to misinterpret who Jesus is. His rebuke of Peter is that Peter has in mind the things of man rather than that which is of God. How grateful we are to Peter for the repeated failures that are reported of him! It is hard to imagine another leader with so many documented disappointments. Yet the good news is precisely the restored and transformed Peter that we are later to see courageously proclaiming the gospel in the heartland of religious cultural opposition. So too, we can overcome the worldviews that we have succumbed to and regain a paradigm which glistens with the joy and wonder of living with creation rather than in opposition to it.
It is one thing to shout, “Jesus is our Lord”; it is another to live a Christian faith of love. The outrageous love that Jesus calls us to embody is risky, courageous, and life changing. Peter was complacent about the path of discipleship. He could only focus on the eventual glory. The teaching of Jesus along the way about where this would lead was just too difficult to accept. Jesus developed His wisdom through listening to the poor and downtrodden, fisher folk and vineyard labourers and knew He needed to engage with them and champion their human rights.
In Mark 8:36-37 Jesus asks what good it is to gain the whole world but forfeit our souls. What a challenge to the materialism that hardens our heart against God and our fellow creatures!
How do we discard that tight-fitting cultural mantle, consumerism, whose fashions we so readily wear, and whose synthetic products continue to pollute our oceans and atmosphere? How do we overcome the narratives and myths that capture and hold us on a desperately dangerous extractive and industrial trajectory? That is the challenge that faces humankind
A tipping point has been reached in that we have arrived at an existential point where our exploitative nature is confronted by a planet which says, “no more’’. Many would interpret the Covid 19 virus as a dramatic demonstration of this. ‘Building back’ after the pandemic must contain a new respect for the natural environment. Our plans will need to be as Thomas Berry noted, mutually beneficial to ourselves and nature.
We need to gaze at the universe, to touch the earth and breathe its atmosphere with reverence and awe. In this regard the church has two fundamental roles. Firstly, its programmes need to purposefully assist people to engage with the natural world. There needs to be a deep commitment to the integrity of creation and to discover in practical ways, through observation and touch, the household of creation; literally to speak like Francis of Assisi of Brother Sun and Sister Moon. We will only protect what we have grown to love.
Secondly, we need to rediscover a theology of creation which dissolves any notions of human superiority. What does it mean to be made in the image of God? It means that we can declare the glory of God in creation. We are not superior or separate from the rest of creation. All of creation bears the imprint of God’s fingers. We have a unique role as earth keepers and protectors of creation. We too, bear sacramental testimony to the working of God’s hand.
What does it mean for us to take up our cross and follow Christ, the Lord of all creation in our current era of ecological devastation?
‘The Oikos Journey’: A theological reflection on the Economic Crisis in South Africa 2006. Diakonia Council of Churches
The New International Version Study Bible. 1985. Zondervan Corporation. U.S.A
The Interpreters One-Volume Commentary on the Bible. 1971. Abingdon Press. Nashville, Tennessee. U.S.A
Berry, Thomas. 1999. The Great Work. Bell Tower, New York.
A’Kempis, Thomas. 1973. The Imitation of Christ. Baker Book House by Keats Publishing, NC
Jesus, redeemer of our common home and provider for all of creation;
Teach us to value the habitats of all your creatures given into our care,
so that we can preserve the world in all of its diversity
Inspire us to value your precious gifts and never to take more than we can give,
For you live and reign in the diversity of the Blessed Trinity, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer.
Gathering in God’s name
May none of your wonderful creations
cease in their praise of you,
God of beauty and wonder –
neither at night nor in the morning.
May the glimmering stars,
the breath-taking mountains,
the fathomless depths of the sea,
the crashing waves,
the singing streams
all burst out in songs of praise to you,
the Creator of all:
Father, Son and Holy Spirit!
We join the angels before the throne
in singing “Amen! Amen! Amen!”
Power and majesty, praise and honour
are due to you,
Granter of infinite mercy.
Amen! Amen! Amen!
(A third-century prayer of praise from Egypt)
Prayer of Confession
Creating God, you give light and life,
and express delight in your creation.
You gave the command to till and care for your garden,
but we have abused the beauty of creation and keeping of your work.
We confess the plundering of finite resources.
We confess to stealing our descendants’ birthright to life.
We confess the flagrant pollution of land, sea and air.
We confess the churches’ lack of concern for the well-being of creation.
