17th Sunday after Pentecost – Season of Creation 4

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 17:1–7
Ezek 18:25-28
Psalm
78:1–4,12–16
2nd Reading
Phil 2:1–13
both
Gospel
Matt 21:23–32
both
by Canon D. Rachel Mash, South Africa

The Gift of water

Hearing the Word

Comments on Exodus 17:1–7

The story of the people of Israel traveling through the desert of Sin reminds us of the absolute dependency of human beings on water. Many of the current conflict zones have as one of their roots the lack of water. For instance the war in Syria was preceded by 7 years of drought which pushed farmers off the land into the cities, creating tensions in those communities. Cape Town managed to avert the day zero crisis of taps being turned off, but there were threats of the army being called in if day zero had been reached.

In this passage God tells Moses to strike the rock in a symbolic action. Later we hear that God becomes angry with him for the way in which he strikes the rock. In the Numbers passage Moses is strikes the rock in his anger at the ‘rebellious’ people.

“Listen now, you rebels; shall we bring forth water for you out of this rock?”

Then Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock twice with his rod; and water came forth abundantly, and the congregation and their beasts drank. (Numbers 20:11–12)

This is a powerful reminder that we are to protect our sources of water, treat them with reverence and not abuse them. Much of Africa (as with the Middle East) is dependent on ground water sources such as aquifers. It is a sin and a crime against future generations if we abuse our water sources because of the urgent demands of people.

A more affluent life-style consumes vast quantities of treated water. Drinking quality water gushes into long showers, irrigated gardens and swimming pools, in contrast with the single taps or polluted water that people in poor communities use.

Comments on Psalm 78:1–4, 12–16

The miracles that are referred to in this passage refer to the wonders of water, how God divided the sea so that the people of Israel could pass through. He split the rocks in the desert to give abundant water. This reminds us of the Exodus passage where the needs of both people and their livestock, is met.

Hundreds of feet under the desert of the modern day Negev lie vast aquifers. The water is brackish, though far less salty than seawater. Throughout the Negev desert there are examples of modern water technology, including huge greenhouses for tomatoes and peppers. The crops from the Negev are timed to provide tomatoes and peppers out of season. And for two weeks each year the majority of tomatoes in Europe come from the Negev desert. This is indeed a miracle. But it is not a renewable miracle. Like seams of coal, once the water is extracted, it is gone forever. There may only be enough to last another 100 years.

See a video of the River Zin in the desert coming to life – streams in the desert: www.youtube.com/watch?v=bMm8wWNo7cA

Comments on Philippians 2:1–13

Most of the world’s environmental challenges have at the heart the sin of greed. This passage gives the principles for life that could save this planet – be humble as Christ was and look to the interests of others not your own.

It is a desire for status that pushes us to continuously buy the latest gadget, car or TV screen. If we all lived a more simple lifestyle, the planet would have enough for our need, there is not enough for our greed.

If we were to put the interests of others first, we would consider the impact on the worker and the environment of the products we buy. There is no such thing as ‘bargain’ clothing. The clothing is cheap because of the exploitative wages paid to workers and the damage done to the environment.

In particular today we are challenged to look at our water usage and wastage and see how we can treasure this miracle from God.

Comments on Matthew 21:23–32

The challenge of our Gospel reading is for us to walk the walk and not just talk the talk! The first son said he would not go to the vineyard and work and yet he did so. The second one said he would go and did not

Are we willing to actually change our lifestyles? Many people make resolutions or pledges to change their life styles and yet when it comes down to it , they have made no change.

Interpreting the Word: Philippians 2:1–13

‘Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness’ (2:5–7).

Jesus, the son of God, chose the form of a slave, even to the point of suffering the form of execution often used against troublesome slaves: ‘death on a cross’ (2:8).

Jesus was not captured or sold as a slave; he chose this status. His approach was to consciously put aside his status of godhead, to become a slave, to put the needs of others first so much so that he was even willing to die for them.

As we reflect on how we can have the same mind of Christ, the first thing to note is that these verses do not only refer to our individual lives, because Paul also tells us that God ‘gives him the name above every name (2:9) – Jesus chooses slavery and yet is the Lord and Master of the whole of heaven and earth : to whom every knee bows – both humans and all those who make up the great web of life.

So as we worship the Lord of Creation – together with the rest of creation – both humans a, we must take on a Jesus mind set and Jesus life style that is a humble one, putting the needs of others first.

This will put us in conflict with a lot of the values and aspirations of the culture and society in which we live. Our society has exalted the needs of humans above the rest of creation. We have exalted the needs of a small percentage of those humans over the needs of the vast majority. We are using far more than our fair share of water.

There is a saying that “until you have carried water you do not understand its value”. Across the continent many people live in water poverty – defined as less than 20 litres of water per day. In solidarity with those who have not got access to water, let us voluntarily reduce our water consumption and protect this precious resource.

Preaching the Word

The Philippians passage draws together two key concepts : firstly Jesus is the Lord of All Creation. The whole web of life bends the knee to worship him. We are part of a great web of life, it is not only humans who worship the Lord. Water as part of Creation has a value and sacredness, and we are called to treasure and protect it.

Secondly we are called to life a Jesus life style, choosing to reduce our status and to consider the needs of others over our own.

We have no right to “Lord it over” creation for it is Jesus who is the Lord of all creation.

If Jesus was willing to give up his status as God in order to become a slave, then we are called to live a life of service to others and to take up the call to a more simple lifestyle. Are you willing to reduce your use of water, to simplify your lifestyle? To consciously use water as if each drop were precious?

Let us remember that water is a gift of God. Water is mentioned 722 times in the Bible and yet how often do we actually preach about it? As Christians we became part of the family of God through the waters of baptism and yet we do not treat it as our sacred element.

We all know that Jesus was baptised in the river Jordan. But do we know our Jordan River? We think that the water used in our church for baptism came from a tap, but from which river was it drawn to get there? Can we adopt and protect that river as our Jordan?

Living the Word

What would a more simple lifestyle look like in practice? We live in a water scarce country and the impact of climate change as well as population growth will lead to increasing water shortages in the years to come. What can we do?

Water: we can all have shorter showers and put a bucket in the shower to use in the toilet. Wash clothes less frequently and make sure the machine is full. Purchase water tanks for church and home, and make sure our gardens are water wise.

Food choices: our food choices all have different water footprints. To produce a hamburger requires the same amount of water as a 60-minute shower and the water needed to produce a mouthful of steak could run your dishwasher 22 times. One teaspoon of milk is equivalent to one flush of a dual-flush toilet and the average bathtub could be filled six times with one litre.

Nevertheless, a family of four could save the equivalent of 17 bathtubs of water by swapping one meal of beef per week with lentils. Cattle are fed mostly by grazing veld and rain-fed dry land, which means they have a greater green water footprint.

(https://capechameleon.co.za/the-water-footprint-of-what-we-eat/)

Plastic. Much of the plastic litter that we produce ends up in streams and eventually in the sea. One of the ways to protect the precious gift of water is to become involved in clean ups and to put pressure on companies to stop using single use plastic items.

Water is a precious gift from God, let us protect it.

by Canon Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa

Bibliography

Green Philippians: Three Sermons on Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison, Environmental Chaplain, Eco-Congregation Scotland.

Sermon Two – A Tale of Three Slaves

Acts 16

16th Sunday after Pentecost – Season of Creation 3

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 16:2-15
Isa 55:6-9
Psalm
105:1-6, 37-45
2nd Reading
Phil 1:21-30
both
Gospel
Matt 20:1-16
both
by Canon Rev Dr Janet Trisk, South Africa

There is enough for our need, not our greed

Introduction

The theme running through todays lessons might be thought of as a two-sided coin. On one side of the coin we see depicted God’s generosity  and careful provision for all creation. The other side of the coin is human greed which leads to hoarding and thus exploitation of one another.

Hearing the Word

Comments on Exodus 16: 2-15

We read that in the desert the Hebrew people grumbled against Moses and Aaron. “Did you bring us out of Egypt only to have us starve to death in the desert?” (This is just one of many grumblings that will happen on the way to the Promised land. They also grumble about there being no water, about Moses marrying a foreigner, about the leadership of Moses and Aaron.)

In response, God gives them manna and quail.

Comments on Psalm 105: 1-6, 37-45

The psalmist gives thanks to God for God’s saving acts in history. The verses set for today rehearse the wider story of the reading from Exodus:  from the departure from Egypt to receiving manna and quail (“food from heaven”, v.40), to the Promised Land. Finally, the psalm ties in obeying God’s laws with the gift of the Promised Land. [i]

Comments on Philippians 1: 21-30

Paul, writing from prison, reflects on the dilemma of life and death. Life means suffering, but also affords the opportunity to continue the work of the gospel. Death means being with Christ.  Either way, Christ is at the centre.

One might contrast Paul’s acceptance of suffering with the “murmuring” of the Hebrews in Exodus.

Comments on Matthew 20: 1-16

This is the familiar parable of the workers in the vineyard, who are all given the same wage, no matter how long they laboured.  We might note that in v. 11 those who had borne the heat of the day and laboured longest, like the Hebrew people in Exodus, “murmured” or “grumbled” against the landowner.

