2nd Sunday after the Epiphany [by Mandy Marshall]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
1 Sam 3:1-20
both
Psalm
139:1-6,13-18
2nd Reading
1 Cor 6:12-20
both
Gospel
John 1:43-51
John 1:35-42
by Mandy Marshall, Anglican Communion’s Director for Gender Justice

Being Known

1 Samuel 3:1-10 (11-20)

Here we find learned priest, Eli, and his prodigy, Samuel in the temple. Samuel is young and is in service to Eli in learning the ways of temple practices. God calls Samuel and Samuel doesn’t recognise the voice of God until the elder priest, Eli, suggests that to Samuel. Eli instructs Samuel to respond when called ‘Speak Lord for your servant is listening’. A crucial instruction that brings transformation to Samuel.

Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18

David, the shepherd and King, recognises and speaks wonder and praise to God in this Psalm of recognition of the joy of creation and the created. David rejoices in that he is fully KNOWN by God, inside out. Before he was formed in his mother’s womb, God knew David was there. There is great joy is being known by God.

1 Corinthians 6:12-20

This scripture is a recognition that God gives us freewill and free choice, the ultimate gift of love. In that free will and choice comes decisions that need to be made as to whether we will support what is good for our soul, mind and body, or choose things that diminish and destroy ourselves. Here Paul writes plainly on this freedom of choice and the impact it can have on us and those in our families, friends and communities. No thought or action is missed.

John 1: 43-51

A passage for the cynics and critics that Jesus recognises our prejudices, doubts and fears and still draws close to us. In this passage Nathanael speaks openly of his derogatory view of people who come from Nazareth, an outback town in the north of the country. Here Jesus steps into the picture and informs Nathanael that he has known him for some time.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Being known is both comforting and scary. It can be scary in that we know ourselves all the good and the bad inside us, our thoughts, our attitudes which can be seen externally in our behaviours. If we think we are generally ‘good’ then this can lead to a sense of self –righteousness and prejudice towards others. If we think ourselves as a failure or bad, it can inhibit us seeing our true self worth and value. Being known by Jesus and God is comforting. God knows us inside out, our inner most beings and loves us and wants us to be all that we can be. As an unexpected identical twin I very much relate to the passage in Psalm 139. God knew my unformed body before my parents did. I’m sure my twin sister knew too as we were sharing the same space! I have been known to God from before my birth. Although I am an identical twin I am not a duplicate. God doesn’t make duplicates. In the whole history of the universe there will only ever be one of you and me. We are THAT unique. It is important then that we ensure that every single one of us, whatever our circumstance, birthplace, geography, ethnicity, language, ability, that we value every single person as made in the image of God. God is cheering us on and we see this in our friends and family – the wonderful creation that God has placed us in, to enjoy and not destroy.

Let us not be like the Nathanael who says ‘can anything good come from…’ but rather the Nathanael that proclaims and exclaims to Jesus ‘You are the Son of God!’. Let us be like David, proclaiming the joy and wonder of our created being. Let us be like Samuel who listened to the voice of God and was obedient. And let us heed the words of Paul and treat our bodies as the temple of the Holy Spirit and be kind to ourselves, giving nourishment to our soul, mind and body and not the things that diminish and destroy.

Being known by God brings us the ultimate freedom to worship and to live in that love of God making unselfish, sustainable choices every single day.

Questions to consider:
  1. David praised God openly in awe and wonder at his own created self. Do we give thanks to God for giving us life? For the lives of others?
  2. We live in an unjust world in which many are discriminated against, harassed and abused. Gender based violence affects 1 in 3 women globally. How many women in your church could that be? How is your church speaking light, love and life to women affected by abuse? What needs to change in your church so that women are valued equally as men?
  3. A key question to check ourselves in our relationship with God, each other, the environment and ourselves is ‘How is what I am doing impacting on those relationships?’

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Anglican Communion Gender Justice web page Gender Justice (anglicancommunion.org)

Domestic Abuse and COVID-19: How Churches Can Respond – available in seven languages Domestic Abuse and Covid-19 (anglicancommunion.org)

International Anglican Women’s Network International Anglican Women’s Network (anglicancommunion.org) and (1) International Anglican Women’s Network | Facebook

Interview with Archbishop Thabo (Southern Africa Province) on gender based violence 16 Days of Activism: Mandy Marshall in conversation with Archbishop Thabo Makgoba – YouTube

by Mandy Marshall, Anglican Communion’s Director for Gender Justice, UK

Baptism of the Lord [by Dr Elizabeth Perry]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 1:1-5
Isa 42:5-7
Psalm
29
2nd Reading
Acts 19:1-7
Acts 10:34-38
Gospel
Mark 1:4-11
both
by Dr. Elizabeth Perry, Programme and Communication Manager, Anglican Alliance, London (UK)

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Genesis 1.1-5

Creation – the world belongs to God. The Holy Spirit broods over the waters from which will come life.

Psalm 29

The voice of the Lord is over the waters. The voice of the Lord is heard in creation – in the trees, the wilderness, the forests, in fire and floods, through nimals… and over the waters.

Acts 19.1-7

Baptism/water, the Holy Spirit, revelation, changed lives and prophetic witness combine in this passage.

Mark 1.4-11

John baptizes with water – a baptism of repentance.  Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit, who brings new life. At Jesus’ baptism, water is the place of revelation: a voice from heaven declares Jesus to be God’s beloved son.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Water is the unifying theme of the four scriptures set for today: the waters that the Spirit was brooding over at Creation’s dawn; the waters that God’s voice thunders over, which the psalmist sings about; the waters of the baptism practised by Paul and John, and which Jesus himself goes through, where once again God’s Spirit is present, revealed and active in acts of re-creation. In these passages, water is the source of life and a symbol of new life. Water is the means of revelation and a metaphor for crisis / a turning point (for new believers and for Jesus).

Water continues to be a powerful metaphor and place of revelation in our world today:

In 2021, UN-Water report that 29% of the world’s people do not use a safely managed drinking water source, less than 50% of the world’s people use a safely managed sanitation service and only 6 in 10 people have access to a basic handwashing facility. What is the voice of the Lord saying over these waters?

Water is also the primary means by which climate change is experienced by millions of people across the world: whether through rising sea levels (leading to salination of soil, crop loss and land loss), stronger and more frequent storms, flooding or drought. What is the voice of the Lord saying over these waters?

And, as Christians, we are bound through the water of baptism to fellow Christians – and all God’s children –  around the world who are at the sharp end of poverty, injustice and environmental degradation.  What is the voice of the Lord saying over the shared water of our baptisms?

One of the joys of being part of the Anglican Alliance is to see some of the life-giving endeavours Christians across the world are engaged in daily – bringing relief to people who have been through flooding, storms and other disaster; bringing clean water and sanitation to their communities; working to tackle climate change in myriad ways.

This video, Troubled Waters, offers a visual reflection on many of these themes.

Where do you see the Holy Spirit hovering, creating and recreating, bringing new life?

What action can you take to make water more of a blessing than a challenge to people this coming year?

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Further prayers and reflections here: https://anglicanalliance.org/prayer-worship

by Dr. Elizabeth Perry, Anglican Alliance, London

Epiphany [by Rose Marie Terborg Davis]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 60:1–6
both
Psalm
72:1–7,10–14
2nd Reading
Eph 3:1–12
both
Gospel
Matt 2:1-12
both
by Rose Marie Terborg Davis, Diocese of Guyana

Collect for the Epiphany –   O God, by the leading of the star you manifested your only Son to the peoples of the earth: Lead us, who know you now by faith, to your presence, where we may see your glory face to face; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.   Amen.   (BCP, CPWI pg. 160)

Isaiah 60: 1 – 6

The Prophet’s vision of Christ’s birth and prosperity for the Israelites

The prophet foretold the birth of the Christ child, urging the Israelites, to “Arise, shine; for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you ……  the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will appear over you even though darkness would cover the earth,” (Isaiah 60: 1, 2).   In v.3. the prophet seems to speak directly to the Christ child, who was to come, when he said “Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn (v.3) suggesting that at his birth (his dawn) he would be attended by kings, and other important people; that people the world over, would look to him for guidance i.e. come to His light.

