The Green Tau: issue 25

Murdo Madleod/ The Guardian

8th December 2021

The first issue of Green Tau included a quote from  Paul’s Letter to the Romans – “Hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). – and a quote from the Guardian: “Change is Possible. hope is Power.”

This issue was written looking forwards – without much optimism – to COP26. Six month later I am not sure much has changed. 

But there still has hope. As long as we have hope, however small, then there is something to strive for. Later in his letter Paul suggests that by its nature what we hope for is something we can’t see, for if we could see it, what would our hope be about? (Romans 8:24). Here I think I disagree with Paul. I think in order to have hope we have to have some idea of what it is we are hoping for, however vague or indistinct that vision might be. If our hope is for life after death, we have to have some – however tenuous – understanding of what that life might be: eg a life free of fear and pain, a life of joy etc.

In terms of the climate crisis, I think we have to have some kind of vision, some sort of imagination, of what the world would be like if we could alleviate the crises. Perhaps a vision of  a world where there are great expanses and multiple pockets of re wilded landscape; a world teeming with different plant and animal species; a world of clean air and un-polluted water; a world where there are no extremes of wealth and poverty; a world where there is neither industrial farming nor industrial fishing … and so on. If we didn’t have any such vision, then we what would be hoping for? And if we had nothing to hope for, why would we bother trying to change things?

Hope is important because it becomes our inspiration, a catalyst, a source of energy. And hope that is shared multiplies it’s effect. As a group sharing one hope, we can share the burden of keeping that little flame of hope alive. We can share the load of working for change. We can back each other. We can become each other’s supporters. We can take turns carry each other when the effort becomes too overwhelming. 

It is therefore important that we come together with our neighbours, with our church and faith communities, with local campaign groups, business groups – and work together and share the vision . 

One such group of local businesses came together in Glasgow to create a visual sign, a sculpture, of what hope was, post COP26. “The Hope Sculpture started as a conversation with Ramboll and became a gift from 50 companies to Glasgow. It is a testament to the power of collaboration and dedication to deliver a better future” said the artist Steuart Padwick. His sculpture comprises a 20m tall beacon, on top of which is a child. The child’s arms reach out as if embracing its surroundings, hopeful of a green, better future. It is constructed using low carbon, reclaimed, recycled or sustainable materials, of which, almost all were locally sourced. (https://ramboll.com/media/rgr/gift-of-hope-low-carbon-sculptures-legacy-to-glasgow-and-cop26)

We are often reminded in the Bible how cause and effect spread between generations. From the Book of Exodus when the people are embarking on a new life travelling with God into a new land, a journey surrounded by threat but focused on a great hope for a better future: “I, the LORD, am a God who is full of compassion and pity, who is not easily angered and who shows great love and faithfulness. I keep my promise for thousands of generations and forgive evil and sin; but I will not fail to punish children and grandchildren to the third and fourth generation for the sins of their parents.” Exodus 34: 6-7. And in the prophetic words of Mary in the Gospel of Luke, as once again humanity begins a new journey and a new relationship with God: “He shows mercy from generation to generation to all who honour him”. Luke 1: 50 

What we do now in our time will have consequence for generations to come. And maybe that is where  our hope does the environment, for the world, has to lie. We will not turn round the crises we face in one generation. We can only be the instigators of a new way of life, a new journey, that will have repercussions for generations to come. To keep our hope alive, maybe we also need some short term projects where we will be able to see effort rewarded. One of the Advent readings from Isaiah was not a prophesy for the long term, foretelling the coming of the saviour, and for the short term, foretelling a time of peace that would come about in a matter of years.  

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the virgin is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel.  He shall eat curds and honey by the time he knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good.  For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted”. Isaiah 7:13-16.

Maybe we need to focus too on changes that we can bring about by the time this year’s new borns are  eating solid foods – or maybe at primary school learning about right and wrong, giving us a five year time frame. Reducing the numbers of petrol and diesel vehicles on our roads and this reducing air pollution. Changing our UK diets such that eating meat is an occasional treat, leading to a reduction in the factory farming of animals, and an increase in land set aside for rewilding. Halving our carbon footprints, such that global temperature rises are still below 1.5C.

Together let’s us maintain – and work for – the hope of  better, greener future.

