Proper 9, 5th Sunday after Pentecost [by Rev Dave Bookless PhD)

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Zech 9:9-12
both
Psalm
145:8-14
2nd Reading
Rom 7:15-25a
Rom 8:9,11-13
Gospel
Matt 11:16-19,25-30
both
by Rev Dave Bookless PhD, A Rocha International

SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS

Zechariah 9:9-12: This is a Messianic passage, anticipating the coming of a righteous but humble King (with echoes of Palm Sunday as the King rides on the foal of a donkey). The key message is the rule of ‘peace’ or Shalom that the Messianic King comes to bring, This peace is for the whole world – it stretches from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth (v.10). It involves not only peace in the sense of an end to wars, but freedom for prisoners, and a restoration of what has been lost. In terms of ecological application, the term Shalom refers to restored relationships in every area of life: within ourselves, with God, with our human neighbours, and throughout creation. Shalom reminds us of the scope of the Gospel – God’s Good News, which of course with New Testament eyes we see focussed on Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not simply a spiritual transaction, but about the restoration of God’s rule – the kingdom of the just and humble King – in every sphere of the created order. The Zechariah passage clearly shares this ‘big picture’ view of the rule of God over all of human society and over all of creation. It refers too to ‘my covenant with you’ (v.11). All biblical covenants are God’s initiative in love and grace, and all biblical covenants build on the original covenant in Genesis 9, which is not only with humanity but with ‘every living creature on the earth’.

Psalm 145:8-14: This Psalm contains the wonderful words “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (v.9). God’s goodness and compassion extend to the whole of creation, not just to people. This is very important theologically and ethically. It has implications for how we understand God’s loving and redeeming purposes for animals, birds, plants and ecosystems. It also has implications for how we, as those called to reflect God’s image, treat our fellow creatures. We are to exercise the same love and compassion as God does towards all creatures. The word ‘racham’ translated as compassion, or in other places as ‘mercy’ or ‘tender love’, is a powerful deeply-emotional term with its Hebrew roots in term for ‘womb’. God’s feeling towards his creatures, and all his creation, is that of a mother towards her child, and we should seek to discern and discover the same protective, passionate intimacy in our relation with our fellow creatures and our earthly home. We should seek to live without cruelty to fellow creatures that God is compassionate towards. This has clear implications for our attitudes to meat or dairy products that are produced by intensive and cruel farming methods, and to animal testing or experimentation. More positively, we should support wildlife conservation, habitat restoration and wildlife-friendly gardening.

Romans 7:15-25a: The first seven chapters of Romans contain St Paul’s fullest overview of the human need for salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. Chapter 8, which follows this passage, puts the human salvation story in a cosmic context of God’s good purposes for all creation, which is longing to be liberated from its bondage to decay (8:21). However, in these verses the focus is on our personal inner struggle between our sinful nature, subject to the law of sin and death, and our identity in Jesus Christ (7:25) as those freed from sin to live by grace. We can apply verses 18-19 ecologically: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” Many of us struggle with knowing what we should do (recycle more, avoid plastics, reduce polluting travel) and the temptations of an easy consumer-materialist life. Rather than wallowing in guilt and wretchedness (v.24) we should focus on our life in Christ (v.25). We are not called to become slaves to ecological legalism (eco-Pharisees) but are set free to be disciples of Jesus. Our response in caring for creation, reducing our carbon footprint, and living sustainably, should flow out of our loving, worshipful response to Jesus, who is Lord of creation (Colossians 1:15-16), not out of guilt and duty.

Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30: At first reading, this seems a strange and disconnected series of verses, and impossible to relate to sustainability! Yet, on closer inspection, there are several important insights contained here. In vs.16-19 Jesus contrasts John the Baptist’s ascetic, simple lifestyle with his own more celebratory, community-orientated, perhaps even consumerist (!) lifestyle, and points out how both were criticised, condemned and judged by people. As we noted with our Epistle from Romans, it is easy for Christians who are concerned about environmental and justice issues to become judgmental about others who live differently. It is God’s job to judge, not ours. The important thing is to look at the fruit our lives produce for God’s Kingdom: “wisdom is proved right by her deeds” (v.19). The reference to wisdom is important. Biblical wisdom, as opposed to human wisdom, is rooted in knowledge of God and the study of nature / creation. Solomon, the wisest man who lived, gained God-given wisdom by his study of plants, animals and birds (1 Kings 4:33). Professor Ellen Davis writes, “It is regrettable that the church has in the last three centuries largely lost sight of the fact that ‘nature wisdom’ is indispensable to an accurate estimation of the proper human role in God’s creation. Perhaps the time has at last come for the revival of this branch of theology” [Ellen Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, 2000, 56]. Jesus, with his frequent use of nature to base his teaching and parables on, stood consciously in the Old Testament wisdom tradition. If we want to live wisely today, we need to study natural systems and mimic them more closely. The other insight is from v.25 where Jesus praises his Father who has “hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children.” This doesn’t contradict what we’ve just looked at on wisdom – the Bible often contrasts human wisdom, gained by knowledge, discussion and study alone, with the biblical wisdom that is rooted in knowing God and studying nature. Today, as we face both a Climate Crisis and a Biodiversity Crisis, all in midst of a pandemic, the wisdom of our politicians, economists and academics has worn thin. We need to listen to children, to young prophetic voices like Greta Thunberg from Sweden, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, and Vanessa Nakate from Uganda. We also need to listen to the voices of indigenous and marginalised peoples across the world: those who often have the deeply rooted nature wisdom are technocentric societies have lost, and those who are the victims of the groaning of creation today.