The prophet envisages prosperity for the Israelites, viz. return of their children from exile; countries finding them attractive to trade with, and so forth.   This is in contrast to the writing in the previous chapter (59), where darkness had enveloped the Israelites, because they had strayed from the word of God, and as a result of their disobedience, they had suffered adverse consequences.   In Isaiah 59: 2, for example, the prophet says “……your iniquities have been barriers between you and God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear”.  In Isaiah 59: 8-9 he describes the results of their actions: “The way of peace they do not know, and there is no justice in their paths.  Their roads they have made crooked; no one who walks in them knows peace” They also understood their situation.  They acknowledged “……… justice is far from us; and righteousness does not reach us; we wait for light, and lo! There is darkness; and for brightness, but we walk in gloom”.

However, with the coming of the new dawn, the prophetic voice says, their light has come!  ” Then you shall see and be radiant; your heart shall thrill and rejoice, because the abundance of the sea shall be brought to you.  The wealth of the nations shall come to you” (60:5).

Psalm 72: 1 – 7, 10 – 14

In today’s reading The Psalmist pleads for a righteous and fair leader, a true King.   Previous kings had not lived up to expectations as we read in the scriptures (2 Kings 17: 8). We would know from experience that earthly leaders over time who gain power can become self-serving, tending to serve narrow partisan interests, and not display a concern for all whom they swore to protect and serve.  It is a common human failure to take our eyes off of the Light and dwell in the darkness.

The Psalmist’s description of the desired qualities/characteristics mirror the qualities of Christ, wherein he prays for a righteous judge, redeemer, a champion of the poor, compassionate, a prince of peace; qualities that Christ emulated when He came.

Ephesians 3: 1 – 12

In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he speaks of this ‘mystery’ of God being revealed not only to the Israelites, but to the whole world!  The whole world has access to God, through Christ.  God made it possible for all of us to have communion with Him, through the Son, who came to bear our sins.

Paul had an Epiphany too.   The “mystery” of Christ was revealed to him; the “mystery” of God’s grace; a mystery which was not previously known to mankind; that with Christ’s coming, all, not just the Jews, but all people would have access; all can share, in “the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel” (Eph. 3:6).

Matthew 2: 1 – 12

In our readings today for Epiphany, the revelation is about the manifestation of Christ.  Wise men/Maji came to Jerusalem searching for the Christ Child.  They declared:  “Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising and have come to pay him homage.”   (Mat. 2:2)

Herod the King was not happy with this statement, and along with all of Jerusalem, was frightened by it.    He called for all his top officials, ‘his chief priests and scribes’, to enquire of them about this important birth.  It was revealed that they were aware of the prophecy of the birth and indicated to the King that the birth of the Christ Child had been foretold by the prophet and where the birth was expected to take place (Bethlehem in Judea)  [v.5]

This was an “Aha” moment for them; the realization that what was prophesied so long ago, was coming to pass.

The wise men came bearing gifts fit for a king, to worship him (Matthew 2:11).

Sermon Outline

  1. Greetings
  2. Theme for today: The Love of God (John 3:16)
  3. What is an Epiphany?
    • The experience of having something revealed to you
    • Having an “Aha” moment
    • A moment when you realize something
    • g. finding out that the Lord is real; starting a relationship with Him.
  1. The Epiphany 
    • Manifestation of Christ
    • No ordinary birth
    • “King of the Jews”, as described by the wise men/Maji
    • A revelation/an Epiphany/An “Aha” moment
    • Coming to pass what the author of Isaiah had prophesied so long ago.
  1. Walking in the Light?
  • Is our walk one of darkness or light? Does it feel like God is not there?  Are we depending on His Word?
  • Israelites walked in darkness (Isaiah 59) through disobedience to God; not keeping His statutes and decrees.
  • Acting against His Word causes a feeling of separation.
  • g. when we do not show love to those we interact with, our own actions cause us to feel separated from God
  • But there is hope, redemption! God is merciful.  Omnipresent
  • Turn away from evil actions and a new dawn rises, as it did for the Israelites.
  • Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:39).
  • God did not send His Son into the World to condemn the world, but that the world through Him, might be saved (John 3:17).  He said he will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13: 5)[1]
  • Our negative actions bring us to a place of darkness, away from the Light.
  1. Christ and Leadership
    1. Leaders have an important role in society. Leaders can:
      • Create an environment that helps the weak and vulnerable
      • Or an environment that perpetuates inequality
      • Inequality causes suffering – breeds anger, frustration, substance abuse, violence (in the home and other places)
      • Disadvantaged persons
    2. Christ – our example of how to live an abundant life (Psalm 72).
      • Defender of the poor
      • Deliverer of the needy
      • confronting the oppressor (advocating for better conditions that favour those who are oppressed)
      • life-giving (like rain that falls on mown grass, like showers that water the earth).
  2. Conclusion
  • Celebrate Epiphany by:
    • reflecting on how we treat others, especially those less fortunate that we interact with – persons in the workplace, those whom we encounter in the streets; wherever we go.
    • Be guided by the characteristics/qualities identified by the Psalmist in today’s reading
    • Draw nearer to the Light of Christ; the Word a lantern to our feet and a light to our path (Ps. 119:105).
    • Create a revival in communities that would spread to other areas
    • Be grateful for all that God has done – Give thanks.
    • “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him, should not perish but have everlasting life”. (John 3: 16)

=========

Suggested Hymns

Songs of Thankfulness and Praise

Search me O God

Amazing Grace

Brother, Sister, Let Me Serve You

Love Divine, All Loves Excelling

God is working His purpose out

by Rose Marie Terborg Davis, Guyana

References

The Book of Common Prayer (BCP), The Church in the Province of the West Indies (CPWI) 2007

The Holy Bible, New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), Thomas Nelson Publishers 1989

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Epiphany_(feeling)

https://www.google.com/search?q=epiphany+meaning&oq=epiphany&aqs=chrome.0.35i39j69i57j0l4j46j0.4401j0j7&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8

[1] Keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have; for he has said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” (Hebrews13:5 NRSV)

1st Sunday after Christmas [by M. St John Nicolle]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 61:10–62:3
Sir 3:2-14
Psalm
148
2nd Reading
Gal 4:4-7
Col 3:12-21
Gospel
Luke 2:22-40
both
by Maranda St John Nicolle, Director of Christian Concern for One World (CCOW), UK
Isaiah 61: 10 – 62: 3

This is a passage which raises some complex questions. When was it written? By whom? Who is speaking? There are many differences of opinion among Biblical scholars, especially around the last question. (1)

But whichever interpretation one accepts, the central message of the passage remains clear: it is a vision of redemption and glory. God is acting decisively to redeem God’s faithful people, and those redeemed people will reflect God’s glory in a way that all the world can see.

Redemption starts with God’s action – the bringing of salvation, the giving of a new name, the restoration of precious intimacy with God – and leads to the springing up among God’s people of a response of righteousness and praise. It is both transformational – all is made new – and natural, like the springing up of a crop.

Crucially, the redemption of God’s people is not only for the benefit of the people themselves. It also enables them to be a beacon, their vindication and glory pointing towards the glory of the One who is their Creator and Redeemer.

Psalm 148

This invitation to all creation to “Praise the Lord!” is one of a collection of ‘praise’ psalms with which the Book of Psalms closes.

It affirms God’s unique power and role as Creator. Starting with the angels in heaven, all things, even those themselves worshipped as gods by some in the ancient world, are called as created beings to give glory to the One who formed them and who gave them their place in the natural order. (2) And what an array of beings – from stars to sea monsters, fruit trees to flying birds. God’s creativity is on full display!

Like the Isaiah passage, the psalm also celebrates God’s actions to save God’s people. In verses 13 and 14, there is a call to praise God as the One who has “raised up a horn for his people.” There are varied interpretations of what the “horn” means – some, for example, have seen it as referring to the advent of Christ, others to God’s granting Israel power or glory, providing a mighty king, or enabling the return from exile. (3) All point towards God’s power to deliver.

For those of us who have recently heard the magnificent opening of John’s Gospel as part of our Christmas readings, this is another affirmation of the interlinkage of the work of creation and redemption.

But the wonderful litany of beings praising God has prompted further reflections as well – including one of my favourite expositions of this psalm, which comes in Richard Bauckham’s sermon “The Community of Creation” (4)

Bauckham notes that by “call[ing] on all the different categories of creatures to praise their Creator, and only at the end of the list get[ting] to us humans, [the psalm] gives us the sense that there is already all the time this vast cosmic choir hymning the praises of God, and we are called to join in. When we give thanks and glory to God, delighting in God as God delights in us, we are almost literally getting in tune with the universe.”

