Proper 29 (34) / 26th Sunday after Pentecost [by Chris Walley]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Dan 7:9-10,13-14
Dan 7:2a,13b-14
Psalm
93
2nd Reading
Rev 1:4b-8
both
Gospel
John 18:33-37
both
by Chris Walley

Christ the King and the Environment

Theme: Christ as King over creation

This is not based on any one in particular of the above passages but could be adjusted according to taste and text.

This is a big topic and I’ve put a lot of information here.  The intention is that anyone wanting to preach on this would pick up the framework and take whatever ideas and thoughts they found helpful and – a key point – were appropriate for their congregations. Actually because the topic is so big there would certainly be illustrations that the preacher may add according to his or her taste. 

Introduction

Imagine that, like some enormously complicated power station or industrial complex, there was a control room to our world full of a vast number of switches, dials and the screens. If there was, there would be a lot of flashing red lights at the moment. Yes, there are major issues to do with economics and politics but beyond these areas are the big and threatening environmental concerns, such as climate change, resource shortages, species extinction, water pollution and loss of environments. Once upon a time – perhaps as recently as 10 or 15 years ago – it was possible to dismiss these as exaggerations. No longer.

The evidence is unarguable.

  • In the 1960s – well within living memory – the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere was around 320-330 parts per million. It is now around 414-417 parts per million and rising. In other words it has nearly risen by a third.
  • Species loss is appalling. Between 200 and 2,000 extinctions occur a year.
  • At least 42,000 square kilometres of tree cover was lost in key tropical regions in 2020
  • Invasive alien species are on the rise worldwide.

There are less obvious and less easily quantified factors. How many of us would no longer recognise the village or countryside where we once grew up? When was the last time we looked up at the night sky and saw it unclouded by street lights? When was the last time we heard a cuckoo? When was the last time we were somewhere where it was impossible to hear traffic noise?

Matters are made by worse several factors.

1) How the environment works is imprecisely known. The loss of some species may be largely irrelevant to us in the great scheme of things.  Some however may be ‘keystone species’ whose loss may cause collapse of ecosystems. But we lack the knowledge to know which species are critical and which aren’t.

2) There is a concern about positive feedback mechanisms making matters worse. So rising temperatures encourage methane to be released from areas of permafrost. Methane is a very potent global warming gas and is only going to make matters worse.

3) The possibility exists that there are tipping points; situations where – like a vase being pushed over – a point is reached where changes is suddenly no longer gradual but catastrophic and irreversible.

It’s easy to multiply these things and one of the real problems with environmental issues is that many people turn their backs on them simply because they find it too depressing. In fact there is a widespread portrayal of environmental issues that resembles the book of Revelation (complete with fiery judgement!) but without any hope of redemption or rescue.

In the face of this depressing and complex situation there is a crying need for Christian comment. In the context of climate change, species loss or pollution there are some things that are overlooked. There’s an enormous amount that can be said but one of the key roles we can and should play is to answer some questions. Not only are there many big questions but they are not being asked. In fact, the subject of the environment does not simply have an elephant in the room, it has an entire herd of them. So for instance …

  • What is the natural world we live in? Is it a random, accidental thing, the product of sheer chance over billions of years or is it in some way designed or created?
  • What does the natural world mean? Imagine that you hear a series of sounds. You would ask yourself, do they carry a meaning? Are they signal or merely noise? So it is with the natural world. We are very good at description: much less good at explanation.
  • Why should we worry about it? By any standards, looking after the environment is going to cost us, either directly in taxes or indirectly by stopping us buying or having what we want. So why exactly should we save the polar bear? Protect the rainforest? Stop polluting the seas?

One particularly helpful way of looking at the environment for a Christian viewpoint is in the context of the idea of Christ as King. The idea that Jesus Christ is King is an important one with all sorts of implications for us as individuals, for us as the church and for the world generally and can be applied to all sorts of areas of life. It also has real significance for these pressing issues of environment.

Theological background (which may or may not be useful for congregation)

The New Testament tells us that Christ is King through hints and increasingly obvious statements in the Gospels.

  • Although there are all sorts of nuances to the ideas of ‘Messiah’ and ‘son of David’ that are present on almost every page of the Gospels at the hearts of both is the idea of kingship.
  • Jesus taught much about the kingdom in the Gospels but one obvious but explosive implication of this, which is left for the reader to pick up, is that a kingdom requires a king.
  • In the gospels, Christ is explicitly identified as king (βασιλεύς) several times, as in Matthew 2:2 (“Where is the new-born king of the Jews?”).
  • Although Matthew deals a lot with kingship in the Passion Week it is also a very big topic in John’s Gospel. Indeed a lot of the dialogue between Pilate (and not just that in John 18.33-37) centres on kingship, often with the irony typical of John’s Gospel.
  • In all four Gospels (Matthew 27:11, Mark 15:2, Luke 23:3 and John 18:33) we have Pilate’s mocking title posted above cross: “The king of the Jews”.

References to Christ as King are rarer in the epistles, possibly because it was such an explosive title. Nevertheless calling Jesus ‘Lord’ is, in effect, to call him King. There are however numerous texts that either speak of Christ as King or use kingly language of him. See for example 1 Corinthians 15:25, Ephesians 1:20–22. In Revelation (17:14, 19:16) it is declared that the Lamb is ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords’.

Exactly when Christ became king is a subject of discussion.

  • You could argue that it was on the cross; in some branches of Christianity there is a theology of Christ ruling from the cross.
  • You could argue that it was on the morning of the resurrection: Jesus appears to his followers, as a triumphant victor over death and the powers of evil. (The famous painting of The Resurrection by Piero della Francesca is very good at typifying this.)
  • You could argue that it was it was on the day of the ascension when Christ ascends to take up his position at the right hand of the Father in Heaven.

There is some truth in all of these. In fact, is worth pointing out that becoming a king or a queen is often not a single event. So for example Queen Elizabeth II acceded to the throne on 6th February 1952 on the death of her father King George VI but her formal coronation did not occur until 2nd June 1953.

There is also discussion as to the extent to which Christ has power as king at the moment. Some theologians see Christ as king now in little more than title only and with very limited power. His ‘hands are tied’ at the moment and it is only with the Second Coming that he will have full power and authority. In contrast other theologians see Christ now as already being an all-powerful king but ruling invisibly. Here the Second Coming will be an event that reveals finally, visibly and unmistakably his power and authority. (Here for instance see Philippians 2:10 and Revelation 19:16.)

A common view is a mediating position which sees his reign now as being genuine but ‘interim’. Since the Second World War a frequent image has been that we are between D-Day and VE or VJ day. Victory is assured; it’s just a question of when. Possibly a better image is to imagine a situation of an heir immediately after someone’s death. The will has been read, the solicitor has promised him or her that there will be a transfer of goods and authority but there is an inevitable wait for the deeds et cetera to be signed and the benefits to be transferred. It’s signed and sealed but not delivered.


The idea that Christ is King casts a great deal of light into the increasingly topical area of ecology and the environment. In terms of environment, it’s helpful to think of Christ as King as being relevant in three areas: rule, responsibility and redemption

1) As King, Christ rules over the natural world

What is the natural world? It’s a very good question. Suppose you are suddenly appointed into some high-level job in a big organisation. Your first task is surely going to be to work out how you relate to your organisation. What exactly are you in charge of?  How much control do you have? Who are you accountable to? You might have to sit down for several days try to find out the history, structure and the purpose of the organisation. We find ourselves in a similar situation to do with the environment. Everybody’s running around wanting to do things but such basic questions are not answered.

Outside the Christian faith – and to some extent other religions – there are two possible views, both of which are full of problems.

The first is a secular view in which the natural world in which we inhabit is just a big ‘something’ that has occurred as a result of a long accident. Yes it’s wonderful, yes it’s complex but there’s nothing else behind it. Ultimately, it has no meaning, it just is. On the biggest scale, it is just ‘stuff’.

The second view is the mystical view in which Nature has some sort of transcendence attached to it. It is godlike or even God. We can worship Nature. That sounds wonderful but, it poses lots of problems. If nature is a God, then he, she or it doesn’t speak. At a time of crisis, how are we supposed to deal with it? It is okay to try to control wild boar populations by shooting them? To we kill rats? To use herbicides? All we get is silence.

Into this confused area, Christians have the truth that creation has a king. God, as the king of creation, has in fact made all things. How he made them is not the point – it’s vitally important not to get sidetracked on the issue of evolution where much of the debate is to do with what we mean by the ‘E word’ – but the fact is that everything is made by God. If we could but see it, his signature is imprinted on all things.

This is a truth that comes from Genesis 1 and numerous Old Testament verses but it is a principle that is refined in the New Testament where we learn that God the Son has been involved in creation.

  • John 1:3 ‘ All things were made by Him; and without Him was not anything made that was made’
  • Romans 12:36 ‘For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen.’
  • Colossians 1:16. ’ For by Him were all things created’

The idea that the world is created and sustained by Christ affects how we respond to it. All that we see: stars, sky, birds, insects, bacteria are made by God and kept in existence by God. Each one of them bears broadly the same relationship to God as one of Michelangelo’s sculptures or one of Beethoven’s symphonies does to the artist who made them. All things bear the imprint of the creator and they are his handiwork. What we call nature is in fact not self-sustaining, it is made by God and ruled by God.

This is profoundly helpful when it comes to such issues as the value of a species. There are an enormous number of species and in some cases it is possible to imagine that there are more than we need. Take for example the bird group, the reed warblers. There are at least four reed warblers in Europe region (European Reed Warbler, Great Reed-warbler, Blyth’s Reed Warbler and the Marsh Warbler) and to the inexperienced they all look identical. Frankly, one could say, who cares if one goes missing?

Here the firm Christian response is ‘God does!’ God our King has, in his wisdom (and no doubt through long slow processes) given the natural world diversity and richness. Each of these species belong to him; they are in their own lowly way, the valued subjects of the King.

So a foundational truth when dealing with environment and environmental issues is that as King, Christ rules over the natural world.

2) As King, Christ gives his followers responsibility for the natural world

Many Christians are prepared to say of the world, that God made it. They are sometimes even belligerently prepared to say when God made it. But sadly they do not work out the implications of this. A recent textbook of theology spends nearly 90 pages talking about creation and only gives a single line to the necessity of looking after it! The fact is that if God in Christ is King and we have taken him as our Lord then there are implications from this. Yes, salvation is a gift but it brings with it an obligation. To commit yourself to Christ it is not simply to receive his benefits – forgiveness, adoption, gifts of the Holy Spirit etc etc – it is also to be given responsibility.

Because this is God’s world and he is king over it and we are all linked with the king then inevitably we have a responsibility for looking after his kingdom. We have, if you like, management duties, a delegated authority, a stewardship role. There is a great chain of command with Christ at the top and his people underneath.

This idea is widely present in the parables. In many of them (e.g. Matthew 21:33-46, 24:45-51, Mark 13:33-37, Luke 19:11-27) there is the idea of a king stepping back briefly from his kingdom, with the expectation that in his apparent absence his followers will do his bidding. In environmental context, one fascinating parable is the very uncomfortable Matthew 24:45-51.

“Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns. Truly I tell you, he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But suppose that servant is wicked and says to himself, ‘My master is staying away a long time,’ and he then begins to beat his fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards. The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

The key thought is that the one who is designated as a steward is to give the other servants ‘their food at the proper time.’  It’s fascinating that this seems to be a quote from one of the creation psalms, Psalm 145, where it refers to the care God himself shows to created things and where in verses 15 and 16 we read ‘The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food at the proper time. You open your hand and satisfy the desires of every living thing.’[1] This suggests that, as stewards, we are responsible for maintaining the tender loving rule of the natural world that God our Father has shown.

This is an extremely helpful thought. If you ask conservationists why we should be concerned about the preservation of a species or an environment the answers essentially boil down to just two. The first is that loss of a species or an environment poses an unknown risk to us. The second is that loss of a species or an environment may mean that we have lost some vital resource for us, such as a plant that may give us a cure for cancer. Both of these ‘risk’ or ‘resource’ answers are very anthropocentric – human centred – and in my experience even non-Christians feel that they are inadequate.

A far better answer is to have the view that species and environments are God’s handiwork and need preserving on that basis.  Their loss represents both an insult to God their creator and also something of an artistic or aesthetic disaster. One very fine painting of the seventeenth century is Vermeer’s ‘The Concert’. But it has been stolen and hasn’t been seen by the public for thirty years. It represents an extraordinary loss to civilisation and culture. How much greater is the loss of some species of animal or plant?

Many of us will have spent some time in rented accommodation and we may have dreaded the yearly arrival of the landlord or landlady with the inevitable clipboard to see what damage or loss we were responsible for during the time of our occupation. It’s a sobering thought to imagine that, at the Second Coming, the recording angel will arrive with the celestial equivalent of a clipboard and go through the animal and plant kingdom. When names such as Verhoeven’s Giant Tree Rat, Miss Waldron’s Red Colobus Monkey, the Nebraska Bog Lemming or the Ivory-billed Woodpecker and many other extinct species are read out I think we can imagine the embarrassed and guilty silence. If we claim to be servants of the King of the universe then we have no shortage of motivation for looking after his handiwork. We must be about the king’s business!

If secular conservation lacks an adequate motive for action it also lacks justification for intervention.  After all if we human beings are just one species thrown up by evolution over millions of years what right have we got to intervene in nature? When we face invasive species or ones that are proliferating to the point of being a pest why should we intervene? This is a characteristic and troubling problem for conservation organisations when they want to cull something like hedgehogs in bird reserves or feral cats in the wild. Here again the Christian distinctive is marked. We have been designated with authority by the king. We can intervene where necessary. Needless to say, given that our model is of the benign and loving king, we must act wisely and gently.

As King Jesus rules, as king he delegates responsibility to his people. We have a justification and motivation for environmental action. To do nothing is wrong: think for example of the parable of the talents in Matthew 25:14-30.

3) As King, Christ will ultimately redeem his natural world

One fascinating psychological study which has not been done and in fact probably doesn’t need to be done because the answer is so obvious, is the frequency of depression amongst those people working with the environment. There’s not a lot of good news around.

So for example although it’s hard to give precise figures, for a hundred hectares of rainforest or wetland that are preserved there’s probably another two hundred that are lost. In some cases the losses, as with extinctions, are permanent and effectively irretrievable.

In fact doom and gloom is pretty much flavour of the month. Indeed there is a substantial and influential school of thought, particularly in France, which centres on the concept of collapsology; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Collapsology ‘The term collapsology is used to designate the study of the risks of collapse of industrial civilization. It is concerned with the general collapse of societies induced by climate change, scarcity of resources, vast extinctions, and natural disasters.’ Cheerful stuff!

This pervasive sense of doom is encouraged because contemporary secular thinking has largely eliminated long-term hope. All it can offer us is a miserable tale in which we as individuals we die and cease to be and as a species, ultimately we will become extinct as, one by the one, the lights of the universe go out. Ultimately life is a battle against physics and physics wins.

To this, cautiously, graciously and gently the Christian brings the idea of hope. The mediaeval mystic Lady Julian of Norwich wrote ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well’.  We may not feel able to totally agree with her – there has to be some scope for judgement and in the environmental context it’s worth noting the book of Revelation’s stern the announcement of a time ‘for destroying those who destroy the earth’ (Revelation 11:18). Nevertheless, all Christians should have some measure of the hope that one day, in a fashion that is inevitably beyond our understanding, the universe will be healed.

This is a wonderful view but fraught with dangers. So, for instance, it can give rise to the perspective – sadly common in some church circles – that because environmental disaster as a prelude to the coming of Christ, the more disasters we get, the sooner Christ will return. Here, of course, we hear the echo of the argument condemned in Romans 3:8 ‘Let us do evil that good may result’. The fact is that prophecy and morality are actually two separate things. Quite simply, we are to do right whether or not it seems to fit with some prophetic timetable.

Not far removed from this, is a view which encourages complacency. ‘Let’s not worry about the environment the world is in because one day Jesus is going to make it all right!’ Linked to this is the perspective, common in some evangelical circles, that the Second Coming is so imminent that conservation is a waste of time. Curiously enough the medical parallel to this viewpoint – that we shouldn’t worry about looking after our bodies because we are going to get new ones soon – has not proved to be attractive. In any case we don’t have a timetable for the Second Coming and we need to remember that the end of all things may not be as imminent as we imagine. We need to plan for the long haul.

Ultimately however the Christian view sheds light into the darkness of conservation.  Things are moving to an end. One day there will be a remaking of the cosmos and with the renewal of created world. Paul writes in Romans 8:18-24

I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us. The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed. For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the glorious freedom of the children of God.  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved.

There is no scope here for complacency. The fact that we are responsible to the king should encourage us to do our best to look after the world he has created. Nevertheless the fact is that even if we lose battles – and environmentalists are always losing battles – we ultimately win the war.

As king, Christ rules, as king, he delegates responsibility to his people and as king he will ultimately redeem the world.

Conclusion

There are no easy answers to the world’s environmental issues. But it is important that there is a framework in which the questions can be asked and answered. For the Christian, that framework must include the idea that Christ is King and with that the idea of his rule, our responsibility and his ultimate redemption.

by Chris Walley


[1] In the Septuagint, Psalm 145:15 reads καὶ σὺ δίδως τὴν τροφὴν αὐτῶν ἐν εὐκαιρίᾳ and Matthew 24:45 reads του διδόναι αυτοίς την τροφήν εν καιρώ

Proper 28 (33) / 25th Sunday after Pentecost [by Dr Martin J Hodson] (COP 26)

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Dan 12:1-3
both
Psalm
16
2nd Reading
Hebr 10:11-25
both
Gospel
Mark 13:1-8
Mark 13:24-32
by Dr Martin J Hodson, Operations Director for the John Ray Initiative, Oxford, United Kingdom

NOTES ON THE READINGS

OLD TESTAMENT Daniel 12:1-3

The Archangel Michael is only mentioned in the Book of Daniel in the Old Testament, and later in Jude and Revelation in the New Testament. He is seen as a fairly warlike character, and as a protector of the Jewish people. The passage is complex and is full of eschatological allusions. It points to a time of distress, but that leads to deliverance and resurrection. It is probably the clearest example of a passage indicating that some people will undergo resurrection after death in the Old Testament. This will also be a time of judgement where some will be granted everlasting life and others will be put to shame. The wise will lead the people into righteousness.

Psalm 16

Psalm 16 is attributed to David, and it is one of six denoted as a Miktam, most probably Psalms of atonement. The first part of the Psalm is an affirmation of faith in God. But it is clear that those who worship other Gods will not be blessed and will suffer. In the second section we see that those who are in communion with God have a “delightful inheritance”. The last part sees the psalmist rejoicing and hopeful.

EPISTLE Hebrews 10:11-14 (15-18), 19-25

This passage contrasts the priests in the Temple in Jerusalem, who made continual sacrifices, with Jesus. The sacrifices made by the priests could never take away sins. But Jesus was both a priest and a sacrifice. His sacrifice of himself, made once and for all, took away the sins of those who turned to him. The writer of Hebrews quotes Jeremiah 31:33 in describing a new covenant where laws will be put on hearts and written in minds. Sacrifices will no longer be needed. Previously, only the high priests could enter the Most Holy Place, and then only on the Day of Atonement. After Jesus’ perfect sacrifice of himself all would be able to enter.

The later section of the passage encourages people to hold to their faith, and to love and care for each other. The believers are encouraged to keep meeting together, and not to stop as some had. Finally, right at the end of our passage we see a clear mention of the Second Coming, “the Day approaching”.

GOSPEL Mark 13:1-8

In Mark 13 Jesus is with the disciples in Herod the Great’s restored Second Temple in Jerusalem. It was one of the wonders of the ancient world, and it is hardly surprising that the disciples were amazed by what they saw. Jesus came from a particularly devout family, and had probably visited very often in his childhood. He shocked the disciples when he prophesied that the Temple would be destroyed. This came true about 40 years later, in 70 AD, when the Romans put down a Jewish uprising. Not unnaturally, the disciples wanted to know when this would happen, and how they would know it was about to happen. Now we come to the key problem of the passage. It seems that Jesus then goes off at a tangent. He appears not to answer the disciples question at all, says nothing about the destruction of the Temple, and commences a discourse about the Second Coming. So we have warnings about false prophets, wars, earthquakes, and famines leading on to Mark 13:26 when the Son of Man comes on clouds. See Wright (References below) for a detailed possible explanation of why it can look like Jesus did not answer the disciples’ question, but possibly he did!

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

This sermon will be preached as COP26 ends, and delegates are making their way home. These will include Michael Rentz, the coordinator of Sustainable Preaching, who took part in a discussion on “new forms of dialogues needed facing climate change” (see Resources below).

It might be good to start the sermon by summarising COP26- just the headlines! Whether COP26 is seen as good, bad or in between, there will still be a future, and three of our readings have some references to the future.

As Christians in more liturgical traditions, we will often say the Apostles’ Creed, including the phrase, “he will come again to judge the living and the dead.” But possibly because of the extreme theologies that are often associated with it, eschatology has a bad name. Rightly understood, however, eschatology is a key part of our faith, and is important in environmental theology. Moreover, future judgment is frequently seen within these eschatological schemes.

Our passage from Daniel indicates that there will be a time of judgment in the future. At COP26 there were leaders of nations and organisations present who sought to prevent meaningful cuts in carbon emissions, to further their own ends. There were also those who worked so hard to do something to reverse climate change that they are now totally exhausted. Which of these will have “shame and everlasting contempt?” This is not to say that any of us are free from sin, but those who wilfully put human lives and the future of the world’s biodiversity at risk should not benefit from doing so.

Mark 13 contains within it a passage often known as the “little apocalypse”, where many people see Jesus returning at the end of the age, coming on a cloud. When He returns, Heaven and Earth will be renewed and restored. This is ultimate or eschatological hope, and it has sustained Christians for 2000 years. At COP26 most of the hope will not have been like that. Mostly the hope will be proximate, the hope that we can fix climate change. But what if we can’t fix it, and we still don’t know when Jesus will return? Twelve years ago, after the disastrous COP15 meeting in Copenhagen, I was involved in a project to look at hope in those circumstances (see References below). We discovered a robust or resilient hope, a hope to see us through tough times. Whatever the result of COP26 in Glasgow things are likely to be pretty difficult this century, and looking again at hope might be a fruitful way forward.

Near the end of the sermon I would suggest some resources for people as they reflect on COP26 (see below).

