Greening the Lectionary

A Theological Response to the Ecological Crisis: Reflections, Reviews, Comment.

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31st May 2022

Greening the Lectionary. Sunday 18th July 2021

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (2 Samuel 7. 1-14a; Jeremiah 23. 1-6; Ephesians 2. 11-22; Mark 6. 30-34, 53-56)

This week, we give thanks for God’s gift of hope. We praise God for the universal scope of the gospel and pray to accept both the reflective and active sides of the Christian life. The passage from the letter to the Ephesians has its main focus on the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile through the life of Jesus and is a work of reflection.

According to Donald English’s commentary on Mark’s gospel  it was probably written by one of Paul’s disciples, a member of the group who continued to reflect on and hand on Paul’s teachings as new situations and concerns developed within those communities which Paul had founded. It has many close similarities with the letter to the Colossians, so it might well be appropriate to begin here with the creedal statement which comes in Colossians 1.16 ‘For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…. All things have been created through him and for him’.

In Ephesians, however, the writer is referring to the Church as the new place of reconciliation; in the body of Christ, Jewish and Gentiles believers are reconciled together. Paul uses different metaphors to describe their new relationship: members of the household of God, and part of a building with the apostles and prophets for its foundation with Jesus as the cornerstone. This building grows into a holy temple where God dwells. It is from here that Jesus’s life story, his teachings and his wisdom will be shared with the world and with the generations to come. Similarly, it is from our churches, our holy temples, that we hear about the two sides of Jesus’s work as described in the lectionary passage from Mark’s gospel which we read in our communities this Sunday after Trinity.

In the eye-witness gospel of Mark, the crowds continue to follow Jesus, asking not so much for teaching and preaching but for physical healing. With great energy the people brought the sick on their mats, asking for healing by even simply touching the fringes of Jesus’s clothing. According to Donald English’s commentary, Jesus, like every Jewish man, was required to wear fringes or tassels on his garments. The idea of concentrating the divine power in the person of Jesus is so strong that touching his garments is taken to be a source of healing. That much the crowd knew and responded too. The wider interpretation given here today is that it is best understood through the body of our churches as they continue to carry the message, interpreting as is felt best for the issues and concerns of today.

The lectionary readings of healing and reconciliation speak of a healing that is both physical and spiritual, in that the hurts and wounds of today’s divided world can find reconciliation and healing through Jesus and his message of peace. The earth aches for this peace and yearns for a radical transformation. Peace on earth will come through God entering the world and through Jesus the Son of God, Son of Man walking the face of the earth with the talk of God’s love and his authority to forgive. We know that only through world peace and forgiveness can action to alleviate climate impacts be effective.

Having noted the threat to humanity by our warming world, pray that we as individuals, and as church members, undertake all the actions, we can take ourselves. And pray that God will guide people around the world to demand action from governments and businesses, to avert some of the threats made known to us by current reports. Even as Jesus gave time to thought and prayer and then to action, so we too can shape our behaviour into thoughtful action without delay.

Sunday 20th June 2021 1 Samuel 17 ( Ia 4-11 9-23 ) 32-49; Psalm 9.9-end ; 2 Cor. 6.1-13; Mark 4. 35-41 by Christine Jack

This Sunday’s gospel comes at the end of a day when Jesus has been teaching on the edge of the lake, the ‘ boundary’ between land and sea where he called his first disciples. Jesus has been teaching on the Jewish side of Lake Galilee, or the Sea of Galilee ; on the other side is the Decapolis, mostly Gentile territory. This boat trip is going to cross much more than water; it will be a boundary crossing into the new and unknown deep of Jesus’s mission to the Gentiles. Boundaries are a challenge to disciples of all times – the crossing is often rough.

Jesus uses homely metaphors and parables to share his message. In these early chapters of Mark’s gospel, these metaphors and parables are theological in character in that they affirm the unity of nature and grace. He is saying that his heavenly Father so created everything that there is a direct correspondence between nature and grace – a oneness between the two which enables him to stand astride the two. Preceding the story of stilling the storm – which is probably an actual eye witness account- we have the ‘ grain of wheat’ parables , set in the rural countryside of Galilee. Jesus tells us he will be the grain of wheat dying and being buried to produce the harvest. The dying and bearing fruit principle is fundamental to Jesus’s disciples too.