Sunday Reflection

Second Sunday in Advent: 5th December 2021

Malachi 3:1-4 

See, I am sending my messenger to prepare the way before me, and the Lord whom you seek will suddenly come to his temple. The messenger of the covenant in whom you delight– indeed, he is coming, says the Lord of hosts. But who can endure the day of his coming, and who can stand when he appears?

For he is like a refiner’s fire and like fullers’ soap; he will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver, and he will purify the descendants of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, until they present offerings to the  Lord in righteousness. Then the offering of Judah and Jerusalem will be pleasing to the Lord as in the days of old and as in former years.

The Song of Zechariah     Luke 1: 68-79

Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel; *
he has come to his people and set them free.

He has raised up for us a mighty savior, *
born of the house of his servant David.

Through his holy prophets he promised of old,

that he would save us from our enemies, *
from the hands of all who hate us.

He promised to show mercy to our fathers *
and to remember his holy covenant.

This was the oath he swore to our father Abraham, *
to set us free from the hands of our enemies,

Free to worship him without fear, *
holy and righteous in his sight
all the days of our life.

You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Most High, *
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his way,

To give his people knowledge of salvation *
by the forgiveness of their sins.

In the tender compassion of our God *
the dawn from on high shall break upon us,

To shine on those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death, *
and to guide our feet into the way of peace.

Philippians 1:3-11

I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying  with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you, because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now. I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ. It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defence and confirmation of the gospel. For God is my witness, how I long for all of you with the compassion of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.

Luke 3:1-6

In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:

‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.

Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,

and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;

and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.'”

Reflection

What all the readings today share in common is the change that will or is happening to people, that leads to salvation. Here we might thinks of salvation as healing and cleansing  process that restores, or even creates anew, the wholeness and goodness of life. 

In the words of the prophet Malachi it is God’s messenger who will so categorically refine and purify us  that we will feel that we can’t withstand the change it makes in us. But we will come through, changed utterly so that what we have to offer will be completely pleasing to God. 

In the words of another prophet – and father to be – Zechariah, the message is one of freedom: freedom from fear, freedom from enemies (and here we might think not only of people, but of big businesses, institutions and even governments).  We will be saved, we will be healed and made holy, and it will be by God’s own doing, by God’s compassion.

The passage from Philippians echoes the message received last week from Paul, that there is so much joy and happiness that arises from being part of a growing fellowship of Christians, active in telling the good news and in their love one for another. Such a group of Christians is seen as producers of a rich harvest of righteousness!

And finally the message of the prophet John, John the Baptist, who will be telling everyone who hears what they must do – and it is a totally transformative process if we are to travel along God’s way  – to see God’s salvation at work. 

We know from the gospel stories that salvation included both physical and mental healing; it included food for the hungry; restoration by those who had gained too much, the repayments of debts, the challenging of unjust laws and social practices, the humble reassessment of life that understood that humans didn’t have all the answers, that we must have faith in God and in the innate wisdom of creation, it valued the lowly and marginalised, and put love at the heart of everything. 

If we truly believed that salvation was coming to the world this Christmas, how would this new world order look like? Here are just three examples:-

Justice for refugees and migrants meaning that they would not fear persecution, or hunger, or ill health or  disrespect either in their home land or in their new home.

Justice for birds and animals, for plants and insects meaning that their natural habitats would not be destroyed, that they would not be diminished by pollution and other poisons, by over consumption or poaching.

Justice for those who are persecuted because of the colour of their skin, the sound of their voice, the shape of their face, the texture of the hair, their sexual orientation, meaning that everyone would be valued as unique and equally important individuals.

The world could indeed be a wonderful place! Yet I think the prophets were right to suggest that to get humankind there would be hard graft. Humankind, people and societies, individuals and organisations, need to be overhauled and purified,; the means and systems for getting things done need to be straightened and levelled up. 

Where do we come in? What can we do?

As with last week’s epistle, we should aspire to match the example of the early church.  We should be zealous in loving one another and in building up that fellowship produces boundless joy. That would be good of itself and will witness to good news of following Jesus. We need to come together, to stand together and to be a visible -large and numerous – body that speaks out for justice.

