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”.

Proper 15, 11th Sunday after Pentecost [by Rev Dr Bradley Hauff]

Anglican
lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 45:1-15
Isa 56:1,6-8
Isa 56:1,6-7
Psalm
133
67
2nd Reading
Rom 11:1-2a,29-32

Rom 11:13-15,29-32
Gospel
Matt 15:10-28

Matt 15:21-28
by The Reverend Dr. Bradley Hauff, Indigenous Missioner for The Episcopal Church, Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota

Indigenous People and Creation

The Indigenous worldview is about the balancing of all that is in the Cosmos.  Human beings, animals, marine life, insects, plants, and things that are not seen by the Western mind as living; rocks, earth, mountains, sky and stars, all live in relationship to the other.  If all participants in creation are living together in a state of right relationship, balance occurs, and it is holy.  When the relationship is troubled or broken, balance is disrupted, and negative consequences result.  When creation is abused or traumatized, it has a ripple effect on everything, including the relationships between people, and vice versa when human relationships are troubled or broken.  Additionally, the Earth and all her features are etched into the psyche of the people who live in a particular region.  The geography, the weather, the animals, all become archetypal influences in the human mind so as to be inextricably part of the individual’s understanding of self and the community’s understanding of culture. Native philosopher Gregory Cajete refers to this as ensoulment, a process in which the roots of human meaning are grounded in the same order as they perceived in nature, the Cosmos is mapped within the mind of the person, and the person experiences the natural environment as a part of them and themselves as part of the natural environment.  To put it simply, we are all in this together – all of Creation.  We are all linked, we are all in one piece. The Western mind and Christianity have traditionally considered this weltanschauung as heretical, because it contrasts with the dichotomization of Creation and living and non-living.  Indigenous people see all as one and the same.  From this perspective it can be clearly seen that environmental care is an integral part of the cosmic balance, and things such as climate change indicate an imbalance that Indigenous people would see as affecting everyone and everything in numerous ways – geological, physical, emotional and spiritual.

Genesis 45:1-15

Joseph and his brothers have experienced brokenness in their relationship.  The result is that the brothers and everyone in the land are experiencing famine, and the future looks bleak.  When the brothers are reconciled, the result is their restoration and the famine is eventually ended.  From the Indigenous view, the Earth is disturbed when humans do not get along, and healthy when they do.  Climate change is an indicator of this sort of thing, a dysfunction resulting from mistreatment of the Earth. The reconciliation of Joseph and his brothers was orchestrated by God, the Mysterious Holy One omnipresent in everyone and everything.

Psalm 133

“When kindred live together in unity” is holiness.  Indigenous people see unity as an indicator of balance.  The result is a balanced Earth, indicated by the dew of Hermon falling on the Mountains of Zion.  Everything is exactly as it should be, and it is seen and experienced as a blessing from God.

Isaiah 56:1, 6-8

The ancient Hebrew people believed that holiness and holy events were revealed on the top of mountains.  For Indigenous people, mountains were seen in a similar way.  The Black Hills of South Dakota, for example, are seen by the Lakota as their Holy Land and the origin of their people.  The Eagle is seen as angelic because it flies higher than any other bird and therefore is closest to the Heavens.  The psalmist writes that those who are brought to the holy mountain are those who are balanced.  They do what is right for all.  They are just, they serve God by doing good things and living in the right way.  God is God of all peoples, not just a chosen one.

Psalm 67

When the Earth “has yielded its increase,” she is in a state of balance, health and gladness.  This indicates that the way of God has been made known upon the Earth.  This delights God, who responds by showing graciousness and blessing to all the peoples, and they praise God in return.  God’s face is manifested in a happy Earth.

Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32

When Creation is abused, when relationships are broken, God does not reject us, but calls us to return to the proper order of the sacred Cosmos.  Paul, aware of his sins, has experienced this holy faithfulness, and is mindful of his relational connection to his people and their relationship with God.  In the Indigenous view, this connection goes far beyond the descendants of Abraham.  It extends to all that is seen and not seen.

Matthew 15:10-20

Jesus said, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be uprooted.” To the Indigenous mind, a plant not planted by God is contradictory. Such an idea could only be an indicator of profound, unthinkable imbalance, as manifested by hypocrisy.  The opponents of Jesus were engaged in such hypocrisy in their understanding and practice of the Jewish law and their condemnation of others.  Hypocrisy makes a mockery of authenticity and congruence, which are necessary for balance.  It has no place in a Cosmos that would enjoy relational harmony.  Therefore, it must be uprooted.

Matthew 15:21-28

As God is the God of all, there can be no one people rightfully claiming that they are superior or more blessed than others.  Nothing in the Cosmos has a place of superiority; only God, who is within nature and the human heart.  The Canaanite woman reminds Jesus of this as she is in a unique position (non-Jewish) to do so.  Jesus extols her for speaking this truth, and the effect of balance is seen by the restoration of her daughter’s wellbeing.  Balance and the wellbeing of Creation are grounded in the relationships we have with each other, and that is truth.

by Rev Dr Bradley Hauff, South Dakota

Proper 14, 10th Sunday after Pentecost [by Rev Dr Paul Reynolds]

Anglican lectionary:
Alternate AL:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 37:1-4, 12-28
1 Kings 19:9-18
1 Kings 19:9-13a
Psalm
105:1-6, 16-22, 45c
85:8-13
2nd Reading
Rom 10:5-15

Rom 9:1-5
Gospel
Matt 14:22-33

both
by Rev Dr Paul Reynolds, Anglican Indigenous Network (AIN) Secretary, Acting Dean, Tikanga Māori (Te Ahorangi), St Johns Theological College, New Zealand

The Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33 is a scriptural passage that highlights the power of faith in times of challenge.

Indigenous peoples have walked in times of challenge for a long time – through colonisation, genocide, and then attempts at being ‘civilised.’ For what purpose? To eradicate and extinguish Indigenous existence.

Each year since 1994, The United Nations General Assembly has designated the 9th August as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples.

“On this day, people from around the world are encouraged to spread the UN’s message on the protection and promotion of the rights of indigenous peoples.”

https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/international-day-of-the-worlds-indigenous-peoples.html

The theme this year for the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples focuses on COVID-19 and Indigenous people’s resilience. This resilience comes from many years of teachings and knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation. Integral to this resiliency is Indigenous peoples faith, as well as how they see their place in all of Creation; as having a whakapapa (genealogical) relationship to all of creation, and as kaitiaki (guardian/protector).