Here the main point is Jesus’ work of salvation and discipleship are part of nature, part of the natural world. The parables are theological statements about how life is, because God made it so. They also imply that they reflect God’s way of working in every area of experience – nature and grace.

The calming of the storm on the lake of Galilee, which is our text for today, can be seen as a straightforward ‘ nature miracle’; as well as having a focus on the relationship between Jesus and his disciples. 

We read of Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat with his head on the helmsman’s pillow. There is also the disciples’ reaction ‘ Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’, followed by ‘Do you still have no faith?’.

There is a sense that the incident is playing on different levels, Jesus is stilling the storms of our personal lives , even as he addresses the wind and the waves on the surface of the lake.


How do we feel about miracles? How do we feel about a nature miracle? 

Our sympathies may well be with the disciples here. Some of them were fisherman. They knew the Lake Galilee very well. Experts are often the ones to raise the alarm – they can recognise what might happen, and the need to take action. Whatever the motivation, including their fear, their question reproaches Jesus for neglecting their safety by sleeping during a dangerous storm.

Jesus’s reply goes to the heart of discipleship: ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? What or who is ruling their lives? The passages from Samuel explore the problems of rulers, and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians focuses on the trials and tribulations of life, and the need to stand firm. The disciples needed Jesus to do things: he wanted then to trust him His very presence amongst them was all that they needed to survive – they knew how to handle a boat in a crisis, just get on with it.

Jesus’s authority over the storm reveals him as Lord of Creation, and recalls the divine authority over the chaotic waters ‘ in the beginning’ ( Genesis 1.2;) and when God divided the waters to allow people to pass through from slavery to freedom ( Exodus 14-15). Readings from the Book of Job can also be beautiful companions for this gospel. We can extend the picture to include awesome cosmic forces of the sea that threaten to engulf everything. Yet, as Job tells us, God has established boundaries, this is a God we can trust – even as we cross boundaries and enlarge our vision of God’s reigning presence filling the whole of creation. In Christ we are called to be boundary crossers, until our vision extends throughout the world. We are asked to become stillers of storms, to become ‘ bridges over troubled waters’, to stand firm in the heat.

For the disciples, and for ourselves, it should be enough to be with the Lord, whether life’s seas are running smoothly or not. It is enough that Christ goes with us on our journeys. We shall not be overcome.

Sunday 16th May 7th Sunday of Easter ( Sunday after Ascension Day)

Following six glorious ‘Sundays of Easter’, building the new people of God, building the new creation, the time came for Jesus to leave his disciples here on this good earth and return to the Father. Jesus prays to God, and binds his followers into His own union with God; He has united us to himself through Jesus our Lord. From here, Jesus’ triumph is assured, reigning from ‘ on high’.

In our Church calendar this marks the transition to the time of the Church – it also takes us into another realm. The kingship of Christ, the lordship of Christ ‘ reigning from on high’, establishing the kingdom of God. Previous to this event, we have worked through the days of ‘Rogation’, when we ask God’s blessing on our parishes, marking our parish boundaries and praying for the fruitfulness of this place in which we live, in our work, in our homes, in our families.

So we pray now ‘ thy kingdom come’. Many have joined this Anglican prayer movement , praying through the Lord’s Prayer, especially ‘ Your Kingdom come’. God created this world good, but the world is flawed and broken , so God entered the world through Jesus and made it new and good again. By his ministry and death and resurrection, Jesus proclaimed the beginning of a new age: the Kingdom of God. The age has begun but it is not completed. We live in the imperfect in-between times. So we pray ‘ thy kingdom come’ – we connect with the times in which we live; we lift the suffering of the world to God and we long, with God, for the world to be restored to goodness and fruitfulness.

A vision of the Kingdom is given to us in the Old Testament , in Isaiah 65.17-25. Isaiah’s manifesto is simple and profound: health for the young and old; the right to secure housing; the right to fulfilling work and to enjoy the fruits of our labour; for peace and security in our national borders. As we say the Lord’s Prayer each day, we remember that the basic elements of the good life are still not enjoyed by all, either in our own country or in many other parts of the world; so we say this each day, joining together in the simple vision to be realized across the world. As God’s people of today, we understand about the interdependence of all things – we humans need the natural world, the non-human, to sustain our lives – we need water, food , shelter, to flourish and to be fruitful. We need our world to be sustainable for future generations – for our children and our children’s children… The passages from the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 1.15) ensure this continuity, continuity with Israel ,with this world, with the gifts we have been given as they are showered down from ‘ on high’ - ‘showers of blessings’, as the words of the worship song proclaim. Now it is our job to care. UN Global Goals for a better world

Sunday 18th April Reflections and Sermon Easter 3

Acts 3.12-19; Psalm 4; 1 John 3. 1-7; Luke 24. 36b- 48,

Christine Jack writes:

Eastertide; the season of the church year when we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah, Jesus the Christ; in our gardens, parks and countryside, springtime; in our hearts, new life. This year, sunny but cold.

