Greening the Lectionary

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

Trinity Sunday/Environmental Sunday by Christine Jack

World Environment Day 5th June is the United Nations day for encouraging worldwide awareness and action to protect our environment. Since it began in 1974, the event has grown to become a global platform for public outreach that is widely celebrated in over 100 countries. This year, 2020, the theme is biodiversity, or the web of life as it is sometimes called. Christians are called to remember our dependence on this web of life through a special Sunday, set apart each year on the Sunday closest to June 5th- Environment Sunday.

Genesis 9. 12-13: ‘12 God said, “This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: 13 I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth.’ The Christian scriptures begin with God’s affirmation that all of creation is ‘very good’ (Genesis 1.30). Humans exist within a web of life. This web is a complex, interconnected system in which each part plays an important role. We are part of a complex, delicate and interdependent web of life which we believe is created, sustained and redeemed by God. Humanity is called to reflect the image of God through godly leadership within the community of fellow creatures (Genesis 1. 26-28). Basic facts about global problems are well known. Few deny that there are serious concerns. There is less agreement, however, about the exact nature of the crisis. Is it essentially political, economic, or technological? Where do the roots of the crisis lie?

Although we understand our human responsibility to care and to act, the problems go beyond managerial failings. They are tied up with our relationship with our surroundings. There is a multitude of interrelated environmental crises, but the essential problem is an inner human crisis. Solutions require a profound shift in people’s feelings and attitudes towards the environment. Biodiversity matters because human wellbeing depends on stable and thriving ecosystems and the services they give us, from clean water and food, to oxygen, clothing and climate regulation and all the other ‘resources’ we use from nature. But if we value nature only for its usefulness to human beings we do not value it highly enough. Our view of nature is distorted. Today human action and behaviour has reduced biodiversity and modified wildlife populations structures at an unprecedented rate. There are multiple causes, from deforestation, habitat destruction, climate change and pollution of soil, water and air, including the tide of plastic pollution filling the oceans. In the last 50 years, the human population has doubled; the global economy has almost quadrupled and global trade has increased approximately ten times (www.worldenvironmentday/global). We are told that it would take 1.6 Earths to meet the demands that humans make on nature each year; and more species are on the risk of extinction than ever before.

In recent years, zoonotic diseases – those transferred from animals to humans – have gained international attention. The recent Covd-19 crisis is one of these. In 2016 the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) flagged a worldwide increase in zoonotic epidemics as an issue of concern. Specifically it pointed out that 75% of all emerging infectious diseases in humans are zoonotic and that these are closely linked with the health of ecosystems. Ecosystems are various – woodland, forest, tundra, burning desert, icy polar and city/urban, for example. The solution is nature. Nature purifies the air we breathe, cleans the water we drink and produces the variety of foods we require to stay healthy and resist disease. It helps medical researchers to understand the causes in humans and provides the substance in developing medicines. It also helps to mitigate the impact of climate change by absorbing carbon, reducing air pollution and helping to cool cities.

For Christians too, and those who believe that all God’s creatures have value in themselves, there is also an issue of justice. It is often the poor and the marginalised who depend most immediately on the health of ecosystems and are affected seriously by the loss of productive soils, clean water, forests, fish and coral reefs. Biodiversity loss is a major factor in human migration. In developed and urban areas, again it is often the poorest who suffer the effect of carbon emissions from busy roads and motorways. ‘It’s time to revisit our relationship with nature and to build a more environmentally responsible world. It is time to better understand the web of life in which we live and appreciate that it functions as a whole system. It is time to reimagine our relationship with nature and put nature at the heart of our decision making’.

Pentecost

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life

At Pentecost we are remembering the coming of the Holy Spirit upon the first disciples and the presence of the Holy Spirit with us now. Although Jesus is known as Emmanuel - God with us, it is a title equally applicable to the Holy Spirit, who we can think of as God-at-work-in-the world, and indeed God-at work-in-us.

