5th Sunday after Epiphany [by The Very Rev Ken Gray]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 6:1-8
both
Psalm
138
2nd Reading
1 Cor 15:1-11
both
Gospel
Luke 5:1-11
both
by The Very Rev Ken Gray, Kamloops BC Canada

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Isaiah 6:1-8       Never say, never!

As we move through ordinary lectionary time we are challenges as individuals and communities to re-evaluate our relationships—with God-in-Christ, with God the Holy Spirit, with creation, with all humanity and non-human life, with time in all epochs—past, present and future. The memory of the Epiphany discovery of the Christ child by all nations and cultures of the world enlightens everything we encounter and experience each and every day.

Some of these discoveries occur amidst gloom and darkness, others amidst triumph and delight. We well remember the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu who endured with faith and courage both in his long justice-loving life. The baton is now passed to the likes of us, and historically to the great prophets, including Isaiah.

The prophet is extatically overcome with the grandeur of God while profoundly aware of his own inadequacies. His problem is not God’s; what is important for this marvellous call is not sufficiency but a willingness to respond to God’s invitation to participate in redemption. Eventually, he volunteers: “Here I am send me.” Send me where we ask ourselves? The Lord says in the optional verses to your own people. “For how long?” we ask. “”Until cities lie waste without inhabitants” which is the case here in Canada, and possibly where you live and preach.

Psalm 138         Let us pray, or better, sing

A natural partner to Isaiah’s text is this psalm of praise and vocation. To the pray-er who needs re-assurance that the journey is not only possible and worthwhile then hang your heart on words and phrases such as

When I called, you answered me; you increased my strength within me . . .

Though the Lord be high, he cares for the lowly; he perceives the haughty from afar . . .

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you keep me safe, you stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies; your right hand shall save me . . .

O Lord, your love endures for ever; do not abandon the works of your hands.

Such words can be memorized, savoured, sung and shared in so many appropriate ways.

1 Corinthians 15:1-11                 First things first

The late theologian and teacher Marcus Borg wrote a marvellous book some years ago the title of which was based on a poem of T. S. Eliot. He titled it Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time. Today we encounter once more a very familiar text most often proclaimed at Eastertide though relevant for Epiphany Season, a season where we re-visit faith formations, either for the first time or as if we do so for the first time, but now in a special way in the context of the present moment, surrounded by present circumstances which include the escalation of extreme weather events (heat domes, historic flooding, infrastructure damage, rising pollution levels, environmentally influenced pandemics, drought and loss of access to water, deforestation . . . the list seems endless.

We witness such events, raising our voice of complaint as other political and corporate interests seem to ignore the necessary transitions ahead. As Paul will discover in his missionary enterprises which will take him towards the limits of the Roman world of his day, we in our day continue our struggle to challenge the economic status quo seeking transformation of both environments and economies in away in which justice will become the goal of all endeavours. The work is not easy; like Moses many of us will not live to see the promised land; the work will be passed on to future generations, though we have our part in God’s redemptive plan and activity today. We can join Paul in continuing our particular witness in the particular places of our lives, and in proclaiming together with him that “by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them – though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.”

Luke 5:1-11       Fish stories

I may be disqualified for talking about daily work as I retired from jurisdictional parish ministry some months ago. My wife will tell you however that I still work, daily, and too much. The difference is I am no longer paid for my work; also, that I do the work I want to spend time and creativity on.

In today’s Gospel, Jesus enters the work-a-day working culture of the Galilean fishery, a lively, adventurous and prosperous economic historic activity. His call out to potential missioners, practitioners of the Gospel extend not initially to the priestly class (following John the Baptist), to the Sadducean theologians, or to political leaders of any sort or condition. His appeal goes directly to working folk, a local community familiar to one another, and through whom the Gospel is presented, adjured and it seems welcomed.

One can hear him calling out from shore, to go deeper, not only into the Gospel experience and meaning itself, but into the ebb and flow of life, into the world of complex inter- and intra-personal relationships, and for our purposes, into the entire web of life, intricately established, maintained and guarded (by those who accept the witness challenge) by the One who created all things (cf. John 1).

Nature and creation itself become the first teachers of these working men (sic); for humans however verbal explanation and explication are required, to identify and amplify the miracle through which we move through life itself with all creatures.

A connection with Isaiah 6 (above) is made in Simon’s initial reaction: “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” to which Jesus responds given the very real fear and sense of loss of control or comprehension about what has taken place with the words:  “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.”

One can hear Jesus speaking to fishers everywhere and at every time, for the practice is both ancient and contemporary. In my own country of Canada fisheries on all coasts, Atlantic, Pacific, Arctic, Indigenous and settler cultures, fishing is a primary life practice, fought with endless situations of jurisdictional conflicts, arguments of capacity limits, issues of access and privilege and if not just management of the resource itself but of ownership. All the earth belongs to God, including the fishers. Many however disagree.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

LISTEN TO THE WORD:

Many interpretive and media links are made in the notes above. Beyond the preacher’s individual experience and reflections and challenges will be to discern where to start. Starting with the practice of fishing both ancient and modern may connect well with local audiences. Many are unaware of where food comes from and through what means. Many have yet to discover the justice issues inherent in food production of all kinds. Toda’s lections offer many directions for homiletic travel. Thinking of “environment” or even “climate crisis” prior to exegetical study may yield a vastly different sermon than previously preached.

LINK TO THE WORLD:

Following from above, one could play with the imagery and symbols associated with the word “fish.” Take it as both a noun and a verb; consider different tenses, i.e., Jesus says to the future Disciples “Fish” and do it now! Where would y(our) fishing ground be? With whom and in what circumstances do we find ourselves fishing together? And yes, fish stories are notoriously exaggerated; exaggerate a little and see what happens.

THINK ABOUT GOD’S CALL:

Now to the final and biggest questions, remembering Isaiah’s prophetic call; remember Paul’s resurrection storytelling and his tenacity in following his transforming vocation; remember the innocence and early responses of those local Galileans whose lives were changed. Has your life and vocation changed over time and through changing circumstances? How might others re-consider their own life-priorities, their hopes and dreams for the year 2022 in light of the spiritual, Holy nudges God promises and delivers, most if not all days.

RESPOND: See above.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

One could build in a reflection on the song from the Iona Community, Don’t be afraid

The background link above on the historical Galilean fishery noted, one could search out histories of fishery in your own country. In Canada, a focus on Newfoundland makes an ideal starting place

If engaging with a youthful audience Justin Bieber’s Never Say Never will open some inquiring hearts and minds. Lyrics here.

by The Very Rev Ken Gray, Canada

4th Sunday after Epiphany [by Dr Elizabeth Perry]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Jer 1:4-10
Jer 1:4-19
Psalm
71: 1-6
2nd Reading
1 Cor 13:1-13
both
Gospel
Luke 4:21-30
both
by Dr Elizabeth Perry, Advocacy and Communication Manager, Anglican Alliance, London

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Jeremiah 1: 4-10

The passage records Jeremiah’s struggle to accept God’s calling to be a prophet and to speak God’s words into the world. Jeremiah argues he doesn’t know how to speak… that he is too young. But God tells Jeremiah not to rehearse these negative arguments. Instead, God reminds Jeremiah that God has known him even “Before I formed you in the womb”, not to be afraid and that God will give him the words to speak. The passage ends with an interesting list of what words are able to accomplish. Through Jeremiah’s words, he will “pluck up and to pull down, destroy and overthrow, build and plant”.

Psalm 71: 1-6

The psalmist makes a heartfelt cry to God, seeking refuge and rescue in God “my rock and my fortress”. There is a strong sense of intimacy, of knowing God as a place of safety and shelter in the face of trials and enemies. Wickedness, cruelty and injustice are the psalmist’s lived experience – but so is God’s powerful and eternal shelter.

1 Corinthians 13:1-13

This famous treatise on love as the all-important Christian virtue has been written about and preached about thousands of times. In the context of the other passages, the verse that jumps out here is the first: “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal”. We do not communicate with words alone. What underpins the words – how they are spoken – affects the message and how it is heard.  So even if we speak God’s message, or believe we are speaking God’s words into a situation, the way we do so matters. In fact, without the motivation and communication of love, the words become something unpleasant, discordant, something people will move away from.

Luke 4:21-30

Today’s reading is part two of the account of Jesus’ declaration of what he has come to do. In the preceding verses Jesus has set out his mission, using words from the prophet Isaiah. It is, “to preach good news to the poor… proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” Preach, proclaim and release. Jesus’ words and actions are one. His words have power. This should not be surprising, given that Jesus is the Word of God, through whom all things were made (John 1) and that when God spoke the word, the thing was (Genesis 1).

