by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Jeremiah 31: 7-14
13 Then young women will dance and be glad,
young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31: 13
Jeremiah was known as the ‘weeping prophet”, persistently bringing a prophetic and often unwelcome message during four long decades.
He brought God’s warning to Judah, that they would be destroyed if they continued to disobey God’s commandments. The consequences of their actions came to pass in the year 605, when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Jerusalem and carried off 10,000 of the most able Jews (including Ezekiel and Daniel).
At that point, Jeremiah’s role was expanded as he was now bringing God’s word to the Jews in exile. Up to now his messages were of warning and the consequences of their actions – but in these chapters he brings a message of hope to the people in exile. Do not despair, there will be a return to the promised land, your mourning will be turned into gladness.
However, he warns that this would not take place in their lifetime, they must not act on false hopes that Babylon would be overcome – they must settle down , build houses, plant gardens and stop listening to the false prophets who said that Judah would never be destroyed. This further destruction took place in the when 586 when the Babylonians did return to Jerusalem and sacked it, destroying the temple and carrying the remaining able bodied people into captivity. Those listening to Jeremiah’s message of hope would not return to Jerusalem ever in their lifetime.
What is the message for us today? Firstly, that we must listen to the truth – there will be consequences for our actions – let us not listen to the false news prophets who say that there is a miraculous or techno solution to climate change. Secondly, we need also need to listen to the message of hope – that in the future there will be restoration – our mourning will turn to gladness. Perhaps not in our generation, but the world will indeed be renewed.
Jeremiah was a brave man, tenaciously faithful to God’s call, in the face of opposition and harsh criticism from political leaders and peers alike. Although he has been called the ‘weeping prophet’ crying over the sins of the people and his lack of success of getting them to turn from their ways, he was also a man of great hope and faith. He held two truths in balance, firstly, that sins have consequences, and secondly that God is faithful: “They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you” (Jer. 1:17-19).
How do we hold those two truths together in our time? The consequences of our sins of abuse of creation are becoming more and more prevalent as oceans rise, droughts intensify and extreme weather events multiply – and we must continue to cry out for justice for the Earth and the poor. We must also refuse to listen to the false prophets who offer easy solutions. And yet, like Jeremiah we also must preach a message of hope.
Archbishop Tutu was once asked how he could still be optimistic that apartheid would fall one day. He replied “I am not an optimist – I am a Prisoner of hope”.
Like Jeremiah – let us continue to speak prophetically – for we too are prisoners of hope.
Ephesians 1 : 3-14
For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Eph 1:4
To bring all things in the universe together under Christ. Eph 1:10).
Unlike some of the other epistles, the book of Ephesians is not written to address a heresy or to solve church political squabbles. Paul is trying to get his readers to see the bigger picture, to see that we are not called to individual salvation for our own personal benefit, but that God has a greater calling than that upon the Church.
The letter opens with amazing statements about God’s purposes. We have been saved to bring praise and glory to God. The climax of God’s purpose, when the times will have reached their fulfilment is to bring all things together under Christ (1:10). In order to understand this incredible calling we need to understand that we were chosen ‘before the creation of the world’.
The Christ, present at creation, was part of creation. 16 For in him all things were created (Col 1:16)
What is then our purpose and calling here on earth? What have we been ‘predestined’ to do?
I find the teaching of the Irish monk Columbanus (540 -615) helpful in my understanding. The mystery of the human condition, he says, is that we are ‘in-between’ creatures, not only angels and not only animals, we embody both – the divine and the physical. This image of God, in which we are created is good because it is the image of God. This is how we were predestined to live. And yet we do not act as if we are made in the image of God – we abuse our fellow human beings, and abuse God’s creation.
Columbanus says this “the defiling of the image of God is a great condemnation. For if they abuse what they have received from the breath of God, and corrupt the blessing of their nature, then they distort their likeness to God and destroy its presence in them. But if they use the virtues implanted in them appropriately, they shall be like God.”
Christ was present at the start of Creation, all things were made through him and for him. When we destroy what God has made, we destroy the image of God in which we are created, and we corrupt our very nature.
We cannot worship Christ as the Lord of Creation and destroy that very creation.
John 1: 10-18
He made his dwelling place amongst them. John 1:14
When we think of salvation we normally think of the cross, and Jesus dying to save us from our sins. And yet, salvation did not only take place on the cross, for here in the incarnation we see that heaven and Earth, the creator and the creation came together and brought healing for the world. The Word became flesh and in the delightful The Message translation, ‘Jesus came and pitched his tent with us, he moved into the neighbourhood’ (John 1.14).
This is the basis of Christian discipleship—that Jesus pitched his tent with us; we walk with Jesus and he walks with us. This also shows us that the world is not evil—it is good, for Jesus came to be within it and sanctify it. What can we learn from Jesus’ life as we walk with him?
Most religious people still think that God is elsewhere. God is not ‘out there’, the incarnation shows us that God is ‘in here’ – we need to heal the human-divine split. This is Grace – that Jesus became flesh, that God visibly moved into the material world to help us overcome the illusion of separation (John 1:14).
So in the same way as we are made holy by the infilling of the holy Spirit, the whole of creation is filled with the presence of God, and Creation holds the finger prints of the loving Creator. The incarnation not only calls us to honor the divine with in us, but to treasure and hold as sacred all that has been made by God’s hand.
by Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa