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.