Proper 25, 21st Sunday after Pentecost [by Bishop Marc Andrus]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Deu 34:1-12
Ex 22:20-26
2nd Reading
1 Thess 2:1-8
1 Thess 1:5c-10
Matt 22:34-46
by Bishop Marc Andrus, Episcopal Diocese of California

Comments and Interpretation on Deuteronomy 34:1-12

1 Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land: Gilead as far as Dan, 2 all Naphtali, the land of Ephraim and Manasseh, all the land of Judah as far as the Western Sea, 3 the Negeb, and the Plain — that is, the valley of Jericho, the city of palm trees — as far as Zoar. 4 The LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, saying, ‘I will give it to your descendants’; I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not cross over there.” 5 Then Moses, the servant of the LORD, died there in the land of Moab, at the Lord’s command. 6 He was buried in a valley in the land of Moab, opposite Beth-peor, but no one knows his burial place to this day. 7 Moses was one hundred twenty years old when he died; his sight was unimpaired and his vigor had not abated. 8 The Israelites wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days; then the period of mourning for Moses was ended. 9 Joshua son of Nun was full of the spirit of wisdom, because Moses had laid his hands on him; and the Israelites obeyed him, doing as the LORD had commanded Moses. 10 Never since has there arisen a prophet in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face. 11 He was unequaled for all the signs and wonders that the LORD sent him to perform in the land of Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants and his entire land, 12 and for all the mighty deeds and all the terrifying displays of power that Moses performed in the sight of all Israel.

God shows Moses the land that became the Kingdom of Judah. This scene comes at the end of a 40-year sojourn between the end of a centuries-long period of slavery in Egypt. In the context of our Care of Creation, it is well to remember that the enslavement of the Hebrew people begins with an environmental disaster – a severe, seven-year drought that encompassed not only Egypt but a vast area that included the land over which the semi-pastoralist Hebrew people traveled in seasonal cycles.

There is a thread that runs through the entire story of the Hebrew people moving into Egypt, their wandering in the wilderness after God frees them from their enslavement, and up to this point, the passage into a land where they will establish a new relationship with land. I have already noted the drought that occasioned the original entry of the Hebrew people into Egypt. The story in today’s lectionary, Moses surveying the land that marks the end of their wandering, his not being allowed to pass into the land with the people he has been leading for forty years, and his death, this story is also a Creation Care story.

During the period of wandering, the people again suffered from drought. They complained to Moses, who took their cries to God. God commanded Moses to use his staff and strike a rock in the presence of the assembled people, and God would cause water to flow from the rock. The text (Numbers) says that Moses did just as God said, but that he upbraided the people and then “struck the rock twice.” The water flowed, as God had promised, but God told Moses that because of this show of intemperance, Moses would not be allowed to enter the new homeland.

What will be the Hebrew people’s relationship to this new land? How will they meet environmental disasters in the future? The preceding story contains a double warning: about trusting in earthly powers (Pharaoh, the stand-in for all monarchial power); and about seeking to solve the environmental crises “under our own steam,” without trusting in the grace of God. The outcome of giving ourselves over to either of these temptations is enslavement and frustrated futility.

I was recently attending a United Nations and faith bodies environmental conference that concluded with a multi-national, interfaith panel. A Clan Mother of the Onondaga Clan in upstate New York spoke about environmental ethics that derived from everyday practices of the clan in working within an ecosystem. One principle that guides the clan as they gather berries, or fish, or hunt is that the food must be “given.” A counter example Clan Mother Jacques gave is fracking; the intensely extractive, effortful drilling, blasting, pumping that goes into fracking is the opposite of taking what is “given.”

The Deuteronomy lesson is not to be taken as a call to passive piety, but rather, positively, as understanding that the love of God, indeed God’s Spirit is the source of all life, of all that is. A life lived in mindful reverence and gratitude is a posture that will shape our actions and help lead us to the “place where we should be,” a sustainable life.

Comments and Interpretation of Matthew 22:34-46

34 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together,35 and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. 36 “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” 37 He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” 41 Now while the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them this question: 42 “What do you think of the Messiah? Whose son is he?” They said to him, “The son of David.” 43 He said to them, “How is it then that David by the Spirit calls him Lord, saying, 44 ‘The Lord said to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet”‘? 45 If David thus calls him Lord, how can he be his son?” 46 No one was able to give him an answer, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.

The second half of today’s Gospel lesson may be off-putting and less than attractive as the basis for preaching, and for preaching on Creation Care, as it is another instance of sparing between Jesus and his opponents. But the first half, also framed as an encounter meant to entrap Jesus, is bursting with the sap of meaning, and meaning for how we live together on the Earth.

The love that Jesus says is the branch from which the whole body of the Teachings of Moses hangs is agape love, which I translate positively as “overflowing love” (chosen rather than “unconditional,” a translation choice parallel to positively translating the Sanskrit “ahimsa” as “soul force” rather than the negatively cast “nonviolence”).