We also need to  be messengers calling people to turn their lives round and to live according  to God’s ways – ways that involve the examples of justice we have just imagined and more. More often than not the people to whom we must call out  are businesses, organisations, and governments. This we will do more effectively as one body. Whilst as individuals we can both set the example of how one should live, and then with greater effect  talk to friends, family and neighbours.

Now is the time for change!

Sunday Reflection

28th November 2021, first Sunday of Advent

Jeremiah 33:14-16

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David; and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved and Jerusalem will live in safety. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”

Psalm 25:1-9

1 To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul;
my God, I put my trust in you; *
let me not be humiliated,
nor let my enemies triumph over me.

2 Let none who look to you be put to shame; *
let the treacherous be disappointed in their schemes.

3 Show me your ways, O Lord, *
and teach me your paths.

4 Lead me in your truth and teach me, *
for you are the God of my salvation;
in you have I trusted all the day long.

5 Remember, O Lord, your compassion and love, *
for they are from everlasting.

6 Remember not the sins of my youth and my transgressions; *
remember me according to your love
and for the sake of your goodness, O Lord.

7 Gracious and upright is the Lord; *
therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

8 He guides the humble in doing right *
and teaches his way to the lowly.

9 All the paths of the Lord are love and faithfulness *
to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

1 Thessalonians 3:9-13

How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you? Night and day we pray most earnestly that we may see you face to face and restore whatever is lacking in your faith.

Now may our God and Father himself and our Lord Jesus direct our way to you. And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you. And may he so strengthen your hearts in holiness that you may be blameless before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.

Luke 21:25-36

Jesus said, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”

Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.”

Reflection

Today is the first day in Advent and the first day in the church’s year when we embark once more on the journey of expectation that brings us to the mystery of the incarnation and a season of revelations about the amazing nature of God; the journey of repentance and new beginnings that brings us to the mystery of both death and life, and a season of growing in faith as we come to realise the breadth, length and depth of God’s kin-dom of love. 

The reading from Jeremiah sets us off with the notion of expectation: a certain expectation that God’s promises will be fulfilled. Jeremiah points to the coming of someone who will stand up for justice and righteousness in the world, and specifically that that righteousness will be the righteousness – the right way of living, the right way in which to inhabit this earth – of God. How can we go wrong if we use God as the measure or pattern of what is right?

In the epistle Paul is writing to the fledgling community at Thessalonica. A community of people whose love for God and devotion to serving and following God in Jesus Christ is such that it bubbles over with joy. Simply through knowing them, Paul is filled with joy. It sounds like an infectious joy! 

I wonder how often we get say to someone in church, ‘Your faith, your love of the Lord, fills me with joy!’?

Where does that joy spring from? What nurtures it? Love, says Paul, love for one another and ‘for all’ – is this ‘all’ the all of creation: plants and animals, ecosystems and microcosms? A love that is reciprocated one to another. A love that builds up strength and holiness ready for the coming of Jesus.

That love is the way of God, the way to overcome adversity, the way to ride out threats of embarrassment and humiliation. Love, says the psalmist, is what God teaches us; it is the way of righteousness.

The passage from Luke’s gospel reminds us that times of threat and uncertainty are nothing new, and that they can lead to fear and confusion when people cannot make sense of what is a happening. Don’t be frightened, says Jesus, rather stand up and understand that redemption is at hand, that the power and glory – the way of life and joy – of Jesus will prevail.

Then Jesus tells a parable about a fig tree: learn to read the signs. Learn to understand what these signs, these events are telling you. Study how they should inform the way you live. Is that not what we should be doing faced as we are now with droughts and storms, wild fires and floods; with a growing greed among some that impoverishes and destroys the lives of others; with increasing global temperatures because we can not curb of production of carbon dioxide; with a blinkered view of the world that does not see that excessive consumption cannot be maintained from a world of finite resources?

If we can read the signs and understand what they say about the right and wrong ways of living, and adapt the way we live – and the way we love – then we will not be caught out! Be on your guard, says Jesus. Do not allow your worries to weigh you down. Don’t try and hide from your fears by simply consuming more and more – that is the way of drunkenness and dissipation. Rather be alert. Be prayerful. Seek the strength that comes from God – strength that comes through love.