The hope with this sermon is to link this resiliency during the time of COVID-19, with the resiliency and fortitude and faith that Indigenous people have always called on in times of challenge.

The Gospel of Matthew 14:22-33 is illustrative of this resiliency, fortitude and faith. I highlight 3 aspects:

  1. Have faith and do not doubt, even when times are challenging.
  2. Keep the focus on Christ in all that you do.
  3. The boat can be symbolic of the church.
Have faith and do not doubt, even when times are challenging

In the midst of crisis and trauma and trouble, we can find God. For Peter, when he steps out of the boat to walk toward Jesus, he steps into the unknown. He focusses on Jesus in faith in his walk out into the stormy sea. Jesus gives him courage, gives him strength, gives him direction as his beacon of light and hope, and his walk is confident and true and faith-filled.

For Indigenous people, the pandemic required some bold and courageous steps in order to protect everyone, especially those living rurally. Some examples from New Zealand included:

  • Some iwi (tribal areas) implemented measures to secure their tribal boundaries, and put in place rahui (prohibiting access to a particular area) thereby limiting potential exposure to infection from visitors and non-residents during this period of lockdown. The rahui areas included waterways and bush, and some community facilities.
  • Iwi and hapu (sub-tribe) leaders were particularly concerned with protecting the health of kaumatua (elderly) within their communities, and service included delivering packages of food, distributing water to households who have been affected by droughts, and local volunteers also ensuring that medication was collected for kaumatua, as well as offering to pick up shopping and provisions in town for them.
  • Local hunting and fishing for traditional food to distribute to the community, and growing own food.
  • Use of traditional medicines, healing and prayer.
  • Utilising own Maori/Indigenous health and social service agencies to serve local communities.
  • The Maori Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand offered a variety of online options for fellowship and worship, including Sunday Eucharist service, daily morning prayer and even song, via livestreaming karakia (prayer) through the facebook pages of the different Amorangi (diocese).
  • Gathering of Indigenous Anglicans via zoom meetings of the Anglican Indigenous Network throughout the pandemic to share stories of impacts of COVID-19 on communities, and offer prayer for one another and our communities.

Throughout the pandemic crisis, Indigenous communities have had to come together in faith to care for and love one another. This time for caring for one another and staying local, also allowed the earth to breathe and to rejuvenate itself.

Keep the focus on Christ in all that you do

When Peter became frightened of the strong stormy sea, and took his focus off Jesus, he began to sink. He cried out, “Lord save me.” Jesus held out his hand to Peter, saying, “You of little faith, why did you doubt me?” The disciples then knew that Jesus was the Son of God.

Jesus provides us in this scriptural passage an example of his tenderness, his humility, his compassion and love for all where he provides a plan:

  1. He invites us to follow him, ‘Come unto me within this storm.’ What this can mean is that we have permission to challenge what is not right, to make a new and righteous path, and to show the way of truth and righteousness.
  2. He says to focus on him, and do not doubt. Do what is right and what is just and what is good. If you keep this focus, then you will be given strength and courage and love to ‘weather the storm.’
  3. Jesus held out his hand and caught him. Even when we doubt, or trip or fall off the path, he is there to pick us up again.

For Indigenous peoples, there has been a generational focus on what is right and just. Challenging and striving for justice for Indigenous peoples and for all of creation has been a life-long calling.

The most significant striving has been in making space within the Anglican Church for Indigenous voices in areas such as the environment, United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues, and the Anglican Consultative Council. In all of these areas within our church Indigenous peoples can make a significant difference.

The focus for Indigenous ministry and mission has always been on our calling to serve the church, the people and our Indigenous communities, all of creation, and God.

The boat as a symbol of the church

A boat is a significant symbol in Christian history. It can symbolise the church. What does the boat in this scriptural passage then say about the church?

  1. Inside the boat is a place of safety, of salvation, of calm, of community, of faith, with Christ within and outside. However, is the safety of the boat too comfortable? Are we too safe in the boat?
  2. The boat is navigating a stormy sea. There are challenges of faith, of what is right and good, and questions about the relevancy of faith for people within our contemporary times.
  3. Like Peter, are there others who are willing to step out of the boat, to challenge the orthodoxy or tradition, and find a new way?

 

Indigenous Peoples have stepped out into faith to challenge, but also strengthen, the structures of the Anglican Church.

In 1991 the Anglican Indigenous Network was established to bring together Indigenous Anglicans from Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA and Hawaii.

The Province of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia established in 1992 a 3-Tikanga church acknowledging and giving authority to Tikanga Pakeha, Tikanga Maori and Tikanga Polynesian people within the church.

In the 2017 The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia approved a motion to establish a 3-Tikanga Climate Change Commissioner.

In 2019 The General Synod of the Anglican Church of Canada voted to approve steps to enable a self-determining indigenous church within the church.

AND

In light of the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement, The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, believes we do need to rethink the portrayal of Jesus as white. One headline read, “Was Jesus black or white?”

All of these examples of Indigenous voice are examples of rocking the boat, and stepping outside of the boat, in the Anglican Church.

 

As Indigenous peoples, we have weathered many storms. We continue to weather the many elements but we are steadfast in our calling to serve God, our people, and all of creation.

Let us pray:

Gracious Creator,

we give thanks to You for the beauty and abundance of the Earth.

May all the peoples of the Earth be blessed with healing,

and may joy embrace sorrow like a friend returning home – that all balance may be restored and peace return to the hearts of all.

Thank you, Creator for hearing our prayer – may we carry your healing peace within us that our love for all that you have made may help us bring healing to all your peoples.

In Christ’s name.

Amen

by Rev Dr Paul Reynolds, New Zealand

Proper 13, 9th Sunday after Pentecost [by Archbishop Mark MacDonald]

Anglican
lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 32:22-31
Isa 55:1-5
Isa 55:1-3
Psalm
17:1-7,15
145:8-9,14-21
2nd Reading
Rom 9:1-5

Rom 8:35-39
Gospel
Matt 14:13-21

both
by Archbishop Mark Macdonald, National Indigenous Anglican Bishop for the Anglican Church of Canada

I wish to begin with some preliminary thoughts about how we read Scripture:

A number of years ago, I was sitting with a group of Indigenous clergy at a regional church gathering, a gathering largely populated by and representing the perspective of non-Indigenous people. The discussion at the gathering was about the now common proposal that we follow a “Season of Creation” in our schedule of daily and weekly Scripture readings. The season would identify texts that are specially focused on Creation and our relationship to it. As the discussion proceeded, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I looked behind to see the whole group of Indigenous clergy with very confused looks. One finally said, “I thought all of Scripture was about Creation.”