We confess the excesses within our own lifestyle.
Creating God, we have desecrated your creation and darkened your light.
In a moment of quiet we confess our profligate lifestyle and human greed.
Words of Renewal
God of life and God of light,
as we seek a new relationship with your created order,
may we sense the grace and peace
of a new relationship with you. Amen.
Responding to the Word of God
Affirmation of faith
God, the source of our being
and the goal of all our longing,
we believe and trust in you.
The whole earth is alive with your glory,
and all that has life is sustained by you.
We commit ourselves to cherish your world,
and to seek your face.
O God, embodied in a human life
we believe and trust in you.
Jesus our brother, born of the woman Mary,
you confronted the proud and the powerful,
and welcomed as your friends
those of no account.
Holy Wisdom of God, firstborn of creation,
you emptied yourself of power,
and became foolishness for our sake.
You laboured with us upon the cross,
and have brought us forth
to the hope of resurrection.
We commit ourselves to struggle against evil,
and to choose life.
O God, life-giving Spirit
Spirit of healing and comfort,
of integrity and truth,
we believe and trust in you.
Warm-winged Spirit, brooding over creation,
rushing wind and Pentecostal fire,
we commit ourselves to work with you
and renew our world.
(All desires known, Janet Morley)
Prayers of the People
Reader 1. Creator God, the freedom and responsibilities we were gifted by you have been abused. We have used domination rather than being stewards of your sacred Creation. Walls are created to keep others out instead of inns where all are welcome. Help us to trust in our identity as your children. Accept our thanks for all people who show in action that indeed your Creation is sacred.
Reader 2 Creator God, hear us as we cry out to you for peace and justice for the peoples and the land itself. Guide us to a place where sacred water, land and resources are respected and shared by all. As your Word became part of your living creation, teach us to trust in hope that one day soon all may dwell in peace and happiness. May your justice truly course through our lands like an unstoppable flood.
Reader 1: Creator, we give thanks for Mother Earth and all her abundant life. She protects us and nourishes us. Help us to conserve nature and serve all Creation. Continue to reveal yourself through your sacred creation. Help us to shape ourselves within the warmth of each day and every time we allow new wisdom to guide us and help us grow
Reader 2 God our Creator, not long ago, we took for granted that food was produced and shared in local community. Today we live within the consequences of the choices we have made and now the nourishment of Mother Earth is not available to all.
Reader 1. Great Creator, heal and redeem the wounds of your Creation. We know the food which grows from your Creation is meant for all. Help us find ways to bring nourishment to the people and places that seek it. Teach us and show us the way.
Reader 2. Creator God of earth, sea, and sky, ignite the sacred fire of your Spirit within us that we may rise up to heal and defend Mother Earth, and pour your blessing upon all who work for the caring of all your Creation.
Reader 1. Creator, you made the world and declared it to be good:
The beauty of the trees, the softness of the air,
The fragrance of the grass speaks to us.
The summit of the mountains, the thunder of the sky,
The rhythm of the lakes speaks to us.
The faintness of the stars, the freshness of the morning,
The dewdrops on the flower speak to us.
But above all, our heart soars for you speak to us in your Son, Jesus Christ,
In whose name we offer these prayers. Amen
(Kelly Sherman Conroy, Evangelical Lutheran Church)
Celebrating at the table
Holy indeed are you, O God, and holy is your eternal Word, your living Wisdom,
the firstborn of all creation, who, for us and for our salvation, took flesh in the womb of Mary,
was born and lived among us.
And, being found in human form, he humbled himself, even to death on a cross,
to deliver us from sin and death and to exalt us to everlasting life.
All this day O Lord, let me touch as many lives as possible for you.
And every life I touch, may you by your spirit quicken,
whether through the word I speak, the prayer I breathe
or the life I live. Amen
(The Mothers Union Prayer)
Walk with love and care on God’s earth.
walk with vital awareness
of God’s comprehensive vision
and purpose for creation.
Walk with awe and gratitude
to ensure justice to the trees and rivers
as well as the person next to you –
they are not without purpose in God’s vision.
(Ven Taimalelagi Fagamalama Tuatagaloa, Samoa USPG “For such a time as this” )
A beautiful version of “The Lord is my shepherd”
A playlist of creation themed hymns with words and images
A selection of hymns from Green Christian
by Rev Tim Gray, Johannesburg