3rd Sunday of Easter [by Prarthini Selveindran]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Zeph 3:14-end
Acts 3:12-19
Psalm
4
2nd Reading
Acts 3:12-19
1 John 2:1-5a
Gospel
Luke 24:36b-48
both
by Prarthini Selveindran, Singaporean A Rocha volunteer

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Zephaniah 3:14-end

Context: Zephaniah offering hope, speaking for the humble remnant who will seek refuge in God and who are thus rescued by him. Here we have an announcement of salvation that was being looked forward to: where the LORD is doing a new thing among his people.

This particular passage is characterized by a summons to sing: boldly and aloud!

  • A new song of salvation: of joy and exuberance over God’s decisive and salvific actions
    • God has taken away judgement and cleared away enemies:
      • Twice repeated that God is with his people (v15, v17)
    • A promised future to look forward to, when God will enact justice: deal with oppressors (v19a), save lame and gather the outcast (v19b), transform shame into praise and renown (v 18, v 19c)
      • Significant, that God declares war on those who oppress others; in our context, this has implications on how we relate to the earth and our actions that prevent/deny others the access to healthy environments (including, how we use resources and our lifestyle choices that impact others)
      • We see here God’s heart for those who are marginalized and lowly, which should inform and affect how we relate to those who are dispossessed and on the margins in our own societies
  • incredibly in this song, it is not only Daughter of Zion, but God himself who is singing (“rejoice over his people with gladness…exult over you with loud singing”)
Psalm 4
  • Prayer of lament-complaint (note especially vs1-3 and the plaintive cries of “answer me”, “how long”) and of trust in God (vs 4-8).
  • Psalm about recognizing the devastating impact of sin and evil, but about orienting oneself towards God amidst that
    • Only through honest lament are these questions of justice able to surface; refusal to deny or censure pain/suffering/distress
      • Psalm reminds us of the need to bring such complaints to honest speech before God (but held in tension with being silent in submission, vs 4)
    • To that end lament is also an act of hope: resistance to accepting the status quo or injustice as the “way things are”, but rather active belief that God is capable of doing something new, or transforming the circumstances
  • Psalm carries themes of trust, confidence in and waiting for YHWH’S goodness, which should affect our way of living in this world
    • No recourse to other gods, act in faith (vs 3)
  • Language of ‘Lift up the light of your face’ (v6) echoes the Aaronide blessing of Numbers 6.24-26
  • “in peace…make me dwell in safety”: the idea that our security is to be found (not in wealth/material possessions/status/power) in none other than God
Acts 3:12-19
  • Here is the reminder that the God of Israel continues to be at work—just as he was from the very beginning (v 13)—and that he is at work through the Lord Jesus, the Author of Life, with power over death.
  • Peter’s sermon pronounces Jesus’ power to restore creation that is broken (here, the lame man) to perfect health (v 16)
    • The lame man is invigorated by God’s newness in resurrection life (v 8-9a), and is in some way a sign of this future full universal restoration of all creation (v20-21)
    • This claim in vs 21 of the restoration of all things is echoed elsewhere in Scripture (Eg. Matt 19:28-29, Eph 1: 10, Col 1:15-23) and signifies that God promises to restore, and not destroy, creation.
      • Salvation is thus presented as a comprehensive divine plan and purpose for the redemption of all creation
Luke 24:36b-48
  • Jesus communicates shalom (metonymic term for salvation); in the context of his death and resurrection, that understanding of shalom takes on a deeper, fuller meaning
    • The extension of shalom is fully embodied before the disciples; shalom as conveying that sense of security and blessing, wholeness and completeness.
  • The text rules out any notion of this being merely ethereal/spiritual event: the resurrection had a profound effect on materiality and physicality
    • Jesus offers two proofs of his physicality, post-resurrection: 1. Reference to hands and feet, flesh and bones 2. Capacity to eat food
      • These proofs are concretely physical, material, things of creation/the natural order
      • underscored with the text’s emphasis on i) seeing, and the ii) note that Jesus took and ate in their presence: disciples are authentic witnesses to this salvation fully, physically, embodied
    • This points to God’s own affirmation and desire to renew the physical created order: Jesus as first-born of this new creation

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Matter Matters
  • Amidst a perplexing, disorienting, anxiety-riddled time, Jesus stands amidst his disciples and says, “Peace to you”
  • a vision presented of a wounded Saviour pronouncing and embodying salvation and shalom to his people
    • through this pronouncement, the disciples experience resurrection life, in recognizing the risen Christ among them
  • significantly, Jesus’ testimony of his renewed physicality signifies that the material order will be renewed
    • through his actions (the ‘proofs’ of his resurrection), Jesus affirms and acknowledges the created order: flesh, bones, hands, feet, broiled fish to satiate hunger
    • through his actions—Jesus shatters human categories of God’s action within his world and the disciples’ understanding of who God is; God has done a very new and remarkable thing!
    • the resurrected Christ is revealed in and through the created order (here, continuity is highlighted, elsewhere in the Gospel accounts, discontinuity—walking through locked doors—is emphasized)
    • God does not intend to rescue humanity from materiality, but perfect them in it: new creation inaugurated in the resurrection of Christ (see also 1 Cor 15)
  • Jesus’ resurrection shows that all life and matter in the age to come will be transformed; and that we are to anticipate the redemption of the whole creation
  • What does it mean for us to be Witnesses to these things?
    • To witness carries echoes of the OT, where Israel was called to be YHWH’S witness (see for eg., Is. 42, 1-6, 44: 6-8)
    • We are to tell and live stories as en-fleshed people of what this restoration and transformation to new creation looks like
    • So N. T. Wright says, “The resurrection of Jesus is the reaffirmation of the goodness of creation, and the gift of the Spirit is there to make us the fully human beings we were supposed to be, precisely so that we can fulfil that mandate at last. What are we waiting for? Jesus is coming. Let’s go and plant those trees.” [Jesus Is Coming – Plant a Tree!]
  • How will we ‘live’ the resurrected life today in the now and the not yet, embodying shalom amidst times that are perplexing, disorienting and even anxiety-riddled?
    • (recalling Psalm 4): Part of that would mean living in trust of God, reorienting how we live, and rejecting a narrative/principle of scarcity of material resources that governs our life
    • (recalling Zephaniah 3: 14-end): Part of that also means being willing to sing subversively, and more, to enact justice, especially for those on the margins of society

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

N. T. Wright on the significance of Christ’s resurrection for the created order and the task of the Church

https://www.plough.com/en/topics/justice/environment/jesus-is-coming-plant-a-tree

Richard John Neuhaus discussing Christ’s resurrection and its import on the created order and environmentalism

https://www.firstthings.com/article/1997/12/christ-and-creations-longing

An Easter prayer by Walter Brueggemann

http://hopefulimagination.blogspot.com/2008/04/easter-us.html

by Prarthini Selveindran, Singapore

2nd Sunday of Easter [by Samuel Chiu]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 14:10-end,15:20-21
Acts 4:32-35
Psalm
133
2nd Reading
Acts 4:32-35
1 Joh 5:1-6
Gospel
John 20:19-end
both
by Samuel Chiu, Christian & Missionary Alliance, Vancouver, Canada

