Season of Creation (6) – St Francis Day: Oct 4th

Season of Creation

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St Francis day

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Texts (Revised Common Lectionary):

Lamentations 1: 1-6
Psalm 137
2 Timothy 1: 1-14
Luke 17: 5-10

Introduction

Today’s service focuses on the life and ministry of St. Francis of Assisi. Francis was born in Italy, in 1181 AD, into a wealthy family. His father was a wealthy cloth merchant and made frequent trips to France, and their family life was lived amongst the  bourgeoisie of the day. Growing up Francis received elite schooling and as a young man was  known for his flamboyant lifestyle and extravagance. As a young man, St. Francis enduring a prolonged period of illness during which Francis would spend time in the forests and caves surrounding Assisi and it is here that he is believed to have received a vision in a dream. Francis was convinced that he was called to follow a life of poverty, in following the way of Jesus. Francis would later give back all his belongings to his father, including the clothes in his back, and choose instead to live amongst the lepers. Francis was known for preaching not only to people but also to nature, as seen in one of his most well-known writings, The Canticle to Brother Sun.

Hearing the Word

Comments on Lamentations 1: 1-6

The prophet Jeremiah laments the fall of the once great city of Jerusalem. The city was once was the home of many and a favourite amongst travellers is now empty. A great, autonomous city is now subject to others. A city once characterised by joy and is now known for its weeping. The people of the city, who saw themselves as God’s chosen, and thus set apart  from other nations, now live amongst other nations, away from the symbols that were to remind them that they are God’s covenant people.

Jeremiah was sent to the people of Jerusalem to prophesy that God would bring calamity upon them if they did not obey God’s commandments. The people of Israel ignore the prophet’s calls resulting in the destruction of their city and their enslavement by the Babylonians. Today there are many in our world working tirelessly in the advocacy for our care of creation. Resource into the cause of climate change has concluded that it is no longer in doubt that human activity is the primary cause of climate change. We are being called to live our lives in such a way that the earth is able to recover. Our failure to do so might lead to our lamenting at the destruction of the places we call home.

Comments on the Psalm 137

This Psalm captures the spirit of the Israelites in captivity in Babylon. From the first verse see the posture of sitting, an indication of the sorrowful mood that they are in. The rivers of Babylon as a location likewise make it clear that they are away from the promised land and living in a foreign land. They have moved from the known to the unknown This Psalm is a lament of the people of Israel who are captive in Babylon. They are separated from the places and worship and long for the temple and the gathering of the community of faith. The Psalmist however is clear that they although they are being mocked by their capturers and feel the separation from their homeland, their connect to God remains and this is what give them the strength to face what life throws at them.

As we remember St. Francis today and we see the separation of the people from the promised land, it serves as a symbol of how far humanity has moved from being connected to creation. Our care for animals has been broken, as we see in the poaching of rhinos, to the extent that the world’s last male Northern White Rhino has died and that subspecies now faces extinction. The ongoing battle between humans and baboons in the Western Cape is another example of the inability of humans and animals to co-exist. Our recent water crises around the country was a reminder to consider how we use our natural resources.

Today we also consider that St. Francis chose to live amongst those who were removed from their homes to live in leper colonies. This Psalm also helps us to consider those who have been moved off their land for political and/or economic reasons and yearn to return. We hear the cries of those who long for their land to be restored. We think of the many in our country who have been moved off the land and have a desire to return. As we hear the cries of the people of Israel as they remember Zion, we remember all those who are weeping as they remember where they have come from and we pray for the landless throughout the country.

Comments on 2 Timothy 1: 1-14

In this passage St. Paul reminds Timothy of his personal  suffering for the sake of the Gospel. In much the same way St. Francis believed that his calling to a life of poverty was to follow the example of Christ. St. Francis, though born into a wealthy family believed that he should give up all and follow Christ, who emptied himself and took the form of a servant. The examples of Jesus, Paul and Francis call us to consider what it means to be Christian in a world driven by greed and a desire for possessions. How do we live Christ-like lives in our time?

As we consider St. Paul’s sufferings, we are reminded also of all others who suffer. Our water crisis in particular called on us to consider how we would live on limited resources. But there are many in our country for whom living on limited resources is a reality. There are many for whom piped water and proper sanitation remain a dream. There are also those who breath in polluted air, eat food that is not sufficiently nutritious and live in areas prone to extreme natural events that could lead to disasters. Can we also consider those for whom the environment therefore means illness and destruction?

Comments on Luke 17: 5-10

There are two main themes in today’s Gospel; faith and service. In the first two verses we have a dialogue between Jesus and his disciples in which the disciples ask Jesus to increase their faith. This is an honourable request because they realise their need only for faith but for and ever increasing faith. Jesus tells them that if we have true faith we could perform mighty works. It is interesting that this request does not come when they are in trouble and are seeking faith so that they may endure, but rather they are seeking a growing faith for the living out of their lives. Jesus tells them faith the size of a mustard seed is sufficient to move a mountain. All things are possible to those who put their faith in God.

In the next five verses Jesus poses a question. He asks his disciples about their practice of managing their servants. He tells that a servant’s duty is to serve and to ensure that the work that has been assigned is carried out. The servant doesn’t get to rest unto the work is done. Jesus reminds them that when a servant has done their duty they are never thanked for it nor have their done anyone any favours, they are servants and they have served. Our duty, as servants of God is to do the will of the one who calls us. Our service for God is no guarantee that things will work out in our favour or a promise that God owes us something. We are servants.

Christians, God calls on us to be good stewards of God’s creation. At this time when so many of the earth’s systems are suffering, we are to work for the restoration of creation. it is good to have faith that things will work out, but as St. James reminds us,  “faith, if it is not accompanied by works, is dead” (James 2:17). Thus as Christians we should follow the example of St. Francis and commit ourselves to caring for all that God has placed in our care.

Interpreting the Word

We live in a world that is suffering because of human greed. So many of the problems we face are as a result of being disconnected from creation, from God, from each other and even from ourselves. Our two readings from the Old Testament tell of the disconnect between the people of Israel and the promised land. This disconnection is seen in the destruction of the land (Lamentations 1: 1-6) and is heard in the cries of the people (Psalm 137). The Biblical disconnection comes after God has warned His people to turn from their ways or else face his anger. But the people refused, knowing that they are God’s own people and God would always act on their behalf.

St. Paul in the same way tells Timothy that, although he has dedicated his life to the service of God, he still feels the pains of suffering. St. Paul’s service to God is in no way a guarantee that he would not suffer. Jesus likewise tells the disciples that they are to have faith but not forget to work.

The story of St. Francis is the story of a man who had all the material possessions he could ever dream of. His family ensured that he received the best education and he found himself in the company of the elite of his day. Francis only really found himself once he discovered his connection to God and not to things. This connection made Him see himself as connected to those who suffer, to the point that Francis lived in a leper colony in order to be closer to the people of God. Francis also spoke of the elements of nature as being connected to him, calling them Brother Sun and Sister Moon. St. Francis is remembered as the patron saint of the environment, but his true legacy is in showing us the importance of being connected and that this leads us to seeking for God in everything.

Preaching the Word

One way to illustrate the theme for this sermon is to talk about connections. How are different things connected to each other to make a car work? Or how do ingredients and processes together become a cake? What happens when components no longer work together? Can we see how our disconnection from creation (people, plants, animals and processes) has led to the destruction we see around us?

Living the Word

How can we find God in the people and nature around us? Can we see ourselves as connected to creation  and connected to all people? Can we see God in others? And once we do, how does that make us live differently?

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Southern Africa


Henry, M “The Complete Commentary on the whole Bible” Kindle edition

Viviers, H. 2014, “The Second Christ, Saint Francis of Assisi and ecological consciousness”, Verbum et Ecclesia 35(1), Art #1310

Season of Creation (5): Sept 29th

Season of Creation

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The curse of affluence

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Texts (Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15
Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16
1 Timothy 6:6-19 (Roman Catholic, too)
Luke 16:19-31 (Roman Catholic, too)

Introduction:

The story of Lazarus and the rich man is a living parable for South African Society. According to a report just released by the World Bank South Africa is the most unequal society in the world.[i]After nearly two decades of progress following the abolishment of apartheid, South Africa’s societal gains are now deteriorating. While overall the country’s poverty levels have fallen since 1994, at least 2·5 million more South Africans since then have become poor. Over half the population lives under the poverty line. Unemployment stands at a staggering 28%. Most worryingly, the gap between the rich and poor has worsened for this upper-middle-income country—71% of wealth is now held by a 10% elite; the bottom 60% of the population hold just 7% of assets—making South Africa the most unequal country in the world. The triple challenge the report describes—poverty, unemployment, and inequality—is a toxic mix for health. The warning signs for a future health crisis are here: 39% of South Africans live in overcrowded housing. Food security, stunting, and child malnutrition are worsening since 2012”. [ii]

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table.” Luke 16:19-20

Hearing the Word

 Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

For those who live in comfort, complacency is a special temptation. We can sink into a lethargy that says all is well, or at least not too bad. Meanwhile the environmental situation is rapidly deteriorating with huge implications for the poorest of the poor and vast numbers of God’s creatures.  The starting point for those who are affluent is to open our ears to God’s voice and our eyes to the real world around us.

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15 gives us a divine perspective on possessions. Jeremiah is being held prisoner by King Zedekiah. Jerusalem is under siege and Jeremiah is unflinchingly prophesying God’s coming judgement.  And then Jeremiah’s cousin comes to him with a business proposition. He is being given the opportunity to buy a piece of land from his uncle in his home village.

