Proper 21

25th September 2022 (readings below)

Reflection 

‘Take hold of the life that really is life’. That is an interesting thought! Are there some forms or maybe approaches to life that are not real? That perhaps are fake? Or shallow or incomplete?

We are often encouraged to live in the moment, to enjoy the now and not worry about the future. Jeremiah takes a different tack. He and his companions are within the besieged city of Jerusalem, the opposing armies are at their gates. Maybe there isn’t anything to enjoy in the present moment. But Jeremiah can envisage a brighter future, one in which their way of life will be restored in Jerusalem- and his certainty about this comes from his trust in, and knowledge of, God. And he demonstrates his certainty by buying a piece of land – a piece of land that is about to be overrun by the invading forces – confident that he (or his descendants) will be able to occupy it in future time of peace. Jeremiah’s actions enact and confirm his faith that his life is lived in God’s hands.

The Psalmist is equally confident that real life is life lived with God. It is a life he lives in the confidence that God will be both a refuge and a protector. It is a life lived in the certainty that we are in relationship with God that is bound together by love. 

The author of the Letter to Timothy offers straight forward advice that we should live lives of godliness and contentment, spurning the temptations of riches, wealth and pointless desires. A good life is one lived with God, pursuing the virtues of godliness – following the path laid out before us by Christ Jesus.  Finding joy and being contented with what we have, is the message of Joy in Enough – a Christian campaign developed by Green Christian that works through churches to advocate for a fair and green economy. Joy in Enough calls for an economy that prioritises wellbeing and the common good, in which all have enough, and that respects the boundaries of nature.’ As well as proving a wealth of resources,  Joy in Enough also has a group study programme called Plenty! For enough can be plenty!

But what if people don’t have enough? Today’s gospel highlights the vast divide that can exist between those who have more than enough and those who do not have anything like enough. The parable illustrates how easily those of with more than enough can be blind to the lack faced by others. Currently charities and NGOs are pressing for the establishment of a Loss and Damage Fund that would pay reparations to communities who suffering loss through the effects of the climate change and with a particular awareness that often those who are suffering most have contributed least to the climate crisis. The call is for the United Nations to set up such a fund that would be financed by donations from wealthy countries, by taxes in fossil fuel companies, by taxes on air travel etc. 

‘Take hold of the life that really is life’. Is the life we live at present really the life God wishes? Is life where there is such poverty faced by people in the Horn of Africa, in Afghanistan and in the Indian subcontinent, really life? Is life where the rich have multiple homes and multiple cars, and can earn more in an hour that the poor do in a year, really life? Is life where the rich can buy influence in politics whilst  protestors are being silenced, really life? 

Should we not be like Jeremiah and living out in the present the future life we know to be real, the future life we know God desires? Do we not as Christians have a vision of a better world where life is real for all? Real life where there is no poverty but a fair sharing of resources and opportunities. Real life where power is not abused. Real life where all have a voice that is heard. Real life where creation is cared for. Real life where God is known by all and all know they are loved. We do not need to be conformed to the ways of the world but rather to the ways of the kingdom of God – that which we pray for every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.

Jeremiah bought a field. What actions could we take to demonstrate our confidence in life that is real? There will be a multiplicity of responses, some will be our one individual responses and others those of the church as a corporate body, whether at the parish or diocesan level. An increasing number of churches are reshaping their lives to become Eco Churches. There are currently 896 Bronze, 294 Silver, and 18 Gold churches and that is just in the Church of England. In view of the acute necessity of drastically reducing carbon emissions some dioceses have sold off all their shares in fossil fuel companies, and many churches have pledged  to avoid any such investments. Faced with accounts of poverty here in the UK and abroad, many churches support food banks and night shelters, promote fair trade goods, and raise funds for Christian Aid etc. At the recent Lambeth Conference the bishops agreed to undertake to plant a Communion Forest with individuals, churches and dioceses being encouraged to plant tree to help safeguard the environment.

The first Christians, according to Acts, sold what they had in order to share their wealth more equitably – “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home[a] and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:46-47) Others who encountered them were amazed!

I’m not sure we are in a position to be so radical but could we not live closer to that ideal? Can we take joy in enough? Can we be contented with less and thus willing to share more?  Can we do more to campaign for the rights of others – for social justice, for climate justice, for racial justice, for tax justice? 

Jeremiah 32:1-3a, 6-15

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord in the tenth year of King Zedekiah of Judah, which was the eighteenth year of Nebuchadrezzar. At that time the army of the king of Babylon was besieging Jerusalem, and the prophet Jeremiah was confined in the court of the guard that was in the palace of the king of Judah, where King Zedekiah of Judah had confined him.