SECTION TWO – SERMON OUTLINE: WISDOM IN A TIME OF CRISIS

We are in the middle of a triple crisis: the COVID-19 pandemic, the Climate Crisis, and the Biodiversity Crisis. All of these relate to how we treat nature. COVID-19, along with many other viruses, has crossed over from wild animals to human beings because of our destruction of natural habitats and exploitation of wildlife. The Climate Crisis is far bigger, but has been treated as less urgent, because it threatens the lives of the poorest and most marginal first but, according to all the experts, we have at most only a few years to avoid complete climate breakdown. The biodiversity crisis is least talked about but perhaps the most worrying of all. We all know how pollinators are vital for food production. They are just one example of the interdependence of all natural systems. We cannot live without the oxygen, water, food, and many other services that healthy nature produces, and yet it is being depleted year on year. So, in this context, what wisdom can the Bible give us?

From our Gospel, we hear about two kinds of wisdom. In Matthew 11:19 Jesus commends wisdom that is proved right by her deeds, whereas in v.25 Jesus praises his Father who has ‘hidden these things from the wise and learned’. The ‘wise and learned’ are those who rely on human wisdom: what is gained from the abstract study of books, from human-centred philosophies and knowledge. Today, as we face both a Climate Crisis and a Biodiversity Crisis, all in the midst of a pandemic, the wisdom of our politicians, economists and academics has worn thin. Our so-called experts don’t seem to know what to do, or how to cope. We need a different kind of wisdom. Jesus tells us this has been “revealed to little children”. Sometimes children can see the stupidity of adults very clearly. We need to listen to children, to young prophetic voices like Greta Thunberg from Sweden, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, and Vanessa Nakate from Uganda. We also need to listen to the voices of indigenous and marginalised peoples across the world: those who often have the deeply rooted nature wisdom are technocentric societies have lost, and those who are the victims of the groaning of creation today.

You see, biblical wisdom is very different from human wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 says ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ Wisdom comes in knowing our place before God, our creator and saviour, and from knowing our place in creation. In the Old Testament, and in Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, wisdom is found both in knowing God and in studying nature. Solomon, the wisest man who lived, gained God-given wisdom by his study of plants, animals and birds (1 Kings 4:33). Professor Ellen Davis writes, “It is regrettable that the church has in the last three centuries largely lost sight of the fact that ‘nature wisdom’ is indispensable to an accurate estimation of the proper human role in God’s creation. Perhaps the time has at last come for the revival of this branch of theology” [Ellen Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, 2000, 56]. Jesus, with his frequent use of nature to base his teaching and parables on, stood consciously in the Old Testament wisdom tradition. If we want to live wisely today, we need to study natural systems and mimic them more closely. We also need to listen to those indigenous communities who have never forgotten how to learn from, and live well within, nature, and to those scientists who dedicate their lives to studying and protecting wildlife and ecosystems.

So, what does this God-centred, nature-studying wisdom look like in practice?

First, it is relational: Biblical wisdom comes from understanding that our fundamental relationships are with God, our human neighbours, and the earth and its creatures. We need to ensure that we have healthy relationships with all of these. Without God, we tend to either worship creation, or exploit if selfishly. Without loving our neighbour, we fail to love God or ourselves. Without knowing our place in creation, we are rootless and damage all that is around us. We need to work hard on all three of these core relationships. In terms of nature, we need to know our local place: to be aware of the changes that are happening, to know the names and habits of the wildlife and the uses of the plants that are native to our local area. We need to feel deep within ourselves, the groaning of God’s Spirit at the wounding of the earth by our greed and pollution.