Luke’s gospel brings to the close the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as Jesus the Christ appears, allows his disciples to recognise him, and then departs from his disciples and from Jerusalem to return to the Father. All are somewhat shell-shocked, amazed at events taking this turn.

However, it is perhaps actually Paul who explores resurrection in some depth in his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapter 15. This resurrection message has become the foundation of our faith; where would the life and death of Jesus be without the resurrection. Possibly forgotten long ago. It is this that carries God’s power and grace and brings people into the way of life and love, into the reign of the Messiah and into the kingdom of God. It is a message which brings energy and purpose to our everyday lives.

This year, we have not been able to get out and about much. Reading and television have become important to many and, for myself at least, working with our Environment Book Clubs has provided the opportunity to give some thought and learn more about some of the issues with which our popular environmentalists are involved. Namely , David Attenborough and Chris Packham, both naturalists, TV presenters, photographers and authors. David Attenborough treads carefully on these matters, but the younger Chris Packham is more forthright. Both are trying to tell us that the natural world is dying, and we have to do something about it. Chris Packham makes the point, presenting an apocalyptic vision: ‘ We have become Death the destroyer of world – the world – very likely the only world in the known universe. And still we overbreed, spit carbon into the air; massacre other species; crush ecosystems and burn our precious planet’ ( BBC2 programme transcript). His is an alarming and calamitous forecast for our future and he makes the case that the natural world – its care ; its rescue – should be firmly in our minds

.Yet both hold hope for the future. We might call this ‘ resurrection hope’.

We might call the catastrophe of our environment . human sin. Meaning, when humans turn from the life-giving God and try to find life elsewhere. God’s way of life can be demanding at times, it’s no easy ride. As usual, we are asked to go beyond our individual comfort zones, and look at the wider picture ; beyond our own backyards and into the life of the wider societal and ecological world. This is what we are doing when we go outside for a walk with our family or our friends.

Each spring we welcome new growth, new life and new birth - lambs, chicks, flowers, rabbits and eggs. As we grow older – although still enjoying an Easter egg - we might think more deeply about dying and new life, and wonder what God’s promises hold for us. And this is where our new understanding of the ‘ interconnected of all things’ really comes into its own. Creation is a chain reaction. It’s about us, yes, but its also about all that is around us, and of which we are a part ( not apart). We need a widening of the perspective of salvation which is to include the whole cosmos. Climate change teaches us in an almost experimental way that our actions influence not only other humans in a positive or negative way but also the whole universe (cf. Romans 8.19-22). 

(If you are reading this, then it might be helpful to look at what Paul says about nature itself illustrating the transformation from the old body to the resurrection body in 1 Corinthians 35.49.)

For fresh inspiration, can I recommend a short story called The Man Who Planted Trees, written by Jean Giono, who gave life back to an abandoned area just by planting trees. The author tells us that the man Elzeard ‘ knew how to bring about a work worthy of God’; he was able to transform a deforested desert into the land of Canaan, with the strength of his hand and determination. As a result of the creation of the forest ( which stretches for miles) , a natural chain reaction takes place. Water comes back, followed by vegetation, natural cycles and the mildness of the climate, families move there, social ties are formed again, cultures and farms appear; in a word there is happiness and new life.

So this Eastertide, as well as continuing with the recycling and reducing our carbon emissions, let us be renewed from the inside, let our spirits be refreshed, and our resolve renewed. That’s what resurrection hope is all about.

Palm Sunday

On the 19th March 2021, the Revd Tim Hewes and Ben Buse, both members of Christian Climate Action were jailed for 14 days for contempt of court after they glued themselves to court furniture at a hearing for Ben, who had been charged with a public order offence after taking part in an Extinction Rebellion protest. Although it will not be an approach that all are comfortable with, or that all are called to, many Christians feel duty bound to respond to climate inaction and the slow response of governments and big business by engaging in non-violent direct action. I am one, although I have not yet been sufficiently courageous to risk arrest. I firmly believe that such action is warranted and I arrived at that conclusion as a result of regularly hearing from the voices of my brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion reporting the devastating effects of climate change in their countries, and their sense of powerlessness in the face of terrible injustices.