Interpreting the Word

The usual interpretation of the parable in Matthew is that God is like the vineyard owner and treats everyone – first and last – just the same. But a Biblical scholar named Obery Hendricks offers another interpretation. [ii]  He notes, first of all, what the story tells us about working conditions in first century Israel.  People work from dawn to dusk for a denarius.  A twelve hour working day is long in anyone’s book. And to be paid a denarius was indeed the usual daily wage, but it was not a living wage.  A denarius was just about enough to keep you coming back for another day of work so you (perhaps) can survive to work another day. Furthermore, there is a big pool of day labourers in the story, who hang around waiting for employment. At each point of the day, workers are available. Even at five in the afternoon, some are still in the day labour market. This indicates a sizeable number of unemployed people who are reduced to scrambling for any little bit of work they can get.

For Hendricks, the landowner is not God, but more like the owner of an extensive wine farm in the Franchhoek valley. And by offering the very minimum denarius, the landowner is exploiting labour.

He apparently has an exceptionally large vineyard.  (Notice how he keeps coming for more workers.)  How could the landowner have attained all that property? One way would be to take land in settlement of the debts owed to him by poorer people.

Then, to top it off, the landowner when he comes to employ the last lot of workers, asks them why they haven’t worked.  “Why are you standing around idle?” he asks, all but calling them lazy.  He presumes that they are unemployed because of some choice, as if he didn’t know that they were unemployed in the first place because they had been forced off their land.

In paying the last the same as the first, the vineyard owner insults those who were first hired.  When the first “grumble,” he singles out their leader — the text says he spoke to “one of them.”  The landowner denies doing wrong, and then fires the leader.  “Take what belongs to you and go.”  The landowner adopts an all-too-typical strategy:  Fire the union organizer.

Some will argue that the use of the word “Friend: in verse 13 – “Friend I am not being unfair to you” mitigates against Hendricks interpretation. The Greek word that is translated as “friend” is etairos. Matthew uses etairos in only three places–here, in 22:12 where it refers to the guest at a wedding banquet who refuses to wear the wedding garment, and in 26:50 where it refers to Judas, the arch-traitor.  None would be considered a positive example.  If Hendricks is right that the use of “friend” is sarcastic, that would support his argument that the land-owner is haughty and dismissive.

The parable challenges the usual hierarchies we assume.  “The last will be first and the first last.”  If as Hendricks suggests, the landowner is a greedy, penny pinching employer, the parable is clearly a criticism of economic exploitation of the poor by the rich.

The broader story of the Exodus is also a challenge to economic exploitation. In Egypt the Hebrew people are enslaved and when they pose a threat because of their increase in numbers, their Egyptian overlords make conditions even more tough for them to perform their work.  After their escape from slavery and in the wilderness wanderings the Hebrew people have to learn a new way of relating that includes principles of trust in God, generosity and that they need not hoard what God gives them. So long as each takes what they need and no-one hoards. If we had read a little further in Exodus 16, we would have heard how, as each person gathered manna in the wilderness, no matter how much or little they gathered, each had enough. However, some of the Hebrews, in contravention of God’s instructions, hoarded the food they did not consume and it became rotten.

As many commentators note, the appearance of quail and manna are very natural phenomena in the middle east. Quail – little guinea fowl like birds – migrate from Africa to Europe and along the way settle down in great flocks each night to rest.  What is called manna (which is just a word derived from the Hebrew man hu, which means “what is it?” is a substance secreted each early morning by tamarisk trees.  So in summary: God immediately responds to the hunger of the Hebrews. And God responds in perfectly natural ways. God’s world is an hospitable home for all, provided we gather what we need and do not hoard.

Preaching the Word

It’s easy to dismiss the Hebrews as ungrateful wretches. God has brought them out of slavery in Egypt. They are on their way to the Promised Land. What do they have to complain about? However, don’t these ancient grumblings  sound very modern?. We too grumble about there not being enough water. We too grumble about foreigners in our midst. We too grumble about our leaders.

When we are comfortable it’s very easy to dismiss the grumbling of others. God brought you into freedom, how can you grumble about food? Why are you burning tyres when you have an rdp house? Why are you going on strike when you have a job? But it’s hard to take the long view, when one is cold or hungry or ill or fearful. Notice God’s response to the hunger of the grumbling Hebrew people. God sends food – quail at night and manna each morning.  God does not blame the Hebrews for losing the big picture. God’s concern is for those who are hungry, for those whose immediate needs are being ignored by those in power.

Similarly it’s easy to dismiss the workers in the parable as ungrateful – as the landowner does. But although good work/ creativity is a characteristic of God, slave labour is not. The Sabbath rest is a fundamental principle.

The first lesson in the wilderness is this: Share. Be generous.    The mentality of Egypt and the landowner is to grab power and consolidate it.  The mentality of God is generosity.  This is the example for all  God’s people.  However, notice what happens when the “fair” treatment is imposed from the outside, as in the case of the wealthy landowner. Each worker gets the same daily wage. But this is because he imposes this “equality” on the workers. It is in freedom from oppression that we can learn to relate fairly to one another.

Living the Word

What the Hebrew people still have to learn and what we still have to learn is that there is enough . But in order for there to be enough we have to share. And whatever we hoard  goes bad.  In this Season of Creation it is easy to fall into despondency: the earth and its creatures are doomed. However, the promise from the story of the Exodus is that even in the wilderness, there is enough,  if only we will take just what we need and no more.

by Rev Dr Janet Trisk, South Africa


Bibliography

Erlander, Daniel. Manna and Mercy. A Brief History of God’s Unfolding Promise to Mend the Entire Universe. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress. 2018 (Revised edition)

Haslam, Chris Comments and Clippings http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/apr25m.shtml accessed on 6 April 2019.

Hendricks, Obery. The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Teachings of Jesus and How They Have Been Corrupted.  New York: Doubleday, 2006.

Footnotes:

[i] Chris Haslam Comments and Clippings http://montreal.anglican.org/comments/archive/apr25m.shtml accessed on 6 April 2019.

[ii] Obery Hendricks The Politics of Jesus: Rediscovering the True Revolutionary Teachings of Jesus and How They Have Been Corrupted.  New York: Doubleday, 2006.

15th Sunday after Pentecost – Season of Creation 2

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 14:19–31
Sir 27:30-28:9
Psalm
114
2nd Reading
Rom 14:1–12
both
Gospel
Matt 18:21–35
both
by Rev Shaun Cozett, South Africa

Protecting the Commons

Hearing the Word – Exegetical

Comments on Exodus 14:19–31

The Book of Exodus records the story of God leading the people of Israel out of Egypt. We about Moses approaching Pharaoh and the hardness of the heart of Pharaoh in not wanting  the Israelites to leave. We read how God brings plagues onto the Egypt culminating in the death of all the first born. One of the key moments in the story is recounted for us today as we read about the Israelites passing through the Red Sea. We read that the pillar of fire that had lead them at night was placed between the Israelites and the ensuing Egyptians so that the Egyptians could not see where the Israelites were. God, through Moses, parted the sea so that the Israelites were able to cross to the other side. As we read the text there is a clear picture of two distinct groups. Reading the text within the Jewish tradition one would be acutely aware that God acts on behalf of the Israelites as part of God’s promise to Abraham that they would be God’s people. The Abrahamic covenant also indicates that God would give the Israelites the land that was being occupied by the Canaanites and the exodus from Egypt begins the journey by which the people are to receive that portion of the covenant and be established in the Promised Land.

Comments on Psalm 114

Psalm 114 retells the story of the exodus from Egypt. Although not considered one of the historic Psalms that is focused on recounting the history of Israel, Psalm 114 tells the story of the night the people of Israel escaped from Egypt. The Psalmist focusses here on the parting of the Red Sea and questions how it was done. Theologically, much of the debate on the how focused on three theories; (i) aim of the story is not that it is fact but rather that it wants to convey a message about the establish of the Israelites as a nation, (ii) the story is true and God performed a great miracle, (iii) there is a scientific explanation for why the sea divided on that day. The Psalmist however, although asking why the sea divided, doesn’t focus on the answer the question but rather points us to the God who is able to do all things. This story mixes the past and present tenses as way of blurring the lines between what has done in history and what God is able to do today. Thus story of the Israelites moving to freedom is significant only in as far as it helps us to see that God is able to act for us today.

Comments on Romans 14:1–12

St Paul makes a power case concerning personal pity and group cohesion. As with all Pauline writing we are not sure what the question or situation was that Paul was addressing, all we have is Paul’s response to the situation. From the response, it is likely that Paul had to address the question of religious dietary laws; should the new followers of the way be adhere to the dietary laws. Paul explains that some will choose to obey the laws and others will choose to forgo them. What is important is not whether we choose to adhere or forgo the rules but rather that in eating or not eating we do so in order to honour God. Paul reminds us that our aim is not to be right and judge those who are wrong, our aim is to be faithful to God and to our calling.