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Exodus 14:10-31
  1. This famous scene of the Lord God rescuing the Israelites from the chasing Egyptian army by parting the Red Sea is a vivid example of the powerful presence of the Lord God with his people.
  2. This is the Lord God who is the Creator of all things, and whose powers are over and beyond all seemingly intimidating natural and human forces.
  3. God’s presence is not passive but active: saving, guiding, protecting
John 20:19-23
  1. The resurrected Jesus appeared to his disciples in hiding and waiting.
  2. After the surprising greetings, with “Shalom” and showing his hands and side (the evident of his crucifixion), he commissioned them by saying “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
    • There is a very significant echo at the beginning of the same Gospel: the way of God sending His only begotten Son and the consequences
      • The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and Only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14)
      • “…made his dwelling among us…” (NIV) is literally “pitching his tent among us. This graphic depiction is translated in modern terms by Eugene Peterson: “…moved into the neighbourhood…” (The Message)
      • The “glory” and the “pitching his tent” are the various ways in the OT describing God’s presence with his people.
  1. There is also an apparently perplexing gesture of “breathing on” the disciples by the resurrected Jesus. In fact, it is a powerful reminder of Genesis 2 in which the Lord God installed his priestly representative in his Temple (installing Adam in the garden to work it and take care of it) – now it is not just one person to take care, but all Christ’s disciples.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Preaching Points / Outline
  • The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world upside down, causing tremendous anxiety among millions.
  • Simultaneously, the environmental calamity is shown in severe tropical storms, wildfires, droughts, floods, and scenes of demise of wildlife and suffering of human communities, all adding to the despair. God seems to be far away, indifferent, uncaring, or even worse, being the one who is causing all this great suffering.
  • The Bible has a completely different picture: God is here, among us, particularly in times of despair and great need. In the experience of the Israelites being rescued by the Lord God, He clearly demonstrated that He is the Lord of all, the One who is beyond all the seemingly intimidating powers of nature or tyrannical human empires. (Exodus 14)
  • The Israelites, having experienced this dramatic rescue and powerful presence of God, were supposed to become gradually the SIGN of the presence of this Lord God in the world: all nations would recognize the presence and reign of this powerful and merciful God through the faithful and truthful living of the Israelites.
  • The vision and calling of God’s people as that SIGN has never been lost, despite the failure of the Israelites to be faithful to the covenant.
  • The NT has a powerful scene to demonstrate this: John 20:21-23. The resurrected Jesus appeared in front of his fearful yet somewhat anticipating bunch of disciples. He said to them: “As my Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”
  • Jesus was essentially saying that “I am sending you all now in a similar fashion to how God the Father has sent me.” How was Jesus being sent? In what way or fashion?
  • We find the answer in an important echo at the beginning of the same Gospel, in John 1:14. Jesus the Word was sent to dwell among us, within the world, “pitching his tent in our neighbourhoods.” And that is the glorious presence of the Son with us, full of grace and truth.
  • According to Jesus, his followers, meaning all Christians, are sent to be his presence in the world with grace and truth, just like he became His Father’s presence in the world.
  • How would such an active grace-and-truth-filled presence look like in our world today then? With a reference to the gardener scene in Genesis 2, also echoed in this passage, it could include, but certainly not be limited to, the following:
    • in local community gardens, advocating food security and climate resilience
    • in corporate boardrooms, discerning for decarbonized financing
    • in planting trees or restoring wetlands
    • in engineering labs, testing new generation energy-saving technology
    • in welcoming those fleeing their homelands because of climate and environmental disasters, providing aid or welcoming them into our homes
  • May the Lord bless and empower us to be his “faithful presence” in the world.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

by Samuel Chiu, Vancouver, Canada

Easter Day [by Murray Tessendorf]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 25:6-9
Acts 10:34-43
Psalm
118:1-2
2nd Reading
Acts 10:34-43
Col 3:1-4
Gospel
John 20:1-18
both
by Murray Tessendorf, National Director for A Rocha South Africa and ordained Baptist minister

Notes on the Readings

Isaiah 25:6–9 (NIV)

Isaiah, in this passage of praise to God, points us to a place, a person and an occasion with extraordinary prophetic clarity. The place described twice (vs 6 & 7) as “on this mountain” is a certain reference to Mount Zion (see Isaiah 24:23). This is the mountain upon which King David uttered the words, “… I will not take for the Lord what is yours, or sacrifice a burnt offering that costs me nothing”(1 Chronicles 21:24, NIV) and which the Apostle Paul quotes, “… As it is written: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Romans 11:26–27, NIV). That Mount Zion is the place of sacrifice and forgiveness of sins is undeniable. The ‘person’ Isaiah draws our attention to is the Lord Almighty: Father, Son and Spirit who works in such a manner that in Him we rejoice and are glad in his salvation (vs 9). Most extraordinary is the occasion in which Almighty God serves people in what is described as his preparation of a banquet rich in the symbolism of broken flesh and wine which swallows up death forever.

Psalm 118:1–2 (NIV)

Within the opening phrase of Psalm 118, the psalmist sets the context of the psalm within the eternal nature of our Lord’s enduring love; thus, this Psalm, whilst certainly referencing the psalmist’s personal encounter with his Lord, is framed within an eternal perspective. Verses 14-24 describe the psalmist’s experiences of God’s grace in a manner that every ‘born again’ Christ follower surely experiences: the Lord is my strength, defence and salvation; the Lord’s hands have done mighty things; I will not die but live. These are all spiritual truths common to followers of our Lord Christ.  The psalmist goes on to point us to a gospel message in his reference to the ‘gates of the righteous’ (vs 19-21) which may surely be paralleled by Jesus Christ’s utterance, “I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. …” (John 10:9, NIV) (see also Matt 7:13-14). This eternal perspective is furthered within the last chapter of scripture: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city.” (Revelation 22:14, NIV). Prophetically, we cannot miss the eternal nature and work of Jesus Christ as ‘the stone the builders rejected” (vs 22) which so beautifully ties to the Apostle Peter’s reference of Jesus in 1 Peter 2:6, ““For in Scripture it says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

Acts 10:34-43

The Apostle Peter’s calling to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles fulfils many OT passages that speak of God’s salvation for the Gentiles as well as the Jews, including Isaiah 25:6-7, “On this mountain he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations” (Isaiah 25:7, NIV). Through this encounter Peter helps us to understand that whilst Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross is a gift available to all, he reminds us that the words of the prophets remain relevant that “everyone who believes in him (Jesus Christ) receives forgiveness of sins through his name”. The essence of the word ‘believes’ in verse 43, speaks of more than simply ‘believing in God’ (see James 2:19) but of placing our full faith, confidence and trust in the person of Jesus Christ for our salvation.

John 20:1-18

This narrative passage is full of emotion: Mary anguished at finding Jesus’ tomb seemingly desecrated and standing open; Peter and John’s panicked confusion in their rush to confirm Mary’s story but leaving without answers. The most striking emotions occur once Peter and John have left the open tomb and Mary Magdalene, now alone and standing before an empty tomb in the early morning light, has an extraordinarily tender encounter with the risen Lord. Through her uncontrollable sobs she answers the angel’s question, “They have taken my Lord away and I don’t know where they have put him” and even though Jesus was standing right there with her, she failed to recognise him, thinking he was the gardener. Jesus wasn’t the gardener. Scripture doesn’t tell us that he was doing the work of a gardener nor that he was even pretending to be the gardener, but in Mary’s grief she mistook him for something that he was not. Mary was not alone in mistaking Jesus for something he’s not. His peers looked to him as a political liberator freeing Israel from Roman oppression. We might even reduce him to liberator of the oppressed from the power of tyranny and in so doing fail to recognise more importantly that he is mankind’s liberator from the tyranny of our own sinfulness. Mary’s confusion was undone with Jesus simply calling her name, “Mary”, leading her to that extraordinary confession, “I have seen the Lord”.