He asks us to recover this sense of being part of a community of praise, noting that it helps us to avoid “the modern instrumentalizing of the non-human world” and to appreciate our fellow creatures as “they praise God by being what God made them to be – in all the endlessly diverse and particular ways they are.” Doing so, he argues, helps us to appreciate all with whom we share our common home and to see our rightful place: “This experience of worship as joining with all the creatures in their praise of God puts us back where we belong in the community of creation … When we join in the universal worship of God we are not set above creation, as some sort of demi-god ourselves, but set within creation, alongside our fellow-worshippers and fellow-creatures. We join the choir or the orchestra, singing our part or playing our instrument.”

Galatians 4: 4-7

In Paul’s time, a boy was often placed under those who would have control of his upbringing or possessions until he attained his majority.  Then, at the time set by his father, he would be recognised as an adult and given the status of a man – and heir. (5) For Paul, our change in status before God has nothing to do with our maturity and everything to do with Christ’s life, death and resurrection, which occurred “at the right time” according to the Father’s plan. (6) Through God’s Son, we have gained a chance to leave our old status as slaves (verse 3) or subjects (verse 5) – and to gain a new status and a new relationship with God. The Spirit of the Son enters into us and enables us to turn to God as Father. God accepts us as children and heirs of the promise given to Abraham.

Luke 2: 22-40

This long and rich reading weaves together several of the themes surrounding redemption. Mary and Joseph bring the infant Christ to the temple, in order to make the sacrifice that the law demands. It’s not a particularly auspicious arrival; according to Leviticus, only the poor had permission to offer a pair of birds; the standard sacrifice was a lamb and a bird.

But despite the lack of fanfare, two faithful servants of God, Simeon and Anna are able to recognise Christ’s importance and to place Him firmly in salvation history. Simeon, who we are told had the Spirit resting on him, had spent his life “looking forward to the consolation of Israel,” a phrase that scholars note echoes Isaiah’s language about Israel’s deliverance. He praises God’s faithfulness and, in accordance with Isaiah’s prophecies, proclaims the child as the one who will bring both glory to Israel and revelation to the Gentiles. (7) Anna likewise speaks about Jesus as a source of hope for those who seek Jerusalem’s redemption and responds to his presence with praise.

Praise and rejoicing are not the only things going on, however. Simeon also picks up the themes of opposition and suffering that run through Isaiah’s proclamations. This will not be a redemption without strife or cost. His words foreshadow the Cross, binding together the full sweep of incarnation, crucifixion and resurrection.

How might we use these readings to preach an environmental sermon?

There are several clear themes to explore – and each of the readings offers particular possibilities to explore some or all of them in a way that links with our concern for creation.

Isaiah

As we reflect on the coming of the Redeemer, where do we see God doing transforming work today – in our lives and in the life of our suffering world?  Each of us will have our own examples:  for me the growth in churches explicitly seeking to care for creation is one, and the increasing number of countries offering targets for reaching net zero is another. Taking those signs of hope as a kind of first fruits, do we dare allow ourselves to consider – using the eyes of faith – a world in which God’s salvation, for us and for the earth, shines out? What would that look like?

As we enter a new year and ask God’s guidance for our actions in the year ahead, we can also ask to be shown what a life of “righteousness and praise” in response to God’s gift of redemption might mean for each of us, especially in view of the environmental challenges we face. How might we seek to increase our care for creation as part of our response to God’s gift? And how might this best offer a witness to the world around us?

This passage also offers a challenge. We live in a world where climate change is disrupting longstanding agricultural cycles, meaning that for many of us, the earth doesn’t necessarily bring forth its shoots, and gardens don’t necessarily allow what is sown in them to spring up. Indeed, the sufferings of farmers across many continents – and the resultant lack of food security – are among the major crises of our time.  The contrast between Isaiah’s use of natural processes as an analogy for God’s saving action and our current experience of nature highlights the scale of distortion and damage caused by humanity’s overuse of the earth’s resources.

But while the harm done to the earth is rendering this analogy for God’s faithfulness problematic, God remains faithful. How, in times of struggle, can we acknowledge both these realities? Perhaps we can look to the prophet Habakkuk. He railed at the greed, injustice and violence that he saw around him and lamented the harm that had come to his people – but nonetheless maintained faithful hope, awaiting the next stage of God’s saving work: “though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour.” (Habbakuk 3: 17-18)

 Psalm 148

At Christmas time we confront the paradox that Christ is both helpless baby and the lord of all creation. This psalm, like the opening of John’s Gospel, sets out the cosmic scale of God’s grandeur and the praise God is owed for his creative and redemptive acts. In doing so, it reinforces our awareness of the extent of Christ’s self-emptying in becoming one of us, an act of love undertaken in order to redeem what had been made through Him.

Psalm 148 also reminds us, if we follow Richard Bauckham’s lead, that the praise of God is far too great a thing to be our province alone. As he notes, God is praised by all that has being – we are part of a chorus, not doing a solo! And this is a reminder that we are part of – not above – creation.

Many of us, over the lockdowns of the past year, will have found comfort in a re-connection with nature, whether that’s been by something as simple as looking through the window at clouds going by or by longer times spent wandering in a quieted world. As we move into the New Year, with its challenges and possibilities, can we resolve to keep hold of that renewed appreciation for all that surrounds us? As we appreciate nature’s beauty and power, can we consciously ponder the way it reflects God’s glory and try to gain a sense of that almost overwhelmingly great chorus of praise? And can we, as we gradually gain that sense, strive to act with a humility that recognises the value of all creatures with whom we share our common home, and stands against the instrumentalization that devalues and exploits them?

Galatians:

What a gift to be adopted as God’s children! At Christmas time, we give thanks for Christ’s birth and His saving work. But our adoption isn’t simply a change of status; it’s a transformation. The Spirit calls us to prayer and action in line with our new reality. If we are adopted through the One who created and redeemed all things, then our new reality must involve loving the whole created world as He does.

Moreover, the promise to Abraham was that he and his offspring would be blessed, and also that by Him all nations would be blessed. Being adopted as children and heirs to the Abrahamic promise is, therefore, both a gift and a challenge. As we praise God for the gift, we are also called to allow God to show us how we can, by God’s grace, be a blessing to the nations. Where might God be calling us to be a blessing to a world in environmental crisis … especially to those communities and nations most affected by climate impacts and environmental degradation?

Luke:

For many of us around the world, this has been a year of waiting, of promises made and not kept, of expectations dashed. In such a context, it can be hard to keep up hope. This may be particularly true as we contemplate the global response to the climate and other environmental crises. The past year has shown us too many examples of the kind of devastation that our changing climate can inflict – and yet, while there are shoots of hope, the responses often feel lacking in urgency.

Can Simeon and Anna offer us a model in these difficult times? As they looked forward to the promises of Israel’s redemption, we look forward to the promise that creation’s groaning will be replaced “by the freedom of the glory of the children of God” – that humanity will be transformed and the whole of creation be freed from its bondage. We can have this faith, as we worship the Christ who has already reconciled to God “all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Colossians 1:20)

Simeon and Anna’s faithfulness took the form of both trusting God to fulfil promises … and maintaining lives of righteous activity and prayer, in accordance with God’s commands, as they waited for God’s initiative.

In our daily lives, can we commit to action which reflects God’s call to care for creation, offering our small acts of faithfulness to God both as the necessary sacrifice of love and praise we owe our creator and redeemer … and with an awareness that God can use them in ways that may exceed anything we can imagine? And – especially with so many crucial decisions to be made this year in countries’ recovery plans and in the UN climate talks – can we commit to pray earnestly, as people who genuinely believe that God can and will act for our world’s transformation? Some suggestions are below.

Who knows what signs of God’s salvation we may then be able to perceive.

Additional Materials

During the course of this year, Christians around the world will be joining together in prayer for the climate through a variety of initiatives:

  • The Global Catholic Climate Movement offers a wide variety of prayer resources and now also hosts a monthly global Laudato Si prayer service
  • Every month since late 2014, Pray and Fast for the Climate has provided material for intercessions – and now has an online prayer time at the beginning of each month.
  • An exciting new initiative, sponsored by Eden Vigil, A Rocha International and YWAM England, is creating a global network of Climate Intercessors. Find out more here.
  • In the run-up to the UN climate talks, click here to join Christian Aid’s global prayer chain for climate justice.
  • Renew Our World and 24/7 Prayer have put out a guide to help Christians and their churches pray for the climate.