As one elderly, life-long Episcopalian said to me recently, “Love (and he meant agape love) is the most powerful equation in the universe, more than e=mc2.” He and I talked further, and I found that this wise man was talking about what I call the dynamics of the Beloved Community.

The Beloved Community is a way of speaking of what is normally translated as the “Kingdom of God,” or the “Kingdom of Heaven” in the New Testament. Calling this reality the Beloved Community moves us out of the language of domination and patriarchy. Neil Douglas-Klotz’ fecund translation of Jesus’ prayer translates “Thy kingdom come” in this way:

3. The Creative Fire Teytey malkuthakh  (KJV version: Thy kingdom come)

Create your reign of unity now-
through our fiery hearts
and willing hands. Let your counsel rule our lives,
clearing our intention
for co-creation. Unite our “I can” to yours, so that
we walk as kings and queens
with every creature. Desire with and through us
the rule of universal fruitfulness
onto the earth. Your rule springs into existence
as our arms reach out to
embrace all creation. Come into the bedroom of our hearts,
prepare us for the marriage of
power and beauty. From this divine union, let us birth
new images for a new world
of peace.

Douglas-Klotz, Neil. Prayers of the Cosmos (p. 19). HarperOne. Kindle Edition.

Notice the use of “unity,” “co-creation,” “universal fruitfulness onto the earth,” and the “embrace [of] all creation.” These are phrases of Creation Care and equally of the Beloved Community. Two central features of the Beloved Community are that is an interconnected reality, and that the interconnection is effected by agapé love. The Beloved Community is the interrelated community of all life, including but not limited to humankind.

Preaching from the Hebrew Scripture and Gospel lessons

The way forward in the light of the planetary environmental crisis is neither one of carefully studied opacity – climate denial or climate “ignoring” as one friend put it – nor of the hubris of believing that we can engineer our way out of the crisis while leaving our over-consuming, materialistic ways in place. Refounding our ethics based on agapé love, and knowing and acknowledging that this love flows from God is to live consciously within the Beloved Community; it is to live the prayer, “Thy Beloved Community come.” Living the life of loyalty to the Beloved Community means navigating away from the two traps that the sprawling Hebrew Scripture story, from Joseph’s family coming into Egypt, through four-hundred years of slavery, through a period of testing and tempering in the wilderness, and to the brink of entry into a new home warns us about – trusting in our own or another’s power. And, living the life of loyalty to the Beloved Community means not only a sustainable life, but an ethical life (all the Law and the Prophets depend upon this love), and, at heart the most satisfying of lives.

by Bishop Marc Andrus, Episcopal Diocese of California

Proper 24, 20th Sunday after Pentecost [by Rev Dr Rachel Mash]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 45:1-7
2nd Reading
1 Thess 1:1-10
Matt 22:15-22
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa

1 Thessalonians 1 :1-10  Changing our life-style

Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians  was probably the first letter that Paul wrote to a church. He shows great affection for the young converts, and is delighted that they are standing firm in the faith Since he can’t visit at this time, he writes to them  to strengthen their faith in Jesus.

Thessalonica was a bustling port city, the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia in northern Greece.. it was a trading hub, on the vast via Egnatia – a Roman road stretching 700 miles!. It was a free city with an independent government. Like many busy trading cities with many cultures, there were many religious activities, it was a centre for the Roman imperial cult, there were many temples to different deities. Think Johannesburg or  New York, a busy multi-cultural city.

The church was founded by Paul, Silas and Timothy, and the majority of the new converts were gentiles. They would have been  socialised in a pagan cultural environment, and Paul writes to encourage them in this radical  change of life-style  – leaving idols to ‘to serve the living and true God’ (1:10)

We know that they were being called to a radical change of life, because when Paul preached in Thessalonica in Acts 17 he was attacked as subversive –

‘They are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying that there is another king, one called Jesus.’

Why  did the people of Thessalonica  feel threatened by his teaching? He had made them realise that the Lordship of Jesus encompassed every part of life. The good news that he was preaching was very  bad  news for the religious, political and economic status quo.

The new young Christians were being called not just to follow Jesus but to change their lifestyles and to bear public witness to a different way of living.  They were not withdrawing from the world, they were participating in a radically new way, inspiring others. They were being called to join the Jesus movement.

Today we too live in a pagan society – a society which has turned to other gods – gods of consumerism, gods of selfishness, gods of toxic individuality . Your status is now defined by what you own, not by who you are. We are being encouraged to consume more, spend more, covet our neighbour for more and more. Even the meaning  of a ‘blessing’ is now material goods.

The pandemics of poverty and inequality, Climate change and biodiversity loss have at the root cause toxic individualism and greed.

We are called to a radically different life-style where we recognise the interconnectedness of people and all of creation. In the Lord’s  prayer we say “Give us today our daily bread” this is not an individualistic prayer for me and my family , this is a communal prayer – for the hungry in my city , for those who climate change will push into further hunger – give us our bread. This calls us to action to care for the vulnerable – both people and the earth.

As in the early church, our church communities should be circles of care, reaching out into the community, rather than institutions dragging people in.