I am a supporter of a “Season of Creation.” The Indigenous point, however, is vital. An Indigenous reading of the Scripture is not filtered through the centuries of Western Scientism and Materialism and the progressive alienation of human beings from the rest of Creation. The alienating trends that have spread through the globalizing culture of money have made it difficult for people to see the underlying “Creationism” in every text of Scripture (Creationism is the best word I can find to describe a primary cosmological element of Scripture, the embedded point of view that there is an essential communion of humanity with the rest of Creation.). This view is primary and basic to Indigenous Peoples around the world. The symbiotic relationship between humanity and Creation is a defining feature and an existential commitment to the People of the Land and Seas.

I have heard many people say that we must import other more earth-friendly ideas to enhance our reading of Scripture, assuming that Scripture shares the basic cosmological assumptions of globalizing Western society. I would heartily endorse the application of science and other disciplines of knowledge and life in the illumination of Scripture. It is urgent, however, that the underlying Creation cosmology of Scripture be appreciated again, uncovered again. We must read it with this always in mind. The communion of Creation, so much a part of the Indigenous cosmology, is infused in every word of Scripture.

Genesis 32:22-31

Genesis 32:22 (NRSV) The same night he [Jacob] got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jab’bok. 23 He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. 24 Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25 When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26 Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27 So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28 Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29 Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30 So Jacob called the place Peni’el, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” 31 The sun rose upon him as he passed Penu’el, limping because of his hip.

Notes: In this text, we would note Scripture’s ever present and meaningful attention to water, in the identification of the stream as an critical element of this urgent spiritual moment in Creation and history. The encounter is not divorced from the physical, spirit and body are – ahem – joined at the hip. The rhythms of night and day frame this encounter. Everything in the narrative breathes with the physicality of a Spirit infused, Word revealing, Creation. It begs us to see the inseparable connection of place, humanity, and the life of the Spirit.

Isaiah 55: 1 – 5 (alt. for RCL)

1 (NRSV) Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. 2 Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food. 3 Incline your ear, and come to me; listen, so that you may live. I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David. 4 See, I made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander for the peoples. 5 See, you shall call nations that you do not know, and nations that do not know you shall run to you, because of the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has glorified you.

Notes: In this alternative text, the simple but essential act of eating is seen as a sacramental entry into the fulfilling presence of God in Creation and history. We are called to enter in to this presence in simple acts of drinking and eating, mystically unveiling the love, power, and salvation of God. In these simple necessary and everyday acts, we are invited to see the mysterious and pervasive trajectory of God in all things. It is so powerfully and prophetically embodied in the Eucharist, whose meaning is unveiled and glimpsed in the feeding of more than five thousand.

PSALM 17: 1 – 7, 15 (RCL)

1 (NRSV) Hear a just cause, O LORD; attend to my cry;
give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit.

2 From you let my vindication come;
let your eyes see the right.

3 If you try my heart, if you visit me by night,
if you test me, you will find no wickedness in me;
my mouth does not transgress.

4 As for what others do, by the word of your lips
I have avoided the ways of the violent.

5 My steps have held fast to your paths;
my feet have not slipped.

6 I call upon you, for you will answer me, O God;
incline your ear to me, hear my words.

7 Wondrously show your steadfast love,
O savior of those who seek refuge
from their adversaries at your right hand.

15 As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness;
when I awake I shall be satisfied, beholding your likeness.

Note: Verse numbering in your Psalter may differ from the above

Notes: This Psalm reveals and celebrates the presence of God in all aspects of life, the steadfast love of God. This presence intimately searches humanity. Do the actions of human beings echo, exemplify, and reveal the actions of God? No where is this seen more clearly than in the Eucharistic Sacramental life revealed by the life, action, and teaching of Jesus.

Psalm 145: 8 – 9, 14 – 21 (alt. for RCL)

8 (NRSV) The LORD is gracious and merciful,
slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.

9 The LORD is good to all,
and his compassion is over all that he has made.

14 The LORD upholds all who are falling,
and raises up all who are bowed down.

15 The eyes of all look to you,
and you give them their food in due season.

16 You open your hand,
satisfying the desire of every living thing.

17 The LORD is just in all his ways,
and kind in all his doings.

18 The LORD is near to all who call on him,
to all who call on him in truth.

19 He fulfills the desire of all who fear him;
he also hears their cry, and saves them.

20 The LORD watches over all who love him,
but all the wicked he will destroy.

21 My mouth will speak the praise of the LORD,
and all flesh will bless his holy name forever and ever.

Note: Verse numbering in your Psalter may differ from the above

Notes: This Psalm is especially revered in Rabbinic commentary, who said those who recite it thrice daily are assured a place in the World to Come. It is, like Psalm 17 above, a revelation and celebration of the presence of God in Creation and history. God is the loving living source, frame, and animation of all that is. God’s saving acts, mercifully seen in the interdependence of all life, are also available to all who call on God. Seen in light of the Gospel, it is a Eucharistic Sacramental revelation of life, at all its various levels in all is wonderful complexity. The human being who lives and understand this marvellous web of life adores God, honour God, and blesses God’s holy name forever.

Romans 9: 1 – 5

Romans 9:1 (NRSV) I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience confirms it by the Holy Spirit– 2 I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. 3 For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my own people, my kindred according to the flesh. 4 They are Israelites, and to them belong the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the giving of the law, the worship, and the promises; 5 to them belong the patriarchs, and from them, according to the flesh, comes the Messiah, who is over all, God blessed forever. Amen.

Notes: Paul identifies, in the history of Israel, a larger and universal trajectory of the Living Word of God, in Creation and history. Despite his alienation from something so very dear – his people and his identity – Paul can, displaying in his own love the sacrificial love at the heart God’s life in the universe, see the promise and power of the presence of God in Israel, in history, and in Creation. In his pain, he affirms the promise and praises the eternal God who is the Ruler of the Universe.

