Greening the Lectionary

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

Seasonal Introduction to Lent

Click below for an Introductory Reflection setting the scene for Lent by guest contributer, Christine Jack

Sunday next before Lent (Transfiguration) Exodus 24.12-18, 2 Peter 1:16-21, Matthew 17:1-9

"Listen to him" 

At Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, a voice from Heaven said,  "This is my beloved Son with whom I am well pleased" and now, on the Mount of Transfiguration we hear the same affirmation, but with one crucial addition - Peter, James and John are urged to  "Listen to him!" Jesus stands alongside Moses and Elijah, as one who speaks on behalf of God. His words have authority in Heaven and on Earth. 

Those seeking to listen to Jesus today, will search the Gospels in vain to hear Jesus speak about creation-care, or environmental stewardship. He does not say "Love the planet and love nature" much as we might wish he did. Yet he does sum up the law and the prophets, whom Moses and Elijah represent, with the words "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.... and Love your neighbour as yourself.’"

This is as good a foundation as any to build a rationale for environmental engagement. For this is God's world - the creation He declared to be "good". It seems hardly possible that he is standing by unmoved as its beauty is swamped by our rubbish, and entire species wiped out through our greed and carelessness. Caring for God's world is a way of showing our love for God. 

It is worth noting too, how often nature facilitates encounter with God. In both today's Old Testament and Gospel, God is met, not in a temple or synagogue, but on a mountain top, emerging from a cloud. The natural world frequently moves us to praise and thankfulness by its beauty and magnitude. Many have discovered nature as a way to encounter God and a source of revelation.  As such it is worthy of our respect and our advocacy. 

When we add "loving our neighbour" into the mix, the case becomes incontrovertible.   Already so many people are suffering through the floods, fires, infestations and famines the climate crisis is causing. If we understand our neighbour in global terms then we cannot walk on by. We have a Christian duty to act and act quickly. Those listening to Jesus today may find they have no other choice.

Ash Wednesday John 8:1-11

It isn't just the climate that's changing, ethics are too. Although we are still praying for the UN to make eco-cide a crime, there is a growing awareness of ecological sin. The Pope is considering writing a chapter in the Catechism on the subject and those preparing for confession are being encouraged to examine their consciences about the way in which their lifestyle choices affect the health of the planet. This is something that Christians of all denominations could incorporate into their spiritual practice this Lent. 

An awareness of ecological sin is found not only in the Church but in the secular world too, frequently with a high degree of judgmentalism attached. Those who campaign for change and advocate for the planet are held to impossibly high standards in order to earn a hearing and are accused of being hypocrites if they so much as use a plastic bag. Holding others to a higher account than we hold ourselves is a disingenuous ways of silencing those who prick our consciences and make us uncomfortable. Whilst it is good to practice what we preach, our Gospel today makes it clear that no-one, apart from our Lord himself, is able to achieve a perfect life. Christians, above all people, know that failure to live up to our ideals does not render those ideals worthless.  

Amongst those who have already made significant lifestyle changes in response to the climate emergency, judgmentalism is a constant temptation. If you haven't flown for thirty years its easy to condem frequent flyers, or if you have given up meat (even bacon) it's easy to demonise carnivores. It's natural to think, if I've made costly sacrifices why shouldn't you? However this doesn't take into consideration the realities of people's lives. If my daughter lived abroad would I find it so easy not to fly? Could I deny you your car if the nearest shop was an hour's walk away? Our entire way of life is predicated on carbon usage. Sometimes it isn't possible to do right for doing wrong. We all juggle competing 'goods'.

As with prayer, people should be encouraged to 'Green as they can, not as they can't'. Small actions can grow to big ones and dull consciences can be sharpened. Yet make no mistake about it - change we must.   

Our Gospel today provides a template for this. No-one is without sin so no-one, except Jesus is in the position to judge. Yet neither is anyone let off the hook. Those in the crowd are forced to acknowledge their own short-comings whilst the woman at the centre of it all is gently, yet firmly, challenged to change. The call to repentance is still loud and clear and today we must heed it more than ever. 

It is often said that our culture has no concept of sin making it difficult to preach the Gospel, but against the background of the climate crisis, the reality of sin comes into sharp focus, giving us the opportunity to offer age old wisdom about repentance, judgment, forgiveness and grace to a generation so deeply in need of it. 


Archived Reflections

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About the author: Revd Ruth Newton

Ruth is parish priest of St John's Sharow, a Silver Eco-Church, whose award winning Churchyard has been awarded County Wildlife Status.

She is 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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