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”.

Day of Pentecost [by Ian Souter]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 2:1-21
both
Psalm
104:24-34, 35b
2nd Reading
1 Cor 12:3b-13
both
Gospel
John 20:19-23
or John 7:37-39
by Ian Souter, Methodist minister, Bath (England)
(referring to Acts 2 and John 7)

“What a politician does in their private life is their own affair and has nothing to do with their public life.”  We hear this so often when a government minister has been found out doing something that is not of the highest moral standard. It’s a good get-out clause.  And it has a point – we all slip up, all fail to live to the standards we claim to hold and it’s not particularly surprising that our leaders, under great pressure, give in to temptations.

But this public/private divide is a real problem when you think about it.  Do we actually have a line down the middle of our brains that divides these two spheres?  Do we have a split personality that lives by one rule in the public sphere and another in the private?  So if a politician lies in their private life are they going to suddenly become a beacon of truth in public?  If their main motivation in life is unbridled financial gain are they suddenly going to lay aside all self-interest when dealing with public business.

We are whole people and there isn’t this divide down the middle.  But we do tend, when we look at people, to ‘put asunder’ what ‘God has joined together’.  We see a businessman or a mother or artist or brother as if these parts of their lives were separate.  But these roles interact and through each area of life runs the personality of the person and we can’t shake that off.  People who know us in more than one sphere of life recognise the common themes that are there.  The gentleness of a father will be reflected in his approach to the people he meets at work; the sheer joy that a woman takes in her children will be seen in her artistic work.

We do put on an image that meets the demands of the moment and we stop being ourselves but in the end the real ‘me’ breaks through.

But if this integrity of being is true of human beings, how much more is it the case with God.  God is constant; God is reliable; God is truly One.   It is us that sometimes divide him up when we think about God.

On this Pentecost Sunday the Spirit is at the centre of our thinking but when we think about the Spirit we often compartmentalise Him.

When the Spirit makes his first appearance in Genesis 1 we see Him as the force of the wind moving on the face of unformed creation and bringing life.  But when we turn to the writings of, say, St Paul the emphasis is on the impact on humanity, empowering believers but also growing the nature of God within us in those amazing fruits of the Spirit.  When we hear the story of Pentecost all the emphasis is on the transformation of the disciples and the crowds but where is the connection with the Spirit in creation?  This is one Spirit.

The Spirit at work in the first moments of creation is the same Spirit with the same attributes that we see at work in the believers on the day of Pentecost.  If we could only re-integrate our understanding of the Spirit then we would see more clearly how he seeks to work in creation and how he calls us too to work in our care of this planet.

So let’s look at Pentecost.  The disciples are gathered in prayer, waiting for God to act when the Spirit comes upon them in power.  This is reminiscent of the Spirit moving in the wind on the face of creation but working instead on the face of these disciples.  And they begin to speak in tongues.  The Spirit is being allowed to do his work in their lives.  We can debate forever the nature of what happened, but we can be in no doubt of the impact.

A crowd of men and women drawn from varied language groups suddenly find that together they are hearing the good news of God’s love in Jesus.  And this crowd from all those wonderfully complicated place-names suddenly find that the barriers are down and they are one. As has been said so often, the divisions that arose at the Tower of Babel are suddenly reversed and a divided humanity becomes a united humanity.  And that oneness continues.  As the story unfolds through Acts 2 we find that 3000 people, presumably drawn from this wide area are one in Christ and the oneness is then expressed in the way that the community live together.

The Spirit’s first work is to mend the disunity of the human race.  He comes and joins their hands across those barriers that divided them.  The nature of the Spirit of Love is to break down barriers.  When He moved on the face of the waters he was bringing into birth a universe that was whole, joined together by the bonds of His love.

Yet we have so often broken those bonds with nature and failed to see how we truly relate to the creation in which God has placed us.  We have seen ourselves as distinct from nature, we have seen the creation as something to be exploited and the results have been catastrophic.  Our experience of climate change, plastic waste in our oceans, extinction of species upon species and the destruction of ecological systems arises so often because we have not seen our place in a united creation.  Yes we are different, but still we are one with all that has been made by God.

We need today another Pentecost.  We need the Spirit to come and show us that we are one with all that God in his tender love and care has made.  The psalmists saw creation itself praising God and we need to let the Spirit enable us to join in that universal song of praise, not lording it over and exploiting creation but joining with that chorus of celebration of God.  The Spirit is the Spirit of unity who can heal not just the broken family of humanity but bring the whole creation to unity.

Yet the Spirit’s doesn’t simply bring people back together again or simply bring us back into a closer relationship with the whole of creation.

As the crowd on the day of Pentecost experience the preaching of the apostles empowered by the Spirit, what is it that they hear?  Very simply they hear ‘the wonders of God’.  Jesus promised that the Spirit would lead us deeper into truth.  The disciples would see more of God and know more of what he is doing.