On the 10th March 2021, the body of Sarah Everard was discovered in woodland near Ashford, Kent. Sarah had gone missing as she walked home for her friend’s house. Her death led to an outpouring of anger, which demanded a culture change; that women should not have to limit their behaviour in order to avoid male violence; not going out after dark, or wearing shapeless clothes, but rather good men, men who did not abuse women or behave in a sexist manner, should be challenging those men who are. For good men saying 'I’m not part of the problem’ is no longer enough, instead they are invited to challenge the culture that perpetuates violence and sexual harassment of women. I feel similarly about climate change. It is not enough for me to change aspects of my own lifestyle to make it more sustainable. I need to be challenging the system which allows climate change to happen. That is why I protest.

At one protest, which I attended in my clerical collar, someone told me, with absolute confidence, ‘Jesus would be here, wouldn’t he?’ and I found myself answering yes. Had someone suggested that Jesus would have been present at the Sarah Everard vigil, I would also have answered yes. I am aware that you may disagree, but the Gospels suggest that Jesus frequently risked arrest, and arguably, the original Palm Sunday procession can be conceived in terms of non-violent direct action.

When Jesus rode his colt into Jerusalem, it was a deliberately provocative act, evoking both the prophesy of Zechariah 9:9, Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey and the victory of Judas Maccabeus who defeated the Syrians in 141BC. He was casting himself as both a king and a saviour. The connection to Judas Maccabeus becomes starker if we recall that Jesus moves on from his triumphal entry to ‘cleanse’ the temple. 2 Maccabees 10, recalls how Judas Maccabeus, “recaptured the Temple and the city of Jerusalem” , and “purified the Temple and built a new altar” before being praised by a grateful people who waved palm branches. If Jesus' actions are understood to echo this then suddenly Palm Sunday and the cleansing of the temple begin to look like carefully orchestrated pieces of street theatre, designed to communicate an important message, not dissimilar to the actions of Tim and Ben.

We cannot be wholly confident about what Jesus was seeking to communicate, but the contrast with Judas Maccabeus is as marked as the similarities. Jesus enters Jerusalem in peace, not as a soldier who has won a war, thus challenging those who thought violence was an answer to Israel’s problems. Whilst Judas Maccabeus cleansed the temple of the desecrating influence of foreigners, Jesus empties the temple of Jewish people, present with the full consent of the temple authorities, who were desecrating it by using it as a market place, challenging their greed and deceit. It seems likely, given Jesus' emphasis on the temple as ‘a house of prayer for all nations’, that the traders had set up their market in the court of the Gentiles, thus preventing non-Jews from worshipping God in that place. He was challenging their exclusivity.

We can be more confident that Jesus was acting powerfully and prophetically, that he was behaving in ways which were disruptive and inconvenient and that he so unsettled the status quo, that the authorities were trying to find ways to silence him. Again, there are parallels which can be made.

Last week, the UK Government sought to bring in a bill which would severely curtail the right to peaceful protest, not just in a time of Covid, but in perpetuity. It would include an offence of ‘intentionally or recklessly causing a public nuisance’. I wonder what they would have made of Palm Sunday? Jesus took part in a peaceful procession, indeed on Palm Sunday he orchestrated one. Jesus was a protestor – he protested the desecration of the temple. Tim and Bill and thousands of others like them are protesting the desecration of God's world and the abuse of its people. You may not wish to join them, but I hope that you understand them and hear them.

From the Archive

 Palm Sunday 

Is it possible to include a “green perspective” when preaching about about Palm Sunday or the Passion narrative? Nature is certainly present within the text. In the Palm Gospel the colt has a significant role in signposting the nature of Jesus' vocation. Palms are used to welcome the Jesus as Messiah and I am tempted to make more of Jesus’ declaration that should the multitude of disciples stop praising, then “the stones would shout out”. A figure of speech perhaps, but one which suggests that nature has the capacity to recognise Jesus. Those whose voices were raised to acclaim Jesus upon his triumphal entry deserted him, but nature like the faithful women, remains a witness to the end; grieving at the cross; the sun’s light failing, as Jesus’s life ebbs from him.