Israel had property laws (Leviticus 25:25) which aimed both to prevent extremes of wealth and poverty, and also to protect family inheritance. And so, Jeremiah was asked to purchase a field from his uncle. Even though he is prophesying destruction, he purchases the land in a powerful symbolic action that shows Jeremiah’s faith in God’s future plans. He believes that judgment is coming, and yet he also believes in redemption beyond the disaster. From this we can draw hope.. While corporate greed, corruption and individual greed are the prominent characteristics of society – there is little hope of ecological flourishing or the wellbeing of all. And yet God also promises to renew the face of the earth. We must challenge economic and environmental injustice, but we are also working and living the redemption of God’s Earth

Comments on Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

This beautiful Psalm reminds us that whatever our fears may be, God will protect us. In Cape Town the fears of Day Zero woke many people up to the reality of environmental challenges – they can change your life completely. Many people now feel anxious about the future of the Earth.  The Psalm has a wonderful picture of a chick being kept safe under the shadow of its mother’s wings. One imagines an eagles nest high up on the mountain. The chick may fear being left alone and being attacked by a predator, but once their parent returns they feel safe and secure. Just as with the story of Jeremiah who bought a field trusting in future redemption, we know that God’s plan ultimately will be fulfilled “I will show my salvation”

Comments on 1 Timothy 6: 6-19

1 Timothy 6:6-19 also speaks into the danger of setting our hearts on wealth as a life goal. Instead we should aim at contentment (6-9). Our current economic system creates insatiable demand and continuous consumption. Happiness does not come from having more, but from desiring less. Consumerist materialism in a world of limited resources is destroying the planet. There is enough for our need, but not for our greed. Rather than aiming for more and more, those who have assets are encouraged to use them creatively and generously, “be rich in good works”(17-19).[iii]

Luke 16:19-31

 The story of Lazarus and the rich man has a similar warning to the rich. The rich man displays all the characteristics that 1 Timothy condemns – pride and living the ‘good life’ through luxury and selfish ease. He ignores the poor man living at his gate, hungry, ragged and sick. After he dies, he still has no respect for Lazarus, he asks Abraham to send him if he were his slave (24, 27).

This is a very harsh story. The rich man had no excuse of saying “I didn’t know” for Lazarus sits at his very gate.  In the afterlife he will suffer endless pain. Why can his family not be saved? They also know the situation, they are rich and know of the poverty of others and do nothing. They know the words of the prophets about poverty and injustice.  If Lazarus was sent back to them, they would only chase him away.

We often like to focus on the love of God and find this story jarring, and yet it is true to the key message that runs through Scripture that God is on the side of the poor. Society tips the balance the other way.

Christians cannot look at the current state of the world, the inequality, the climate challenge, loss of biodiversity, and claim ignorance. If we refuse to accept our complicity, then we will find the hardest judgement of God. There are real challenges here for all Christian churches and this is not a ‘feel good’ message.[iv]

Interpreting the Word

We live in an inequal world. 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, according to a new Oxfam[v] . The rich and getting richer and the poor and getting poorer. South Africa is one of the most unequal societies in the world. [vi]

Into this situation these passages are very important. They make it clear that it is not ok for churches to accept the status quo. We must be on the side of the poor and disadvantaged and be the voice for the voiceless.  As followers of Christ, we are challenged to make a preferential option for the poor, namely, to create conditions for marginalized voices to be heard, to defend the defenseless, and to assess lifestyles, policies and social institutions in terms of their impact on the poor.

Preaching the Word

How can we then be ‘rich in good deeds’ – how do we hear the “Cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor “in the words of Pope Francis.

Jeremiah reminds us of the Biblical view of wealth – there were laws in place to prevent the build-up of wealth over many generations. The Jubilee principle was a way of redistributing wealth. In South Africa the rich have become richer and some people from previously disadvantaged communities have joined the ranks of the super-rich. But the reality is that life for a huge number of South Africans is harsh, they are living the life of Lazarus. The capitalist society makes is worse, the rich gain interest and the poor pay interest.

The story of Lazarus shows us that in our culture we separate ourselves from suffering, we build security fences and keep poor people away. But the reality is that we are locking the suffering out and also ourselves in. The richest communities are the most isolated.  These patterns are destroying community. Sunday morning is the most segregated hour in South Africa.

Lazarus is the only person in all of Jesus’ parables who has a name. And that is significant – poverty is not “them out there” it is people with names, and children and stories and talent and resources to enrich others. The rich man is not given a name. We know he  is a religious man for he does call out to Father Abraham for help, but he had locked the poor out of his life.  The challenge for us is to rewrite the end of the story, to break down the barriers and to get to know the names and faces of those outside of our comfort zones.[vii]

When Jesus says ‘the poor will always be with you” (John 12:8). He is not saying – there will always be poverty so we don’t need to worry about it. He is quoting from the Torah :”If among you, one of your brothers should become poor, in any of your towns within your land that the Lord your God is giving you, you shall not harden your heart or shut your hand against your poor brother, but you shall open your hand to him and lend him sufficient for his need, whatever it may be … For the poor you will always have with you in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’ (Deuteronomy 15:7-11). What he is saying is the poor will always be with you – so open your hands to give. The poor should always be with us, in our prayers, in our giving, in our decision making, in our social networks.  If the poor are not part of your life and ministry and parish priorities then Jesus challenges you – the poor should always be with you.

Living the Word

So how as South Africans can we address the inequality issue? The reality is that the income gap has widened since 1994. The Bible principles of Jubilee encourage us to look at what does restitution mean for us. Inequality has developed over many generations. The children of the rich inherit: a good education, access to transport, networks of influence which makes job seeking easier, access to resources such as internet , and wealthy relatives who can assist with down payments or inherited money from family members.

According to the Restitution Foundation “restitution involves seeking to set right the generational ills of inequality by engaging those who have benefited from the system, directly or indirectly, in transferring wealth and social capital and reinvesting in communities that are still suffering.

We need to also recognise that often our wealth (from stocks and shares) came with an environmental cost, often borne by those in the poorest communities. A share in a coal mining company contributes to air pollution related health issues to townships in Mpumalanga. Our consumerist society has produced vast swathes of plastic pollution in the oceans.

Restitution is a key component of justice, which we understand as the restoration of right relationships between ourselves, other people, and our environment, in which there is enough for everyone and no one goes without, and the dignity of every human being is revered.” Our actions through generations have increased patterns of injustice, increased poverty and caused great environmental degradation. For this we make restitution, following the Biblical Jubilee principles.

Many churches are involved with great love and compassion in acts of charity: food donations, winter clothes drives, Christmas gifts. These actions are often: once off, non –relational, giving of surplus, giving what the giver things the person needs.  Charity does not look at long term solutions.  Restitution is long term, relational, potentially costly and developed in conversation with those to whom restitution is being made. Restitution, unlike charity, is: – “Highly relational; – Potentially costly; – Long-term; – Developed in conversation with those toward whom restitution is being made”[viii]

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Southern Africa


[i] Overcoming Poverty and Inequality in South Africa. The World Bank. March 2018

[ii] The Lancet , Volume 391, April 2018

[iii] Eco congregation Scotland Creation Time 2013

[iv] Eco congregation Scotland Creation Time 2016

[v] https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2018-01-22/richest-1-percent-bagged-82-percent-wealth-created-last-year

[vi] https://www.fin24.com/Money/Home/sa-inequality-grows-as-rich-take-larger-share-report-20171214

[vii] https://cac.org/both-praying-and-doing-2016-05-20/

[viii] http://restitution.org.za/ the Restitution Foundation

Season of Creation (4): Sept. 22nd

Season of Creation

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Hear the Cry of the Earth and the Cry of the Poor

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Texts

Jeremiah 8:18-9:1
Psalm 79:1-9
1 Timothy 2:1-7 (Roman Catholic, too)
Luke 16:1-13 (Roman Catholic, too)

Introduction

Traditionally there has been a split in South Africa when it comes to environmental issues.  The late Steve De Gruchy explained that we have two agendas – firstly what the refers to as the “brown agenda” the traditional development agenda – concerned with poverty – housing , sanitation, unemployment. The second agenda is the “green agenda” and this has characteristically been the agenda of people who are not poor – “greens are concerned with saving the whale or the rhino, protecting endemic flowers, removing alien species and preventing urbanization. But beyond the fads of suburban elites, we must acknowledge that the mature green agenda focuses on such things as climate change, access to water, reliance on fossil fuels, erosion of top soil, dumping of toxic waste and deforestation. While we may hold that such concerns are born of the privilege that the non-poor have for thinking about things other than poverty, that in itself does not make these concerns any less correct. Any reading of the environmental data will make it unquestionably clear that these are fundamental issues that also strike at the heart of social regeneration, for they are precisely concerned with the sustainability of society into the next generation. And for those who believe that God has created the earth good, and that we human beings hold it in stewardship for the next generations, the green agenda is also of deep significance for Christian believers In our search for social regeneration, then, Christians and others are confronted with these two agendas – the brown agenda with its focus on poverty, and the green agenda with its focus on the environment.

The solution he argues is to develop an “olive agenda” – “the mix of green and brown suggests an olive agenda; which in turn provides a remarkably rich metaphor – the olive – that holds together that which religious and political discourse rends apart: earth, land, climate, labour, time, family, food, nutrition, health, hunger, poverty, power and violence.”[i]

Pope Francis brings these two agendas together as he challenges us to “hear the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.” [ii]

Hearing the Word

Comments on Jeremiah 8:18-9:1

Three voices can be heard in this passage. Firstly there is the voice of Jeremiah himself, in anguish over the plight of God’s people. He pleads with God to end their suffering. Secondly there is the voice of the people of Israel who complain that God is absent, their harvest has failed and a hard winter is ahead of them. Thirdly there is the voice of God, angry because the Israelites have abandoned him to serve other gods.  Jeremiah feels both the pain of the people of Israel and the broken heart of God at the lack of his people’s obedience.

In the Bible communal suffering is understood to be caused by being estranged from God through unrighteousness and injustice. It would seem that the solution to the pain would be for the people of Israel to repent of their ways, and turn back to God. But they seem to be paralyzed, fearing that God has totally abandoned them.  And so Jeremiah longs to be the mediator – bringing them back to God. “Is there no balm in Gilead?” Balm is an aromatic, medicinal substance derived from plants. Gilead was an area east of the Jordan River, well known for its spices and ointments. The “balm of Gilead” was, therefore, a high-quality ointment with healing properties. The Bible uses the term “balm of Gilead” metaphorically as an example of something with healing or soothing powers.