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

References

Hodson, M.J. (2021) Three types of hope. Bible Reading Fellowship blog (4 July 2021) https://www.brf.org.uk/three-types-of-hope/ This is written at a more popular level and is the story of our “Environment and Hope” project brought up to date.

Hodson M.R. & Hodson, M.J. (2013) Environment and Hope. Anvil 29, Issue 1, pp.1-129. https://jri.org.uk/environment-and-hope/ From this link you can download all of the seven articles for free.

Lacocque, A. (2018) The Book of Daniel. Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon, Kindle Edition. 2nd ed. (Chapter 12, Resurrection and Eschatology). This is a very detailed and up to date commentary- some knowledge of Hebrew would be useful.

Wright, N.T. (1996) Jesus and the Victory of God. (SPCK, London) See pages 339-368 for a detailed discussion of Mark 13 and the parallel passages in Matthew and Luke.

Resources

The Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS). Michael Rentz, the coordinator of Sustainable Preaching, will have been involved in a discussion on “new forms of dialogues needed facing climate change” at COP26 in Glasgow on the 10th November. Can we change our language of the way we relate to the world to include reconciliation and healing in the way the Bible teaches us? A description of the work including a video from Carolin Fraude can be found here: https://www.iass-potsdam.de/en/events/iass-at-COP26

Hodson, M.J. & Hodson M.R. (2021) Green Reflections: Biblical inspiration for sustainable living (BRF, Abingdon). This has 62 short Bible reflections on environmental topics and is suitable for individual use, or some of the reflections could be useful for services or day conferences etc.

The Big Church Read goes Green! How do we respond to COP26? The Big Church Read is a UK national initiative to encourage groups, individuals and churches to read and discuss Christian books. Join Martin & Margot Hodson as they lead us through A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues (BRF, 2021). They explain the key current environmental problems and provide a biblical basis for caring for the environment, with practical ways to respond. Presented over 10 sessions with accompanying videos and questions for reflection and discussion. Sign up for free to receive the reading plan and all you need to take part. https://thebigchurchread.co.uk/a-christian-guide-to-environmental-issues-2/

Galloway, K. & Preston, K.M. eds. (2021) Living Faithfully in the Time of Creation. Wild Goose Publications, Glasgow. For celebrating Creationtide mindfully in an age of environmental emergency, resources from the Iona Community’s Common Concern Network on the Environment.

by Dr Martin J Hodson, UK

Proper 27 (32) / 24th Sunday after Pentecost [by Revd Margot Hodson] (COP 26)

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ruth 3:1-5,4:13-17
1 Kgs 17:10-16
Psalm
127
2nd Reading
Hebr 9:24-28
both
Gospel
Mark 12:38-44
both
by The Revd Margot R Hodson, Director of Theology and Education – The John Ray Institute

Notes on the Readings

OLD TESTAMENT Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

The Book of Ruth has two key themes concerning the relationship between people and the land. The first relates to our dependence on the land for food and wellbeing. In the early part of the book we are exposed to our vulnerability to famine, but Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem to find a rich harvest.

The second is the connection between people and specific land. Naomi’s husband had land inherited from his ancestors and belonging to his descendants. . There was a tradition that if a man died, without sons, his widow could marry his closest male kinsman and bear a child to inherit her dead husband’s land. Ruth’s willingness to go with Naomi to Bethlehem opened the potential for a marriage that would reunite Naomi with her husband’s property and provide an heir for her and Ruth. This also brings us to questions of justice for women, who frequently lost their husbands’ land without a male kinsman-redeemer. In our passage we see Ruth approach Boaz who agrees to take this role. In this act we see his respect for Naomi (who he names as the owner of the land in Ruth 4:3) and for Ruth, whom he marries.

PSALM Psalm 127

Home is our refuge and, in making it a safe place, it is easy to feel autonomous within its walls. Psalm 127 reminds us that it is the Lord who provides everything that we possess and we should put him at the centre of everything that we do – otherwise we labour in vain. But the Lord provides not only our homes, but also our food and the blessing of children. It is only when we recognise God’s place in our lives that we understand our relationship to all things and receive them as blessings.

EPISTLE Hebrews 9:24-28

Christ is the only one who was able to make a perfect sacrifice for our sin. His intervention in our world, opened the way for full redemption and restoration of the whole cosmos. Our actions are imperfect but his work was perfect.

GOSPEL Mark 12:38-44

Sometimes our own actions to respond to the climate crisis can seem very small, but this verse teachers us to value small things. Jesus looks at the size of sacrifice that each person has made and by this measure, the widow has given by far the greatest offering. We should beware of politicians who make fine speeches about responding to the environmental crisis and then approve policies that will make the crisis worse. These leaders will be held to account.

Draft Sermon / Sermon Outline

As we reach the end of the first week of the COP26 in Glasgow (in 2021), this is a good opportunity to preach a sermon that considers the importance of the actions of each individual, even if they seem small, against a backdrop of power and leadership that may be self-seeking and unjust. This could be focussed on the Gospel, supported by the passage from Ruth and could also include the Psalm.

The potential to misuse power and positions of authority are universal. These people may seem invincible and yet God will call them to account. We can apply this aspect of the passage to those in power both commercially and politically who have not taken effective action against climate change and the overall environmental crisis. Companies and nations who have continued to exploit fossil fuels, and destroy native forests and other natural habitats, will one day be held to account and false promises will be exposed. But we also need to apply it to ourselves – do we live comfortable lives when others are already suffering from the impact of the environmental crisis? What one thing can we each do to live our lives more authentically?

The widow’s offering reminds us of the importance of each person’s actions. If the agreement at COP26 is a weak one, we may feel that there is little point in our own small actions in the face of massive carbon emissions and environmental damage worldwide. We can learn from the widow’s offering that all our actions are important.

We can learn from the widow and from Ruth the very important message of Faithfulness. Both were faithful, in situations of powerlessness. Ruth, through her faithful support of Naomi and her hard work in the fields, gained the respect of Boaz, her late-husband’s relative, and through that gained a home and security for Naomi and herself. She went on to become a mother of Kings and was an ancestor of King David and of Jesus.

We cannot know the results of our actions but we can make sure that we are faithful in everything that we do. Faithfulness leads to positive change. God sees faithfulness and he will respond.

In the midst of the COP26, we need to be faithful and to pray.

Resources

The Big Church Read

How do we respond to COP26? The Big Church Read is a national initiative to encourage groups, individuals and churches to read and discuss Christian books. Join Martin & Margot Hodson as they lead us through ‘A Christian Guide to Environmental Issues’. They explain the key current environmental problems and provide a biblical basis for caring for the environment, with practical ways to respond. Presented over 10 sessions with accompanying videos and questions for reflection and discussion. Sign up for free to receive the reading plan and all you need to take part.

https://thebigchurchread.co.uk/a-christian-guide-to-environmental-issues-2

by Revd Margot R. Hodson, United Kingdom

All Saints Day / Proper 26 (31) / 23rd Sunday after Pentecost [by Dr Elzabeth Perry] (COP 26)

Proper 26 (31) / 23nd Sunday after Pentecost
Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Deut 6:1-9
both
Psalm
119:1-8
2nd Reading
Hebr 9:11-14
Hebr 7:23-28
Gospel
Mark 12:28-34
both
All Saints day
Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 25:6-9
Rev 7:2-4,9-14
Psalm
24
2nd Reading
Rev 21:1-6a
1 John 3:1-3
Gospel
John 11:32-44
Matt 5:1-12a
by Dr. Elizabeth Perry, Advocacy and Communication Manager, Anglican Alliance, London

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Isaiah 25:6-9

This passage offers a rich vision of a future where the “shroud that is cast over all peoples and nations” has been removed. Death and grief are destroyed and salvation accomplished. In the picture Isaiah paints, “the Lord will make for all peoples a feast of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear.” The nations are seen as eating together, sharing and enjoying God’s abundance. They are gathered in a high place –literally a “mountain top” experience. This is a vision of shalom – peace, abundance, rejoicing and relief from pain and suffering. For Isaiah, this is what salvation looks like – and it is a thing of joy and gladness.

Psalm 24

“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it”.

Revelation 21:1-6a

In this closing passage from Revelation, John describes his vision of “a new heaven and a new earth”. In it, the new Jerusalem is seen “coming down out of heaven from God”. The movement is of God coming towards the earth, not the other way around. John describes a loud voice saying “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them”. And suffering is ended.

John 11:32-44

“Jesus wept” – the shortest verse in the Bible and arguably also one of the most profound. Jesus – God – weeps. He weeps at the destruction wrought by death; he weeps for his friends; he weeps for their loss and pain and suffering.  Jesus is deeply distressed. He is also angry. In verse 38 (as in verse 33), he is described as “greatly disturbed”. The word in Greek (ἐμβριμώμενος) is a strong one, denoting a physical reaction. Snorting (or roaring) with rage reflects the root meaning of the word, though “moved to anger” is how it is often translated. But Jesus’s response is intense, born of his absolute engagement with the reality of the moment. In this passage, we see the divine-human Jesus fully caught up in the suffering of a broken, hurting world. He cares, he reacts and he acts.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Each of the passages of Scripture set for today speaks right into today’s world. It is hard to imagine a set of readings more appropriate for the opening day of COP26, the 26th Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC).

“The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it”. This verse is so simple, so clear, so easy to read – but its implications are profoundly challenging. “All that is in it” belongs to God. Not to humanity, not to a nation, not to a corporation. It is entrusted to us “to tend and keep” (Genesis 2) but we do not own it.

The gospel passage sees Jesus weeping and angry at the destruction of the life of his friend Lazarus. Jesus – God – is not a detached observer but chooses “to make his home with mortals”. He loves the world; he loves its people and its creatures; he is caught up in it and knows it intimately – so much so that “not a sparrow falls apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29).

There is something very earthy about Jesus, about God, and that is seen in the vision of Isaiah. In this profoundly beautiful passage, a shared meal in a natural setting, with all nations enjoying God’s bountiful provision together, is the motif used to portray salvation.

How we see (or envision) the world – how we understand it and relate to it – matters, because what we believe shapes our attitudes, our choices, our behaviours and actions. It determines how we treat other people and the rest of the natural world.

Many people, especially in industrialized countries, hold an extractive worldview which regards the earth as something to be exploited. It is particularly prevalent in societies whose wealth is derived from an economy based on extractive industries, such as gas, oil, and mining, and high levels of consumerism. This extractive worldview, which regards the earth as a commodity that can be used and exploited without regard for the consequences, promotes unsustainable ways of living and is causing catastrophic harm and suffering.

However, there are other worldviews, that take a more holistic view of the natural world and how we relate to it. Indigenous peoples especially espouse a world view that is about relationship and connection. Indigenous Maori and Pacific peoples understand creation as inherently unified with a profound connection among all living things. This relational world view is shared by other Indigenous peoples in Africa, the Amazon and the Arctic. Kinship and connection with the natural world, the need to respect boundaries and protection of the earth are profoundly biblical ways of understanding the world.

We are now reaping the whirlwind of the extractive way of seeing the world. Amidst the ongoing tragedy of the Covid-19 pandemic, the news cycle this year has been punctuated by stories of cataclysmic weather events. Extreme heat, wildfires and floods have devastated communities and environments across the world. The reality of climate change is inescapable.