Draft Sermon Outline

The narrative of Christ’s resurrection in John 20:1-18 provides the account that reveals a number of common themes emerging from today’s passages:

Christ as suffering servant and risen King:

Isaiah 25:6 alludes to Jesus Christ’s deliverance through suffering in the banquet imagery of broken flesh and wine upon Mount Zion. Romans 11:26-27 echoes Isaiah 25, speaking of a deliverer coming from Zion who will take away sins. Psalm 118:21-22 provides a clear image of a rejected saviour who becomes the cornerstone, whilst 1 Peter 2:6 helps us to understand that the precious and chosen cornerstone laid in Zion is the person of Jesus Christ. Acts 10:39-40 bluntly speaks of Jesus death, “…They killed him by hanging him on a cross…” and resurrection, “…but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen”.

Christ’s eternal work:

The eternal consequences of Christ death and resurrection are seen in his swallowing up death forever, (Isa 25:8) and in his ‘forever enduring love’ of Psalm 118:1 which provides the eternal context for the remainder of the psalm, including the psalmist’s phrase, “I will not die but live” (vs 17). Even Psalm 118:19’s reference to the gates of the righteous have a present context: “…enter through the narrow gate (Matt 7:13) and the eternal reality of entering “through the gates into the city,” the New Jerusalem (Rev 22:14).

Christ’s work in restoring creation to himself:

Isaiah 25:8 speaks, in Old Testament terms, of ‘all things being reconciled to Christ by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Col 1:20). Within the phrase, “…he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth…“ (Isa 25:8) we see the saving work of Jesus Christ freeing his people from the disgraceful effects of sin and death. What’s more, Christ’s sacrificial work on our behalf is complete in both the removal of the disgrace of sin from his people over all the earth, and complete in that it will undo the effects of the disgrace of mankind sin from all the earth. Our current environmental crisis is without a doubt a human sin issue but Christ’s death and resurrection have done the work in full to undo the curse of sin on the earth (Gen 3) so that we can look forward to the undoing of the effects of sin on all God created on the day when he makes all things new (Rev 21:5).

Our response: Christ I praise and Christ I proclaim.

In today’s passages the response given to knowing Christ’s salvation is praise and proclamation. Isaiah 25:9 “…let us rejoice and be glad in his salvation”; Psalm 118:24 “…let us rejoice today and be glad”; Acts 10:42 “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead”; John 20:18 “…I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her”.

by Murray Tessendorf, A Rocha South Africa

Palm Sunday / 6th Sunday of Lent

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 50:4-9a
both
Psalm
31:9-16
2nd Reading
Phil 2:5-11
both
Gospel
Mark 14:1-15:47
Mark 11:1-10
by Rebecca Boardman, USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), Regional Manager for East Asia, Oceania and Europe

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Old Testament – Isaiah 50:4-9a

The musings of the prophet Isaiah who is trying to make sense of exile. This text deepens our understanding of Jesus’ journey to the cross, highlighting injustice and describing the suffering of the servant at the hands of his enemy. It vividly depicts human willingness to destroy someone who had only done good.

Psalm – 31:9-16

Expresses the suffering and pain of the rejection, betrayal and crucifixion of Jesus. The same pain that we continue to cause as we destroy God’s creation

Epistle – Philippians 2:5-11

This passage is one of the earliest Christian hymns and confessions of faith. Paul’s letter outlines a pastoral theology and is asking people to shift their mind-set/ their attitudes. It is a calling to live in the identity of who we are in Christ and outlines Christ’s commitment to serve people at the greatest personal cost. Christ was not a passive victim but chose to take upon himself the sins of the world as an example of pure love and service. It is through the example of Christ that we are able to see God’s character of selfless love.

Gospel – Mark 14:1-15:47

The fast pace of Mark’s gospel slows down to narrate Jesus’ crucifixion and the event preceding it. N Clayton Croy (2009) helpfully segments this passage into four segments:

1.      Preparation and Passover (Mark 14:1-25)

Here we see two ritual acts before the passion: the extravagant devotion of the women who anoints Jesus’ feet, and the Passover which remembers Israel’s liberation from slavery in Egypt with the discussion of the Passover lamb alluding to Christ’s crucifixion. In celebrating the Passover, we are introduced to the sacrament of the Lord’s supper (the ritual becomes personal to Jesus Christ).

2.      Supplication and Seizure (Mark 14:26-52)

Jesus and the disciples travel to Gethsemane. Jesus speaks of being “deeply grieved” and is “distressed and agitated” at the events that he knows will occur. As Jesus prays the disciples are able sleep in spite of Jesus’ request to stay awake. Judas arrives betraying Jesus and leading to Jesus’ arrest. Although the disciples had committed to standing by Jesus each flee, abandon or deny Jesus on his arrest demonstrating cowardice and failure.

3.      Trials and Denials (Mark 14:53 – 15:15)

Jesus is taken to trial before the council and high priest. While the testimony against Jesus by others is contradictory, false or inadequate. When asked directly Jesus states/confesses that he is the “Son of Man”. Jesus is bound and handed over to Pilate. At the time of the Passover festival Pilate had the opportunity to release a prisoner however chose to appease the crowd releasing Barabbas rather than Jesus. The story of Peter’s denial of Jesus (three times) in inter-wowen with this narrative.

4.      Ridicule, Crucifixion, Death and Entombment (Mark 15:16-47)

Jesus is handed over to Roman soldiers where we read of horrific verbal and physical abuse. Crucifixion at this time was a punishment that combined execution, humiliation and deterrence. In Mark’s gospel here we see the deeply human portrayal of Jesus particularly in his cry in vs 34 “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” and in vs 37 when we hear that “Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last”. We hear of the temple certain being torn in to and the affirmation by a Roman soldier of Jesus’ divine nature. The passion narrative ends with the burial scene. It is to note that the presence of women at this point

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

As we consider todays texts I would like for us to think about the points of contrast between the action and attitude of Jesus and the action and attitude of his disciples. In the Epistle Paul calls us to live in the identity of who we are in Christ. What can the gospel reading illuminate to us about the gaps between our thoughts and actions as we endeavour to be disciples of Christ and the character of God which is showed in the most selfless loving way in the narrative of the Passion.

a)     Identifying and worshiping the divine

At the beginning of today’s passage, we read of the women who anoints Jesus with costly ointment from an alabaster jar (14v3-9). The disciples label this act as a waste of resource because the ointment could have been sold and given to the poor whereas Jesus says that “she has performed a good service to me”. While many may not see this as a helpful story when thinking about stewardship I think that this passage is incredibly helpful when thinking about value. The women who anointed Jesus with oil knew the deep and rich value that came from a living relationship with Christ so much so that demonstrating this love was worth using an expensive and likely imported ointment. She was able to see this in a way that the disciples were not. She valued God incarnate in a way that meant that only extravagant love was a response. Her response is a deeply human response to the extravagant love of God revealed in Christ.

God is made visible to us in the beauty, majesty and awe of God’s creation. What would happen if like the women in Mark’s gospel who we can see the immense value of God in creation? What would extravagant love to our planet look like if we fully appreciated this?

b)     “I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake”

In the garden of Gethsemane Jesus is prayerfully discerning what may lie ahead for him. His disciples are not. In response and preparation Jesus commits himself to prayer: asking not to have to face the violence ahead but submitting to the will of God (vs 36). However, the disciples fall asleep even after Jesus’ instruction: “Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Here we see a difference between how much Jesus and the disciples are ‘grieved’ by what lays ahead. For Jesus his prayer is impassioned, whereas the disciples are only superficially affected by the events and as such they are able to fall asleep. The violence that Jesus is speaking to is not simply the physical violence of crucifixion but the spiritual violence of being separated from God and in acknowledging the pain of this.