Looking more widely, the monthly prayer guide put out by Green Christian is always worth a look.

 

We often speak of hope, but what does hope for creation actually look like – theologically and practically? One of the best explorations is in “Hope and the Environment,” a special edition of the journal Anvil, edited by Martin and Margot Hodson. It’s available online at ANVIL: Hope and the environment | Volume 29 issue 1 (Sept 2013) – Church Mission Society and is well worth perusing. The articles are engaging and accessible.

by Maranda St John Nicolle, CCOW, Blewbury, UK


Notes

(1) Is the speaker in the final verses of chapter 61 the prophet? The redeemed people of Zion? The ‘Servant of Jehovah’ who presages Christ? And, again, who is the “I” in the first verses of Chapter 62: prophet or ‘Servant’? Scholarly opinions vary: see, for example, The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Proverbs – Isaiah, pp 839-844; A S Herbert, The Book of the Prophet Isaiah 40-66 (Cambridge Bible Commentary), pp 160-167, F Delitzsch, tr James Martin, Isaiah (Book 7 of C F Keil and F Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament), pp. 579-587.

(2)  Sun, moon, stars – and sea monsters – all played a role in Middle Eastern mythology, cf Willem S Prinsloo, ‘The Psalms’ in Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, p. 434, and Willem A VanGemeren, ‘Psalms’ in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, pp. 872ff. Their inclusion in this list of created beings praising God reinforces the principle of God’s supremacy, including supremacy over those things worshipped as gods by surrounding religions.

(3) For example, Prinsloo seems to favour the “horn” as “power” or “deliverance from exile”; VanGemeren favours “glory”; Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150 (Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries), p. 148 opts for ‘strong deliverer’.

(4) Bauckham develops these themes at greater length in his book Bible and Ecology: Rediscovering the Community of Creation – also well worth a read!

(5)  Joseph A Fitzmyer, SJ, ‘The Letter to the Galatians’ in The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 243 suggests this refers to a particularly Palestinian usage in terms of appointing a guardian for an orphaned son. R Alan Cole, Galatians, rev ed (Tyndale New Testament Commentaries) cites works referring to the father’s legal right to set the age of majority.

(6) See Beverly R Gaventa, ‘Galatians’, in Eerdman’s Commentary on the Bible, p. 1380.

(7) On the many resonances between Simeon and the prophecies of Isaiah, see, for example, Joseph A Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX (The Anchor Bible), pp. 421-430.

Christmas Day [by Revd Margot Hodson]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 52:7-10
both
Psalm
96
2nd Reading
Hebr 1:1-4
both
Gospel
John 1:1–14
both
by Revd Margot Hodson, Director of Theology and Education for the John Ray Initiative, UK

SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS

Isaiah 52:7-10

Isaiah is full of images of creation: mountains and deserts, rivers and pasture, animals, trees and flowers. All these speak of an intense sense of the value of the nature. Salvation brings harmony between God, humans and the natural world. Mountains are portrayed as a special dwelling place for God and a place where we can go to come into his presence. Here the messenger of the Lord comes from the mountains with his Good news of peace, salvation and goodwill. All this comes when the Lord returns to Zion to reign over all the earth. Isaiah was written for people who had experienced destruction of their homes and lives through invasion and exile. As we look back on 2021 the invasion of the pandemic has brought us both exile and the ruin of so many hopes and lives. Its environmental origins have laid bare the true scale of ecological crisis that we face. We may feel we cannot rejoice at such times and yet this passage proclaims hope – A saviour is coming and one day ‘all the ends of the earth will see the salvation of our God’. Let us work towards that day.

Psalm 96

We know from the Psalms that all creation praises God (Psalm 148). Here creation is asked to sing a new song. The early Church chose to celebrate the birth of Christ in the depths of winter. It points us forward to the new birth in the spring, when creation will sing a new song once again. Even in the southern hemisphere, we can look for that new life in every new shoot that comes and creature that is born. It is God who made the heavens and all the earth rightly trembles before him, in awe of his greatness. Through Advent we have focussed on the coming of Lord to judge the world and bring in his just rule and reign. On this day when we remember his coming as flesh for our salvation, we can pray for his coming again and for a restoration of his creation. We can rejoice in that hope with all the Earth.

Hebrews 1:1-4

The enigmatic author of the Letter to the Hebrews wrote in beautiful Greek. He began his letter by reflecting on the relationship between God, humans, creation and redemption. This is a cosmic passage where the lens is pulled out and we can see Jesus as the one through whom the whole universe was made. The writer explained Jesus as ‘the radiance of God’s glory’ and ‘heir of all things’. This passage resonates with Paul’s reflection in Colossians 1:15-20, where he considers these relationships in the context of the Cosmos and redemption. By beginning with this vast, cosmic picture, the writer is then able to focus in on the Temple sacrifices and show how the work of atonement is now complete through the work of Christ.
Christ has sat down at the right hand of God and continues to sustain all things through his word.
As the Body of Christ on Earth, Christians have a calling to live so that we sustain creation and give the glory to God.

John 1:1–14

At Christmas we remember the amazing truth that Jesus, the light of the world, was born among us. In John 1 we see how the doctrines of creation, incarnation and salvation interact. Jesus is revealed in three unique ways: existing before the world began, being divine, and being the agent of creation. The passage reaches a climax in verse 14: ‘the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’. The environmental implication of this statement is profound. When our holy and perfect Creator became flesh, he affirmed the continuing goodness of his creation. In creating the universe, God brought light to the whole world. The darkness described in verse 5 is not part of God’s good creation but is the very absence of that goodness that has blinded human eyes, preventing people from recognising the light of Christ and actions that have caused damage and destruction. When humanity embraces the light, it should also regain the Creator’s love and care for his world. Humans can find full adoption as children of God through believing in Christ (vv. 12–13) but light is given to all. When God makes his dwelling among us, his glory shines through all creation.

Please see note below for this reflection.

SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

How to preach an environmental sermon at Christmas?

This can seem a bit of a challenge – surely we should be focussing on the birth of Christ? The exciting truth of a Christmas environmental sermon is that the incarnation is completely and utterly environmental: Jesus, a member of the God head, through whom the world came into being, was made flesh, became a creature for the sake of his creation.

John 1 is a classic Christmas passage and the points outlined in the notes above bring out the core message of an affirmation of our material world, the interaction of creation, incarnation and salvation.

Isaiah provides a picture of the ultimate harmony between God and the whole of his creation.

Psalm 96 picks up on that theme and proclaims that all creation rejoices at the coming of the Lord.

Finally Hebrews 1 echoes John 1 with a beautiful description of the cosmic Christ who sustains all things through his powerful word.

In are preaching this year, we are bound to look back on the difficulties of 2021 with the pandemic, the many environmental disasters, and the challenges and heart-breaking injustices that have been laid bare as Covid-19 has travelled around our world. It is important to understand that the pandemic is not natural evil but comes from our abuse of the natural world in ways that have brought wild animals into close contact with humans. Some people have had more free time to reflect, others have been much busier, but most people have been more rooted in our own homes and communities. This has enabled many to more fully grasp how we have been misusing our world and one another.

We can then look forward to 2021 and how we can truly be bringers of God News both to people who are experiencing poverty and injustice and to ‘all the Earth’ that deserves our urgent care and restoration.

We can give that challenge to be bringers of light and heralds of just restoration. What are we going to do in 2021 to bring light to nature, suffering from human oppression and for people suffering from oppression and poverty? Can we commit to one intentional action a month? Or even one a week, to rebuild our broken world to be a better place for people and the creatures of the Earth? How can we be windows through which ‘the radiance of God’s glory’ can shine?

SECTION THREE:  ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Note on John 1:1-14: This is an edited extract from a reflection will feature in a new book “Green Reflections” by Martin and Margot Hodson to be published by the Bible Reading Fellowship in April 2021: https://www.brfonline.org.uk  It was originally written for: Guidelines, Bible study for today’s ministry and mission, Oxford: BRF, 2013, Vol 29 part 1.