But in this second half of the story, we see words having power in a different way. A few simple words turn a whole crowd, as one. At the beginning of today’s passage “All spoke well of him” but  seven verses later, “All were filled with rage” and wanted to kill him. The turning point seems to be a question, “Is this not Joseph’s son?” and Jesus’ response. The crowd hears words they do not like: words about how wide and inclusive God’s love is. The stories Jesus refers to are stories of God favouring outsiders, not respecting boundaries, refusing to be the property of, or instrumentalised by, any one nation or town.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Words and speaking are the golden thread linking today’s four readings: the call to speak; the importance of how we speak; the power of words – to stir, to provoke, to effect change. The cost to those who are called to speak is also laid bare. Words can be rejected or met with hostility, even when they are the truth – even when they come from God.

There are many situations of injustice, of oppression, of degradation, in today’s world that need to be spoken about prophetically. The triple environmental crises of climate change, biodiversity loss and pollution need to be talked about and acted on. Other forms of exploitation such as modern slavery and human trafficking, racism, gender-based violence – and myriad others – need to be addressed, and that can only happen when people speak out. As today’s passages make abundantly clear, speaking is hard and costly work. They also remind us that the basis of our speaking should be love.

Is there anything God is calling us to speak out about – where we see oppression and injustice? Are other people speaking words God is asking us to hear? Are there people speaking God’s word who we need to support in prayer or in other ways? Many people who speak out and advocate for change about climate change or in other situations of injustice face rejection and ridicule. Some face intimidation and threats. The number of earth defenders who lose their lives is shocking.

Let us pray for all who speak truth to power.

by Dr Elizabeth Perry, Anglican Alliance, London

3rd Sunday after Epiphany [by Rev Dave Bookless PhD]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Neh 8:1-3,5-6,9-10
both
Psalm
19
2nd Reading
1 Cor 12:12-31
both
Gospel
Luke 4:14-21
Luke 1:1-4,4:14-21
by Rev Dave Bookless PhD, Director of Theology, A Rocha International

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 9-10: The earlier chapters of Nehemiah mainly concern the rebuilding of Jerusalem and its walls. Here we see Ezra, a ‘teacher of the law’ (v.1, 4, 9) and ‘priest’ (v.9), reading God’s law to the gathered people. There is a spiritual revival at the heart of the geopolitical events surrounding the return of the exiled Jews to Jerusalem. In exile, God’s people had forgotten God’s word and the rhythm of worship and festivals that tied them to the land and its seasons. They rediscover and keep the Feast of Tabernacles (later in the chapter). Their first response to hearing God’s word is to weep (v.9) but Ezra and Nehemiah instruct them to feast and celebrate, ‘for the joy of the Lord is your strength’. We can see parallels today between the hard work and practical organisation of rebuilding Jerusalem, and the busy activism of tackling climate change and ecological collapse. Like the Israelites, we need to stop, listen to God’s word, and be reminded of eternal and unchanging truths. Amidst our climate grief and lament, can we find times to rejoice in God’s unchanging word and promises? This will ground us in a rhythm of worship and sustain us as we build for God’s Kingdom in tackling ecological crises.

Psalm 19: This beautiful short Psalm celebrates two key ways in which God communicates with us: God’s works (vv.1-6) and God’s word (vv.7-1). These have sometimes been described as God’s two books: Nature and Scripture. Nature, or Creation, gives us glimpses of God’s creativity, power, beauty and relational nature. Scripture gives us an account of God’s purposes and calls us to respond. Without nature, scripture may sometimes seem dry and abstract. Without scripture, nature’s glimpses of God are confusing and vague. In Psalm 19, the focus is particularly on ‘the heavens’ (v.1). The Hebrew parallelism in v.1 shows the Psalmist means the physical sky and its contents, rather than a spiritualised ‘heaven’. When we look at the vastness of the night sky, or the constancy and warmth of the sun (vv.4-6, described poetically as a bridegroom and an athlete) we are put in our place (NB. Psalm 8:3-4) and driven to worship God. The second half of the Psalm is equally poetic, using multiple images from nature to describe God’s word (refreshing [water] v.7; light v.8; gold and honey v.10), as well as other terms from human life (trustworthy, joy-giving, pure and reliable). There is no either / or between nature and scripture: God’s character and purpose are woven through both, and a healthy Christian life involves immersion in both.

1 Corinthians 12:12-31a: The body of Christ is a familiar metaphor for the Christian community, the Church. It is, of course, an organic image, one of many times the New Testament uses the patterns and structures of God’s creation to illustrate spiritual truths. Amongst the key truths that Paul draws out of the body imagery are those of diversity and interdependence. A human body (like an ecosystem) has many different parts, each with different functions. How ridiculous for an eye or an ear to claim it can survive or thrive or be important without the other parts! Yet, that is effectively what humanity often does with regard to the rest of God’s creation: we act as if we are all that matters, and our behaviour destroys the very parts of ecosystems that we depend on for our own wellbeing. God calls us humbly to know our place and our need of each other, both within the church as a body with Christ as its head, and also within creation which also has Christ as its head (Colossians 1:18, Ephesians 1:22-23).

Luke 4:14-21: Jesus, recently baptised and tempted in the wilderness, reads in the synagogue at Nazareth from Isaiah 61. The reading summarises the manifesto for his ministry. It is a Spirit-filled charter for an integral understanding of mission and the Gospel, not only as spiritual salvation but as recognising God’s liberating Kingdom rule for the poor, prisoners and oppressed. Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God never separates spiritual and material, or justice in this world and judgment for the age to come. Although the passage is entirely about justice and liberation within human society (thus including ‘climate justice’ and the way environmental changes affect most those who have done least to cause them, and can least afford to tackle them), there is an implicit relevance for creation care too. Both Isaiah’s Messianic prophecies which Jesus reads from, and Jesus’ own teaching on the Kingdom of God, have an ecological dimension. The promised Messianic age will include peace / shalom throughout creation. God’s Kingdom is to be ‘on earth’ as it is in heaven.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

GOD’S TWO BOOKS: Psalm 19

Over 20 years ago, I had the privilege of hearing the famous bible teacher, John Stott, preach in the middle of a muddy field in England. The occasion was the ‘British Birdwatching Fair’ where tens of thousands of birders converged on a nature reserve to buy, or enviously look at, binoculars, telescopes and brochures of wildlife holidays, and to listen to talks on wildlife and birds. Each year, the organisers invited A Rocha to hold a Christian act of worship on the Sunday morning in a tent, and those who attended were a mix of the committed, the curious and the cynical. John Stott, himself a life-long birder, chose Psalm 19 for his text, and spoke simply and clearly of how God communicates with us through his Works (creation / nature, including birds of course!), and through his Word (the Bible).

Sometimes we create false divides. That audience at the British Birdwatching Fair included ‘bible people’, committed Christians whose inspiration and guidance was the written word of God, and ‘nature people’ who never attended church or read the Bible but experienced joy, wonder and mystery in nature. John Stott explained how Psalm 19 challenges both groups. It begins with how creation ‘declares’ God’s work and ‘proclaims’ God’s glory. As Romans 1:20 reminds us, creation is God’s first evangelist: it clearly demonstrates God’s eternal power and divine nature. We should not dismiss those who claim to feel nearest to God in a garden or a forest, watching birds, on mountain tops or swimming in the ocean. Often our churches (both the buildings and the worship) fail to reflect the beauty, majesty and scale of who God is, and it’s not surprising that people reject what feels like an abstract, wordy or other-worldy religion. Could we find ways to consciously connect more with God’s self-revelation in nature? Maybe we could sometimes hold worship outdoors, walking, listening, observing and seeking God’s voice that does not need speech (19:3-4).