His tears become a symbol of balm and healing, bringing peace and also rain soaking the drought stricken fields.  Tears are a symbol of repentance and also of healing and new life. [iii]

Comments on Psalm 79:1-9

This Psalm is also a lament. This time they do not mourn the drought and failed harvest, but the destruction of God’s temple. The Psalm is very graphic, describing the horror of the disaster, bodies eaten by birds, human flesh attacked by wild animals, blood pouring like water. The suffering is too great and the people cannot cope any longer. They beg for forgiveness. “Help us and deliver us” (v 9). Later on at the end of the Psalm they express their confidence that God will heal and bring new life “we your people   the sheep of your pasture will praise you for ever” (v 13), Lamentation and confession is cathartic and the first step towards healing.

Comments on 1 Timothy 2:1-7

This passage reminds us that the Church’s prayers should be global in their scope. Supplication, prayers, intercessions and thanksgivings are to be made for everyone (v. 1) so that must include the poor, the needy and victims of injustice and environmental degradation. Prayer for ‘those who hold power kings and those in high positions’ (v. 2) is directed to ‘a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and dignity’ for everyone. Taken more widely, we look to our leaders to facilitate a quiet and peaceable life for those who are victims of injustice, and to do so with an eye to the flourishing of creation that makes this possible. Peace and prosperity in the Biblical understanding is ‘shalom’ very different from the ‘prosperity’ gospel that is often preached which equates prosperity with worldly possessions. A healthy environment and a just society are both necessary for such an outcome. Poverty and environmental degradation go hand in hand. As Pope Francis says in the Laudato Si “The poor and the earth are crying out”[iv]

The passage reminds us that prayers should not just focus on our own list of petitions and those close to us, but that we must remember that we are part of the global community and pray for the Earth community.[v]

Comments on Luke 16:1-13
The shrewd manager (or the unjust steward)

If there was a contest for the strangest parable, this one would win it! Jesus’ encouragement to “make friends by means of mammon” (translated in the NRSV as ‘make friends by means of dishonest wealth” is hard to understand! The central character of the story appears to be being  commended for dodgy deals or acting ‘shrewdly” (v 8).

The context of Luke 16 is money- there are two stories – the dishonest Steward and the Rich man and Lazarus, and this should be the context of our discussion. Luke generally has harsh things to say about the rich:

  • He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. (1:53)
  • Woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. (6:24)

According to Luke, being rich is not a good thing. This is probably because in first century Palestine to be rich often meant exploiting somebody through land foreclosures, charging interest , or collaborating with the ruling Romans.

The manager faces economic ruin and so he decides to reduce the debts of those who owe his master. According to the Old Testament forgiving debts is a morally good thing to do, even though the motives are selfish. That the rich man commends the manager is striking; should we accept this commendation?  Jesus calls the manager ‘adikia’ – literally unjust – so what does the story really mean then?

The point of the story is not to emulate any character. The rich man is evil. The manager is equally evil, despite his reduction of debts, which is only enacted to save his own skin (an act that earns the admiration of the evil master!)

What is important is to look at Jesus comments that follow the story: “For the sons of this world are shrewder in dealing with their own generation than the sons of light.” (16:8). This is so true – people take advantage of the systems of this world to benefit themselves, and Christians should have different values.

So then what should we make of Jesus’ advice to “… make friends for yourselves by means of mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”? Is Jesus not telling us to follow the example of the dishonest manager? No, .the manager made “friends” in order to be repaid in social dividends whereas throughout Luke’s Gospel Jesus teaches that making “friends” was to be done without hope of reciprocation, we are only freed from the power of mammon when we are free to give it away:

  • Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. (6:30)
  • But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great. (6:35)

Jesus is instructing us to do precisely the opposite of the dishonest manager – rather than making deals with the poor for personal gain Jesus calls us to genuinely make friends with those who cannot repay us thus creating social unity between rich and poor. We will be ultimately judged on our levels of compassion –how did we use our money? – “make friends for yourselves by means of mammon, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings.”

Where does our treasure lie? Ultimately the issue comes down to our love of mammon, or money and possessions. God calls us to be released from the hold of money, to use it to help the poor. If we love our mammon and possessions then we will use them shrewdly or dishonestly, seeking personal benefit like the dishonest manager. If we are freed from them, we can use them for kingdom growth.

Many people have tried to make the dishonest manager an example of wisdom to be followed  – which goes to show that we tend to interpret the Bible in a way that supports a consumerist Western lifestyle. [vi]

Interpreting the Word

Lament
The readings from Jeremiah and Psalms are lamentations. When we consider the state of our country – crime levels, environmental degradation and levels of inequality, we must indeed lament. Ecological grief is a new challenge – fear of the future as we consider climate change. Acknowledging ecological grief is not submitting to despair and it should not ‘switch us off” from the issues, because we feel helpless to act. Just as grief over a loved one often helps us to put into perspective what is important in life, ecological grief can give us a stronger commitment and love for the places and species that inspire and sustain us. However, being open to the pain of ecological loss may be what is needed to mobilise us to act and prevent such losses[vii]. In the Bible, suffering, and particularly communal suffering, is often a consequence of sin. So in lament we also confess – we must recognise the need for change. We cannot accept a society where the poor live in shacks with no access clean running water, while other homes have more toilets than inhabitants.  We cannot accept a society where profit is made for shareholders by degrading the face of the Earth. In our lament we must hear the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth.

Prayer
Timothy calls us to prayer. There are many levels of prayer – for instance in our recent situation of drought in the Western Cape, there were many calls to prayer. Do we pray for rain? Do we pray for South Africans to learn that water is precious, and the learn to save and treasure it ? Through the fears of “day Zero” and having no access to piped water – do we pray that Capetonians will understand more about the inequalities of their city and understand a little more about how life feels for those in informal settlements who queue every day for water  – who have always been living Day Zero?

Wealth
In Luke, God is on the side of the poor and the marginalised. What does that say for us in South Africa? Just as in Palestine at the time of Jesus , wealth comes from somewhere. We live in a shockingly unequal society – where the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer. The children of the educated have access to better education, the children of the wealthy inherit property and resources that enable to them to progress faster and further. The Church must take a stand to be on the side of the poor and the Earth. What does restributive justice look like in our settings?

Preaching the Word

The strands of the readings today call us to three actions, lament, prayer and action. With so many different challenges facing us – how do we pray, how should we act?

Our goal should be this: we should be headed toward God’s shalom – toward God’s realm of peace with justice that includes all of creation. That is the big picture.  God’s shalom is life in all its fullness  – a  “community that has enough to care for all of its members, that is safe from major threats, that is economically sufficient, that is in harmony with the natural world, and that embodies justice for all.”[viii]

Shalom is not found in individual prosperity – it is found in community, in the collective wellbeing of the web of life.  It is not about personal wealth , but about common good. And so we lament where shalom is not present – the water crisis, the environmental degradation, the abject poverty faced by so many. We pray for shalom to come – justice, clean water, safe living spaces and protection of eco-systems. And we act that God’s kingdom may come here on earth as it is in heaven.

Living the Word

What actions can we take to bring about shalom?

In our personal lives, we can consider the impact of our live style on the planet and the poor. What changes can we make to fuel use, plastic use, electricity use?

Our church building can become a role model for all who visit. Indigenous plants, organic vegetables, water tank, recycling bins, solar panels, LED lights, Creation Care services, outdoor activities for youth  – there are so many ways to work towards shalom. When someone walks through our doors can they see that we worship a Creator God?  And we must consider our budget – are we partners in justice? Can we support churches in disadvantaged areas to be able to put in water tanks? What are we doing with our investments? Many churches run on income from interest on stocks and shares. Do we concern ourselves with the impact of those businesses on the poor and the environment?

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Southern Africa


[i] Oikos, God and the Olive Agenda: Theological Reflections on Economics and the Environment, S De Gruchy – 2009

[ii] Pope Francis : Laudato Si

[iii] Scottish Eco-congregations Creation time resources 2013

[iv] http://time.com/3925814/pope-francis-climate-change-encyclical-prayers/

[v] Scottish Eco-congregations Creation time resources 2016

[vi] https://liferemixed.net/2011/11/30/shrewd-manager-luke-16/

[vii] https://theconversation.com/hope-and-mourning-in-the-anthropocene-understanding-ecological-grief-88630

[viii] Progress Toward Shalom Rev. Peter Sawtell, Eco-Justice Ministries,  November 4, 2012

Season of Creation (3): Sept 15th

Season of Creation

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The Community of All Creation

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa
Texts (Revised Common Lectionary)

Jeremiah 4;11-12, 22-28
Psalm 14
1 Timothy 1:12-17 (Roman Catholic, too)
Luke 15:1-10

Introduction

There are four main types of theology that are resistant to the idea of the community of all Creation.

  • “Escapist” theology: Many Christians feel that the church should primarily be concerned with the message of salvation for humans: that Jesus Christ came to save human beings from sin and to reconcile us with God. The vertical relationship with God is more important than a horizontal concern for the environment. When Jesus returns we will receive a new earth, therefore we should not waste time protecting the earth.
  • “Mastery” theology: Some Christians quote Genesis 1:26, “And God blessed them, and God said unto them, be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth and subdue it and have dominion over it.” Therefore they conclude that it is our God-given right to treat nature any way we want. We have been mandated to dominate and use the earth.
  • Prosperity gospel: Some Christians believe that material possessions are a sign of God’s blessing. God wants us to prosper at all costs, even at the cost of the environment.
    Fear of New Age: Some Christians dismiss environmentalism as being “New Age”. They feel uncomfortable and threatened and fear that working with others towards a “green” agenda may compromise their faith. They are afraid of pantheism (the belief that nature is divine) or paganism.

These passage help us to grapple with some of these concerns[i]

Hearing the Word

Comments on Jeremiah 4;11-12, 22-28

For the people of Israel the loss of their homeland was the loss of everything. In Jeremiah, God’s judgement is painted as a terrifying picture of the undoing of Creation itself.  God reverses the creative work of the beginning of Genesis. The earth again becomes “waste and void” (v23). The mountains quake and birds and humans have disappeared – the works of civilization, both agricultural and urban, have vanished (v 23-26). Light has gone – and event the heavens grow dark (v28).[ii]  Theologically and politically the Babylonian invasion of Judah means the end of the world.  This destruction is as a result of human wickedness.