When we consider our planet I think that we may also enter into this grieving of the sins of people in the destruction and exploitation of the planet and how this is a demonstration of our brokenness from a deep connection with God. It is from the emotions of anguish, grief and distress that we are able to lament the destruction of our planet and our separation from God. Do we enter into these emotions responding with fervent prayer to God or do we fall asleep distracted by other things? By what things are we distracted and what can help us be more intentional in our prayer for the reconciliation of all of creation?

c)      On trial

When Jesus is on trial he speaks to the absolute truth that he is the “Son of Man” he does not deny his divine relationship with God. Peter, in a similar way is on trial -not in question of his own identity but in regards to his knowing Jesus – but Peter denies Jesus three times because he is afraid of the consequences of the authorities and powers.

In light of injustices such as our climate and ecological crisis, the exploitation of people and our planet, in what ways do we deny the truth because it is easier for us? Power today may come from societal expectation, from ideas of wealth and progress and success. Power can come from wealthy corporations or governments who wish to push their aims and greed despite the cost to people. Standing up and speaking truth to the structures of power can be costly. Will we be like Peter and deny the truth that God has called us to stand for justice and the care of all of creation?

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Bible Study resources:

USPGs 2021 Bible Study Course ‘For Such a Time as This’ considers the biblical narrative of salvation in respect to care of creation and justice for all. The six week study includes voices and perspectives from across the Anglican Communion including: India, Belize, Mozambique and Japan. The course can be accessed online at https://www.uspg.org.uk/engage/support5/forsuchatime/lent-course-2021/ and this web page also includes video presentations from the authors of each week’s reflection.

Liturgical resources:

A number of liturgical resources from across the world church have been collated in the following document: https://d3hgrlq6yacptf.cloudfront.net/uspg/content/pages/documents/CLimateSundayResource.pdf

by Rebecca Boardman, USPG, UK


Reference: https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/sunday-of-the-passion-palm-sunday-2/commentary-on-mark-141-72-151-47-2

5th Sunday of Lent [by Rt Rev Shourabh Pholia]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Jer 31:31-34
both
Psalm
51:1-12 or 119:9-16
2nd Reading
Heb5:5-10
both
Gospel
John 12:20-33
both
by Rt. Rev. Shourabh Pholia, Deputy Moderator and Bishop of Barishal Diocese, Church of Bangladesh

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Old Testament (Jeremiah 31:31-34)

In the OT reading, we see that God has chosen the Israelites as Her/His children. No doubt it was a privilege for the Israelites. They knew it but they failed to live as children of God because they disobeyed God. They failed like Adam and Eve, who disobeyed to fulfil their desire. Disobeying God’s Word was the beginning of sin. The Israelites also sinned by not listening to Her/Him.

But God is great always. God is the God of love, forgiveness and mercy. Therefore, S/He always kind to all forgives all. S/He is always ready to forgive when Her/His children repent and turn back to Her/Him. When there is repentance, there is God’s love, kindness, forgiveness and mercies. When there is God’s forgiveness there is reconciliation and there is a new beginning. Reconciliation with God is a new beginning. In the New Testament, we hear, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, s/he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.” (2Cor.5:17).

We all are the chosen ones and new Israel and therefore, we must take this opportunity and live according to God’s will. We should not disobey our God who loves us and allows us to be Her/His children. We can realise God’s expectation from the parable of Loving Father/ Prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32).

Psalm (51:1-12 or 119:9-16)

In Psalm reading, we find that King David realised the sins which he has done against God. He realised, repented, prayed and asked forgiveness. (Psalm 51).
Many times we have sinned by not listening to God. Like David we realise it but unless we repent and ask forgiveness with a broken heart like him, we are not forgiven. God’s mercy is there for us always but we need to obey God and do Her/His will.

In many ways, we have not listened to Her/Him. One thing we have neglected is God’s command regarding caring for the creation. We have failed to follow the Word of God and have not heard what S/He expected from us regarding serving the creation. We have abused it and exploited it.

In Genesis 1:26-27, we see God created male and female in God’s image and then S/He blessed them and said to them, “ Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” Here God expected us the human being to be good stewards and to serve God’s creation. But we have explained it selfishly and exploited the whole creation. Now the whole creation is groaning and waiting for God’s grace and mercy to be liberated. In Romans 8: 19, it is written – “For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. “ Also in Romans 8:22 says – “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.”

Therefore, until we feel guilty we cannot repent. Due to our selfish nature, we are now facing a crisis like global warming, sea-level rise, loss of many species, climate change etc. We need to turn back and ask forgiveness for our deeds. We need to start a new and obey God’s command – “To care the creation the way God cares it and loves it.”

Epistle (Hebrews 5:5-10)

From the epistle reading we learn that Jesus is our model who showed how to obey God the Father. He obeyed God and sacrificed His life for us. It is He who has opened the door for reconciliation with God and has given us a new life, a new beginning. He has restored the broken relationship which took place due to our selfish motives and desires. Jesus called us to reconcile, heal and restore. We all need to follow His steps of love, care and sacrifice for reconciliation and restoration. We must ready to sacrifice as Jesus showed us.

It is right and our duty to repent and to be reconciled with God. Reconciling with God also needs reconciliation with His/Her creation. Therefore, we need to confess our sins, negligence and we must acknowledge that we did and doing harm to God’s creation and committing sin by not being good stewards of what God expected from us. It is high time for us to stop and turn back to care and serve the creation and to heal the wounds which we have done toward the creation.

Gospel (John 12:20-33)

In the Gospel reading, we see that Jesus showed the way to serve and reconcile. We must follow His example to sacrifice. We have ruined and harmed the creation to live our selfish lives. But we need to hear the voice of God so that we may live and also our generation may have a healthy and blessed life. We need to sacrifice and live the life God expects. Jesus sacrificed His life and therefore, we have received life. The same way He asked us to follow Him. Therefore, we must love, care and serve the whole creation so that it can grow and bring fruits for us and our next generations. Amen.

by Bishop Shourabh Pholia, Church of Bangladesh (Barishal Diocese)

4th Sunday of Lent [by Rev Dr Rachel Mash]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Num 21:4-9
2 Chr 36:14-23
Psalm
107:1-3
2nd Reading
Eph 2:1-10
both
Gospel
John 3:14-21
both
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa

God so loved the world

John 3:14-21

Today we read about Nicodemus – he was a Pharisee – an important religious leader. In our day he would be an archdeacon, member of chapter, quite high up in the structures of the church and he hears of Jesus who has started a movement, things are happening, lives are changing what is going on. Jesus doesn’t seem to be quite going by the rules, but Nicodemus is keen to meet him. But he doesn’t want anybody to see him so he sneaks out to see Jesus at night.

Jesus says something rather weird to him – you need to be born again in order to see the kingdom of God. Nicodemus is like “what, go back into my mother’s womb what on earth are you talking about?” And then Jesus says the most famous verse in the Bible John 3: 16 “for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whoever believes in him, should not perish but have everlasting life.”

God so loved the world. That was the first verse I learned at Sunday School. I was brought up with that verse, understanding clearly that in order to be saved a person, an individual needs to be born again. People have sinned and people must come to God, and they will receive salvation and be born again. So for most of my life I understood that Jesus was saying to Nicodemus, you Mr Nick – Jesus came down to this earth to die to save your sins and my sins and for each person who believes they will be saved. When we hear “God so loved the world” we think God loved the people the individuals in the world.