Yet, nature on its own leaves us with a vague and confusing picture of God’s purposes. We need the great story of God’s dealings with the world, and with humanity, to make sense of life’s big questions, and for that we need scripture. Psalm 19 does not see God’s word (to the Psalmist, the law of Moses; to us the whole Bible) as mere words on a page. God’s words are refreshing, wisdom-building, joy-giving, enlightening, pure, reliable, precious, and warning us how to avoid being ruled by our faults. Is this how the Bible feels to you? If it has become dry and over-familiar, why not read it outdoors, allowing God’s two books, nature and scripture, to act as commentaries on each other? Take a short passage, perhaps even a single verse, and treat it like sweet honey – hold and savour it, repeating and enjoying the words – and use all your sense to allow God to bring it to life, through the Spirit interpreting creation to you.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

  • If the weather or your location make it difficult to enjoy nature, why not watch a beautiful nature documentary whilst reading and re-reading Psalm 19? Make note of what God says to you through it.
  • find a local nature conservation group / project, and see if you can develop links from your church to it. Perhaps have a volunteer day to help out, and once relationships are established, organise a wildlife weekend at your church, inviting local nature / wildlife / environmental groups.
  • Hold a time of prayer, ideally outdoors, where people call out the ways in which they see God’s glory or gain knowledge of God through aspects of God’s creation.

by PhD Dave Bookless, A Rocha International, London

2nd Sunday after Epiphany [by Rev Elizabeth Bussmann]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Isa 62:1-5
both
Psalm
36:5-10
2nd Reading
1 Cor 12:1-11
both
Gospel
John 2:1-11
both
by Elizabeth Bussmann-Morton, Environmental Officer, Diocese in Europe, Church of England

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Isaiah 62:1-5 Written to encourage and reassure the Jews after their return from captivity especially when things don’t seem to be improving! It is a beautiful description of God’s love for his people.  The relationship of God to His people is compared to the relationship between a man and a woman in marriage. This marriage has suffered a breakdown but God does not reject his ‘bride’. The broken household will experience a re-union – a re-marriage. V.5 It will once again be as delightful as when ‘the bridegroom rejoices over the bride’ on their honeymoon –  ‘so shall your God rejoice over you.’ The passage tells how God has chosen his people, singled them out from all earth’s people to be his beloved bride. His people are no longer desolate, lost and forsaken – they are now to be called ’hephzibah’ or  ‘my delight is in Her’.  Marriage mirrors God’s relationship with His people. All through the Bible, God shows himself as the ‘husband’ of His people.

The people would have understood, in this, the power of the role of protector and redeemer – and also their  ‘role’ as God’s ‘wife’, not just the joy of God as they return to their homeland but also their sense of belonging and their hope of never again being separated from all that was dear to them.

(see also Hosea 1 – 4 on a similar use of this theme)

Psalm 36: 5-10

The psalmist declares how God’s ‘steadfast love’ extends beyond the known boundaries of heaven and earth.

This is a powerful and beautiful statement of God’s amazing great love and our call to be His people.

“for with You is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” Coming to God requires more than just rational ‘thinking’ – all our senses must be used – seeing, feeling, hearing and being touched by God through our experiences and the story of God’s presence among us. So that we, too can ‘feast on the abundance of His house, and drink from the river of His delights.”

The lectionary reading from Corinthians stops at verse 11 but the idea of ‘drinking’ is carried through here by Paul when he writes: ‘for in the one Spirit we were all baptized into one body…….. and we were all made to drink of one Spirit.”  “Quenching one’s ‘thirst”

John 2:1-11 continues the theme of ‘Marriage’. Here Jesus is a guest at a wedding banquet. Robert Brearley wrote that this cameo of a joyous feast in Cana being enjoyed by Jesus and his family is a sign to the church that we are “to rejoice as the people of God and to toast the world with the amazing good news of grace.”

The Bible is full of references to God’s love of banquets and celebrations and His generosity.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Connection to creation care – sustainability etc.?

These readings remind us of the meaning of ‘Marriage”. Marriage mirrors God’s relationship with his people.  All through the Bible we see God as the ‘husband’ of his people. His “chosen People/Church” (I purposely use these words as the originalchosen people, Israel’ will also be redeemed and brought back to their God) is His bride whom He loves and cherishes (Ephesians 5:25-27).

Marriage is the closest, most intimate relationship we can experience here on earth and God uses it to illustrate the intimate relationship He wants to have with His people.

Marriage in the Bible is a covenant agreement. As a couple should be faithful to each other so, too God expects His people to be faithful to Him – having other ‘gods’ or ‘idols’ was like adultery. A covenant is a contract, an agreement, between two parties. When God is one of those parties it is a sacred agreement. In our readings today we see how God understood the relationship between Himself and Israel as a contract. In Jeremiah (3:14) we read how he tells Israel “I am married to you’ – just as we have seen in our Isaiah reading.

We know how God freed His people from Egypt – the great ‘Passover’ narrative. He said, ‘I will take you as my own people, and I will be your God. Then you will know that  I am the Lord your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of the Egyptians.”

In Ezekiel 16.8 the prophet also quotes God and connects the Old Covenant with marriage:

‘When I passed by you again and looked upon you, indeed your time was the time of love: so I spread My wing over your and covered your nakedness. Yes, I swore an oath to you and entered into a covenant with you, and you became Mine.”

Ezekiel 6:9 tells us that God was ‘broken’ or ‘crushed’ by Israels rejection.

But God remained faithful. Sending His Son, Jesus Christ to bring salvation and redemption to all human beings and the whole of His creation. Under the new Covenant, the Church is seen as a bride preparing for marriage. This is the fundamental difference between the Old and the New Covenant. In the Old Covenant, when Israel agreed to God’s proposal and Moses performed the ritual described in Exodus 24, they were married. However, when we enter the New Covenant, we are not yet married. We are like a bride preparing for marriage, even though we have already agreed to it.  Before the actual ceremony takes place, the reasons for the failure of the first covenant must be removed. In other words human beings need to be redeemed and restored to their original relationship with God, in which they were made in His image. Hence God’s sacrifice of His Son Jesus to conquer the power of Satan and to enable his people to choose the way of righteousness. We live in a state of ‘the Now and the Not yet’. Jesus through his death on the cross and resurrection inaugurated the new Kingdom. We are called to repent and turn to Him and to learn to live once again as God originally planned. This requires a change in our way of living, thinking etc. a change that can only be brought about as Paul says in Romans  12.2. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed (metamorphoo) by the renewing of your minds.” (the Greek word metamorphoo is similar to what happens to a butterfly when it emerges from the cocoon.) The process of change, for humans,  is an undertaking which lasts a lifetime.

The Bible tells us that Jesus will return once more to the world he made and loves. At that time, all things will be made new and evil will be defeated for ever. Above all we will see another Marriage. The Marriage of Heaven and Earth. God will come to live on this Earth with his people – heaven and earth will be joined together.

Today’s readings offer us a message of HOPE AND ENCOURAGEMENT filling us with, hopefully,  JOY and GRATITUDE!

Just a few weeks ago COP26 came to an end. There is to be a follow-up this year in Egypt to see how much progress countries have made. It was not all doom and gloom but it certainly wasn’t the huge step forward many had hoped for. Many are greatly concerned about the impact humans have on the environment and what that could mean for the future.

The texts explored here give us above all HOPE. Hope that is centered on God’s amazing love for all of His Creation, of which we are a vital part! From the biblical texts we see not only how God holds everything in His hands but also how important the welfare of the whole of His creation is to Him. Like us, He wants what he loves to be cherished and cared for. In Genesis we read how that cherishing and care was entrusted to human beings. The very reason God made humans in His likeness – to enable us to fulfil that calling. The Book of Revelation reaffirms the Isaiah text: that God will honour His part of the Marriage covenant. God will in the end come and completely renew  the whole of His Creation, returning it once again to its original ‘very good’ state.

That doesn’t mean though, that we can just sit back and let things continue as they are. No, we are still called to care for the whole of His  Creation – not just the natural world but also our brothers and sisters all over the world. And being made in ‘His image’ we are to care for it as He would.

As Christians we are called to live our lives according to God’s will, furthering Kingdom values and revealing God’s glory. This requires not just change in our personal lifestyles but also helping to bring about justice throughout the world.  Understanding our relationship with God will help us to see the wider picture, too. Our relationship with others not just those close to home,  but around the world. We are all made in the image of God and we are all inter-connected and need each other – just as we are inter-connected with, and dependent on,  the rest of creation.

Getting involved in your church or congregation with projects such as A Rocha’s Eco-Church or the work of the ECEN (European Churches Environmental Network) could be a start. Or even just by deciding to be more aware of what you buy/eat/wear etc. Where it comes from, how it was made etc.

Collect for this Sunday:

Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new:
Transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
And in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory;
Through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
Who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever. Amen.

Further verses from Revelation on this theme:
Revelation 19:7-9

Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him, for the marriage of the Lamb has come and His bride has made herself ready.” It was given to her to clothe herself in fine linen, bright and clean; for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints. Then he said to me, “Write, ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’” And he said to me, “These are true words of God.”

Revelation 21:2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband.

Revelation 22:17 The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost.