Matthew 14: 13 – 21

Matthew 14:13 (NRSV) Now when Jesus heard this, he withdrew from there in a boat to a deserted place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. 14 When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. 15 When it was evening, the disciples came to him and said, “This is a deserted place, and the hour is now late; send the crowds away so that they may go into the villages and buy food for themselves.” 16 Jesus said to them, “They need not go away; you give them something to eat.” 17 They replied, “We have nothing here but five loaves and two fish.” 18 And he said, “Bring them here to me.” 19 Then he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, he looked up to heaven, and blessed and broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the crowds. 20 And all ate and were filled; and they took up what was left over of the broken pieces, twelve baskets full. 21 And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.

Notes: Present here, are four feasts that reveal the presence of God as the pulsing heart of every particle of Creation: first, the feeding of the more than five thousand, a prophetic act which displays the miracle of the other three feasts; second, the every day feasts in which the mystery of life and presence of God is marvellously revealed – all the other feasts are echoed in this daily feast, this daily bread; third, the feast in the World to Come, the culmination of God’s presence in Creation and history, definitively and with salvation revealed and made present in the life, death, resurrection, and second coming of Jesus; fourth, the Eucharist, in which all four feasts meet, in which all four are prophetically revealed, and God’s moral and spiritual presence in every moment, particle, and action of Creation and history. God is not revealed in terms of human might, God is revealed in the forces of life, in the energy that sustains and propels all of Creation. As Jesus mystically presides in our gathering – receiving, blessing, breaking, and sharing – we see life and we see our path of life in Creation. We must sanctify – and at the same time reveal the holiness that is present – Creation as the gift of God. Jesus give us a ceremony of life in four dimensions, but he also gives us a way of life which follows the pattern of his life, displaying and embodying the sacrificial love of God present in all of life. In a world that appears to have lost connection with Creation and with the God who is present in it, it is urgent that we plunge in to the vibrating life of this mystery. As we may not, in many places today, share the completeness of this Eucharist as we would, we may find the meaning of its call to both live life and see Creation – and bless Creation, by holy action that protects and honours its God given integrity – in the living of this feast, in imitating this feast in the minute and blessed acts of life. The bouquet of Scriptures, especially adorn, reveal, and celebrate the miraculous presence of the reality in Creation and history.

As I have learned from Indigenous elders, entering ceremony is to enter the time and realm of the spiritual life that undergirds, animates, and preserves Creation. It is to specially reveal and honour the Creator, but it also seeks the healing power of that goodness which sustains life. This goodness, this understanding, has a miraculous character and an immediate healing radiance in the lives of participants, but also in the reconciliation of people to the Land, the Land being the eco-sphere of the relationships through which God creates and sustains life. This, I hope, is a revealing partner to the ceremony that is at the heart of our Christian life and experience.

by Archbishop Mark MacDonald, Canada

Proper 12, 8th Sunday after Pentecost [by Silvia Purdie]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
1 Kings 3:5-12
both
Psalm
119:129-136
2nd Reading
Rom 8:26-39
Rom 8:28-30
Gospel
Matt 13:31-33,44-52
Matt 13:44-52
by Silvia Purdie, A Rocha Aotearoa, New Zealand

NOTES ON THE READINGS

1 Kings 3:5-12 – Solomon and the ethics of sustainability

Solomon’s dream conversation with God is beautiful. It reveals how God works; like Jesus asking sick people what they would like him to do for them. Here God invites Solomon to ask for what he most desires. God does that for us, too. What do you wish to ask for? What matters most to you? Not what you think you ought to want, but what bubbles up from your heart. Our calling as Christians is forged at the point of connection between our deepest desires and God’s best purpose for us.

Solomon answers by sharing with God his own sense of inadequacy as he faces the enormous challenge and complex expectations of leadership. “How will I know?” he cries out to God, “What is right and what is wrong?” And God affirms this, naming it the desire for justice and discernment, and blesses Solomon with wisdom.

Knowing what is right and what is wrong we name the principles of ethics. This includes the rightness and wrongness of how people treat each other, which we name social justice. And the rightness and wrongness of how people treat the planet we name ecology and environmental justice.

The church used to represent moral and ethical ‘good’ in our society. Now the word ‘good’ increasingly refers to what is good for our planet. You can buy ‘For the Better Good’ recycled plastic bottles, or ‘All Good’ soaps. In western societies there is an emerging ethic of sustainability & moral imperative. The church might not be leading this, but it has an important role to play. Ruth Valero’s book ‘L is for Lifestyle’ provides an ‘A-Z’ of practical steps for “Christian living that doesn’t cost the earth.” The Presbyterian Church in New Zealand recently reaffimed its commitment to being responsible stewards of God’s creation and asked all parishes to stop using disposable single use items such as styrofoam cups, switch to environmentally friendly cleaning products, and have recycling bins readily available. These are about wisdom and ethics, discernment of what is right and wrong in our time and place.

Psalm 119:129-136 – Environmental Law

“Your statutes are wonderful”. Unless you work as a lawyer you are unlikely to feel quite so positive about the law. But law can be a powerful tool for good. We have seen this in the development of international environmental law, which is a vital tool in protecting natural spaces and protecting vulnerable communities from getting pollution dumped in their home. There are 5 principles of environmental law acknowledged by the EU, UK and other nations.

  1. The precautionary principle: protective measures should be taken without having to wait until the harm materialises.
  2. The prevention principle: we should anticipate and avoid environmental damage before it happens.
  3. Environmental damage should be rectified at source: pollution is dealt with where it occurs.
  4. The polluter pays principle: the person who causes pollution should bear the costs of the damage caused and any remedy required.
  5. The integration principle: environmental protection is integrated into all other areas of policy and governance, in line with promoting sustainable development.

For more information:

Brittanica website: www.britannica.com/topic/environmental-law/Principles-of-environmental-law

Client Earth website: www.clientearth.org/what-are-environmental-principles-brexit/

What is God’s law? We typically think of the 10 Commandments, and rightly so. But most Christians do not uphold all Old Testament rules as God’s law for us in 2020. Reading Psalm 119 with environmental law in mind could be a helpful way to think about the statutes and decrees that God has given to protect his people and his creation. All talk of law, however, must stand under the greatest commandment of all: Love (John 13:34).

Romans 8:26-39 – Wordless Groans

Romans Chapter 8 stands among the greatest texts of all time, and has a special place in Christian faith. A vast amount that has been, and could be, written on these words. For this brief comment I would like simply to sit with Paul’s description of the Spirit of God interceding for us with wordless emotion. The Greek word ‘groaning’ is also used for the cries of the slaves in Egypt in Acts 7:34, and is similar to word for the pain of childbirth (the King James used ‘travail’, e.g. John 16:21). In Romans 8 Paul tells of creation (v22), “we ourselves” (v23) and the Holy Spirit (v26), all groaning.