On the day of Pentecost the wonders of God related mostly to the death and resurrection of Jesus;  but the Spirit is consistent, he constantly reveals the wonders of God.  And that includes the wonders that we see around us in creation.  These are the wonders that tells us, as we look at the enormity of space or discover the amazing migratory flights of a 20gram bird, that our God is an amazing creative being.

And as the creation helps us to see the Creator more clearly, so as we discover the Creator we then see the creation in new ways.  During the period of lockdown that we have experienced in the last weeks one of the things that many people have become aware of is the amazing creation on their doorstep and sometimes how vulnerable it is.  They have seen the wonders of God although often they haven’t named God as responsible.  The revealing Spirit enables us to look and to see the Creator through his wonders in nature but then He reveals to us the fragility and the needs of world.  The Spirit let’s us see afresh what God has made.

But the Spirit doesn’t end his work there.  I am daring to go beyond the end of the passage from Acts to that description of the life of the early Church in verses 42-47.  It tells us that the disciples found favour with the people around because they had been transformed.  Their relationships, their worldview, their compassion were revolutionary and this was the work of the Spirit.  This is the first sign of what Paul would later describe as the fruits of the Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  This is the character of God being lived out in us.

Now again, as we put together what we have often divided, we see that the Spirit who moved on the face of the waters at creation was the Spirit who lives these same fruits.  The principles that underlie the creation are those same virtues of love, joy., peace and all the rest.  When we handle the creation in any other way we run up against the design of the universe.  If we cannot look at the creation with joy, then we have lost touch with the creator, if we do not handle the creation with love and gentleness we run against the ways of the creator Spirit, when we cannot live at peace with all around us, if we sow turmoil in creation, we are denying the work of the Spirit.

These fruits of the Spirit are not just about how we relate to one another but how we relate to the creation into which the creator Spirit has placed these attributes at their heart.

Pentecost is about the one Spirit, breaking barriers, declaring God’s wonders and showing us the basis on which all that has been made is built.

But we cannot end there.  What about the Gospel reading?  Jesus stands in the Temple and offers living water – and John tells us this water is the Spirit – not just by a cupful but as a living flowing sourcespring that flows and flows into us to refresh us.  But not just that Jesus says the water of the Spirit will flow from within us.  The Spirit flows from those who receive him out into the creation.  So much of our despair about the possibility of turning round the destruction of the creation comes because we see only our own weakness and inadequacy for the task.  But the message of Jesus is that the Spirit who on Day 1 moved on the face of the waters of creation now flows into and out of our life empowering us to make a difference.  The future of the creation depends on those who have accepted the invitation of Jesus to receive the Spirit being empowered by that same Spirit to work in his power to turn around the destructive direction that we humans have taken and to restore it.  Nothing less than a group of Spirit-filled people living the life of the Creator Spirit can transform our environmental crisis.

Part of a Roman Catholic Prayer may sum this up – “Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit … and You shall renew the face of the earth.”

Let’s pray this prayer at Pentecost and ask for the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts to overflowing so that we may be at one with his creation, that we may see the wonders of God in it and that we may live by those fruits of the Spirit that reflect the whole nature of the God who created the universe and no longer work against him. Come Holy Spirit.

by Ian Souter, Bath (GB)

Ascension Day [by Rev Dr Rachel Mash]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 1:1-11
Acts 1:12-14
Psalm
47 or 93
2nd Reading
Eph 1:15-23
1 Pet 4:13-16
Gospel
Lk 24:44-53
John 17:1-11
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa

ASCENSION DAY SERMON Christ the Lord

Ascension day pictures show Jesus being taken up into heaven and the disciples gazing mournfully upwards as they are left behind on earth.

Jesus has ascended and will sit on the right hand of God to rule over the whole universe. The collect for the sixth Sunday after Easter asks God to “send the Holy spirit to strengthen us and exalt us to that  place where our Saviour Christ has gone before”.

For many people this reflects our theology. Jesus died, went to heaven and one day we will be taken up and join him in heaven.

“This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through, if heaven’s not my home then Lord what  shall I do?” we sing.   Jesus has left us on the earth, and we are dreaming of our heavenly home. Our task therefore as Christians is to gain more souls so that they can join us on the way to  heaven.

Is this what Ascension teaches us?  What does the Lordship of Christ, at the right hand of the father mean for us?

Lets us explore the Lordship of Christ

“20 when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.” Ephesians. 1 ;20-23

The Acts of the Apostles never says that Christians will one day follow Jesus up to heaven. The followers of Jesus have a task here on earth, to work to extend the kingdom of God, on earth as in heaven.  ‘Heaven’, in the words of NT Wright is ‘the control room for earth. Heaven is the CEO’s office from which earth is run – or it’s supposed to be, which is why we’re told to pray for that to become a reality’.