Secondly, it is compassionate:  Our Psalm contains these wonderful words: “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (v.9). God’s goodness and compassion extend to the whole of creation, not just to people. This is very important theologically and ethically. It has implications for how we understand God’s loving and redeeming purposes for animals, birds, plants and ecosystems. It also has implications for how we, as those called to reflect God’s image, treat our fellow creatures. We are to exercise the same love and compassion as God does towards all creatures. The word ‘racham’ translated as compassion, or in other places as ‘mercy’ or ‘tender love’, is a powerful deeply-emotional term with its Hebrew roots in term for ‘womb’. God’s feeling towards his creatures, and all his creation, is that of a mother towards her child, and we should seek to discern and discover the same protective, passionate intimacy in our relation with our fellow creatures and our earthly home. We should seek to live without cruelty to fellow creatures that God is compassionate towards. This has clear implications for our attitudes to meat or dairy products that are produced by intensive and cruel farming methods, and to animal testing or experimentation. More positively, we should support wildlife conservation, habitat restoration and wildlife-friendly gardening.

Thirdly, it is Jesus-centred. Our Old Testament reading from Zechariah is a Messianic passage, anticipating the coming of a righteous but humble King who rides on the foal of a donkey. The key message is the rule of ‘peace’ or Shalom that the Messianic King comes to bring, This peace is for the whole world – it stretches from sea to sea and to the ends of the earth (v.10). The term Shalom refers to restored relationships in every area of life: within ourselves, with God, with our human neighbours, and throughout creation. Shalom reminds us of the scope of the Gospel – God’s Good News, which of course with New Testament eyes we see focussed on Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not simply a spiritual transaction, but about the restoration of God’s rule – the kingdom of the just and humble King – in every sphere of the created order. For us as Christ-ians, followers of Jesus, caring for creation flows out of making Jesus our King – letting him be Lord in every area of our lives. It is not about a list of ecological commandments to make us feel guilty. It is about a relationship of love and a response of worship.

So, as we tackle the triple crisis we face – COVID-19, Climate and Biodiversity – let us learn to live wisely in God’s world: to work intentionally on our relationships with God, with our neighbours – particularly the most vulnerable – and with creation. Let us seek to reflect and develop God’s motherly compassion towards all people and all creatures. And, let us do all of this with Jesus at the centre, because all things were made by Him and for Him, and as we care for creation in His name, we demonstrate that Jesus is Lord.

by Rev Dave Bookless PhD, A Rocha, UK

Proper 8, 4th Sunday after Pentecost [by Adam North]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 22:1-14
2 Kgs 4:8-16
Psalm
13
2nd Reading
Rom 6:12-23
Rom 6:3-4,8-11
Gospel
Matt 11: 16-19, 25-30
Matt 10:37-42
by Adam North – Lay Reader-St Peters Hall Green, Diocese of Birmingham, Church of England and USPG Volunteer

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Old Testament – Genesis 22:1-14 

The story of the near sacrifice of Isaac. What does this violent story of attempted filicide have to tell us? For me on first reading this story I feel horror. This is because I am reading it in the present with the perspective of the past. How I need to read it is with the perspective of the past, present and future.

It is in this story of Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac that God gives us the ability to see a little bit farther as God sees. God requires trust from us; sometimes we will be asked to go to places and do things that we are not sure of. It is in the journey that God’s will is revealed because we have feared and trusted God. Because of this trust, just like with Abraham and Isaac, when the will of God is revealed to us it will be as if we have always known it.

Abraham calls this place ‘the Lord will provide’. We have to Journey to this mountain in our hearts and minds wherever we find ourselves: office, workplace, park or home. It is an eternal promise – the Lord will provide.

Psalm 13

Thirteen is supposedly an unlucky number. I have lost track of the number of times I have prayed with this psalm. Suffering as I do from Depression, Anxiety and PTSD, there are times when this world feels very dark and full of pain. This Psalm is an anchor to hold onto and can return me to the knowledge of God’s unfailing love and grace and makes me able to praise God in the darkest of times. When I pray with this Psalm I am full of pity and pain, but this psalm reminds me that I have known God’s presence in my life and that all is not sleep or death.

In the Old Testament times the concept of afterlife was not what we have now as Christians. The people of the Old Testament felt that when sleep happened that was as if we had died. Our Christian faith tells us when we fall asleep for the final time we are met by Christ and will share in eternal life and resurrection.

So pray this psalm when you are feeling at your lowest ebb. It will bring you hope and make you able to offer any situation to God in praise. It will remind you that God has, and will again, bring light into your life.

Epistle – Romans 6: 12-23

Sin. It always comes down to Sin. Many people believe that Paul is obsessed with sin, and so what if he is? If anyone should know the consequence of sin it is Paul. But what is Paul saying? In this passage Paul is reminding us that as Christians sin has died. It died with Christ in the crucifixion, which was a sufficient sacrifice. We still have the ability to sin, but the sins of our past are already reconciled through our Baptism whenever that may take place.