Changing to a life-style that rejects consumerism and selfish values has missional implications – many people  are suffering from environmental grieving, the loss of a future, the loss of hope. After six months out of church, many people are saying – I didn’t really miss it, why should I go back?  If they can see in the church a new way of living, which shows care and compassion for others in need, and a commitment to environmental justice, that is a Jesus movement they will want to join.

by Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa

Proper 23, 19th Sunday after Pentecost [by Rev. Dr. Bullitt-Jonas]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 25:1-9
Isa 25:6-10a
2nd Reading
Phil 4:1-9
Phil 4:12-20
Matt 22:1-14
by The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Missioner for Creation Care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ. Her Website is

Matthew 22:1-14

Your invitation to love’s banquet

Jesus’ parable of the wedding feast has been interpreted in all sorts of ways, some of them helpful – some of them, not so much.  Over the years, commentators have interpreted the parable as an angry rebuke of the religious authorities who rejected Jesus; as an allegory to justify the destruction of Jerusalem by Roman soldiers in the year 70 C.E.; and as an account of why early Christian communities opened their doors to Gentiles as well as Jews.  At their worst, interpretations of the parable smack of conscious or unconscious anti-Semitism; at their best – well, let’s give it a shot.  What meaning can this parable have for us today?  In particular, can it give us any spiritual guidance in these turbulent times?

Let’s take it from the top.  Once upon a time there was a king – a wise, all-powerful king who decided to hold a wedding banquet for his son.  He got everything ready and prepared a feast of the finest foods.  He sent out invitations to his chosen guests, saying “Everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet” (Matthew 22:4).  But the guests refused to come.  Twice they were asked, and twice they turned him down.  They “made light” of the invitation, the story tells us, and some “went away, one to his farm, another to his business” (Matthew 22:5), while the rest attacked and killed the messengers.

When we read this through the lens of spiritual experience, what might this part of the story mean?  What comes to my mind are all the times that I refuse those invitations to the feast.  Too often I act like one of those guests who is handed a beautiful, hand-engraved wedding invitation: I cross my arms and say, “Nope; not interested.”  Has this ever happened to you?  Maybe you’re sitting indoors, and you’ve been inside all day, getting some work done, and you look up and notice that the sun is now low in the sky, casting a marvelous golden light across the purple underbelly of the clouds, and some part of you stares and says Oh! And you want to get up and gaze out the window for a while – or even step outside.  But you don’t.

Or maybe there’s a man with a loose gray coat and an unshaven face who is standing on the sidewalk where you just parked your car, and as you put a quarter in the meter, he mumbles a request: could you give him money to buy a cup of coffee?  You look across the street and sure enough, there’s a coffee shop right there; even if you don’t want to give the man cash, you could perfectly well walk across the street and get him a cup of coffee.  But you don’t.

Or maybe you feel stressed and distracted, or maybe sad and discouraged, and you sense a deep tug to prayer.  You know that new life will blossom in you only if you get yourself to sit down and pay attention to what is going on inside, only if you let yourself rest for a while in God’s embrace.  But do you let yourself pause to take in that nourishment?  You don’t.  You’ve got other things to do – good things, important things.  That inner tug can wait.  If you ignore it long enough, maybe it will go away.

Invitations to love’s banquet can take many forms, and they come not just once, but every day, and many times a day – maybe as an invitation to gaze at the beauty of the world, or as an invitation to be generous, or as an invitation to pause for a while to give the lover of our souls our full and undivided attention in prayer.  Yet how easy it is to say No!  I have a million excuses – I’m too busy, too focused on my own agenda, too scattered or overloaded to relinquish my worried, busy mind, to let my awareness open, and to drop down to my heart.

That’s a loss, because deep at the center of our being is an unquenchable thirst for union with the divine.  Deep in our guts, our bones, our very DNA, is an irrepressible yearning to move toward the Source of life, the All, the Ultimate, the Holy One.  Call it what you will – human beings the world over, whatever their religion, share a desire for what one writer calls “the union on this earth and in this body of the human with the divine.  This is the true spiritual marriage, the consummation of love that in one way or another is the aim of every ritual and every practice in every religion.”[i]

It’s no wonder that the Bible so often uses wedding imagery as a way to express the complete and intimate union of God and God’s people, or of God and the individual soul.  Sometimes the Bible depicts the bridegroom as God; sometimes the bridegroom is Christ.  Sometimes, as in this parable, we are invited to be guests at the wedding, and sometimes we ourselves are the bridegroom or we ourselves are the bride.

Love poets and mystics know all about the ecstasy of spiritual marriage.  Take, for instance, St. Francis of Assisi, whose feast day we celebrated last week.  Francis gazed deeply into the natural world as if into a mirror, and he saw reflected back to him the outpouring love of God.  For him, God was not an entity “out there” – God was within him and around him; God infused and sustained and shone out from all things.  Here is a little poem adapted from St. Francis:[ii]

Such love does
the sky now pour,
that whenever I stand in a field,

I have to wring out the light
when I get

The human longing for union with God is universal, but how quickly we repress it, ignore it, or push it away!  Who knows why?  Maybe we don’t want to feel our need and vulnerability; maybe we’re afraid to relinquish control; maybe we’re convinced we’re not good enough and we can’t possibly be loved that much.  But if we keep pushing God away, if we keep shutting ourselves off from the invitation to love and to be loved, then before long we will start to experience God as the enemy, and that’s the next part of the parable: some guests mock the messengers and blow them off, and other guests seize, mistreat, and kill them.  The text tells us that “the king was enraged” (Matthew 22:7).  He sends in his troops, destroys the murderers, and burns their city down.