Postscript/ action

This week our daughter has been protesting outside one of the Amazon fulfilment warehouses. Amazon does in many ways stand for what is wrong in the world. It makes huge profits at the expense of its workers and subcontractors – and without paying its fare share of taxes. It promotes the concept that the more you buy the happier you will be. It disregards any awareness that the world’s resources are finite – and returned and unwanted items are thrown away unused! It encourages long supply chains and severs connections between producer and consumer  so that the latter can buy oblivious to any damage that is being caused to the environment on their behalf. And with its huge size and financial clout, it seeks to remove all other sources of commerce. Here in East Sheen, where we have no lack of food shops, it has introduced its own form of fresh food store with the idea that we cannot/ should not have to spend time pausing to pay for what we buy!

We personally as a household choose now to boycott Amazon: we choose not to buy through their markets – we choose not to contribute to Amazon’s  profits; we choose not to be sucked into their  online shopping malls that offer anything and everything at the mere click of a button.

We choose to be ‘Amazon Free for the wellbeing of the world’. 

Counting On … day 6 

19th November 2021

One straightforward way of reducing our carbon footprint is  choosing the vegan option. When it comes to biscuits this is even easier than you would expect. Many traditional brands of biscuits sold in supermarkets are vegan and in many case have always  been so! Their vegan attributes as a consequence are not always highlighted. Jeni from the Choose Vegan website has complied a lost of all the commonly sold biscuits which are also vegan. 

Sunday Reflection

7th November 2021, Third Sunday before Advent

Jonah 3:1-5, 10 (https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=503219101)

Hebrews 9:24-28 https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=503219165

Mark 1:14-20 https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=503219236

Reflection 

The next few weeks leading up to Advent Sunday and the start of a new church year, are called the Kingdom Season. In Greek (the language of the Gospels and Letters) the word typically translated as kingdom is βασιλεία/ basileia. Whilst the word can be translated as kingdom, it can equally be translated as sovereignty, rule, authority or reign. I prefer these alternatives partly because they are not gender specific, but also because they are not familiar and therefore make us think about what is being meant.

We only have part of the story of Jonah, but enough to understand its message. This reading has been specifically chosen for the season when we are reflecting on the theme of rule or sovereignty, but who is the ruler of Nineveh? What is the nature of the authority that holds sway in this city? Is there a human ruler? One is not mentioned. Rather it is God’s rule that ultimately prevails – even if here it does so by dint of threat. 

It is interesting that in this story  God expects a prophet to preach not only to those people who saw themselves as God’s people, but also to those who might have other ‘gods’. In God’s eyes they are all God’s people, worthy of God’s concern and love. That to me says two things that are important about God’s ‘kingdom’, God’s reign. First where God reigns, where God’s rule prevails, there is always scope for repentance and a fresh start. Second, God’s rule is there to benefit those who acknowledge God as their God and those who do not: God’s love and concern is for everyone – and that includes I believe, our flora and fauna brethren too. Indeed why would that love and concern not extend to all that God has created?

As this Sunday occurs in the middle of the COP26 global climate conference we might pause and reflect whether this passage from Jonah might be a direct message to us today. If we are familiar with the whole story, we will know that God had judged the behaviour of the people of Nineveh as having fallen short of the mark, such that they were in imminent threat of total destruction. Does that not echo our situation today? Will we respond with similar alacrity, repenting of the wrong of our past ways of life and eager to live a reformed life that will protect us from annihilation?

As noted previously, the writer of Hebrews focuses on the tabernacle, and its customs and custodians, (rather than the later temple) as the earthly and imperfect model of what is God’s intention for the world. The tabernacle in Exodus was certainly the earthly place where God resided – and in Ancient Greek, basileia means a royal palace. The tabernacle is an earthly token representing God’s kingdom/ rule/ reign. And so it is that the sanctuary/ the palace that Jesus enters is not earthly but heavenly. Jesus has opened the way to a heavenly rule, an era – or rather an eternity – in which God reigns. The assurance of sins forgiven, has already been given by Jesus; now we await that time when Jesus will save us by establishing God’s reign as a universal given. 

So to Mark’s gospel with its clarion call.

 ‘The time is completed and the reign of God is approaching. Revise your thinking and trust in the good news.’ 