It doesn’t mean however that the consequence of those sins is erased. We have to be very careful, an abuser may have abused many in the past and the consequences of that sinning lives on in the abused lives and the sin must never be repeated again. Paul murdered many followers of Christ in his time as Saul, the consequences of those actions continued to haunt him. But grace from God was his saving and that enabled him to preach Christ crucified, dead, risen and ascended. God gave him that grace and gives it to us as well. The structural sins in our society still have consequences so we must stop those sins.

Gospel – Matthew 11:16-19, 25-30

“Look a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” Yet wisdom is vindicated by her deeds.

In this passage Jesus is revealing that the generation which were there at that time were guilty of not listening to him preferring instead the burdensome structural religious legality of the day. First they rejected John, now they reject Jesus.

We can to be guilty of this in our denominations, as churches looking at that which separates rather than unites us. In Verses 25-30 Jesus is reminding us that however learned we are human wisdom is insufficient in understanding God. Those who were wise and learned were blinded by that knowledge maybe unable or unwilling to receive knowledge of God.

Instead Jesus calls to himself those on the margins of society, those who have little understanding of the societal structures which have enslaved them. Jesus frees them from structural Injustice, with Jesus rest is available. Not being condemned or exploited but grace, mercy, hope, peace and love.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

When I think on how peaceful the Black Live Matter protests have been, even after the brutal murder of George Floyd, it reminds me that simple peaceful actions can be born in response.

There is violence in the Abraham story – a Father prepared to brutally murder his own son. Isaac, after not being sacrificed, having known what his father had intended to do could quite easily have felt justified in taking that knife and killing Abraham. But he doesn’t. As we have seen with these protests, the best response to the atrocities that has caused them is peaceful; but it would be understandable if they were not.

Our Psalm offers us time and space to get perspective on life. It finds us at our lowest and ends with taking us to praise of the almighty God. Finding God’s light and peace.

In the epistle from Romans, Paul is reminding us that the consequence of sin lives on far after the sin was committed. That there is forgiveness and reconciliation from sin. But that sin remains in society and its unjust structures. Paul reminds us that we must be prepared to stand up against injustice and structural sin. The saying at the moment is that “silence is violence” and it’s true. We must confront sin head on, even -and especially- if we have ourselves been guilty of or contributed to that sin.

In our gospel reading Jesus is reminding us that human knowledge is written by human minds. If we really want to understand and be released from the oppression of structural injustice, we must be prepared to find the real and simple truths that are to be found in plain sight.

In conclusion we must remember those words of Nelson Mandela on his release from prison. “If I did not leave all the anger, hatred and bitterness behind, I would still be in prison”

Isaac did not take the knife against his father in revenge. Even when we feel like all hope is lost in the darkest of times, we can always turn to God and be found.

Sin of all kinds must be confronted but be carefully! These sins are complex and are found in our societal structures.

Truth is often to be found in plain sight – trust in God. Not blindly following those who are filled with human knowledge, but rather to seek the knowledge of God. That way Structural sin, social injustice and the status quo can be challenged and overturned in a peaceful way. This offers learning and understanding for the guilty, peace and reconciliation for the oppressed and ultimately grace, mercy, hope, peace and love.

As churches we must find a way to become more inclusive not exclusive and question leadership rather than blindly follow where God does not want us to go.

by Adam North, Diocese of Birmingham, UK

Proper 7, 3rd Sunday after Pentecost [by Rebecca Boardman]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 21:8-21
Jer 20:10-13
Psalm
86:1-10,16-18
2nd Reading
 Rom 6:1b-11
Rom 5:12-15
Gospel
Matt 10:24-39
both
by Rebecca Boardman, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), Regional Manager for East Asia, Oceania and Europe

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Old Testament

This passage continues the story of Hagar, Sarah, Abraham and their two sons Ishmael and Isaac. The first son, Ishmael was born to Abraham by Hagar –  an Egyptian slave, who is instructed to conceive a child for Abraham and Sarah due to their doubt in God’s promise that they would be the Father and Mother of nations. The second son– Isaac – was the fulfilment of this promise- a gift from God whereby Sarah conceived a child in her old age.

During the celebration of Isaac’s weaning we read of Sarah’s jealousy from observing her son Isaac with Ishmael (and maybe memories of humiliation and disgrace from memories of being childless for so long) which results in Sarah instructing Hagar and Ishmael to be cast out. Vs 10 reads “Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.”