Green Grove

Grove Booklets have produced useful material for Christians on a wide number of environmental themes, including a booklet on Isaiah’s Environmental Ethics and one on COVID-19: Environment, Justice and the Future. These booklets have a small cost either as booklets, or a downloadable pdf. The links to those with environmental themes, have been grouped together on the John Ray Initiative and can be found here:
https://www.jri.org.uk/resources/green-grove

Thoughts in Sustainable Preaching

These passages say amazing things about God’s creation and the interaction between God, humans and the rest of the natural world. The challenge is how to bring that out without losing folk who are looking for something with a focus on God and humans alone. My own approach for a Christmas sermon (and for many others) is not to focus on environment as the only point of the sermon, but to weave in the environmental themes so that every sermon helps to build a worldview where the intrinsic value of nature is understood and promise of salvation and restoration for the whole of creation. As that worldview becomes established, so Christians and whole congregations start to respond to God’s world in loving and caring for it.

Thoughts on Isaiah 52:7

Back in 2007, I had the great (if terrifying) privilege of leading a Sunday Morning service on a live broadcast for BBC Radio 4. The speaker was Sir John Houghton, the great climate change scientists, a founder of the IPCC and a deeply committed Christian. Our venue was the Chapel of Jesus College, Oxford, where I was chaplain and the occasion was the publication of the IPCC fourth Assessment Report. As the service was about to begin, I mused that I had a world leading professor, a Lord of the realm (our College Principal), about 80, 18-22 year-olds, on whom we were totally dependent as we were about to go live to the nation! Sir John was compelling and inspiring, and the students were superb with wonderful readings and prayers (which generated a huge number of letters from older people heartened by their young voices, so full of faith). This year sadly, Sir John died of COVID-19, but his work lives on both in the scientific community in combatting change and in the movement that he nurtured among Christians to care for God’s creation. The music created by the students that morning was outstanding, and whenever I read Isaiah 52, I can hear their voices as they sang ‘how beautiful on the mountains’ by Sir John Stainer. These words stay with me as I look to 2021 with the hope that there will be Good News and we can rebuild our world to be a fairer and greener community for all creation.

by Revd Margot Hodson, United Kingdom

Photographs
Top: St Mary’s, Haddenham, Buckinghamshire, UK, where Margot was Rector until 2019.
Gospel (John 1): Traditional hand-carved wooden crib from Krakow, Poland.

4th Sunday in Advent [by Rev Dr Ackermann]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
2 Sam 7:1-16
both
Psalm
89:1-4,19-26
2nd Reading
Rom 16:25-27
both
Gospel
Luke 1:26-38
both
by Rev Dr Lutz Ackermann, St Boniface e.V. (Anglican / Episcopal), Germany

2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16

There seems to be a human tendency to start things at the wrong end. David, the king, and Nathan, the prophet seem to agree: a house needs to be built for God. And the reference to valuable building materials (“cedar”) leaves no doubt: if the house of the earthly king is most splendid, the one to be built for God should be – equally if not more so – a display of splendor, wealth and luxury.

Think of the absurdity of this plan! Not only the notion of the creature trying to impress the creator – an attempt that is always doomed to failure; but even more so, the constant attempt of projecting our own human needs and desires onto the divine being. When trying to justify unnecessary luxury, surely it helps to know, that your God lives in a house of cedar, too…

All this, the Lord in his nocturnal speech to Natan, turns around: “did I ever speak a word”, he asks, about needing a proper house (or even a most splendid and luxurious one)? And following this rhetorical question, the Lord starts putting things right, by starting with what really matters: his relationship to the people of God in all it’s various aspects. Only when all that is covered, the Lord turns back to the original theme, namely building a house; but interestingly this is now no longer something, any human (let alone the king) is supposed to do for him – it is the other way around, God is the one, who will build the place of dwelling for his people! When will they ever learn?

Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26

What a wonderful celebration of faithfulness a s the basic mode of operation between the Lord and his people (verses 1, 2, 19, 24). Always a reason to rejoice!

Romans 16:25-27

God, the source of mystery and the source of revelation: not described in stoic terms of philosophical and theological discourse, but through words of praise, bursting forth. Short and sweet – and powerful.

Luke 1:26-38

If, in Christian thought throughout the centuries, something like a cult of virginity exists, arguably this text could be seen as a potential source thereof. “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” Mary retorts to the announcement of the angel, and that, it seems, says it all. Why is Luke so keen on bringing this across? Where Matthew makes reference to a – potentially misunderstood (and lost in translation) – word from the prophetic writings of the First Testament (Mt 1:22, 23), Luke does not. He merely states virginity as a given.

We moderns may be ill disposed to appreciate what he is doing: he makes the Mother of God untouched and untouchable. He speaks from the perspective of an age, where by virtue of being a virgin you were virtuous. He speaks to an audience that appreciates the value (or even merit?) of this virgin state.

Sometimes I wish, we had not, in our modern age, so utterly forgotten about the state of being untouched. “So what?”, we think, and move on; or even, “Poor thing, has got no experience”. Don’t get me wrong: surely it is good to have moved beyond a glorification of sheer virginity, which almost by necessity, it seems, will imply that something is bad or or dirty or wrong with sex and with sexual experience. If being virgin is the ideal, then by definition, being a sexually experienced (and hopefully fulfilled) human being, is not.

No, that is certainly not what I am missing. But maybe it is our lack of shame, a state of mind that our parents or at least our grand-parents still knew, which would make us cringe at the constant raping of our mother earth by – ourselves. Carrying her to market and prostituting her, proud of all the commodities we have been able to rip from her bosom seems to be the live-blood of our greed-driven live-style of consumption and exploitation. The untouched and the untouchable we spurn or even laugh at.

Am I too harsh in the words I am finding for our hyper-capitalist way of life? Maybe. But maybe gazing upon the Virgin Mary, Mother of our Lord will somehow help to fix the screwed optics of a modern – even with respect to the way we see our mother planet earth in her defilement and shame.

A sermon idea for the 4th of Advent 2020 (with allusions to the “bleak midwinter” carol)

In the first week of Advent, punctually with the beginning of the month of December, it snowed. In the morning a white cloth had covered our garden and out of a greyish sky the flakes continued to fall, like a silent background melody,

“…frosty winds made moan
Earth stood hard as iron, water like a stone
Snow had fallen, snow on snow, snow on snow …

I wanted to go outside, take some pictures of an enchanted and transformed landscape – but I hesitated to plant my footsteps into the untouched cover of fresh snow. Do you know that feeling? There is something about that mystic moment of an untouched cover of snow, which will, irreversibly go away, once I step out there. It almost hurts, maybe like loosing some virginity.

Mind you, humans always leave their footprint behind, wherever they live, whatever they do. For good reason our age has sometimes been dubbed the Anthropocene. But never do we quite notice our own, intrusive nature quite as much as on a day, where a virgin layer of snow is slowly but surely trampled down.

Eventually I had to get out, take the shovel and clear the driveway. After all, I didn’t want anyone to slip and get hurt, I didn’t want to slip or get stuck with the car. But imagine, for a short moment, a world, where we could just leave things as they are, untouched and in their virgin state. If it ever snowed in the garden of Eden, maybe you would be able to walk there without leaving footprints?

But we, as those who live outside the gates of Eden so often do not have the luxury to stay (or leave things) in the virgin state of the untouched and the untouchable.

“How can this be, since I am a virgin?”  we hear the young girl Mary say in our Gospel reading for this fourth Sunday of Advent. We can sense, this is important to her and not something she wants to let go. But really, can she have it both ways? To “conceive […] the Son of the Most High” – and yet say a virgin, at the same time? While we could get lost in a debate about the biological impossibilities of a virgin giving birth, we might miss a deeper point, here. Because, in a sense, this situation describes one of our basic dilemmas in life as human beings on earth: that we cannot, ourselves, remain forever in an untouched and untouchable state; nor is the luxury given to us, to live in a way that would leave no footprints on our mother earth.

But then, maybe that is not our part to play in this drama. Maybe it is not for us to be the shepherd, the wise man – nor the virgin, let alone “the beloved”. We are, it seems, mere beholders of a scene, as it develops from the moment of the first annunciation to his mother to the second angelic appearance in the fields nearby. And yet, we are not passive spectators, but very actively involved.

Oh, what can I give Him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, would I bring a lamb
If I were a wise man, would I do my part
Yet what I can I give Him, give my heart

You and I, let us be honest, cannot save the world. And as Christians we know, that has been someone else’s role to play. Nor can we preserve, for ourselves or for others or for the earth we live in, a perpetual state of virginity, of being untouched and untouchable. But maybe, with Mary, we can come to a place where we say “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”  And maybe, if we did that, all our attempts to reduce our footprint by living more sustainably would start making more sense; and all our frequent failures in doing just that would feel less devastating: because we know, what we have heard, what the angel said: The Lord is with you!