Jeremiah said, The word of the Lord came to me: Hanamel son of your uncle Shallum is going to come to you and say, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth, for the right of redemption by purchase is yours.” Then my cousin Hanamel came to me in the court of the guard, in accordance with the word of the Lord, and said to me, “Buy my field that is at Anathoth in the land of Benjamin, for the right of possession and redemption is yours; buy it for yourself.” Then I knew that this was the word of the Lord.

And I bought the field at Anathoth from my cousin Hanamel, and weighed out the money to him, seventeen shekels of silver. I signed the deed, sealed it, got witnesses, and weighed the money on scales. Then I took the sealed deed of purchase, containing the terms and conditions, and the open copy; and I gave the deed of purchase to Baruch son of Neriah son of Mahseiah, in the presence of my cousin Hanamel, in the presence of the witnesses who signed the deed of purchase, and in the presence of all the Judeans who were sitting in the court of the guard. In their presence I charged Baruch, saying, Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Take these deeds, both this sealed deed of purchase and this open deed, and put them in an earthenware jar, in order that they may last for a long time. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.

Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16

1 He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High, *
abides under the shadow of the Almighty.

2 He shall say to the Lord,
“You are my refuge and my stronghold, *
my God in whom I put my trust.”

3 He shall deliver you from the snare of the hunter *
and from the deadly pestilence.

4 He shall cover you with his pinions,
and you shall find refuge under his wings; *
his faithfulness shall be a shield and buckler.

5 You shall not be afraid of any terror by night, *
nor of the arrow that flies by day;

6 Of the plague that stalks in the darkness, *
nor of the sickness that lays waste at mid-day.

14 Because he is bound to me in love,
therefore will I deliver him; *
I will protect him, because he knows my Name.

15 He shall call upon me, and I will answer him; *
I am with him in trouble;
I will rescue him and bring him to honour.

16 With long life will I satisfy him, *
and show him my salvation.

1 Timothy 6:6-19

There is great gain in godliness combined with contentment; for we brought nothing into the world, so that we can take nothing out of it; but if we have food and clothing, we will be content with these. But those who want to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains.

But as for you, man of God, shun all this; pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith; take hold of the eternal life, to which you were called and for which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. In the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who in his testimony before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you to keep the commandment without spot or blame until the manifestation of our Lord Jesus Christ, which he will bring about at the right time– he who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. It is he alone who has immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no one has ever seen or can see; to him be honour and eternal dominion. Amen.

As for those who in the present age are rich, command them not to be haughty, or to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but rather on God who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share, thus storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of the life that really is life.

Luke 16:19-31

Jesus said, “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate lay a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores. The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, `Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony. Besides all this, between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us.’ He said, `Then, father, I beg you to send him to my father’s house– for I have five brothers– that he may warn them, so that they will not also come into this place of torment.’ Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, `No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'”

Counting on … day 317 

23rd September 2022

We have just passed the equinox and are feeling the cooler air at the ends of the day. Heating our homes is one of the biggest components of our domestic carbon footprint. Autumn eases us into winter, allowing us time to adjust to,the colder weather, time to find out our woollies and our layers. Last autumn was mild and it was some weeks before we needed to think about switching on the heating. Why not see how long you can keep warm with out turning the heating on?

 Counting on … day 319

25th September 2022

In the garden it feels like a second spring as plants that have struggled during the heat, spring back with new green leaves and fresh flowers. While it is still warm, this is a good time to plant new plants or to divide up old ones. There is time for them to root in before the winter and to get them selfs well established before next summer’s heat wave. 

 Counting on… day 318 

24th September 2022

Manure and urine from farm animals is a major source of ammonia: in the UK 87% of ammonia released into the air comes from agriculture. Here ammonia reacts with other compounds in the air to form particulate matter that pollutes the air, irritating lungs and affect people’s breathing.  Ammonia also leads to the creation of smog, and the acidification of water and soil. It is harmful to plants and wildlife as well as humans. 

A particular concern at the moment is the health of the River Wye in Herefordshire. A large number of intensive chicken farms have been established in the Wye valley and the affluent from millions of chickens has created an algal bloom that is destroying the biodiversity of the river. 

This is another good reason for reducing our meat consumption. 

The Green Tau: issue 53

23rd September 2022

If we all went vegan what would happen to all the cows? 

This seems to be a frequent concern amongst those who are not vegan. If people didn’t eat meat or drink milk, would cows become extinct? 

