WEEK THREE – ECUMENISM: THE FAMILY OF GOD IN OUR COMMON HOME
“Oikumene – the whole inhabited world”
We have looked at ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’. A third word that comes from the root of oikos is “ecumenical’, which comes from oikoumene – the whole inhabited world. This is a grounding point for the ecumenical movement of Christian unity. “Ecumenical” contains the idea of both economy and ecology. God has created this, our common home and is seeking justice, equity, reconciliation and the flourishing of the whole of creation. The idea of the oikoumene, the house in which God is at work – the whole of the inhabited universe, provides a theological alternative to the concept of globalisation.
There are many negatives to globalisation, particularly the destruction of biodiversity and climate change. Many multi-national corporations abuse workers and the planet, exploiting the lowest labour costs and the weakest environmental standards they can find globally to make their products. In contrast to globalisation, this vision of “oikumene” is described as the place of God’s reconciling mission:
And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nation. Matt 24:14
In Acts we read of Agabus in Acts who told of the great famine that would come over the whole world ‘oikoumene’, and the response of the people which was to give to those in need.
One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world…. So the disciples collected money for the people in Judea. Acts 11: 28
The picture of the oikoumene helps us see the positive side of our global networks. It recognises the unity of all humans whatever their culture of social class. They are not just faceless labourers or consumers serving the multi-nationals. The eleven-year-old boy digging coltan in DRC to go into my cell phone has a face and name because of social media. We must challenge the nightmare of rampant globalisation with the vision of the shared oikoumene – a home for all.
One of the key ways of combatting the negative effects of globalisation is to work ecumenically – recognising that we are all part of the ‘Oikos tou Theou’ – the household of God, the church (Eph 2:19) – the community of faith. It is wonderful to see how a concern for our common home is uniting Christians globally. The Season of Creation which started in the Orthodox Church, has spread to the World Council of Churches, Anglican Communion Environmental Network, Global Catholic Climate Movement, Lutheran World Federation and now other churches and movements.
“The calling of the church is to hold up the radical inclusivity of the household of God, in which all are invited to sit at the family table as equals.“ (The Oikos Journey)
The church must be a constant witness against the economies of exclusion, which takes God given resources of the Earth and the labour of the poor and delivers them into the hands of wealthy shareholders.
The Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and others have called the oikos of God “the Beloved Community”, a community in which all of life are equally members, equally precious to God.
Please go to www.seasonofcreation.org for more resources for the Season of Creation.
by Rev Shaun Cozett, Diocese of Cape Town
In Genesis God set a dome over the Earth. The word “dome” is where we get words such as ‘domicile’ and ’domestic’ — in other words, God puts us all is — all people, all life — under the same domed roof — we are all in the house, the oikos of God. God gave humans the ministry to take care and cultivate this oikos of God.
(Season of Creation Ecumenical Guide 2021)
Proverbs 31: 10-31
Probably one of the most famous passages in the Book of Proverbs, chapter 31 tells of the industrious wife. It explains how she is able to perform many tasks both inside and outside the home; how she is able to raise money and buy a house, raise a family and bring pride to her husband. But is this meant to be a job description for a good wife? McCreesh (1985) argues that this passage is not meant to be taken literally, because if it is, it would suggest that women are meant to do everything in the home while their husbands sit in the places of honour and boast. This passage is rather about wisdom and comes as the final chapter of the book to summarize what had already been said. Wisdom is often spoken of in feminine terms, so to speak of wisdom as a woman or a wife (depending on your translation) is nothing strange. Here the wife (wisdom) is portrayed as desirable, because she is able to generate wealth, build a family, inculcate good values and bring honour. This passage shows us that wisdom, as an attribute, is highly regarded in the Bible and something we should strive towards. It is Wisdom that models the way to look after our home. Note how she ensures everyone, and everything can flourish: her family, the poor, the land and the economy!