Psalm 36:5-12

The Message

5-6 God’s love is meteoric,
his loyalty astronomic,
His purpose titanic,
his verdicts oceanic.
Yet in his largeness
nothing gets lost;
Not a man, not a mouse,
slips through the cracks.

7-9 How exquisite your love, O God!
How eager we are to run under your wings,
To eat our fill at the banquet you spread
as you fill our tankards with Eden spring water.
You’re a fountain of cascading light,
and you open our eyes to light.

by Rev Elizabeth Bussmann, Diocese in Europe

Second Sunday after Christmas [by Rev Dr Rachel Mash]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Jer 31:7-14
Sir 24:1–16
Psalm
147:12-20
2nd Reading
Eph 1:3-14
both
Gospel
John 1:1-18
both
by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Environmental Coordinator, Anglican Church of Southern Africa

Jeremiah 31: 7-14

13 Then young women will dance and be glad,
    young men and old as well.
I will turn their mourning into gladness;
    I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow. Jeremiah 31: 13

Jeremiah was known as the ‘weeping prophet”, persistently bringing a prophetic and often unwelcome message during four long decades.

He brought God’s warning to Judah, that they would be destroyed if they continued to disobey God’s commandments. The consequences of their actions came to pass in the year 605, when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon attacked Jerusalem and carried off 10,000 of the most able Jews (including Ezekiel and Daniel).

At that point, Jeremiah’s role was expanded as he was now bringing God’s word to the Jews in exile. Up to now his messages were of warning and the consequences of their actions – but in these chapters he brings a message of hope to the people in exile. Do not despair, there will be a return to the promised land, your mourning will be turned into gladness.

However, he warns that this would not take place in their lifetime, they must not act on false hopes that Babylon would be overcome – they must settle down , build houses, plant gardens and stop listening to the false prophets who said that Judah would never be destroyed. This further destruction took place in the when 586 when the Babylonians did return to Jerusalem and sacked it, destroying the temple and carrying the remaining able bodied people into captivity. Those listening to Jeremiah’s message of hope would not return to Jerusalem ever in their lifetime.

What is the message for us today? Firstly, that we must listen to the truth – there will be consequences for our actions – let us not listen to the false news prophets who say that there is a miraculous or techno solution to climate change. Secondly, we need also need to listen to the message of hope – that in the future there will be restoration – our mourning will turn to gladness. Perhaps not in our generation, but the world will indeed be renewed.

Jeremiah was a brave man, tenaciously faithful to God’s call, in the face of opposition and harsh criticism from political leaders and peers alike. Although he has been called the ‘weeping prophet’ crying over the sins of the people and his lack of success of getting them to turn from their ways, he was also a man of great hope and faith. He held two truths in balance, firstly, that sins have consequences, and secondly that God is faithful: “They will fight against you; but they shall not prevail against you, for I am with you, says the Lord, to deliver you” (Jer. 1:17-19).

How do we hold those two truths together in our time? The consequences of our sins of abuse of creation are becoming more and more prevalent as oceans rise, droughts intensify and extreme weather events multiply – and we must continue to cry out for justice for the Earth and the poor. We must also refuse to listen to the false prophets who offer easy solutions. And yet, like Jeremiah we also must preach a message of hope.

Archbishop Tutu was once asked how he could still be optimistic that apartheid would fall one day. He replied “I am not an optimist – I am a Prisoner of hope”.

Like Jeremiah – let us continue to speak prophetically – for we too are prisoners of hope.

Ephesians 1 : 3-14

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. Eph 1:4

To bring all things in the universe together under Christ. Eph 1:10). 

Unlike some of the other epistles, the book of Ephesians is not written to address a heresy or to solve church political squabbles. Paul is trying to get his readers to see the bigger picture, to see that we are not called to individual salvation for our own personal benefit, but that God has a greater calling than that upon the Church.

The letter opens with amazing statements about God’s purposes. We have been saved to bring praise and glory to God. The climax of God’s purpose, when the times will have reached their fulfilment is to bring all things together under Christ (1:10). In order to understand this incredible calling we need to understand that we were chosen ‘before the creation of the world’.

The Christ, present at creation, was part of creation. 16 For in him all things were created (Col 1:16)

What is then our purpose and calling here on earth? What have we been ‘predestined’ to do?

I find the teaching of the Irish monk Columbanus (540 -615) helpful in my understanding. The mystery of the human condition, he says, is that we are ‘in-between’ creatures, not only angels and not only animals, we embody both – the divine and the physical. This image of God, in which we are created is good because it is the image of God. This is how we were predestined to live. And yet we do not act as if we are made in the image of God – we abuse our fellow human beings, and abuse God’s creation.

Columbanus says this “the defiling of the image of God is a great condemnation. For if they abuse what they have received from the breath of God, and corrupt the blessing of their nature, then they distort their likeness to God and destroy its presence in them. But if they use the virtues implanted in them appropriately, they shall be like God.”

Christ was present at the start of Creation, all things were made through him and for him. When we destroy what God has made, we destroy the image of God in which we are created, and we corrupt our very nature.

We cannot worship Christ as the Lord of Creation and destroy that very creation.

John 1: 10-18

He made his dwelling place amongst them. John 1:14

When we think of salvation we normally think of the cross, and Jesus dying to save us from our sins. And yet, salvation did not only take place on the cross, for here in the incarnation we see that heaven and Earth, the creator and the creation came together and brought healing for the world. The Word became flesh and in the delightful The Message translation, ‘Jesus came and pitched his tent with us, he moved into the neighbourhood’ (John 1.14).

This is the basis of Christian discipleship—that Jesus pitched his tent with us; we walk with Jesus and he walks with us. This also shows us that the world is not evil—it is good, for Jesus came to be within it and sanctify it. What can we learn from Jesus’ life as we walk with him?

Most religious people still think that God is elsewhere. God is not ‘out there’, the incarnation shows us that God is ‘in here’ – we need to heal the human-divine split. This is Grace – that Jesus became flesh, that God visibly moved into the material world to help us overcome the illusion of separation (John 1:14).

So in the same way as we are made holy by the infilling of the holy Spirit, the whole of creation is filled with the presence of God, and Creation holds the finger prints of the loving Creator. The incarnation not only calls us to honor the divine with in us, but to treasure and hold as sacred all that has been made by God’s hand.

by Dr Rachel Mash, South Africa

1st Sunday after Christmas [by Rev Dr Joshua Samuel] (COP 26)

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
1 Sam 2:18-20,26
1 Sam 1:20-28
Psalm
148
2nd Reading
Col 3:12-17
both
Gospel
Luke 2:41-52
both
by Rev Dr Joshua Samuel, Episcopal Church of the Resurrection, Richmond Hill, New York City

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Psalm 148:

This Psalm, similar to psalms 146 to 150, begins and ends with Hallelujah. The Psalm comprises of two sections. The first section is on praise from above focusing on the heavenly realm and the second is on praise from below i.e. from the earth. Each of the two sections begin with an imperative exhortation to praise Yahweh. Together the Psalm contains seven strophes, three for the heavenly part and four for the earthly section. The main message of the psalm is to emphasize that the heavens and the earth, meaning the entire universe, manifests the glory of God. The entire nature owes its existence to God and therefore, is invited to praise God. One can recognize here the interconnectedness of all creation including human beings. In this imagination, humans are not at the top. They are not the crown of creation. They are part of and in inseparable and mutually dependent relationship with all that exists in the universe for one purpose, to glorify their creator.

Colossians 3: 12-17:

This Pauline text is similar to his other letters where he gives instructions for ethical and harmonious living. Here, the Colossian congregation is invited to have compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience toward each other, bearing with and forgiving one another. And, as always, Paul foregrounds love which is the overarching attribute of this Christian community. Placing the text within the larger literary context, one notices that the entire passage (3:5-18) is an exhortation to the community to put “on the new man/self” and go beyond human-made divisions in the knowledge that “Christ is all, and is in all.” In that sense, Paul’s ethical imperatives are written with the objective of building an inclusive community that is bound by the love of Christ. One may infer that such a community of love is also called to live in harmony with the rest of God’s creation. Recalling Paul’s observation elsewhere about the groaning creation, a life of love and compassion within the body of Christ is not limited to humanity alone. In fact, one may say that the body of Christ includes non-human creation. In other words, the whole earth is the body of Christ/God that is bound together in love inviting us to respect and love and care for each other.

