Proper 19

11th September 2022

Reflection 

The Church world wide is currently marking Creation-tide, and this first reading from Jeremiah could not be more pertinent. It sounds like prophecy for us today warning us of the impending climate crisis and decrying our foolishness in not taking action to ch age the way we behave.

Today’s gospel has two very familiar stories, that of The Lost Sheep and of The Lost Coin. (It was lucky that the woman chose to clean her house with a broom and not a vacuum cleaner!)

In the parables, both protagonists  make a concerted effort to find what they have lost and don’t give up until they are successful. Whilst the parables are told in response to criticism that Jesus eats with sinners, there is no suggestion that the lost sheep or the lost coin are in any way different from the other of their ilk. This perhaps reminds us that what ever we think of ourselves, we are all at heart the same, we are all sinners. God wants to save us all. God wants everything and everyone to be included in the Kingdom. If this is God’s commitment, then what is our reciprocal commitment to the everyone and everything of this earth? 

Each week we assert our belief that God is the creator of earth as well as heaven, yet humanity is weekly destroying what God has made. So far the world has seen five mass extinctions in which a high proportion of the earth’s biodiversity has been wiped out. The last such occurred 65.5 million years ago in which the dinosaurs became extinct. Scientists now reckon that we are on track for a 6th mass extinction which unlike the others, will be manmade. Currently 1 million species are facing extinction because of human activity. 

1 in 3 species of trees are facing extinction, including our native ash tree. According to a report by Kew Gardens in 2020,  two fifths of all plants face extinction (up on one in five in 2016). Researchers fear that we may be losing plant species more quickly than science can find, name and study them. Here in the UK one in ten wildlife species are facing extinction, including Scottish wild cats, pine martens, sky larks, natterjack toads and numerous moths, butterflies and beetles. 

Yet it doesn’t have to be this way. There are ongoing projects that show that conservation and reintroduction projects can help restore vulnerable populations. Creating wildlife corridors and joining together existing protected sites does boost biodiversity. Farming less intensively and with consideration for wildlife does help. Rewilding can amazing lead to the re-emerging of forgotten or lost ecosystems. The need for protection and conservation doesn’t just include land but the oceans too. Currently negotiations are underway – although they are struggling – to create a treaty that would protect 30% of the oceans and their biomass by 2030. Later this year there will be two more  COPs – global conferences, one focussed on containing the climate crisis, and one focusing on biodiversity. 

God’s concern is for everything and everyone, and our concern should be likewise. How are we responding to the plight of people in Pakistan whose homes and livelihoods have been washed away? How do respond to the plight of people likewise affected in Uganda, South Sudan, Senegal and Sierra Leone where exceptionally heavy seasonal rain has caused flooding? How do we respond to the plight of millions faced with hunger and starvation as the Horn of Africa enters its fifth year of drought? How do we respond to the pleas for assistance from small island states in the Pacific where rising sea levels are a major threat for where the highest land is only 2m above sea level?

How can we as Christians stand by and let these things happen unremarked upon and with no intervention? Charities and NGOs do provide some support and Christian Aid is currently launching a new drive to tackle climate injustice. Governments can – and should – be making a difference but can be slow and lacking in generosity. Many Christians are making a difference in their local areas, supporting work with food banks, supporting people faced with homelessness, and this winter we may see help being provided to create warm spaces. 

I think the message of Jesus’s parable is that whatever efforts we do make to go safeguard and support those at risk, those who are vulnerable and those who are lost, we need to do so with persistence. We need to be able to carry on protecting biodiversity, tackling climate change and reducing our carbon footprint, giving generously to those in need, lobbying governments to live up to expectation, volunteering  or however it is we pursue ways of bringing God’s rule into play here on earth. But equally, as in the parable, we need to celebrate each success we achieve and invite others to share in that celebrating. We are in this together, both us and God and all the heavenly angels!

Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28

At that time it will be said to this people and to Jerusalem: A hot wind comes from me out of the bare heights in the desert toward my poor people, not to winnow or cleanse– a wind too strong for that. Now it is I who speak in judgment against them.

“For my people are foolish,
they do not know me;

they are stupid children,
they have no understanding.

They are skilled in doing evil,
but do not know how to do good.”

I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.

I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.

I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.

I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.

For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.

Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;

for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.

Psalm 14

1 The fool has said in his heart, “There is no God.” *
All are corrupt and commit abominable acts;
there is none who does any good.

2 The Lord looks down from heaven upon us all, *
to see if there is any who is wise,
if there is one who seeks after God.

3 Every one has proved faithless;
all alike have turned bad; *
there is none who does good; no, not one.

4 Have they no knowledge, all those evildoers *
who eat up my people like bread
and do not call upon the Lord?

5 See how they tremble with fear, *
because God is in the company of the righteous.

6 Their aim is to confound the plans of the afflicted, *
but the Lord is their refuge.

7 Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come out of Zion! *
when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people,
Jacob will rejoice and Israel be glad.

1 Timothy 1:12-17

I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners– of whom I am the foremost. But for that very reason I received mercy, so that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display the utmost patience, making me an example to those who would come to believe in him for eternal life. To the King of the ages, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory forever and ever. Amen.

Luke 15:1-10

All the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, `Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbours, saying, `Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”

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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