Amen.

by Dr. Lutz Ackermann, Germany

3rd Sunday in Advent [by Rev Dr Tucker]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 61:1-4,8-11
both
Psalm
126
2nd Reading
1 Thess 5:16-24
both
Gospel
John 1:6-8,19-28
both
by Rev Dr AR Tucker, Emeritus minister of United Presbyterian Church of South Africa and Research Fellow at University of Free State

Four message outlines for 13 December

Isaiah 61:1-4,8-11 The inbreaking of the kingdom into history
Exegetical notes

Harrison1 concludes that the book Isaiah is a compilation of Isaiah’s prophecies, recorded, included and arranged by different authors, with one or two historical textual glosses. Webb2 proposes that Isaiah 61 was a prophecy intended to encourage those Judeans coming back to Judea from exile in Babylon, from 535BC onwards. They were experiencing despair, disappointments and immense difficulties. Yahweh comforts them by affirming their forgiveness and importance because in their rebuilding of Jerusalem they were playing a crucial role in a grand universal drama culminating in the coming down of the heavenly Zion (the kingdom of God) to earth (see Isaiah 60). In the New Testament3, 4 we learn that this coming down is in two stages. The first, a time of partial fulfilment of Isaiah 61’s promises, inaugurated with the Advent of the Spirit-anointed one. The second, at the end of history, a time of complete and total fulfilment. Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-4, in Luke 4:17-19, as his ministry manifesto for the first stage. Wonderful as this has been over the last 2000 years, it does not compare to the total healing, renewal and transformation when the second stage breaks into our time/space continuum at the Second Advent when Romans 8:19-22 will be fulfilled.

Message

In Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 the anointed Messiah begins by announcing, with seven Hebrew infinitives6, what the good news means for his people. Because he is the living, creative Word his proclaiming creates:

  1. Encouragement for the afflicted and social justice for the oppressed (see v8). Our God “can disrupt circumstance of social bondage and exploitation… and authorize new circumstances of dancing freedom, dignity and justice7.”
  2. Healing for those whose lives have been so shattered that they have lost the courage to go on. He puts the broken pieces together and then tightly wraps them up in his saving power.
  3. Freedom for those imprisoned by bitterness, oppression, and sin’s power (Romans 6:7, 8:1-2)
  4. Release from the power of the evil forces of darkness that rule this present age (Eph. 2:1-3).
  5. A time of opportunity to receive salvation between the first Advent and the last.
  6. Comfort for mourners because of the promise of salvation, transformation, joy and hope, both now and for the future.
  7. A gift of beauty, joy, and praise giving the strength to rebuild broken lives to form a new missional community, which will proclaim the good news and which also seeks to protect and restore the environment by cooperating with Spirit is his work of creation and renewal (Psalm 104:30).

Where the gospel is proclaimed this is still happening. The local congregation in which I worship recently converted the existing place of worship into a safe haven for six homeless women, during the recent Covid lockdown. This led to the kingdom breaking into the lives of two of these women. One grew up as an orphan on the streets of Muizenberg. She always felt alone and abandoned. The leader of the safe haven writes, “Tonight she got to meet her aunt and uncle who she hasn’t seen for year’s and realised how much she is loved… Her uncle said to her, “We searched for you… We did not forget you… I have prayed for this day when you come home.”” Of another women he writes, “For the first time in 20 YEARS, one of the ladies we work with got to see her mother.  They were both homeless and life’s difficulties tore them apart for year’s.  And when they saw each other, it was all LOVE, no bitterness or resentment, just pure love. It took me back to the prodigal son story in the Bible…”

References

1Harrison, R., Introduction to the Old Testament, William B. Erdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapides, Michigan, USA. p795
2Webb B., 1996, The Message of Isaiah, Inter-Varsity Press, Leicester, UK. p219ff
3Bosch, D., 1991, 2011, Transforming Mission, Orbis Books, New York. pp. 45ff.
4Ladd G., 1993, The Presence of the Future, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI.
5Powell S., 2019, An Environmental Ethic for the End of the World: An Ecological Midrash on Romans 8:19-22, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, UK.
6Ortlund, R., 2005, Isaiah, God saves sinners, Crossway Books, Good News Publishers, Wheaton, Illinois. pp 407- 413.
7 Brueggemann, W., Theology of the Old Testament, Fortress Press, Minneapolis. p 208

Psalm 126 Faith like Potatoes

According to many scholars Psalm 126 celebrates the nation’s joy for Yahweh’s miraculous “dream-like” past deliverances from dangers. The nation then asks for a fresh display of his power (called sowing the seed of faith).

The Near East is normally dry in summer and wet in winter. Farmers sowed in late autumn “in tears”; imploring God for a good harvest because they never knew if the winter rains would come. The climate was also subject to periodic long periods of drought, some of which are recorded in the bible, similar to those in South Africa. Angus Buchan, a South African farmer, in his book, “Faith Like Potatoes” records that he sowed potatoes with faith and prayer, at a time of a dry El Nina drought. When he came to dig the potatoes up they were large and perfectly formed.

We might not be farmers, but like them a harvest will come if we sow (toil) in dependence upon God to produce the dreamed for harvest. Sometimes we will go through prolonged periods of drought, as many are perhaps experiencing during the Covid epidemic. The message of Psalm 126 is that droughts end and dreamed for desires realised for those who belong to the Christ of the first Advent because, “No matter how many promises God has made they are “Yes” in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20).

1 Thess 5: 20, 21 Do not despise prophecies, 21 but test everything;

I have experienced many true Spirit-inspired prophecies either speaking into a current situation or being predictive in a worship service or as even brought them as I shared the good news. Yet we live in a time when, perhaps, because of existential anxiety, many seem to be clinging onto any prediction without testing it. Sometimes it seems that they attribute the status of prophecy to scientific statements or fake news on a social media platform, without testing its source or reliability.

Even scientific theories are not always correct.  The history of science is replete with scientific theories that have had to be discarded or modified because of new discoveries, such as the Bohr theory of the atom and the Newtonian theory of light. God has commanded us to care for our planet. I want a clean planet, with energy produced by renewables, a clean sea abounding with life, clean air to breath etc. But we must be careful of confusing ‘causation with correlation’. There is indeed a correlation between the increasing amounts of Carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and global warming. But is this the only cause? Perhaps there are additional causes. It would be so simple if there were simple solutions but the world God created is far more complex than any human being can ever imagine (Psalm 139:17,18).

John 1:6-8, 19-28 The voice of one calling in the wilderness

At advent we remember that God kept his promise by sending Jesus into the world to be our Saviour. John the Baptist’s mission was to witness as a voice proclaiming the appearance of the promised Messiah. In a court of law a witness is someone who gives testimony about what he or she has seen, heard or experienced. Maybe he came to believe Jesus was the promised Lamb of God because he had related to him as a cousin. Even if this was the case, his knowledge did not come by unaided human reason or intuition, but by way of divine Holy Spirit inspired revelation (see John 1:32,33). This applies much more to the post incarnation age in which we live. We cannot see the physical body of Jesus as john did but our understanding of Jesus and relationship with him comes through inner revelation (John 20:29, Gal 1:16 Amplified). A Christian witness may therefore be described as someone who takes a good look at Jesus and then becomes a voice, along with the Christian community, by crying out through word and deed into the wilderness of unbelief, dryness and loneliness, telling others what he or she is seeing about his living presence in their lives, in order to prepare wilderness dwellers for the Second Advent.

by Rev “Roger” Tucker, South Africa

2nd Sunday in Advent [by Rev. Coleman]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 40:1-11
both
Psalm
85 :1-2,8-13
2nd Reading
2 Pet 3:8-15a
both
Gospel
Mark 1:1-8
both
by Rev. David Coleman, Environmental Chaplain, EcoCongregation Scotland
(all pictures by David Coleman)

SECTION ONE: NOTES ON THE READINGS

Isaiah 40:1-11

The prophet conveys the (re-)constructive intent of God, though dependent upon recognition by people that the suffering now experienced is directly related to the choices they made; the damage they have been responsible for. ‘Jerusalem’ is not limited to humans, but includes land, landscape, and associated wildlife as I encounter it here in Scotland. The mountains, the carbon-guzzling wetlands, the deer, the huge grey seals, the endangered wildcats. All flesh, (not just all people) is offered this vision.