The point of the Ascension is that at this glorious moment, Christ ascends to take control over the whole of Creation.  Heaven is not somewhere far away , it is God’s space and Earth is the humans space. Psalm 115;16 The highest heavens belong to the LORD, but the earth he has given to mankind. Earth is not a waiting room for heaven, heaven and earth overlap (for instance in the sacraments and in the wonders of creation) and one day they will overlap completely as Revelations teaches us. We look forward to a new Earth, this Earth renewed, not a “brand new “ Earth.

So as we celebrate the Lord who reigns at the right hand of the Father, let us reflect on the Lordship of Christ

  1. The Creator Lord

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the word was with God, and the word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made, without him nothing was made.

Jesus is the lord of creation – he was present at creation.

Jesus loved nature – he seemed to find his spiritual refreshment more in nature than in the synagogue. He taught about God by pointing people to seeds and harvest, to birds and flowers, bread and wine.  These are things the Lord, Jesus created, they are filled with the fingerprints of God.

We cannot worship the Lord, the Creator Jesus Christ and not care for the creation that he made.  If we destroy creation, which bears the fingerprints of Christ, we are dishonouring our Lord. .

  1. The Lord for whom Creation was made

Ephesians 1 ;16-17 all things were created for him

Creation was not created for humans to use and abuse. It was made for its Lord, Jesus Christ.  It is not only humans that worship God, we are only one voice  in the great choir of Creation  –  Psalm 148 reminds us that great sea creatures, mountains, trees, animals and birds join humans and insects in praising God. When one of those voices in God’s great choir falls silent, we are bringing pain to His heart.

Christ is on the throne over creation and he will not abandon it – Eph 1:17 – in him all things hold together – he is at the heart of the web of life.  He oversees the rhythmns of spring tide and harvest. But v17 also warns us that when we take Christ out of the heart, when we are motivated by greed, or winning an election, or raising the price of stocks, then things will indeed fall apart.

  1. Christ, Lord and Saviour of the Universe

God created the world and it was good. It has been spoilt through greed and sin. But through Jesus there is hope of salvation for the whole of Creation.  God loved the whole cosmos : John 3:16 and gave his only son.

Jesus did not only die to save the human kind.  He loves the whole of creation, for he made it and it was created for him. He has given us a special task as caretakers.

Jesus died and rose again , as a physical body, scarred but alive, renewed.   The same will happen to the earth, it will be healed and saved, scarred but renewed.  The risen Christ is the guarantee that the whole created order will also be transformed and renewed.

The prophets foresaw the coming time when there would be ecological harmony (Hosea 2: 16-23) and Isaiah 11:6-9.

So what does the message of Ascension mean to us during the COVID19 pandemic?

We acknowledge that Christ is on the throne, ultimately the future is in his Hands and we do not need to panic.  The CEO is in the control room

We acknowledge  that we have failed to be caretakers of the earth, by destroying eco-systems we have allowed viruses to jump. We have created unjust societies without adequate food security. We have placed human beings’ greed at the centre of the web of life.   Degradation of this creation, whether by pollution or extinction of species or any other abuse, is nothing less than a challenge to the rule of God and the Ascension of Jesus Christ as Lord over all things.

May COVID19 be a reset button for us, and we dream of what the Earth could look like, if we were to pray and work towards kingdom of God here on earth.

May the  Holy Spirit  come upon us so that we may  “ go and preach the good news to the whole of Creation” Mark 16:15

Additional Material:

https://ntwrightpage.com/2016/03/30/on-earth-as-in-heaven/2

Dave Bookless : Planet Wise

by Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa

6th Sunday of Easter [by Revd Ruth Newton]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 17:22-31
Acts 8:5-8,14-17
Psalm
66:8-20
2nd Reading
1 Pet 3:13-22
both
Gospel
John 14:15-21
both
by Revd Ruth Newton, parish priest in North Yorkshire and member the General Synod of the Church of England

SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS

Acts 17:22.31

This extract from the book of Acts allows us to glimpse Paul the orator, rather than Paul the letter writer. In contrast to his Epistles which deal with the misunderstandings and pastoral difficulties of those who had already encountered Paul’s message, in this passage we witness Paul the apologist at work. This ‘sermon in the Areopagus’ is not the first time Paul has preached in Athens. Ever since he arrived he has been attempt to present his message to Jews and Greeks, in synagogue and market place, compelled not only by his evangelistic zeal but distressed by the idol worship he sees around him. As a result of this he is brought to the Areopagus, which functions both as a court and as a marketplace for ideas. It is unclear whether Paul is there to share his ideas or to defend himself, either way the message he presents emphasizes God as creator, who has made all things, and who is remains intimately involved in his creation. “The one in whom we live and move and have our being.”

1 Peter 3 13-22

The message of this passage – do good and keep on doing it even in the face of suffering and abuse, has a direct relevance to those who are trying to live and communicate a Christian message of ecological and social justice and whose values stand in contrast to those who have vested interest in maintaining the status quo.