Eco Theology draws attention to the nearness of God and invites worship of a God passionate about all created beings, including the human ones. This is an important counterbalance to the dualism that sets the spiritual over and against the tangible. Our Reformed heritage placed the Word in the highest place, elevating logic expressed verbally, and devaluing the body and the earth. Paul’s theology of groaning is a window into God’s heart which is so very with us, so very present in our pain and our wordless cries. This is where “deep calls to deep” (Ps 42:7). This affirms the prayer of whales and sparrows, oak trees and lava. This affirms the prayer of infants (Ps 8:2), the disabled, and the forgetful who no longer make much sense when they talk; God still knows and God still hears, even without our words.

Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52 – Kingdom Stories, Kingdom Secrets

In the middle of the Gospel of Matthew is Chapter 13 which is a ‘storehouse’ of Jesus wisdom. It tells and reflects on eight stories. It is worth reading the whole chapter, especially Jesus’ explanation of why he spoke in parables. If we are puzzled by his stories, Jesus seems to say – that’s the point! “Looking they do not see, hearing they do not understand” (13:13). I think we do wrong by Jesus when we try to ‘get’ his stories and sum them up in a neat ‘point’. These 8 stories are told to confuse us, to tease us. From the birds nesting in the tree to the weeping and gnashing of teeth they tantalise us with possible meaning.

Today’s reading includes 6 short stories, far more than anyone could possibly cover in one sermon. I’m guessing that when Jesus told them he filled them out as a master story teller would, and all Matthew gives us is the ‘potted summary’. Do they have anything in common? Taken together as a group of stories, what do we notice?

They’re a bit ‘Over The Top’. For goodness sake, no woman would make 50 pounds of bread, that’s outrageous! No one would sell everything just for a pearl, no matter how pretty it is.

They contradict each other. The fish in the net story seems to say that God only wants some people and throws the rest away, while the storehouse story seems to say that everything is a treasure, old or new.

There’s a theme bubbling away about little and big; the seed, the yeast, the pearl are tiny things with a big impact. Which is perhaps our point of connection back to Solomon. Perhaps the little thing with the big impact is wisdom.

Some ‘eco’ questions to engage these stories:

  • What kind of wisdom do we need in 2020 to care for the planet?
  • What is Jesus inviting us to ‘see and hear’ in the world around us?
  • What are the small actions that have a big impact?
  • Each story describes a dynamic ecosystem: a tree with birds nesting, a fizzing batch of yeast, fish and fishers. Where is God in the system? Explore an ecosystem approach to faith.
  • Jesus describes the stories as expressing the “secrets of the kingdom” (13:11). In our care for the environment, what are the ‘kingdom secrets’ that the Spirit uncovers for us?

SERMON SUGGESTION

‘Little can be huge’

Focus Bible verses:

a) the parables of the mustard seed and the yeast, Matthew  13:31-33, “The kingdom of heaven is like …”

b) Solomon’s request for “a discerning heart”, 1 Kings 3:9

c) Psalm 119: 130, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple”

Key ideas:

a) Little things can have a big impact, such as seeds and yeast

b) The biggest little thing is wisdom.

Personal/Local connection:

Tell a story of a local group or from your own experience of doing something small for the environment which has had a larger impact, e.g. an enviro school project, or a tree you planted, or a conversation you had.

How would you describe this in terms of wisdom? You might not describe yourself as wise, but how can you articulate the practical ‘common sense’ or ‘discernment’ that guides you? What kind of wisdom is needed in the world today?

Practical ideas:

  • A children’s talk with yeast and making bread
  • A children’s talk with seeds and plants (e.g. photos to match the plant with the seed it grew from)
  • Invite the congregation to discussion and/or write down a commitment to one action to care for the environment, e.g. writing a letter to their local supermarket asking about their policies to reduce plastic

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

“What do you want?” – Prayer, from 1 Kings 3:5-12

Could be used as a prayer of approach, confession, offering, or intercession.

Could be read by different people, a child and an adult, or with congregational responses.

3,000 years ago God asked Solomon,
“What do you want me to give you?”
Solomon answered,
“I don’t know how to do what is asked of me.
What is right and what is wrong? Give me a wise heart.”
Here and now God asks us,
“What do you want me to give you?”
And we answer:
O God, we do not know how to do what is asked of us.
The problems of the world seem so big.
What can we do? What is right and what is wrong?
Give us, we pray, wisdom for our day,
a heart for the poor, a heart for justice.
Give us wisdom for our planet,
a heart for all living things.
Thank you for your great kindness to us!
Thank you for every gift.
Amen.

Psalm 119: The Longest Psalm

How I love your law!

Psalm 119 goes on and on –
176 verses full of desire to keep the law of God.

With my whole heart I seek you, teach me your ways.
I treasure your word, stop me from doing wrong.
I trust your commandments, I will always keep them.

But our faith is not about keeping rules
or staying out of trouble.
It’s good to be good, but that’s not what Jesus asked of us.
Jesus got most angry with those who kept all the rules
but missed the point.
“This is my commandment” said Jesus, “Love each other”

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path

… not the rules, but Jesus himself,
the living Word, light of the world.

(John 13:34. Also read Romans 13:8-10)

Prayer of confession – from Romans 8: 26-28

Spirit of God, help us in our weakness.
We confess that we do not know how to pray.
Spirit of God, pray for us.
Groan for us when words run out,
sigh for us when words are not enough.
In this time of silence we let go of our words,
for you hear our heart.

(silent prayer)

Spirit of Jesus, you know us.
Deep calls to deep in your love.
Bring us into the mind of God
until we rest, forgiven, in God’s great purpose.
Friends, we know that in all things
God works for the good of those who love him.
Halleluia. Amen.

The Smallest Seed

A litany for children and all ages.
Should include actions.
Read it twice, so that people are confident with the actions the 2nd time.

The smallest seed, the mustard seed,
a tiny dot, it’s nothing much!
Can God use this, this tiny speck?
What could God do with nothing much?
Cup your hands, hold it tight.
Dig a hole, plant it well.
Give it love, give it light.
What will grow? Do you know?
Day by day, week by week
month by month, year by year.
Watch it grow, green and strong,
up and up, out and out.
God at work, God at play!
A bush, a tree, a home.
Come, birds! Make your nest.
Come, people! Sit and rest.
God is good! God is great!