This passage teaches us that we must be guided by wisdom to protect our common home. Where do we find such wisdom? The Spirit of God will guide us, but we must also listen to scientists who are also guided by wisdom. It is interesting to note that the Anglican Communion has just set up a Science and Faith commission chaired by Archbishop Thabo, recognising the importance of faith and science working hand in hand. Globally too we are realising that we must be guided by the ancient wisdoms of our ancestors and the voices of indigenous people. Belief systems that came with colonialism have devastated the globe, it is time to learn from ancient wisdoms that treasured Mother Earth and teach us that we are part of the web of life and not separate to it.
Psalm 1 suggests that there are two paths that can be followed, the path of righteousness or the path of sin. The Psalmist suggests that those who follow the path of righteousness will find favour with God and will enjoy the blessings of God. The way of the sinners will lead to destruction and ultimately such a person will not be able to defend themselves on the day of judgement. Psalm 1 is considered a Psalm of Wisdom, as the focus of the psalm is not on expressing the prophetic word of God, nor does it exalt God, but rather it offers insight and guidance to the person who seeks to live a life that is pleasing to God. The emphasis here is on instructing the individual believer in how to live their life. This characteristic is common in Wisdom literature, that it seeks to impact the decisions of the individual and calls on the individual to make wise choices, promising that it would lead to God’s blessings. When we live in harmony with nature, there will be shalom, right relationships and we will give fruit in its season.
This Psalm encourages us to seek to spend time with other people of faith, rather than ‘sitting in the seats of scoffers’, it is as we work together ecumenically that the movement to care for creation will grow.
James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a
James, in today’s lesson, writes that there are two kinds of wisdom; that which is from the earth and that which is from above. James goes on to call the reader to be reconciled to God. He writes that where jealousy, envy, hatred and anger are present, such ‘wisdom’ will be disorderly and the wisdom that leads to these attitudes and the resulting actions will lead to disorder and conflict. This is the kind of wisdom which does not come from heaven but is earthly wisdom. The wisdom that comes from heaven is characterised by love and loving action. James goes on to encourage the reader to be reconciled to God and live according to God’s laws. This passage is another example of Wisdom literature, since the aim of the passage is to encourage the righteousness and right living of the individual. The passage, like Psalm 1, does not offer prophetic words or understanding of who God is, but rather is aimed at the individual making decisions. James makes clear that there is wisdom in the world, but the reader should be clear about the origin of that wisdom and where that wisdom would lead.
“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18
James challenges us not to show envy and selfish ambition. Sadly, in the environmental movements, sometimes jealousies and cracks do appear, and people want their name to be noted, their organisation to get the credit. Perhaps we should turn to the wisdom of the mighty rivers such as the Amazon. The Amazon is fed by many tiny drops. Every drop is important, for they trickle into streams which become rivers. And all those rivers have names. But it is only as those rivers lose their names and converge into the mighty Amazon that they gain power to wash away rocks and wear down mountains,
To have power in our movements, we may need to lose our name…
Mark 9: 30-37
Jesus speaks about his death for the second time, and this leads to the disciples discussing amongst themselves who the next leader would be. Jesus famously tells them that anyone wishing to be the leader should first be the servant of all. This conversation is of course held in the context of an honour and shame culture, in which the desirable position to be in is the one that allows the community to see you as a person of honour. The leader of the disciples would no doubt have been a powerful position, given the following that Jesus had and that the new leader could potentially build on. Jesus reminds his disciples that in the kingdom of God servanthood is more desirable than power or status and that they should focus on humility and love above power and prestige. This again is a challenge to our ecumenical work – are we looking for status or for service?
In verses 36-37, Jesus tells us that in welcoming children we welcome God himself. Today, many children and young people suffer from climate anxiety and despair about the future. Wisdom for us, must include listening to the voices of young people and seeing climate change as an intergenerational justice issue.
Today’s lessons are all examples of Wisdom Literature. Typically, Wisdom literature seeks to convey a message based on life experience. If you follow the message, you will find life and blessing, and if not, destruction will follow. Wisdom literature is common in the Old Testament and found in Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are all considered books of wisdom. But are these books meant for those who have sinned and need to return to God?