But Nicodemus would have understood those words in a very different way.

In Jesus day and with the early church, the world was understood to be the whole of creation. Their understanding of God’s kingdom was based on the Genesis idea of creation , humans were part of creation, put in the Garden of Eden to care for it. When Jesus said God so loved the world, then Nicodemus would have understood God so loved the world, the whole of the Earth, all living creatures, creation.

About 400 years ago this idea began to change. Up until then people understood that the world was the centre of everything. The sun rises in the morning and goes down at night so therefore the sun goes round the earth.

Copernicus a polish astronomer, a canon in the cathedral, proved the opposite, that the Earth goes round a stationary sun. The Church was horrified, the earth is the centre of the universe how can it be otherwise?.

The dethronement of the Earth was a challenge to theology. Galileo built a telescope and found more proof of Copernicus’ theory. What heresy! he was tried in 1633, tortured by the Inquisition condemned and imprisoned for the rest of his life.

There began the big split between scientist and theologians.
Religious thinkers began to withdraw their attention from wider cosmic and earthly concerns and to concentrate on the uniqueness of the Christian story. Their focus was to look at redemption and salvation of the individual, and the interior personal disciplines needed for salvation.

The Protestant reformation split the church. Protestant insisted on the primacy of salvation – we are justified by faith (as individuals). The Church became inward- looking, focussing on the conflict between protestants and Catholics . Catholic kings burned protestants at the stake , and Protestant kings burnt Catholics at the stake. You were saved by what you personally believed. Justified, saved by your faith.

Meanwhile Scientists continued to study the world and living forms. Geologists and biologists discovered the wonders of the new world. The discovery of fossils – challenged the belief in creation in 7 days . The origin of the species and Darwins’ theory of evolution led to even more shock and outrage in the religious community.

Up until then most people looked on nature as a vital living reality. It needs to be respected to ensure harmony.
Many religious leaders attempted to build a wall around faith. Moral and religious values are quite separate from those involved in science.

The scientific community became very mechanistic, nature was not endowed with the presence of the spirit. Nature became objectified, with no rights or dignity. It was something to be used, manipulated, to satisfy greed, not a gift made by the Creator. The world would be saved by technology- the industrial revolution, the green revolution. Captains of industry can use and manipulate the living world as they wish. Nature has no rights or value. It is a machine to be used.
The world will be saved by technology or by new economic systems. People were transformed to become part of the efficient industrial process, recipients of consumer goods.
What are the values? – peace comes from having a strong defense force or nuclear weapons, happiness comes from having enough consumer goods.

We had created a lonely, squalid world.

Some of those dreams have turned into nightmares as industry clogs our seas, destroys our earth. Advances in technology and consumerism have not saved the world, they are leading to its destruction, the gap between the poor and rich continues to grow.

On the other hand the faith community withdrew from what science was saying about the world and saw the work of God in the individual. We are only here for a short while then Christ will come again, so it doesn’t matter what we do to the world, what matters is how many souls are saved. Creation has been give to us to use since we are the pinnacle of Gods creation. We see this theology in songs such as ’this world is not my home I’m just a passing thru’. So if we use up resources or mess up this world it doesn’t matter, Jesus is coming again.

So since the late middle ages and especially in the reformation there was an emphasis on the Fall and Redemption of the individual. Greek dualistic theology had crept in, – separation of the body from the soul. We had no adequate theology of creation- twenty billion years of Gods creative love is either the stage on which human salvation is worked out , or else it is sinful and needs to be transformed.

However we are emerging from the past 400 years of seeing God as separate from his world. A new awareness was sparked by the first pictures of the earth from outer space – the blue planet. A living planet- the garden planet of the universe. Those images reminded us that humans are part of the family of the living. The entire chain of living beings from simple bacteria to human beings are interconnected.

Salvation is beginning to be understand not just as me the individual being saved but actually salvation means life and renewal for the whole of creation There is terrible darkness and evil in the world. Walking in the way of the Lord brings order and harmony between humans between us and God and between and us and the rest of the world.

At the time of the fall: Adams and Eve messed up their relationship with each other – with God and with the natural world. Gen 3;17-19.
Redemption heals humans’ relationships with each other, with God and with the whole world.
Col 1: 20 God was pleased through Jesus to reconcile all things to him whether things on earth or in heaven by making peace through his blood shed on the cross.”

God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son to die for you and me and for the whole of creation on the cross. Nicodemus a religious leader, a religious person was being asked to be born again, to become a follower of Jesus. This is the challenge for us, are you a religious person , following the church, faithful, or have you taken up the challenge to become a follower of Jesus, part of the Jesus movement here on earth – called to bring salvation to the whole earth – whether that is in fighting injustice, reaching out to the poor, hungry and hurting, or fighting pollution and destruction on the earth – Jesus calls you to be born again to become a living Spirit filled follower, walking with him the way of life for all of Creation.

by Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa


References:

McDonagh, Sean: The Greening of the Church, 1990

3rd Sunday of Lent [by Yuki Johnson]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Ex 20:1-17
both
Psalm
19
2nd Reading
1 Cor 1:18-25
both
Gospel
John 2:13-22
both
by Yuki and Revd. Dick Johnson; Yuki is Licensed Lay Minister with the Japanese Anglican Church (UK), St Martin’s West Acton, and Commissioned Lay Chaplain to the Japanese Community St Michael and All Angels, Mill Hill.

March 11th this year marks the 10th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the NE coast of Japan’s main island, Honshu in 2011. More than 16,000 people died, many towns and communities were obliterated, and the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant was damaged with 50,000 households evacuated and hundreds of square kilometers of land contaminated.

Such ‘natural’ disasters happen in many places around the world – floods, landslides, wildfires, drought – and your community may be no exception. These notes try to bring into focus firstly the experience of those who have lived through the Japanese earthquake and tsunami (which you can read more about in the additional material), and the years of rebuilding and renewal since, and, secondly, on the subsequent reflection and projects of the Nippon Sei Ko Kai (Anglican Church in Japan) and other faith groups.

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Exodus 20 v 1 – 17

The ten commandments are given to enable God’s people to live in God’s world on God’s terms. The Israelites received them as they began their 40 years wandering in the wilderness, which is echoed in our current 40 days of Lent. In the desert the power of the natural world is most evident, and the vulnerability of life exposed.

The commandments begin with three that focus on our relationship with God, and end with six that are about how we treat each other. Between these is the commandment to keep holy the sabbath day.  This connects our relationship with God, with our relationship with each other. Our working week is about how we build our world, earn our living and make what we are needful of and capable of, individually and as a society.  The sabbath reminds us that this is only possible because God is part of the picture. At the heart of the ten commandments is the reminder that ‘the earth and the sea and all that is in them’ (v 11) is through God’s will and provision, not our ambition.

Psalm 19

The psalm is in two parts.  Verses 1 – 6 proclaim how the ‘heavens proclaim the glory of God’. In His very creation we see the wisdom, love and power of God. The rest of the psalm brings us back to the Law of the Lord, and how this ‘revives the soul’, ‘rejoices the heart’, and ‘enlightens the eyes’ (v 7 – 8). We are thus reminded that the world is God’s creation and we are part of that, not those who stand alongside God and take it upon ourselves to create a world in our own image.

1 Corinthians 1 v 18 -25

Paul contrasts the wisdom of God with that of the world (v 25). God’s wisdom is seen in the person and work of Jesus Christ, ultimately on the Cross. This seems like foolishness to the world, but in truth it is the way to life.