A Children’s Talk on the Storehouse Parable
Matthew 13:52

 Prepare: You need a box with something old (a rock, or a fossil if you have one), and something new (e.g. a flower bud)

Talk about how old things are: ask the children how old they are, their parents are, and to guess how old you are! Ask the congregation how old the church is.

Tell the Jesus story:

You are learning. I am learning. Everyone here in the church is learning. We are learning the ways of God. Jesus called God’s ways the Kingdom of Heaven. And he told lots of stories to help people learn the ways of God. And he said that as we learn to live the Kingdom we are like someone who has a storeroom with cool things inside. Some of the things in the storeroom are really old. And some things are really new.

Bring out the box and get the children to open it and take out what’s inside. Discuss.

God’s incredible world is a treasure house. There are things that God made long, long ago, that are very old (you could name the oldest person in your church as an example!) and there are some things which are brand new. This rock is enormously old, millions and millions of years old. This flower is so new that it has not even been opened yet. What will it look like inside? We don’t know, it’s that new!

God is like that. God is older than the universe, and God is new every morning. And living in God’s ways means honouring the treasures that have been passed down through many generations, as well as the things that are bursting out brand new.

What new idea will you have today?

What new thing will you create today that has never existed before?

Pray for the children.

by Silvia Purdie, New Zealand

Proper 11, 7th Sunday after Pentecost [by Dr Rodel Lasco & Pastor Dave Trinidad]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 44:6-8
Wis 12:13,16-19
Psalm
86:11-17
2nd Reading
Rom 8:12-25
Rom 8:26-27
Gospel
Matt 13:24-43
both
two contributions by Dr Rodel Lasco, University of the Philippines, and by Pastor Dave Trinidad, Sampaloc Bible Christian Community, Manila, Philippines

NOTES ON THE READINGS

 OLD TESTAMENT Isaiah 44:6-8

The people of God during Isaiah’s time had been seduced to worship idols and as a result judgment is coming. In this passage, Yahweh reminds His people that He alone is God and there is none other. Despite their idolatry, God encourages His people not to be afraid of idols. He confronted them with His power and glory.

Many today rely on modern-day idols. Scores of people bow down to science as their “god”. They are quick to believe that there is no Creator, and that all things came about by blind chance. Today’s passage reminds us that God is “the first and the last” (v6b). He is before all creation, because He is the Sovereign Creator. We should be bold in witnessing (v8) that God created all things and the we should be responsible stewards of all He made. Ultimately, we will give account of ourselves to God.

All of us are imperfect sinners. Isaiah reminds that God is our Redeemer (v6). We can trust in the Person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ for our redemption from sin.

EPISTLE Romans 8:12-25

[see two sermon outlines below]

SERMON OUTLINES

Two sermon outlines are provided here, first one from a professional scientist and pastor, and second one from a pastor and amateur conservationist.

Sermon 1. Romans 8:19-23 – Dr. Rodel Lasco, University of the Philippines

Introduction

The Philippines has one of the most diverse natural ecosystems in the world. Sadly, much of its lush tropical forest ecosystems have been destroyed in the past century. The causes are similar as other tropical countries: rampant cutting of trees, conversion to other land uses, and lack of sound planning, among others.

How different must it be in the Garden of Eden prior to the Fall! One can just imagine the peace and harmony that exists between our first parents and the rest of creation. But when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, the while creation fell with them.

Message: God will liberate the whole creation from the bondage of sin when Jesus returns.

I. A Frustrated Creation

God designed all creation for His glory and honor. Before the Fall, God pronounced all of them as good. However, when sin entered the world, humans forced nature to serve their wicked purposes. All around us, we can see how one thing can serve holy purposes, but also evil ones. Metals can be used to manufacture a scalpel that could remove cancerous cells. But they can also be used to make guns that murder people. Chemicals can be used to make medicines to save life, but also poison for taking life.

In this passage, Paul is personifies all creation as frustrated and groaning. Instead of serving for the glory of God, humans have forced them to aid in their rebellion against the Creator.

Application: We must examine how we use and interact with nature. Implied in this passage is the concern of God for the rest of His creation. This rebukes all those who use nature to pursue evil ends.

II. A Future Liberation

Despite the rampant destruction of nature around us, the future is bright. Paul said that creation will be liberated from its bondage (v21). He implies that this will happen when Christians are also full freed from their sinful bodies (v23). What a sight it will be! God will renew heaven and earth and bring them to its pure splendor.

Application: Christians must show the world how creation should be cared for. As God’s viceroy and stewards in this world, we must set an example to the rest of humankind. We must show the world that there is a bright future for the world.

Conclusion

Christians must look forward to the day when they will be glorified at the coming of Jesus. Part of their blessings is the total renewal of the natural world. May we long for that day!

Sermon 2. Romans 8:17-23 – Pastor Dave Trinidad, Sampaloc Bible Christian Community, Manila

Outline:

God’s Redemption Plan Includes Creation
I. The Church Awaits Redemption (17-18)
II. Creation Awaits the Redemption of the Church (19-21)
III. The Church “Groans” with Creation (22-23)

Introduction:

God is a Redeemer! (Isaiah 44:6-8). God does not intend to destroy His creation, He intends to redeem it! The end of the world is not destruction, it’s redemption.

  • It is not destruction but redemption that demonstrates the goodness of God.
  • God is at work from Creation to final Redemption.

John 3:16 For God so loved the world (cosmos)…

Proposition: God is a redeeming God. His salvation plan includes His creation.

Message: Will God destroy the earth?

Some people believe that God will eventually destroy the earth!

  • Not by flood (Gen 9:11)
  • But by fire! (2Pet 3:10)

Some people reason that since God is going to destroy the planet, why care for creation?

  • It is futile to preserve the resources
  • Counter: So why still care for the body if it’s going to die anyway?

The destruction will not be total.

Why would God do that? Preserve the old and not make brand new ones?

  • Because God loves his creation and redeeming them back to their original state and purpose give Him glory!
  • The ultimate end of creation is not destruction, it’s redemption.

Creation Redemption Plan

Romans 8 is a rich passage that tells us God’s global/universal perspective on redemption.

I. The Church Awaits Redemption (17-18)

The gist: The children of God are co-heirs with Christ in sufferings and glory.

  • We suffer in this world with Christ
  • Suffering is not the end, the end is glory with Christ!
  • We have a great destiny in Christ!