Luke 2: 41-52:

This passage on Jesus being left behind at the Jerusalem temple is bordered by two summary passages that emphasize the wholistic growth of Jesus. The text exhibits both a sense of commonness as well as a radicality. Jesus’ parents visiting the temple and perhaps even the child getting lost in the crowd is nothing unusual in a pilgrimage setting. On the other hand, there is also the response of Jesus that he must be in his Father’s house which indicates a different (though not entirely new) way of relating with God. Importantly, in this passage, Luke notes that Jesus was sitting among, or, to be precise, in the midst of, the Jewish teachers, listening and asking questions which could refer to a sense of family that transcends one’s biological family. Moreover, we also needs to pay attention to the significance of conversation, in this case, not among equals, but between learned and socially respected religious leaders and young peasant boy from Galilee. This spirit of conversation is indeed critical when we recognize the need for us to listen to the powerless ones in the midst of an ecological crisis. Acknowledging, respecting, and listening to the questions and challenges of the ‘little ones’ is indeed important to actualize the healing of our broken planet.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Several important decisions were made at the recently concluded United Nations Climate Summit held in Glasgow. However, as many environmental activists have noted, there are also many issues that were left unaddressed. One of the major concerns is the continuing domination of the Western nations and big multinational companies in calling the shots when it comes to acting to mitigate the effects of climate change. But, voices from the global south who are facing mass displacement and loss of their homes caused by the rising sea levels and those in the margins pushed into extreme poverty by capitalism have warned that the current ‘top-down’ mode of climate justice cannot work. Rather, it is becoming more clear that it is those who are belittled, discriminated, and exploited who need to be at the center of any conversation or action to counter global warming.

The gospel lesson from Luke reminds us of the importance of recognizing and paying attention to the voices of children and those who are ‘treated as children.’ Being treated as children here refers to the infantilization and silencing of those who are considered to be inferior. As the Climate Summit demonstrated, those who are at the margins are pushed to the peripheries and simply seen as silent recipients of the decisions of the powerful western nations and rich companies. Under the current model, climate change response appears to be limited to making (often unkept) promises of financial aid to the poorer countries. It is precisely in the context of such patronizing attitudes, it is imperative to place these exploited and silenced, not to mention, infantilized voices at the center of climate justice talks and action.

This also applies to our churches. Any action/activism for environmental justice in our churches will have to prioritize and place those who are at the margins in the middle and listen to their questions and challenges, and indeed, their wisdom. In some cases, the church has to step aside and hold the microphone to the marginalized to listen to and learn from them. All this is to remind that all of us, including the supposedly ‘inanimate nature’ (like land, mountains, or seas) are mutually interconnected and interdependent. All things influence and ‘cause’ each other to exist. Our Buddhist sisters and brothers call this prathithyasamutpada (dependent co-arising). We are and we become because others are. And, we need to be especially attentive to our vulnerable sisters and brothers, and our exploited planet as a whole. But, are our churches ready to listen to marginalized voices? Aren’t our churches, more often than not, power driven, paying attention to those in authority?

Suggestions for action: We could visit and learn from poor and marginalized communities in our neighbourhood. We could also take initiatives to listen to vulnerable people within our own faith communities. We could also make effort to learn from the wisdom of our religious neighbors.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

“COP 26 closes with ‘compromise deal on climate, but it’s not enough,” https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/11/1105792

“What the world did and didn’t accomplish at COP26,” https://www.vox.com/22777957/cop26-un-climate-change-conference-glasgow-goals-paris

“’One day we will disappear’: Tuvalu’s Sinking Islands,” https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/may/16/one-day-disappear-tuvalu-sinking-islands-rising-seas-climate-change

by Rev Dr Joshua Samuel, New York City

4th Sunday in Advent [by The Revd Jessie Anand / additional by Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Mic 5:2-5
Mic 5:1-4a
Psalm
80:1-8
2nd Reading
Hebr 10:5-10
both
Gospel
Luke 1.39-55
both
by Revd Jessie Anand, United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG) Chaplain London, UK
(Additional: by Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, Queen of Scotland)

Micah 5:2-5

A peace maker from an insignificant place

This passage talks about how the insignificant will become significant in God’s reign. Even the insignificant can be used in God’s creative act of Peace on earth.

This passage talks about the ruler of Israel who was born in Bethlehem, which was an insignificant place.

Old Testament history says that when the land was divided by Joshua between the twelve tribes, Bethlehem was not one of the 115 towns and villages which were named in the list. He didn’t even mention Bethlehem.  Although Bethlehem was the ancestral home of King David, apparently Jerusalem was regarded as the city of David and therefore Bethlehem was still regarded as an insignificant place.

When we look at the present world, conflict over land is still a big issue for many people whether they live in rural or urban areas. Eventually the situations that arise from such issues damage people’s harmonious relationship with one another among their family and friends. We can hear the stories from many people who were denied their rights in the distribution of land whether by their families/siblings/friends, due to age, gender, class or creed.  It is one of the important Environmental issues too.

When we look at the Environmental problems of 2021 described by present   Economists and Environmentalists particularly in the context of today’s difficult times, they talk about many problems. The list includes poor governance, food waste, bio diversity loss, plastic pollution, deforestation, air pollution, global warming from fossil fuels, melting Ice Caps and sea level rise, ocean acidification, food and water insecurity and particular agricultural practices.  These are all major contributors to damaging the environment, but they all arise due to our lack of care for the land where we live. Micah prophesised a person (Jesus) who would be born in an insignificant and disregarded place and yet His nature would be that of bringing peace into the world.

How do we consider and create a space where grassroot-level communities are truly represented, so that their realistic voices are heard in our gatherings about safe-guarding the Earth? Where do we start to discuss issues or make peace so that we can safeguard the earth?

Micah prophesised,  “If the Assyrians come into our land and tread upon our soil, we will raise against them seven shepherds and eight installed as rulers”.

How do we become shepherds and rulers to guide amongst the land issues today?

Christ is our peace, He rules our hearts and He makes us to be peacemakers wherever we are.

Psalm 80:1-8

show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved. (Psalm 8:4 b and 8b)

This Psalm speaks of God as Israel’s Shepherd. Many Commentators described this psalm as a communal lamentation.  The psalm was written after the Assyrian conquest of Northern Kingdom. It is like a communal prayer too. When conflict arises and utterly changes the ruling system in a nation, many people are affected, and many become vulnerable as refugees and displaced people. They have first-hand experience of suffering along with the place where they live, and so the whole creation is affected. But this Psalm reminds us that we need to create a communal prayer to address the issue not only politically but spiritually, in order to have healing within us and around us. This Psalm reminds us during this Advent season to be mindful of knowing the unspeakable political and social depression which is around us.  It opens our eyes to see the depression which is created due to our senseless and uncaring behaviours in life, and encourages us to offer a hopeful and watchful prayer as a community wherever we are:

Lord, show the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

Hebrew 10:5-10

Living sacrifice to sustaining our Christian life

The reading from Hebrew reminds us that “He comes into the world”. He says, “Sacrifice and offering You have not desired, but a body You have prepared for Me “. Christ’s birth and His life are the signs of His sacrifice to redeem the whole world. This passage talks about His life and focuses on His obedience, His holiness and His sacrifice.  “We have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all”. Jesus’ sacrifice involved both His will and His body, both His mind and flesh. We receive His holiness when our consciousness is cleared and when we Worship Him. The real transformation happens within us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and when we are transformed by Him through worshipping Him. Paul wrote to Romans asking What is the real worship?

“… I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God — this is your true and proper worship”. (Romans 12:1).

Living sacrifice takes us to have Christ’s transforming attitude towards human beings and all creation. It enables us to exhibit Christ’s redemptive power in our daily life journey. Paul writes “We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies.”

Offering our bodies as a living sacrifice will lead us as children of God and that will help us to have our connection with one another and with all creation and to know the will of God and to fulfil His purpose in our lives.

When God created heaven and earth he gave dominion over the creation. Because of human beings’ fallen nature His whole creation has gone into devastation and pain. Jesus bridges the gap between heaven and earth through His life, death and resurrection.

Our continuous sanctification through worshipping Him encourages us to have eagerness to heal the pain of the whole creation and to do Christ’s will. We as followers of Christ can be bridge-builders with Christ’s love to create relationship among ourselves and not to abuse all creation.