The question is one of genuine concern but raises some other questions in response. For example what life does a cow have? Dairy cows will commence their milking life aged 2 when their first calf will be removed from her care within hours of birth.  She will then give birth once year, being milked for ten months producing quantities of milk (on average 8000 litres) greatly in excess of what a calf would consume. After 2.5 -4 years, when her milking yields drop, she will be slaughtered. The usual life expectancy of a cow is 20 years. Of her offspring, males calves will have a limited life to be slaughtered as veal at 5 – 7 months. Of her female calves most will follow in this mother’s footsteps unless they are deformed or ill, in which case they too will be slaughtered. 

Very few farmed cattle enjoy a full life. By contrast cattle kept on re-wilded land, although smaller in number, live a much more natural life. In the Lake District re-wilding projects are in place at Haweswater, Ennerdale and the Lowther Estate, whilst in Sussex there is the now famous Knepp Estate. According to Rewilding Britain 112,166 hectares of land are now part of a re-wilding project. 

So no, cows would not become extinct but would be kept in much smaller numbers – just as rare breeds of many farm animals are being conserved. 

In 2020 there were 9.36 million head of cattle in the UK. It was not always so! Originally there were only the early forebears of cattle, the aurochs. Overtime cattle were domesticated and as the human population of the UK grew so did the number of cattle. Selective breeding improved and diversified the      cattle with some favoured for milk production and others for meat. As the human and domestic animal populations increased, so the amount of uncultivated land and wildlife decreased: the auroch was hunted to extinction in the UK about 3000 years ago; the brown bear became extinct in the 6th century whilst the wolf hung on until the 17th century. What is true for the UK is also true world wide. Whilst once humans and domesticated animals were once nonexistent, they now comprise 36% and 60% of the biomass of all mammals, leaving just 4% as wild animals (biomass measures the quantity of a species by its mass rather than its numerical quantity).

Rather than it being a question of ‘what would happen to all the cows?’ perhaps the question should be ‘what has happened to all the wild animals?’ The State of Nature Report of 2019noted that since the 1970s, 41% of UK wildlife has declined, and that 26% of the UK’s mammals are at risk of becoming extinct. Re-wilding more of our land would help reverse this decline and allow for the reintroduction of lost species such as the lynx and the stork.

Globally 77% of agricultural land is used to feed livestock, including both grazing land and the land used to grow animal feed. In the UK 40% of the land (9.74 million hectares) comprisespermanent grazing, 6%  temporary grazing (1 – 5 years) and 5%  rough grazing. Only 20% of the land is used for arable crops. Even so home grown animal feed is supplemented by imports – somewhere in the region of 50%.

Globally the 77% of land used for grazing and feeding farm animals, produces only 18% of the world’s food calories. At the same time this major land use contributes more than half of the carbon footprint of our global food production. If everyone globally were to eat the same amount of meat as the average British person (approx 85g per day), then the amount of farm land needed would have to increase – putting even more pressure on natural habitats and wildlife. And if everyone were to eat as much meat as the average American, we would run out of land.

Reducing our consumption of meat and dairy products would release more arable land for growing more sustainably a great variety of plant-based proteins with the potential to improve the diets and health of billions of people world wide (subject to a radical improvement of trade and wealth distribution systems). Research the by the UN suggests that with fewer cases of lower coronary heart disease, strokes, type 2 diabetes and some cancers, a global vegan diet would also result in 8.1 million fewer deaths per year worldwide.

Britons have in fact already reduced their meat consumption by 17% over the last decade. The Government’s Food Strategy has the target of reducing that by 30% by 2030. This target has been set  in recognition of the adverse affect meat production has on both climate change and the environment, as well as the link between the consumption of red and processed meat the risk of developing cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer.

Looking to the future, there will be fewer cows – but hopefully they will be enjoying a happier life – and instead more land used to restore greater biodiversity. 

Further reading 

Prayers for Creation

Loss and Damage Day: 22nd September 

Surely no one would turn against the needy when they cry for help in their trouble. Job 30: 24

You Lord, are the source of all good things: 

We praise you.

You call us to tend and care for your creation: 

May we strive to do your will.

You have made us as brothers and sisters with all that lives: 

May we live together in peace.

A reading from Ezekiel 7:10-12 (from The Message)

“‘Judgment Day!    Fate has caught up with you.
The sceptre outsized and pretentious, pride bursting all bounds,
Violence strutting,    brandishing the evil sceptre.
But there’s nothing to them,    and nothing will be left of them.
Time’s up.    Countdown: five, four, three, two . . . 
Buyer, don’t boast; seller, don’t worry:    Judgment wrath has turned the world topsy-turvy.
The bottom has dropped out of buying and selling.    It will never be the same again.
But don’t fantasise an upturn in the market.    The country is bankrupt because of its sins,
    and it’s not going to get any better.