As a spiritual story, this parable is quite accurate and exact: when we turn ourselves into the enemy of God, eventually we begin to experience God as an enemy.  God has not changed, but we have – we have pushed God away and have deliberately alienated ourselves from the divine.  Before any spiritual union can possibly take place, maybe that stubborn, resisting part of the self needs to be brought low and to fall away.  All of us who at some point have made a mess of our lives, who have made terrible mistakes and headed too far down a willful, self-centered, and defiant path, know what that’s like.  Sometimes the ego must be crucified before the soul can be born.

Yet the invitation to love never ceases.  In fact, it keeps getting wider, deeper, more expansive and more inclusive.  There is no guest list now.  The king’s love reaches out to everyone.  The wedding is ready, he says; the feast is about to be served and the food is hot.  He sends messengers into the streets to invite everyone to come, both good and bad, and they stream into the wedding hall until it is filled at last.

If you read this as a story of the interior life, it seems that only now – after our pride and defiance have been humbled and brought low – only now can we understand that every part of ourselves is being invited to the feast, that everything in us that we have cast away, abandoned, and rejected is being invited into the presence of God to be welcomed and healed and made whole.  Our whole selves are invited to the feast, and everybody else is invited with us.  There is no need now to shrug hopelessly and to say that we have to settle for being alienated from each other, that we have keep living driven, restless, distracted lives, that we have to make peace with poverty, with racial injustice and economic injustice, that we have to condone destroying the earth and that we have to tolerate an endless succession of wars. Now we know the truth: we have been invited to feast at the table of divine life.  We have been invited into the very heart of God, and in the strength of that divine presence we are sent out into the world to bear witness to God’s justice and mercy and love.

The parable ends with the startling little story of the guest who comes to the feast with no wedding robe and is summarily bound hand and foot and thrown into the outer darkness (Matthew 22:11-14).  Maybe this is a reminder to stay humble: God loves us completely and invites everyone to the feast, but we have our own work to do: to clothe ourselves day by day with the intention to love.  As St. Paul put it in Colossians, our job is to “[strip] off the old self with its practices and [to clothe ourselves] with the new self…” The passage continues: “As God’s chosen ones… clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.  Bear with one another and…forgive each other… Above all, clothe yourselves with love” (Colossians 3:9-10, 12-14).  In short, we wear the right clothes to the wedding feast of life when we clothe ourselves with love.

We are living through a time of extraordinary stress, a time in which each of us must clarify who we are and what we value.  So, here is what I want to tell you.  When love’s holy invitation comes, I want to say yes.  When love calls me to marvel at the sunset, to stop and gape at the beauty of the world, I want to say yes.  When love calls me to walk across the street to bring someone a cup of hot coffee and to add some honey to it, and some milk, as well, because that’s the way he says he likes it, I want to say yes.  When the divine call comes to sit down in prayer and to give the lover of my soul my full and undivided attention, I want to say yes.  As Mary Oliver writes in her poem, “When Death Comes,”[iii]

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

I want to say yes to life, yes to God, yes to the One in whose invisible, irresistible Presence we step fully into life, daring to connect deeply with ourselves and each other, refusing to be spectators, refusing to hold back, stepping out to create a world – and to fight for a world – in which everyone has a chance to experience how deeply God loves them. The banquet table is prepared, Jesus says to us. Will we come to the feast?

I will give the last word to Rumi, a Sufi poet who ends one of his poems like this:[iv]

On a day when the wind is perfect,
the sail just needs to open
and the love starts.   

Today is such a day.

by Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, United Church of Christ

[i] Roger Housden, For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, (New York City: Hay House, Inc., 2009), xiii.

[ii] St. Francis of Assisi, “Wring Out My Clothes,” in Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West, translated by Daniel Ladinsky (New York, Penguin Compass, 2002), 48.

[iii] Mary Oliver, “When Death Comes,” New and Selected Poems (Boston: Beacon Press, 1992), 10.

[iv] Jalaludin Rumi, “On a Day When the Wind is Perfect,” in Love Poems from God, 80.

St. Francis Day – 18th Sunday after Pentecost – Season of Creation 5

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20
Isa 5:1-7
2nd Reading
Phil 3:4b-14
Phil 4:6-9
Matt 21:33-46
by Rev Nathan Empsall, MEM; Episcopal priest in New Haven, Connecticut, USA; editor of Episcopal Climate News; and campaigns director for Faithful America


Today is not just the 18th Sunday after Pentecost, or even just the final Sunday in the Season of Creation. It is also the annual Feast of St. Francis, patron saint of animals and ecology. The Episcopal Church’s Lesser Feasts and Fasts describes St. Francis as “the most popular and admired [saint], but probably the least imitated.”