Within the passion narrative, mention could be made of the bread and wine of the passover, as symbols of co-operation between nature and humanity. An emphasis usefully underscored in this prayer of preparation at the Eucharist. Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to set before you, which earth has given and human hands have made. It will become for us the bread of life. Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, though your goodness we have this wine to set before you, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. It will become for us the cup of salvation.Preachers might prefer to save reflection on this this until Maundy Thursday or Corpus Christi.

Nature is present as Jesus continues on towards the cross. The crowing cock exposes Peter’s denial and Jesus uses metaphors from the natural world to encourage the daughters of Jerusalem to lament for themselves, rather than him. Jesus prays his prayer of agony outside, in the Mount of Olives, and the ground receives the sweat of his brow, as it later receives his body in the rock hewn tomb. The image of Jesus being received by the earth has long inspired reflection on nature, including the idea of Jesus being buried like a seed to emerge renewed at the resurrection, and there is a well-established tradition that the earth is hallowed by the presence of Jesus' body within it. In the Seventeenth century, Gerrald Winstanley wrote “The body of Christ is where the Father is, in the earth, purifying the earth; and his Spirit is entered into the whole creation which is the heavenly glory where the Father dwells.”**

There is also a sense in which the earth, through the tomb, ministers to and protects the body of Jesus, providing safe haven, after the violence of the cross. Nature is not the primary focus on the passiontide narrative. The focus must surely remain Jesus and his suffering. Notwithsanding this I would contend it is possible to view nature is a participant in the passion, who affects and is affected, and stands as a faithful, sorrowful and compassionate witness alongside those women who stood at a distance, sorrowfully watching.

**G.H Sabine, ed. The Collected Works of Gerrard Winstanley (Cornell University Press. 1941) P117 quoted in I Bradley, God is Green (Dartman, Longman and Todd, London 1990) p80

Lent 5 Jeremiah 31.31-34 Hebrews 5. 5-10 John 12. 20-33

 Unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit.

‘Sir, we wish to see Jesus.’ The crowd, the Greeks, want to encounter Jesus; they wish to see Jesus. They must have heard the stories of his miracles, walking on water, feeding five thousand; his healings of all kinds of sickness, even raising Lazarus from the dead!

In the landscape in which we find ourselves, we know there has been much dying …..thousands globally have died of Covid-19; we are reminded also of the hundreds of migrants who have died making desperate journeys across the Mediterranean Sea; of those who have died due to racism , its injustices and equalities and the protests that ‘black lives matter’.

The natural world too is dying at the hands of human behaviour. The parable of the grain of wheat connects with our on the natural world and the cycle of dying and new life each season; the experience of loss and renewal is part of our lives. In Christian terms, death and resurrection are key to our life experience. Death and loss are not only physical, its also emotional and spiritual. Throughout our lives, we die many times over through a whole range of losses – the death of a loved one, the end of a dream, the breakdown of a relationship, the deterioration of a person’s health, as we navigate through the stages of life. Through loss, we experience a range of emotions; anger, regret, guilt, despair, unforgiveness and fear. But, this passage tells us, it is in the pit of darkness that we see Jesus.

Yet, we are the Easter people, the resurrection people. God always has the capacity to bring something fresh and new from a situation. Often, if we look at a situation from a different angle, a different point of view, we can see how something new and fresh can be brought from loss and even despair. Despite the brokenness of our world, there is a hope that can be re-imagined, renewed, restored through God’s generous love.

We could link this passage of the grain of wheat falling to the earth with the parables of other seeds; the weeds among the wheat, the mustard seed and the yeast, the parable of the sower. The Gospels are full of examples drawn from the natural world, as Jesus spent much of his life in the agricultural areas around Galilee. And at his death, he will indeed be ‘ in the heart of the earth’.

God’s commitment to the earth and all that he has made goes back to at least the covenant made in his pledge to Noah: And God said: This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. ( Genesis 9. 12-13; italics are mine).

The earth is the ‘ holy footstool’ of God it is sacred. It is not personified or deified in the Bible. But all is sanctified by God the Creator, and reconciled to God the Redeemer of the universe. As we gradually come out of lockdown, moving from the total restrictions of the pandemic situation, we know that it’s time now for us to play a more active role again in our community, in our society. There has been much death, and there will be more to come. We must accept the reality.

