Greening the Lectionary

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

Look below to find reflections for this Sunday.

Creationtide Material

Coming soon

Sunday 14th July 

Trinity 4 

Bearing Fruit?

 Colossians 1.1-14

 

The metaphor of “fruit” employed by St Paul in this week’s Epistle reading is one of his favourites. Only a few weeks ago the Lectionary readings included ‘the fruits of the Spirit”, whilst this week he uses it to describe both numerical growth as the Gospel is spreads throughout the world and spiritual growth amongst the Colossian Christians.

The passage describes the life of faith as one of change and development which results in a greater awareness and understanding of who God is and what his purposes are. However, this is not merely a growth of the intellect or piety but has a practical outworking in terms of mutual love for one another and fruit-yielding good works. The nature of this fruit might be numerical or spiritual, probably both.

Although the Colossians are notable for their faith and love for one another, Paul leaves no room for complaisancy, praying unceasingly that their Christian life will continue to evolve and mature. There is no sense here of being a “good enough” Christian or being able to rest upon one’s laurels. There is always scope for more good works, more fruit, for greater wisdom, endurance and patience, always the possibility of appreciating the Gospel with more profound joy and thanksgiving, yet all of this is set within the context of the grace of God who has redeems through the Son, and empowers through the Spirit. We must take care not to hear St Paul’s exhortations as an encouragement to a works-based salvation. Beware the heresy of Pelagius!

For Christians today, this passage may well give us cause to consider our own discipleship and our progress towards “lives worthy of the Lord’. Are we undertaking good works which are bearing fruit in our own lives and the lives of others? Is our attentiveness towards and knowledge of God deepening? Are we joyful in the knowledge of all that God has done for us?

Despite its extended use of a nature metaphor, the degree to which this passage might be considered ‘Green’ is dependent upon our understanding of the interplay between discipleship and creation-care. Is working toward a sustainable world central to the life of faith or peripheral to it? By and large, thinking of our obligations towards the world which is our home has been an under-developed and neglected strand of Christian theology, albeit with some notable exceptions such as St Francis of Assisi, and Gerrard Whinstanley. However, it is one which is becoming ever more relevant amid the environmental challenges we face. Thus, a preacher wishing to “Green” their sermon might wish to pepper it with examples of “good works” which have a positive environmental "fruit",  or highlight how growing in the knowledge of God might include considering his perspective on the world he created and our treatment of it. 

Sunday 7th July 2019 

Trinity 3 

Galatians 7-16 

Luke 10 1-11, 16-20 

"Reaping what you sow?"

 

The idea of “reaping what you sow” is an appealing one. There’s a certain natural justice about it. Actions have consequences, good actions have good consequences, but selfish, self-indulgent behaviour will have disastrous ones. Anthropogenic climate change seems to be the perfect illustration of this principle, as for generations human beings have sown contempt for the natural world with attitudes of possession, greed and exploitation, and now it’s coming back to bite us. We are reaping what we have sown, and even with immediate and decisive action on carbon emissions, we will have plenty more reaping to do for years to come.

However, reflection on climate change also shows us how the correlation between action and consequences is far more complicated than ‘getting one’s just desserts’. It is frequently those high polluting nations who are best placed to be most resilient and have yet to feel the full extent of climate volatility, whilst countries with less of a ‘carbon debt’ are  disproportionately affected. In a case of the 'sins of the parents being visited upon the children' it is our young people and those yet unborn who will face the consequences of previous generations' actions and inaction. 

Furthermore, if life were simply a case of ‘what goes around comes around’ then our sinless saviour would hardly have ended his life betrayed and deserted on a cross. Christianity is predicated on us not getting what we deserve, because Christ accepted what he did not deserve. So, as we preach this week’s Epistle, we must take care to avoid any suggestion of a correlation between an individual’s behaviour and the deal they get in life, for in that direction lies the heresy of the prosperity gospel and victim blaming.  St Paul's  words “you reap whatever you sow." must be interpreted differently.