Comments on Matthew 18:21–35

The eighteenth chapter of Matthew’s Gospel is considered to be the fourth discourse/narrative within the Gospel, according to the five narratives theory. This discourse is described as the narrative to a divided community, in which Matthew describes to the new community of faith what their relationships to each other should be. Beginning with the question of who will be the greatest in the kingdom, Matthew discusses ensuring that others don’t stumble, how sin is to be dealt with and the role of God as the Shepherd of the flock. In this part of the chapter Matthew discusses the important of forgiveness. Using parable of the forgiving king, Matthew juxtaposes the king with a servant who was unable to forgive. In doing so, Matthew instruct the community to follow the example of the king for forgives and not that of the servant who is unable to forgive. Matthew also places the king in relation to God, so that like the shepherd in the parable earlier in the chapter, the faithful should aim to be like God if they are to live well in community with each other.

Interpreting the Word

How would you define a successful person? Most of us would probably use terms like rich, flashy cars, big houses and so on. Our current worldview is based on Economics. The pursuit of money and goods dominates our thinking and determines our behaviour. It determines aspects of our identity; including where we live, what health care and education we have access to and who we associate with.

In ancient cultures this was not the case, success was determined not by what you have, but by the opinion that the community had of you[1]. In order to be seen as successful, the community had to have a positive opinion of you, called honour. The opinion of the community was formed primarily based on the family you came from; if the family was wealthy or powerful then all the members of the family were seen as honourable. A child born into this society is therefore regarded as honourable if the family into which that child is born is seen as being honourable. Another way to acquire honour was to do an honourable deed, for example giving to the poor or saving a life.

If the community had a negative view of a person’s status, that would be called shame. As is the case with honour, it was possible for a person born into a shameful family and to thus be seen as shameful, or to do deeds that destroy and thereby be regarded as shameful. The low status of shame was apportioned based on the social categories family, tribe, gender, slave vs. free etc. A person could also be seen as shameful if they committed shameful act. The thinking and behaviour of people within honour and shame cultures was driven by the desire refrain from being seen as shameful and if honourable to maintain that status at all costs.

The culture of honour and shame is  important for us to understand as we preach this week’s sermon. We could easily take this parable about money and make money itself the centre of our sermons, as a reflection of our current society, but in the Biblical context money and forms of exchange were far more about ensuring a positive opinion from the community than about acquiring wealth. As we read the texts today we use the historical lens and gaze back at what it might have meant in the context and then draw lessons on what it could mean for us.

Today’s readings aim to show us that true honour comes not from being born into the right family, but rather in how we treat each other. The person for failed to forgive the debt of another failed to understand the importance of community and would have been seen as self-interested. Peter would have understood that such a person is not favourably viewed or considered successful.

Preaching the Word

In 1964 Garit Hardin wrote his famous piece “Tragedy of the Commons”. In it Hardin tells the story of two adjacent properties, one privately owned and one common property. Hardin observes that the state of the private farm is much better than that of the common. He explains that the owner of the private property understands that grazing his cattle on a certain patch until the patch is fully grazed and then moving the cattle along to another patch in order to allowed the grazed patch to recover is important because the owner has a personal interest in the longevity of his property. At the same time, the common is overgrazed because herders have no personal interest in protect what is held in common.

This story of the tragedy of the commons has become an important story in understanding how we are to care for the environment. Hardin’s story tells us that unless we begin to care for common property as shared property for the benefit of all we will suffer the consequences of systems breaking down. Already we are beginning to see the impact that our use of fossils fuels has on the climate. For the past two decades the leaders of the world have been meeting to discuss how best they might respond to the impending climate crisis. The basis of all these talks been that every country is focussed on what they need and talks have often stalled because one country waits for another to make the first move. All this while carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere increases, storms become greater in number and severity and record high and low temperatures are set on an almost annual basis. The same can be seen in other systems such as the oceans, which are becoming more acidic, forest that are being felled, water resources drying up and arable land becoming deserts.

Living the Word

This week’s texts remind of the importance of community. We are reminded of God establishing the people of Israel as God’s own people and how God acts for them in order that the covenant that God made with Abraham may be fulfilled. A common theme across the texts tell us to value community and to do all we can in order to protect our lives together. As we focus on the environment during the Season of Creation, we are called also to look at common property within the community and on the planet for example the oceans, the air, fresh water and open spaces. These places are not owned by anyone, but their survival depends on all of us working together. Our failure in the past to protect common property has lead the near-collapse of ecosystems throughout the world. Who cares for common property? Do we have an interest in the places we do not own? Do we recognise the importance of common property for the good of the community?

by Rev Shaun Cozett, South Africa

Bibliography

Hardin, G. 1968. The Tragedy of the Commons. Science, 1243 – 1248.

Malina, Bruce J. 2001. Honor and Shame: Pivotal Values of the First-Century Mediterranean World. In The New Testament World: Insights from Cultural Anthropology. 3d ed. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox, 27–57.

by (N.N.)


Footnotes

[1] See the following:

[2] See the following:

14th Sunday after Pentecost – Season of Creation 1

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 12:1-14
Ez 33:7-11
Psalm
149
2nd Reading
Rom 13:8-14
both
Gospel
Matt 18:15-20
both
by Bishop Geoff Davies, South Africa

The Greatest Commandment – Love your  neighbour

Introduction

How do the Scriptures, written two to three thousand years ago, relate to our lives and our lifestyle in today’s world, described as the Anthropocene, where we humans dominate life on this planet?

What does Scripture say in the face of self-centred power politics and corruption? Of greed and increasing inequality on the planet? Of the domination of economic growth over human and planetary well-being? Of environmental destruction on an unprecedented scale, bringing about the sixth great extinction, with over 50% of species threatened with extinction? What does Scripture say about mounting mountains of plastic, entering our food chain and poisoning both the natural environment and people?

With global warming bringing about climate disruption, change in weather patterns, increased weather extremes with droughts, floods, hurricanes and cyclones reaching new levels of intensity, what does Scripture say? With deforestation bringing about the destruction of the lungs of the planet, with marine stocks plummeting and the very future of life at stake, can we find the wisdom and guidance needed from our Scriptures?

Comments on Exodus 12: 1 – 14

The Passover is a key event in the history of the people of Israel and the salvation of God’s people. Some amazing natural and supernatural events failed to convince the Egyptians to let the Israelites go. Even after they left, the Egyptians tried to capture them again. But God had a plan for the Israelites, apart from liberating them., which was to set up a new society based on ethical principles. During the Israelites time in the Wilderness God gave us the Ten Commandments to guide our behaviour and show us the way to living in peace and harmony.

Note that of the Ten Commandments, only the first four deal with our relationship with God. The remaining six provide essential principles for our behaviour with the one another – and we know how devastating and disrupting to our social and personal well-being transgressions of any of those six Commandments can be. Yet we know we continue to fail to follow or obey them.

Psalm 149

The last of the Psalms in the Psalter are all praise Psalms to God.  Praise for God’s help; Praise for God’s care for Jerusalem; Praise for God’s Universal Glory (Psalm 148); Praise for God’s Goodness to Israel (Psalm 149) and Praise for God’s Surpassing Greatness (Psalm 150).

I like to read Psalm 149 in conjunction with Psalm 148 where we hear not only people but all of Creation praising God. Praise comes to God from the highest heavens, from the Sun and Moon from the Earth and the deeps of the sea, from the mountains and hills, from fruit trees and Cedars, from wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds, kings of the earth and all peoples.

Psalm 149 continues the praise, now from Israel and the children of Zion.  But it ends with the disturbing hope that Israel’s praise of God may be “two-edged swords in their hands, to execute vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples”. We must remember that the Psalms were written long before the coming of Christ and use words which we would not wish to use though we may pray for the end of those who perpetrate evil!

It could be that Israel saw that it should discipline and judge the nations and peoples who transgressed God’s commandments and strove against Israel, who were the bearers of God’s commandments.

Romans 13: 8-14

This passage from Paul’s letter to the Romans is an extremely important passage in examining how we Christians should respond to God’s plan for us in this beautiful world that God has brought into being.

This follows the opening verses of Chapter 13, where Paul tells us that every person should “be subject to the governing authorities”.  These verses were notoriously used and quoted by the Apartheid government of South Africa and continue to be used by authoritarian and undemocratic governments to justify their unjust and often corrupt rule.

It was the Anglican Archbishop of Cape Town at the time, Bill Burnett, who stated that we could not be subject to the governing authorities if these authorities were not being obedient to God. Globally we are seeing the younger generation rising up in protest and civil disobedience, with the school strikes and Extinction Rebellion protests, speaking out about climate change.

Paul then quotes four of the Ten Commandments: “You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet”; and concludes that all the commandments are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbour as yourself……..Love is the fulfilling of the law”. (Verses 8 to 12).

Matthew 18: 15 – 20.

This passage continues the theme of God’s people being obedient and of keeping God’s Commandments.

It follows the parable of the lost sheep that “it is not the will of our Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.” (Verse 14)

But then we hear how we should react “if your brother”, a member of the Christian Church sins? “Against you” is a later addition, so it is raising the question of how we should react to a member of the Christian community or church who has sinned.

This shows the early church community, who were Jewish converts, grappling with the issue, so if a member does sin, members of the community should take action. If he listens, you have saved a brother and restored him to the flock or family of the church.

If he does not listen, he will be excluded from the church in the way tax collectors and Gentiles were excluded from the synagogue. It showed that a Christian community should act if “a brother” sins. It is clear that there should be discipline and disciplinary action by the faith community.

