Greening the Lectionary

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

 Reflections for the Weeks of Creationtide 2019 Introduction:

From September 1 to October 4, Christians around the world are praying and caring for creation. It’s the “Season of Creation”. The beginning and the end date of Season of Creation are linked with the concern for creation in the Eastern and the Western traditions of Christianity respectively. How can the biblical message can be understood in contemporary situation, as our world stumbles to the brink of ecological collapse, the ‘tipping point’ of irreversible climate change. Increasing awareness of environmental crisis has led to widespread religious reflection on the human relationship with the earth. Emerging from this is the study of eco-theology, a form of constructive theology that focuses on the interrelationships of religion and nature, particularly in the light of environmental concerns. It explores the interaction between ecological values, such as sustainability, and the human nature. How we can live on this planet in a sustainable way while preserving its biodiversity and maintaining healthy, just, and lively communities in contemporary society. Creationtide provides an opportunity to take 21st century globalisation to heart, and recognise the increasing interdependence and interconnectedness of all life on earth. The biblical word used for the ‘ world’ is most often the Greek ‘oikoumene’; and not simply in its’ literal meaning as the “whole inhabited earth” but, for believers, as the “whole household of God”. The root of the word oikoumene is oikos, meaning a house or a household; the people as well as their environment, and for our churches, an increased awareness that they are part of a larger human family to which their lives are deeply bound. The American conservationist Wendell Berry has called God’s Kingdom ‘the Great Economy’, and our generation is called to establish this new economy of relationship. What is suggested is that the nature of the times in which we live, the complexities of the problems we face as a whole human family, and the increasing human interdependence in all areas of life have gradually awakened us to a fuller and richer meaning of Jesus’s ministry, his life, death, resurrection and ascension. Historically, Christianity has been an anthropocentric religion. We have framed the atonement in terms of individual salvation, rather than a renewed heaven and earth, and have privileged making disciples of all nations (Matthew) over proclaiming good news to all creation (Mark), but there is an urgent need to articulate something more inclusive. Inclusion involves listening to and incorporating the voice of the marginalised and oppressed into theology and praxis. As we finally recognise the extent to which humanity has oppressed the Earth and marginalised the needs of those with whom we share the planet, is it not time to widen our circle, not only to include those people who differ from or disagree with us, but other species, eco-systems and indeed creation itself? That would be a truly radical inclusion. The question becomes, ‘ what kind of world do we want to survive, what kind of world do we want to sustain?’ Religion and religious communities are often accused of only caring about the more spiritual side of life; what does it matter about the environment now; what matters is the world to come. This is surely a false view of God’s intentions and promises for us as his people, and maybe we can try to change this view of religion. Yes, of course, our spiritual well being matters. However, God is concerned about the material world, the here and now, and the scriptures give full voice in His praise for the beauty of the earth, of the skies and God’s love for all human and non-human creation. As we consider the gospel readings for the Sundays of Creationtide 2019, a picture begins to emerge. This year, Year C in our Common Worship lectionary, the gospel readings come from the Gospel of Luke, and specifically from the 1st -29th September 2019, focusing on chapters 14 -16.

Week one, Sunday 1st September 2019,

Luke 14.1,7-14. Table Fellowship

The Season of Creation this year, begins with the table fellowship of the community of Jesus’ disciples, his followers on the way This meal took place on the Sabbath( Luke 14.1), and we are reminded of what many have called ‘ the Sabbath feast of enoughness’. It is the Sabbath, established on the seventh day, which is the crown of creation. It was the day God himself took a rest. In the rhythm of days and years, passing time is given its measure, the earth is given a rest. The Jubilee call of justice and peace means leaving the land fallow and forgiving debts every seven years; the crops and fruit trees must be left unharvested and unpruned, so that there is food for the poor, the gleaners ( Exodus 32.10 , Leviticus 25.1-7). Sabbath requires a letting go. Christianity is a consumer religion from the first meeting in the fruit garden of abundance, the first bite of the apple. This theme of God’s provision is set within a covenantal relationship, and for Jesus to eat with people was therefore his way to symbolically enact the restoration to the new creation paradise. Biblical Scholars now say there were two traditions of open table fellowship – bread and wine, and bread and fishes. Bread and wine became the meal that today we call the Mass or the Eucharist or the Lord’s Supper. The bread and wine is the tradition which lends itself more to ritual. The bread and fish tradition contributes more to issues of justice, community – this was real food which actually fed the poor (Luke 9. 10-17). Within a covenantal relationship then for Jesus to eat with people was his way to symbolically enact the restoration to the new creation paradise. In the table fellowship of Luke 14, central focus is given to the seating plan; where the guests sit matters; places at table indicate places of honour. It is best to choose a lower seat, and then be beckoned up towards the top; than to be relegated to a lower position. Do we listen in our communities to the smaller less well-known and marginalised ethnic groups and their hopes, aspirations and needs as well as those of the more prominent figures at the head of the table? Do we listen to those who suffer climate injustice and food insecurity (v.5) in a world where inequality is growing and materialism is a root cause of many ecological problems we face. The sacrifice God wants is sharing what we have.