This is why COP26 matters. To date, the global response to the climate crisis has been wholly inadequate—both in the level of resources dedicated to the response and the level of urgency with which those with most power to make radical changes are taking action. COP26 is an important opportunity to correct these collective failings. It is a milestone that will determine what kind of world future generations will inherit.

However, actions, particularly those that are bold in the face of the current political inaction on climate change, are difficult to sustain unless there is also the transformation of hearts and minds from which such action flows. This is where the Church has such an important role to play.

Those who hold an extractive worldview need to turn away from it (repent) and instead embrace a mindset of relationship–for the sake of the earth, its creatures and our global family.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis

Anglicans at COP26

The Anglican Alliance climate emergency hub

Troubled Waters: a 5-minute visual reflection which looks at impacts of climate change and environmental degradation across our beautiful world and some of the ways people are responding – all seen through the lens of water and Scripture.

A prayer for the Earth (words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu);

Prayers for the Earth based on the Fifth Mark of Mission;

A Christian prayer in union with all creation (words of Pope Francis)

A Pacific Prayer for the Moana – Archbishop Emeritus Winston Halapua

On Creation – a letter to the Anglican Communion from Archbishop Emeritus Winston Halapua

Courageous action in the face of the climate emergency – Anglican youth in Tonga. Extract from the Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis offering from Polynesia, Aotearoa and New Zealand.

by Dr Elizabeth Perry, London

Proper 25 (30) / 22nd Sunday after Pentecost [by Dr Paulo Ueti]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Jer 31:7-9
both
Psalm
126
2nd Reading
Hebr 7:23-28
Hebr 5:1-6
Gospel
Mark 10:46-52
both
by Dr Paulo Ueti, USPG, Anglican Alliance’s theological adviser and director for Latin America

NOTES ON THE READINGS

The readings for 24 October are:

The book of Jeremiah covers a great time line in the history of his people. He was a critical, annoying and hopeful voice during the times towards the fall of the monarchy. The reading for today takes us to the Book of Consolation or Restoration (chapter 30-31): God restores people, even when disasters happen (siege/invasion). Against all the odds, the prophet is still hopeful and is spreading out hope to his people, whilst also raising awareness on why this is happening. Prophecy is about being good and accurate in contextual analysis and still being capable of being a building block of hope, reconciliation and restoration.

The Psalm is probably from the times of the Exile. This song/prayer cements the ongoing hope that God is a God of loving and transforming presence. In the midst of despair and where people could not see anything but walls and dead ends, there is this beautiful liturgy to bring hope and new dreams of a better time to come, a time they need to work for, but absolutely possible to become true.

The Gospel passage offered is part of a piece of prophetic and literary art. Who is blind here and who needs healing? Mark 10:46-52 is directly connected to Mark 8:22-26 (this is the frame of whatever is inside). It seems to be a criticism to the closest disciples of Jesus: they are being blind and need the miracle of sight.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

The good news here is to alert the disciples about the need to see, understand, be curious, be critical and be a person of action. It is key to hear the call, stand up (do something – to move from your comfort zone) and follow (be obedient – active and deep listening).

This passage connects with Mark 8:22-26. Together, they are a frame to what is inside (Mark 8:27 – 10:45). What is inside is Jesus trying to share in depth his political views and consequent actions,  and the constant dodging (avoidance) behaviour of his closest friends/disciples (all males according to the gospel). The disciples were called Satan (Mark 8:33), the disciples did not understand, thus can’t be committed (Mark 9:32) and were not listening to a word (the deep request for solidarity and presence, after all he [Jesus] was going to be unjustly accused, incarcerated, tortured and murdered). The disciples were only concerned with power and getting into the position to oppress, the same place Jesus was questioning.

The text points out, as a way (method) to get the miracle of sight again: 1. Recognise that there are possibilities, even problems are possibilities, 2. Name them aloud, cry publicly, make sure others know what do you desire and need, 3. Listen to the call, be willing to approach, we are all worthy, 4. Speak the truth to power, advocate for what you need. And at the end, this is faith: the actions towards what seems impossible. Movement, action, hope and believing, even when it is difficult to, is the proposed method given by this community to recover, restore and get the sight of life. The result of this is another follower. The movement is raising in numbers and in spirit (the power to change).

We are in the journey to the COP26, another major effort to get more nations, groups and individuals on board to save the planet and our common life, to protect, heal and improve relationships with our oikoumene. Change our way of life and our economies are urgent. The impact of climate change is massive and is increasing day by day, and there is so much to do yet. The religious communities are a special place to teach and provoke actions of repentance, atonement and restoration. Christian communities are places of restoration and healing. They are places to inspire new social norms and question the ones which provokes violence, exclusion, inequality and praise the evil.

The Gospel (the good news) relates directly to our way of life. We are encourage to stand up. “Be brave, he is calling you”. We have the power to change and be changed. We have the power to live in balance and to live a life where sustainability is in the natural agenda of the day. It seems we are being invited to acknowledge the context we live in, full of brokenness, greed, exploitation in every level of life, inequality, environmental degradation. And from this context, we manage to come up with possible solutions, mitigation actions, small changes. We are told we are brave, to stand up and to make our bodies and our churches (parables of Christ) a beacon of hope and transformation as an example to others. Is your community committed to be environmental justice? Are you yourself changing, even in small steps, your lifestyle to be more sustainable? What are you doing? Are your perspectives on the world, environment, economy, relationships (in a broad sense) changing?

Let’s pray for the COP26, for more commitments, for our church bodies to be aligned with the values of sustainability. Let’s take the lessons learned during the Season of Creation liturgies, events, prayers, courses and implement one of them at least.

God bless you all.

by Dr Paulo Ueti, USPG

Proper 24 (29) / 21st Sunday after Pentecost [by Revd Rachel Carnegie]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Job 38:1-7,(34-41)
Isa 53:10-11
Psalm
104:1-9, 24, 35c
2nd Reading
Hebr 5:1-10
Hebr 4:14-16
Gospel
Mark 10:35-45
both
by Revd Rachel Carnegie, Anglican Alliance, Anglican Communion Office, London

Notes on passages

Job 38:1-7, (34-41)

The final chapters of the Book of Job describe God asking a series of questions to reveal the wonders of creation. God’s joyous creativity and delight in every aspect of divine creation are proclaimed. The description which follows shows how intimately God knows and cares about creation, his concern ranging from the smallest of earth’s creatures to the very foundations of the earth and universe, from the raven’s chick (v.41) to the stars and heavenly beings (v.7).

Earlier chapters tell the story of Job’s woes and his lament and questioning of God’s role in the world, where evil, injustice and suffering continue. God responds by presenting this vast, sweeping picture of divine power and wisdom across time and space, contrasted with the limited understanding of humanity: “Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?” (v.4) In the final chapter 42, Job acknowledges his own lack of knowledge “of things too wonderful for me (beyond me) which I did not know”. (42:3)

The Book of Job is part of the Wisdom tradition in Scripture. This reading in Chapter 28 introduces the theme of divine wisdom encompassing the complexities, meaning and ordering of the cosmos. In this description, the earth, its creatures and the elements of the universe become like characters, with their own voice, agency and relationship with to their Creator, “shouting for joy” (v.7) and calling out, “Here we are” (v.35). This is a significant corrective to the anthropocentric view of humanity’s place within creation, revealing God’s concerns and actions as concentrating on all creation, not just on humanity. The anguished lament and soul-searching born of Job’s earlier suffering also resonates with questions about the suffering of those most vulnerable to climate change – people, creatures and environments –  and with the anger and grief of so many, especially young people, at climate and environmental injustice.

Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c

This hymn of creation, sometimes known as the ‘canticle of creatures’, is one of the most beloved psalms. It speaks of God’s creation in all its glorious fullness: earth and skies, water and fire, mountains and valleys, and all living creatures. Its vision of creation is linked to the narrative in Genesis 1. It begins with a vision of God the Creator (v.1-4) and then celebrates the process of divine creation, controlling the waters of chaos (v.7-9). The psalm continues to describe creation in the skies, in life on earth and in the seas and how all creatures are dependent of their Creator. The passage’s final two verses (vv.24, 35) rejoice in the richness and diversity of God’s creation: “O LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made the all; the earth is full of your creatures… Praise the LORD!”

The opening verses envision the manifestation of God, ‘wrapped in light as with a garment’ and ‘riding on the wings of the wind’. This evokes a profound sense of reverence for God and also for God’s creation, with which God is intimately involved and deeply concerned. It is painful to contrast the psalmist’s delight in the abundance and variety of all creation with our current dread at the loss of biodiversity in the world.

Hebrews 5:1-10

This passage highlights the value of humility. It gives a description of the truly human ‘high priest’, whose humanity requires humbleness, dealing gently with those who are ‘ignorant and wayward’ while recognising their own weakness and sin. People cannot aspire to the priesthood; God alone can call to that honour. The passage then reflects on the high priesthood of Christ, who is the pattern for humility. “Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest”, but was appointed by his Father. Christ is shown as fully human in suffering ‘with loud cries and tears’ (v.7) and as fully divine, in being ‘the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (v.9).

In the context of our theme, this passage suggests three insights: the humility that we need to recognise, as human beings, our dependence on God and our interdependence with all God’s creation; the need to acknowledge our own failings in relation to the climate and environment, before we seek to convert others; and the calling that God is making on us at this time to bring a servant leadership to the environmental and climate crisis.

Mark 10:35-45

In this passage, James and John come to Jesus with a question which shows they do not yet understand what it means to be his disciple. They are seeking prestige and honour, so Jesus teaches the disciples again that to follow him truly is to lead a life of humble service and sacrifice, ‘for the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many.” (v.45) Jesus compares this humility to those who are tyrants, lording it over others. (v.42)

In the context of our theme, this is a call again to humility, service and sacrifice, as we heard in the passage from Hebrews. It also raises questions about the nature of humans’ relationships not only with each other, but also with other creatures. This would question anthropocentric readings of Genesis 1, with humanity claiming dominion over other created beings. (Genesis 1:28) Even the Genesis 2 view of human beings as ‘stewards of creation’ presupposes a hierarchy, while the readings from Job and Psalm 104 show God delighting in and relating to all created beings, not just humanity. Each part of creation has its own purpose to honour God, not to serve human beings. Holding these scriptures together, humanity is called to profound humility, to recognise and repent our ‘lording it over’ the earth and failing to hear creation’s voice and honour its intrinsic worth and our mutual dependence.

Sermon outline

Listening to the Word:

These passages read side by side offer profound insights into the nature of God’s relationship with all creation and challenge the assumption that humanity sits at the apex, to ‘lord it over’ creation. Themes echo across the readings about God’s concern for and activity within all creation. They speak of humankind’s urgent need for humility to recognise our place in the web of God’s creation. This is a place of mutual dependence, in which we are called to serve not to be served, to listen to creation’s suffering and the suffering of our fellow human beings and respond in committed and sacrificial action.

The passages from Job and Psalm 104 highlight the intrinsic value of each created being and natural element and the inter-connections between the earth, skies, seas and all creatures. It celebrates the diversity and abundance of the natural world. Each part of God’s creation has its own purpose independent of humanity; its purpose is not to serve humanity. Yet at the same time we can no longer deny our interconnectedness, as, increasingly with climate change, humanity experiences the groaning of creation, the raging fires, rising and storming seas, flooding rivers and cracking, desiccated fields.