The Holy Spirit, challenges, inspires, equips, and leads, sometimes in the most unexpected directions. Like C.S. Lewis’ Aslan, who was not a tame lion, the Holy Spirit cannot be contained or domesticated. Although described as the Comforter, an encounter with the Holy Spirit is often the opposite of comfortable, and biblically the word comfort leans more heavily in the direction of strengthening for service than of pacifying. The Holy Spirit is not a comfort blanket and doesn't appear to be that keen on the status quo.  People are led in directions they would rather not go, and yet are supported and blessed on the journey.

The Holy Spirit is involved in both creation and recreation. She is depicted as hovering over the water in the creation, as a bird hovers and broods over her eggs and giving life to the people created from dust and breathing new life into the dry bones of Ezekiel’s vision. Moving the metaphor from breath to water, the Holy Spirit quenches thirst and turns desert into oasis. New possibilities are suggested as the Holy Spirit causes “visions” and “dreams” of God’s Kingdom and God’s power to act and transform.

The vision that the Holy Spirit gives is one of unity, of diverse languages and cultures in dialogue, communicating and working together to renew the world. A vision of life and not destruction, of prosperity for many and not just the few. It is a vision of healing and wholeness for the whole earth not just people. The vision of the one who is the bringer of life must stand in contrast to the suicide machine which places profit above people and planet.

The one who is at work in the world and at work in us, invites us to join in the prophetic task of bringing Shalom and proclaiming the kingdom. The Holy Spirit chooses not only to work in us, but with us, but how prepared are we to meet the challenge?

Ernst Conradie, suggests that when every-one knows there’s a problem and knows the right thing to do, but no one can summon up the moral will to do it then the problem is a spiritual one. We need to the presence of the Holy Spirit now more than ever, and so we must continue to pray

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful And kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created And you will renew the face of the earth”.

Ascensiontide

Following the death of my grandmother, my mother discovered that “only people who have been there can help".  She was only able to receive comfort and consolation from people who had been similarly bereaved and understood her feelings. Those who had not experienced profound bereavement, no matter how well-intentioned, simply didn’t know what she was going through, so how could they possibly help? This speaks to me of the Incarnation. God is someone who is able to help because God understands;  in Jesus, God became human, and experienced the joys and the sorrow of the human condition. Jurgen Moltmann says something similar when he asserts that “Sometimes only the Crucified God will do”.

The Ascension reminds us that a human being stands at the heart of the Godhead. It has always been important to me to think of the ascended Jesus in his human form and frailties, with the wounds from his crucifixion still there. The ascension is a celebration and of victory, where the human Jesus is enthroned at the right hand of God the Father, ruling and reigning alongside him, a judge who has earned his right to judge us by walking a mile in our shoes.

Yet, having written Greeningthelectionary.net for the last eighteen months. I am struck by just how anthropocentric this all is. It’s all about God saving human beings, it’s about humanity being incorporated into the Godhead, it’s about God understanding what it’s like to be a person.

If we broaden our thinking to include the rest of creation, we lose none of this, whilst rediscovering the idea of a Christ who lifts not only humanity, but the entire world to God. ‘Deep Incarnation’ does not interpret the Word becoming flesh in exclusively human terms but as the Creator entering the Creation. Thus, the crucified God, and the risen ascended one, stand in solidary with and ennoble the whole of the Earth, not just the human part of it. Thus, we can think of Heaven and Earth united in the heart of God.

Thinking this way, may require us to change the way we view the non-human creation; it might challenge the arrogance that sees salvation solely as a human prerogative, and may even cause us to reappraise our most cherished beliefs, but it can only enhance our appreciation of the value of the natural world , the wonder of the incarnation, the triumph of the ascension and the majesty of Christ.

Reflection for Rogation by Christine Jack

 

There are three days midweek in the week beginning the 6th Sunday of Easter and just before Ascension, which are marked ‘Rogation’ in the church calendar. Often that Sunday can be a good time to mark and celebrate’ Rogationtide’. This is one of the ancient agricultural festivals, when processions to bless the crops and walk around the parish boundaries included asking ( Latin ‘ rogare’ – to ask) God’s blessings on the fields, the crops and the parish, that all for the ’ fruits of the field’ will flourish in the coming months.