The wisdom of the world has led us to all manner of crises, political, social and environmental. Only now are we beginning to understand the depth of the crises we have caused by our self-confidence in our own wisdom. The scale of climate change; the unbalancing of nature by the destruction of habitats with immense consequences for the extinction of precious species; the contamination of the land by nuclear accident; should all lead us to be wary of the wisdom of this world. The Cross stands as a statement of solidarity with all who are victims of this pride, but also as a sign of judgement on the sin of humanity that turns so easily away from the God whose wisdom establishes the earth, maintains it in balance and renews it by His love and grace.

John 2 v 13 – 22

The setting for Jesus’ wrath is the Temple in Jerusalem, and the economy that has sprung up around the rites of sacrifice and offering which has become its function. Animals were needed for sacrifice; money of the correct denomination for the offering, hence the need for money changers. No doubt the closed nature of the market led to some degree of profiteering.

The whole episode builds to the contrast that is made when Jesus is confronted by those who have most to lose by his actions. Jesus’ words can clearly be understood as criticism. They are accused of ‘Destroying this temple’ (v19a) by perverting its purpose in turning it into a marketplace. Instead, God will raise His own temple in its place – and that in three days, a clear reference to the resurrection that is finally understood by his disciples only after it has occurred (v 22). The comparison Jesus is drawing is between the temple human beings are capable of building, and that which God will bring to be in and through Jesus himself. The contrast is stressed by the different time scale. The one has taken 46 years, and is still not finished; the other will take three days.

So it is when we compare the plans of God with those of human beings. What humanity creates is so often a perversion of what God intends. In the case of the temple it is the difference between a dwelling made for God, with all the limits that seeks to place on God; and a dwelling which is God where we dwell knowing God’s love, compassion, forgiveness, grace and peace. The same contrast is seen between the world as God has created and sustains it; and the way human beings have taken that creation and, far from acting as good stewards, have exploited, polluted and destroyed it.

SERMON NOTES

Renewal and Resurrection in the face of Natural Disaster.

When ‘a natural disaster’ happens what is natural and what a result of human activity, including climate change, is not always clear. In the case of NE Japan the most obvious human caused impact has been in the area around the nuclear plant, where still residents cannot return to their homes and where the earth is contaminated. This has led to the NSKK campaign for the removal of all nuclear power from Japan.

In our sermon we might reflect upon the power of nature. In it we see the glory of God proclaimed (Psalm 19 v 1 – 6), but also the power of the natural world to damage and destroy. There are times when human beings are culpable, thinking we can take the place of God, controlling the forces of nature, with our own science and technology. This hubris can lead to disaster – as in the nuclear plant meltdown and contamination – that destroys life and community. This happens when we ignore the way of living in the world that God offers – through the law (Exodus 20), and ultimately through Christ. Not only is Christ the one through whom all things are made (John 1 v 3), He is the fulfillment of the law, and the one by which the world is renewed through the cross (1 Cor 1: 18 – 19); and resurrection (John 2: 19 – 22).

It is the Cross and Resurrection which our Lenten discipline leads us towards. Our repentance must be for our actions that damage and destroy the world God creates, and on which our collective life depends. We need to repent of relying on our wisdom and self-confidence, rather than God’s wisdom (1 Cor 1 v 20 – 25) which focuses, not on ourselves, but justice and life for others, including all non-human life that we so easily destroy through our selfishness.

There is though also the challenge when natural disasters do happen, without any culpability of human beings. Earthquakes are seen as signs of the end in some scriptural traditions (Luke 21) but many see the randomness of such events as, at best, proof that God cannot exist and at worst as evidence of a capricious and heartless god that, whilst having power to prevent such disasters, chooses not to. The Old Testament often portrays God as the bringer of disaster, because of the sin of the people in turning from Him to other gods, and so breaking the first commandment (Exodus 20 v 2) – e.g. Jeremiah 4.  But bad things do happen to good people. Our texts also remind us that, in the Cross, God not only bears the sin of the world, but stands in solidarity with the world, in all its suffering especially where that suffering is borne by those who are innocent, oppressed and persecuted or who suffer the randomness of life as epitomized in our current COVID pandemic. In this it is the Cross which, at the darkest moments, helps us know we are loved, even beyond death.  (Romans 8 v 35 – 39)

Ultimately, if we can learn to look, in all things, to ‘Christ, the power of God and the wisdom of God’ (1 Cor 1 v 24b) then God brings resurrection, rebuilding and renewal to our world – just as has happened in the rebuilt communities of NE Japan, and as Christ spoke of in the context of his cleansing of the temple. Ultimately our salvation, and that of all creation, is found, not in our efforts to build a human world as epitomized by the temple in which we can house God, but in Christ, the new temple, rebuilt after three days (John 2 v 19, 21) which is our everlasting home that cannot be destroyed.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

News reports and photographs of the events of March 11th 2011 and its aftermath

https://www.theatlantic.com/photo/2016/03/5-years-since-the-2011-great-east-japan-earthquake/473211/

https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20180911/p2a/00m/0na/004000c

Research and academic reports into the causes and extent of the disaster, and the response of religious groups

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/257807253_The_2011_Eastern_Japan_Great_Earthquake_Disaster_Overview_and_Comments

https://www.oxfordhandbooks.com/view/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199935420.001.0001/oxfordhb-9780199935420-e-29#oxfordhb-9780199935420-e-29-div1-2

Questions for further reflection and discussion:

  1. Rebuilding and reconstruction may have been progressed but experiences of the disaster of 2011 remain strong in many people’s minds, like a very bad nightmare. Very recently (13th February 2021) there was another strong earthquake in the same area, which was described as an aftershock of the quake of 2011. There were no deaths, but for many people it brought back painful memories, and caused great anxiety. How can those with such experiences of trauma be offered hope? What do different religious traditions have to offer those whose experience of the natural world is coloured by such experiences?
  1. Nuclear power. Part of God’s world and yet so easily destroying life.

Whilst the destruction caused by the tsunami is being repaired and communities rebuilt the impact of the meltdown at the Fukushima power plant continues. What should the Churches be saying about this, and based on what theological understanding of God’s creation?

See also   https://www.anglicannews.org/news/2019/07/international-forum-calls-for-joint-church-action-to-end-nuclear-energy-development.aspx

  1. Nuclear power is seen as green energy by many, in terms of carbon emissions, but is not environmentally friendly in other ways. Nuclear power in the UK is seen as a strategy to move away from dirty energy. But at what price? Should nuclear power be part of the energy strategy of any country given the continuing risks associated with it, and the problems of disposal of toxic waste?

See also:  https://www.greenpeace.org/usa/global-warming/issues/nuclear/

by by Yuki and Revd. Dick Johnson

2nd Sunday of Lent [by Chris Parkman]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 17:1-7,15-16
Gen 22:1-2,9-18
Psalm
22:23-end
2nd Reading
Rom 4:13-end
Rom 8:31-34
Gospel
Mark 8:31-end
Mark 9:2-10
by Pastor Chris Parkman, A Rocha, Les Courmettes, France

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Genesis 17.1-7, 15-16

The renaming or Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah is part of a restating in renewed form of God’s covenant with Abraham which first appeared in Genesis 12, then Genesis 15.  Three aspects stand out.

First, the word of God dominates the passage.  The term God Almighty (El Shaddai) in v1 conveys the sense that ‘God is sufficient’.  It also has a sense of ‘rock’ and may refer to mountain (i.e. God of the Mountains) and speaks of the grandeur of God, by providing simile with the majestic mountains of creation.  The title is common in the book of Job, a book where God’s majesty is contrasted with the frailty of humankind.  In Genesis, it appears at times when God’s people are hard-pressed and need reassurance.