 

Week Two, Sunday 8th September 2019,

Costly Discipleship Luke 14. 25 -33

Hating family, giving up possessions, building a tower, preparing for war….are all signs of a costly discipleship, to quote Dietrich Bonhoeffer. These verses remind us to count the cost of a costly discipleship, or we’ll be in trouble. We might find the phrase ‘ hating’ too strong for our family relationships, but it is clear that often, and sometimes painfully, we must put others first. This is all part of the challenge of building the Kingdom. How can we build an inclusive and just society, where all have access to the hospitality of an inclusive table, where we remember the generosity of the host who invites us to table, symbolising God inviting us to the feast of his Kingdom. While everyone is welcome at the banquet, here Jesus spells out the cost of discipleship for all – though perhaps the cost will seem higher for those with most economic and social connections. He is asking us to use our resources without expecting anything in return, our giving must be carefully planned; to try and be part of the kingdom without counting the cost would be foolish. This all leads to reflection about choices we have. With God’s creation, there are many voices to listen to – firstly those living with the consequences of climate change and environmental destruction right now, but also scientists, economists, campaigners, theologians, and future generations. We find answers in the generosity of God, who gives us creation to be part of and relationships in which we flourish and learn. We find more answers when we recognise as sisters and brothers people from all across the world. We can listen to their stories, as they tell us now how their lives are affected by climate change and environmental destruction, as they bear witness to death and adversity because of issues around land and water. Even if we can’t find such positive motivation, there should also be enough fear of the dire consequences for all the world, including our part of it, if we do nothing.

 

Week Three Sunday 15th September 2019

Lost and Found: Luke 15. 1-10

Here the Pharisees are grumbling about Jesus’s association with tax collectors and sinners – those outside the circle of social acceptance. In response, Jesus replies with three parables, the parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin followed by the parable of the prodigal son. The two parables in this week’s reading, the lost sheep and the lost coin, take place in an outdoor setting and within the home; the rural landscape and the domestic scene. Both are part of the wider picture, Jesus ‘ mission and ours is not limited to spiritual salvation only but has to do with the well being of the whole human environment, society and the natural world. Here the focus is on those who have lost their way, and indeed includes stories of economic hardship in the loss of a valuable animal and a silver coin, part of a dowry inheritance. Those that celebrate God’s world and seek to care for it through practical action are a cause for divine rejoicing, as they return to the fold of the good shepherd. Like the good shepherd, the Lord seeks out those who have strayed and calls them to change their ways and start caring for the earth again. The issues of climate change, water crisis, deforestation, air pollution, food waste, loss of biodiversity, and many other sustainability problems are real challenges that cannot be solved by politics and technology alone. It depends on us. Luke, as Mark, does not envision so much of the restoration of the current temple or the creation of a new one. Instead, the work of God’s Spirit can be fully embodied in the community of believers, who live out and call others to receive his word and embrace his ways.

Week Four Sunday 22nd September 2019

The Dishonest Manager or The Shrewd Steward Luke 16. 1-13

What would you like to call this parable? This parable set in the business world of first -century Palestine is one of those passages that makes us all sit up and ask questions. Money is, however much we would like to think otherwise, very much central in our lives. Try going without for a while, and the point strikes home. This doesn’t mean we have to worship it; few people serve only money and wealth for its own sake - usually what draws us on, is what it can buy or what it stands for in terms of status. So let’s grasp the nettle. ‘ Churches sometimes struggle to connect with the lived experience in the workplace, or with work transitions and managing money….. we need ‘to look at our ideas of what economic values are important’. ( Revd Peter Sellick, Chair of Workplace Chaplaincy Mission UK and Director of CIGB Workplace Chaplaincy in Birmingham.) In our capitalist, neo-liberal society, economics is presented as objective and quantifiable, best left to distant experts and as a problem to be solved through new technologies and market efficiency. What happens if we begin to consider what economic values are important for human flourishing; how can we share resources that help us to join in with God’s redemption of the economic landscape ? How we can live on this planet in a sustainable way while preserving its biodiversity and maintaining healthy, just, and liveable communities Can we use mammon and the marketplace as a ladder in drawing closer to God’s Kingdom? The Bible is fairly clear in saying that the only way money does you any good is by giving it away to others who need it more. Jesus' command to the rich man to give everything away to be one of the most challenging yet compelling moments in the Gospel. We might struggle to reconcile modern capitalism with Jesus' views about money, but the money we own is powerful and we can use it to do good or to do harm. Individuals and communities can have a massive collective impact on the world economy as a force for good. Jesus shows us the power of a relationship economy; a relationship with God; a relationship with all God’s people and with all of humanity. He especially includes those often excluded – the socially marginalised, the racially different, the disabled, the economically-disadvantaged. His goal is building the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of heaven here and now.