 

Rogation takes place, then, in the springtime, when there is a renewing of the earth. It follows Easter, the season or resurrection. Renewal and resurrection are therefore also themes of this occasion. Other themes and concerns will include: Firstly, the enjoyment of and access to the countryside, and conservation of species not directly connected with economic profit for the landowner of the land in which they flourish. Secondly ecological insight of the interrelatedness of the created order.

Thirdly, reflection upon humankind’s relationship to the natural order. What does it mean to have ‘ dominion’ under God for the plants bearing seeds, the tress bearing fruit, the green plants; the cattle, the wild animals and reptiles, the birds of the air and the fish of the sea? Are we good stewards and caretakers of creation? 

Lastly, Rogation Sunday often precedes Christian Aid Week, and this reminds us of the needs of the poor and the virtues of hope and justice. Some places postpone celebrating until Trinity Sunday, which is often at the beginning of June, coinciding with World Environment Day ( 5th June). It is a time to celebrate the fruits of our parish, whether it be rural , urban or something in-between, whatever those fruits might be, and to ask God’s blessing that we may all grow in the spirit of God to enable us to be true children of God. It is also a time to remember our farmers, at home or abroad who provide food for our table.

Easter 6: Acts 17:22.31, 1 Peter 3 13-22

“We have a Gospel to proclaim” and this week’s readings from Acts and from 1 Peter present different ways of doing so. For Paul, proclamation is key, he has a message and is compelled to preach it, giving a master class in apologetics. Using the ‘altar to an unknown god’ as a way in, he names the unknown god as the creator of Heaven and Earth. He is uncompromising in exposing idolatry and then presents a better alternative. To coin a phrase ‘he begins where they are’ and is attentive to context.

Whilst Paul is busy proclaiming, Peter calls his readers to authentic Christian living, doing the right thing, living distinctive lives. As such they would provoke both curiosity and opposition, but they must keep on doing the right thing regardless. Whilst not seeking explicit opportunities to proclaim the Gospel in words, they should be able defend their actions and beliefs if the need arises.

Today’s context is not Athens and its shrines but an ecological crisis which threatens the future of humanity. For many, young people in particular, this is ther primary concern, but are we addressing it? What are the idols of our age? Unlimited growth? Consumption? Reliance on Fossil Fuels? Are Christian naming these and offering a better alternative, or are we idolaters along with the rest?

In this context, authentic Christian living must include creation care. Working on environmental projects, campaigning to protect the planet, speaking prophetically on ecological issues can generate good will or opposition in equal measure but if we believe they are the right thing then we must carry on regardless. I wonder if it even possible to proclaim “good news” which does not address sustainability? Historically, the Gospel has been presented in anthropocentric terms focussing primarily on “good news for all people”. (Luke 2:10), and “making disciples of all nations” (Matt 28:19) but in Mark, the disciples are commissioned to “proclaim good news to all creation.” (16:15) What would good news for the entire cosmos look like?

Easter 5 1 Peter 2: 2-10

Not not alive 

Yet of the Earth and ancient

Buried deep,

Bursting forth or slowly crystalising,

Under pressure

Holding a history.

Warmed and cooled,

Beaten and broken,

Sharp edges rubbed off

Smoothed or sharpened,

Gathering moss or scars,

Each different, some dazzling,

Highly prized,

Destined for rings and other great things,

or solid, boring, ignorable, dependable

Until you trip over one.

A weapon,

A blunt instrument for brutality

Or a support.

Each distinctive characteristic selected with deliberation.

The right shape, the right place, the right stone.

Simply fitting in.

A wall built to keep safe or keep out.

Building a sheep pen, a palace or a temple.

A home for lichen or an ecosystem for slugs.

 

“Come to him, a living stone, through rejected by mortals yet chosen and precious in God’s sight. Like living stones, Let yourselves be built into a spiritual house..”

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During the suspension of public worship Revd Ruth Newton will be streaming worship, preaching and messages on:

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Archived Reflections

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Book Review of Archbishop of Canterbury's Lent Book

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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.

Presently working on a portfolio basis she is available for freelance writing, lectures or retreats. 

 

 

 

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Twitter: @greening_the 

revdruthnewton@gmail.com