In our church year, we have yet to work through Holy Week and Good Friday. But perhaps it is as we let go and see God in these places that we too have the potential to come through and to bear much fruit for the kingdom. God’s love has the power to heal, resurrect and enable all flourishing. We can look at what we have lost, what will and sometimes needs to stay lost, and also look forward to new fruit; to faithfully bring forth new life and new hope for ourselves for the sake of future generations and the years to come. 

By Christine Jack

Link of the Week - Creation Care


Click link below for a great new resource to help with living a sustainable lifestyle.

Mothering Sunday: Colossians 3.12-17, Psalm 127


Mothering Sunday has traditionally had a dual focus, that of celebrating and giving thanks for mother, but also of our “mother church”. In normal circumstances, this Sunday has the potential for outside worship, and “clypping the church” (forming a circle round the outside of the building and in effect giving it a hug), but in these socially distanced times, even substituting a procession might be too difficult to choreograph. In many churches, women will receive gifts of flowers, again providing an opportunity to draw connections with the beauty of the earth.


Those who are serious about “greening” their Mothering Sunday service might find the metaphor of “Mother Earth” useful and consider St Francis’ canticle of the sun, in particular this verse

“Praise be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth, who sustains us and governs us and who produces varied fruits with coloured flowers and herbs”.

Relevant connections can be drawn between the loving care of mothers, and the earth which sustains us.

There is potential for a green reading of Colossians 3.12-17, which contains advice about relationships within the church. Remembering that the body of Christ spans the globe and our brothers and sisters already experiencing the devastating effects of climate volatility, we might ask what does “compassionion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience” look like against the backdrop of the ecological crisis? Reflection on how love “binds everything together in perfect harmony” could be inclusive of the natural order, and the sense of thanksgiving that is encouraged could easily be extended to include thanksgivings to the creator for the blessings of the creation.

This may also be an appropriate day to consider intergenerational justice, particularly in the light of Psalm 127’s observation that “Children are a heritage from the Lord and the fruit of the womb is his gift.” Parents or not, we have obligations to the next generation. A useful starting point for our thinking in this area might be the Tearfund report Burning down the house which listens to the concerns and frustrations of young Christians in the face of climate change.

Click here for the Tearfund report.

Lent 4 John 3:14-21

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”

It is hardly surprising that these verses are amongst the best loved in Scripture. They answer our deepest fears with the assurance of God’s immense and costly love. They contain the promise of salvation and eternal life. They provide comfort to those who believe already whilst inviting those who do not to make a response of faith. They are helpful to pastors and evangelists in equal measure. Indeed, they are so familiar that we can imagine that we know exactly what they mean, but as ever, shifting our perspective to a ‘Green’ one provokes new questions. Who exactly is being saved? Is salvation limited to people or is the non-human creation included?

This is not a trivial question but one which will have an effect on how we preach, how we view the natural world and our response to the challenges of the climate emergency. The verses can be read very exclusively - only those who believe will be saved. This rules out the non-human creation, since only people have the capacity to believe. It also rules out those of other faiths and no faith, those with limited cognitive function and those who are too young to have a concept of belief. Whilst the passage is clear that those who believe will not perish - does it actually say that everyone and everything else will? I'm not so sure.

On the other hand, when set in the context of Nicodemus’ visit to Jesus, these verses are inclusive, expanding the scope of salvation. The use of the word ‘world’ is telling and it is used no less than four times in these few sentences. God loves the world, the Son is sent to the world, not to condemn the world, but so that the world might be saved. For someone like Nicodemus, a Pharisee who had been taught that salvation was for the Jews alone, and only law-abiding Jews at that, this would have demanded a radical rethink. For us, a similar leap may be demanded, to permit our understanding to be broadened to include not just humanity but the non-human creation. I accept that it’s perfectly possible to read these verses as if they refer exclusively to people. The Greek word ‘Kosmos' has a spectrum of meanings ranging from ‘the human family’ to ‘the entire created order’. However, I find it difficult to imagine that of all the wonders He created and declared to be good, God only wishes to save humanity. Or that God made a covenant with the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals after the flood,(Gen 9:10) only to see them perish, or that trees, sunsets, dogs and mountains have no place in the Kingdom. My take is that when Scripture says God loves the world – it means the world – all of it.