Week Five Sunday 29th September 2019

Dives and Lazarus: wealth and poverty Luke 16.19 -31

In the story of the ‘Rich Man (Dives) and Lazarus’, Jesus was speaking to the Pharisees who were ridiculing Jesus about what he said on idolizing wealth over the worship of God. This parable is about poverty and wealth, and focuses on the beggar at the gate of a rich man, who seems unaware of the problems of the poor and homeless as he passes by everyday, dressed sumptuously in fine clothes and enjoying his abundant daily feasts. Lazarus is pestered by dogs licking his sores as he waits, hungry for a few crumbs from the rich man’s table. It could be a parable of today. When death comes to both Lazarus and the rich man there is a great reversal of circumstances. Lazarus it seems, does have some friends, the angels, who carry him to the loving and intimate company of Abraham, the model of Old Testament hospitality, the hospitality he never received from the rich man. The rich man is dismissed abruptly; dead and buried, he ends up in Hades. .The conclusion of the parable is a reminder that those who are attentive to the Scriptures and to the Word of God in Jesus , the One risen from the dead, will also be attentive to the poor. We listen to this parable in our church communities, with our ‘brothers and sisters’ in Christ; but do we then ignore the world around us. In our liturgical celebration are we in a safe and comfortable ‘ gated’ community separated from the poor ‘ outside’ ? Each week we pray ‘Thy Kingdom Come’ and Scriptures tell us that this is a Kingdom that belongs to the poor, the liberated, excluded, forgiven sinners. We pray for bread, forgiveness, deliverance and anticipate the Kingdom, thy kingdom come where the bread we need is for all and should be shared with those who have none. We also recognise the importance of ecological issues, alongside social justice and economic justice issues, and an ecological crisis driven along by the pursuit of economic growth regardless of the cost to the environment. Economic liberalism, with its erosion of social bonds, undervaluing of human relationships and tendency to short-terminism has led to a tendency for people to prioritize their own economic interests in competition with fellow human beings with whom they feel no essential bond of solidarity; so its no wonder that social problems follow. We know that we live in the in-between times, anticipating a kingdom which has not yet come. The Church on earth is also a historical reality, it is exposed to the ambiguities of all human history and therefore needs constant repentance and renewal in order to respond fully to its vocation. A challenge may be made to bring the Christian faith into every day of the week through such activity as social justice campaigning, support for Fairtrade, ethical business investments or responsible voting. We can engage in practical matters such as recycling, food waste management, reducing our energy consumption and turning to renewable sources. We can catch the bus, take the train or walk rather than jumping into our cars. There are real and hard challenges here for all Christian churches and the thought that we can change even a little to rebalance both our own lifestyles and the planet, would lift morale and encourage others to engage in the world as Christ’s light.

Conclusion Season of Creation 2019 Luke 14 -16 Post Script:

Creationtide begins on 1st September, the beginning of the Church Year in the Eastern Orthodox Church. This day is now dedicated to prayer for the environment. It concludes on 4th October , considered in most churches to be the feast of St. Francis of Assisi. The Catholic Encyclical letter, Laudate Si’, on care for our common home was published in 2015. We know that the pope chose his name because of St. Francis of Assisi, and Saint Francis is in fact a continuous reference throughout the encyclical and the relationship between care for creation and care for the poor is a leitmotiv. Indeed, critical expressions of the ecological crisis – pollution, climate change, the water crisis, the loss of biodiversity ( pp.20-31) are closely connected with poverty and inequality. ‘ A true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor’ ( pp.49).

Sermons for Creationtide by Guest Contributor, Christine Jack

 Christine has a Master's degree in Theology and a degree in Education, and has a PG certificate in Christian Spirituality, including biblical hermeneutics and eco-theology. Reader -trained, she has served in three parishes, and also overseas in the Church of Ceylon, the Christian Church in Sri Lanka. She has co-taught on the Reader-training courses in the Diocese of Leeds, and is a member of the Yorkshire Liturgists Group. Christine now works ecumenically with Churches Together in Harrogate, Zero Carbon Harrogate and on Leeds Diocesan Synod.