All four of this week’s readings have something to say about creation. What would it mean to take the readings together, and interpret them in light of the life of St. Francis?

Hearing and Interpreting the Word

Comments on Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20

The design of creation is that of an interconnected web, where no strand can be pulled without unraveling the entire thing. Climate change is the most urgent example of this interconnection: Eating too much meat in Europe increases the size of wildfires in the United States; driving gas guzzling SUVs here in the USA helps destroy the coral reefs of Australia; burning coal in Australia can cause drought in Africa.

Literally everything on Earth is connected to the earth, and thus shares a connection with everything else. This includes the Ten Commandments, each of which has an environmental connection of its own. Let’s consider three of the ten, letting these examples remind us that all of our actions impact the whole of creation.

Exodus 20:8: “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.” As humans, we have lived far beyond our limits, consuming too much, reproducing too widely, and taking more from God’s earth than we give. What would it look like if western society decided that ever-increasing production and growth were not the ultimate values, and started taking a day off from time to time to just “be” rather than “do”? Perhaps if we took our own rest more seriously, the planet would be able to rest and heal as well.

Exodus 20:15: “You shall not steal.” Thanks to climate change, ancient glaciers are melting; the Great Barrier Reef is dying; and a sixth mass extinction has begun. These features of creation existed for thousands of years, revealing God’s glory to nearly every human generation – until now. By constantly burning our fossil fuels, living beyond our means, and prioritizing profit above all else, we are stealing the treasures of the earth from future generations.

Exodus 20:16: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Here in the USA, one of our two main political parties routinely denies the reality of climate science, blocking all attempts to solve the problem. Like the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori says, we must name such climate denial on the part of western corporations and lawmakers for what it is: False witness, and thus, a sin.

Comments on Psalm 19

Theologians Douglas Moo and Jonathan Moo call this psalm “creation’s testimony,” writing, “In Psalm 19:1, we learn that ‘the heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of his hands.’ They do not use human words (v. 3), and yet their voice is heard through the earth, accessible to all (v. 4).”

According to Psalm 19, God’s glory is revealed not just in Scripture but also in nature, where the whole of creation proclaims God’s greatness with a language far more vibrant than any human tongue. This makes it the perfect passage for St. Francis Day, since St. Francis himself made nearly the same point in his beautiful 13th century hymn, “Canticle of Brother Sun and Sister Moon.”

“Praised be You, my Lord, through Brothers Wind and Air,
And fair and stormy, all weather’s moods,
by which You cherish all that You have made.

“Praised be You my Lord through Sister Water,
So useful, humble, precious and pure.

“Praised be You my Lord through Brother Fire,
through whom You light the night and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong.”

(It is from this canticle that Pope Francis drew the name of his powerful ecological encyclical, Laudato Si, which is Latin for “Praised be.”)

Comments on Philippians 3:4b-14

Paul begins this passage with what might seem like bragging, but is in fact a subversion of societal norms. He has a resume and a lineage that his peers would consider exemplary, and recites it all in a way that starts to sound downright boastful – only to shock those peers by declaring it all worthless: “Whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ… For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish.”

A key question Christians must ask ourselves, over and over again, is this: How would my life be different if I was not a Christian? If we cannot answer that question, then we must consider the possibility that we are following society’s norms, not Christ’s, for Jesus subverts and changes everything about human society. The challenge of our faith is to set aside the greed, destruction, and selfishness that Western society demands we follow and instead seek “to know Christ and the power of his resurrection.”

One trap the preacher must avoid when interpreting Philippians is considering creation itself part of the “rubbish” that “lies behind,” viewing earth as the opposite of “the heavenly call.” There are some evangelical preachers who claim it’s okay to pollute and litter since we’re leaving the earth behind for heaven anyway – but nothing could be further from the truth. Remember that in his letter to the Romans, Paul makes a very similar point as Psalm 19: All of creation praises the Lord. This means that, approached in the right fashion, creation can actually help us to know Christ, and is not part of the powers or principalities that we should consider “loss.”

Comments on Matthew 21:33-46

The very setting for this Gospel reading reminds us of the centrality of the natural creation to God’s kingdom: A vineyard at harvest time.

Most modern Bibles give this parable a heading like “The Wicked Tenants.” It is the story of a group of renter-farmers who abuse the land and abuse their neighbors, even to the point of killing the landlord’s son, believing they can keep all the profits for themselves. Yet ultimately, their abuse of the land and of others is counterproductive, leading to their own “miserable death.”

Like the pharisees, we must ask ourselves: Are we the new tenants who will produce the fruits of the kingdom? Or are we the wicked tenants, living a lifestyle beyond our limits that destroys everything it touches? Like the tenants, whenever we abuse creation – its land, its water, or its people – we abuse ourselves.