We may choose to read them as referring to a future judgement, particularly as they are preceded by the statement that God will not be mocked. There will have been those who saw the Gospel of grace preached by Paul as a ‘get out of jail free card’ - a licence to act as they please with no consequences, and we can see these words as a corrective to that. Actions still have consequences and we are still accountable to God for what we do. Such an accountability must, I would argue, encompass our treatment of the earth as well as other people. We may be able to hide our selfishness from each other and we may be fortunate enough to escape the direct consequences of our actions in this life, but nothing is hidden from God. It’s a sobering thought.

 

It is also possible to understand “reaping what you sow” as referring to the perfecting or corrosion of character. The way that our actions small and large change us,  each seemingly hidden and inconsequential action shaping who we are for good or for ill. Each lie we tell making it easier to tell the next one, each act of generosity forming us into an ever more generous person. Understood this way, the passage points us toward the spirituality of 'Virtue Ethics' and the cultivation of disciplined habits of holiness which are practiced until they become second nature. 

With the context of creation care such ‘holy habits’ might include: recycling, turning off lights, walking or using public transport where possible, reducing or stopping flying, but in the light of this week’s Gospel reading where the seventy are sent off without purse, bag or sandals and are encouraged to rely on the generosity of others, simplicity of life and hospitality might be particularly worthy of consideration.

 

30th June

Trinity 2

Galatians 5:1 13-25

Luke 9:51-62

Is the Christian obligation to love each other, that is other Christians, a priority over and above loving all people? When, in this week’s Epistle, St Paul sums up the law in the commandment “You shall love your neighbour as yourself", he does so in the context of encouraging the fractious Galatian Christians to commit to a life of mutual slavery. They are to stop their back biting and in-fighting and exchange self -indulgence for love.

In this instance, loving your neighbour seems to begin at home, or at least church. Yet we know from the parable of the Good Samaritan that one’s “neighbour” transcends tribalism to encompass all those in need, going beyond those who are like us, or with whom we agree, or who go to our Church, or whose beliefs we share.

If we look at the concept of “neighbour” through a green lens, we would undoubtedly wish to include our global neighbours, those in parts of the world whose “need” is exacerbated by both climate change and the precariousness of living in poverty. We may well wish to consider whether loving our neighbour includes our inter-generational neighbours, those children and young people who are striking for their future and those yet unborn who may inherit a world with insufficient resources to maintain the abundant life we enjoy. We may even find ourselves wondering whether our understanding of “neighbour” can stretch to include those other species with whom we share this planet. For the sake of all these “neighbours” Christian action and advocacy on environmental issues are vital.

Even if we take the understanding of “neighbour” at its narrowest and apply it only to our fellow Christians the conclusion remains the same. For many of our brothers and sisters in the body of Christ, the threat of climate chaos is a present not a future reality. Loving them, being slaves to them, means doing something about it.

Consequently “creation-care” and “safeguarding the integrity of creation” must not be seen as a “bolt-on” to our Christian mission. This is core business not something we do if “we’re into that sort of thing” or when we’ve got we’ve got time and resources left over from whatever we think the “real work” is. Tackling the climate emergency, advocating for change, educating for sustainability, articulating a Gospel which is good news for the earth and not just people, is the real work. It is loving our neighbour as ourselves.

In our Gospel for today, Jesus, his face is now set towards Jerusalem, prioritises the invitation to “follow him” over and above saying goodbye to loved ones, or even burying the dead. Time is of the essence and Jesus only has a short time left. Activities which would have been normal, desirable, essential even, are to be left undone because of the urgency of the situation. Arguably, the same principle applies in our present climate emergency. We must ask ourselves, as individuals and as a Church what do we need to leave undone, so that we can love those neighbours, Christian and non-Christian, near and far, in the present and in the future, for whom action on climate change is a pressing need? For not to do so and carrying on with a Christian version of “business as usual” would I fear, be the height of self-indulgence and the opposite of love.

 

Archived Reflections

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About the author: Revd Ruth Newton

Ruth is parish priest of St John's Sharow, and a member of the Church of England General Synod. Ordained for 17 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 Academy. She is undertaking a doctorate in the intersection between environmental activism and church.

 

 

 

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