Luke 1.39-45 [46-55]: Reflection from the Mary’s Visitation and Magnificat

Mary’s expression and experience in her spiritual journey:

a) Contemplative act of Mary the mother of Jesus  & Elizabeth the mother of John the Baptist

Mary as a virgin and Elizabeth as a barren woman experienced their spiritual journeys differently. As soon as Jesus’ birth was announced to Mary by Angel Gabriel, Mary’s reaction was an excellent one which Luke has described in his Gospel. Many artists contemplated this incident and expressed it through their different art works over the centuries. Mary’s reaction to Angel Gabriel “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word” made her make a pilgrim journey to meet her cousin Elizabeth at her house. John the Baptist’s mother Elizabeth, after many months of her contemplative journey, told the public on his 8th day that he was to be called John. The experiences of these two excellent women resonate with the contemplative spirit that filled their lives. They remind us we are pilgrims in our journey. The life on earth gives us a pilgrim journey to those who made connection with the Lord. Mary and Zachariah were blessed with God’s promises to them. Zachariah shared the promises to his wife Elizabeth and Mary visited her cousin to rejoice together with these divine actions in their lives. How do we contemplate God’s promises in our lives? How do we maintain God Talks amongst us? Generally, divine intervention is everywhere and it is available at all times for those who trust Him and those who have eagerness in Divine relationship. It strengthens everyone to see that in the environment where we live we are not alone. If we have ears we can listen to the birds singing, the blowing of unseen winds through the branches and leaves in the plants and trees, and through them we recognise the mighty act of God’s ongoing creation and how there is growth through living creatures and newcomers in this world even while the babies are growing in their mothers wombs. Here the 2 mothers contemplate the fruits in their womb and the fulfilment of what was spoken to them. Their whole beings contemplate not just their real-life situation but their divine recognition that goes beyond self-centredness. They see the divine act clearly and how they are partners in God’s action to fulfil God’s redemption of the humanity. Mary’s greetings, Elizabeth’s experience with the baby, John’s actions within her, and the blessed and appreciated words expressed to Mary, solely came out of their contemplative experiences. The world we live in is offering many more opportunities for contemplation and to express divine actions in our lives. The Biblical narratives we listen to during Advent are not an exception to contemplation. They help us to do what is right in God’s sight to safeguard our surroundings with proper expression and appreciation, and to glorify God and strengthen one another.

b) Communal song can be sung from the Magnificat

All blessings come from the Lord. When Mary heard the blessings from Elizabeth she expressed her wisdom to lift up the Origin of her blessings. Her soul magnifies, her spirit rejoices and her physical status affirms God’s mercy within her and in all the generations in the world.  There is no doubt our individual life experiences lead to communal blessings. To take care of the earth, the first step goes into our self-consciousness about who we are and how we take care of our lives through practising simple and sincere daily life-styles. In a changing world each one of us has a responsibly to be aware of our own self so that it will be a blessing in the world. We are surrounded by many communal efforts, in the family and in society, to take care of this planet, and they all need to start from individual efforts, thinking about and acting on questions such as what and how much “I am consuming, wasting and recycling food, reducing the carbon” and so on. Our sensible efforts daily will lead us to sing communal praises. It will lead ourselves to look at how we can be a blessing from generation to generation. The COP 26 is a communal effort.  We have a hope that the impact of COP 26 still radiates the individual voices from young people, indigenous people, vulnerable children and mothers from the grassroot level, which needs to be endorsed at all levels through present and future courageous songs from generation to generation. For fulfilling this, like Mary we will say the “Mighty one has done great things and His mercy will be from generation to generation for those who fear Him”.

c) Courageous witnesses from Mary to build God’s kingdom

Mary remembered the announcement of the Angel, “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus.  He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David.  He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end”.

She courageously declares His kingdom through her singing.

“He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.” She acknowledges courageously the nature of God’s Kingdom which has justice, peace and dignity and it is different from the kingdom of this world which has personal pride, oppression, class and other divisions, injustice and peaceless strategies.

The Magnificat expresses how the new Kingdom of God affects individual pride, the class system and political power, and also how the Kingdom of God and the values of God’s kingdom, from the past to the present, help the lowly servants of His people to remember His promises of His mercy forever.

How do we imagine the world of the new Kingdom established by Jesus? The world is affected by pandemic and natural disaster and it has many opportunities to establish His kingdom within and around us. Our baptism reminds us we have a call to share the love of God through the words of Jesus and to encourage people to think and reflect on the divine encouragement given to people who were partakers in Jesus’ birth. Do not worry. You are not alone – God has a great purpose in each one’s life. We are called to encourage the earth itself to seek the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. We encourage people to be strengthened by the promises given to Noah. We equip the people to take the responsibility to raise their voices to work for Eco-justice. We motivate people with the teaching of Jesus to look at the birds and flowers so as to understand the love and care of God and we practice the love and care among those who are strangers, problem-makers, needy people of all ages, refugees, and the abandoned and oppressed. Jesus’ love and care from His life and teaching are needed to remind us of the mercy of God from the Magnificat. Creation in all seasons can teach us the ever-living presence of Christ. Mary sang, “He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.” Christ’s birth reminds us that we need to take that courage and good understanding from the prophecies and promises given to our ancestors.

Contemplation, communal singing and courageous witnesses to Christ’s ever-living presence will strengthen us to lead and celebrate Christ’s sacrificial life with more Hope, love and peace within us and around us. Amen

by Revd Jessie Anand, London, UK

3rd Sunday in Advent [by Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Zeph 3:14-20
both
Psalm
Isa 12:2-6
2nd Reading
Phil 4:4-7
both
Gospel
Luke 3:7-18
both
by Revd Bonnie Evans-Hills, Priest in Charge, Church of St Margaret, Queen of Scotland

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Zephaniah lived at a time of great change and movement of people, only a few decades before the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. His prophecy is timely, but alongside it he offers words of comfort – they will not be obliterated. These words of comfort are repeated in the portion from Isaiah, and in the Letter to the Philippians.

And then we come to the Gospel of Luke, with the opening words from John the Baptist, ‘You brood of vipers!’

But what he is demanding is that people share what they have with one another, to not cheat anyone or steal from others.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

So what are we hearing from these readings?

  • Change and trauma are coming
  • But we will not be obliterated, there is a path out of this disaster
  • And that path entails looking after one another, sharing what we have with others – rather than trying to take away.

In many ways these steps map well upon our current challenge over climate change:

  • Yes, trauma, change, and loss are coming.
  • Much has already been obliterated, and we can be certain more will come.
  • The path of survival in the midst of these events entails an obligatory sharing with one another, to look after and ensure one another’s safety and well-being. You could say this is also true of our environment. If we don’t care for the earth which sustains us, if we continue to exploit it, this is the path towards our own destruction. Our very survival is dependent upon our ability to share, to consider others alongside ourselves. This is the commandment to Love God and Love others as we love ourselves. It is not putting ourselves first, but putting ourselves alongside others.

What are the ways in which we can share? Within our places of worship? Within our communities? Within our friendships?

Are there ways in which we can walking alongside those less well off or advantaged than we are? This may not just be about things like food or clothing or shelter, but rather in the way of companionship, opportunities to have a chat over a cuppa, share a skill or knowledge and experience.

What place is there for gratitude, in acknowledging what we do have, rather than what we think is missing? What are we thankful for today? Is there a way in which we can share that blessing with another? It may be as simple as sharing a smile. Your smile could be the one thing that makes someone’s day that much better.

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

An excellent resource, providing strategies, but also a means of walking alongside others, can be found at the website Faith for the Climate. It includes not only Christian resources, but those from other faiths as well. If we are to walk alongside – we walk alongside everyone!

https://faithfortheclimate.org.uk

by Revd Bonnie Evans-Hill, Leven, Scotland

2nd Sunday in Advent [by Rebecca Boardman]

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Mal 3:1-4
Bar 5:1-9
Psalm
Luke 1:68-79
2nd Reading
Phil 1:3-11
both
Gospel
Luke 3:1-6
both
by Rebecca Boardman, United Society Partners in the Gospel (USPG), Regional Manager for East Asia, Oceania and Europe, London, UK

NOTES ON THE READINGS

Old Testament (Malachi 3:1-4)

In this passage as the prophet Malachi announces the coming of God and God’s messenger who will “prepare the way” (v1). He also challenges those listening “But who can endure the day of his coming?” (v2) In doing so Malachi is reminding that in the joyful anticipation and expectation of the coming of the Lord (which can often be will be exclusively celebratory and exciting) that there will be an accompanying judgement or a ‘refining’ – a difficult process requiring change, and potentially one that should evoke some element of fear (albeit one designed for good).  Malachi is encouraging honest and possibly uncomfortable self-reflection.   As such, his message is both one of hope and promise and a warning.