How do we respond to that message? Are we ready to rethink the way we live in terms of God’s ways, God’s rule? Are we willing to trust in the good news that Jesus brings rather than the news told by our politicians, by financiers and economists, by business leaders and advertisers, by trend setters and Instagram? Could we with alacrity leave behind our previous way of living, our previous mode of employment and simply follow the example, the teaching of Jesus?

That I think is the challenge of the ‘kingdom season’ rather than it being a season when we imagine that in the future there may be a wonderful kingdom of peace and light. What might the fulfilment of this season look like? 

Sunday Reflection

24th October 2021, Proper 25

Jeremiah 31:7-9 (https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=501918569) Hebrews 7:23-28 (https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=501918639) Mark 10: 46-52 (https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=501913875)

Reflection 

The reading from Jeremiah is so upbeat and full of joy. God is bringing together all God’s people, from the very ends of the earth, those who have been disadvantaged and sidelined, the marginalised, the young and the old. God will bring them back together, console and lead them, caring for them as a loving parent. The passage begins with a call to the leaders that they should praise God and pray for salvation. Will our nations’ leaders do the same for us at COP26? There are plenty of people around the world waiting for a time of celebration!

The Letter to the Hebrews reminds us that we have in Jesus the ultimate companion, guide and priest. The one who will always be with us, who will always be the means of our salvation, and who will always intercede on our behalf. At times of seeming hopelessness, we need to be reminded of this certainty.

It is not often we learn the names of the people that Jesus encounters. We hear of the woman with haemorrhage but not her name, of the paralysed man – ditto, the Syro-Phonecian woman, Peter’s mother-in-law: all are anonymous. But here we know the man’s name and that of his father too, and we know where he lives: he is Bartimaeus, son of Timaeus, resident of Jericho.  He is a beggar so maybe life’s opportunities have passed him by. As a crowd gathers along the road side, people are less than generous towards Bartimaeus. They scold him for calling out to Jesus – are they embarrassed by him? Do they think people like him should be kept in the background? Do they think Jesus should only meet upright, ‘proper’ people?

If so, they have not been paying attention. Jesus is often sought out by the vulnerable, the excluded, the despised, and each time his response to them is always focused on their needs, full of love and compassion. Once Jesus has responded to Bartimaeus’s call, the crowd shifts its approach and now encourages Bartimaeus to get up and meet Jesus. How fickle a crowd can be!

Jesus’s question to Bartimaeus is interesting. He doesn’t assume that what Bartimaeus wants is sight – indeed may be Bartimaeus’s first desire was to be heard. People labelled as disabled, don’t always see their difference as something unwanted, as something they wish to be rid of. Rather what they may want acceptance and understanding, an place of equal standing in society. In this instance, Bartimaeus does want to regain his sight, he wants to see again. It transpires that what Bartimaeus doesn’t want to do is to stay where he is. He doesn’t want to remain by the roadside on the way into Jericho, the butt of people’s shifting opinions. He wants to go with Jesus, to follow him and become part of the transformative society that Jesus is creating. 

In that there is a message for us. What do we want, both for ourselves and our society – our world?  And can we be part of the change? Next Sunday sees the start of COP26 in Glasgow. Decisions made there have the potential to transform for the better, the lives of so many. Let us make sure our voices are heard, our wishes declared.

Sunday Reflection

10th October 2021, proper 23

Amos 5:6-7,10-15,   https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=500800588, Psalm 90:12-17,     https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=500800660, Hebrews 4:12-16,   https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=500800726, Mark 10:17-31,   https://bible.oremus.org/?ql=500800772

Reflection 

Finance Coin Home Business Investment Money Bank

How true! God’s word is sharper than a two edge sword! It can probe that join between the bone and flesh, it can pierce the gap between thought and deed, it can lay open the difference between dream and reality. God’s word strikes at the heart of the matter. And so it is when the rich man comes to a Jesus for advise.

This man wants to inherit eternal life – which almost sounds as if he wants it to be something he can receive as of right rather than by effort. In response to Jesus’s questioning, he confirms he has lived his life according to the law, he has not done anything that steps over the line. Yet when Jesus questions him about his wealth, it seems that his love for his wealth is more than his love for his neighbour.