As Hagar is wondering in Desert of Beersheba without water she calls out to God. God hears and the angel of God tells her “Do not be afraid, for God has heard the boy crying as he lies there”. God hears the cry of those abandoned hears as we call out at injustice, unfairness or in helplessness. It is the voice of the boy that God responds to. How does this relate to the voices of people across our planet calling out injustice: demanding leaders take action; striking in the Fridays for Future movement, joining Black Lives Matter marches?

In our modern day understanding this is a horrendous passage of injustice. I wonder what aspects of our society today future generations will find equally unjust and horrifying?

Psalm

Psalm 86 is entitled a “Prayer of David” it is not believed to have been written for a particular occasion but for use during difficult days. It is a beautiful Psalm of ‘supplication for help against enemies’. As a prayer it is similar to the Lord’s Prayer in being a model prayer including thanksgiving, petition and adoration.

Epistle

In the Chapter preceding this we read that the gift of God’s abundant provision of grace, through Jesus Christ, is an answer to human sin. In this chapter Paul is responding to his audience, answering the question of whether to increase the provision of grace people should just keep on sinning? In answering “By no means!” Paul explains that in our baptism we receive an instruction/plea to be ‘dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ’. What parts of our individual/corporate lives really need to ‘die’ in order for us to be more ‘fully alive in Christ’. In what ways can we help one another in this?

Gospel

The gospel reading provides a model of discipleship followed by both an encouragement and a warning to Jesus’ disciples who have just received the ‘limited commission’ to preach the good news of the kingdom to the people of Israel. The passage speaks to the commitment of the disciples.

At the beginning of the passage (vs 24-25) we read a clear principle of discipleship – that the disciple is to become like the teacher – or in other words the goal for the disciples of Jesus Christ are to become as much like Jesus as possible.

Vs 26-28 The disciples are called not to fear, commanding them to speak boldly and publically (in a manner more open than Jesus’ ministry).

Vs 29-33 The disciples are encouraged and reminded about the power and sovereignty of God about how loved and valuable they are in the eyes of God (note: often vs29-31 are used in an anthropocentric way that validates that humans are more important than birds like Sparrows. It is important to consider the broader framing of this that shows God’s deep cares and concern for the sparrows, knowing and being with each one as they fall to the ground).

Vs 34-39 Jesus describes the ministry as one “not of peace, but a sword”. The disciples are warned that their mission is a difficult one. That like a sword it can create division. This is a challenging text and challenging task that requires integrity and truth-telling of the disciples to be put above their family relationships. And that like Jesus they should be prepared for humiliation, rejection and hardship.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Sarah had been the recipient of a wonderful gift from God. God had promised Abraham and Sarah that they would be the founders of a mighty nation. In spite of Sarah’s disbelieve, the conception of Isaac in their old age was the fulfilment of God’s promise to them.

By the time of the celebration of Isaac’s weaning – in today’s passage – we read about Sarah’s jealousy and fear of competition from Isaac’s brother Ishmael. She becomes defensive and does all she can to protect and control what she has. It is almost as if Sarah has forgotten the gifts that she has been given are of and from God.

Sarah – in her position of privilege – casts out Hagar and Ishmael to remove the threat that she believes that they pose her son. She does this knowing the hardship that will come upon Hagar.

For many of us our worlds are highly competitive. Our systems of consumption and a never ending desire for profit enables the few people who benefit to accumulate and protect their wealth at a huge cost to the majority of people and the planet. The climate and ecological crisis is a result of this.

Another example comes from this time of Covid-19. During the pandemic pre-existing structural inequalities have been exacerbated as billionaires have been getting richer whilst millions of families face unemployment, loss of health care benefits and food insecurity.

When do we, in wanting to protect what we have, do all that we can to keep our position of privilege no matter what the cost to other people or the planet? How easy is it for us to forget that the gifts that we have are not ours but come from God?

This question also speaks into the Black Lives Matter movement. Over the past two weeks’ streets across the USA and some other cities around the world have been filled with Black Lives Matter marches, protests and demonstrations calling out systematic racism and how ideas of white supremacy are captured across society, dominating and oppressing. The need to be anti-racist and challenge inherited privilege if we are ever to achieve justice have come to the fore.

Our further readings give us an idea of how to respond.