(not a) Psalm (Luke 1: 68-79)

Zechariah’s Song also known as “The Benedictus”. This is both a prophesy and a spirit-filled song of thanks and praise. Spoken after the loosening of Zechariah’s tongue (Zechariah had been made dumb as punishment for his lack of faith; for not believing God’s promise that he an Elizabeth would have a son – John the Baptist). The song proclaims the fulfilment of God’s promise to his people, speaking both the that which has already been done and that which is yet to come (thus a song of the season of advent). It exists in the themes of hope and salvation.

The passage has two section:

Verses 68-75 speaks to the fulfilment of the promises and prophecies of Israel that are coming to fulfilment in Jesus. The language of the passage holds great similarity to many psalms of praise and also littered with references to passage of the Hebrew Bible. There is the hope of salvation from sin.

Verses 76-79 speak to the life and ministry of his son John, emphasising his role in fulfilment of God’s salvation promise in and through the life of Jesus Christ. John is identified as “prophet of the Most High” who will “prepare the way” of the Lord – in this we are reminded of Elijah (who John is thought to be like). Verses 78 and 79 speaks to the hope that Christ will bring, bringing light to “those living in darkness” and being a guide in the “path of peace”.

Epistle (Philippians 1: 3-11)

An introduction and some opening comments of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Philippi was a centre for the early Church. Some have seen this as a love letter – it is one of the most positive and encouraging of Paul’s letter. Paul prays for and gives joyful thanks to God for the Christians at Philippi who have shared in spreading the good news. He gives thanks that God’s work is evident in their lives. Paul affirms the community who are already loving in a spirit of koinonia (bond of Christian friendship/fellowship/ community). Paul prays that their love might overflow even more, because to love more is to share in the gospel more even if this involves suffering.

Gospel: (Luke 3: 1-6)

Luke splits the account of John the Baptist’s ministry between the second and third Sundays of advent. Here we read the first part. Luke provides the historical context to John the Baptist’s ministry. He also provides a detailed list of political and religious human rulers (including a number who would be significant in the life of Jesus Christ). This draws contrast to the nature and coming of God’s kingdom (an authority based on grace not power). The introduction to John is similar in tone to that of Old Testament prophets. In drawing attention to the word of God coming from John in the wilderness (v2) not the significant powerful political and religious figures mentioned in the previous verse we are reminded that God often speaks in the less visible places (the margins) rather than at the centres of power. We read of John’s ministry, calling people to repentance.

DRAFT SERMON/SERMON OUTLINE

Prophets of our Time

[I draw attention in the beginning to a 4 ½ minute video from Pastor Ray Minniecon on caring for the environment as part of the Christian identity. Ron is from New South Wales and was present at the recent COP26 climate summit. This could be played at the beginning of the service

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gk_XqqkX37A]

As we enter the second Sunday of Advent we turn our attention to ‘the prophets’.

We continue to reflect on the seasonal themes of advent: the balance of expectation, preparation and hope and the confrontation of divine judgement. We acknowledge the darkness and injustice of our present day. The destruction, fear and injustice of our current climate and ecological crisis seems to exemplify this darkness. As we consider the loss of home, belonging and culture with sea level rise; the increase in migration, gender and educational inequality and health threat from climate change, and fear of the impacts of increasingly more regular and intense disasters (to name but a few) it can be easy to feel the darkness. Growing levels of eco-anxiety, particularly among children and young people is another illustration. Yet it is within this darkness that we also have hope that this same darkness will be broken by light – the light of Christ. We know that we find ourselves in the in-between. The Advent time of already and not-yet. That the light of Christ has come and yet at the same time is yet to shine in its fullness. A time of waiting, anticipation and frustration. This is the context in which we live.

In considering the prophets, we reflect on the ways in which the birth of Jesus was foretold; who did the telling and where these voices came from. I invite us to think about who are the prophets of our time? Who can point us to justice, freedom and light today?

Prophets are the voice of God. They do not make up their own messages but they speak divine messages that God has for God’s people. The term ‘prophetic voices’ is growing in use when considering climate change. 7 years ago NGO Christian Aid published a global theology of climate change entitled ‘Song of the Prophets’. Last Advent the Anglican Indigenous Network and Anglican Communion Environmental Network offered a series of webinars entitled “Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis” highlighting perspectives and experiences from Aotearoa and Polynesia, Amazonia, Africa and the Arctic (may I encourage you to watch these if you haven’t already – they are available on the Green Anglicans YouTube!).

Like the Old Testament prophets, as we enter into the lived realities of those already experiencing the impact of the climate and ecological crisis and hear their intense emotions we also glimpse the intense emotions of God. Prophets are of their time and place. Their words came from a particular lived experience. They lived and spoke to a particular people at a particular time. John was also a prophet of a particular time, speaking of the imminent coming of Christ. The prophets of today speak to the context of today. Revealing the voice of God and God’s justice for creation.

Our Gospel reading speaks to where we might find these voices. God chose not to speak through the political and religious powers of the day. God chose to speak through John in the wilderness. We are reminded that God often speaks in the less visible places (the margins) rather than at the centres of power. Who currently sits at the margins? Might I suggest indigenous peoples, youth, women, the diversity of Black, Asian and minority ethnic communities, those segregated by caste and the working class to name but a few (and fully acknowledging the intersectionality here, increasing and compounding both vulnerabilities and marginalisation). There may be prophets all around us: may I invite you to consider the prophets in your congregations and in your communities? Do you heed both their warning and promise of hope? How might your community further encourage them to speak and be heard? For some that might mean taking a step back to allow new voices to come through.

As we have seen in this week’s readings prophets act to both share warning and a promise of hope and salvation. As in our reading from Malachi, by highlighting the role of divine judgement in salvation, prophets can draw us into a space of honest and possibly uncomfortable self-reflection. For many -especially those in the minority world, or in place of power and wealth – deeply listening and acting upon the words of today’s prophets speaking to climate justice do just that. To enter a space of uncomfortable self-reflection for the ongoing role in exploitation of people and planet.

At the same time prophets speak to justice, peace and love that comes through the light of Christ. In the webinar series “Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis” people share both “a lament in the present and a vision for well living” drawing on indigenous wisdom for shaping a vision of a better future. It is important to balance our warning with new creation. We can see a glimpse of the joy of this vision of community in our reading from Philippians. Paul’s thankfulness and affirmation of the community who are living and loving in a spirit of koinonia, sharing in the good news of Jesus Christ and spreading that good news of the gospel. This gives a glimpse of the community that we could be when living in a missional spirit: one that seeks to see the gospel shared in words and deeds, challenging structures of injustice and safeguarding the integrity of creation.

In the words of N.T. Wright “you don’t liberate something by destroying it… all the beauty, all the goodness, all the pulsating life of the present creation, is to be enhanced, lifted to a new level, in the world that is to be… [so] there is a strong incentive to work, in the present, to anticipate the new world in every possible way.” Today’s prophetic voices can draw us into the possibilities of this new world, bringing hope and transformative change. Will we be alert to their message even if it is uncomfortable? Will we heed their warning? Will we enter into the hope of a new world based on justice and peace?

ADDITIONAL MATERIAL

The Prophets:
Loving God, your prophets spoke out
in the darkness of suffering and loss,
of a light coming into the world.
May we proclaim the light of Christ
as we stand alongside the marginalised
of your world,
that they may find new strength
and hope in you.
(A prayer from USPG)

Prophetic Indigenous Voices on the Planetary Crisis YouTube Playlist:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MKU3T_TGGU&list=PLkTM3laIbXdBRulk3MV3BVIOL7_kP_rFh

Songs of the Prophets: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y6LcVKEPTOg

by Rebecca Boardman,London

References:

https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/climate-change-and-health

https://unfccc.int/gender

https://reliefweb.int/report/world/report-impact-climate-change-migration-october-2021

https://blogs.bmj.com/bmj/2021/10/06/the-climate-crisis-and-the-rise-of-eco-anxiety/

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7MKU3T_TGGU&list=PLkTM3laIbXdBRulk3MV3BVIOL7_kP_rFh

https://www.douglasdecelle.net/global-warming-through-the-eyes-of-the-old-testament-prophets/

https://ntwrightpage.com/2016/04/04/apocalypse-now/

1st Sunday in Advent [by David Coleman] (COP 26)

Anglican lectionary:
Catholic lectionary:
1st Reading
Jer 33:14-16
both
Psalm
25:1-10
2nd Reading
1 Thess 3:9-13
1 Thess 3:12-4:2
Gospel
Luke 21:25-36
both
by David Coleman, Environmental Chaplain, Eco Congregation Scotland

Section 1 – Notes on the Readings

Old Testament – Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Reflection

Although the promise seems specific to one time and place, remember that ‘David’ means Beloved.  This is an identity which through Jesus becomes far more inclusive. Don’t  see ‘branch’ as a “mere” poetic metaphor: a “branch for justice” who will execute justice may be a person, but for us may also be a branch, in the sense highlighted by the Gospel,  that observation of the ways of nature and of trees in particular is likely to promote justice.  This might require from the reader a spiritual leap from “it” to “who” in their view of the living creatures we call trees, and their branches. It’s a commonplace of the Old Testament  – and especially Jeremiah – that injustice and environmental devastation are two sides of the same coin: an experience of the Old Testament  ‘cause-and-effect’ view of the wrath of God.