Related to the first point is the fact that the context shows God’s purpose will not be stopped.  In Chapter 16, Abram and Sarai have attempted to ‘fulfil’ God’s earlier promise of fruitfulness, by their own solution of Abram fathering a son through their slave girl Hagar.  The reader knows not why, but 13 years later (!) it seems this is not the whole solution that God purposes.  God’s promises are beyond our manipulation.

Finally, the name change of Abram to Abraham represents a shift in focus outwards; from that of ‘exalted ancestor’ to ‘ancestor of a multitude.’  This reconfirms the original blessing in (12.2) which is that Abraham is blessed to be a blessing.

Psalm 22.23-end

Psalm 22 is famous for the fact that Jesus quotes v.1 on the cross.  It is a psalm that explores the tension between groaning and suffering on the one hand, and their resolution in trust and praise.  The section today focuses on the element of trust and praise.

Two aspects stand out in this trusting and praising.  First, that ‘the poor shall eat and be satisfied’ (v.26).  The psalmist trusts that the direction of events is always in God’s sustaining hands, however hard to live through.  And this is emphasised by the fact that those who have it hardest to live through (the poor) will still see satisfaction.  Second, the psalmist trusts God’s purposes will be fulfilled to the extent that ‘all the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord’.  God’s dominion will not be limited to those places and peoples who might appear God’s obvious followers today, but will extend everywhere.

Romans 4.13-end

This passage challenges all those who believe in Jesus as Messiah to recognise Abraham as children of Abraham and Sarah.  This link is there because it is faith, Paul says, which was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness, and it is faith to which we, as followers of Jesus Christ, are called.  For Abraham, it was faith that he would have numerous descendants, in the face of the fact he and Sarah were ageing and way beyond the years they might expect to become parents.  For us, it is faith that in fact, we believe in a God who ‘gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.’ (v.17).  Many implications flow from this which could be drawn on for the sermon.

Mark 8.31-end

This passage comes immediately after thew watershed moment in Mark’s gospel when Peter confirms Jesus’ as the Messiah (8.29).  Until that point, the gospel has been concerned with demonstrating the power of Jesus through his teaching and (particularly healing) miracles.  From this point onwards, Jesus sets his face towards Jerusalem and the suffering he must and will endure there.  And in this passage, Jesus immediately widens out the fact that he will suffer, to the fact that anyone who would follow him will suffer too.

In Peter’s rebuke of Jesus’ words that he must suffer (v.32, 33), Jesus actually says ‘Get behind me Satan!’  This might hint at a link with Jesus’ temptations for it hits on the same challenge at Jesus: will he just (ab)use his earthly power and authority for his own selfish benefit and self-protection, or will he submit to God’s will to use it to save and redeem the world, at the cost of his own suffering?

The fact that Jesus summons the crowd to hear his next teaching (v.34), rather than telling his disciples to keep it secret, emphasises that this next teaching is at the core of Jesus’ message, which he knows must be promoted hard (because of the obvious unpopularity of self-sacrifice) before the equally important but easier to hear message (of humanity knowing it is loved and cared for).  By using the shocking symbol of the cross (the execution device for a condemned criminal), Jesus is making clear how deep this suffering will be, at the same time emphasising that it is pointless unless it is ‘for the sake of the gospel.’

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Living by faith is hard, and it is never the obvious path

All the readings today show how living a life faithful to our true human call and God’ purposes is neither always immediately obvious nor will it avoid suffering, in fact, it will necessarily lead to our suffering.  But paradoxically, it is through that way of life that we will experience the more deeply fulfilled life which will see us sharing in the ‘life of eternity’ with God.

When we hear the call to care for and live at peace with God’s creation, it can feel hard to bear.  So much evidence points to the fact it might be pointless, that we might have passed beyond a tipping point, that it is simply impossible to see how the environmental problems of today can be addressed.  Is it really worth it?  What difference can we really make? Doesn’t all the evidence point to a depressing conclusion?

For Abraham and Sarah, the idea of becoming ancestors of many peoples seemed impossible.  But it was precisely their faith to carry on, in the face of ‘all the facts’, that God honoured and has indeed placed at the heart of the way to live in line with God’s way.

In the face of deep suffering and questioning, something wells up from within the psalmist such that he is able to experience God’s blessing in the face of that suffering now, and go on to proclaim that that blessing will be seen by all, in that he knows that God is ultimately sustaining the earth whatever he sees now in front of him.

Part of the challenge which the environmental crisis presents to our faith is that it might feel extremely difficult to see (with human reason) the way out.  Often, at other crisis times, it might just be a matter of remaining positive and hopeful enough in what basically seems a solvable situation.  For example, we might move to a new place, and feel profoundly challenged by the fact that we might find adequate housing for our family; but maybe, at the (seemingly) last minute, a suitable house becomes available at the right price.  Such situations can feel enough of a challenge to our faith!

But the environmental crisis can feel different.  The crises of climate change and species loss start to feel like insurmountable and insoluble problems.  But this is a challenge to us to live faithfully now, and trust God will also act beyond our imaginings in due time.  We must learn not be limited by our own (lack of) imagination, as Paul challenged the Romans.

For may of us, living more sustainably can start to feel very difficult and ultimately challenging to the way we might honestly prefer to live, and also futile.  What specific examples in our lives can we think of?  Perhaps it will be about limiting the way we eat, travel, invest our savings, or enjoy holidays?  But let’s encourage each other, in our Christian communities, to walk this path of ‘self-sacrifice’ (however we each specifically apply it) and realise that even now, we will experience some blessings which we might never have imagined.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

Collect

Almighty God,
by the prayer and discipline of Lent
may we enter into the mystery of Christ’s sufferings,
and by following in his Way
come to share in his glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Post-communion

Almighty God,
you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:
keep us both outwardly in our bodies,
and inwardly in our souls;
that we may be defended from all adversities
which may happen to the body,
and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Quote from Jurgen Moltmann (from Theology of Hope: On the Grounds and Implications of a Christian Eschtology, 1967, SCM Press)

‘The resurrection is not only a consolation in a life….. doomed to die, but it is God’s contradiction of suffering and death.’

Further Reading

Hope against Hope, R.Bauckham and T.Hart, 1999, Darton Longman and Todd

by Chris Parkman, Les Courmettes, France

1st Sunday of Lent [by Rev Elizabeth Bussmann]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Gen 9:8-17
both
Psalm
25:1-9
2nd Reading
1 Pet 3:18-end
both
Gospel
Mark 1:9-15
both
by Elizabeth Bussmann-Morton, Environmental Officer, Diocese in Europe, Church of England

Part 1. Notes on the Readings

Old Testament: Genesis 9:8-17

God’s Covenant with Creation – not just with Noah and his family who were with him in the Ark. God said, ‘I establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you AND with EVERY living creature that is with you”  And the sign given ‘My rainbow in the cloud, and it shall be for the sign of the covenant between me and the earth.”

A covenant is the most solemn and binding form of divine promise, an assurance to humans of divine commitment, and a reminder given by God of His faithfulness.
This was the second of seven covenants made between God and humans. The first being the covenant with Adam in the Garden of Eden – that all men and women would enjoy the gifts of the garden IF they did not eat from the forbidden fruit. (Gen 2:16,17)
That covenant was broken by Adam and Eve, but God provided a way out. Genesis 3:15 – considered by many Christian commentators as the ‘first preaching of the gospel’, ‘the Bible in embryo, the sum of all history and prophecy in a germ”
This passage also throws light on what Westerners in particular struggle with, the tension between God’s mercy and his justice.