As such the world cannot be somewhere we leave behind when we are saved. We must be saved together with the natural world not from it. It is also inconceivable that God sees it as disposable. Creation cannot merely be a playground for human beings to enjoy or a storehouse for them to plunder. God's beloved world is not something to be used and discarded but to be respected and cherished. For if God so loves the world – shouldn’t we?

Lent 3 Exodus 20.1-17, 1 Cor 1:18-25

“I, the Lord you God am a jealous God, punishing children for the inequity of parents, to the third and fourth generations of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments”.

I have always found these words problematic, after all how can God, who we imagine to be a loving father, punish individuals for the sins of their parents? However, if we exchange the idea of punishment, for consequence, then it seems only too true. For we find ourselves in this perilous ecological crisis not only as a result of our own choices but because of the choices of those who went before us.

The ancient wisdom contained in the ten commandments has been ignored for generations. As early as the fourth century St Ambrose of Milan was bewailing the fact that

“the world has been created for everyone’s use, but you few rich are trying to keep it for yourselves. For not merely the possessions of the earth but the very sky, the air and the sea are claimed by the rich few”.

The idols of possession, productivity and consumption have emerged unchallenged to compete with God’s vision for his creation. The ideal of sabbath rest has been abandoned. Covetousness is no longer seen as a sin but a pre-requisite for an economic system based on creating a desire for things we don't need, where we are encouraged to keep up with our neighbours rather than love them as ourselves. There have been many attempts to describe the root causes of the ecological crisis but Christians cannot be afraid to name the cause as sin and remind the world that sin is not a joke but a danger with long-lasting consequences. 

We might imagine that given a blank sheet we would have built a different, better world. We know we are complicit but not completely to blame. However, we cannot ignore the fact that our choices will affect future generations in devastating ways. The rate at which we are using resources cannot be sustained, even if we do manage to leave a habitable world for generations to come,  they will not have the same resources and opportunities available to them that we have enjoyed. We might even think of this, in the light of the eighth commandment, as theft. Greta Thunberg reproached the UK parliament with the words “The future has been sold so that a small number of people can make unimaginable amounts of money”. Jesus refused to allow his Father's house to be desecrated by the idolatry of greed. Are we required to make a similar stand against the desecration of this planet we share with other creatures and future generations? We cannot continue to say that it isn't our fault for ever.

In 1967, Lynn White declared that “Christianity bore a huge burden of guilt” for cultivating a dominating attitude towards nature. Whilst there was some truth in his claim, I would suggest it bears a greater burden of guilt for not recognising and naming sin for what it was, focussing on personal sins and neglecting societal ones, and over-emphasising sexual sin whilst not calling out greed, discrimination, oppression or idolatry. White suggests that the answer to the ecological crisis would not be found in technology but in religion and I agree with him, because if the problem is sin, then as Christians, do we not claim to have an answer? Suggesting that the cross of Christ is an answer to the ecological crisis may appear foolish, but Pope Francis reminds us of the need for conversion and that a Christian conversion necessitates an ecological one. Repentance is the only answer.  

Philip Larkin wrote “Man hands on misery to man. It deepens like a coastal shelf. Get out as early as you can and don’t have any kids yourself”. We might not agree with his conclusion, but misery has indeed been handed on, but whether we continue to do so is up to us. As Christians, we claim that in Jesus Christ, this cycle can and will be broken. This is why for the sake of our children and grandchildren we must continue, like St Paul, to proclaim Christ crucified.



Lent 2


“If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. “

In 1937, in Nazi Germany, Dietrich Bonhoffer published his theological classic The Cost of Discipleship. The English title of the book speaks for itself, he writes of a discipleship which is demanding, all-consuming and risky. This week’s Gospel makes the cost of discipleship explicit. Jesus’ mission as the Christ will cost him dear, he will not have the easy path to glory that Peter hopes he might, rather he will be rejected, he will suffer and he will die, before rising again after three days. Following Jesus means following him to the cross. The German title of Bonhoffer’s book is Nachfolge means "following“.

This does not mean that those who follow Christ will inevitably face martyrdom, or that we must seek suffering. Nor does it mean that when we find ourselves bullied, abused or exploited we must accept it as “the cross we have to bear” (too many women describe their abusive husbands as “the cross they are carrying” to leave this unsaid). However, it shows the lie of “the prosperity gospel” which suggests that those who follow Jesus will achieve worldly success, because God somehow favours them. Following Jesus, is no guarantee of an easy life or quiet one.