Linking to the World:

Indigenous Christians across the Anglican Communion have created a series of videos with Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Climate Crisis.[1] They call out and grieve the violence done to the world and our fellow creatures and prophetically expose the illusion and self-deception that regards the earth and all in it as a resource to be exploited endlessly by humans. They contrast an extractive mind-set, which defines much of the modern economy, with one in which humanity sees itself in relationship with creation. In the theological reflection from Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, the contributors explained: “Indigenous Maori and Pacific peoples understand creation as inherently unified… Maori recognise relationship as kaitiakitanga… The concept of kaitiakitanga positions human beings in creation – not supreme masters over the earth community but as interdependent members of the earth community.”

What is God’s call?

The Indigenous Prophetic Voices videos decry the suffering of the whole planet, through climate change, bio-diversity loss and pollution of land, rivers and seas – crises which indigenous people experience and suffer acutely. These are prophetic calls to repentance, turning again to transform our attitude and approach to nature.

In his book Reality, Grief and Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks [2], Walter Brueggemann talks of the urgency for Christians, and society at large, to break through denial by confronting reality, to acknowledge and accept grief as a process to recognise what is being lost and broken, and to build hope out of despair by challenging and changing unsustainable patterns. In the context of the environmental and climate crisis, we hear God’s call in these passages to see the reality of our disastrous plundering of nature, to grieve and rage with a groaning creation, and to use these responses as engines to build a realistic hope in serving and healing God’s creation.

What is our response?

Today many people, especially young people, are experiencing grief and rage at the current climate situation. A young theologian, Hannah Malcolm, describes in a blog [3] how this emotional response is in the prophetic apocalyptic tradition and “is able to live alongside expressions of hope because it implies an awareness of an alternative way of living. Anger and grief are not just accurate expressions of reality but tools for change, reminding the hearer that this violence is a choice, or what we might call sin. As far as the community of creation is concerned, it doesn’t have to be this way. It is possible to turn back.” And, as the lectionary passages remind us, God has given us the vision of a creation living in harmony under divine wisdom, as well as a pattern, in Christ, of humble service and sacrifice for the good of all. This inspiration we carry as our hope as we engage with the issues of ecology, economy and society.

The changes that are required are not just tinkering with the current structures, but fundamental transformations on personal, institutional, national and global levels. For this we need a kind of ‘stubborn optimism’, as says the former UN Executive Secretary for Climate Change, Christiana Figueres, in her book (with Tom Rivett-Carnac) called The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis [4]. Our faith gives us radical hope and calls us to make the right choices. Our scriptures inspire us that, with God, these changes and choices are possible.

Additional Material/Endnotes

  1. Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis: https://anglicanalliance.org/prophetic-indigenous-voices-on-the-planetary-crisis-update/
  2. Walter Brueggemann (2014) Reality, Grief, Hope: Three Urgent Prophetic Tasks
  3. Hannah Malcolm blog on Arocha website: https://blog.arocha.org/en/finding-words-for-the-end-of-the-world/ Also, video of her lecture on Theology and the Environment and the recent book she edited: Hannah Malcolm (editor) et al (2020) Words for a Dying World: Stories of grief and courage from the global Church
  4. Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carnac (2020) The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

by Revd Rachel Carnegie, Anglican Alliance

Proper 23 (28) / 20th Sunday after Pentecost [by Joel Kelling]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Wis 7:7-11
Psalm
90:12-17
2nd Reading
Hebr 4:12-16
both
Gospel
Mark 10:17-31
both
by Joel Kelling, Anglican Alliance facilitator for the Middle East

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Amos 5:6-7, 10-15

The Book of Amos is the oldest of the Prophetic literature of the Bible, written around 750BC. It focusses on the issue of Justice, highlighting the need for Israel as a people to repent, just as the gentile nations around them must also repent.

In the passage today, the missing verses (8-9) are explicitly about God’s role in creation – perhaps you could include the longer reading in your sermon? It is postulated that the verses are part of a hymn (whose other references are found in verses 4.13 and 9:5-6) which all reference God’s hand in creation (“he who forms the mountains, and creates the wind…he who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning…who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth”). It is amidst this statement of the nature of God as creator that we are told of God’s love of justice, and reminded just how short the Israelites are falling in living this out.  Verses 7, 11, 12 and 15 all reference how justice has been ignored for personal gain, taking from or over-taxing the poor for the sake of wealth, and they also note that the results of this injustice will ultimately be the downfall of the unrighteous (“you have planted pleasant vineyards, but shall not drink their wine”, verse 11).

Psalm 90:12-17

Psalm 90 is unusual in that it is ascribed to Moses (and the only Psalm so titled). It is concerned primarily with humanity’s finite days, compared to the infinite nature of God, and that much of our life is consumed with “toil and trouble” (verse 11). In the section for reading today, the second half of the psalm turns from this preoccupation with our limited vision and experience to ask God for wisdom and satisfaction (verses 12 and 14), and for God’s work to be “manifest in your servants” (verse 16). The theme that is emerging from Amos to this Psalm and into the gospel reading is about God’s justness and our seeking that, rather than pursuing our own, fleeting desires. Verse 14 asks that God “satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love”. Elsewhere in the Bible, the word ‘Sabea’ often refers to a physical satisfaction – being filled up (from hunger) – but here I think it refers more to the notion of being filled up with a contentedness within the love of God, rather than pursuing material happiness.

Mark 10:17-31

Before noting the content of the reading, it is always good to see where Jesus is when he speaks and acts. Today we find him in “the region of Judea beyond the Jordan” – that is Perea, the Herodian lands beyond (as this is what ‘perea’ means in Koine Greek). These are the lands traditionally associated with John the Baptist’s imprisonment and execution. Jesus is here on his way south from the Galilee on his way to Jerusalem and the cross, perhaps following the typical pilgrim path to Jerusalem avoiding Samaritan territory. On this pilgrimage journey Jesus encounters people concerned with being on the inside of relationship with God, with Jesus providing surprises in response to questions on divorce, the place of children and the means of inheriting eternal life. Whnever relationships on earth are being damaged or under-valued, this is a cause of separation from God. For the young man who calls Jesus ‘Good Teacher’ this separation is a cause of great sadness, and yet an inability to give up what Jesus asks of him, as when he heard this, “he was shocked and went away grieving, for he had many possessions”.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

There is as I see it, a common theme through these readings that is absolutely linked to the heart of creation care, albeit not stated explicitly. Exploitation and injustice, and a desire for more and more, in the material sense, that lead to a separation from God are thematically present in all of these readings.

The prophetic voice calls out against others’ injustice – the powers that be, whether governments or corporations, so the creation care message present in these passages is not only addressing the individual (as in the case of the young man in the Gospel of Mark) but society at large (the Israel of Amos’ time). There remains a balance here too, in that the criticism is initially of Israel’s neighbours, but Amos makes it clear that Israel is not absolved of its failings, nor weighted on an absolute scale against others’ failings. We are called to transform unjust structures of society (it is the Fourth Anglican Mark of Mission) be they our own church structures or the context we live within, and advocacy for justice is a vocal part of that work.

Turning to the Fifth Anglican Mark of Mission – striving to safeguard the integrity of creation – I think a major focus of a sermon on today’s readings is around consumerism and consumption in general, both at that individual level, around clothing and fast fashion, which exploits both the earth in regard to the water (8 gallons for a pair, 3 days human consumption in the USA) and chemicals needed to dye jeans, but the humans that make them in factories which are often physically unsafe, and in places where labour laws are weak or unenforced. We can explore more sustainable ways of consuming – vegan and vegetarian diets for example – but if we overeat these products, the environmental benefits of reducing the demand for animal products is undone.

As we are offered and choose to pursue these lines of consumption – few inherently bad in their own right – we are pursuing more than we need, seeking to be made whole by having the latest, or completing the set, and in so doing, failing to observe the presence of God around us, in creation, and miss the satisfaction, being satiated by God’s love and peace and provision. That we create barriers to our own experience of the presence of God is sad enough without the realisation that in our pursuit of the vapour of the world, we actively and passively harm others and the earth in the process.

To join both the fourth and fifth marks of mission in thought and action, let us make it so we don’t need to engage in beach clean-ups or community litter picks, not because the waste has been carefully disposed of, or even recycled, but because we simply aren’t consuming the things that result in this waste in the first place. But as we do this, we must call for systemic change – rethinking how our economies are run, for the sake of the jeans makers in Turkey or Bangladesh, for those selling plastic throwaway products, for those like the Zabaleen in Cairo, who make their income from dealing with everyone else’s rubbish. As we seek to encourage the consumption of less, and the production of better, more sustainable and longer lasting items closer to home, those on the margins will suffer economically without input into training, and a global approach to making less, and better.

As with other passages of the Gospels and the Psalms (Matthew 6; Psalm 24) the pursuit of God’s Kingdom and the recognition that the earth belonging to God, today’s readings suggest that through recognising the presence of God, and the imminence of God’s Kingdom, we will be transformed in our lives and our relationships. We care for creation not because ‘we should’ but because it belongs to God, and in our love for God, we care for God’s creation. In our relationships we love our neighbour not because we should, or that we benefit from the relationship, but because in that person we see the image of God, and in that moment must respond with love.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

References

Amos Hymn of Creation, taken from chapters 4, 5 and 9:

413 For lo, the one who forms the mountains, creates the wind, reveals his thoughts to mortals, makes the morning darkness, and treads on the heights of the earth— the Lord, the God of hosts, is his name!

58 The one who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning, and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the Lord is his name, 9 who makes destruction flash out against the strong, so that destruction comes upon the fortress.

95 The Lord, God of hosts, he who touches the earth and it melts, and all who live in it mourn, and all of it rises like the Nile, and sinks again, like the Nile of Egypt; 6 who builds his upper chambers in the heavens, and founds his vault upon the earth; who calls for the waters of the sea, and pours them out upon the surface of the earth— the Lord is his name.

An article on the environmental cost of the production of Jeans:

https://www.ecowatch.com/environmental-cost-jeans-2544519658.html

An article on the Zabaleen people in Cairo, the challenges they face and the good that they do: https://waste4change.com/blog/taking-a-peek-of-the-zabbaleen-the-garbage-people-of-cairo-egypt

by Joel Kelling, Anglican Alliance

Season of Creation 5 – 19th Sunday after Pentecost

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 2:18-24
both
Psalm
8
2nd Reading
Hebr 1:1-4, 2:5-12
Hebr 2:9-11
Gospel
Mark 10:2-16
both
by Mandy Marshall, Director for Gender Justice, Anglican Communion

NOTES ON THE READINGS

The glorious nature of creation

These passages in Genesis about creation are very familiar to many of us, so much so that we can often miss the wonder, majesty, and glory of what is happening. God is creating life – animals, birds and people – and then establishes the relationship between woman and man, something that is often misunderstood.

Psalm 8 focusses on worshipping and honouring God for the created world in which we live. It states marvellous appreciation for what is all around us and how that leads to wonder and worship.

Hebrews shows us how honoured we are in relationship with God, the maker and creator of heaven and earth and the privileged access we all have to God.

The passage is Matthew is often seen as a contentious one as it discusses divorce. We need to be mindful of the context in which the story is written and how the Pharisees were testing Jesus and trying to trick him. In response Jesus rebukes the Pharisees. The Pharisees say, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her” (Matt 10:4). Jesus responds by saying, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you” (Matt 10:5).