“Whatever are you binding on Earth will be bound in heaven”, denotes the relationship between Earth and Heaven, the church and God. The prayer of two who are in agreement will be heard and answered by God.

Interpreting the Word

Exodus

Consider how transgressing the Commandments can be so disruptive to trust and living peacefully in society.

Far from worshipping God alone, we worship mammon – money – and we idolise our consumer goods, be they our latest automobile, or jewellery or fashion clothes. The fourth commandment is a combination of our relationship with God and our behaviour to one another. We have quite largely abandoned keeping the Sabbath holy when you consider that Sunday is now the most popular of shopping days.  But this denies some people a Sabbath day rest as people have to work and run transport  systems, yet it is well-known that a day’s rest is essential for both physical, mental and spiritual well-being. It is another indicator that our present day world considers commerce and wealth to be more important than well-being.

We continue to steal as we see corruption occurring on a massive scale in our contemporary world. We continue to kill and fail to recognise the sanctity of life, given the violence in our societies and conflicts in our world with weapons of mass destruction. We don’t trust in God and in establishing God’s justice. We trust in our guns.

We don’t speak the truth, but bear false witness, particularly in politics. The tenth commandment might seem to be the most innocuous, yet our present economic system encourages and drives us to covet, increasing inequalities in our world.

Romans

“Love your neighbour as yourself…Love is the fulfilling of the law”.

In our modern society we need to ask ourselves – who is my neighbour? Our neighbours are the people who live downstream of our waste. Our neighbours are those who are impacted by climate change because of our choices of energy or investment income. Our neighbours are the generations to come who will live on a bleak and barren world because of our consumerist society. Our neighbours are also the many living creatures who make up the web of life on which we depend and which God has called us to safeguard.

Matthew

We are faced with a new theological question for our time –  how do we respond to  Church members who are sinning against God’s Creation? For a long time the Church has focussed on individual sins, particularly sexual sins. And yet our lifestyle is destroying the web of life and hurting the most vulnerable of society.

The Patriarch of the Orthodox church says this:
“We have traditionally regarded sin as being merely what people do to other people. Yet, for human beings to destroy the biological diversity in God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by contributing to climate change, by stripping the earth of its natural forests or destroying its wetlands; for human beings to contaminate the earth’s waters, land and air – all of these are sins.”

The question is deep – how do we challenge our brothers and sisters in Christ to stop sinning against Creation and the generations to come?

Preaching the Word

How do we love our neighbour in the current ecological crisis? For too long the churches theology, preaching and ministry has been involved in ambulance work, seeking to heal the damage done by self-centred misbehaviour. We know that we must feed the hungry – but the question today is “how do we stop people from becoming hungry?” How do we establish justice and equity for people and all of life? There is enough on this planet for our needs, but not enough for our greed. The destruction of planetary life is not God’s will. This must be loudly proclaimed from every pulpit and Bible study around the world. Environmental care must become a priority.

The church in the past has been apprehensive that in caring for nature we might be accused of Pantheism – that is the worship of nature. What is needed is Panentheism, that is “God in everything”. All life is sacred and we must recognise that we are inextricably part of the rest of life, part of the web of life. In the extinction which we humans are bringing about, we are unravelling this web of life which is leading to our own demise.

This is not God’s will. There are those who say they wish to hasten the second coming of Jesus. That can only be in God’s time. As it is, it is we humans who are now bringing about “the end of the world” as we understand life on this planet. This is not God’s plan. Let us recognise the need for urgent action to care for Life.

Living the Word

We are commanded to love our neighbour, the vulnerable, the future generations and the whole web of life. To do so, we must consciously seek to live in harmony with God, one another and the natural world.  And we must be an example to all of humanity that we must stop being so selfish in the way we treat nature and our fellow human beings.

Encourage your worshipping community to establish an Eco-Congregation, so you may keep informed about social and environmental issues, and develop a voice to encourage political authorities, locally and nationally, to recognise their environmental responsibilities and to take appropriate action. By establishing Eco-Justice, that is ecological and economic justice, we shall overcome the huge inequality and poverty existing in our world today.

Forty percent of food is wasted every day while two and a half billion people go hungry. Examine your life style and commit to reducing food waste.

We must establish natural reserves, both on land and in the oceans, so that all God’s creation can not only  survive but thrive. Connect with your nearest reserve, grow indigenous plants. Don’t use pesticides that destroy biodiversity.

Don’t litter – it is a contemporary form of blasphemy, so much for your world God as we throw our plastic out of the car window. Campaign for the end of all plastic packaging and advocate for responsible, returnable containers.

Advocate for the end of fossil fuels.  We have been given all the energy we need through renewable energy resources. It is blowing in the wind and shining on us daily.

Insist on sustainable fishing practices.

Reduce your meat consumption. Modern meat production is both cruel and a major cause of greenhouse gas emissions.

Resolving the ecological crisis of our planet, however, is no longer a problem we can leave to the scientists. Just as we are all part of the problem, so we are all also part of the solution. We all need to come to terms with the forces that have created this crisis and the resources within our traditions that can motivate us to resolve the crisis. One of those traditions is our biblical heritage.[i] Archbishop Tutu

In the words of Pope Francis, let us hear the “Cry of the poor and the Cry of the Earth’ and commit to loving our neighbour.

by Bishop Geoff Davies, South Africa

Bibliography

Norman C, Habel & Vicky Balabanski; The Earth Bible Volume Five (Sheffield Academic Press and The Pilgrim Press, Cleveland Ohio, 2002)

A E Harvey, Companion to the New Testament (Oxford/Cambridge)

J C Fenton, Saint Matthew; (The Pelican Gospel Commentaries)

[i] Earth Bible, volume Five “The Earth story in the New Testament”.

5th Sunday in Lent [by Bishop Richard]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ez 37:1-14
both
Psalm
130
2nd Reading
Rom 8:6-11
both
Gospel
John 11:1-45
both
by The Rt Revd Dr Richard Treloar, Bishop of Gippsland, Australia

As our Lenten experience deepens, and we move into Passiontide, the readings for this fifth Sunday in the season give us a foretaste of the promise of this costly journey from death to new life.

The dis-membered bones in the valley the Lord shows to Ezekiel are ‘very dry’ – yebeyshot in the Hebrew – the same verb that is used to describe the dry ground in Genesis 1:9, a site of creation and transformation.

In the recent Australian summer we have felt the consequences of such dryness as a contributing factor to the severity and extent of the bushfires in many regions.  My own diocese of Gippsland was one of those impacted.  In January and February I travelled through extensive areas of forested natural habitat which was devastated by fires, as were some of the townships and farms they surround.

Within a few days and weeks of the rain that eventually and mercifully fell, sprouts of new green growth began to push out of charred branches and blackened trunks, reminding me of the subdued Easter hymn ‘Now the green blade riseth’.

Perhaps this is an ecological equivalent of the more anthropocentric parable Ezekiel narrates of the animation of those dry bones.

Lazarus is summoned by the word of Christ from death to life.  With him, the whole creation is summoned to new life by the Word that is Christ, through whom all things were made.

For us, that summons is first heard and responded to in baptism where, as St Paul describes it in Romans, the pattern of Christ’s dying and living is re-membered in us, starting with the question, ‘Do you turn to Christ?’

If you have seen Jacob Epstein’s sculpture of a still tightly bound Lazarus in the Chapel of New College, Oxford, you will no doubt have been struck by the man’s head which, despite the winding cloths of the grave, is turning towards a summons that seems to be coming from behind him in the direction of the altar and the great lectern.

How do we respond to the Gospel summons conveyed to us in word and sacrament when faced with apparently uncontrollable forces like a bushfire or the Coronavirus?  Both advance in frightening and escalating waves, leaving our often hubristic and theologically ill-derived sense of ‘dominion’ over nature in their wake along with much else, tragically.

Our shared responsibility to try and slow down the spread of the virus calls us in one sense to a social distancing or even isolation that may feel tomb-like, and indeed casts our mortality into sharp relief.

Might this strange and unchartered space also prove to be womb-like?

To what fullness of life might we be called as we emerge from the forced and abrupt removal of so many of the freedoms that we often take for granted?

What new shoots of our humanness might spring up in the spaces between us after the emergency has passed?

How might we come to appreciate the gift of a handshake, or the blessings of readily available food and basic domestic products?

How could a greater awareness of the non-essential nature of some of our travel and other activities lessen the impact on our environment of this Anthropocene age?

In the dryness of these late Lenten days, when churches may be closed, uncertainty and anxiety appear to reign, and economies shrink, may we remain a people of hope: expectantly open to Holy Spirit’s animating and re-animating breath in our world; preparing the dry yet fertile ground of our hearts for the vidi aquam of that great Easter antiphon – the water Ezekiel saw flowing from the side of the Temple (47:1) – to bubble up baptismally in us and through us from the wounded side of Christ; ready and waiting to turn again to him when summoned on Easter Day.

A suggestion for further reading:

Jonathan Cornford, Coming back to Earth: Essays on the Church, Climate Change, Cities, Agriculture and Eating (Melbourne: Morning Star Publishing; 2016).

by Bishop Dr Richard Treloar, Australia

World Water Day March 22nd [by Rev A. Manning]

WATER IS SACRED

by Revd. Andrew Manning, South Africa

We need to humble ourselves before God and accept that water is sacred. It is a gift from God and must be used to honour God. Wherever water is we must use it to glorify God.