Curiously Jesus doesn’t ask if he has kept the first of the Ten Commandments, those that relate to our relationship with God. 

And the man goes away disappointed, with no assurance of gaining  eternal life.  Jesus comments how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God: for that is to have eternal life. And I think it is not just wealth here that is meant, but also power and privilege for the three are interlinked. Those with privilege are more likely to acquire wealth and power. Those with wealth are more likely to acquire power and privilege. Those with power to gain wealth and privilege. It is as if there is a set of rules that makes this so. We have heard so much in the news about people with money who can access government ministers to push their causes;  of multinationals who can use their power to promote use of products that harm the planet; of people who can hide their wealth to avoid paying taxes; of wealthy nations who can privilege vaccines for their citizens over those of poorer nations; of economic systems where the top 1%  holds 25% of all wealth (that’s in the UK) or 46% of the wealth when measured globally; of the longer life span that accrues to those who live in wealthier areas; or of privileged pupils who could access better education during the covid lockdown.

 From what we read in the gospels, the kingdom of God is radically different from any other kingdom, any other world-order, or any other culture. In God’s kingdom life is lived according to God’s ways, God’s logic, God’s culture. And even if squeezing a camel through the eye of needle seems impossible, for God, says Jesus, anything is possible. 

Why is it that the rich man could have so strictly followed all the rules, and yet been unable to share his wealth? Was it – and indeed is it – that wealth insulates us from the problems that other people face, that it blinkers our eyes so we don’t see the poverty that is out there, that it prevents us from understanding how hard life can be without power or privilege? 

Things were no different in the 8th century BCE in the days of Amos. Amos lambasted the people with the message God gave him. “Seek the Lord and live! … hate evil and love God, establish justice.” Amos warns that those who gained their wealth through taxing the poor and trampling on them, who deny the truth and scorn justice, who take bribes, rubbish the righteous, and push the needy aside. They will get their comeuppance and will not live in the grand houses they have built, nor drink the wines from their vineyards. 

I wonder what it would look like today to hate evil and love God and to establish justice?

Would it be in truthful journalism that exposes tax avoidance and wealth havens? Would it be in demanding the insulating of homes so that those least able to pay rising fuel bills can keep warm? Would it be in demanding government policies that would actually reduce carbon emissions? Would it be in ensuring equal access across the globe to covid vaccines? Would it be in avoiding goods produced by cheap labour? Would it be in ensuring we don’t buy products which involve the destruction of rainforests and mangroves? Would it be in curbing our carbon footprint to ensure a safe future for our children?

If all this sounds impossible, let’s ask God to help us. If giving up our wealth, our power, our privilege seems too hard, let’s ask God for help. If following Jesus seems too demanding, let’s ask God for help. For all things are possible for God. 

May God prosper the work of our hands – not to garner wealth, but to build God’s kingdom. 

Sunday Reflection

3rd October 2021, fifth Sunday in creationtide

Genesis 2:18-24

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.

Hebrews 1:1-4, 2: 5-12

Long ago God spoke to  our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

‘What are human beings that you are mindful of them,

   or mortals, that you care for them? 

You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;

   you have crowned them with glory and honour, 

   subjecting all things under their feet.’

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honour because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,

‘I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,

   in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.’

Mark 10:2-16

Some Pharisees came, and to test him they asked, ‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ He answered them, ‘What did Moses command you?’ They said, ‘Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, “God made them male and female.” “For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.” So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.’

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, ‘Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.’

People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.

Reflection

At the moment I am each week creating a short film for a series called Space on Sunday. These episodes are for young families in the temporary absence of Sunday School, and each week include a story related to the Sunday’s readings. I looked at this Sunday’s selection and it occurred to me that their overall theme was asking the question, What is it to be human? And for what purpose did God create us?

I think God, who loves the world they created, wanted to create a being that could love the world too. And in many ways God created a being that was God-like: humans have the ability to love the whole of creation; we can learn to understand and comprehend its diversity and its interconnectedness. Humans have the ability to be creative and imaginative, and we can take pleasure from things of beauty.  We can visualise what things were like in the past and what they could be like in the future. Humans can create and value relationships. We can not only produce off-spring but can plan and work to create a better future for them. 