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

In the previous chapter of Genesis, we see God speaking and it being so. For example, God said ‘let there be light’, and there was light. In this chapter we see a change in approach, as if God gets her/his hands dirty. ‘Out of the ground the LORD formed every animal’ and ‘…the LORD God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh’ (Genesis 2:21). It is a reminder for us that we need to worship God with our head, our hearts and our hands. We cannot simply pray and ask God to sort out climate change without ourselves taking the action needed to make that happen. God got his/her hands stuck in, in making creation. So must we in saving it.

Think about the wonder of the variety and diversity of animals, birds and people. Look at the trees outside (if you have them): the variety, the colours, the shapes of the leaves, the berries, flowers, the bark, and blossom that come at the different seasons. There are so many varieties of trees! We only need to take time to stop and reflect to see the wonderous magnificence that is creation. Mary Oliver succinctly reflected this when she said ‘Let me keep my mind on what matters, which is my work, which is mostly standing still and learning to be astonished.’

How often do we stop to be astonished at all that God has created?

Psalm 8 is a fabulous psalm of sheer praise and worship by David to God when he stands still and sees, feels, and hears all that God has made. We often read this psalm in a quiet, reflective tone but it’s not difficult to imagine King David, arms wide open, shouting his praise to God at how wonderful God and God’s creation are. After all, David danced before the ark of the covenant as it was brought into Jerusalem. Maybe we need to read this psalm again in a tone of praise and wonder, as it was probably originally written.

Have you ever burst forth with praise at the wonder of creation? Do cultural barriers stop you?

The other aspect of these passages focuses on the relationship between women and men. This is often seen from a patriarchal perspective of domination and power, men ruling over women or having power over women. And yet that is not what we see in the scriptures. Rather, what we see portrayed is companionship, relationship and equality. Adam says ‘bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh’, which emphasises the oneness of the relationship and the closeness given by God. Sometimes the passage is used to justify the subservience of women by saying that God needed Adam to create Eve. This is idolatry and heresy. It is placing Adam above God. God could have created Eve out of dust as God did with Adam. The fact that God chose to create woman out of Adam demonstrates the uniqueness and distinctiveness of the relationship between woman and man and the unity that is presented in that communion with one another.

The positive side of the passage in Mark is that it celebrates and emphasises the unique relationship between women and men and becoming one in marriage. It is a beautiful picture of the wonder of the relationship. Jesus brings the Pharisees back to the wonder of the original intention of that relationship and marriage and how beautiful it was meant to be, and indeed can be.

The Pharisees are testing Jesus in this passage in an attempt to catch him out. Are they really interested in the wondrous nature of the relationship between women and men? No, they are not. We need to remember that women could not divorce their husbands. It was only the men that could divorce their wives. Women were powerless. Jesus is challenging the men in this passage and is very direct. Jesus is clear that Moses said what he did about divorce because the men were so hard of heart. A woman who was divorced in the time of Jesus would be desolate, shunned, shamed, and could be left begging in order to survive if her family didn’t take her back. So Jesus is protecting women when he is challenged by the Pharisees by pointing out their sin in treating women as though they can be discarded. He brings the Pharisees back to God’s original intention for relationship and unity.

People have misused this passage in Mark to say no-one can get divorced and reference other passages that say God hates divorce. Well of course God hates divorce as it is so destructive to the people involved, family and friends. That doesn’t mean that we keep people together if it is a destructive and abusive marriage. Our priority is safety for all concerned. If one person (often it will be the woman) is being abused, we cannot say that they must stay together because God hates divorce, and it isn’t allowed. The safety of woman is the priority, not the institution of marriage. After all, Jesus didn’t die for the institution of marriage but to bring us back to God. There is also a need to be wise and to bring perpetrators of abuse to account. Some churches struggle with this, but it is an important part of justice, just as Jesus pointed out to the Pharisees.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Domestic Abuse and COVID-19: How Churches Can Respond available in seven languages here

by Mandy Marshall, Anglican Communion

Season of Creation 4 – 18th Sunday after Pentecost

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Esth 7:1-6,9-10; 9:20-22
Num 11:25-29
Psalm
124
2nd Reading
Jas 5:13-20
Jas 5:1-6
Gospel
Mark 9: 38-50
both

WEEK FOUR – PRAY AND ACT FOR OUR COMMON HOME

Introduction

The web of life is unravelling. There is a danger that responses to climate injustice and environmental chaos can become only about activism: campaigns and advocacy. Today’s readings encourage us to turn to God in prayer in times of crisis, recognising that activism needs deep foundations in a spirituality that sustains and renews us. The challenges ahead are huge and without a spirituality that sustains us, we may burn out.

“We face multiple crises of poverty, inequality, biodiversity loss and the climate crisis. We have a short window – a kairos moment – in which to turn from well worn, broken paths and choose a better story for ourselves and for the world. But what story will we tell? Some say that Africa is failing, doomed to chaos and poverty and reliance. Others say that Africa is rising, but as a slave to a narrative of greed, power, violence, individualism and extraction, to the benefit of just a few. We see another way – a courageous choice to turn from these two single stories and tell a new story, one created by the agency and voices of all African citizens: an Abundant Africa. An Abundant African economy could be built upon shalom, upon African values of innovation, freedom and relationship. It could reduce poverty and inequality, honour human dignity, care for creation – and in so doing be an economy that will lead the world.” (Abundant Africa).

This is a vision towards which we must pray and act.

Please go to www.seasonofcreation.org for more resources for the Season of Creation.


SERMON NOTES

by Rev Mkhuseli Lujabe, Diocese of Cape Town
Esther 7:1-6,9-10; 9: 20-22

In today’s portion of the Esther story, we read how Queen Esther being of Jewish blood herself, becomes an instrument of the deliverance of the Jewish people against whom a plot to kill had been set by Haman. Justice is served when Haman becomes a victim of his own plot of manipulation and cruelty towards the Jews of the time. The conclusion of this set text for today, depicts the vindication of Mordecai as well, who is given a place of honour following the King’s promotion. To this day, this event continues to be crucial and central to the Jewish people as evident in the annual Jewish Purim festival which commemorates this event. The reading reflects the question: how can one be a faithful Jew in a foreign environment? One answer could be to cut themselves off from the pollution of another culture and faith. But Esther argues that Jewish people should become active participants in society.

This challenges us as disciples of Christ – in our environmental activism, we need to work with those of other faiths and none. Change can only be achieved if we are willing to challenge the principalities and powers and speak truth to power as Esther did.

The book of Esther is a story of a woman whom God used to bring justice and deliverance at the heart of the political process, at great personal risk. Can we intercede for those today who are strategically placed to speak truth to power, to challenge self-interest, and to advocate for climate victims and nature herself?

We also need to recognise that we are often not the ‘Esthers’ of this story, we are often the Hamans or the King – for we are the ones whose lifestyle choices are causing the abuse of other people and eco-systems. This should cause us to lament and change our ways.

Psalm 124

This psalm forms part of the collection of Psalms known as the songs of Ascents, sung by pilgrims as they made their way to the place of worship in Jerusalem.

The psalmist acknowledges the hand of God in the deliverance of Israel – God’s own chosen race, God’s beloved – from great danger. Once again, the theme of God as a shield of life, the one who goes through great lengths to save humanity and the preciousness of life; becomes audible as a hymn of great gratitude from the pen of the psalmist.

The language of the psalm is filled with graphic descriptions, with words that display the extent to which human life was threatened in danger – the images of being ‘swallowed up alive, flood sweeping, the torrents and raging waters covering people’. Many of the descriptions picture nature raging, in storms and torrents.  In these verses the reader is given a clear understanding of God’s love for people, as a crucial aspect of creation and a true expression of the relationship of grace between God and humanity.

The poetic language of nature and destruction speaks to us today, concerned about the impact of climate change, with storms, hurricanes, floods and sea level rise impacting on the poorest of the poor.   We look to God to save us, but we are also called to be disciples of God and work to help to heal the Earth and avoid future catastrophic climate change.

Our hope in in the maker of heaven and earth!

James 5: 13-20

The reader of the letter of James is known for his focus on action “faith without words is dead” James 2:17, shows us that once the gospel has been received, it is to be lived out in the Christian life.

To say, ‘Is anyone among you in trouble, let them pray’, ‘Is anyone among you sick, call the elders to pray’ ‘if the rain does not fall, pray for rain’ – at first sounds like an over spiritualisation of the issues. Are we then ‘sending thoughts and prayers’ and doing nothing?

But if we understand this passage within the theology of James, we see that action is taken for granted – prayer, then is the underpinning of the clear call to action. Action undergirded by prayer is a powerful formula for change. Prayer not only connects us with God, it connects us with the community of God as we ‘call together the elders’.

We see different types of prayer modelled in this passage. We see prayers of lament for those in trouble, and also prayers of thanksgiving. We see prayers for people who are sick and also prayers for the climate.  We can see how our health is dependent on the health of the Earth. We depend upon the web of life for our well-being. We need to confess our sins and commit to new ways of living in harmony with the community and with the whole of creation.

Through prayer we can connect with other believers and turn to God for strength and be restored. The theme of salvation, forgiveness and restoration are God’s ways of bringing those whom he loves back to life in its fullness (body, mind and spirit); becomes the backdrop of understanding the James text.

The healing of our bodies and souls is set in the broader context of creation. The reference to the story of Elijah’s faith in 1 Kings 17 & 18 seeks to open up for the reader that the prayer of the one who has faith prevails, even when praying for relief from a drought, the healing of the Earth. Human health and wellbeing is dependent on the health of the eco-systems that sustain us. We need to confess to the damage we have done to God’s Earth and commit to new ways of living in harmony with the community and with the whole of creation.

The writer places confession and forgiveness of sins through prayer at the centre as a way of restoring harmony between God and humanity. Prayers of lament are also an important part of discipleship and stewardship of Creation in order to bring about healing and restoration.

James highlights the importance of prayer in the life of a disciple. If you consider yourself an activist – are you praying about the Climate crisis? Are you praying for God’s mercy for people and places suffering devastating and catastrophic drought or flood, storms or erosion?  We must also pray for the political processes, for COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, and for God’s Spirit to change the hearts of world leaders, to give them compassion and embolden them to take unpopular but necessary decisions.

“The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (5:16b). Faith can move mountains.

Mark 9: 38-50

In the gospel passage there are two sections which make up the lesson for today’s reflection: verse 38-41, and verses 42-50.

Setting this passage in context we notice in Mark 9: 33-37 that Jesus teaches about the dangers of being swayed from the heart of service and ministry by indulgence in privilege, status and power amongst those who are his disciples. He points them to a ministry of humility, service and tolerance.

“Whoever is not against us is for us” v 40

In verse 38-41 we see that the disciples are critical of people casting out demons in Jesus’ name – because they are not professed disciples like the twelve.  (Cole, 1983: 151).  Jesus judges them for their attitude towards those who are doing good deeds. These deeds might be spiritual or basic physical needs like a glass of clean drinking water. In this passage Jesus forbids partisanship between the disciples and the world. There will be those working in the same area of caring for creation, providing water and relief needs, who hold different beliefs than ours.  We need to be willing to work in partnership with them for justice for the poor and for creation.