Environmental issues are more than complicated science. There is plenty of need and space for complex scientific theories and interventions, and I am grateful to all those who use their God given gifts to delve into the deep truths of the complexity of God’s creation. But I am a simple practitioner whose work is to encourage other everyday people like me, to rethink life on earth. To use Archbishop Thabo’s words – “water is sacred and is not to be treated as a commodity.” We all engage with our environment in a deeply personal way. There is both a physical and a spiritual connection. Again to use Archbishops Thabo’s words “We need to react appropriately and take our Baptismal water seriously.”

There is a place for protest and there is a place for policy advocacy and there is a place for addressing the complexities of hydrology. Just as there is a place for the thunderstorm and the flood and the drought. We need to do a lot as the Church to address water allocation and water injustice, we need to address the whole water cycle and the whole human water cycle. We cannot just deal with one part of the problem, we have to address it all.

I’d like to take this opportunity to exhort us to move from Protest to Practice. We need Protest, it inspires, it highlights the problems, it identifies the culprits. But Practice recognizes that I am as much part of the solution as the problem. Practice brings about immediate results in addressing the issues that we are concerned about and a change in practice will only come about in a change of attitude.

When we look at water, one of the drivers of change is scarcity. But this philosophy continues to view water as a commodity and its value is in terms of supply and demand. We need to move

from a value of scarcity to a value of sacredness. Christians have a leading role to play in shifting our mindsets to see water as being sacred. When our value is based on water’s availability, we treasure it when it is scarce and enjoy it and waste it when it is abundant. But when our value is that water sacred, we honour it and treasure it and use it wisely in both drought and flood.

We need to be transformed by the renewal of our minds and not conform to the ways of the world (Romans 12 :2 paraphrased). We are called to transform our actions. Protest must lead to Practice and protest must not only call on others to change but must transform us. Our value must be based on sacredness and not scarcity.

There is a place for the everyday experience of clouds and drizzle and mist and soaking gentle rain. There is a place for streams and rivers and oceans and seas. And so, I ask you to, for a moment, as we celebrate World Water Day, to take a little journey with me into the simplicity of it all.

Water is life. Without it we have nothing. Let’s learn to appreciate it for what it is and to recognize it, where it is – in your tap, in your storm water drain, in your kitchen sink and in the great places where you usually recognize it too.

As we celebrate World Water Day, it gives us the opportunity to allow for the “transformation/renewal of our minds.” All too often when we look at the ethic behind environmental issues we have not yet humbled ourselves at the foot of God who created all things and held water in such high regard that his own Son spoke of himself as being “living water.” We need to make the shift from water as a commodity to be purified and piped and used and recycled, to water being a source of life, a gift from God to be appreciated as a sacred aspect of life.

Water is one of the great teachers in God’s creation. Let me begin by challenging you to think about what you understand water to be. When asked what water is, many people give a scientific formula as their answer. “H2O” is what they say!

Lesson one – scientific formulas can never give you a sufficient answer for what God has created and given to us to be stewards over. If water were truly just a combination of available elements – we could make it by simply combing them in the right proportions. Until we sit at the feet of God in humility and awe, we cannot learn from God. Too often our environmental endeavors are just a shift on our demand to dominate and rule, we still treat the environment as a commodity. Water is not a commodity, it is a sacred gift from God.

We need to learn lesson two – If water is sacred our stewardship of it must change. Water cannot be dominated and controlled. It is sacred and must be revered and worked with. Any and every flood event should be enough to convince us of that. The power of water cannot be stood against. No matter what our understanding of the earth is, we all have to admit that water has shaped our planet and transformed the surface of the earth. We are not in control, we only have the illusion of control. If we are to truly understand our role on earth, it is to work with God. We can build dams and canals and construct river diversions and harvest the mist and desalinate sea water, but only by God’s grace alone, do we have any ability to draw anything from water, to receive its benefits. Water is not a commodity to be abused by us and controlled by us, it is sacred and must be revered and appreciated and used to the glory of God.

Water is our great teacher. And in the beginning the Spirit hovered over the waters (Genesis 1:1) and so may the Spirit of God hover over the waters today and bring order out of our chaos.

Repeatedly water is used as a symbol of life and death and cleansing and when withheld, as a punishment and when rained on us, a blessing; and yet we have accepted these texts as if they are a pretty comparison and a sterile simile providing a “cute” metaphor.

Do we respect water as much as the Bible does? Is it as much part of our story as it was for the Bible characters that we learn from?
There are countless examples of the interactions between humanity and God that took place with water, in water or on water.

Capetonians have a whole new respect for water after their time of scarcity. What will it take us all to start treating water with respect – to start respecting God for the gift of water?

I have seen how quickly people forget after floodwaters have ravaged their homes and I see how little action has changed as a result of the consequences – nature is not seen as a teacher, but as something that we can control or ignore or deny the authority that it has over us!

Water is forgiving. Throughout our land there are bodies of water that are severely contaminated by all kinds of pollution. What continues to amaze me is how downstream the river recovers and has mechanisms that heal it. I live on one of the shortest rivers in South Africa, and despite its short distance and huge pollution load, by the time the water reaches the sea its water quality has improved. In these last two years we have seen how two successive floods have improved the mechanics of the river and the water quality is better despite no reduction in pollution.

I deeply believe that we need to accept that water is a teacher of the faith. God is preaching to us in every storm water drain, every urban canal, every estuary, every dam, every river, every stream, every ocean and ice cap. Are we listening? Or are we seeing that the destruction of nature is just a sign of sinfulness? Drought means that we have sinned and rain means that we are blessed. We’ve oversimplified the greatest sermon ever preached, and it’s the greatest because God has been preaching it since the beginning and will be preaching it till the end. But I’m not sure we are seeing nature for its prophetic value.

As we celebrate World Water Day – what are the waters saying to us?

From one simple inhabitant of earth to another, let me state the truth hidden in plain sight. The world is divided into catchments. Every river system has an area in which all the water flows into it. We call the highest point the watershed – that’s where the water flows in opposite directions (like the apex of a roof). What flows the one way flows into one river and what flows the other flows into another.

Conditions in each of these catchments vary according to many ecological factors but one catchment does not function according to the ecological conditions of another catchment. Everything that happens in a catchment – every building, every land use, every impact on the habitat affects the water in that catchment. The mechanics and the water quality and the entire functioning of the system is dictated to and determined by the conditions in that catchment. The external factors are not the greatest influence on the hydrology of a catchment – the conditions, the geography, the geology, the aspect the land use and all the impacts in that catchment are the primary influences and it is these issues that need to be addressed in that catchment.

We have a lovely expression in environmental circles. “Think globally but act locally.” You don’t try and solve the problem of drought in a rain forest and you don’t build dams in the desert. Despite the severity of floods in one place and the severity of drought in another, you have to deal with life – in your catchment! You have to be focused on your own issues!

Naturally a desert will be a warning to a rainforest (our deserts were once forests). An erosion gully is a warning to a grassy plain! But you need to manage your life where it is and not where it is not. Water runs downhill and once it has gone its gone. You have to deal with it in the context of the catchment you are in and what you do now affects your whole future, water teaches us that.

Water has multiple functions in a catchment. Much more than provide liquid for plants and animals to drink, water is a transport agent; dissolving solids and even moving solid particles. Water is the lifeblood of a catchment! “I am the living water” said Jesus and Jesus is more than just being a drink! Water purifies, it brings balance, it changes the landscape. And in each catchment it does what is required there. Water plays the same role in the Karoo and in the mangroves, although it does it very differently. The slightest mist can sustain the fynbos and great deluges don’t destroy the mangroves. But water teaches us that we have to be consistent within our context – 1000mm per annum doesn’t give you the most diverse plant population in the world. The fynbos, needs around 190mm a year. More than 10mm a year won’t give you the uniqueness of a desert and less than a 1000mm won’t give you a Rain Forest.

But you couldn’t just pour 1000mm of rain on the Namib and expect a rainforest to occur – it sounds crazy saying that and yet look at what we do when we think that we are in control. That we can manipulate and get what we want but doing what we think we have control over. In every aspect of our lives the principal of nature – the mechanics of the catchment apply.
From Highveld Thunderstorms to West Coast ‘fog” to KZN “mizzel” (a unique heavy mist that saturates the earth without it actually raining). Water works God’s miracles. In different quantities, in different forms: hail, ice, snow and rain. It cleanses the earth and carries our pollution. And nature cleanses it and purifies it and accepts it.

“I am the living water” said Jesus. I ask you, could you go to your local stream and say – Jesus would compare himself to this?

This World Water Day – let us be students of God’ s great teacher. Let us see water for what it is – the giver of life.

If we cannot change the way we think about water which is so essential for our survival in the physical sense – how can we be honest about changing the way we think of the living water in the spiritual sense.

Today let us say to Jesus:

”as I accept you as the Living water and respect you as the living water, I will start to respect the physical water which you chose to identify yourself with, I will value it as Sacred. I will see the characteristics that you have revealed in water, as a life lesson for who you are to me and how you work in my life, and I will accept hat as sacred. And I will treat water as a revelation of your love for us. With the respect and honour that it deserves.”