In the Biblical view, the earth and all that fills it is part of one web of life. A basic error of Western culture is to separate humanity from the rest of creation. The very term: ‘the environment’ suggests that we are a separate entity, while everything else is ‘out there’. A theology of domination has taught us that nature is something separate to be dominated and controlled. Modern technology separates us from being in touch with nature. It is something to be viewed on a TV or cellphone screen.

In Genesis, humans and all creatures are formed together (Gen 1:24-31). In this passage all suffer from God’s judgement. Humans have a pivotal role with a special calling for the well-being of Creation. When we fail, all creation suffers.  So this passage shows us two challenges: to work with God’s redeeming purposes to save Creation, and at the same time to turn from the ‘evil ways’ that have incurred God’s judgement.

“The majority of people in the world today seem to have lost touch with the earth from which we were all born. And because we no longer experience ourselves as part of the cosmos, many of us are participating in the destruction of God’s creation. When we lose touch with creation, we lose touch with God.”– Albert Nolan[iii]

Comments on Psalm 14

Psalm 14 shows the breadth and depth of human corruption. “the fool has said in his heart, there is no God” . The reality is that for many Christians, although they worship God, their lifestyles are almost exactly the same as those who don’t believe in God. We no longer see Creation as something sacred, created by God.

Traditionally we have used the concept of ‘stewardship’ – looking after things well. Yet in biblical terms the word ‘steward’ is applied either to someone caring for a specific plot of land (vineyard, garden or field) or, as more often, an amount of money (in Greek an ‘oikonomou’).  To simply apply the term stewardship to the entire inhabited earth is to overlook the stronger biblical emphasis on the holiness and wonder of the world.

“And God saw that it was good – and it was very good” – that off repeated sentence from Genesis 1 and 2, reads as an understatement.  That is until we realise the words ‘good’ and ‘God’ derive from the same root in English.  So as we may say “God is good”, we may equally say “the Earth is godly!”.

Surely this has to be a fundamental reason why Christians and others should take the environment seriously – because it is a place of holiness. That is why caring about has to be at the heart of our behaviour. The planet is sacred and we should not desecrate her.  In as much as we do this unto the Creation, we also do it unto the Creator…..[iv]

Comments on 1 Timothy 1: 12-17

In this reflection on his life, Saint Paul expresses gratitude to Christ Jesus for a life which changed radically because of the experience of grace in his life.  He was formerly  ‘a blasphemer, a persecutor [of the Church], and a man of violence.’ Now, in a radical turnaround, he has been strengthened, judged faithful and ‘appointed to his [Christ’s] service.’ (v. 13). God’s grace overflowed in his life, and Christ Jesus through faith, love and patience (v14-16) found Paul out.  Paul who was the foremost amongst sinners can be strengthened and appointed to service, and so can we, both as individuals and as the human race.

It is easy to become despondent on looking at the state of the Planet. World Wildlife Fund in their Living Planet Report[v] indicate that since 1970 there has been a devastating drop in the population of creatures globally, 38%  reduction in land animals, 81% of  freshwater creatures and a 36% drop in  ocean populations.

But this passage gives us hope that just as individuals can be transformed by grace, so too can the human population. It is not too late for us to be transformed from “persecutors of the Earth and people of violence”

Comments on Luke 15: 1-10

Both the Timothy passage and the Luke one focus on the wonder of God’s redeeming love.

The value of lost things

The power of this passage depends on our understanding of value of lost things. Without that assumption lost things have value  the parables would lose their force Luke gives us three parables from Jesus on this theme, featuring a lost sheep, a lost coin and the next story in (v 11 -31) is the lost child. As the parables are told, the ratio of lost to safe changes; one sheep in a hundred, one coin in ten and one child in two. Yet the commitment of the shepherd, the woman (and the parent) is total and the scale of celebration at the end of each story is lavish.

The two parables in this reading take place both in an outdoor setting and within the home; the rural landscape and the domestic scene. Whatever the setting, and whatever the proportion of the missing to the safe, Jesus suggests that God’s care is consistently generous. In contrast, many people tend to think that the disappearance of natural species is a matter of relatively small importance. In decision making  matters, the economy often takes precedence over ecology. Partly as a result of such a mindset, we are living through the sixth great extinction in the history of the Earth – and the first to be caused by humans. The current rate of extinction is said to be 100 or even 1,000 times above the natural level.[vi]

A true sense of the value of God’s creation will cause us to repent of such callous disregard. God did not say – never mind one sheep is lost I still have 99. Or never mind about the coin, I still have others or I can buy some more.

Looking at these stories from another perspective we see a searching shepherd, a determined woman and a waiting father. They did not give up hope, they worked hard, with determination until what was lost was found. This shows us that the challenge to protect our Earth is not an easy one, it is not a short term challenge but requires us to stay strong, work hard and never give up hope.

Interpreting the Word

In the Context of the Season of Creation, these passages have much to teach us.  What is our theology of Creation? Why do we not see Creation as sacred? Why do our souls not grieve for the lost amongst God’s creatures, but we only grieve for the lost souls of human beings?

Until the Middle Ages the Church had a strong theology of creation. Science and faith spoke the same language. Their clear understanding of cosmology was based on Genesis. Genesis taught us that humans were called to love God, to be reconciled to one another and to care for Creation.

The discovery that the Earth moved around the sun came as a bombshell – the dethronement of the earth as central to the universe challenged the theology of creation   – and Galileo was condemned as a heretic. Science and religion began to develop on different paths. The theology of creation was lost and the church focussed on the Christian story – on redemption and salvation. As their understanding of the universe was threatened so the Church moved away from a theology embracing creation to a theology focussing on the Fall and Redemption of humankind.

The split between Church and Science widened with Darwin’s further discoveries. In the case of evolution most of the religious world clung to the Genesis account as a document of both faith and science. Religion was unable to enter into creative dialogue with the new scientific view of the cosmos.

During the age of Enlightenment science was impoverished by the lack of spiritual insights. Science could answer the question ‘how’ but not the question ‘why’. God was seen at best as a ‘clockmaker’ leaving this machine for humans to control. Nature was no longer alive or permeated with spiritual presence, it was objectified and lost any rights. It was seen as simply matter to be manipulated to satisfy human need or greed. The industrial revolution primarily took place in Christian countries where the sense of the spiritual value of creation had been lost.

As the church turned inward and focussed on personal salvation and debates about doctrine, the scientific community developed a parallel salvation story – the power of science and technology to save the world. Some of those dreams have turned into nightmares.

The Christian world had moved from a theology of wonder to a theology of plunder.

So how do we rediscover our theology of creation? Is it time to decolonise our theology?

Preaching the Word

There are several themes that we can draw on from these passages

God’s judgement
God never stops loving us or the world, but there are consequences for our actions. The 10 Commandments command us not to covet our neighbours ox and ass and yet consumerist advertisements command us to covet all that we see. We have reduced the concept of “prosperity” and life in all its fullness to a life full of material goods. And we are reaping what we have sown, both in terms of physical illnesses and the impact on Creation and loss of biodiversity.

The fool has said there is no God
What does it mean to believe that the Earth is not sacred? Why do we no longer believe or act as if that the “Earth is the Lord’s” but we have claimed it as our own. Gus Speth, former US Environmental Advisor to U.S. President Jimmy Carter said this”  I used to think the top environmental challenges were biodiversity loss, eco-system collapse and climate change.  I thought with 30 years of good science we could address those problems. But I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy. And to deal with those we need a spiritual and cultural transformation . And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

God’s grace
We are people of hope. Just as God could transform Paul from enemy of God’s people to leader, he can do the same with the human race. God placed us in the garden planet to ‘work it and look after it” Gen 2;15. We admit that we have sinned and done a bad job at looking after this Planet, but we also know that God can turn us around and we can take up the challenge to live as Earth keepers and Earth Healers.

The value of lost things
Part of our worship needs to include a lament for what has been lost and a confession of what we have done to God’s earth. This also includes the crime against the generations to come. We are stealing from our children’s inheritance.  And then we must get ready for action, like the persistent woman and the faithful shepherd and set out to save those who are in danger of being lost.

Living the Word

There are three stages that assist us in responding.

  1. Gratitude

You cannot protect what you do not love. So it is important that we re-connect with nature. The opposite of love is not hate, it is apathy. A- pathy means lack of feeling. Most Christians do not hate the world, but we don’t love it. Love is a verb.

So we can choose to go for an outing into nature instead of the shopping mall. To go for a picnic rather than a restaurant. To organise a hike for youth from church. To teach our grandkids to grow tomatoes. To walk with barefeet on the beach. To rganise a service in nature

  1. Lamentation

Hear the cry of the poor and the cry of the Earth. Read about the impact of climate change on the poorest communities, watch documentaries about the impact of plastic on our oceans. Read about the animals that have already become extinct. Bring that pain before God in personal prayer or group confession.

  1. Take action

Make a list of what you are going to do and re-examine after six month.

 

There are four types of action – choose some from each kind

  • Holding actions these are actions – that limit the harm (such as recycling, saving water, reducing use of fuel or electricity)
  • Influencing others: start recycling at school or church. Start a fundraiser to buy water tanks for church, start a garden at church
  • Spiritual practices: eg praying in nature. Organising a service in nature. Finding a space where you can see nature when you do your devotions.
  • Systemic change: get involved in a campaign. Offer an environmental organisation your support in terms of time and resources.

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Southern Africa


[i] A Rainbow over the Land: Equipping Christians to be Earthkeepers. Conradie E, Field D, Botha R, Mash R et al 2016 Bible Media

[ii] Eco-congregation Scotland . Creation Time Resources 2016

[iii] Albert Nolan, “Cosmic Spirituality: Searching for the Spiritual Roots of Africa and Asia”.