II. Creation Awaits the Redemption of the Church (19-21)

  •  We are mistaken if we think we are the ones waiting for creation to be restored first. No. Creation is waiting for us to be revealed first.
  • Our glory first and then creation moves into our glory.
  • Meanwhile, creation is suffering and waiting….
  • “subjected to frustration” see Gen 3:17-19 “Curse is the ground”

“Joy to the World”
No more let sins and sorrows grow
Nor thorns infest the ground;
He comes to make His blessings flow
Far as the curse is found.

  • When God’s children are finally glorified with Christ, then they can truly enjoy the redeemed creation, not a cursed world but a restored, resurrected universe free from decay, disease, and death!

III. The Church “Groans” with Creation (22-23)

  •  These verses tell us how connected we are to creation. Human beings and the Earth are inseparably linked. (Adam was formed from the ground. That is significant. Man is from the earth and for the earth.)
  • As creation wasn’t only about us, so redemption is not only about us.

Conclusion: Lessons and challenges: Believers / Christians must be the best care-takers of creation.

The Third Lausanne Congress on World Evangelization Cape Town, South Africa, October 2010:

  •  Creation care is a priority for the Lausanne Movement
  • “Creation care is a gospel issue within the Lordship of Christ.”

The Good News is more than the fact that Christ died for individual sinners. It is a cosmic story of God’s mission in the world, with the invitation to us to participate with him in this mission.

  1.  As God’s stewards of Creation
  2. As God’s Agents of Redemption

What we did in our local church:

  1. Creation Care worship celebrations (outdoor worship, Creation Sundays)
  2. Decluttering (home and church)
  3. Urban gardening (vegetable gardening for our poor communities)
  4. We included Stewardship / Creation Care modules in our discipleship program.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

  • Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series
  • Tyndale New Testament Commentary Series
  • Pillar New Testament Commentary Series
  • Illustration— The Philippines is considered a mega-diversity country rivaled only by a few countries in the world when it comes to variety of ecosystems, species and genetic resources. Many of the island comprising the archipelago are believed to have a very high degree of land and animal endemism. The country hosts more than 52,177 described species of which more than half is found nowhere else in the world. On a per unit area basis, the Philippines probably harbors more diversity of life than any other country on the planet. http://bmb.gov.ph/388-protection-and-conservation-of-wildlife/facts-and-figures/786-status-of-the-philippine-biodiversity Accessed 2/2/18

by Dr Rodel Lasco & Pastor Dave Trinidad, Philippines

Proper 10, 6th Sunday after Pentecost [by Emmanuel Turkson]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 55:10-13
both
Psalm
65:1-13
2nd Reading
Rom 8:1-11
Rom 8:18-23
Gospel
Matt 13:1-9,18-23
both
by Emmanuel Turkson, Creation Care Officer of A Rocha Ghana

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Old Testament

Since the beginning of creation, humanity and nature has been a recurring journey of harmony and discord with the latter often suffering greatly at the hands of people.  Even though the plans and dictates of God concerning his Creation form the core component which holds the great design together, we oftentimes lose sight of the essential truth (who they are/purpose) but rather focus more on the existential relevance (what they do/function) of creation.

Vs 10 We see how God sets the ordinances of the firmament in place with precision and purpose in an orderly manner. The rains fall to water the earth, then the earth brings forth fruits to feed mankind, but it doesn’t end there. This structure presents the full expression of the wisdom of God. Proverbs 3: 19 by wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding, he set the heavens in place.  Job’s encounter with God reveals how God acknowledges and appreciates how He built the earth in full detail. Verse 10 also reveals the key role of humanity to ensure sustenance of creation: to sow first, then to make bread. It is important to note the order of the sustenance plan (first, to care for it, then to use it, also seen in Gen 2:15). It is however unfortunate that we have changed the order of the sustenance. Here in Ghana, the overexploitation of a timber species found in a fragile Guinea Savanah ecosystem, rosewood (Pterocarpus erinaceous), and unsustainable agriculture practices, like burning during farm preparation which leads to huge biodiversity loss, distort the order of the sustenance plan.

Vs 11 God compares his word to creation; Two things we can highlight are the DESIRE of God for the creation and the PURPOSE for which He sends his word or establishes creation. God places the essence of creation (who they are to Him) before existence (what they are for us to use).

We have to place the value of creation based on its essence to God first before its existence to humanity, also so in preaching the gospel.  We often make an error in valuing creation based on how it serves our needs (such as economic importance) rather than how it glorifies God.

Rainfed agriculture provides much of the food consumed by poor communities in developing countries. It accounts for 95% of farmed land in Sub-Saharan Africa[1]. But the same rains, which bring hope to these poor farmers, also pose many threats to people during floods because of our unsustainable and unplanned lifestyles (building in water channels, throwing waste into drains, plastic littering, concreting over land that should be absorbing the rains etc).  The rains displace a lot of people leading to their demise and destruction of properties. The rains which God has ordained to sustain life on earth become a bane to many people. We suffer loss because of our unsustainable lifestyles.

Vs 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you,

When essence precedes existence, our joy shall be made full, laced with peace. In this verse, we see how the mountains sing to glorify God. Is the glory of God at stake? How can the mountains sing? Have the mountains not been singing before us by safeguarding the water that we need? Have they not been producing living water for us that feeds billions of people on the earth? Here in Ghana, the Atewa Forest, which protects the headwaters of three rivers – the Ayensu, Densu and Birim – that provide clean water daily for over 5 million Ghanaians, is now threatened with large scale bauxite mining by the government. Hundreds of species are threatened including some that are endemic to the Atewa Forest.

Creation rejoices and glorifies God when we keep to a sustainable lifestyle. If we do not protect and nurture nature, the mountains and hills will no longer burst into song before us and no longer take care of us and fulfil our needs because they will have been too damaged.

Vs 13 Instead of the thorn-bush will grow the juniper, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow.

This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, that will endure for ever.’

Our prosperity on earth is tied to the prosperity of creation. All these will happen to make the name of the Lord known in the earth forever as an everlasting sign. Is creation not the greatest evangelist? Paul put it this way; Romans 1:20 “for the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse”.

Psalm 65

The Psalm reveals how God still commits to caring for Creation. He is the hope for the world. Through Christ, the hope for creation was manifested as Christ reconciled all things unto himself (Colossians 1:20). Here, the Psalmist shows how God carefully treats both animate and inanimate objects, how he cares for the land and the hills. Creation responds to God’s care with shouts of joy. In the same vein, when we care for the resources we have in a more sustainable manner, they will respond to us by providing us with the goodness of the land; food, clothe and shelter.