Let’s move beyond protest to practice. Let us answer the call of God to honour God in all that is scared on the earth.

“There is a divine wind sweeping over the waters.“ (Gen 1:1 NJB) May it move us to worship. Baptism is in itself an acceptance of the sacred nature of water – let us life our lives today holding onto the sacred nature of water and honoring Christ who is the living water.

Amen.

Acknowledgements:

  • Canon Peter Houston
  • All those who have journeyed with me in the fight for water Justice in South Africa.

Yours in Christ

Revd. Andrew Manning

3rd Sunday in Lent [by Rev Nathan Empsall]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 17:1-7
both
Psalm
95
2nd Reading
Rom 5:1-11
both
Gospel
John 4:5-42
both
by Rev Nathan Empsall, Episcopal priest in New Haven, Connecticut, USA

Section One: Notes on the Readings

(Photo by Roberto Nickson on Unsplash)

Old Testament (Exodus 17:1-7)

Reading the story of Moses drawing water from a rock, a preacher can draw upon at least two environmental angles.

First, the main thrust of this passage is the Israelites demanding Moses provide them water to drink, angering Moses since they did not simply trust that God would provide. This reminds us of two things: One, out of nature, God has provided everything we need, including precious water. This is cause to rejoice, as well as to take care of the earth. Two, Moses’ frustration and the name he gives the place – Massah and Meribah, to reflect that the Israelites “tested the Lord” – reminds us that God will provide, and we do not need to ask for more than that. When we quarrel and test the Lord, living beyond our limits, we take too much from nature, and begin the cycles of ecological devastation and deadly anthropogenic climate change.

Second, the Israelites have been travelling through the “Wilderness of Sin.” A question worth asking is, why does society often give a negative connotation to the word “wilderness”? Note that this is not named for “sin” as in sinful behavior, but for the Mesopotamian moon god Sin. Nevertheless, the Israelites are “lost” in the wilderness – whereas today, we can celebrate natural wilderness areas as pristine natural areas left as God made them. The idea that the ancient Egyptians would name a wilderness for a revered deity, reminding us that even the earth and the moon are interconnected, is a chance to reexamine our own relationship with wilderness and nature.

Psalm 95

Following forty years of loathing and anger, the psalmist now finds reason to rejoice, celebrating God with “a joyful noise,” giving thanksgiving and worshipping God with delight.

Even in the depths of our own mourning, grief, and despair – including the despair that comes from suffering the consequences of ecological devastation – there is always reason to make a joyful noise to the Lord. Finding light in the darkness does not entirely extinguish the darkness, and no pastor should ever tell someone to ignore their natural feelings, but the light does help make the darkness bearable. The only way we can find strength to tackle the climate crisis without becoming overwhelmed is to also find joy in the Lord.

The psalmist even reminds us where we can find some of that joy: By reminding ourselves who it is that creating the mountains, the sea, and the dry land that we are fighting to defend.

New Testament (Romans 5:1-11)

Paul’s reminder that “suffering produces endurance” pairs well with the Psalm’s ability to help us find joy amidst mourning. Paul’s point that suffering can be useful does not mean we should intentionally seek out suffering — this is no justification for pollution or fossil-fuel abuse — but it can remind us to use the suffering that we do experience as a source of strength and inspiration to help us in our fight against climate change.

Paul also tells us that Christ died for us even “while we still were sinners.” We do not need to feel guilty for our past environmental sins – for the species we have driven to extinction; for the bleaching of the coral reefs and the melting of northern permafrost; or for the communities who have lost their homes to larger hurricanes, hotter fires, or rising seas. God loves us despite these sins – but out of that freely given love and grace comes responsibility. Paul says we are now reconciled to Christ, and if we are to stay reconciled to the incarnate Word that dwelt among us on the earth, then we must care for the earth that received that blessing.

Gospel (John 4:5-42)

Reading about Jesus’s visit with the woman at the well, one could choose to focus on the importance of water, a vital resource from nature that Christ uses as the basis for his spiritual metaphors, or on his relationship with the Samaritan woman.

This woman is very likely an outcast in her society. First, she is a woman in a society that does not see men and women as equal. Second, she has had five husbands, which would likely cause her neighbors to ask questions. Did she kill them? Did they leave her because she was unfaithful? Third, she is still single, and a single woman should not cavort with men in public. Fourth, she is a Samaritan. That is of course not a problem in a Samaritan village, but Judeans (like Jesus) looked down on and discriminated against Samaritans.

Yet despite all of this, the woman was the very first person who Jesus went to when he arrived in her village – and did so at a public well, for all to see. This reminds us that it is the poor, marginalized, and outcast who Christ calls us to care for and love first – the very populations most affected by climate change and population. Indigenous peoples in South America are losing their Amazonian homes while their North American cousins resist the construction of new fossil-fuel infrastructure on ancestral homes; toxic waste sites are most often placed in poor and minority neighborhoods; and low-income communities are the least prepared to handle the financial impact of relocation, disease, and resource scarcity.

Section Two: Sermon Ideas

There are at least four ways to draw on these lectionary passages for a sermon that includes climate change, ecology, or nature.

The first option is to draw on Psalm 95 and the readings from Exodus and Romans to discuss the need to celebrate and enjoy God’s creation, even while we mourn the devastation occurring to it. Such celebration can ground us in our faith in Christ, and give us strength for the environmental work that faces us.

The second option is to focus on the Gospel of John, recognizing the ways in which the woman at the well was likely marginalized and outcast in her society – yet was also the very first person in her village to whom Jesus spoke. By that same token, we remember today that climate change and ecological devastation harm the marginalized and outcast among us the most.

Thirdly, one could point out that International Women’s Day was earlier this month, on March 8. Jesus’ association with the woman at the well shows us that there is no room for gender inequality in God’s kingdom – yet a new report from the Catholic bishops of Ireland finds that “disasters resulting from climate change are estimated to kill 14 times more women and girls than men and boys.” Thus, standing up for climate change is a form of fighting for women’s health and equality, just as fighting for women’s rights can help protect the environment.

Finally, one can cite water’s role in Exodus, Psalm 95, and the Gospel to preach on the importance of water – as a gift from God, and as a threatened resource that requires our attention today. Water is not only the most central resource to life, but it is also central to our faith, playing a key role in both baptism and the Eucharist. Yet under anthropogenic climate change, seas are rising and forcing South Pacific communities to relocate, the ocean is becoming more acidic leading to mass extinction of God’s creatures, and increased conflict and warfare due to drought and water security is becoming ever more likely. How can we honor God while simultaneously destroying the seas that the psalmist reminds us belong to God?

Section Three: Additional Material

Water Justice: In 2017, “water justice” was the theme of Trinity Wall Street’s annual Trinity Institute conference. Videos of speakers including Archbishop Winston Halapua, Archbishop Thabo Makgoba, scientist Katharine Hayhoe, ethicist Christiana Zenner, and more can still be found online, as well as a reading list.

www.trinitywallstreet.org/trinity-institute/2017/home

by Nathan Empsall, New Haven, Connecticut, USA

2nd Sunday in Lent [by Rev Dr Gift Makwasha]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 12:1-4a
both
Psalm
121
2nd Reading
Rom 4:1-5,13-17
2 Tim 1, 8b-10
Gospel
John 3:1-17
Matt 17:1-9
by The Reverend Dr. Gift M. Makwasha, Grace Anglican Church, Zimbabwe / Australia

FOR GOD SO LOVED THE WORLD

John 3.1-17

This is the main reading this Sunday.

Readings like John 3.1-17 that are well known and popular are sometimes a dilemma for the preacher. The direction the message should take may be so obvious to most people in the pews.

However, for me, the message for this Sunday must be a sequel to that of last Sunday, which was on temptation, sin and the Fall of humanity, what theologians call the original sin. We concluded the first reading last Sunday with Adam and Eve hiding from God—they were ashamed to have broken God’s trust.

And the punishment pronounced in Genesis was so harsh—including hard labour and toil for the man (Adam), tilling  the hard earth (Adamah)for survival; pain for the woman in giving birth; lost opportunity for eternal life in the garden; enmity between humankind and the serpent; the serpent to crawl on its belly—no legs to be given to it; and expulsion of mankind from the Garden of Eden. These myths and legends, if you want to call them, tell us of the consequences of sin, of which St. Paul centuries later would say, the wages of sin is death! (Romans 6.23)

But in this week’s Gospel reading (John 3.1-17), we are being reminded of God’s outrageous love for mankind. Last Sunday we heard about God punishing mankind for its sin.  This Sunday we are immediately reminded of God’s endless love for us!

God cannot bear seeing us confined to the eternal deathbed of dust. So, he takes action to sacrifice his only begotten Son, who as we heard last week, was like us tempted in every way, yet he did not sin (Hebrews 4.15). God takes him who did not sin and sacrifices him for us who sinned. While the first were expelled from Eden, through the death of God’s Son, God draws us to live eternally with him in his eternal Paradise.

The Bangolan of Cameroon say that a parent should punish a rebellious child with a rebuking left hand and draw him or her closer with a loving right hand. This is exactly what God did to humans through sacrificing his Son on the Cross. God’s love overcomes his anger. His forgiveness overcomes his justice.