  1. Prayer –The injustice and brokenness of our world means that we are living in difficult days. Let us share in David’s prayer in Psalm 86. As a prayer it is similar to the Lord’s Prayer in being a model prayer including thanksgiving, petition and adoration – what other parallels do you see between the two prayers?
  2. Personal reflection, education and growth – in Romans 6 we read about the new life that we have in Christ. That we are to turn to Jesus, perfect in justice and love, and are set free from sin. How can we educate ourselves about the ways in which out privilege oppresses others? Acknowledging our transgressions is the first step in repenting and moving forward to a just and loving world modelled on Jesus Christ.
  3. Bold action embedded in integrity – as the disciples are warned that to live a life of Christ inspired integrity is hard. It will create divisions and they have to be aware of this even within their families. There may be ridicule, there may be humiliation. And yet we are not to fear.
    1. What does action with integrity look like in your community?
    2. How can you challenge systematic injustices with boldness?
    3. Make a pledge for action in the coming week

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Examples of Anglican Churches standing in solidarity with Black Lives Matter:

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa: https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2020/06/08/south-africa-religious-leaders-hold-black-lives-matter-prayer-vigils/

Diocese of Brasilia, Brazil: https://uspglive.org.uk/wpress/2020/06/black-lives-matter-a-statement-from-the-anglican-diocese-of-brasilia-brazil/?fbclid=IwAR2CO2Ho3LlmVIKmDL-KKpqq1eIdKb1q0PSzm4do3FNScJUGrIzmrQBoQgM

Anglican Communion Summary: https://www.episcopalnewsservice.org/2020/06/05/across-the-anglican-communion-leaders-speak-out-on-racial-justice-and-defend-protesters/

by Rebecca Boardman, USPG, UK

Photos from the Black Lives Matter march, Leicester, UK:
(images © Farah Ghouri)

Proper 6, 2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 21:1-7
Ex 19:2-6a
Psalm
100
2nd Reading
Rom 5:1-8
Rom 5:6-11
Gospel
Matt 9:35-10:8
both
by Revd. S. Balasundaram, Mission Secretary of the Church of Ceylon, Diocese of Colombo

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Genesis 21: 1-7

The Lord dealt with Sarah as he said, and the Lord did for Sarah as he had promised.

Sarah had borne the burden of childlessness for many years, a heavy burden in that culture and at that time. People must have smiled when they heard that her husband’s name was Abraham, meaning “father of a multitude.” He was the father of one son, Ishmael, but that was far from a multitude. As for Sarah herself, she had never given birth. No words can express her feelings of frustration, hopelessness, and helplessness. Only another childless woman can know what she went through all those years. But now all her reproach was ended, and they were rejoicing and laughing at the arrival of their son.
The birth of Isaac involved much more than parental joy. His birth meant the fulfilment of God’s promise. In Scripture it is recorded that God comforted Abraham and Sarah eight times with the promise of a son.

a)     Promising GOD

Psalm 100: 5

For the Lord is good; His steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations

A Psalm of Praise; or rather of thanksgiving. This is the only psalm bearing this precise inscription. It is all ablaze with grateful adoration and has for this reason been a great favorite with the people of God, ever since it was written. “Let us sing the Old Hundredth” is one of the every-day expressions of the Christian church, and will be so while men, exist whose hearts are loyal to the Great King. Nothing can be more sublime this side heaven than the singing of this noble psalm by a vast congregation.
In this divine lyric we sing with gladness the creating power and goodness of the Lord, even as before with trembling we adored his holiness.

b)     Faithful GOD

Romans 5: 8 –

But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.

But God commends his love towards us
That is, he hath manifested it, which was before hid in his heart; he has given clear evidence of it, a full proof and demonstration of it; he has so confirmed it by this instance, that there is no room nor reason to doubt of it; he has illustrated and set it off with the greater lustre by this circumstance of it,

In that while we were yet sinners Christ died for us.
God’s elect were sinners in Adam, in whom they were naturally and federally, as all mankind were; hence polluted and guilty; and so they are in their own persons whilst unregenerate: they are dead in sin, and live in it, commit it, are slaves unto it, and are under the power and dominion of it; and many of them are the chief and vilest of sinners; and such they were considered when Christ died for them: but are not God’s people sinners after conversion? yes; but sin has not the dominion over them; their life is not a course of sinning, as before; and besides, they are openly justified and pardoned, as well as renewed, and sanctified, and live in newness of life; so that their characters now are taken, not from their worse, but better part. And that before conversion is particularly mentioned here, to illustrate the love of God to them, notwithstanding this their character and condition; and to show that the love of God to them was very early; it anteceded their conversion; it was before the death of Christ for them; yea, it was from everlasting: and also to express the freeness of it, and to make it appear, that it did not arise from any loveliness in them; or from any love in them to him; nor from any works of righteousness done by them, but from his own sovereign will and pleasure

c)      Loving GOD

Matthew 9: 38

The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few

35-38 Jesus visited not only the great and wealthy cities, but the poor, obscure villages; and there he preached, there he healed. The souls of the meanest in the world are as precious to Christ, and should be so to us, as the souls of those who make the greatest figure. There were priests, Levites, and scribes, all over the land; but they were idol shepherds, Zec 11:17; therefore Christ had compassion on the people as sheep scattered, as men perishing for lack of knowledge. To this day vast multitudes are as sheep not having a shepherd, and we should have compassion and do all we can to help them. The multitudes desirous of spiritual instruction formed a plenteous harvest, needing many active labourers; but few deserved that character. Christ is the Lord of the harvest. Let us pray that many may be raised up and sent forth, who will labour in bringing souls to Christ. It is a sign that God is about to bestow some special mercy upon a people, when he stirs them up to pray for it. And commissions given to labourers in answer to prayer, are most likely to be successful