Whilst it is possible that doing the right thing might enable us to ‘win friends and influence people’ – “who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good?”, the innocent suffering of Christ suggests this is somewhat optimistic. Those who advocate different ways of living will almost inevitably be met with opposition. The appropriate response to this is neither aggression or capitulation but an uncompromising yet gentle defence and eyes fixed firmly on the example of Christ Jesus.

John 14. 15-21

This theme of opposition is continued in the Gospel as Jesus predicts the coming of the Holy Spirit. The world will be unable to receive the Spirit of truth, yet the disciples, who keep Christ’s commandments, will experience the Spirit abiding in them and love and life of Christ and the Father.

SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

“We have a Gospel to proclaim” and this week’s readings from Acts and from 1 Peter present different ways of doing so. For Paul, proclamation is key, he has a message and is compelled to preach it, giving a master class in apologetics. Using the ‘altar to an unknown god’ as a way in, he names the unknown god as the creator of Heaven and Earth. He is uncompromising in exposing idolatry and then presents a better alternative. To coin a phrase ‘he begins where they are’ and is attentive to context.

Whilst Paul is busy proclaiming, Peter calls his readers to authentic Christian living, doing the right thing, living distinctive lives. As such they would provoke both curiosity and opposition, but they must keep on doing the right thing regardless. Whilst not seeking explicit opportunities to proclaim the Gospel in words, they should be able defend their actions and beliefs if the need arises.

Today’s context is not Athens and its shrines but an ecological crisis which threatens the future of humanity. For many, young people in particular, this is their primary concern, but are we addressing it? What are the idols of our age? Unlimited growth? Consumption? Reliance on Fossil Fuels? Are Christians naming these and offering a better alternative, or are we idolaters along with the rest?

In this context, authentic Christian living must include creation care. Working on environmental projects, campaigning to protect the planet, speaking prophetically on ecological issues can generate good will or opposition in equal measure but if we believe they are the right thing then we must carry on regardless.

I wonder if it even possible to proclaim “good news” which does not address sustainability? Historically, the Gospel has been presented in anthropocentric terms focussing primarily on “good news for all people”. (Luke 2:10), and “making disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) but in Mark, the disciples are commissioned to “proclaim good news to all creation.” (16:15) What would good news for the entire cosmos look like?

SECTION THREE:  ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Some of the sermon is based on a paper The Environment and the Marks of Mission which I co-wrote with John Hughes, DEO of Manchester Diocese, for discussion at the Church of England DEO conference last year. It can be found at https://www.greeningthelectionary.net/441901499.

by Revd Ruth Newton, North Yorkshire

5th Sunday of Easter [by Rev Elizabeth Bussmann]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 7:55-60
Acts 6:1-7
Psalm
31:1-5,15-16
2nd Reading
1 Pet 2:2-10
both
Gospel
John 14:1-14
both
by Revd. Elizabeth Bussmann, Environment Officer for the Church of England Diocese in Europe

Introduction:

I am writing this just as Switzerland starts to relax its Corona crisis lock-down a little, with more shops and businesses opening. Recently at a zoom conference with Bishop Robert, it was said that after the Corona Pandemic the Church will need to seriously re-think what it means to be Church. The crisis has highlighted anew that ‘the church’ is the people – the Body of Christ. We desperately need to reflect primarily on how we live out our Christian discipleship, especially those of us in the Western world. We can’t just return to the way of doing things before the Pandemic began.

Take, for example, the amazing photos, taken of the Himalayas by people who had never seen those mountain ranges from their windows before but are now able to because air pollution has decreased so much. We cannot just forget this and other positive effects on our planet brought about because of the change in lifestyle enforced upon us by the Virus.

It shows that IF WE REALLY WANTED TO, we could indeed change some of the effects of emissions. Governments are spending millions in combatting the effects of the lock-down both on the economy and health. What if that money were made available to combat the issues of climate change etc. Should pay-outs to firms responsible for huge emissions be given the money on condition that they take definite steps to reduce those emissions in future? There are many such questions which need to be asked.

Section one: Notes on the readings (an * denotes the text is from the Amplified Bible)

In John 14.1-14 we hear Jesus talking to his disciples just before his arrest.  He says to Philip, ‘I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father. I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.’

See Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. 

1 Peter 2.2-10   written by the Apostle Peter to the churches in the northern part of Asia Minor. The letter reflects the fact that the believers were facing suffering and persecution.  Christians living in this hostile world are to suffer as Christ suffered and allow the grace of God to be amplified in their lives.

Vs. 1, for some reason isn’t included in today’s reading but is an excellent starting point for the rest of the text!  “So be done with every trace of wickedness (depravity, malignity) and all deceit and insincerity (pretence, hypocrisy) and grudges (envy, jealousy) and slander and evil speaking of every kind.”

Why is this important for our reflections today? Because Peter goes on to say that God calls us to be living stones being built up into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices that will be well pleasing to God through Jesus the Messiah.