I’m wary, therefore, of a ‘bulldozer’ approach to the “wilderness”, which is the realm, full of life, though least shaped by human intent. It’s less about open-cast mining and dynamiting the hills for a ten-lane freeway, than the vision of ensuring inclusive justice, because God’s glory can otherwise never be glimpsed anyway. What are the obstacles to that vision? A brutal desecration of the soul of the land in ways familiar to industrial cultures will raise, rather than remove such obstacles. The role of grass, too, is ambivalent. Our mortality and fragility give the lie to the idolatrous false consciousness behind fantasies of unlimited growth and single-use industrial processes. We are ‘like grass’, and we can’t pretend otherwise. Only God’s Creative Power /Word ‘stands for ever‘. Grass has its day, perhaps feeding animals, before a time of renewal; grass in green patches and wildflower-meadows, keeping city-dwellers sane. Finally, there is the robust guidance and care of a shepherd, rather than a dictator. Any truly royal road, we may pray, will embrace and respect the grass-covered contours of the hills, rather than blast them aside.

Psalm 85 :1-2, 8-13

God is gracious to the land/soil, which includes the people addressed as ‘Jacob/Israel’.

Forgiveness sets people free to deal with the consequences of former crimes. Such opportunities are not lightly given. Note the relatedness – and perhaps the shared identity – of justice, peace, and the Glory of God. They’re in love with each other! The literal rootedness of truth in the Earth, in a dance of hope with justice in the skies, from which come the blessings of sunshine and rain escape the confines of mere metaphor, though English speakers may have to remind themselves that ‘heaven’ is not another dimension, but integral to God’s whole Creation, as well as identical with the sky we daily look up to. The poetry here is essentially many-layered: there are no “only’s”. There is no such thing in this Psalm as ‘mere metaphor’: the experiential rootedness of the whole in our partnership and dependency on the Earth is underlined too by the praise of peace, for Creation is the first casualty in human conflict. And “salvation is very near to those who fear him” where fear is not disabling terror, but the acknowledgement of warnings given in love, be they by the human voice of prophets or the prophetic Voice of the Earth.

2 Peter 3:8-15a

We’re all too ready, having learned to look up to God-who-is-great, to mistake the mere appearance of greatness for divinity. We have no problem that for God ‘a thousand years are like one day’ but skip over that “one day is like a thousand years”, which explosively opens up the responsibilities, dangers and opportunities of every breath we take. Holy impatience, and the determination never to mistake procrastination for wisdom follow from this insight. This passage is part of the huge body of New Testament writings which promote maximum vigilance, engagement and awareness as an appropriate way of life for God’s faithful people, all the more, for those conscious of the “turning of the ages”. With the repeated reminder that the Day of the Lord defies all calculation and preparation, this becomes a spiritual resource for every age of threat and oppression. We do not expect a sudden resolution of the multi-layered environmental crises of our day; we therefore look to build spiritual resilience even as we encounter the effects of what humanity has unleashed upon the planet.

Doing the right thing, irrespective of whether or not we ‘fix the world’ therefore has the value and dignity of prayer.

GOSPEL Mark 1:1-8

The radically ‘new thing’ of the beginning of Good News is nonetheless an instance of divine recycling: in this case, of the prophecy of Isaiah. We are encouraged, therefore, that by the power of the Spirit, scriptures which ring bells of meaning and recognition in our lives will be all the more applicable to our spiritual and environmental contexts. John claims as his pulpit the life-filled ecosystems (wilderness) outside the control of humanity offering an “immersion” in “change-of-mind” for the healing of the damage done by such harmful choices as we freely acknowledge. Jesus will soon after (Mark 1:12) seek out the fellowship of the wildlife and the nurture of the angels (God’s messengers) in this same environment. The wilderness will be the teacher of Christ, and the mentor for his mission. The whole message is totally concrete and contemporary: John’s location, dress, low-impact diet and the recognition that whatever his own contribution, it would not be sufficient to ‘fix’ the world. We also note the wholesale acceptance of everyone who makes the effort to change. Complicity in the violation of Creation is no excuse for involvement in Creation’s protection, nurture and healing.

SECTION TWO: DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

(Isaiah and Mark)

This is good news: that it is not our perfection, independence, or strength, which enable justice, peace, and the health of the planet. As people gather next November for the COP in Glasgow, God’s work will be far wider than the crucible of the conference hall. Churches will be learning, welcoming, and being liberated from the duty to keep things ‘as they always have been’. To build the inclusive road, we have to break new spiritual ground.

It is rather our limitations and our readiness to confess what we have got wrong – and to seek partnership in healing the resultant harm – that unlocks the best possible outcome following this inevitably declining Age we live in. (This Age of fossil fuels, the age of the dominant lie of endless growth, the age of mountainous and impregnable arguments that in money alone lies salvation.) This Age that is passing away. It is foolish and dangerous to deny it.

It is therefore to the levelling of this gross landscape of exploitative and unjust obstacles that recycled prophetic power shall be applied.

The fragile beauty of Earth’s hills and valleys, each a statement of glory amidst the diverse life of our planet’s ‘wilderness’ ecosystems, can be revered and respected as witness to the healing that must follow.

The landscape through which John drives his bulldozer is the most un-co-operative of all: the landscape of our entrenched attitudes; and certainty – pre-shaken by the ‘gift’ of the pandemic – that salvation resides in shoring up an unsustainable way of life, at cost of all other ‘flesh’ over and above the human.

It’s a sad, despairing, narrow-minded outlook, refusing to write off what cannot be preserved.

The Wilderness itself is co-prophet in John’s fulfilment action: incarnating the Word in the most literally immersively experiential and earthy / earthly way.

Global threat and healing are necessarily inclusive. None is excluded from John’s offer of total immersion in change of mind, that sets the sinner free to live better, and sets God free from vengeance.

By the promised Baptism of Spirit / Breath / Wind, (which, after all, powers the turbines) we find our place and purpose in an urgent and transformative project.

Though forgiveness may be forthcoming, responsibility, and consequences remain. To be paralysed by guilt is to be defeated by sin. To be overwhelmed by the task is to disregard the power and solidarity of God in Christ Jesus. Be happy! Do not worry about tomorrow, but get on with today!

John himself errs in the insignificance of his own contribution. Jesus is later to describe him as the greatest human yet born. Yet John’s exemplary humility empowers us. The smallness of whatever lies within our hands is no cause to neglect it, be this speaking out to others, transforming with justice our own diet, or lifestyle to reduce our impact on planet and the suffering of fellow humans.

We pray therefore for a revelation of the implications of our Baptism, both individually, as with the Communion of Saints, and as part of the Communion of Creation, stakeholders to God’s Rainbow Covenant, recycled and renewed in Christ.

At folk gather in Glasgow next year, we hope to ring bells: not just a call to worship, but an ancient Celtic practice, to drive out evil spirits and call injustice to account before God.

SECTION THREE: ADDITIONAL MATERIAL 

Video Advent Calendar: starts 29th November at www.facebook.com/ecorevscot

A location reading of 2 Peter 3:8-15a on the Pentland Hills in Scotland:

The Lord’s Prayer on the summit of a Scottish Mountain:

One day I said sorry out loud to the Earth (confession and liberation of forgiveness).

(a hymn set to a traditional British tune) (words in the YouTube notes):

 

by Rev David Coleman, Scotland

1st Sunday in Advent [English / Portuguese by Bishop Francisco de Assis da Silva]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 64: 1-9
both
Psalm
80:1-7,17-19
2nd Reading
1Cor 1:3-9
both
Gospel
Mark 13:24-37
both
by Diocesan Bishop Francisco de Assis da Silva, South Western Diocese, Brazil
Bispo Francisco de Assis da Silva, bispo diocesano, Diocese Sul Ocidental, Brasil
(Versão Portuguesa see below the English text)

Green Lectures
An Homily for the First Sunday in Advent

Watch! The Lord of the House is returning!

This Sunday’s Gospel speaks to us of the most insistent word we use in Advent season.  Watch. In the intricacies of the Portuguese language, we can see that it lends itself to several senses. It can mean taking care, being ready, being attentive, or even being sleepless. I intend to explore in this simple message the character of attention to the sad and worrying signs of our time.