10: 1 Then Jesus summoned the twelve

d)     Calling GOD

References to all four passages:

As we reflect on the readings, we can listen to the still small voice of God speaking to us through scripture verses on four characteristics of God. Amidst of COVID – 19, and other challenges those characteristics are depicts the progressive revelation of God. God’s creation is not only the Environment around us but everything in the World. Therefore whenever we reflect and work towards sustainability of God’s creation, we are called to think about the whole creation of God which is the Universe. Therefore let us reflect GOD’s promise, GOD’s faithfulness, GOD’s Love and GOD’s call to ensure sustainability of the creation.

  • LINK TO THE WORLD: Link to a contemporary environmental / justice / sustainability issue.

We can admit the fact that it has a closer link with world we live today. Though people long for justice they often forgot that they are always unjust to the entire world. I am certain that from the time we wake up and till we go to bed, we are only worried about our survival and not at all worried about the creation/ the world/the place where live with all resources. Accumulation and Pollution are the two key words that can evaluate our day to day life.

  • THINK ABOUT GOD’S CALL: A challenge, invitation or teaching point that moves people forward in how they understand their relationship with God, others, themselves, and the world.

Therefore as we see in the exodus story that God sees, hears, and feels the agony in world and certainly wanted people to come forward to heal the world, as he called MOSES.
In the Gospel passage, Jesus saw a need and intended God’s intervention and he immediately acted by summoning disciples to give tasks. In other words, Jesus Saw the need, felt it, intended God’s will, and acted by delegating the work to his disciples. This can be called as PRAXIS.

  • RESPOND: ‘Take home message’)
  1. What is that preventing us to understand how great is our Lord GOD who wanted to see sustainability of this world through us?
  2. What/How do understand God’s promise, faithfulness, love and the great call in terms of sustainability of His creation?
  3. What is that enabling us to care God’s creation?

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

If you’ve ever doubted the power of just one person, this story might change your mind. Husband and wife Sri Bikkala Chikkayya and Saalumarada Thimmakka from southern India couldn’t have children, so they began to plant and care for trees instead. Now Thimmakka, who is around 105-years old, has planted approximately 300 trees. This effort gives the world a PROMISE, LOVE, FAITHFULNESS, AND CALL FOR SUSTAINABILITY OF GOD CREATION.

God of Life help us to understand your progressive revelation in our contexts as we are the stewards of your creation and enable us to know your promises, faithfulness, Love, and your Call!  Amen

by Revd. S. Balasundaram, Church of Ceylon

Trinity Sunday [by Rev Niza Santiago]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 1:1-2:4a
Ex 34:4-9
Psalm
8
2nd Reading
2 Cor 13:11-13
both
Gospel
Matt 28:16-20
John 3:16-18
by Rev. Niza Joy Santiago, Convention of Philippine Baptist Churches, doctoral candidate and scholar of Missionsakademie, Hamburg (Germany)

SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS

Genesis 1:1-2:4a

The Bible is opened with the creation story that presented who God is – the almighty and compassionate creator of everything. Paying attention to creating what else could complement to what God has created. God created everything considering the inter-relatedness and interconnectedness of the whole creation. God created everything by simply saying – through God’s words with the exception of human beings as God, as they were formed from the dust and breathed life into (2:7). God created human beings in God’s own image and charged them to be fill the earth and rule over the animals. Human beings were created with special attention and intricacy – fearfully and wonderfully made.

Psalm 8

This Psalm, also believed to have been written by David, proclaims praise to God for God’s power shown by the majesty of the stars and moon as well as God’s favour and love to human beings. Using the imagery of war and kingly reign, the psalmist expressed his thanksgiving for God’s protection and deliverance. The psalmist lifts up humankind in saying that God made human beings little less than a god, crowning our head with glory and honour, and master of over all creation.

Matthew 28:16-20

As Jesus was about to leave the disciples and ascend to the heavens, Jesus commissioned them to preach what he had taught them – spread the good news of God’s love, make disciples and baptizing them in the Name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In saying this, Jesus acknowledged the diverse characteristic of God, the trinity.

SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Subdue. Rule over. Dominion. Why were these words used? It’s as if the rest of the creation is subject to us, putting humankind above them and having power over them. And this has what we, the humankind has been doing. We have been ruling and having dominion over the rest of the creation and look at what has become of our rule. We have become greedy and has exploited God’s creation. We have killed animals and drove them to extinction. We have taken more than what we can consume.

Subdue. Rule over. Dominion. Why were these words used? How about: Love. Take care. Respect. If these words were used, would our behaviour towards the rest of the creation be any different?

Interconnectedness. Interrelatedness. Interdependency. There is a need for us not remember Jesus’ life and teachings which is love. Jesus came to this world to remind us of this. We were so preoccupied with subduing, ruling over and having dominion over others not just the animals and plants but we also tried to do so with our fellow human beings.

This interconnectedness, interrelatedness and interdependency is also exhibited by God’s characteristic. God is a community in Godself – Father, Jesus Christ and Holy Spirit. They all have distinct personhood and characteristics and yet are one.

In Andrey Rublev’s artistic interpretation of the Holy Trinity, the Holy Trinity is depicted as three distinct persons wearing distinct clothes occupying space and having space in between them. This space implies that each holds a distinct identity to which were made known to us, throughout history – God the Father in the Old Testament, God the Son in the person of Jesus Christ in the New Testament, and God the Holy Spirit who was with the early church and with us today. Three distinct personhoods yet are one, sharing the image of love, justice and peace. Three distinct persons and yet are interconnected, interrelated and interdependent.

In this time of internet and easy and fast connection to the rest of the world, our way of life has been disconnected from and apathetic towards the rest of the creation.  But now that COVID-19 has stopped humankind from moving, the earth was able to breathe. In this pandemic, many people suffered and died, many have lost their jobs, are hungry and are worried for themselves and their families. This pandemic has shown us how imbalanced the world has become. In this age of connectivity, we are ironically disconnected to the realities that divide human beings as well as our disconnection with the nature. In this age of connectivity, we only see ourselves and how we can better our lives. In this age of connectivity, we only think about our survival at the expense of others. In this age of connectivity, our idea of progress and development is killing animals, cutting trees and exploiting the nature.

As we celebrate the Trinity Sunday, celebrating the diversity and unity of Godself, let us assess ourselves and find the connection that we have with others – fellow human beings and the whole of creation. Let us not exempt ourselves from the web of life, for we are part of it. We are affected if we distort and disrespect this web, as we are experiencing now.

Let us recognize the space that we occupy and the space that we share with the rest of the creation. In recognizing this space, let us become mindful of our fellow creation and not become greedy and take more than what we can consume leaving others with less and the rest with nothing. In recognizing this space and becoming mindful of others in everything that we do incarnates the love of God and becomes the realization of the fullness of life for all.

SECTION THREE:  ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Russian icon of the Old Testament Trinity by Andrey Rublev, between 1408 and 1425 (see private photography by R. Boardman above)

Adiprasetya, J. and Sasongko, N. (2019), A Compassionate Space Making: Toward a Trinitarian Theology of Friendship, http://repository.stftjakarta.ac.id/wp-content/uploads/2017/08/Joas-Adiprasetya-Uji-Similarity-Ecumenical-Review-2019.pdf accessed May 29, 2020.

by Rev Niza Joy Santiago, Philippines / Hamburg (Germany)

Day of Pentecost [by Ian Souter]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

by Ian Souter, Bath (GB)

Ascension Day [by Rev Dr Rachel Mash]

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

ASCENSION DAY SERMON Christ the Lord

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

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

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

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

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

Lets us explore the Lordship of Christ

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

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

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

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

  1. The Creator Lord

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

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

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

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

  1. The Lord for whom Creation was made

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

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

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

  1. Christ, Lord and Saviour of the Universe

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Additional Material:

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

Dave Bookless : Planet Wise

by Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa

6th Sunday of Easter [by Revd Ruth Newton]

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

SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS

Acts 17:22.31

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

1 Peter 3 13-22

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

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

John 14. 15-21

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

SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

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

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

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

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

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

SECTION THREE:  ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

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

by Revd Ruth Newton, North Yorkshire

5th Sunday of Easter [by Rev Elizabeth Bussmann]

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

Introduction:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Peter recalls connections between past and present

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON, SERMON OUTLINE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SECTION THREE: ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Prayers:

Taizé Song:

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

Collect for this week:

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

Psalm 31 1-5, 15-16

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

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

A Prayer by Jill Duffield:

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

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

4th Sunday of Easter [by Keith Innes]

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

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

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

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

by Keith Innes