Psalm 25:1-9

One of my favourite psalms that has accompanied my walk in faith through dark and light times.  In whatever situation: ‘Show me your ways, Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour.’ The reading for this Sunday stops at vs. 9 but vs. 10 relates to our readings today, particularly Genesis, All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.’ And verse 14: The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.

Epistle: 1 Peter 3:18-end

Vss 18-20 are said to be one of the most difficult passages to interpret in the Bible! However, the passage reveals some powerful truths. The main one has been summed up by Tom Wright in his commentary of 1 Peter: ‘Jesus the Messiah has fulfilled the hope of Israel by defeating all the spiritual powers in the world, the ones who were responsible for wickedness and corruption from ancient times. It may not look like it to the little Christian communities (or for that matter, us today) facing the possibility of suffering, but their baptism places them alongside the Messiah in his victory.  They must hold their heads up, keep their consciences clear, and trust that his victory will be played out in the world to which they (and we) are bearing witness. Wright reminds us that this passage serves as an encouragement to all those followers of Christ who are likely to face persecution from human authorities. Wright also adds a salutary reminder to those of us today who do not feel we need to learn the lesson above. He says that all should learn it so that we can pray for our brothers and sisters who are increasingly being persecuted and in preparation of the day when we might suddenly need it, too!

Mark 1:9-15  Baptism and testing of Jesus

Obviously, Jesus was without sin and therefore did not need a ‘baptism of repentance’. However, one of the reasons he chose to be ‘baptised’ was as a sign of his identification with the sinful people he came to redeem. God’s voice from heaven alludes to Ps. 2:7: known as the coronation formula for the messianic King of Israel AND to Isaiah 42.1 – the ordination formula for Isaiah’s Servant of the Lord. Together these passages show that Jesus’ mission would be fulfilled in the terms of the Suffering Servant. (Isaiah 52-13 – 53.12)
His message and his task for his kingdom, is one of teaching, healing, humility and sacrifice.
Jesus calls people to trust in the good news of the kingdom which he brings – the  good news that God is doing something new. In order to do this we need to realise that we will need to cut ourselves free from all things which are not from God and to trust in him and in his message. Just like Peter, Andrew, James and John it’s what all Christians have been and are called to do throughout the ages.

Part 2. Sermon outline/sermon notes

The paradox of God’s ‘mercy and justice’. Instead of holding these two principles together with all the tension that brings, many people have split God into ‘personalities. God is called ‘Wrathful Father’ and ‘Compassionate Son’- forgetting that the Bible tells us that Jesus is actually ‘one’ with his Father. If we look back at our Genesis text and others, we find another picture. Imagine, for a moment the situation Noah and his family found themselves in.  The one place one would expect to find unflinching judgement from God. After all, God’s beautiful and perfect world had been filled, through humans, with violence – ‘every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time.’ Genesis 6.5

We could easily expect God to explode with anger at humankind’s wickedness. But that’s not what we read. Instead we read that God ‘was grieved’ (Genesis 6.6.NASB) that his ‘heart was deeply troubled’ NIV. Some evil had infected his precious children, causing them to destroy themselves and each other. God’s anguish was so great that he even ‘regretted that he had made human beings’ Genesis 6.6.  Why not just start all over again?

But in Hebrew there is a connection between God’s pain and that of fallen humanity. In Genesis we hear how Eve’ sorrow in bearing children will multiply, because of her sin. Similarly, Adam will labour in sorrow to make the earth produce food. (Gen. 3:16-19. Hebrew uses the same word to describe these two sorrows and God’s sorrow when his heart is ‘grieved’ in Gen.66. Like Eve, God’s precious children would now fill his heart with pain; and like Adam’s labours, his beautiful earth would now be cursed by human bloodshed. Adam and Eve’s ‘sorrows’ were a small taste of the pain God himself felt looking on his broken world.

We mustn’t forget that the world we live in today is still full of violence, hate and ugliness – we are no different to that generation that made God regret he had created us! But as Genesis 8.21 tells us, God will never again ‘curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.’

Here we see the response to the question that so many people have asked: why doesn’t God just destroy evil. After all he is Good and all powerful. But in the story of the flood God reveals that his righteous response to human evil would be – universal judgement – in other words the death of every sinner on earth.  And the fact that a good God doesn’t destroy evil is not because, as many have argued, he is impotent, but because he is merciful. That mercy is shown in the words in Gen. 9.8-17 – the covenant he made with the whole world.

When we read on in the Bible, we see that whenever God made a covenant it was of huge importance to his plan of salvation.  The covenants with Abraham, with Israel on Mt Sinai and with King David to send the Messiah, were all key events in salvation history. In this covenant with Noah, mankind and all earthly creatures, he committed himself to find another way rather than just destroying sinners. Probably the most amazing covenant ever – to promise to redeem humanity from evil rather than to judge it for its sin. This covenant points, of course, to the coming of Christ.
We should never underestimate it nor forget what price it cost God.
Walter Brueggemann explained: ‘God resolves that he will stay with, endure, and sustain his world, notwithstanding the sorry state of humankind. It is now clear that such a commitment on God’s part is costly. The God-world relation is not simply that of strong God and needy world. Now it is a tortured relation between a grieved God and a resistant world… This is a key insight of the gospel against every notion that God stands outside of the hurt as a judge.’

Terrence Fretheim also writes that – ‘it means for God a continuing grieving of the heart. Thus, the promise to Noah and all flesh in (Gen. 98-17) necessitates divine suffering. By deciding to endure a wicked world, while continuing to open up the heart to that world, means that God has decided to take personal suffering upon God’s own self.”

It was this decision that led to the cross – to bring his prodigal children back to him, to renew them and to reinstate them in their original role as the carers of all his creation. We repent and turn back because of Jesus. And today, when we see injustices in the world we are called to action – to setting things right when possible, even if it means suffering as Jesus did- as part of the kingdom building entrusted to us redeemed, kingdom citizens

As in Romans 8:28 (NEB translation) ‘God himself co-operates for good with those who love God’ or in NIV translation: ‘in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good’.  Paul writes in a number of places about God’s ‘working together’ with his people. Here in vs 28 Paul is saying that God is working with people, doing what he wants to do in the world, not all by himself but through human agency. This is understandable when one looks back to the image-bearing vocation of humans in Genesis 1 and Psalm 8.  Several Bible translations offer such an understanding – in NIV stands ‘in all things God works together with those who love him to bring about what is good’. What does this mean for us today? Surely it is a call to recognise the truth of what Paul says elsewhere: that we are called to hard work, knowing that God is at work in us. The last phrase ‘who are called according to his purpose’ – Wright explains – would mean not God’s purpose for these people – final salvation, but his purpose through them. God is calling us to be part of his saving purpose for his suffering world.

How does this understanding of God challenge and change us? How does it challenge and change our own relationship, not only with God but also to ourselves, others and the whole created world?

God of our salvation,
Your bow in the clouds
Proclaims your covenant with ever living creature.
Teach us your paths and lead us in your truth,
That by your Holy Spirit,
We may remember our baptismal vows
And be keepers of your trust with earth and its inhabitants.
Amen

by Rev Elizabeth Bussmann, Diocese in Europe

Sources:
  1. Lois Tverberg, Walking in the Dust of Rabbi Jesus’–– Zondervan
  2. Tom Wright, Paul for Everyone, Romans – – SPCK
  3. Walter Brueggemann  ‘Genesis’  (Louisville: Westminster John Knox)
  4.  Terence Fretheim, The Suffering of God (Philadelphia: Fortress)