It is worth noting that this same chapter of Matthew began with the triumphal entry into Jerusalem, as observed on Palm Sunday. By entering the city through the east gate on a donkey with palms, Jesus deliberately contrast himself with the Roman governor Pilate, who entered through the west gate with what Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan describe as “a visual panoply of imperial power: cavalry on horses… banners… sun glinting on metal and gold.”

First Jesus established a visual contrast between his kingdom of love and the humility and the Empire’s, then he used parables to underscore the choice facing his disciples. It is still a choice we face us today: Love and humility towards our neighbors and creation? Or continued greed and destruction in the shadow of the powers and principalities?

Preaching the Word with St. Francis

St. Francis, born in 1181, grew up wealthy, only to renounce his family’s wealth and devote himself to serving the poor as well as animals. He was the rare camel who did indeed fit through the eye of a needle, recognizing as did Paul that his riches were loss. Francis went on to found the Franciscan orders (which began with vows of extreme poverty) in 1209.

Francis’ service to the poor and his love of nature are, in many ways, the same thing today. Climate change impacts everyone but no one more than the poor and marginalized, who often cannot afford to deal with the costs of relocation or ecological disaster. St. Francis would be the first to recognize the need for environmental justice: We cannot serve the poor without also caring for creation.

Something that I don’t think is discussed often enough about St. Francis is that he was a war veteran who suffered from what we now recognize as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). In 1202, as Paul Moses writes in Commonweal magazine, Francis “saw men he knew since childhood torn limb from limb in a devastating battle, and was taken prisoner for a year, thrown in a dark, damp hole in the ground. This left Francis a broken man.”

Francis’s own trauma led him to identify with others in their trauma, opposing warfare and spending time with the poor, lepers, and other outcasts – just like Jesus. It was through his radical service to the poor, as well his new communities and their travels through the Italian mountains, that he began to find some measure of healing.

There is a great deal that we need healing from today: War, famines and plagues, systemic racism, the coronavirus pandemic, and of course climate change itself. Right now, far too many of us are on the path of the wicked tenants, sabotaging ourselves by sabotaging all that is around us. Perhaps – like Francis, Paul, and Jesus himself – we could begin to find healing by turning away from the pursuit of material profit, and towards the beauty of God in creation.

Living the Word

Through the Ten Commandments, we see the need to protect creation with all that we do. Through the examples of the psalmist and St. Francis, we see the need to connect with Christ through creation – a connection that cannot happen if we destroy nature rather than protecting it.

What does it mean to protect creation? In the Sustainable Preaching notes for September 6, Bishop Geoff Davies gave us an important list of vital actions for churches to take, including reducing food waste, ending fossil fuels, and pressuring politicians to act.

I would only add to that list that we must make sure our actions are motivated not by economics or politics, but by faith. Everything we do for creation must have the Creator as its foundation, or it will be rootless and blow away like so much dust in the wind.

This is what made St. Francis so special, and his ministries and orders so successful: Not his unwavering service to the poor or the earth, but his underlying devotion to Christ, which made his service possible.

What Francis understood was that his ministries and values were means to an end, not ends in and of themselves. They were outgrowths of his devotion to his loving creator. We can’t serve the poor simply because it feels good. We can’t “go green” purely for economic reasons. It was only when Francis realized that there was something bigger than himself, a God who required his complete and utter devotion, that he found joy and began to do good things for creation.

Francis’s example isn’t simply doing good works and loving the earth. If that’s the example we’re trying to copy, we won’t succeed. His example is that we need to decenter ourselves as individuals. We need to root our worldview in our neighbors, our surroundings, and above all, in God. This outlook isn’t just a temporary act that takes a few minutes each day; it is an entire way of living and of being, pervading every moment of life. Love is not an emotion, but a state in which we dwell. When we devote ourselves to God in this way, there we will find joy, love, and freedom – and there we will find the grace to share that joy and love with all of creation: with the poor, with animals, with friends, and with the earth itself.

by Nathan Empsall, Connecticut, USA

17th Sunday after Pentecost – Season of Creation 4

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 17:1–7
Ezek 18:25-28
2nd Reading
Phil 2:1–13
Matt 21:23–32
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:

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.


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


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
105:1-6, 37-45
2nd Reading
Phil 1:21-30
Matt 20:1-16
by Canon Rev Dr Janet Trisk, South Africa

There is enough for our need, not our greed


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


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 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.


[i] Chris Haslam Comments and Clippings 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
2nd Reading
Rom 14:1–12
Matt 18:21–35
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


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.)


[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
2nd Reading
Rom 13:8-14
Matt 18:15-20
by Bishop Geoff Davies, South Africa

The Greatest Commandment – Love your  neighbour


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


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.


“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.


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


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 17, 13th Sunday after Pentecost [by Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Jer 15:15-21
Jer 20:7-9
2nd Reading
Rom 12:9-21
Rom 12:1-2
Matt 16:21-28
by Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, Rector Trinity Episcopal Church in Everett, WA, Shackan First Nation

Prior to this moment in the narrative arch of the Gospel of Mathew, life has seemed pretty good to the apostles – maybe they had experienced a novel moment or two in their life with Jesus, but those moments only reinforced their beliefs that Jesus was sent by God. In last week’s Gospel reading, we heard Peter proclaim Jesus as the Messiah, the Son of the living God. Having identified Jesus as the Messiah, the apostles were then confronted with their own assumptions and biases about the very idea of a messiah.