The Living Bible puts it like this: “you have been chosen by God himself – you are priests of the King, you are holy and pure, you are God’s very own – all this so that you may show to others how God called you out of the darkness into his wonderful light.”

Peter’s words remind his listeners of several passages in the ‘Old Testament’ for example Isaiah 43:16-21. After Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God planned to do a new thing, to build a new kingdom, initially it was to be with the people Israel. The passage recalls how water was once used as a barrier to protect God’s people escaping from slavery in Egypt. Now God explains how, for the sake of all creation, he will make water to be a bringer of life. But we also hear in the text that those who should be listening and responding, are not doing so. Vs. 19 ‘do you not perceive it and know it, and will you not give heed to it?’ *

What about us today, ‘do we perceive what God is doing?’ Are we listening and responding?

Vs. 20-21 The rivers of water in 20 are not intended for humans alone, but for the jackals and the ostriches as well.  These are not common creatures, so we are led to understand that these streams of waters are intended for even the most dangerous and outlandish of God’s creatures. We are even told that these wild creatures will honour God for the water that is provided to preserve their lives.  Isaiah emphasises that we humans, could learn from such beasts.

The chosen people of God are offered this way – and this source of life for the same reason as the wild beasts. The goal of freedom and new life is to offer PRAISE TO THE GOD who provided them in the first place.

The exiles were to be restored ‘SO THAT THEY MIGHT DECLARE MY PRAISE’ v.21

The coming restoration will encompass the entire creation. Even the obscure and shy animals will join the universal  chorus. Liberation and a new beginning are guaranteed for the chosen people, SO THAT THEY CAN BE FAITHFUL WITNESSES TO THE LIVING GOD WHO ACTS WITHIN HISTORY AND IS CONSTANTLY IN MOTION.

This prophecy now concerns the Body of Christ – all those who give their lives, ‘as a living sacrifice’ and follow in Christ’s footsteps.

And so 4 Sundays on, our reading from I Peter acts as a reminder of the events of Easter.

Peter recalls connections between past and present

The living stone of Is. 28:16 predicts the cornerstone that the new Christians believe has become Christ. 1 Peter 2.4

A ‘Cornerstone’ is not only the stone set at the corner of two intersecting walls (as the name implies) but is also one prepared and chosen for its exact 90o angle, as such, it is the basis for the construction of the whole building. Choosing the right stone is also the basic to the buildings stability and longevity. Peter develops the identity of his audience in terms of imitation of Christ. The parallel between Christ and the readers of 1 Peter 9-10 is significant:

Jesus hearers/listeners
A living stone Living stones
Rejected by humans (Implicit: rejected by humans)
In God’s perspective, elect In God’s perspective, elect
In God’s perspective, honoured In God’s perspective, honoured

Vs.9 A Holy priesthood, royal priesthood and holy nation – two of several historic associations with Israel which also give Christ’s disciples an identity.

Royal priesthood and a holy nation, allude to the narrative of Gods’ mighty deliverance of his people from slavery. Exodus 19.6. Then as now, God hears the cries of his people in distress, acts to rescue them and enters into covenant with them.

The purpose of holy priesthood is to offer ‘spiritual sacrifices’ i.e. ‘for it is God’s will and intention that by doing right, (your good and honest lives should silence foolish and ignorant people.)’* (1:15) and mutual love: ‘love the Christian fraternity of which Christ is the Head’* Peter is thereby emphasising the priestly identity and role of the community of believers in the world at large…..

Vs. 9 Our response:  The community is to ‘proclaim the might acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.’ Vs9 and Isa. 43.20-21

 Vs. 10 reminds us that ‘Once we were not a people, but now we are God’s people;

Once we had not received mercy, but now we have received mercy.

An extra-ordinary claim: Christ is Risen! Risen indeed. It is enough to sustain us. It is enough to support us. It is enough to EMPOWER us for the days ahead. Alleluia! Amen.

 SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON, SERMON OUTLINE

4 Sundays after Easter Sunday, we are reminded once again, not just of God’s goodness to us but also of the role God has given us in His Kingdom, launched through the death and resurrection of Jesus and we are also reminded of what that death and resurrection secured for the WHOLE of creation – reconciliation. Reconciliation between God, humans and the whole of creation.

Priests and rulers – are two sides of the same coin of our God given role in his creation.

ALL life is God given and precious – from the unborn baby to the aged
from the simple daisies to the soaring eagles
from the plankton to the whales
from the deserts to the rain forests
We humans are part of creation – and entrusted by God with a specific role:
that of being priests and rulers in HIS creation.

Priests and rulers go together – can’t be separated. The ‘ruler’ is the practical part – creative Carers of God’s kingdom.

But this can’t be done without the priestly role – the priestly role defines HOW we are to rule.

Just as Christ’s ministry was one of servanthood ‘The Servant King!’  so too, is ours.