 I think God created us to be co-creators of the ongoing development of the world as a living organism. And I think God created us as beings who can be in relationship with God. 

Turning to the readings. The extract from Genesis tells us that humans were not created to be either alone/ lonely nor to be left to cope on their own. Instead it is God’s intention that we should have helpers and partners. Helpers are not restricted to fellow humans, but include creatures – to which we could also add inanimate things such as the sun, wind and water which provide us with the power. 

The passage from Hebrews reminds us that in Jesus we have the perfect pattern or model of what a human should be. Further it reminds us that in Jesus we see the image of God, and that through his death and resurrection, Jesus redeems, or resurrects, that bit of God’s glory that exists somewhere in all of us, and so we are all called brothers and sisters of the one Heavenly Father. 

 Mark’s gospel gives us an example of the difference between how humans can be and how they should be; the difference between human weakness and God’s ambition for us. This is followed by an example of human narrowness and God’s openness. To be truly human is to be truly open to God.

Sunday Reflection

26th September 2021: fourth Sunday of Creation-tide

Logo of the Climate Coalition

Ecclesiastes 3:1-8

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 

a time to be born, and a time to die;

a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 

a time to kill, and a time to heal;

a time to break down, and a time to build up; 

a time to weep, and a time to laugh;

a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 

a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;

a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 

a time to seek, and a time to lose;

a time to keep, and a time to throw away; 

a time to tear, and a time to sew;

a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 

a time to love, and a time to hate;

a time for war, and a time for peace.

Romans 8:14-25

For all who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God. For you did not receive a spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received a spirit of adoption. When we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ—if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we may also be glorified with him.

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Mark 4:26-32

He also said, ‘The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come.’

He also said, ‘With what can we compare the kingdom of God, or what parable will we use for it? It is like a mustard seed, which, when sown upon the ground, is the smallest of all the seeds on earth; yet when it is sown it grows up and becomes the greatest of all shrubs, and puts forth large branches, so that the birds of the air can make nests in its shade.’

Reflection 

The passage from Ecclesiastes is probably very familiar to us. It has a certain poetry to it that makes it easy to remember. It also has a sense of being down to earth and pragmatic. The writer is reminding us that these things will happen in the course of life; that we should expect them, anticipate and prepare for them. Preparing for things that one might reasonably expect to happen is something our current government is very bad at and we are suffering the consequences. 

Much of the writings in the Bible are about cause and effect. If you do A, B will happen, but if you do X, Y will happen. If you follow God’s wisdom, you will be blessed; if you ignore God’s wisdom – if you mistreat your fellow humans, the land which you occupy or the creatures you live with – then you will bring suffering on your head. Yet it is a lesson we find hard to learn. 

Collectively we have not ensured that all who work receive a fair wage, and now when we short of  people willing to take on tough low paid jobs – in abattoirs, driving trucks, picking vegetables – we realise how important those workers to the smooth running of our economy. We have not cared for the soil we farm, and now find that all the fertilisers we have to add, are polluting our streams and rivers. We have not cared for the air we breathe, and now realise that air pollution is harming our health: 7 million people a year die from air pollution. We have not heeded the warnings of our scientists – those who study the way God’s world is responding to human activity – and continue to over consuming filling the atmosphere with excess quantities of carbon dioxide.

Cause and effect: these things are happening. 

In the passage from the letter to the Romans, we have a somewhat involved argument from Paul. As he writes to the religious communities in Rome, he reminds them that all who are led by the Spirit of God – the Holy Spirit – are children of God. And it is a spirit of freedom not slavery. 

As children of God, we are likewise co heirs, siblings with Christ, and are expected, like him, to share with the suffering in the world. Jesus did not ignore or deny the suffering that was in the world; rather he  sought it out. He sought to understand where suffering came from, how it grew and persisted. And then he sought to transform it – healing the sick, feeding the hungry, releasing those held captive, and ultimately transforming death into resurrection. Paul writes not just of humans suffering, but of creation suffering. He talks of the ‘futility’ of creation. The Greek word can also be translated as ineffectiveness or emptiness. 