In thinking of this reading, you may find this story interesting:

A story is told about Stan Mooneyham who one day was walking along a trail in East Africa with some friends. He became aware of a delightful odour that filled the air. He looked up in the trees and around at the bushes to discover where it was coming from.

Then his friends told him to look down at the small blue flower growing along the path. Each time they crushed the tiny blossoms under their feet, more of its sweet perfume was released into the air. Then his friends said, “We call it the Forgiveness Flower!”

The forgiveness flower does not wait until we ask forgiveness for crushing it. It does not release its fragrance in measured doses or hold us to reciprocal arrangement. It does not ask for an apology; it merely lives up to its name and forgives — freely, fully, and richly.

The author of that story calls it a touching example of ‘Outrageous forgiveness’!

LENT reminds us about the ‘Outrageous forgiveness of God’! Nothing more, nothing less!

You may choose any one of these themes this Sunday: Forgiveness, Reconciliation; Restoration and so on. Lent is a reminder that God is seeking to forgive and be reconciled with us.

Psalm 121

 Is an assurance of God’s love for us, and that we should look to him alone for our salvation. He watches over us and will not allow any harm to happen to us. If God has sacrificed his Son for us, surely, we must be so priceless to him. He does not sleep or slumber just to watch over us. Our religion is not a pie in the sky religion, God is concerned about us not just in future life in heaven, but even right here right now! Jesus came so that we may have life in its abundance (John 10.10).

In the context of Australia where we have been heavily affected by the Bush fires, as a result of human irresponsible behaviour, we need to be reminded of God who is seeking to save us. In a world which is in the panic mode because of the Corona virus, which is affecting people across the globe, we need to be reminded of God who is seeking to save us. In a world ravaged by conflicts, wars, violence of different forms, violation of human rights corruption, and all sorts of evil—what an opportunity for the preacher to emphasize God’s love!

Genesis 12.1-4a

Genesis 12 is for me the introduction to God’s salvific act. In Genesis 6.6, God is presented as regretting that he had made mankind that had rebelled and become so wicked. The purpose Abraham’s calling was so that God would bless all people on earth through him. But what could have been a fulfillment of this blessing than the death of God’s only begotten Son on the Cross, death that brought eternal life to all people who would respond to God.

Romans 4.1-5, 13-17

Romans 4 is a praise of Abraham’s obedient response to God’s calling. Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.

Perhaps this reading can very well serve as the conclusion to the sermon, inviting and encouraging people to obediently respond to God’s call to believe in God’s Son as the saviour of the world. That response is our righteousness. Our faith in what God has done through his Son on the Cross is our justification.

by Rev. Dr. G. M. Makwasha, Australia

1st Sunday in Lent [by Rev. Ken Gray]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 2:15-17,3:1-7
Gen 2:7-9,3:1-7
Psalm
32
2nd Reading
Rom 5:12-19
both
Gospel
Matt 4:1-11
both
by The Very Rev. Ken Gray, Kamloops BC Canada

SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS

GENESIS 2:15-17; 3:1-7

It is good to begin in the garden, or is it? The garden is that place where the necessities of life for all creatures including humans are nurtured, cultivated and enjoyed. It is a place of tremendous physicality; humans live and die depending on natural processes and access to agricultural bounty. We all must eat to both thrive and survive, or else we die. And we all die in due course and others take our place in the community of earth and in the company of friend and stranger alike. What we discover here is the role of limits, of what we take from the earth and how we take it and use it. Both the man and the woman take from a forbidden place, and suffer the consequences – a loss of innocence, a complication to an otherwise idyllic life. The serpent can be understood as an ultimate (climate) sceptic, a rebel voice constantly refusing the authority of a Creator God who simply says, “live within your means.” Strident voices are sometimes prophetic; at other times they are simply disobedient and wrong. And the consequences, for both persons and creation are tragic.

PSALM 32

While the psalmist reflects on past sins and transgressions in an introspective way, he “groans” and feels the heavy hand of the Lord on him, our text broadens in speaking of natural disasters including both heat and drought: “Moisture was dried up in the heat of summer,” and flooding: “When the great waters overflow.” Within the experiences of nature many of us face calamity, and in our present time ask real questions of real events: How can floods ravage Zimbabwe and Mozambique, while fires continue to ravage the Australian continent and Southern Pacific Ocean waters rise extraordinarily. Let us not be “like horse or mule, which have no understanding.” Let us do our homework and discern how we continue to abuse the world God has given us for careful stewardship. Let us live according to the wisdom God shares with us, not only in scripture, but also in the science which continues to clarify the danger of ignoring sustainable limits.

ROMANS 5:12-19

If the Genesis text describes the consequences of bad decisions, Paul in his Epistle to the Romans has us move beyond sin and its consequences to the gift of God’s Grace. Paul’s message is indeed Good News, that all are welcome to receive God’s gift, Gentile and Jew alike. The truth is that those who receive the gift of righteousness will exercise dominion in life, a phrase which may recall dominion over creation (Gen 1:26), both which describe a responsible way of living, in Christ, which suggests amongst other responsibilities, sustainable ecological living. We have a choice, to live to and for ourselves, or with Dietrich Bonhoeffer to refuse to receive grace superficially or cheaply: “Cheap grace is the grace we bestow on ourselves. Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance.”

MATTHEW 4:1-11

It is hard to imagine a better place to begin our Lenten journey together than in the wilderness. Matthew and Luke follow a common source (Q) elaborating on Mark’s terse description. The wilderness is a Spirit-directed place of encounter, where a particular God-human conversation is possible. The wilderness is an extra-ordinary life place, where survival requires special dedication, preparation and resilience. One becomes especially aware of our relationship with and dependence upon creation and our relationship with it when food and water are in short supply if not totally absent. We are physical beings, yet our relationship is with God, and God within creation. Richard Rohr cites St. Bonaventure “As a human being Christ has something in common with all creatures. With the stones he shares existence, with plants he shares life, with animals he shares sensation, and with the angels he shares intelligence.”

SECTION TWO: SERMON OUTLINE

First, consider various wilderness settings relevant to your congregants.

In my home country of Canada these might include the Great Bear Rainforest on the British Columbia Coast

https://greatbearrainforest.gov.bc.ca/

or Gros Morne National Park in Newfoundland

https://www.pc.gc.ca/en/pn-np/nl/grosmorne

What makes these areas special and appealing? What must visitors know prior to visiting these places? And how might we encounter and respond to danger and threat?

Consider how the Spirit guides Jesus, and us, into various wilderness settings as a matter of living a spiritual/ecological life

How might the traditional Lenten disciplines connect with your own wilderness experiences.

  • self-examination, penitence, prayer,
  • fasting, and almsgiving,
  • reading and meditating on the word of God

In a wilderness context, how might the lifestyle question lead to a better appreciation of the creation itself and our part in it? Are there things we should stop doing? And things we should commence doing? Be as specific as possible.

  • If we have surplus funds, how are these invested?
  • How do we access and use power for daily living?
  • Do we know where our food/bread comes from and why?
  • Add your own observations and challenges. (Water; forests; land)

Write your own poetic/psalmic response to today’s gospel incorporating the idea of limits if appropriate.

Read Wendell Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things in conclusion

https://onbeing.org/poetry/the-peace-of-wild-things/

SECTION THREE:  POSSIBLE ACTIONS

This Lent the Anglican Communion Environmental network encourages everyone to fast for the Earth, for our common home and for our brothers and sisters impacted by climate change. At the start of Lent, we invite you to make a pledge, to reduce your use of plastic, to change your eating habits, and to reduce your use of energy and fuel. This are actions we take in solidarity with our ‘kin’ impacted by climate change.

https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=creation%20matters&epa=SEARCH_BOX

For an indigenous perspective on land visit: Sacred Teachings: Wisdom of the Land. This podcast (a web audio program) initiative is a joint project between Indigenous Ministries and Anglican Church of Canada Video. Stream all episodes of the series on Vimeo and other platforms. New episodes will be released every Monday for a period of 8 weeks.

https://vimeo.com/389017480?utm_source=Anglican+Church+of+Canada&utm_campaign=6066bbf88a-EMAIL_CAMPAIGN_2020_02_04_09_43&utm_medium=email&utm_term=0_6285aca377-6066bbf88a-243903345

Lambeth Conference: Letters for creation. Do you know someone under the age of 30 who might have something to say to Anglican Bishops from around the world about creation and climate care? The GREEN Anglicans network is seeking submissions from young Anglicans about their hopes and worries for the future of creation, with a selection of the messages to be included in an exhibition or shown at Lambeth Conference. Send along to greenanglicans@gmail.com by May 2.