As priests we share in the suffering and pain of the world – not just the human suffering but also that of nature. We also share in the sheer joy and exuberance of nature, particularly noticeable at this time of year. Watching the sparrows ‘playing’, enjoying the warmer sunnier days, the leaves on the trees bursting into green, the flowers in the fields and the buzzing of the bees. The red Kites soaring, not just on the lookout for food but often, it seems, just for sheer pleasure soaring with the wind currents.

As priests we are called to bring praise to God our Creator, to bring our gratitude for all he gives us, we are called to pray for creation, not just for humans throughout the world but for the whole of God’s creation ‘groaning’ under the weight of suffering inflicted upon it by humans. We are also to bring our prayers of intercession for the whole of creation!

We don’t just become priests overnight. Paul reminds us in Romans 12:1-2 what is expected of us. ‘And so, my dear friends, this is my appeal to you by the mercies of God: offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God. This is your true and appropriate worship. What’s more, don’t let yourselves be squeezed into the shape dictated by the present age. Instead, be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you can work out and approve what God’s will is, what is good, acceptable and complete.”

Echoes of Jesus’ words in Mark 8.34 ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny(forget) themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” NIV

 This transformation of our character is hard work and needs to be re-begun morning for morning.

Why? Because…   “we have been chosen by God himself – we are priests of the King, we are to be holy and pure, we are God’s very own – all this so that we may share with others how God called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light. Once we were less than nothing, now we are God’s own. Once we knew very little of God’s kindness; now our very lives have been changed by it.” (1 Peter 2. 9-10)  God allows ‘Wake up calls’ to happen because he wants everyone to turn or return to him. (2 Chronicles 7:14)

The NRSV translation uses ‘proclaim’ instead of show. But both ‘proclaim’, and ‘show’ do not mean just use words! We recall the words of Ephesians 2:10: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do

To care for the world is to fulfil our calling – or at least a fairly central part of it. It’s preparation for and an anticipation of our future! We are part of creation and in relationship with it. God’s plan isn’t to rescue us from it one day, his plan is to save the whole of his beloved creation and us with it and in so doing, to bring heaven and earth – us and Himself – together in perfect unity here on this planet earth.

Many Christians have often assumed that God’s plan of salvation is just about human beings. We should look after creation, because God made it and He asked us to, but not that it is really a central part of our faith. But fact is, it is the other way round. God created the whole of creation (including humans) and originally it was ‘Good! Very Good!’  We humans messed it up and continue to. God’s plan was to save the whole of creation and He amazingly made us part of His plan to do just that!

So, what are we here for? The fundamental answer…is that what we’re “here for” is to become genuine human beings, reflecting the God in whose image we’re made, and doing so in worship on the one hand and in mission, in its full and large sense, on the other; and that we do this not least by “following Jesus.”

The Corona Crisis is one of many ‘Wake up’ calls around us at this time! Everywhere, but particularly in the West, leaders are needed in all walks of life, whose characters are being transformed in God’s wisdom and ways, not in greed for money or power.

Matthew 6:24 NLV “No one can serve two masters. For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money.”

SECTION THREE: ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Prayers:

Taizé Song:

The kingdom of God is justice and peace
And joy in the Holy Spirit
Come, Lord and open in us the gates of your kingdom

Collect for this week:

Risen Christ,
your wounds declare your love for the world
and the wonder of your risen life:
give us compassion and courage
to risk ourselves for those we serve,
to the glory of God the Father.

Psalm 31 1-5, 15-16

In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;
let me never be put to shame;
deliver me in your righteousness.
Turn your ear to me,
come quickly to my rescue;
be my rock of refuge,
a strong fortress to save me.
Since you are my rock and my fortress,
for the sake of your name lead and guide me.
Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,
for you are my refuge.
Into your hands I commit my spirit;
deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.

But I trust in you, Lord;
I say, ‘You are my God.’
15 My times are in your hands;
deliver me from the hands of my enemies,
from those who pursue me.
16 Let your face shine on your servant;
save me in your unfailing love.

A Prayer by Jill Duffield:

The earth is yours, Lord, and everything in it.
You make us stewards, entrusted to care for creation,
ready always to give you an accounting of how we nurtured and tended
that which belongs to you.
In your generosity and compassion, you give us sunsets awash in color,
rivers gurgling over rocks, fireflies that glow in formation
and crows that recognize human faces.
The diversity, complexity and beauty of the earth stuns and sustains us.
While we shelter in place, the blooming dogwood provides relief from hopelessness
and the returning pair of cardinals reminds us to give thanks for the present moment.
As the skies clear and the dolphins return and the wildlife reclaim the woods,
we lament the ways we damage the good you made,
defy your command to be caretakers and abuse your beloved world.
May we learn well the lessons this quarantine has taught us,
so that when we return to our travel, our work places, our schools,
our unencumbered comings and goings,
our capitalism and consumption,
we will do so mindful of their impact on creation
and ready to change our ways
so that all your earth can flourish. Amen.

by Elizabeth Bussmann-Morton, Diocese in Europe (Church of England)

4th Sunday of Easter [by Keith Innes]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 2:42-47
Acts 2:14a.36-41
Psalm
23
2nd Reading
1 Pet 2:19-25
both
Gospel
John 10:1-10
both
by Keith Innes (Keith Innes’s Blog)

The use of the shepherd/sheep relationship as a model for the relationship of Christians to Christ has many implications. One is to give great dignity to animal experience. To cause suffering or indignity to animals in our care should be abhorrent to those whose Shepherd is the Lord (Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:25, John 10:1-5).