Last week we noted the barrenness, the emptiness of the earth that revealed the need for water and for a tiller, in order that it might become a verdant garden. Unless the right resources and the right action are brought together, the progress of creation is ineffective or futile. In the same way our efforts to be fully human are futile unless we are led by the Spirit of God. Only with God’s Spirit, God’s wisdom can either we as humans or the earth as God’s amazing creation develop their potential – the potential that reveals God’s glory. 

Paul goes on to write they ‘hope that is seen is not hope’ but I can’t help feeling that it helps to have some imagining, some image, of what it is you hope for. Jesus’s kingdom parables give us metaphorical but highly visual images of what the kingdom of God might look like. The mustard seed tree is one filled with hope. It portrays the kingdom as capable of immense growth and size such that all the birds of the air – everyone and everything – finds a place to lodge and live. It is an image of the kingdom as one of peaceful and sustainable co existence. 

So let us be led by God’s wisdom, seek out and acknowledge the suffering in the world and act to transform them so that creation can flourish.

Sunday Reflection

19th September 2021

Third Sunday of creationtide: Deuteronomy 8. 7-18, Matthew 6.25–33

Reflection 

The writer of Deuteronomy describes a landscape that is rich, verdant and bountiful. A land so well stocked with natural resources that the people will not have to worry about living fulfilled, sustainable lives. Surely nothing could threaten such a well endowed life style?

Yet the writer gives them three warnings.

  1. Don’t forget God by failing to keep God’s commandments. It is only by sticking to those commands, those ways of living, that the people will be able to maintain their relationship with God.
  2. Don’t forget that when you lived in a place of scarcity- ie the wilderness – it was only through God’s intervention that you had enough to eat and drink.
  3. Don’t credit yourselves with your success. It is not because of your efforts that you now love lives of  riches and comfort. It comes from God’s doing.

We, like the Israelites, have been blessed with a beautiful world with vast resources sufficient to meet our needs. Certainly I am sure that has been God’s intention in creating this world with its wonderful interconnected ecosystems. But somewhere, somehow we have strayed from the path, from the right way of doing things. We have failed to keep God’s commandments. 

Every year since 1987 scientists have calculated how much of the world’s resources we are consuming  and the amount by which the earth can renew those resources, and setting one against the other they have determined the date each year at which we are consuming more than the earth can replenish. If the earth was bank account, this would be the day at which we would go into the red. In 1987 Earth Overshoot Day was 23rd October. Since then Earth Overshoot Day has occurred earlier and earlier. This year it was 29th July!

It is hard to comprehend that in little more than half a year we have consumed a full year’s worth of the resources that the earth can generate. It is patently not sustainable. Can it be reversed if we limited our consumption? The answer is certainly yes if we have the will, or if we are forced by circumstances. In 2020, the year of the pandemic, the date did recede – by a good three weeks to 22nd August. 

The passage from Matthew’s gospel asks us if life is more than food and clothes? I wonder what life means for you? 

I wonder what life means for a family dependent on food aid in Afghanistan? I wonder what life means for a family in the UK who is relying on the £20 top up to Universal Credit?I wonder what it means for the person forced to use a food bank? 

The United Nations tells us that the world produces more than enough food to feed the its population, but poverty and other barriers to access leave many people unable to afford or obtain food. Problems with markets forces and distribution networks means that food rots in the field or is otherwise wasted, without reaching the consumer.  There are real problems about poverty and equality and over consumption that arise from our current unsustainable  lifestyles, political policies and business practices.  Sadly even the birds are loosing out. Habitat loss and climate change are both conspiring to limit food and places to nest for many bird species. 

Four times in today’s gospel Jesus says, Do not worry! Worrying does not help. It will neither add an hour to your life nor a inch to your height (translations vary). Instead says Jesus, Strive for the kingdom of God. If we live according to God’s ways, if we can bring God’s rules into play, if we can establish heaven on earth, then will everyone have food and clothes and all the necessities of life. The we will fairly share the earth’s resources, not plundering them but sustaining them. 

Let’s spend some time this week considering what we eat, the clothes we wear, the resources we use. Are they sustainable, do they prejudice the access of others to their fair share? Does our lifestyle meet God’s injunction that we should tend and care for the earth? Does it meet God’s injunction that we should love our neighbour as ourself? Does it meet the command that we should with all our being love God?