Challenge 8, (1992), p. 4.

[iv] Martin Goss: Easter Green News. Diocese of Exeter

[v] https://www.wwf.or.jp/activities/data/summary_wwf_living_planet_report_2016.pdf

[vi] Johan Rockström et al., ‘A Safe Operating Space for Humanity’, Nature 461:24 September 2009, pp. 472-475.

Season of Creation (2): Sept 8th

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)

Jeremiah 18:1-11
Psalm 139:1-6;13-18
Philemon 1-21 (Roman Catholic, too)
Luke 14:25-33 (Roman Catholic, too)

Introduction

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:

Human responsibility
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

[iv] https://www.oxfam.org/en/pressroom/pressreleases/2018-01-22/richest-1-percent-bagged-82-percent-wealth-created-last-year

Season of Creation (1): Sept 1st

World Day of Prayer for Creation

by Rev Dr Andrew Warmback, Green Anglicans, Diocese of Natal, South Africa
Texts (Revised Common Lectionary):

Jeremiah 2: 4-13
Psalm 81: 1, 10-16
Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16
Luke 14:1, 7-14 (in Roman Catholic Lectionary, too)

Introduction

This Sunday marks the beginning of the Season of Creation.  Today is particularly significant in that it is also the World Day of Prayer for Creation.  The focus for this week will be on the need to pray for the environment, and particularly on the value of praying together with others.

The World Day of Prayer for Creation has been growing in significance over the few years and needs to be supported.   In 1989 the Orthodox Church declared 1 September as a Day of Prayer for Creation.  In what has been regarded as an ecumenical gesture of global significance, Pope Francis announced in August, 2015 that the Roman Catholic Church will also recognize September 1 as the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation.  Other church leaders, including the international heads of various denominations have added their support.  A number of church organisations, including the World Council of Churches, have joined in this call for prayer. See www.seasonofcreation.org

Hearing the Word

Comments on Jeremiah 2: 4-13

The reading this week follows on from the Jerimiah’s call and vision recorded last week.  In terms of background, an important part of Jerimiah’s ministry took place after the death of King Josiah, from 609 BCE to Israel’s exile to Babylon in 587/6 BCE; and his message was addressed to Judah.  In his message he complains that the leaders, the priests, the teachers and the prophets have abandoned God, have neglected their duty and turned to other things.

They had forgotten their roots, the God who had been faithful to them in delivering them from slavery in Egypt, protecting them in the wilderness and who had brought them to a land of plenty.  They had defiled the land; the prophets had turned to Baal.

So Jeremiah’s concern is summed up in these words, expressed by God: they “have committed two evils: they have abandoned me, the fountain of living water, and have dug cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer. 2:12-13).

Comments on Psalm 81: 1, 10-16

This Psalm has similarities to the message from Jeremiah.

The appeal to Israel is for them to “sing aloud to God our strength; shout for joy to the God of Jacob.”(v1)   Instead Israel has turned away and does not listen to God. They had forgotten that it was God who had brought them out of slavery in Egypt (v 10a); and it is God who wants to satisfy them with good things – the finest wheat and honey from the rock (v 10b and 16).  The people are to listen to God and obey God.

Comments on Hebrews 13: 1-8, 15-16

This is the closing chapter of the book and in the first section there are words of encouragement.   The words are practical words of advice on how to live well, in the service of God and others. Compassion and empathy with those who suffer us important.  “Let mutual love continue.  Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers….Remember those in prison….Let marriage be held in honour by all….Keep your lives free from the love of money.” (v 1, 2, 3, 4, 5)

In this section wonderful words of the assurance of God’s presence and comfort that are quoted: “I will never leave you or forsake you.”(v 5b)  And, “God is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can anyone do to me?” (v 6)  Again, our faith in Jesus is to be expressed in practical ways: “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have”. (v 15, 16)

Comments on Luke 14:1, 7-14

This parable is told by Jesus at the house of the leader of the Pharisees, on the sabbath.  Having healed the person “who suffered with swelling.” (v 2), and challenged the religious leaders about their interpretation of what is permissible to do on the sabbath, Jesus takes the opportunity to challenge then further.

In telling this parable, Jesus warns the guests invited to the wedding banquet against sitting down at the main table –  “the place of honour.” (v 8)  Rather take another seat and be moved up to a more important seat later.  In that context the most important seating place would have been given on the basis of social standing or power.  Jesus indicates that this social system will be inverted, in that those who put themselves forward as important will be “humbled”, and vice versa (v 11).

Another point Jesus makes is that those to be invited are not to be those who will return the invitation; instead invite those who are poor and are living with disabilities. (v 13)  This practice would certainly have been in stark contrast to that of the religious leaders.  God’s invitation is extended to all, irrespective of wealth or any other quality.

Who one invites to a meal is significant.   In the parable Jesus encourages his hearers to focus on inviting those who were in some ways on the margins of that society.  This would have been a surprise to the religious leaders among whom Jesus was sharing a meal and telling this parable.  We know that Jesus himself shared meals with those whom the society would have looked down upon, such as tax collectors and sex workers. Jesus’ “table fellowship” was a means he used to challenge the systems that accorded status and honour to some and shame and discrimination to others, prevalent in that society.

Interpreting the Word

South Africa is a country of great beauty and variety.  Yet it is also a country of extraordinary inequality, accompanied by the growing impoverishment of many and widespread environmental destruction.  We still live with the legacy of colonialism and apartheid which destroyed a sense of belonging and community among people as well as alienating them from their land and natural resources.   We still experience “environmental racism” in which vulnerable communities suffer disproportionately the effects of environmental degradation.  Our preaching needs to offer a prophetic voice in this context.

The advent of democracy has been good not only for people’s wellbeing but also for the environment.  Strong environmental legislation has been passed.  Our Constitution states that everyone has a right to an environment “that is not harmful to their health and well-being.”  There is wide scope for people and organisations, including the church, to play a role in ensuring that our legislation is implemented.

Let us read and interpret the Bible through green lenses.  Let us become aware of the implications of the text for us as human beings as well as for creation as a whole. In our preaching let us draw upon and integrate theological traditions that promote ecological justice, including African and eco-feminist theologies.

Preaching the Word

Arising from the readings, and in the light of this being the first Sunday in the Season of Creation, there are a number of possible themes that could be developed further:

  1. God offers the best. It is God who “bought you into a plentiful land to eat its fruit and its good things.” (Jeremiah 2:7a). God who wants to satisfy them with “the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock.” (Psalm 81: 16)  Emphasise the goodness of creation, the blessing of its abundance and fruitfulness.  This should be our motivation to appreciate it and to enjoy it.  We usually tend to frighten people into action by emphasising the damage that is being done to the earth. Let us see creation as something of lasting value that is to be preserved and protected.  As has been said, let us look after the earth so that it may look after us.
  2. Related to the above, we read: “But when you entered you defiled my land, and made my heritage an abomination.” (Jerimiah 2:7b).  Throughout the Hebrew Scriptures and particularly in the prophetic writings it is evident that there is a connection between the people’s relationship to God and the earth itself. Faithfulness to God and justice in the community results in the fertility of the land – the blossoming of the desert. The opposite is also true.  In considering major environmental problems like climate change, fracking and nuclear energy, let us explore the link between unjust and exploitative political and social systems and the destruction of the planet.  What can we do to work for environmental justice – justice and fairness in the way both human beings and the land, the seas and the atmosphere are treated? Is there a sense in which we can talk about expressing solidarity with the earth?
  3. The complaint in Jeremiah and the Psalm is that people have forgotten God and turned from God.  They no longer listen to God. Have we turned from God?  What have become our gods?  Is it our personal possessions , materialism and wealth?  What about the earth itself?  The earth is no longer regarded as a gift from God to be used and enjoyed by all for the common good.  We privatise nature and attach a market value to it.  And how do we listen to God?  How do we return to God?  What are the values and the way of life that would flow from our commitment to God?
  4. The words from the book of Hebrews which speak about qualities like love and hospitality are usually taken to refer only to human beings.  But what about the rest of creation?  Should our “doing good” and “sharing what we have” not also extend to all God’s creatures, to the whole earth community of which human beings are an integral part?  If the good news of the reign of God is for the whole earth then surely all of life should be our concern?  How can our church become a loving community that embraces all of creation?
  5. Who is invited to your “banquet”?  Reflect on our attitude towards those who are different from us, including those who are members of churches different from our own tradition.  How do we affirm difference and respect diversity?  Is our attitude marked by humility or are we judgemental? What can you learn from Christians who are different from us?  In tackling environmental issues it is more effective to work together with other churches.
  6. We are urged to “keep our lives free from the love of money”. (Hebrews 13:5a).  How do we do this?  What is the impact of materialism and consumerism on God’s creation?  In what ways do our economic systems promote greed and hoarding and ultimately the destruction of the natural environment?  How can we work at transforming our economic systems to be ones that promote sharing and the preservation of the integrity of creation? What can we as a church do to model a community of generosity, caring, and sharing what we have?  How can we become a church that is marked by simplicity?
  7. All the readings refer to food/eating in some way.  Where does our food come from?  Is it healthy? Is it produced in a sustainable way, in ways in which the land is not exploited so that the fertility of the soil is not compromised in the process? Do people have access to land to grow food?  What negative impacts do the genetic modification of food, especially staple food, having on the health of human beings as well as the health of the environment? What can your church do to help ensure that all in your community have sufficient food to eat? How are we using our church land?
  8.  The symbol of the cracked cisterns from Jeremiah is a powerful one.  It makes us think of water, where it comes from, where it is stored and how it is distributed. How much does our water cost?  Why do so many people die from water-borne diseases and lack of adequate sanitation?  Should access to drinkable water not be a basic human right?  What can our church do to ensure the water supply in our community is clean and affordable?  Are there others you can join in achieving this?

