Laudate Si: discussion notes 3

“…humanity has changed profoundly, and the accumulation of constant novelties exalts a superficiality which pulls us in one direction… Let us refuse to resign ourselves to this, and continue to wonder about the purpose and meaning of everything.” Section 113

  1. Let’s wonder. What is the purpose and meaning of creation? 

2. Is creation God’s gift to us to do with it what ever we want? 

Has it been given to us so that we can benefit from it, in return for tending it?

Has it been given to us so that we can continue to work with God as co-creators of a still evolving creation?

3. Is creation a stockpile of resources from which we can pick and choose individual bits with no regard for the rest?

If we harvest all the sand eels to make fish oils, do we have a responsibility for puffins and other creatures that rely on sand eels for food?

If we chop down the forest to create grazing land, do we have a responsibility for plants and animals that will die because the land will dry out?

If we replace jungle with palm oil plantations, do we have a responsibility to re-home the orang-utans who lived there?

4. In an ideal world, governments would collaborate and legislate to protect the environment, and to prevent such abuse and misuse of resources. As we do not live in such a world, what can we as individuals and as groups do to protect the environment?

5. Pope Francis reminds us, section 115, that not only has God given us the earth, God has also given us the gift of our fellow human beings. Do we treat them any better than the way we treat rest of creation? 

Can you think of examples of humans been treated as commodities, or as a means to an end?

6. If we fail to treat all human beings with respect and care, are we surprised that humans struggle to care for the environment?

7. Conversely can we properly care for the environment, if we do not also care for the humans who inhabit the same space? 

Can we protect African elephants unless we also pay attention to the needs of the local farmers and businesses who occupy the same land? Can we protect mangroves from clearance for shrimp fisheries unless we provide alternative employment opportunities? Can we rewild grouse moors unless we provide alternative employment for local people?

8. Pope Francis, in section 124, reminds us that God created the first humans not to do nothing, but to tend and till the earth, ie to work. Their work was to assist what grew in the garden and to benefit each other’s well being – and presumably that of the animals too. To work gainfully is a Godly calling – a vocation – for humanity. 

In what ways do you feel that your life fulfils that vocation?

9. “Work should be the setting for this rich personal growth, where many aspects of life enter into play: creativity, planning for the future, developing our talents, living out our values, relating to others, giving glory to God.” Section 127

Do all people have access to such opportunities? Do all people find in their work the means of glorifying God? What prevents people experiencing work in these ways?

Could it equally be that case that some people become so overwhelmed by work, that these benefits are lost?

10. We are learning to understand the concept of sustainable development, and of the sustainable use of resources. Should we also be thinking in terms of sustainable employment?

What might that look like? How might it give a sense of meaning and purpose to life?

11. How might we measure this? In terms of a living wage, of job satisfaction, of the degree of autonomy in making decisions, quality of the working environment, levels of team work and co working?

12. How might we as residents of a comfortable suburb, enable or promote sustainable employment for a greater number of people? 

What questions or reassurances might we seek from employers and producers? How might we use our purchasing power to good effect?

Thank you God

for giving us a vocation 

to be tillers and carers of the earth.

Remind us that it is a vocation we share with 

all that lives on this planet

so that we may be attentive to the needs and gifts of all.

Amen

Sunday Reflection

29th August 2021

Proper 17: Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9, Psalm 15, James 1:17-27, Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23

Reflection 

Today’s passage from Deuteronomy talks in terms of statutes and ordinances, but what the people are being urged to do is to embrace the Torah as the key non negotiable summation of their life. Whilst we often translate the word ‘Torah’ as law it is something more fluid in meaning than the rigidity that law suggests. The word in Hebrew has the meaning of instruction or  guidance, or of teaching – of that which flows, say, from the teacher to the disciple, from the parent to the child or above all, from God to God’s people.  It can be seen as a concept that describes the relation between God and God’s people. Through the Torah God’s expresses the desire that people should live lives that are good, happy, loving, wise and productive. 

The Torah is also used to name the first five books of the Hebrew Bible: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. These five books lay out the story of Gods early relationships with the earth and with human kind and with the Hebrew people in particular. As well as describing this history, it  includes laws – statutes and ordinances – that concern both daily life and community life, worship and relationships with God, farming practices, justice etc. Further on in Deuteronomy we hear of the very practical requirements such as setting aside a portion of all they produced – a tithe – to support the vulnerable in their communities and those unable to provide for themselves (Deut 14:28-29). And we hear very spiritual commands: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. (Deut 6:4)

Whilst today’s passage talks about statutes and rules as if they were rigid, un-moveable, it helps in our understanding of the overarching nature of the Torah, if we remember that the Book of Deuteronomy is itself a revision of the laws written in Exodus, Leviticus and Numbers, written for the needs of the nation in the 8th century BCE. It is the loving relationship that God desires that is eternal, whilst the nature of rules is to evolve. In today’s psalm the Psalmist looks at how one finds a right relationship between God and human by observing the characteristics of a person who is living close to Go’s. That person is the one who live ‘a blameless life and does what is right, who speaks the truth from his heart’. The Psalmist then adds some flesh to this describing how this person lives their life. 

Here we might also recall from last week’s Gospel the words of Simon Peter, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

This thought is echoed in the words of the Letter of James, for ‘every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures’. The gifts of loving and learning and all that shapes our lives, flows to us from God so that we may live as God’s intended creation. 

James sees this as a gift that is only of benefit if it is acted upon, if it is built into the fabric of life. If it remains just as words, its benefit is non-existent. This seems to be at the nub of the argument between Jesus and his opponents in today’s gospel. If the law is honoured just as a set of words, but has no impact on the quality of life, has no positive impact on the way we love one another, has no benefit in sustaining our creation as God’s people, the it is of not being observed in the way God intends. The gift that comes from God is pure and undefiled and when received and acted upon, produces blessings. It is how the gift is received and acted upon that is important  and when we hear the passage from Mark’s Gospel that is the difference between Jesus’ response and that of his opponents. 

It is when we spurn God’s gifts, ignore God’s teaching, that our lives become compromised by fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride and folly. It is when we see other humans, and other creatures, as opportunities for profit, that we cease to feel God’s love. It is when we ignore the needs of the vulnerable – the orphan and the widow, the refugees and the migrant, the wild bee and the tiger, the bluebell and the Amazon rainforest, the contract worker and the carer – that we see lives destroyed and habitats lost; deceit and prevarication in government and big businesses; short term economic policies that fail to address the climate crisis; a lack of vision and determination create polices that ensure protection of the environment, or set up a  sustainable care system.

Holy God, through Jesus you show us how to truly live life, how to fill our hearts with love so that love may shape the world in which we live, so bringing your kingdom on earth to be as it is in heaven. 

Amen. 

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