Second Sunday before Lent

20th February 2022

Genesis 2:4b-9, 15-25In

In the day that the Lord God made the earth and the heavens, when no plant of the field was yet in the earth and no herb of the field had yet sprung up—for the Lord God had not caused it to rain upon the earth, and there was no one to till the ground; but a stream would rise from the earth, and water the whole face of the ground— then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. And the Lord God planted a garden in Eden, in the east; and there he put the man whom he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food, the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it. And the Lord God commanded the man, ‘You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die.’

Then the Lord God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.’ So out of the ground the Lord God formed every animal of the field and every bird of the air, and brought them to the man to see what he would call them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. The man gave names to all cattle, and to the birds of the air, and to every animal of the field; but for the man there was not found a helper as his partner. So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man. Then the man said,
‘This at last is bone of my bones
   and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
   for out of Man this one was taken.’
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked, and were not ashamed.

Psalm 65 

To the leader. A Psalm of David. A Song.
Praise is due to you,
   O God, in Zion;
and to you shall vows be performed,
   O you who answer prayer!
To you all flesh shall come.
When deeds of iniquity overwhelm us,
   you forgive our transgressions.
Happy are those whom you choose and bring near
   to live in your courts.
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
   your holy temple. 


By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance,
   O God of our salvation;
you are the hope of all the ends of the earth
   and of the farthest seas.
By your strength you established the mountains;
   you are girded with might.
You silence the roaring of the seas,
   the roaring of their waves,
   the tumult of the peoples.
Those who live at earth’s farthest bounds are awed by your signs;
you make the gateways of the morning and the evening shout for joy. 


You visit the earth and water it,
   you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
   you provide the people with grain,
   for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
   settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
   and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
   your wagon tracks overflow with richness.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
   the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
   the valleys deck themselves with grain,
   they shout and sing together for joy.

Revelation 4

After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! And the one seated there looks like jasper and cornelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,
‘Holy, holy, holy,
the Lord God the Almighty,
   who was and is and is to come.’
And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,
‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,
   to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
   and by your will they existed and were created.’

Luke 8:22-25

One day Jesus  got into a boat with his disciples, and he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side of the lake.’ So they put out, and while they were sailing he fell asleep. A gale swept down on the lake, and the boat was filling with water, and they were in danger. They went to him and woke him up, shouting, ‘Master, Master, we are perishing!’ And he woke up and rebuked the wind and the raging waves; they ceased, and there was a calm. He said to them, ‘Where is your faith?’ They were afraid and amazed, and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even the winds and the water, and they obey him?’

Reflection

The small fishing boat caught in the midst of a storm is at risk of capsizing and its crew of drowning. At Jesus’s word the storm is calmed and the danger averted. His disciples are astonished. They had not expected this outcome: perhaps in waking Jesus they had been hoping for some words of comfort before they drowned. Or may they had woken him so that he too might have time to prepare for his death. ‘Who is this,’ they ask, ‘that he commands even the winds and the water and they obey?’ 

The control of the elements belongs to God. Yet as this story reminds us, Jesus, as much as he is of human flesh, he is also of God. 

 All our readings today remind us that God is the creator, the one who created the earth and all life that flourishes therein. And it reminds us of our role as humans and God’s expectation of us. The story from Genesis tells us that God specifically created humans to till and keep the earth, to ensure its continuing flourishing. Gods has created a regenerative earth that abounds with life such that it is self sustaining providing food and nourishment for all. 

The psalm exhorts  us that to God is due both praise and the performance of vows. This is balanced by the reminder that God is the source of our hope and  salvation – and then describes the wonder and bounty of nature with which Gods has endowed the world. This is a world of joyful abundance . 

Even the passage from Revelation extols the wonders of God’s creation. Seen through the lens of a spiritual vision, the writer sees heaven as a place where God is endlessly praised by and for all that is created.

So what of our world in the 21st century? Destructive winds and storms we certainly know about even here in London. Earlier this month Boston, USA, received a record snowfall of over 60cm with gusting winds that brought temperatures down to -28C. In Australia monsoon rains resulted in 381mm falling over night in Queensland. Tropical Storm Ana caused nearly 80 deaths in Madagascar, Mozambique, and Malawi  as well as displacing 160, 000 people. Whilst this week heavy rains in Brazil caused a landslide that has killed at least 94 people. In California 66 of the state is now affected by severe drought, and the risk of further wild fires. 

All around we are seeing the affects of human-made climate change. We cannot control the wind and the waves, but we can wreak devastation. Where is God in this? Does God hear our cries that we are perishing?

Yes, God does here our cries, and the cries of creation. God knows the fear and pain being suffered. God does not will storms or destruction, floods or droughts. God does not override the wind and the waves. God does not control humans as if we were automatons. Rather God desires that we tend and care for the world around us, that we learn from and understand the workings of creation, that we cease those activities that cause harm and damage.  Scientists have been studying the causes of climate change over the last 50 plus years. They have been modelling future effects of human activity and how we can alter our behaviour to constrain the worsening effects of the crisis. International groups, even governments, have accepted the validity and necessity of achieving net zero carbon emissions by 2050 – not to stop extreme weather events but to keep them within such limits that those who are vulnerable  can be protected. God is certainly there at the heart of these endeavours. 

‘Where is your faith?’ Jesus asked his companions. And today that is still his question: Where is our faith? Do we place our faith in God, in the wisdom of creation, in the knowledge discerned by scientists? If so, then why are we not taking all necessary steps to reduce our carbon emissions, to achieve net zero? Why are we not providing the finances to enable everyone to take part, whether that is those in this country who cannot meet the cost of insulating their houses, or buy sustainably produced food, or afford the cost of rail travel? Why are we not providing the finance marginalised countries who don’t have the capital to switch to renewables, who are ill-equipped to cope with storms and floods, who can’t meet the cost of adaptation, who can’t afford to develop new farming techniques? 

Or is it that we place our faith in human ego, in human independence? Is it that we place our faith in the motivation of profit? Is it that we find ourselves trapped in the iniquity of systems? Systems that promote short term gain over long term well being? Systems that trap the poor and the vulnerable? Systems that can’t envisage change?

Let us resolve to place our faith in God. God created the world, and as part of it, humanity. By studying how the world works, how ecosystems develop and thrive, we learn how to live sustainably and in harmony with creation. We learn how to live as God desires. Continuing to live lives that destroy habitats, that diminish the world’s biodiversity, that consume resources faster than they can be renewed, is to live in opposition to God’s will. Where we struggle is that as individuals, however much we try to live sustainably and in harmony with God, we cannot outweigh the contri effects of those who choose not to live sustainably, who choose to ignore God’s will. Often these are not individuals but are companies, governments and systems. 

We need to pray for these situations, to pray for for a softening of hearts and a change of disposition. To pray for those who are suffering. To pray for the strengthening of those who strive to do what is right.  We need to be prophetic, to call out the wrong where we see it, to challenge misplaced convention and tradition, to raise awareness of what is right and what is wrong. We need to join forces one with another to make our voices heard and make our message credible. And for this we need faith.  Like yeast in dough, like the mustard seed in the soil, faith can grow and work miracles.

Author: Judith Russenberger

Environmentalist and theologian, with husband and three grown up children plus one cat, living in London SW14. I enjoy running and drinking coffee - ideally with a friend or a book.

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