Living the Word

The following suggestions are offered to promote the World Day of Prayer for Creation:

  • Celebrate the World Day of Payer for Creation in your services today.
  • If your Sunday service does not have this focus then arrange another service in which you can pray for creation. Even better, plan to hold an ecumenical service with other churches in your neighbourhood for this purpose.
  • In preparing this service choose hymns and songs that express the goodness of creation, the threats to its future and the vocation of human beings to cherish all of life and to ensure its flourishing.
  • Put on your notice board or in you church newsletter environmental challenges that require pray and further action.
  • Develop prayers and other liturgy that is environmentally friendly and which can become part of your regular services. So pray regularly for creation in your services.
  • Make connections between the sacraments and nature; for example for baptism we use water; for the Lord’s Supper/Mass we use bread and wine.
  • Work at establishing and strengthening ties with other churches in your neighbourhood, not just among the pastors or clergy but among the people too.
  • Begin an environment group within your congregation.
  • Begin planning for the World Day of Prayer for Creation next year.

by Rev Dr Andrew Warmback, South Africa

Bibliography

Warmback, Andrew. 2017. The Church and Ecological Justice, Cluster Publications, Pietermaritzburg.

10th Sunday after Trinity: Aug 25th

Jeremiah 1:4-10, Hebrews 12:18-29, Luke 13:10-17

‘You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.’

by Rev. Canon Dr. Kapya John Kaoma, Massachusettes

“Climate-related disasters – heatwaves, storms, floods, landslides, soil erosion, wild-fires, droughts and famines among many other environmental disasters – constantly international headlines, yet humanity is deafened by such catastrophes.”

These words opened my 2015 Gunther Wittenberg Annual Lecture on Earth Theology at the University of KwaZulu Natal, South Africa. Before his passing, Gunther Wittenberg employed his outstanding biblical scholarship in South Africa to explore environmental issues as they relate to South Africa and the world as a whole. One of the papers I found enriching was Prophecy in a Time of Global Crisis, in which he warned that “it is impossible to exaggerate the environmental problems facing humanity in the twenty-first century.” He went on to link these problems to socio-economic issues in which the majority of young people find themselves in South Africa.

Whereas his paper spoke to South Africa, Wittenberg spoke about the exploitation of the poor nations by the West and now China, while we watch the earth and the poor die. He writes:

We live in a time of species extinction, the rapid depletion of the oceans’ bounty, deforestation and desertification with large parts of drinking water disappearing; a time of exploding world population and dangerous climate change.

It is from this context that he explores prophesy in our time – there is need to speak truth to power.

We are all living at the time of untold human carelessness, as a small minority hold the entire earth community in captive. Behind this crisis is our fate – we are all witnessing our own demise, yet our lifestyles, and human greed blind and deceive us into thinking we can exist without God’s Earth. Behind this crisis are powerful nations and individuals who have held God’s Earth and God’s poor captive. We now exist at the mercy of the powerful–powerful enough to destroy God’s creation for money. It is not that they do not know, but they value money over ecological integrity and the wellbeing of the poor.

As for those who seek to stand in their way, they are trampled down. The arrests, persecutions, and assassinations of environmentalists across the globe testify to vulnerabilities of all those who seek to speak against the ongoing destruction of God’s Earth. Like in ancient Israel, power buys justice, while truth telling sends one to the grave.

Earth-killing multi-national companies are making money on the backs of the poor and the earth. It is within this socio-economic crisis that God invites us to speak truth to power. This invitation, however, is not easy. It demands gracious courage from God’s prophets called to disturb the status quo with strong moral case for earth care. As Christopher Wright writes, “Christians should persistently present to authorities moral arguments with persuasive force and practical relevance. This should characteristically be on behalf of the weak, powerless and those wronged by injustice or callous neglect.”[2] In his later writings, Wright has extended “the weak, powerless and those wronged” to include God’s creation. We all have a moral responsibility to speak on behalf of the earth, we are not just brothers’ and sisters’ keepers but earth keepers too.

The prophetic movement in ancient Israel were purposely meant to protect and morally enforce the covenant between the people, the creation and Yahweh. This is because the people of God existed on God’s land. This conviction is central to the biblical story, God created the Earth but humanity did not own the Creation. If anything, humanity lived as a landless tenant of God’s land. In order to ensure love and justice at all levels, God called on humanity to serve as gardeners; they were to become servants in God’s vineyard. The failure to keep Yahweh’s covenant led to extreme injustices, the situation that created a socio-economic, political and eco-religious crisis for the people of God. To address this need, Yahweh raised up individuals who sought to remind God’s people to obey Yahweh’s demand for social, political, ecological, spiritual and economic righteousness.

The call of the prophet Jeremiah is one example, Yahweh went on to say, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.”

Jeremiah’s response is telling: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” This response reminds one of the encounter of Moses with God – the Creator has seen the crisis of the oppressed Israelites in Egypt and chose Moses to rescue them. “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?,” Moses responded. Despite many excuses, God still sent him to do the impossible. With God on our side, we can liberate the oppressed Creation and the poor.

Prophesy comes from God in the time of crises. God’s word to Jeremiah, for example, suggests the divine agenda for God’s sacred Creation. In fact, prophesy flows out of God’s love and care for the Creation. It is not Jeremiah who chooses to become a prophet but God makes him one. In short, he is now the voice of God: “You shall go to all to whom I send you, and you shall speak whatever I command you.” In missiological terms, Jeremiah was invited into the Creator’s prophetic mission or what I have termed the missio creatoris Dei, the mission of the Creator God. He had to courageously stand up against the forces of injustice, “Do not be afraid of them, for I will deliver you.”

There is something to be said about this divine assurance. Of course, God promised to protect him, but telling by what Jeremiah went through, it is safe to argue that divine protection does not mean a free ride, it is a costly venture. Yet with God on his side, Jeremiah is empowered by divine grace to see beyond the physical tribulations brought about by the crisis of the time.

Yes, he has a choice, to trust the source of his word and the mission or to reject it. But human disobedience cannot stop God’s mission, should Jeremiah refuse to speak, by divine initiative, “the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40). Modecai’s words to Queen Esther somehow speaks to prophecy in our time, “…who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” (Est 4:14). As Christians, our generation must listen to Modecai’s wisdom, it is by divine initiative that we are here today.

Jeremiah’s task is thus laid down for him despite his low status, he now must do God’s work. He appointed

“over nations and over kingdoms,
to pluck up and to pull down,
to destroy and to overthrow,
to build and to plant.

What I find fascinating in this encounter is the power that Jeremiah holds, he must speak the words of God to nations and kingdoms in a dialectic tension, he must work to ensure the establishment of God’s reign on earth. This role is also reflected in the Lord’s prayer: “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” As Christians, we must not just pray for the kingdom to come, but must speak out against powers that are behind the destruction of the earth community. As God’s missioners, we possess the power “to build and plant” a new world in which the rights of the poor and the Earth exist in sacred harmony.

The epistle to the Hebrews seems to point to this when it speaks about God’s Word, we “have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.”

Indeed, the blood of Abel spoke about the injustice of humanity, but the blood of Jesus extends justice and righteousness to all Creation. As we were reminded weeks ago, Christ Jesus is the first-born of all Creation (Col. 1:15; John 1:1-4). In “The Earth in the Mission of the Incarnate God,” I make a Christological argument that “through the Incarnation, God became earth (adamah). Just as humanity was formed from adamah, it is through the Incarnate Word that Creation was made – thus nothing exists without the Incarnate Word. In other words, Jesus’ life-blood and DNA exist in every biokind – suggesting that every creature shares his divine essence.”

It is here that African theological frame of Jesus as our ancestor can inform our understanding of the sacredness of, and our relatedness to the whole Creation. We are kith and kin the Creation–thus prophetic lenses of justice must extend to how we relate to God’s earth.

It demands courage to speak for the poor, and the earth. Jeremiah’s response is our responses: “Ah, Lord God! Truly I do not know how to speak, for I am only a boy.” This is understandable, the forces behind the crisis are powerful and we like all biblical prophets, we are faced with the David and Goliath crisis, who am I to stand up against the powerful countries, companies and the rich? How can a person who is not a politician stand up against government activities that destroy the earth in the name of job creation? How can ordinary land dwellers stand up against big multi-national companies that destroy and pollute the land in the names of job creation? Given the politics and powers driving climate change, we are likely to be forced to retreat, even when we know that creation care is the fifth mark of Christian mission.

To some extent, Jesus’ healing of the woman on a Sabbath and the opposition it received from the leader of the synagogue points to how those in power view prophetic ministries of earth care. In some parts of the world and Christian theological traditions, standing up for the rights of God’s Creation is viewed as a secular thing. I remember when I shared my topic of research with some bishops years ago – “what is that to do with Christianity? Our duty is to preach the gospel”, they told me. Indeed, taking people to heaven ignores that events of the end times occur on earth too, something the book of Revelation outlines. And as Archbishop Welby rightly observed, earth care is “an opportunity to find purpose and joy, and to respond to our creator’s charge. Reducing the causes of climate change is essential to the life of faith. It is a way to love our neighbor and to steward the gift of creation.”

If we interpret the incarnation ecologically, then the imprisonment of the poor and earth’s natural goods by the evil spirit of capitalism is within the reach of Christology. Capitalism puts profits above human and the Creation’s rights.

Generally, Western nations are highly protective of their lands, trees, and waters. In fact, many have strong environmental laws that protect the earth in their countries. Sadly, the same nations hypocritically exploit poor nations, pollute the waters, and even displace the poor in the global South. As green prophets, we can shame such nations and companies by paraphrasing Jesus’ words, “You hypocrites! Does not each of you in your care for trees, protect waters, avoid using land-killing chemicals, protect the rights of people to ancestral lands, and protect endangered species? Do you not have laws that demand higher environmental standards in the mining and processing of heavy metals like lead and Uranium? And ought not poor and heavily indebted nations and communities, whom evil forces of capitalism and colonialism have bound for centuries, “be set free from this bondage” in our time?

by Revd Canon Dr Kapya J. Kaoma

Resources

Gunther Wittenberg, “Prophecy in a Time of Global Crisis: Hosea 5:8 – 6:6”, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 146 (July 2013), 139-169.
Justin Welby, “Our Moral Opportunity on Climate Change”, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/03/opinion/faith-climate-change-justin-welby.html

Kapya J. Kaoma, The Creator’s Symphony: African Christianity, The Plight of Earth and the Poor (Dorpspruit, RSA: Cluster Publication, 2015).