Among the ancient Hebrew culture, the messiah was conceived from their particular cultural experience and social history such that when Peter declared that Jesus was the Messiah, he had in mind a warrior-king like David, one who would drive out the Romans and liberate the Israelites. The messiah was supposed to overthrow their oppressors, heal all ills, bring mighty justice to the peoples, and wreak vengeance on their enemies. The Romans had been foreign occupiers in Judea since 63BC, when Roman legions laid siege of Jerusalem. As colonizers, they imposed Roman law and levied taxes against the Israelites to help support their occupation. They led by the threat of violence, through the presence of an occupying military force, the usurpation and control of local resources, and by slaughtering the rightful civil and religious leaders of the tribes of Israel in order to replace them with the creatures of empire. The difficulty with having expectations – even of a Messiah – is that expectations are actually limitations that can keep people from becoming who they are meant to be. The expectations of those following Jesus threatened to bind him in a way far more thwarting of God’s plan than crucifixion.

Sometimes the very people we love the most can be stumbling blocks to our ability to journey to where we feel truly called to be in life. The expectations of others can trip us up, contributing to self-loathing for the disappointment that may we cause parents or others by fulfilling their expectations of who they think we ought to be or what others think we ought to be doing. “I love you, I only want the best for you” can become a cudgel of force beating down on the heads of those who would like to please the people they care about but desperately seek to be understood and accepted for who they really are. When Peter recognizes Jesus as the Messiah, his affirmation sounds powerfully accepting of Jesus’ true nature. Yet, when Peter learns of the kind of messiah that Jesus means to be, Peter rejects that understanding – in no way does going to Jerusalem in order to be tortured and killed sound like any version of messianic mission with which Peter is familiar or that he would want.

In truth, Jesus was a warrior-king but not the kind that Peter and the apostles expected.

Jesus is doing something new and living into a type of kingship while leading his followers into a different kind of battle than that of violence and hatred. The Messiah that Jesus is called to be is a kingship not fueled by vengeance and retribution but one that rules by forgiveness, mercy, and love. He is challenging the powers of empire in a way that refuses to perpetuate the violence of empire. As Messiah, Jesus seeks to be enthroned in people’s hearts, not in their palaces. As Messiah, Jesus gathers around followers who will be his ministers of healing in body, mind, and spirit of all those traumatized and weary of exploitation and injustice. He does not arm his followers with weapons of war but with the spiritual medicine kit of the Good News.  The message that the Kingdom of Heaven is here is not meant to intimidate and oppress the people but to bring them joy and freedom. Liberation from the expectations of empire is possible when we leave behind what binds us to it through human measures of success and security.

The journey to Jerusalem is one of victory over fear, even the fear of failure. Our faith tells us that when Jesus died, he did not fail, though it might have seemed so to those whose expectations were limited by a narrow understanding of the power of love. For it was love for Jesus that ultimately compelled the apostles to leave the upper room and travel back into the world of empire and turn it on its head with a message of hope. It is love that brings generations of Christians to the lip of the baptismal font, either brought in the arms of family or brought by their own compassion. It is love that empowers us to let one another go so that we might make our individual journey to our Jerusalem and there to become the self and world that God intends for all to know – repairers of the breach, creating a place for all to live in. A world founded in love and committed to peace and justice for all is a new creation worthy of an unexpected Messiah.

So, do not let anyone keep you from your journey to Jerusalem, and I will meet you there – in that place where mercy and truth meet together and righteousness and peace kiss each other and all are called Beloved.

by Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, Shackan First Nation

Proper 16, 12th Sunday after Pentecost [by Bishop Kito]

RCL Lections:
Lesson Isaiah 51:1-6 Words of Comfort to Jerusalem
Psalm 138 A Prayer of Thanksgiving
Epistle Romans 12:1-8 Life in God’s Life in God’s Service
Gospel Matthew 16:13-20 Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

Roman Catholic Lections:
Lesson Isa 22:19-23; Epistel Romans 11:33-36; Gospel see above

by The Rt Rev’d Te Kitohi Pikaahu, New Zealand


Living God, you sent your Son Jesus to your people.
Embolden your church to proclaim Jesus as Messiah, and to trust in him. Through Jesus Christ our Liberator, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

 I runga i te ingoa o te Matua, o te Tama me te Wairua Tapu. Amine.
In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

‘But who do you say that I am?’

For an indigenous person, especially for Maori, the right response to the Jesus’ question to the disciples, begins with my own understanding and knowledge of who I am, my cultural identity.

The first thought is always; ‘who am I’ in relation to the world around me, my connection to the natural world, my bond to my ancestral land, my link to the environment.

Who am I in connection to my maunga (mountain)? Who am I in connection with my awa (river)? Who am I in connection with my moana (sea)?