In these pandemic times, we have seen events that concern us and that have affected all aspects of our lives. A virtually invisible virus has brought the world to its knees, radically affecting lifestyles, the economy and politics. In its ballast, in addition to deaths and a lot of pain, it is generating more poverty, more inequality and a lot of emotional illness.

Before it, we have seen different ways of relating to it. I would like to highlight at least three of the different ways that worries me a lot:

  1. The deniers seem not to accept what science has said and prefer the option about conspiracy theories that justify or calm their fears or even the acceptance of their weaknesses.
  2. Negotiators seek to sacrifice as little as possible of their inevitable losses in a bargain that does not offer an authentic outlet for a new era.
  3. The constant profiteers, who take advantage of this crisis to expand their advantages, including counting on the fragility of their contemporaries. It is interesting to note that, even within the Church, we find representatives of these ways of dealing with this situation.

We have no doubt that, the environment has been intentionally neglected by all these segments of people. The denialists build conspiracy theories to legitimize the continuity of their speeches and policies that are harmful to the environment and usually accuse anyone who stands against their policies as leftists, communists who try to destroy Capitalism. Negotiators try to resolve the crisis by pouring all their energy into political and economic reforms that further reduce the rights and guarantees of the most fragile people, increasing poverty and expanding gains for the most privileged classes. In addition, cynically, they throw into the uncertain tomorrow, the hope of correcting these directions by “The Market God” and his invisible hand. In addition, the profiteers are those who, like Brazil, take advantage of the pandemic to approve measures that intentionally expand the aggression to the environment, expand their businesses, and destroy our forests, our biomes and threaten the lives of native peoples.

It is here that it is necessary to rescue the speech of the prophet Isaiah. The God who reveals himself in today’s lesson is a zealous God who works for his real worshipers. A God who does not abandon the work of his hands. And who are these real worshipers? They are the people who practice justice and who remember Him in their ways. (V 5) It is practically a repetition of what his practically contemporary Micah wrote. A call for a new era, a restoration order. Restoration of all things more or less the same way a potter breaks the pot and does it again. (v.8)

It is for this new order that Jesus, in Mark, calls his disciples to be attentive, vigilant. The glory of the Son of Man must be desired, and made concrete in our life and in the life of the world. Only this glory is not limited to Kronos. Nobody sees or interprets inside Kronos. There is no time to reflect on time under the Kronos archetype. He is fast, fugacious. The real vigil takes place in Kairos, the time of God, about which no one knows, not even the angels. The time of God, is the Kairos, which is the time of opportunity (v.32).

A beautiful perspective of the text in Marcos is the idea of ​​House. The owner of the house hands over the management of this house to his servants, but does not tell when he will return. He left his home, left everyone’s responsibilities well defined and went on a trip. You will come back by surprise and hope that everyone is ready and aware to present his or her completed tasks. We are inexcusable because the owner of the House left our responsibility well explained a tutorial that can be understood in any language!

The Church it is call to take care of the House. This puts it on a collision line against useless servants. Against those who use the gifts of God’s wonderful Creation in favor of their petty interests. We are call to have the courage and resilience of prophetism. We are call to read between the lines of an abusive, consumeristic and elitist process that point to the destruction of poor people and the beauty of our common House. Let us therefore ask God, as the Psalmist:

O God, convert us from heavenly hosts;
make your face shine and we will have salvation! (Ps 80,3)
Or, in other words: Maranata! Come Lord Jesus!

Vigiai! O Senhor da Casa está voltando!

O Evangelho deste Domingo nos fala da palavra mais insistente que usamos neste tempo de Advento que se inicia. Vigiar. Nos meandros da língua portuguesa podemos perceber que ela se presta a vários sentidos.  Ele pode significar cuidar, estar pronto, estar atento, ou até mesmo estar insone. Pretendo explorar nesta simplória mensagem o caráter da atenção aos tristes e preocupantes sinais do nosso tempo.

Nestes tempos de pandemia, temos assistido eventos que nos preocupam e que tem afetado todas as esferas da nossa vida. Um vírus praticamente invisível colocou o mundo de joelhos, afetando radicalmente modos de vida, a economia e a política. No seu lastro, além de mortes e muita dor, está gerando  mais pobreza, mais desigualdade e muita doença emocional.

Diante dela temos visto distintos modos de se relacionar com ela. Gostaria de destacar pelo menos três que me preocupam sobremaneira: 1. Os negacionistas parecem não aceitar o que a ciência tem dito e preferem embarcar em teorias da conspiração que justifiquem ou acalmem os seus medos ou mesmo a aceitação de suas fragilidades. 2. Os negociadores buscam sacrificar o mínimo possível de suas inevitáveis perdas numa barganha que não oferece uma autêntica saída para um novo tempo. 3. Os aproveitadores contumazes, que aproveitam esta crise para ampliar suas vantagens, inclusive contando com a fragilidade de seus contemporâneos. Interessante notar que, mesmo dentro da Igreja, encontramos representantes destes modos de lidar com a esta situação.

Não temos dúvida de que o meio ambiente tem sido descuidado intencionalmente por todos estes segmentos de pessoas. Os negacionistas constroem teorias da conspiração para legitimar a continuidade de seus discursos e políticas lesivas ao meio ambiente e costumam acusar quem se coloca contra suas políticas como esquerdistas, comunistas que intentam destruir o Capitalismo. Os negociadores tentam solucionar a crise jogando toda sua energia em reformas políticas e econômicas que reduzam ainda mais direitos e garantias das pessoas mais frágeis, aumentando a pobreza e ampliando ganhos das classes mais privilegiadas. E, cinicamente, jogam para o amanhã incerto, a esperança de correção desses rumos pelo Deus Mercado e sua mão invisível. E os aproveitadores são os que, a exemplo do Brasil, aproveitam a pandemia para aprovar medidas que expandem dolosamente a agressão ao meio ambiente, expandem seus negócios e destroem nossas florestas, nossos biomas e ameaçam a vida de povos originários.

É aqui que cabe resgatar a fala do profeta Isaías. O Deus que se revela na passagem de hoje é um Deus zeloso, que opera em favor de seus reais adoradores. Um Deus que não abandona a obra das suas mãos. E quem são estes reais adoradores? São as pessoas que praticam a justiça e que lembram d`Ele nos seus caminhos.(v 5) É praticamente uma repetição do que escreveu seu praticamente contemporâneo Miquéias. Um chamado para um novo tempo, uma ordem de restauração. Restauração de todas as coisas, mais ou menos do jeito como o oleiro quebra o vaso e o faz de novo. (v.8)

É para essa nova ordem que Jesus, em Marcos, chama seus discípulos e discípulas estarem atentos, vigilantes. A glória do Filho do Homem precisa ser desejada e tornada concreta em nossa vida e na vida do mundo. Só que ela não está limitada no Kronos. Ninguém enxerga e nem interpreta no Kronos. Não há tempo de refletir sobre o tempo sob o arquétipo de Kronos. Ele é rápido, fulgaz. A verdadeira vigília se dá no Kairós, o tempo de Deus, sobre o qual ninguém sabe, nem os anjos.O tempo de Deus, é o Kairós que é o tempo da oportunidade (v.32).

Uma linda perspectiva do texto em Marcos é a idéia da Casa. O dono da casa entrega a gestão desta casa para seus servos, mas não avisa quando vai voltar. Deixou a sua casa, deixou as responsabilidades de cada um bem definidas e foi viajar. Voltará de surpresa e espera que todos estejam prontos e conscientes para apresentar suas tarefas cumpridas.Somos inexcusáveis porque o dono da Casa deixou nossa responsabilidade bem explicadinha, um tutorial que pode ser entendido em qualquer língua!

A Igreja é chamada a cuidar da casa. Isto a coloca em linha de colisão contra os servos inúteis. Contra quem usa os dons da Criação maravilhosa de Deus em favor de seus mesquinhos interesses. Somos chamados a ter a coragem e a resiliência do profetismo. Somos chamados a lermos as entrelinhas de um processo abusivo, consumista e elitista que apontam para a destruição das pessoas pobres e da beleza de nossa casa comum. Peçamos portanto a Deus, como o salmista: Converte-nos ó Deus das celestes hostes; faz brilhar a tua face e teremos salvação! (Sl 80,3) Ou, em outras palavras: Maranata! Vem Senhor Jesus!

by +Francisco, South Western Diocese, Brazil