[1] Gunther Wittenberg, “Prophecy in a Time of Global Crisis: Hosea 5:8 – 6:6”, Journal of Theology for Southern Africa 146 (July 2013), 139-169, 139.

[2] Christopher Wright, Walking in the Ways of the Lord (Downers Grove: Inter-Varsity Press 1995), 286.

Alternative preaching suggestions: Healing on the Sabbath

The Gospel reading in the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) is Luke 13:10-17. That is about what to do or not on a Sabbath. In terms of  sustainability this is becoming more and more important. Should we step into the daily traps of capitalism or should we argue like the leader of the synagogue in V14? Here you can find some Anglican reflections about Sabbath – find your own point of view when preaching about Lk 13:10-17!

https://acen.anglicancommunion.org/resources/acen-document-library.aspx

How do we translate Jesus arguments into the challenges we face today?

Not only oxes and donkeys need water on the Sabbath. People living in water poverty across the globe also need to drink on the Sabbath too.

And what about our life-style choices? “Relaxing” by  using your smartphone on Sundays is not passive at all. Smart phones use cobalt which is mined in places such as the DRC by under aged children. Should our Sunday choices cause hurt to other people?

The first reading (Jer 1:4-10) helps us to find a way  forward: ‘You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you.’ (V7) We have our job to do!

The Gospel reading in the Roman Catholic Lectionary is Luke 13:22-30. Here we find the well known sentence: ‘ Those who are last will be first, and those who are first will be last’. This brings to mind lots of issues related to  sustainability, for example  ‘America first’ and the Paris agreement on climate protection …

9th Sunday after Trinity [by Revd Dave Bookless PhD]

Texts (Revised Common Lectionary): Old Testament: Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm: 80:1-2, 9-end, Epistle: Hebrews 11:29-12:2, Gospel: Luke 12:49-56

by Revd Dr Dave Bookless, A Rocha International,
focussing on Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80

Both Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80 talk about Israel as God’s vineyard – designed to flourish but now overgrown and struggling due to the people’s disobedience. Israel, of course, is both a people and a place – a fertile and fruitful land when cared for as God intends. Today, in the light of the New Testament where God’s promises to Israel are now for all people (Gentiles too) and for all the earth (as intended from Genesis 1), we can see Planet Earth as God’s vineyard. God has entrusted us with the care of this beautiful and complex world and of our fellow-creatures than live upon it. But we, like Israel, have sowed bloodshed instead of justice, distress instead of righteousness.

This month, August 2019, has seen the release of a new special report from the Inter-Governmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) looking at land-use around the world: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/srccl. It’s findings are stark: over 70% of the earth’s ice-free land is shaped by human activity. Deforestation and unsustainable agricultural practices contribute about 25% of human greenhouse-gas emissions. Yet, land could be our great hope! Land currently sequesters (absorbs) twice as much CO2 as it produces … but that’s the forests and wild-lands which are disappearing faster as humans encroach on them, and a changing climate turns drylands into deserts and rainforests into savannahs. We need to have a radically different relationship with the land. And that brings us back to the Bible!

The Bible says a lot about land! Land is never simply an inanimate object to be exploited. It is always owned by God (Psalm 24.1) and, although we are allowed to use it, we do so reverently and responsibly, or the land will ‘vomit us out’ (Leviticus 18.28). Land is thus a full partner in the covenant between God and humanity, and our relationship with God and with land cannot be separated. If today, because of greed, overconsumption and climate change, we are seeing soil fertility reducing, harvests becoming unpredictable, and extreme weather ruining well-made plans, we need to return humbly to God. 2 Chronicles 7.14 is a prayer for God to heal the land: “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” It echoes the prayer of Psalm 80:19 as a desperate people look at their ruined vineyard and turn to God: “Restore us, Lord God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.”

So, as we see God’s vineyard, this beautiful planet, facing a dire future both for humanity and nature, how should we respond?

  1. We need to see what’s really going on. In our Gospel, from Luke 12, Jesus challenges people to “know how to interpret this present time” (v.56). He jokes that we may be good at predicting if it’s going to rain today or not, but that we don’t see the big picture. The big picture today is what is happening to our planet, with the Climate Crisis, pollution, biodiversity loss, marine plastics, and the loss of fertile land. So our first challenge is to wake up! To take this seriously, read the evidence, and change our daily and political priorities.
  2. We need to cry out to God for his mercy and help. That’s the response in both Isaiah 5 and Psalm 80 and it should be ours too. True transformation begins with repentance and turning right around – the Biblical turn is metanoia. We need to pray for a spiritual transformation both inside and beyond our churches. According to 2 Chronicles 7.14, God will only heal the land when the people repent.
  3. We need to take radical action. Many Christians tend to either see things in spiritual terms (let’s just pray about it) or in activist terms (let’s do something about it), but true biblical faith combines both because we are both spiritual and material beings. Today we are seeing radical action with the Climate Strikes inspired by the young Swedish girl, Greta Thunberg, and with the Extinction Rebellion movement bringing peaceful chaos to city centres. Just as radical are the retired couple I know who decided to spend their grandchildren’s inheritance on solar panels and an electric car because, as they put it, ‘What’s the point in inheriting money if the earth isn’t going to be liveable?’ What radical action might God be calling you do start, as from today?

by Revd Dave Bookless PhD, London

8th Sunday after Trinity [by Fr Herbert F. Fadriquela jr.]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Is 1:1,10-20
Wisd18:6-9
Psalm
50:1-8, 22-23
2nd Reading
Hebr 11:1-3,8-19
(both)
Gospel
Lk 12:32-40
(both)
(Proper 14 / 9th Sunday after Pentecost)
by Fr. Herbert F. Fadriquela Jr., Chaplain to the Filipino Community in the Diocese of Leicester in the Church of England

SUMMARY OF PREACHING THEME

The readings today speak of faith, hope and action.

The Letter to the Hebrews cited the faith experience and journey of Abraham and Sarah. In the Gospel, Jesus encourages his disciples to have a firm hope in waiting for the coming of the master by being ready. The Old Testament reading speaks of action: “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

We can reflect on this in relation to Sustainable Development Goal 16 which looks to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels. This is an important element in reconciling ecology, economy, society and God.

Every year Filipino churches produce pastoral statements about peace which if followed would make the country a just and peaceful place for all. But despite public show of respect for the voice of the church in the Philippines, one thing is quite clear: leaders of the national government in the Philippines conduct their business as though the church does not exist.

This is evidenced by the growing number of Church leaders who are being harassed, intimidated and at worst, even killed, for speaking with grave concern to the alarming and worsening human rights situation. This includes the government’s brutal war on drugs and against social and environmental defenders, lawyers and human rights defenders and leaders of indigenous people’s communities people who are standing up for the integrity of God’s creation and for a just and peaceful society.

The government’s brutal campaigns that have claimed thousands of lives and left thousands of widows and orphans.

The Most Revd Rhee Timbang, Archbishop of the IFI, says, “These killings are gruesome and the attacks to human lives are horrendous. They characterize a society in deep violence and a nation wallowing in death and grief and whose soul is slowly disintegrating. These killings and attacks eloquently speak that the road to war is not the way to build up a nation.” The Filipino people are not merely dealing with the fact of a growing number of individual cases of human rights violation, rather an endemic situation where human rights don’t matter anymore because in the ordinary run of things they aren’t respected as they ought to be. The integrity of all of creation is not being respected as it ought to be.

Reflecting on these things and the readings today we are challenged on the following:

  1. As Church in obedience to the God of life do we raise our voice against human rights violations? Do we raise our voice against injustice that put power and profit above our planet and its people? In being silent, the Church gives the impression to the poor, deprived and oppressed (and all) that it is allowing this evil.
  2. The Church needs to engage in proclaiming the saving act of God to awaken and sustain hope in all people. We can work to mobilise our faith resources, to help our communities to understand their situation and to enhance our capacity to address these.
  3. The Church should urge authorities to attend to the needs of people and to support them in encouragement, moral support and material support. Especially for families who have lost loved ones. We must listen to their cries for justice.

With faith and hope translated into action, let us journey together in the fellowship of the church, where we receive God’s forgiveness when we fall into sin, where we get inspired by the examples of those who are strong, where we hear the mystery and wonder of God’s grace, where we experience a foretaste of life in glory. Amen!

DETAILED NOTES

Old Testament reading / Psalm

The Old Testament reading speaks of action: “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow.”

Christian mission is introducing Jesus Christ to the people and attending to their physical and social hence Christian mission must involve concerns for justice, peace and human rights.

We cannot speak of the mission of the church without asking ourselves how we are relating and ought to relate to the poor, powerless and the marginalized.

Jesus also demonstrated this love by his actions to people and by his choice of friends – poor folks, despised women, persons who suffered from illness and disabilities and those who hunger for justice.

New Testament reading

The Letter to the Hebrews cited the faith experience and journey of Abraham and Sarah. The early Christians of the apostolic times regarded Abraham as the father of faith.  It’s not in the sense of being the author of faith that Abraham gets the honour of being its father.  It simply means that the journey of our faith began with this man and his household. 

The God who called Abraham was not introduced to him by his parents.  His parents worshipped the god or gods of the family and tribe for many generations.  Abraham, therefore, couldn’t stay in the same place in the midst of his clan and worship a new god.  By changing gods, Abraham must have to cut himself off from his clan and make a new start.  When Abraham left Ur, he also left an old life in order to begin a new life.

Faith’s journey, therefore, begins with conversion – leaving an old life in order to carve out a new life.  The new life is not something finished; faith begins a new life, nurtures it through time and perfects it in the course of living.  It means being “born again”, as evangelical Christians call it.  In the light of Abraham’s own conversion what does being born again mean?  It means leaving behind a life that is secured by the things of this earth to a new life that is solely secured and sustained by God’s grace.