Jesus, God the Son, is the Good Shepherd (John 10:11-18) who loves his flock to the extent of laying down his life for them. Humans are made in God’s image and called to reflect his truth and life. Therefore we are to model the pastoral care of Jesus, not only in human pastoral relationships, but in our care for animals. Such care may include foregoing benefits for ourselves that would involve their suffering.

The eternal relationship of shepherding between Christ and his true sheep (Psalm 23, Revelation 7:17, John 10:22-30) is to be mirrored by his people in their ‘pastoral’ care not only of people, but also of God’s other creatures over whom we have so much power for good or ill.

by Keith Innes

3rd Sunday of Easter [by Dr Paulo Ueti]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Acts 2:14a,36-41
Acts 2:14,22-33
Psalm
116:1-4,12-19
2nd Reading
Pet 1:17-23
both
Gospel
Luke 24:13-35
both
by Dr Paulo Ueti, USPG, Brazil

SECTION 1: NOTES ON THE READINGS

Acts 2:14a, 36-41

The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, actually the book of the acts of Peter and Paul, is very concerned to underline the continuity of Jesus’ movement and to highlight the figure of Peter as its leader. It is important to have responsible leadership to care about the Creation as a whole. The power of testimony (martyrions) and the power of the word (logos) continue to transform and to draw people to the path of justice, righteousness and responsible behaviour towards one another and the planet. After all, this is the goal of preaching and teaching. The author of this account focuses on calling people to listen and to convert. Conversion is the result of deep listening (obeying) and immersion into love and care, the core values of this community of the way, as the first followers of Jesus were designated. “Repent and be baptised…” Baptism is to immerse into something. Here is to immerse into Jesus’ lifestyle: an invitation to be like him, speak like him, act like him, feel like him.

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19

Il en coûte au Seigneur de voir mourir ses fidèles” (v.15) – It is costly to the Lord to see the death of his faithful. I like this translation from the TOB (Ecumenical Translation of the Bible – Traduccion Œcuménique de la Bible – FR). This prayer gives assurance to the faithful that God loves us and is with us, he is the Emmanuel. Despite the suffering, within and from the suffering he is supporting and caring for us. This recognition fosters new actions and builds resilience, so needed in times like the one we are living in. Because “nothing can separate us from the love of God (cf Romans 8:38-39). Inequality and imperial ideo-theologies are murdering people and raping nature. This suffering makes God suffer as well.

1 Peter 1:17-23

“Now that you have purified your souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love one another deeply from the heart”. Through baptism we were immersed into this amazing project of the kingdom of God. It is demanding and not that easy. But God is with us, he loves us, and this abundant love transforms us deeply. And because we acknowledge we are loved, we are naturally compelled to share this experience by reaching out to others from our deepest selves, as well as recovering our commitment and connection to the rest of creation. We are constantly required to be parables of the kingdom of God here and now.

Luke 24:13-35

This second century teaching from the Community of Luke is pointing out how the community, the two disciples, are disappointed and distancing themselves from their family/community. They were expecting one kind of Messiah and Jesus presented differently from their perspectives and hopes. They wanted to shift the power from oppressed to oppressors. They wanted to replace one emperor with another emperor, not change the system of oppression and death. Jesus was another path, another way of bringing the kingdom of God to earth. We belong to God and we are loved by him as his, sometimes, annoying and disobedient children, and because of wrong images of him (of Christ) we might take the decision to run away, like the couple of Emmaus. This account invites us to a method (path, way, journey, behaviour) to recognise Jesus, the Christ: 1) share our context: the sorrows, the joys, what is happening, 2) ask questions and produce spaces to reflect and listen the answers, 3) revisit our memories and the Bible looking for texts that speak about that Jesus, the Christ, the suffering Servant (Is 40-66), not the emperor or almighty king, 4) share resources with others, eat together, say good words (blessings). We are invited to return to the community, say good words and change our lifestyle to match Jesus’ life.

SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

One of the most beautiful lines in this story is the invitation coming from the disciples to that stranger, who shared the long journey with them from Jerusalem to Emmaus, to stay overnight. “”Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” I imagine they were moved by the friendship and the good talk during the day. They were concerned about his safety and he might be hungry after all day walking. Maybe the disciples needed more company to overcome sadness and desperation. It seems to me a true expression of care for the other’s safety and wellbeing. The whole creation is precious to God.