 “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck, and they were thrown into the sea”. v 42

Mark uses strong language to warn of the danger of causing children and young people to stumble.  Climate injustice is at heart intergenerational justice. We are abusing the resources of the generations to come. A recent UK survey claimed 90% of young Christians see the climate as today’s most pressing and urgent issue, and yet 90% also say their churches are not doing enough on climate change. If churches are slow to pray, speak and act on the climate emergency, this passage suggests God will judge us harshly for causing young people to stumble in their faith. Our response needs to be in lament and repentance, in prayer and fasting, and in speaking out and acting decisively.

“If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off” v 43

In verse 41-50 the teaching of Jesus turns towards personal attitudes of the disciples, as he expands on his teaching about humility and charity of heart and action towards others. Once again Jesus shows great concern for righteousness of relationships between God and the people, and how by all means the task of discipleship ought to be a clear channel for making possible for people to be united with God through Christ.

Restoration and reconciliation between God, humanity and creation can be hindered by our personal attitudes. This graphic depiction of the removal of a destructive body part shows that there are very large sacrifices that need to be taken. The road ahead is not easy.

“Salt is good, but if it loses its saltiness, how can you make it salty again”? v 50

Salt was used before there was refrigeration as a way of preserving meat and to stop it from going rotten.  We can see that our planet is being devastated, and polluted, becoming in the words of Pope Francis- a pile of filth – can Christians become the salt that is rubbed in, to preserve and protect it. A tiny amount of salt can preserve a large piece of meat.  Or have we lost our saltiness – are our lifestyles and value systems exactly the same as others?

As disciples of Christ we  are called to a life of simplicity and sacrifice. We are the restoration generation!

Bibliography

Diakonia 2006 The Oikos Journey

Abundant Africa , Renew our World 2021

Carson, D.A; France, R. T; Motyer, J. A; Wenham, G. J (Editors). 1994. New Bible Commentary. Inter-Varsity Press: England.

Cole, R. A. 1983. The Gospel according to St. Mark: An introduction and commentary. Inter-Varsity Press: Leicester, England.

Von Rad, G. 1972. Genesis: A Commentary. SCM Press: London.

Migliore, D. L. 2004. Faith seeking understanding: An introduction to Christian Theology (Third Edition). William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company: Grand Rapids, Michigan.

LITURGICAL RESOURCES

COLLECT

God, creator of the universe:
Fill us with your love for the whole of creation,
Awake in us the passion to work for your world
with passion and boldness
Lift us up on eagles’ wings, so that we may  not be overwhelmed by the task ahead.
In the power of the Holy Spirit who renews the face of the Earth.

Gathering in God’s name

Call to worship

Creator God
We come before You today
With open minds and loving hearts.
We thank You for the gift of Your creation
And all You have given us
We are called to be your disciples,
Teach us how to build a world of love, justice and peace
And to be better stewards of Your creation.

Penitence

Loving God,
You have invited us into relationship with You, and others.
For the times when we have turned away and broken the bonds between us.
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy

 You have given us many gifts to share with one another.
For the times when we have used them without regard for others.
Christ have mercy
Christ have mercy

You invited us to be to be Your disciples in the world.
For the times when we have rejected Your invitation and taken our own path.
Lord have mercy
Lord have mercy

Responding to the Word of God

Prayers of the People

We give thanks today for the many gifts God has given us:
for the beauty of the earth and the abundance of its creatures,
for food to nourish us and water to quench our thirst,
for the seasons that nurture us and the relationships that sustain us.
May we be good stewards of creation,
using our skills and talents for the benefit of all.
Lord in Your mercy
Hear our prayer

We remember today all those whose lives are already affected by climate change,
especially the poorest and most vulnerable throughout the world.
We pray that God be with them and suffuse them with the gift of hope
and strength to fight for a better world.
Lord in Your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for our churches, around the world,
that as communities of faith we may be active participants in work for climate justice.
We pray for those in positions of leadership,
that they may use their voices to speak out on behalf of those most vulnerable to climate change,
and the whole of God’s creation.
Lord in Your mercy
Hear our prayer

We pray for ourselves, that we may recognise the invitation to discipleship as a gift.
May we open ourselves to recognising the many people and places in which God works, building relationships with all who strive to protect God’s creation.
Lord in Your mercy
Hear our prayer

(Churches Together in Britain and Ireland)

Celebrating at the Table

Sharing the Peace

Peace is God’s gift, both peace with God the creator and peace with all creation. May our gesture be the expression of this gift. Let us give one another a sign of peace. The peace of the Lord be always with you

(CAFOD)

Sending Out

A prayer for COP26

Father, we pray for you to raise up a generation of leaders with the courage to take responsibility for our changing climate, and the part we have played in it. We intercede for our politicians and leaders as they will gather at COP26 in Scotland. Move them to act in the best interests of all nations today, and all peoples in the future, in order to avoid catastrophic changes. We ask You to fill the hearts of all who lead rich nations. Give them your mercy and compassion on poor countries already suffering the effects of a changing climate. Just as they have been moved to cancel debt in the past, encourage them also to release funds so that poor communities can adapt to the effects of climate change, and develop cleanly. And inspire us, Mighty God, to amend our lives for the sake of your Earth, your climate, your people.
All: Lord, in your mercy, lead our leaders and us to truth and transformation.

(Adapted from The Sanctuary Centre – climate change prayer)

We light a candle for climate justice
Spirit of God, you established the dance of Creation:
Bring life out of death, bring order out of chaos.
Call us to radical action: to care for the web of Creation
To share our resources justly and to work for the renewal of our Mother, Earth.
We light this candle as we commit ourselves to act and pray for climate justice

(Archbishop Thabo Makgoba)

by Rev Mkhuseli Lujabe, Cape Town

Season of Creation 3 – 17th Sunday after Pentecost

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Prov 31:10-31
Wis 2:1a,12,17-20
Psalm
1
2nd Reading
Jas 3:13–4:3,7-8a
both
Gospel
Mark 9:30-37
both

WEEK THREE – ECUMENISM: THE FAMILY OF GOD IN OUR COMMON HOME

Introduction

“Oikumene – the whole inhabited world”

We have looked at ‘economy’ and ‘ecology’. A third word that comes from the root of oikos is “ecumenical’, which comes from oikoumene – the whole inhabited world.  This is a grounding point for the ecumenical movement of Christian unity.  “Ecumenical” contains the idea of both economy and ecology.  God has created this, our common home and is seeking justice, equity, reconciliation and the flourishing of the whole of creation. The idea of the oikoumene, the house in which God is at work – the whole of the inhabited universe, provides a theological alternative to the concept of globalisation.

There are many negatives to globalisation, particularly the destruction of biodiversity and climate change. Many multi-national corporations abuse workers and the planet, exploiting the lowest labour costs and the weakest environmental standards they can find globally to make their products. In contrast to globalisation, this vision of “oikumene” is described as the place of God’s reconciling mission:

And this gospel of the kingdom shall be preached in all the world for a witness unto all nation. Matt 24:14

In Acts we read of Agabus in Acts who told of the great famine that would come over the whole world ‘oikoumene’, and the response of the people which was to give to those in need.

One of them named Agabus stood up and began to indicate by the Spirit that there would certainly be a great famine all over the world…. So the disciples collected money for the people in Judea. Acts 11: 28

The picture of the oikoumene helps us see the positive side of our global networks. It recognises the unity of all humans whatever their culture of social class. They are not just faceless labourers or consumers serving the multi-nationals. The eleven-year-old boy digging coltan in DRC to go into my cell phone has a face and name because of social media.  We must challenge the nightmare of rampant globalisation with the vision of the shared oikoumene – a home for all.

One of the key ways of combatting the negative effects of globalisation is to work ecumenically – recognising that we are all part of the ‘Oikos tou Theou’ – the household of God, the church (Eph 2:19) – the community of faith. It is wonderful to see how a concern for our common home is uniting Christians globally. The Season of Creation which started in the Orthodox Church, has spread to the World Council of Churches, Anglican Communion Environmental Network, Global Catholic Climate Movement, Lutheran World Federation and now other churches and movements.

“The calling of the church is to hold up the radical inclusivity of the household of God, in which all are invited to sit at the family table as equals.“ (The Oikos Journey)

The church must be a constant witness against the economies of exclusion, which takes God given resources of the Earth and the labour of the poor and delivers them into the hands of wealthy shareholders.

The Rev. Dr Martin Luther King, Jr. and others have called the oikos of God “the Beloved Community”, a community in which all of life are equally members, equally precious to God.

Please go to www.seasonofcreation.org for more resources for the Season of Creation.


Ecumenical

SERMON NOTES

by Rev Shaun Cozett, Diocese of Cape Town

In Genesis God set a dome over the Earth. The word “dome” is where we get words such as ‘domicile’ and ’domestic’ — in other words, God puts us all is — all people, all life — under the same domed roof — we are all in the house, the oikos of God. God gave humans the ministry to take care and cultivate this oikos of God.

(Season of Creation Ecumenical Guide 2021)

Proverbs 31: 10-31

Probably one of the most famous passages in the Book of Proverbs, chapter 31 tells of the industrious wife. It explains how she is able to perform many tasks both inside and outside the home; how she is able to raise money and buy a house, raise a family and bring pride to her husband. But is this meant to be a job description for a good wife? McCreesh (1985) argues that this passage is not meant to be taken literally, because if it is, it would suggest that women are meant to do everything in the home while their husbands sit in the places of honour and boast. This passage is rather about wisdom and comes as the final chapter of the book to summarize what had already been said. Wisdom is often spoken of in feminine terms, so to speak of wisdom as a woman or a wife (depending on your translation) is nothing strange. Here the wife (wisdom) is portrayed as desirable, because she is able to generate wealth, build a family, inculcate good values and bring honour. This passage shows us that wisdom, as an attribute, is highly regarded in the Bible and something we should strive towards.  It is Wisdom that models the way to look after our home. Note how she ensures everyone, and everything can flourish: her family, the poor, the land and the economy!

This passage teaches us that we must be guided by wisdom to protect our common home. Where do we find such wisdom? The Spirit of God will guide us, but we must also listen to scientists who are also guided by wisdom. It is interesting to note that the Anglican Communion has just set up a Science and Faith commission chaired by Archbishop Thabo, recognising the importance of faith and science working hand in hand. Globally too we are realising that we must be guided by the ancient wisdoms of our ancestors and the voices of indigenous people. Belief systems that came with colonialism have devastated the globe, it is time to learn from ancient wisdoms that treasured Mother Earth and teach us that we are part of the web of life and not separate to it.

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 suggests that there are two paths that can be followed, the path of righteousness or the path of sin. The Psalmist suggests that those who follow the path of righteousness will find favour with God and will enjoy the blessings of God. The way of the sinners will lead to destruction and ultimately such a person will not be able to defend themselves on the day of judgement. Psalm 1 is considered a Psalm of Wisdom, as the focus of the psalm is not on expressing the prophetic word of God, nor does it exalt God, but rather it offers insight and guidance to the person who seeks to live a life that is pleasing to God. The emphasis here is on instructing the individual believer in how to live their life. This characteristic is common in Wisdom literature, that it seeks to impact the decisions of the individual and calls on the individual to make wise choices, promising that it would lead to God’s blessings.  When we live in harmony with nature, there will be shalom, right relationships and we will give fruit in its season.

This Psalm encourages us to seek to spend time with other people of faith, rather than ‘sitting in the seats of scoffers’, it is as we work together ecumenically that the movement to care for creation will grow.