The next thought is; ‘who am I’ in relation to my waka (canoe), my iwi (tribe), to my kainga (home), and to my whanau (immediate and extended family).

I am a human being. I belong somewhere, and I belong to someone. As a member of my tribe, a descendant of my ancestors, a relative to all my relations, I can never be separated from them, whether by choice or circumstance.

The ‘who am I’ question can be answered more accurately by someone who knows who they are, and to whom they belong.

We know who we are firstly by where we belong.

That is my ngahere (forest), my roto (lake), my whenua tapu (sacred lands) because my ancestors lived there. They hunted there. They gathered their food from that place. They tended their gardens there. They gave birth and raised their children there. They buried their dead there.

There is always someone who will know your identity, and where you belong, even though that knowledge might be lost to you.

For example, for me, I am the son of my 2 parents. I am the grandson of my 4 grandparents. I am the great grandson of my 8 great grandparents. The great great grandson of my 16 great great grandparents.

I am the nephew of my mother’s 18 brothers and sisters, and of my father’s 11 siblings. I am the brother of my 11 brothers and 1 sister. I am a first cousin to my 160 first cousins, and so on.

I am who am I in relation to the world around me, and in relation to the family, to the tribe and community I belong to.

Our own identity is engrained into each of us. We are taught the stories of our people by our elders and parents. For me the stories begin at the time of the arrival of the canoes in these Islands. To me that is 17 generations in one descent line. The most recent arrival is only as recent as 14 generations, roughly 500-600 years ago.

Jesus, in asking his disciples the question, ‘what people were saying about him, was concerned that whatever people were murmuring about him, that it must be correct.

He was concerned that they were relying on rumour or hearsay. He was concerned that they were merely repeating what others were saying for the sake of saying something.

As it was, what they were saying was not only incorrect, it was false, and far from the truth. More to the point, they should not have been content with what they were hearing.

Did they consider correcting the narrative? Did they think about putting those voices right? Did it enter their minds that they could have helped people to understand for their own good and salvation?

Should they have known more? Should they have known better? Should they have least known the difference between Jesus and Elijah, Jesus and Jeremiah, and Jesus and John the Baptist?

The answer to these last three questions, is yes.

Jesus wasn’t satisfied that the people were just taking a stab in the dark.

It seemed to him that his disciples were just dumbfounded and perhaps didn’t care.

When he directed the question to their own knowledge of his identity, only Simon Peter had the courage to come out with the truth.

He knew Jesus’ whakapapa (ancestry). He knew where Jesus came from. He was very much like himself.

He was clear about Jesus’ mana (spiritual power and integrity). He had seen Jesus perform many miracles.

He was certain about Jesus’ tapu (authority and righteousness). He had witnessed to his teaching and preaching.

Simon Peter never had an ounce of doubt. He knew Jesus’ true identity.

His confession of Jesus, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God,’ revealed Jesus’ real identity.

Jesus’ response to Simon Peter, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven,’ is a revelation to him.

In his confession of the identity of Jesus, Simon Peter’s own identity, in turn, is revealed to him. ‘And I tell you, you are Peter.’ Only when we confess Jesus as Messiah, the Son of the living God, only then is our true identity is revealed to us, our identity in Christ.

This is our Christ name, our Christ identity.

It becomes our tuapapa (foundation) in Christ. It is our turangawaewae (our standing place/rock) in Christ.

Our real identity, our identity in Christ is made known to us by Jesus, when we confess him as Saviour and Lord.

Our new identity, our true identity, our real identity is that which is revealed to us in Jesus Christ. We are given a new identity in our confession of Christ. Jesus confirms our new identity by giving us a new name.

Not only that, we are given power to live out our new life in Christ.

The Church is founded on our personal confession of Jesus Christ. The mana (power) in the form of the keys of heaven is granted to Peter, the rock.

That power, that authority is for one purpose. It is to overcome the gates of Hades. To defeat evil in the world, and to conquer sin on earth.

It is to bind and loose on earth, which in turn, will bind and loose in heaven. Whatever happens on earth will have the same effect in heaven.

For an indigenous Christian person, I stand as an individual before God and Christ. I am not alone in Christ’s family. I do not live in isolation as a full member of God’s tribe, of the household of God.

I am not alone in my whanau (family) and iwi (tribe). I belong to the community of God by virtue of the fact that I know who I am, and whose am I. I belong to Christ who has revealed to me my true and full identity.

In Christ my real identity is revealed to me. It is affirmed to me daily, and is the reason why I can say, and why I must say with St Paul, with utter confidence and complete assurance,

19For through the law I died to the law, so that I might live to God. I have been crucified with Christ; 20and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God,* who loved me and gave himself for me. Galatians 2.19-20

Kia hora te marino.
Kia whakapapa pounamu te moana.
Kia tere te karohirohi i mua i to huarahi.

May peace be widespread.
May the sea glisten like the greenstone.
May the shimmer of light dance before your path.

And to add the words of the psalmist:
May God bless your coming in, and your going out,
from this day forth and forever more.

by The Rt Rev’d Te Kitohi Pikaahu