In traditional theology, humans sin and then God offers salvation, but Wisdom theology on Godly living shows a different path. God offers us salvation from the start, teaching us from the beginning and guiding our thoughts and actions. Wisdom literature calls for salvation and right living and seeks not to shame those who have acted unwisely but rather offers the good news of salvation in the knowledge that no-one can act wisely at all times.
The call to salvation is therefore a call made not in response to sin and the need to plead forgiveness but is the promise that righteousness would lead to blessing, in the hope that this would encourage us to choose wisely and follow God’s laws. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”.
The issues of sin, ethics and morality are often associated with environmental damage (Messer, 2014). The concept of anthropogenic climate change by definition indicates that the changing climate and loss of species is the direct result of human actions. How are we supposed to respond? Looking today at the Wisdom Literature we see that our efforts should be invested in unpacking the benefits of doing the right things as well as stating what might happen if we did the wrong things. Wisdom in the Bible is distinguished from knowledge, which is the result of personal efforts and life experiences. Wisdom is given by God and is meant for the building up of the community. The way we frame a sermon on salvation during the Season of Creation should not merely seek to indicate how people have acted incorrectly and need to amend their actions, it should be the Good News that God offers us His wisdom and the rewards of wise living, even while we are still acting unwisely.
The sermon therefore should focus on hope and the promises of God for those who will honour God through righteousness. We are also reminded that sin speaks of the separation in the relationship between God and human beings, which only God could heal through His redemptive love on the cross. Preaching about the damage done to God’s creation is therefore a critical part of reflecting on the severing of that relationship, knowing that in creation God said that all that is created is good.
The call to salvation is therefore a call back to God’s goodness, but not of our own doing, it is a call back to God through God’s efforts and God’s sacrifice. For the Christian therefore, caring for creation is a response to salvation and not a means of salvation.
The great threats of our time; climate change, species loss and inequality point to lack of care for creation and each other, a lack that has seen humanity focus on individual wellbeing and financial success. Following today’s service, in is intended that congregants would have a renewed understanding of God’s generosity and the love that made restoring our connection with God possible. There are many factors that have led to the current lamentable state of creation, some of which are outside the control of the individual, but where we are able to take personal action, the right thing to do is to act in love for others and for creation. These actions, we are promised, will lead to blessings and a restoration of life as opposed to wrongful actions that will lead to destruction. The call to salvation today is a call to recognise that God offers both an opportunity for our relationship with God, which has been broken by sin, to be restored, and also the reminder that this offer of salvation has always been there. We act in love as a response to God’s offer of salvation, and not because we ourselves are righteous or justified through our actions.
The Oikos Journey 2006 . Diakonia
McCreesh, T 1985 “Wisdom as a wife: Proverbs 31: 10-31” in Revue Biblique Vol. 92 No 1 pp. 25-46 Peeters Publishers
Messer, N 2014 “Sin and salvation” in Systematic Theology and Climate Change: Ecumenical Perspectives ed. Northcliff, S & Scott, P Routledge: New York, NY
HarperCollins Bible Dictionary: Revised and Updated, 1989 HarperCollins: New York, NY
Mullins, T. 1949 “ Jewish Wisdom Literature in the New Testament” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 68 No. 4 (Dec. 1949) pp. 335-339. The Society for Biblical Literature
God of the living earth
You called us to be part of your beloved community,
baptised into one family through the sacred waters of life
called to care together for your world.
Guide as we work to sustain our common home.
Help us to find the path to living in peace and harmony with all your creatures
united by the divine dance of the Trinity.
Gathering in God’s name
Call to worship
Creator, you bent the earth like a bow until it was one, round, shining planet. At your word the land was drawn into mountains and deserts, forests and plains; the waters were gathered together into rivers, lakes and seas. Many times, when people crossed these seas from other lands, they broke the circle of your creation by their greed and violence, and they shattered the lives of others. Creator, renew the circle of the earth and turn the hearts of all people to one another; that they and all the earth may live and be drawn toward you through the power of your Son, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit in the circle of the Trinity, forever One.