And a response, Exodus 22: 21-29a

 “Don’t abuse or take advantage of strangers; you, remember, were once strangers in Egypt.

“Don’t mistreat widows or orphans. If you do and they cry out to me, you can be sure I’ll take them most seriously; I’ll show my anger and come raging among you with the sword, and your wives will end up widows and your children orphans.

 “If you lend money to my people, to any of the down-and-out among you, don’t come down hard on them and gouge them with interest.

“If you take your neighbour’s coat as security, give it back before nightfall; it may be your neighbour’s only covering—what else does the person have to sleep in? And if I hear the neighbour crying out from the cold, I’ll step in—I’m compassionate.

 “Don’t curse God; and don’t damn your leaders.

 “Don’t be stingy as your vats fill up.

Intercessions:

Open our eyes to the plight of the people of

Nigeria, Italy, Uganda, South Sudan and Pakistan, 

for all whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed by floods, 

whose schools and hospitals have been overwhelmed, 

whose crops and livestock have been drowned.

Lord have mercy!

How can we stand back as our brothers and sisters suffer.

May our hearts and purses overflow with generosity.

Open our eyes to the plight of the people of 

Vanuatua and New Caledonia, of Madagascar and Mozambique, 

of Costa Rica, Nepal and Portugal,

for all whose homes and livelihoods have been destroyed by storms, 

where roads and public services have been overwhelmed, 

whose crops and livestock have been drowned.

Lord have mercy!

How can we stand back as our brothers and sisters suffer.

May our hearts and purses overflow with generosity.

Open our eyes to the plight of the people of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya, 

of Haiti, Afghanistan and Guatemala, 

for all whose face drought and starvation, 

for all whose harvests have cultivated in vain, 

for all who have no reserves to fall back on.

Lord have mercy!

How can we stand back as our brothers and sisters suffer.

May our hearts and purses overflow with generosity.

Open our eyes to the plight of the people of Angola, of the Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi and Sierra Leone, of Ecuador and Tonga, 

for all whose economies are ravaged by debt, 

whose infrastructure suffers neglect as money is sidelined for interest repayments,

 where future investment is blighted.

Lord have mercy!

How can we stand back as our brothers and sisters suffer.

May our hearts and purses overflow with generosity.

With penitence, we acknowledge our ignorance and callousness.

With humility, we seek to make amends.

With God’s grace, we seek a new future of care and justice for all creation. 

 Amen. 

Counting on … day 316

22nd September 2022

Today the world marks Loss and Damage Day. The Guardian this week reported that the issue of how to help poor nations suffering from the most extreme impacts of climate breakdown – loss and Damage- is one of the most contentious problems in climate negotiations. The UN general assembly is being asked to set up a  “climate-related and justice-based” global tax, as a way of funding an insurance policy that would pay out to affected nations. You can support this objective by signing Christian Aid’s petition:  https://www.christianaid.org.uk/get-involved/campaigns/loss-and-damage-petition

For more information on loss and damage see: https://greentau.org/2022/08/10/green-tau-issue-47/

Counting on … day 315

21st September 2022

Despite understandings made at last year’s COP26 to reduce the carbon emissions – halving them by 2030 and achieving net zero by 2050 – the UK government is preparing to approve the Rosebank oil field – the biggest undeveloped oil field in the North Sea. If these two seem totally irreconcilable to you, do sign this petition:- https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/stoprosebank/?link_id=11&can_id=a3029987c1ac6171de26390e6aabf63f&source=email-thats-a-wrap-stopjackdaw-week-of-action-2&email_referrer=email_1671196&email_subject=we-have-a-new-fight-on-our-hands-_-stoprosebank

Counting on… day 314

20th September 2022

Do you need a waste bin? How many of the things you might throw away are recyclable/ compostable? When you have finished with something can it go straight into a recycling bin? At home anything that really cannot be recycled goes straight into the dust bin outside. It fills slowly and needs emptying by the council perhaps once or twice a year.

 Counting on …day 313

19th September 2022 

Prayer walking or walking prayer is a way of calming the soul and focusing the mind on God through the gift of creation. It can be mindful, slow walk that allows you to pay attention to the natural world – however humble – and so to be drawn into the presence of God. The poet writer Ian Adams, in Running Over Rocks, terms it as Terra Divina.


You can find an extract from the book about Terra Divina here: 

http://www.unforcedrhythms.org/contemplative-spirituality/terra-divina/