Part of this costly call to discipleship is living differently, putting our minds to divine and not human things. This means, for example, having a different attitude towards possessions. Bonhoffer writes:

“Earthly goods are given to be used, not to be collected. In the wilderness God gave Israel the manna every day, and they had no need to worry about food and drink. Indeed, if they kept any of the manna over until the next day, it went bad. In the same way, the disciple must receive his portion from God every day. If he stores it up as a permanent possession, he spoils not only the gift, but himself as well, for he sets his heart on accumulated wealth, and makes it a barrier between himself and God. Where our treasure is, there is our trust, our security, our consolation and our God. Hoarding is idolatry.”

In Mark 10:17-22, the cost of sitting lightly to his possessions renders discipleship too costly for the Rich Young Ruler and remains an ever-present challenge for Christians.

Part of this costly call to discipleship is naming sin for what it is. It is refusing to be complicit with structural evil. For Bonhoffer, this meant calling out the Nazi Regime. Confronted with Nazism, the German Church faced a choice,they could become the religious arm of the state, turn a blind eye to the Nazi atrocities or they could stand against it. Bonhoffer chose the latter course and it was costly. He was initially sent to prison, then to concentration camps, and finally he was hanged. How much easier it would have been to keep quiet, to stay out of politics, to focus on his prayer life, but would it have been more Christian?

In the face of the ecological crisis, we face a similar choice to Bonhoffer. We can name the evil inherent in the destruction of the natural world, in the rich inflicting climate chaos on poorer nations, in bequeathing to future generations problems we are not courageous or selfless enough to solve. This will be costly, both in terms of personal lifestyle, for we will have to practice what we preach, and in terms of conflict, for if we challenge the powers and principalities of this world there will be push back. But the alternative of staying silent, being accommodationist, and making compromises with the values of this world in ways which prove more costly for others rather than ourselves, reeks of cowardice. Is demanding action on the ecological crisis, despite its inherent risks and sacrifices, part of the cost of discipleship in the 21st Century? 

Thoughts for Lent


Lenten themes lend themselves easily to a "Green" perspective. Although the causes of the ecological crisis are manifold and include technological development and increasing population, as Christians we must recognise and name the role of sin. The lust for power that sees the natural world, and other people as resources to be exploited for financial gain. The injustice, that sees the limited resources of the world unequally shared, and the burden of climate change falling on those least responsible for the emissions which have caused it. The greed and gluttony involved in those who have much, taking it for granted and continually wanting more.The profligacy that uses precious resources, to create goods with little purpose, for a limited amount of time, before disposing of them, without thought for the consequences. The pride, that leads us to imagine that we can solve this by our own ingenuity, rather than admitting we are on the wrong track and changing our ways. The sloth, that believes it’s down to other people to sort this out. If sin is at the root of the problem, then self-examination and repentance are crucial.

Pope Francis (2015) calls for an ecological conversion - a change of heart and mind similar to and demanded by Christian conversion. However, we must be careful not to understand the problem exclusively in terms of personal sinfulness, which limits our response to our own changed lifestyles. These sinful attitudes are embedded in our society, our culture, our way of life is predicated on them. Our efforts to live sustainable lifestyles are frequently thwarted by the assumptions of the world we live in; one which considers air travel but not public transport to be essential, which sees continual growth to be necessary for economic well-being, and where success is calibrated by accumulated possessions. We need to examine not only ourselves, but the societies of which we are a part. We need not only to repent, but call others to repentance. Against this background the fasting and self-denial of Lent not only function as spiritual disciplines which enable us to addres our own behaviour, and build our own characters, but as prophetic action. Opening up the possibility of different ways of living.

About the Editor: Revd Ruth Newton

Ruth is parish priest of St John's Sharow, a Silver Eco-Church, whose  Churchyard has been awarded County Wildlife Status.She is a member of the Church of England General Synod. Ordained for 18 years, Ruth has ministered in three multi-parish benefices, as a Cathedral Canon and as a Lay Training Officer. Ruth has a Masters in Theology, a PGCE and an an associate fellowship with the Higher Education. She is currently studying for a Doctorate in Ecotheology and teaching. She is working on a freelance basis, she is available as a speaker.

Ecological Parable

Short, thought-provoking parable based on the story of Dives and Lazarus, by Andrew Tawn

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