Epistle: Romans 8:1-11

Two words resound in this letter to the Romans: Spirit (which gratifies things of God) and the Flesh (which is self-gratifying).  Humanity has been on an unending journey of satisfying desires, exploring all avenues to fill that longing in the heart. We choose to go every length to fill our fleshy desires without counting the cost on creation. Is it okay as long as it satisfies our fleshy desires? Is it okay if there is a convenient use of a resource (such as in the case of single use plastics)?  This old sin (vs 7-8) of satisfying the flesh is what manifests in the catastrophe we see today. Governments and individuals go every length to explore and overly exploit natural resources (even in life-supporting ecosystems) without safeguards, in order to satisfy the development agenda without taking into cognizance the detriment to future generations. We are being admonished by Paul to look at things from God’s perspective before we proceed to pursue our needs.

Gospel (Matthew) 13:1-9, 18-23 (the Parable of the Sower)

This interesting parable teaches the 4 different areas (pathway, rocks, thorns, and good soil) on which the word of God is spread. It gives full details on how to prepare the land when embarking on environmental activities such as tree planting. This was seen during the restoration work in the Atewa Landscape of the Eastern region of Ghana where after a long period of illegal gold mining (galamsey), several hectares of land became degraded and polluted with heavy metals. It became obvious that there was life after gold and that the land needed to be restored to be used again by subsistence small holder farmers.   The parable gives the possible outcome of each action we take when engaging in environmental exercises and preaching the gospel of creation care. Within the congregation, we should expect that not all the message will fall on good grounds. In our advocacy we should also expect that not all our message shall be taken in good faith. When we know this, we shall not grow weary in what we do. We still have to continue sharing the good news of creation care. We should also make a conscious effort to look out for the ‘good ground’ thus people and organizations who are receptive to the message of creation care, partner with them, and increase from there. We shall chalk a lot of success if we learn from this parable.

[1] International Water Management Institute, 2010, Issue 10

SERMON OUTLINE

The Gospel (Mathew 13 vs 1-9, 18-23) – The Parable of the Sower

Jesus often communicated in parables to illustrate profound biblical truths of the nature of God and his divine principles. These illustrations are easily remembered, because using creation as symbolism has deep connection and rich meaning because of how we are closely connected with creation.  As Paul rightly put in Romans 1:20, We are able to know God through creation.

Jesus identified four categories of people or group based on their receptiveness to the gospel. Over the past years as a Creation Care officer, who engages with several Christian organisations, different congregations and individuals, I have been able to group people and organisations under 4 groups which resonate to Jesus’ categorization based on how they respond to the teachings of creation care:

 1. The Seed on the Pathway (Resistant / ‘spiritual’ over material / dualistic)

According to vs 4, just as they hear but do not understand, these are people, individuals, or institutions, who;

  • Hear the gospel of creation care, environmental devastation on the news, Climate Change etc but have not given themselves to fully understand the environmental mission within the Gospel.
  • Have lost touch with their surroundings
  • Have the view that the Gospel is about ‘soul winning and not tree planting’
  • Perceive Christian environmentalism as an infiltration of the Gospel

2. The Seed on Stony Ground (Shallow / Incidental, from Planetwise)

Vs 5 this group hear and understand but do nothing about it

  • They progress to the next stage from the pathway,
  • They are receptive to the advocacy and preaching of sustainable practices
  • They attend conferences and workshops to develop their understanding
  • They receive these messages with joy
  • They lack root in themselves to take practical actions themselves
  • They are glad that someone else would, or expect that someone does the work
  • When they do, they fall away because of the challenges that come their way (finances, internal hindrances)
  • At the end of the day, no action is taken.

3. Seed amongst Thorns (Double-Minded)

  • This category is able to progress from the pathway stage, through the stone and to the thorns
  • They act to a certain extent but are unable to sustain it or complete it
  • They feel there are other more important things to deal with.
  • They choose lavish lifestyle for the church, procuring material blessing instead of simple living
  • They choose over-consumerism to satisfy their flamboyant lifestyle without considering its implications on the environment, they prefer loudspeakers and expensive sound systems instead of investing in sound proof insulations for the church

4. The Good Soil (Integral, from Planetwise,)

Those who have been able to pass through all the stages and have understood the urgent need to participate fully in caring for God’s creation. They make the teachings of creation care an integral part of the Gospel and of their lives. They embark in practical activities and change their behaviour to reflect their new concerns, and also advocate for the cause of creation.

Link to Our World

A case point in Ghana is the campaign against mining in one of the most precious upland evergreen forest reserves in Ghana: the Atewa Forest. This forest, which serves as a source of water for three major rivers Ayensu, Densu and Birim, provides water for 5 million Ghanaians, yeG is being giving out to large scale bauxite mining by the government. Some Christian ecumenical organisations like the Christian Council of Ghana have joined in the campaign against the bauxite mining, but others are indifferent.

This same Christian institution has joined in to support one of the most pressing environmental challenges in Ghana, which is the issue of single use plastics.

Take home:
  • God is committed to creation inasmuch as he is committed to us
  • God places the essence of creation before the purpose; we also should know that essence precedes existence in our engagement with creation
  • Humanity has a key role in ensuring the sustenance of creation by placing ‘sowing/tilling’ before ‘reaping/using’. So, in essence, we should plant a tree before we cut one.
  • The glory of God is at stake if we do not care for or preach about his creation
  • Our prosperity and our posterity are tied to the sustainability and sustenance of creation
  • Let’s keep a simple lifestyle in reverence with the Spirit of the Lord and not selfishly gratify all our cravings
  • Let us support environmental actions as an obligation to God

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Websites

https://ghana.arocha.org/projects/protecting-atewa-forest/

Planetwise Dare to Care for God’s Creation by Dave Bookless, IVP, 2008:

Hymn:

Jesus Call us over the Tumult

1 Jesus calls us o’er the tumult
of our life’s wild, restless sea;
day by day his sweet voice soundeth,
saying “Christian, follow me.”

2 As, of old, apostles heard it
by the Galilean lake,
turned from home and toil and kindred,
leaving all for his dear sake.

3 Jesus calls us from the worship
of the vain world’s golden store,
from each idol that would keep us,
saying “Christian, love me more.”

by Emmanuel Turkson, Ghana