Greening the Lectionary

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

Lent Year A

Lent 1 Genesis 2:15-17; 3:1-7, Romans 5:12-19

 There is considerable scope for Greening the Lectionary this week. Those who wish to focus on the Gospel might like to read last year’s reflection on the Temptation of Jesus, but this year my focus will be on the Old and New Testament readings.

As we hear the Old Testament reading which describes ‘the Fall’ we might like to consider the extent to which humanity’s besetting sin of wanting to “be like God” and our unwillingness to accept limits on our 'wants' is at the root of the ecological crisis.

However, in the light of Paul’s emphasis in the Epistle, I confess myself unwilling to stop at verse 7, but to read on to verse 19 to hear the curse that unfolded as a result of this first disobedience. It's particularly important for those of us seeking a ‘greener’ understanding of our faith because the curse not only falls on the snake, the man and woman but on the ground as well. The relationship between human beings and the natural environment, which was intended to be one of harmonious ease, becomes much more adversarial. The land is now reluctantly providing for humanity’s needs and humans are ‘toiling’ away against a backdrop of thorns and weeds.

Yet all is not lost, for St Paul is clear that, in Christ, the consequences of the curse are undone. “Therefore just as one man's trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man's act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all.” If we understand Paul in this way, then creation, so often excluded, from our anthropocentric understandings of salvation is enfolded in its scope. It too is redeemed, restored and justified. The disobedience of Adam alienated people from God, men from women and humanity from nature. In contrast, the obedience of Christ brings the possibility of reconciliation.

Looking at our world today it seems as if humanity and the natural world are more alienated than ever before.The “now and the not yet” nature of salvation is very much in evidence as we anticipate a time when Christ “will reconcile all things to himself,” (Col 1:20) yet see ecological disaster all around. Yet our anticipation need not be limited to looking forward with hope, for anticipate has another meaning – to prefigure. As those who believe themselves “ransomed, healed, restored – forgiven, it is incumbent on us to be agents of reconciliation, amongst people, nations and the natural world. 

Ash Wednesday John 8:1-11 Casting the first stone.

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. 

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.

Advent Year A

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Creationtide Reflections Year C

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Reflections for Kingdom Season Year C

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Trinity Reflections Year C

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Easter Reflections Year C

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Lent Reflections Year C

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