(Kelly Sherman Conroy, Evangelical Lutheran Church)
Act of Penitence
Lord Jesus Christ, the firstborn of creation, in whom all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
You who are before all things and in whom all things hold together, the head of the church,
Christ, have mercy
Christ, have mercy
In you all the fullness of God dwells and through you God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things in heaven and on earth,
Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy
Assurance of Forgiveness
God who in His wisdom sent us Jesus Christ as an offering for our sins, once and for all, forgive us our sins and restore through the cross of Christ our relationship with himself, with each other and with all of creation. Amen
Responding to the Word of God
Affirmation of faith
We have faith in One God, one Source of all life.
One Ground of the whole earth,
with all her creatures.
We have faith in the fullness of earth’s life,
in the innate worth of all her dependents,
in human partnership in the life of nature.
We have faith that in Christ we have been shown the
special role of the human race
to bear God’s likeness in working and
caring for the earth,
in seeking to understand her mysteries
and powers, in gently working
with these powers for the well-being of
all children of the earth.
We have faith
that God´s Spirit will lead us to
sensitive closeness with earth’s life.
Prayers of the People
Let us pray:
Creator God, we thank you for your word, the word that was with you at the creation of the world, the word that went forth from you and created light and separated it from the darkness, creating land and separating it from the waters, giving life every creature and calling us to be the carers of all you created. We thank you for Jesus, the promised Messiah, who came to earth as the word made flesh and taught us how to live.
We acknowledge before you that we haven’t always lived up to our calling to be stewards of your gifts. Forgive us for our lack of care that has caused pollution of the land, sea and air. Forgive us for our greed that has caused the over-use of water, the extinction of insects, birds, fish and animals, the burning of forests and the exploitation of people. Forgive our love for war and violence through which we have disrupted countries, displaced people, poached animals and caused devastation for the earth.
We bring before you all who suffer; the sick, the homeless, the unemployed and the lonely. We pray for comfort for the bereaved and rest for those who have gone before us.
We thank you for teachers of the faith who remind us of your grace and your love for us. For teachers in places of learning who help us understand your wisdom in creation and open for us new ways of knowing you and praising you. We thank you for homes and institutions that teach values of love, fairness and godly living and for all who pass on the story of your salvation from one generation to another.
We ask your blessings on the leaders of our country, the ministers of your word and sacrament and the faithful here gathered. May we be channels of your grace and companions in your transformation in the world. We ask these things through Christ who loves us and the Holy Spirit who empowers us. Amen
(Scottish Eco congregations)
Celebrating at the table
Sharing of the Peace
As a community let us embrace the ongoing work of being stewards of all your creation. We see God around us. Let us claim it. We see God within us. Let us share it. If we are in Christ, we are becoming a new creation. One Body. Let us show the caring nature you have instilled within us by greeting each other as a sign of God’s justice of peace, love, forgiveness and grace. The peace of our Creator be with you in all things.
(Kelly Sherman Conroy, Evangelical Lutheran Church)
Invitation to Communion
Draw near and receive the body broken and blood poured out.
Christ was sacrificed for the world and by his wounds we are healed.
The Lord’s prayer
Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:
The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your beloved community of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.
With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.
(New Zealand Prayer Book, adapted)
Post communion Prayer
God has restored us by the cross of Christ and renewed us with His word and sacrament. Let us go forth into the world to renew and restore all that is broken, lost and hurting. Amen
Renewing Spirit, Creator God, look upon these faces gathered in Holy community together and send them anywhere you would have them go, so that they may embody the ministry of justice for your Creation through their actions. Walk with them so that they may face the winds of change and walk the good road. Enlighten them. Sustain them. May God our Creator be with you this day and always.
(Kelly Sherman Conroy, Evangelical Lutheran Church)
From Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard
207 – Praise to the Lord the almighty the king of creation
15 – Dear Lord and Father of mankind
249 – Take my life and let it be
394 – Lord of all hopefulness
by Rev Shaun Cozett, Cape Town