James 3:13-4:3, 7-8a

James, in today’s lesson, writes that there are two kinds of wisdom; that which is from the earth and that which is from above. James goes on to call the reader to be reconciled to God. He writes that where jealousy, envy, hatred and anger are present, such ‘wisdom’ will be disorderly and the wisdom that leads to these attitudes and the resulting actions will lead to disorder and conflict. This is the kind of wisdom which does not come from heaven but is earthly wisdom. The wisdom that comes from heaven is characterised by love and loving action. James goes on to encourage the reader to be reconciled to God and live according to God’s laws. This passage is another example of Wisdom literature, since the aim of the passage is to encourage the righteousness and right living of the individual. The passage, like Psalm 1, does not offer prophetic words or understanding of who God is, but rather is aimed at the individual making decisions. James makes clear that there is wisdom in the world, but the reader should be clear about the origin of that wisdom and where that wisdom would lead.

“But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” James 3:17-18

James challenges us not to show envy and selfish ambition. Sadly, in the environmental movements, sometimes jealousies and cracks do appear, and people want their name to be noted, their organisation to get the credit. Perhaps we should turn to the wisdom of the mighty rivers such as the Amazon. The Amazon is fed by many tiny drops. Every drop is important, for they trickle into streams which become rivers. And all those rivers have names. But it is only as those rivers lose their names and converge into the mighty Amazon that they gain power to wash away rocks and wear down mountains,

To have power in our movements, we may need to lose our name…

Mark 9: 30-37

Jesus speaks about his death for the second time, and this leads to the disciples discussing amongst themselves who the next leader would be. Jesus famously tells them that anyone wishing to be the leader should first be the servant of all. This conversation is of course held in the context of an honour and shame culture, in which the desirable position to be in is the one that allows the community to see you as a person of honour. The leader of the disciples would no doubt have been a powerful position, given the following that Jesus had and that the new leader could potentially build on. Jesus reminds his disciples that in the kingdom of God servanthood is more desirable than power or status and that they should focus on humility and love above power and prestige.  This again is a challenge to our ecumenical work – are we looking for status or for service?

In verses 36-37, Jesus tells us that in welcoming children we welcome God himself. Today, many children and young people suffer from climate anxiety and despair about the future. Wisdom for us, must include listening to the voices of young people and seeing climate change as an intergenerational justice issue.

Today’s lessons are all examples of Wisdom Literature. Typically, Wisdom literature seeks to convey a message based on life experience.  If you follow the message, you will find life and blessing, and if not, destruction will follow.  Wisdom literature is common in the Old Testament and found in Job, Psalms, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes are all considered books of wisdom. But are these books meant for those who have sinned and need to return to God?

In traditional theology, humans sin and then God offers salvation, but Wisdom theology on Godly living shows a different path. God offers us salvation from the start, teaching us from the beginning and guiding our thoughts and actions. Wisdom literature calls for salvation and right living and seeks not to shame those who have acted unwisely but rather offers the good news of salvation in the knowledge that no-one can act wisely at all times.

The call to salvation is therefore a call made not in response to sin and the need to plead forgiveness but is the promise that righteousness would lead to blessing, in the hope that this would encourage us to choose wisely and follow God’s laws. “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us”.

The issues of sin, ethics and morality are often associated with environmental damage (Messer, 2014). The concept of anthropogenic climate change by definition indicates that the changing climate and loss of species is the direct result of human actions. How are we supposed to respond? Looking today at the Wisdom Literature we see that our efforts should be invested in unpacking the benefits of doing the right things as well as stating what might happen if we did the wrong things. Wisdom in the Bible is distinguished from knowledge, which is the result of personal efforts and life experiences. Wisdom is given by God and is meant for the building up of the community. The way we frame a sermon on salvation during the Season of Creation should not merely seek to indicate how people have acted incorrectly and need to amend their actions, it should be the Good News that God offers us His wisdom and the rewards of wise living, even while we are still acting unwisely.

The sermon therefore should focus on hope and the promises of God for those who will honour God through righteousness. We are also reminded that sin speaks of the separation in the relationship between God and human beings, which only God could heal through His redemptive love on the cross. Preaching about the damage done to God’s creation is therefore a critical part of reflecting on the severing of that relationship, knowing that in creation God said that all that is created is good.

The call to salvation is therefore a call back to God’s goodness, but not of our own doing, it is a call back to God through God’s efforts and God’s sacrifice. For the Christian therefore, caring for creation is a response to salvation and not a means of salvation.

The great threats of our time; climate change, species loss and inequality point to lack of care for creation and each other, a lack that has seen humanity focus on individual wellbeing and financial success. Following today’s service, in is intended that congregants would have a renewed understanding of God’s generosity and the love that made restoring our connection with God possible. There are many factors that have led to the current lamentable state of creation, some of which are outside the control of the individual, but where we are able to take personal action, the right thing to do is to act in love for others and for creation. These actions, we are promised, will lead to blessings and a restoration of life as opposed to wrongful actions that will lead to destruction. The call to salvation today is a call to recognise that God offers both an opportunity for our relationship with God, which has been broken by sin, to be restored, and also the reminder that this offer of salvation has always been there. We act in love as a response to God’s offer of salvation, and not because we ourselves are righteous or justified through our actions.

Bibliography

The Oikos Journey  2006 . Diakonia

McCreesh, T 1985 “Wisdom as a wife: Proverbs 31: 10-31” in Revue Biblique Vol. 92 No 1 pp. 25-46 Peeters Publishers

Messer, N 2014 “Sin and salvation” in Systematic Theology and Climate Change: Ecumenical Perspectives ed. Northcliff, S & Scott, P Routledge: New York, NY

HarperCollins Bible Dictionary: Revised and Updated, 1989 HarperCollins: New York, NY

Mullins, T. 1949  “ Jewish Wisdom Literature in the New Testament” in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 68 No. 4 (Dec. 1949) pp. 335-339. The Society for Biblical Literature

COLLECT

God of the living earth
You called us to be part of your beloved community,
baptised into one family through the sacred waters of life
called to care together for your world.
Guide as we work to sustain our common home.
Help us to find the path to living in peace and harmony with all your creatures
united by the divine dance of the Trinity.

Gathering in God’s name

Call to worship

Creator, you bent the earth like a bow until it was one, round, shining planet. At your word the land was drawn into mountains and deserts, forests and plains; the waters were gathered together into rivers, lakes and seas. Many times, when people crossed these seas from other lands, they broke the circle of your creation by their greed and violence, and they shattered the lives of others. Creator, renew the circle of the earth and turn the hearts of all people to one another; that they and all the earth may live and be drawn toward you through the power of your Son, who lives with you and the Holy Spirit in the circle of the Trinity, forever One.

(Kelly Sherman Conroy, Evangelical Lutheran Church)

Act of Penitence

Lord Jesus Christ, the firstborn of creation, in whom all things in heaven and on earth were created,
things visible and invisible,
Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy

You who are before all things and in whom all things hold together, the head of the church,
Christ, have mercy
Christ, have mercy

In you all the fullness of God dwells and through you God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things in heaven and on earth,
Lord, have mercy
Lord, have mercy

Col. 1:15-20

Assurance of Forgiveness

God who in His wisdom sent us Jesus Christ as an offering for our sins, once and for all, forgive us our sins and restore through the cross of Christ our relationship with himself, with each other and with all of creation. Amen

Responding to the Word of God

Affirmation of faith

We have faith in One God, one Source of all life.
One Ground of the whole earth,
with all her creatures.

We have faith in the fullness of earth’s life,
in the innate worth of all her dependents,
in human partnership in the life of nature.

We have faith that in Christ we have been shown the
special role of the human race
to bear God’s likeness in working and
caring for the earth,
in seeking to understand her mysteries
and powers, in gently working
with these powers for the well-being of
all children of the earth.

We have faith
that God´s Spirit will lead us to
sensitive closeness with earth’s life.

(ECEN)

Prayers of the People

Let us pray:

Creator God, we thank you for your word, the word that was with you at the creation of the world, the word that went forth from you and created light and separated it from the darkness, creating land and separating it from the waters, giving life every creature and calling us to be the carers of all you created. We thank you for Jesus, the promised Messiah, who came to earth as the word made flesh and taught us how to live.

We acknowledge before you that we haven’t always lived up to our calling to be stewards of your gifts. Forgive us for our lack of care that has caused pollution of the land, sea and air. Forgive us for our greed that has caused the over-use of water, the extinction of insects, birds, fish and animals, the burning of forests and the exploitation of people. Forgive our love for war and violence through which we have disrupted countries, displaced people, poached animals and caused devastation for the earth.

We bring before you all who suffer; the sick, the homeless, the unemployed and the lonely. We pray for comfort for the bereaved and rest for those who have gone before us.

We thank you for teachers of the faith who remind us of your grace and your love for us. For teachers in places of learning who help us understand your wisdom in creation and open for us new ways of knowing you and praising you. We thank you for homes and institutions that teach values of love, fairness and godly living and for all who pass on the story of your salvation from one generation to another.

We ask your blessings on the leaders of our country, the ministers of your word and sacrament and the faithful here gathered. May we be channels of your grace and companions in your transformation in the world. We ask these things through Christ who loves us and the Holy Spirit who empowers us. Amen

(Scottish Eco congregations)

Celebrating at the table

Sharing of the Peace

As a community let us embrace the ongoing work of being stewards of all your creation. We see God around us. Let us claim it. We see God within us. Let us share it. If we are in Christ, we are becoming a new creation. One Body. Let us show the caring nature you have instilled within us by greeting each other as a sign of God’s justice of peace, love, forgiveness and grace. The peace of our Creator be with you in all things.

(Kelly Sherman Conroy, Evangelical Lutheran Church)

Invitation to Communion

Draw near and receive the body broken and blood poured out.
Christ was sacrificed for the world and by his wounds we are healed.

The Lord’s prayer

Eternal Spirit, Earth-maker, Pain-bearer, Life-giver,
Source of all that is and that shall be,
Father and Mother of us all,
Loving God, in whom is heaven:

The hallowing of your name echo through the universe!
The way of your justice be followed by the peoples of the world!
Your heavenly will be done by all created beings!
Your beloved community of peace and freedom sustain our hope and come on earth.

With the bread we need for today, feed us.
In the hurts we absorb from one another, forgive us.
In times of temptation and test, strengthen us.
From trials too great to endure, spare us.
From the grip of all that is evil, free us.
For you reign in the glory of the power that is love, now and for ever.
Amen.

(New Zealand Prayer Book, adapted)

Sending Out

Post communion Prayer

God has restored us by the cross of Christ and renewed us with His word and sacrament. Let us go forth into the world to renew and restore all that is broken, lost and hurting. Amen

Benediction

Renewing Spirit, Creator God, look upon these faces gathered in Holy community together and send them anywhere you would have them go, so that they may embody the ministry of justice for your Creation through their actions. Walk with them so that they may face the winds of change and walk the good road. Enlighten them. Sustain them. May God our Creator be with you this day and always.

(Kelly Sherman Conroy, Evangelical Lutheran Church)

Music

From Hymns Ancient and Modern New Standard

207 – Praise to the Lord the almighty the king of creation

15 – Dear Lord and Father of mankind

249 – Take my life and let it be

394 – Lord of all hopefulness

by Rev Shaun Cozett, Cape Town