  1. It is time for us to be challenged by this invitation to share our resources and to care about others and the planet. It is an invitation to “approach” and “walk together”, be WITH, be present and be curious. The story starts with this amazing verb “to approach”. I learned once a meaningful word in Swahili “Karibu” meaning “get closer”. Jesus took the initiative to get closer and match his pace with the disciples’. They were sad and disappointed because Jesus did not fulfill their expectations of dethroning the emperor and taking his place. This system of “power over” is a system of oppression and exclusion, privileges and arrogance. Of course, Jesus was not interested in this. Jesus was proposing something different. The “normal” is not good.
  2. Currently in our crises we hear lots of groups expecting or demanding to get back to “normal”. But “normal” is inequality, pollution, deforestation, violence, oppression, nature being raped, xenophobia, individualism. We might need more accompaniment to see (analyse) and recognise better what Jesus’ project is.
  3. Walking together with those in suffering or disappointed/frustrated is key to establishing a true and trustful relationship. It is time to get to know each other and form bonds. We (most of humanity) have lost true and trusting relationship with fellow human beings and particularly with nature. Human beings and nature have been turned into resources – commodified. Jesus walked with the disciples. He was PRESENT and CURIOUS. Are we making time to ask questions? Are we interested in walking together, even if we disagree?
  4. Another milestone in this story is to set aside time to revisit memories and properly interpret the sacred scriptures. Jesus was a bit upset because they were not reading/relying on the right texts and right memories. They were attached to their desire to overcome oppression, by becoming the oppressor. Jesus goes with them revisiting all the texts explaining the way, the method and the characteristics of being the Suffering Servant messiah. The way to overcome the “normal” and build up something different. We have turned human beings (image and likeness of God) and nature into re-source, forgetting they are the source of life and revelation. It is time to rethink seriously our lifestyle and our methods to evangelise and proclaim the good news of the kingdom.
  5. Reading and interpreting the Bible is key to understanding our role as stewards and brothers and sisters to earth, to Adamah – fertile soil, from where Adam came to exist, the ground-creature. It is time to read and spread more Genesis 2:15, where humanity is tasked to guard and cultivate the garden, rather than Genesis 1:28, where we were told to submit and dominate. Look where humanity dominating creation has got us!
  6. But, it was still not sufficient to recognise Jesus among them. One ingredient was missing. To act accordingly. Reading and interpreting the Bible only burned the heart, providing the drive to keep moving forward and – maybe – in the right direction. It was also necessary to open up the intimacy of the house and the heart. It was necessary to exercise compassion and solidarity towards the stranger, towards the one in possible danger because the night was coming. We are invited to change our perspectives on the “other”, and nature is here very much included. We are invited to change our lifestyle, to configure it with Jesus’ lifestyle, the way he speaks, walks, relates to other people and to nature.
  7. In times of quarantine, let’s take the opportunity to review our words, thoughts and actions. Amen.

Blessing – Good Words – Good Energies

D: On the nights in the desert…

T: Walk ahead of us, Lord.

D: In the storms of life…

T: Be our protection,

D: In the uncertainties of the soul…

T: Be our hope

D: In joys and victories

T: Be our praise to you!

D: May the blessing of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit be in you forever.

T: Aman

(Bento, Inês F. In: VV. Aa. CultoArte, Celebrando a Vida, Quaresma&Páscoa. Rio de Janeiro, Vozes: 2001. p. 36)

Solidarity with indigenous people

Approaching, walking together, being present and sharing love

The COVID-19 Pandemic has hit indigenous communities in Brazil hard. The Amazon region is suffering. The Brazilian State has neglected its role in protecting indigenous peoples. They are being hit hard by the lack of minimal health care, having no access to masks and protection supplies and much less guidance. The situation is even worse for the people who live on the outskirts of the city of Manaus. Many families have already experienced fatalities.

The Anglican Community of Manaus, Santa Maria Madalena Missionary Point, Apostle of the Apostles, Anglican Diocese of the Amazon, celebrated Paschal Agape differently, sharing resources to manufacture more than 450 units of homemade masks for the protection of the elderly and people at risk in the largest indigenous neighborhood in the city of Manaus, Parque das Tribos, where more than 400 families from 35 ethnic groups live.

The Anglican Community has joined forces with AMARN Numiã Kurá (Association of Indigenous Women Artisans of the Upper Rio Negro) to help more than 70 families led by indigenous women who are vulnerable in this quarantine because they are unable to work and resell their handicrafts which is their main source of livelihood.

We ask all friends to keep this ministry in your prayers as a Christian family so that the Good Lord may support us with the strength of his Resurrection to do good here in the Heart of the Amazon, inspired by the intrepid and tenacious testimony of Saint Mary Magdalene, the Apostle of the Resurrection.

Community of Manaus, Anglican Diocese of Amazon, Brazil, IEAB.

Leader from the Community Parque das Tribos, Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil

Credit: Iuri Lima @ieab

by Dr Paulo Ueti, Brazil