The journey of faith is a journey towards the maturity and perfection of the new life that the Spirit gives us through Jesus Christ.  This journey takes place in the ordinary course of living as we carry out our duties in the family, in our workplaces and in society.

Gospel

In the Gospel, Jesus encourages his disciples to have a firm hope in waiting for the coming of the master by being ready. Christianity is not only about faith; it is also about hope.  This hope is about a wonderful reality that awaits the faithful in the future.  One must have to ready ‘for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” Throughout history, Christians sing about this hope through trials and tribulations.  

Christian faith is founded upon a firm hope that God is leading the faithful to a glorious future, both in heaven and on earth. Jesus said: “32 ‘Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

Christian mission calls Christians to move from the center to the periphery. This means that those who stand at the center are called to divest themselves of power and privilege and become free to move towards the periphery. Jesus told someone who stood at the center, “Sell all that you have and give the money to the poor.” (Mark 10:21)  It goes without saying that everything that the church has should be shared and used for the benefit of those who are in need.  That is the meaning of Christian stewardship.  Just as Peter said, “silver and gold have I none” (Acts 3:6), so must the church declare its poverty and offer what the Lord has given it to the poor, the sick and oppressed.  For the church’s true possession is nothing else but its faith in Jesus Christ and its hope in his return in glory.

Further reading (books / websites / videos etc.)

Further information on the growing human rights situation in the Philippines:

https://www.hrw.org/news/2019/07/11/philippines-un-takes-critical-step-toward-accountability

https://www.npr.org/2019/07/11/740894175/u-n-human-rights-council-to-investigate-abuses-in-philippines-antidrug-war?t=1564407960942

https://www.rappler.com/nation/236669-united-nations-rapporteurs-urged-probe-killings-environmental-defenders-philippines

by Fr. Herbert F. Fadriquela Jr., Leicester

7th Sunday after Trinity [by Dr John Kaoma]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Hos 11:1-11
Ecc 1:2,2:21-23
Psalm
43
2nd Reading
Col 3:1-11
(both)
Gospel
Lk 12:13-21
(both)
by Rev. Canon Dr. Kapya John Kaoma, Massachusettes

Text based on Luke 12: 13-21

“You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.”

These are tough words from Jesus. Indeed, they are the words that we need to hear in our time. We have been too preoccupied with material things, cars, houses, profits and even the way we dress. We may claim to be the most civilized generation of our time, but our values and attitudes towards one another and towards God’s creation suggest otherwise. Even scientific evidence and the growing number of weather related disasters have failed to convince us into accepting that our lifestyles are threatening life on Earth. It is on each one of us to act to resolve the life-ending catastrophe. Yet materialism has blinded us from acting to save God’s Creation and our own life.

Why have we failed to understand that our life is dependent on God’s Earth? Our falsely celebrated intelligence may foolishly deceive us; but our fate is linked to the fate of the Earth community. Humanity “has no advantage over the beasts…, for all is vanity.… All are from the dust, and to dust all return” – we are Earth and to Earth we shall return (Ecclesiastes 3:19-20). Through the theories of human development and civilization, we arrogantly believe that we can tame the Earth – yet the opposite is true. We are only a small part of the Earth family; thus Earth justice is human justice and human justice is Earth justice.

Chris Wright argues against the temptation of viewing Christian theology anthropocentrically, it ought to be ecological in application. The God of heaven is also the God of the Earth. Our negative attitudes towards God’s creation may direct economic interests, but the reality remains, the future of life on Earth depends on the decisions we make today. The reality is that YHWH is the ultimate owner of the land. In fact, God owns, loves and sustains the entire creation to which we are only a very small part.

The gospel reading seems to speak to the heavenly nature of our faith, we are citizens of heaven and not the earth. It is in fact possible to conclude that even the discussion between Jesus and the man who asks Jesus, “Rabbi, tell my brother to divide the family inheritance with me”, is about heaven and not the earth. Such reading, however, goes against the entire gospel of Luke, which is very biased towards the poor, and their existence on earth.

We may speculate as to what was behind this man’s plea, but the truth is that the two brothers had disputes over how much each should get from the family inheritance. Since Jesus identified economic and social justice as central to his mission (Luke 4:16-21), the man was forced to appeal to him to ensure the just sharing of the family inheritance. Appealing to Rabbis to address such disputes was common. But to the disappointment of the injured party, Jesus rejects this traditional authority: “Friend, who set me to be a judge or arbitrator over you?”

There is no doubt that Jesus would have acted as the ultimate arbitrator if he needed to. As the Son of God, he had the power to settle such issues. Rather than rendering judgement, Jesus uses the situation to address the wider problem central to the man’s plight – human greed: “Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” To exemplify this warning, Jesus  told them a parable, which we know as the parable of the rich fool.

The rich man had an abundant harvest, so big that he did not know what to do with it. He had great plans, expand the barns and then sit and enjoy the new life. Jesus calls the rich man’s actions as foolishness in that he forgot that life is not just about me, but me with others. The rich person, however, viewed life as all about him. He cared little about the wider community, the poor and even the animals that would have benefitted from his grand harvest. In his cosmology, limitless possessions was the goal of life: “I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, `Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink and be merry.”

Luke deliberately leaves out the phrase, “for tomorrow you die” in his presentation of the rich man’s pride, partially due to the fact that the rich man is soon to die and leave all his possessions behind to be shared by those who did not work for it – something that links the parable to the man’s original appeal – “allow my brother to share the family inheritance with me.” Both brothers seem to be individualistic in their worldviews, they do not see beyond their own personal cravings.

There is another moral element to this parable, the rich man did not think about others as beneficiaries of the abundant harvest, but he, and he alone. It is telling us that the rich man did not even think about the poor, who needed his help. In economic terms, he was an extreme capitalist, who believed that his wealth was all his, after all he worked for it. This immoral element is found in the use of “I”, which occurs repeatedly in this short text.The wellbeing of the community or even his own family did not matter to him at all. But God laughs at the rich man’s foolishness, “today your life will be taken”, you will return to the dust from which you were formed. “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God,” Jesus concluded.

Rich towards God may be misunderstood to imply that Jesus was much concerned with heavenly treasure as opposed to earthly ones. Such an interpretation, however, ignores social context of the Gospel of Luke. Unlike other gospels, Luke is highly interested in social justice, the poor have equal claims to God’s natural goods. Here Luke seems to redefine richness, one foolishly defined in terms of material possessions, and another defined in terms of what God requires of us, living the lives that promote abundant life on earth. The latter redefinition of richness, one can argue, is in line with the mission of Jesus Christ. Citing Isaiah (Isaiah 61:1) Jesus said,

“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4: 18-19)

It is within this context that to be rich toward God must be understood, it is to promote justice, love and care for all Creation. To be rich towards God means love and tend God’s Creation. It means being keepers of God’s creation. To be rich towards God means  promoting the common good as God’s missioners on earth.

Amidst the growing poverty and environmental degradation, the parable of the rich fool is the parable of our time, it speaks to human pride and failure to recognize that we are interconnected beings, our life is only lived in fellowship with one another. As Pope Francis has said, when humanity puts its trust in materialism, we “end up becoming self-absorbed and finding security in material things which ultimately rob us of our face, our human face.” But materialism also robs creation of its sacredness, it removes God from the Creation. In fact, our desire for profits is driven by human selfishness and greed, we care little about the integrity of creation and the poor.

Central to the Hebrew Scriptures is the belief that the Creator God created the Earth, the oceans, and the heavens and all that is in them, thus all life is dependent on the Creator. The rise of prophets in ancient Israel, for example, was due to rich people’s greed. Whereas YHWH demanded that the fruits of the land be shared equally, the rich took advantage of the poor, accumulating wealth and land at the expense of the poor and widows. Prophets, however, sought to challenge the sin of materialism, they spoke against the injustice that dehumanized people. This attitude, the prophets argued, invited God’s wrath. Unless they changed, God would send them out of the Land that the Creator gave to them. They were meant to be land stewards, but they abused that trust and became destroyers of the land and oppressors of the poor. Leonardo Boff rightly argues that the oppression of the poor is linked to the destruction of the Earth. The economic security of the global North, for example, depends on the exploitation of the global South, and yet the ecological security of the world can only be realized when commercial and economic imbalances are addressed.

So what is this parable to do with the growing ecological crisis? It is safe to argue that the rich fool represents powerful multinational companies and governments that value the world only in economic terms. We have to accept that we all depend on the earth for our surval. Therefore, the parable challenges us to rethink our values. Like the rich fool, we may accumulate a lot of money, but such money depend on ecological wellbeing. Unless we act to protect the Earth, it is foolish to think that the money will defin what constitutes life.  Elsewhere I write,

“The growing economic inequality and the global divide between the rich and the poor, and the culture of materialism that characterises the global North, are not only unsustainable but also immoral. The global North should lead sustainable lifestyles, while the global South, especially African Christianity needs to confront corruption and the exploitation of Africa’s natural goods by a minority while masses languish in perpetual poverty.”

It is foolish for us to ignore the ecological crisis. There is need to reexamine lifestyles. We need to question the moral basis of our economic theories and assumptions. Across the world, the gap between the rich and the poor is rapidly growing. Desmond Tutu is right, it is inconceivable that we have so much wealth in this world, yet we still have millions living in abject poverty and millions of children die from starvation. Our responsibility to one another, future generations and the ecological community are aspects of this parable. Our foolishness as regard to the worsening ecological crisis is only driving us and all life to death, we must all learn to see God in the poor and in the whole created order. We are rich towards God, if we work to ensure abundant life on earth.

Some resources
  1. Caring for Creation in Christian Mission, Regnum Edinburgh Centenary Series 29, Editor (Oxford: Regnum, 2016).
  2. The Creator’s Symphony: African Christianity, The Plight of Earth and the Poor (Dorpspruit, Pietermaritzburg, Cluster Publications, 2015).
  3. God’s Family, God’s Earth: Christian Ecological Ethics of Ubuntu (Zomba: University of Malawi Kachere Press).

by Rev. Canon Dr. Kapya John Kaoma, Massachusettes