A new Canadian Bishop makes Climate Change Response key to his ministry

Right Reverend Dr. Robert Todd Townshend is hoping to bring an environmental focus and action on climate change to Anglican churches across its Southwestern Ontario diocese. After the ordination, Townshend reflected on the global climate change crisis and how faith can serve as a call to action, he said.“The environmental movement has revived the biblical idea of us as stewards of the Earth, which is in every major religion because God is the creator,” Townshend said. “I consider it an emergency,” he said of climate change. “If we call something a crisis for too long it is not considered urgent, but this is the most urgent thing.”

https://lfpress.com/news/local-news/townshend-sees-faith-as-call-to-action-on-climate-change?fbclid=IwAR2WqmuFd-9v8UiCI4P-7mpeb2hM7S5YuG-zvddOGmjbujfDz17UDU-sc3M

by The Very Rev. Ken Gray, Kamloops BC, Canada

Transfiguration Sunday [by Rev. Dr. Bullitt-Jonas]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 24:12-18
Lev 19:1-2,17-18
Psalm
2
2nd Reading

2 Pet 1:16-21
1 Cor 3:16-23

Gospel
Matt 17:1-9
Matt 5:38-48
by Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Missioner for Creation Care (Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, and Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ)

Transfiguration and a radiant Earth

We couldn’t ask for more powerful readings than the ones for today, the last and climactic Sunday of the Epiphany season. Today we are summoned to the mountaintop to experience the transforming power of God. In our first reading, Moses is called up to Mount Sinai, “into the mountain of God” (Ex. 12:13), so that God can speak to him and establish the covenant between God and God’s people. The glory of God settles on the mountain like a cloud and it can barely be described – it is an awesome, elemental presence, something like a “devouring fire” (Ex. 24:17). Later in the Book of Exodus we read that as Moses prays on the mountain-top, listening to God with the love and attentiveness with which one listens to a friend (Ex. 33:11), the skin of his face begins to shine (Ex. 34:29).  As Moses contemplates the glory of God, he becomes radiant with that glory.

Today’s Gospel passage from Matthew is likewise set on a mountain.  Soon after Jesus tells his disciples that he will die and rise again, he takes with him Peter, John, and James and goes up on the mountain to pray.  In the solitude of that holy mountain, with its long, sweeping vistas and its cold, clean air, Jesus’ prayer grows into an intense religious experience that recalls the experience of Moses. “[Jesus] was transfigured before them and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white” (Matthew 17:2).  To describe this change, Greek manuscripts use the word “metamorphosis” (metemorphothe); Latin manuscripts use the word “transfiguration” (transfiguratus est).  Whatever you call it, it’s the same thing: at the top of the mountain, Jesus is swept up by the love that sustains the universe.  What Dante calls “the love that moves the sun and other stars”[1] so completely embraces Jesus that who he really is, who he has always been, is briefly revealed.  A dazzling brightness emanates from his face, his body, even his clothes.  The sacred radiance at the center of reality is shining through him, bursting through his seams, streaming from his pores, and the three disciples can see it.

What just happened?  The holy presence that secretly abides within every person and every part of the created world has suddenly, briefly become visible to the human eye.  The vivid image of Jesus lit up from within aligns with the experience of mystics from every religion who speak of a vibrant, shimmering energy or light that flows through everything, although usually we don’t see it.  In Asia, the cosmic life force is called chi in Chinese and prana in Sanskrit, and in many Eastern traditions, enlightenment is associated with a flow of energy throughout the body.[2] Christian mystics speak of the Holy Spirit as a Presence or energy that moves through the body, and the body of Creation.  For Christians, there is something deeply personal in this energy: it is the dynamic, creative Presence of the Holy Spirit.  When we sense its presence in ourselves or in the outside world, God seems to light up the edges of things or to shine out from within them.  We see the hidden depth behind the surface of ordinary reality.  The eternal makes itself known to us, and we may experience it as light, although it is beyond the reach of ordinary sight.  That’s where the language of paradox and poetry comes in, where mystics speak of a “dazzling darkness” or a “dark radiance,” just as in this passage Matthew uses the language of paradox when he describes Jesus’ experience in terms of both a dazzling light and a “bright cloud” that “overshadowed” them.  Something about perceiving that radiant darkness awakens our love.

We may not consider ourselves mystics, but anyone who has ever been overcome by the beauty of the world – anyone who, in contemplating the world, has ever experienced a wave of wonder and gratefulness and awe – anyone who has ever spent time looking into the eyes of a baby or studying the details of a leaf – anyone who has ever gazed for a while at a mountain range or watched the sparkling waters of a river as it rushes downstream knows what it’s like to see the hidden radiance of Christ, whose living presence fills the whole Creation.  Whenever we look at the world – whenever we look at each other – with eyes of love, we see the hidden radiance, the light that is shining within each person and each thing, although they may know nothing about it.  Seeing the world with eyes of love is to see the world shining – to see its suffering, yes; to see its brokenness and imperfection, yes; but also, to see it as cherished by God, as precious in God’s sight, as shining with God’s light.  To see the world with eyes of love is to see it with God’s eyes.

So as we gaze at Jesus transfigured on the mountaintop, shining with the radiance of God, we see what Moses saw, what Jesus saw, and what poet Gerard Manley Hopkins saw: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

I think this is one of the great gifts that people of faith can offer the world in this perilous time: the perception of Creation as a sacred, living whole, lit up with the glory of God.  For let’s be clear: we were born into a society that does not see the Earth like that. Most of us were not taught to see the natural world as sacred and lit up with God’s glory.  It’s as if a veil were placed over our minds, just as Moses eventually placed a veil over his face to cover the glory that was shining out (Ex. 34:33).  When our minds are veiled, we no longer see God’s glory.  We dismiss the natural world as nothing more than the backdrop to what really matters: the human drama.  Nature becomes something to be ignored, used up, exploited at will, dominated and assaulted without a second thought.  We experience ourselves and other human beings as basically separate from the rest of Creation, entitled to do anything we want to it, with no regard for its integrity or value or needs or rights.

By now we know where that perception of the world has taken us: scientists are reporting with increasing concern that the web of life is unraveling before our eyes and that human civilization is at risk of collapse. Gazing at Jesus shining on the mountain is like medicine for our troubled spirits.  It removes the veil from our eyes and restores our inward sight.  For we are gazing on the one who loved us into being, the one who tells us that life and not death will have the last word, the one in whom all things are held together (Col. 1:17) and whose presence fills the whole Creation (Eph. 4:10).

So when we see God’s Creation being desecrated and destroyed – when we see God’s good Earth being poisoned by toxins and pollutants, and laid waste by corporate greed – when we learn from scientists that a mass extinction event is now underway, what they are calling a “biological annihilation”[3]– when we recognize that burning coal, gas, and oil is pushing the planet to break new records for heat, causing droughts, floods, and monster hurricanes, drowning cities, and accelerating wildfires – when we understand that the people hurt first and hardest by the effects of a changing climate are the poor – when we realize that, unless we change course fast, we will not leave our children and our children’s children a habitable world – then we are moved to take action.  For we want to bear witness to the love of Jesus that is shining on the mountain and shining in our hearts. We want to honor the glory of God’s Creation and to protect it from further harm.

When it comes to tackling climate change, there is so much that we as individuals can do.  Maybe we can plant trees. Save trees. Recycle more.  Drive less. Drive electric. Eat local, eat organic, eat less meat and move to a plant-based diet.  Maybe we can support local farms and land trusts. We can fly less – and, if we must fly, we can buy carbon offsets. Maybe we can afford solar panels and move toward a carbon-neutral home.  If we have financial investments, we can divest from fossil fuels; if we’re college graduates, we can push our alma mater to divest, as well.

Individual changes make a difference, but because of the scope and speed of the climate crisis, we need more than individual action – we also need systemic change.  The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has made it clear that in order to avoid a catastrophic level of climate change, we must rapidly transform every aspect of our society and economy.  To do that, we’ll need to use our voices and our votes, and make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary.

So, thank God for the leadership of young people, starting with Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who walked out of school back in August 2018 to demand climate action, and whose steadfast, unyielding call that leaders address the climate emergency has galvanized the world community and inspired millions of people across more than 150 countries to take to the streets on behalf of what our Prayer Book calls “this fragile Earth, our island home.”  Thank God for the Sunrise Movement, which is mobilizing young people – and older supporters, like me – to fight for a just and habitable future.  Thank God for all the individuals and communities of faith and for all the movements worldwide that are rising up to say: Enough!  We will not stand by and let this beautiful world and its human and other-than-human communities be destroyed!  Together we intend to build a world in which everyone can thrive!

Today we stand on the mountain top, soaking up the light of Christ and letting ourselves be filled with his love. Right now, the glory that shone through Jesus Christ is shining in our hearts, longing to blaze up like fire and to melt away everything in us that is less than love.  On Wednesday we will follow him down the mountain and into the 40 days of Lent, that precious season that invites us to re-orient our lives to the love of God.  Day by day we intend to watch for the light and listen to the love, until the day comes when we “see Jesus in every aspect of existence”[4] and perceive at last that even the ashes of Lent – even the dust itself – is shining.

by Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Massachusetts


[1] William Johnston, “Arise, My Love…”: Mysticism for a New Era (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000), 115.

[2] Johnston, “Arise,” 115.

[3] Tatiana Schlossberg, “Era of ‘Biological Annihilation’ Is Underway, Scientists Warn,” New York Times, July 11, 2017, https://www.nytimes.com/2017/07/11/climate/mass-extinction-animal-species.html

[4] “The paths we travel on our sacred journey will lead us to the awareness that the whole point of our lives is the healing of the heart’s eye through which we are able to see Jesus in every aspect of our existence.” (St. Augustine)