Does it need to be any clearer that, to make the point, that a just community is one where the partnership with nature is as obvious and beautiful as the trees which are planted and nurtured, and which give life – and air to breathe – to all creatures including ourselves?

Psalm 25:1-9

Ad te, Domine, levavi

1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.

2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.

4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.

6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.

9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

Reflection

Humiliation is a ‘soul-destroying’ state of being, which goes well beyond mere defeat in a ‘fair contest’. It’s the result of the violent, merciless, and arrogant approach which seeks to ‘fix’ a problem’ rather than transform a situation.  Someone as aware of their own faults as this particular Psalmist would do well to take note.

That’s why talk of ‘fighting’ climate change, or of ‘stopping the climate crisis’, both of which I’ve heard this year, are wrong-headed and counter-productive.

As a species, we seem set on annihilating and enslaving the living planet, God’s Creation full of feeling and justice and praise: leaving, even with the measures just announced at COP on deforestation, insufficient time and space for recovery of the ‘enemy’ on whom we depend. In the process of the war on the world, of course, the poor, and those who contribute least to the crisis are mere collateral damage.

COP took place in a country where, 1324 years before, the ‘Law of the Innocents’ was introduced by St Adomnan of Iona: essentially proclaiming that if warriors insist on war, then it’s unacceptable for non-combatants, women, children and priests to be collateral damage. It’s now well established (and was made clear at COP)  that to empower women is a positive environmental action.

We also note, in this Psalm, that even in the curse  “let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes” there is room for the healing love of God. We’re still on track, via the schemes of further fossil fuel exploitation, for the gross injustice of more than 2 degrees of warming. Such schemes must be ‘disappointed’ for the sake of love and life.

The New Testament – 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Reflection

Whilst we share with Paul the recognition of  the sustaining potential, even of the smallest Christian community, there’s seldom been a better time than now to abandon the self-deception of perfection.  Our own beloved church – surely we don’t want to change the way we sing, the way we read the Bible?  Surely our response to threat is to take refuge in the upholding of our tradition?   Yes and no, for Christian tradition is dynamic and responsive, able both to ‘bring out of our treasure what is new an old’  as well as to ‘take out of service’  ways and views which have served us well.  Recycling  and repurposing  is not just  for metals and  glass and paper:  we are wonderfully equipped in our spiritual heritage  to face  danger and crisis as we bring the “bad news”  into our holy spaces.  We are People of Hope, which is far more practical than despair , and relying on grace, we need not wait for permission to hope.

Sometimes the influence of a wise and well-meaning outsider will, however, unlock those treasures within our faith communities. Recycling, rather than ‘restoring’ the substance of our faith and identity. As a visiting environmental chaplain, working with many local grassroots congregations, Paul’s attitude is my model: there is nothing inferior about the faith of the Thessalonian church, which is why that faith is amenable to becoming yet more responsive to the challenges that beset it. We are truest to our own traditions when we’re always ready to respond, rather than preserve; to step forward in the Way, rather than dig in and make camp.

The Gospel – Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Reflection

When, in conversation, I noted the extreme familiarity and relevance of this passage to our present global situation, a lecturer involved in the training of Christian leaders said, “we don’t bother with that, it’s too scary” . And yet  how very helpful it is to find in the wild words of Jesus himself, encouragement in the midst of  global environmental crisis of the sea, the sky, the climate. We’re certainly confused and fainting, as was very obvious at the sessions I attended in the Blue Zone at COP. Indeed, it’s to the clouds – to our spiritual and active response to  the climate  that we look for healing and rescue. Yet again, these are poetic images grounded completely in experiential terms, rather than abstract. Though we remember the power of poetry is that through it, we process reality.

Again, in the watchfulness of “all the trees” (there are no fig trees near where I live) we receive the good news which is in all those many warnings in the words of Jesus.  Even sobriety is commended not for its own sake,  but because ‘drunkenness’,  alongside those crushing worries which are best encountered in community,  reduces our ability to respond, and to take note of the many signs of our times.  Signs which, through the disciplined  observations of thousands of  scientists convey the loving, warning Word of God  to act and change and prepare and adapt.  To ignore the science is not only to disregard the trees, but the Saviour who refers us to these natural signs, now globally disrupted.

Section 2 – Sermon Outline

Advent is the most neglected, but most appropriate season for deep and transformative spiritual reflection on the fragility of the world; all the more so following the COP conference in Glasgow, which some have simply dismissed as a ‘failure’, though this does not get us any further. In particular,  the leaders of the most powerful nations have not shown themselves to be equal to the distress and confusion which is occasioned by the signs in the skies, the turmoil of the oceans, and the systematic destruction, by manifestly unjust systems and practices, of the life of which we are part. No nation can any longer be unaware either of the chain of responsibility for the crisis, nor of its global and irreversible effects – as in the rise of sea levels and loss of biodiversity,  nor will any ‘solution’ stop the crisis in its tracks. And yet those who believe they have most to lose have shown by their intransigence how much they need to hear the voice of the earth, of the indigenous groups who were more visible and vocal than every before. They have shown how urgent is the empowerment of women,  which is proven to  be a positive environmental factor, and the ‘greenwashing’  of  fossil fuel exploiters now looks utterly ridiculous to those “with eyes to see and ears to hear”…. to those of you who do not get bogged down in worry or turn to the false friends of ‘drunkenness and dissipation’.  Self-care is the more vital to maintain our critical faculties. Activists must not ‘burn out’ by trying to “do everything”.  Because that is itself the very attitude and arrogance that is killing the planet. Some things will be beyond us. We must not let that fact destroy our hope, nor our determination to heal and remake what we can. If Paul visited and encouraged the Thessalonians, he would have helped them discern both what to take and what to leave, in the living out of their faith.

Paul’s approach to the Thessalonian church, the source of his realistic, sustaining joy, was, however, not unduly concerned with power politics, and I wonder if his  diverting ambition to preach to the tyrannical  Emperor was ultimately far more of a ‘thorn in his side’ than anything else  scholars have speculated on. His joy, by comparison was in the responsiveness of  grassroots Christians alert to the signs of their times and the very real threats to life, love and faith. I have seen in our congregations how the deepening of faith and the strengthening of community goes together with environmental action

COP has brought us together, or, more accurately, shown us our togetherness, and “whoever is not against us is for us”  In Scotland the different faith groups have never been closer, without compromising their beliefs or identity. Perhaps we had  made an idol of COP. Now we know different. We give thanks for the limited progress it has brought, whilst strengthening our hope and resolve and awareness for “the days that are coming.”

Section 3 – Additional Material:

Prayer after COP

Dear God of before and during and after;
God, Sustainer, Christ the Servant
from the beginning choosing
partnership with Earth, whom you made;

We thank you for the togetherness;
for the joy of protestors and prophets
the persistence of those who prayed.

We thank you as those who have found new answers
to the question of who, or what
might be my neighbour.

We thank you, with eyes wide open
to the unabated urgency of change
-repentance-
in all those ways of rich and powerful people
and the exploitative philosophies
that upstage and pull rank
over mere  faith and hope and love.

We thank you for
the green and ancient wisdom
of Bible, people, Earth and Spirit
which still cares as for family
for fellow creatures…
because they are!
(And worshippers as well!)

We thank you for all the missing pieces
coming to light
of our interwovenness and dependence
on what we thought was merely beautiful
and therefore expendable
though beauty should have been enough.

Yet remembering the last laugh of the Cross
echoing through the empty tomb
We set aside the stifling worry of tomorrow
to deal with what we’re up to eyes in today.

And since the problems are not simply solved.
by nations and by leaders,
we find, refreshed, our place and purpose valued;
our small commitment blessed.
And paths of justice bright for all to see
with this new day of many.

AMEN

by David Coleman, Scotland, UK