Green Tau Reflection

Good Friday 2022

Ignorant, blinkered or obtuse?

19 Then the high priest questioned Jesus about his disciples and about his teaching. 20 Jesus answered, ‘I have spoken openly to the world; I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all the Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who heard what I said to them; they know what I said.’ 22 When he had said this, one of the police standing nearby struck Jesus on the face, saying, ‘Is that how you answer the high priest?’ 23 Jesus answered, ‘If I have spoken wrongly, testify to the wrong. But if I have spoken rightly, why do you strike me?’ John chapter 19

I studied this passage with my Lent group. Jesus rightly tells the high priest, and those in authority with him, that he has spoken openly and that if anyone had wanted to know what he was teaching, they would only have to pay attention. It’s clear from the gospel that both Jesus’s, and, before him, John the Baptist’s, activities have been followed by those in authority. The puzzling question is why is it that those in authority, those who have lived and worked – and worshipped – within the religious establishment, do not realise who Jesus is and do not understand the message of his teaching? 

  • Are they ignorant? In terms of facts, no they cannot be ignorant. Jesus has been teaching openly, and they themselves have been following him. 
  • Are they ignorant in terms of understanding? Do they simply not understand what the facts mean? Do they simply not understand that Jesus is ‘of God’, as a son to a father, and that what he teaches comes straight from God?
  • Are they blinkered? Are they so sure that God cannot inhabit human form, that their minds and eyes are closed to any such possibility? There are certainly many examples of people and cultures that blinkered. In the 19th century explorers who came across the bronze sculptures of Benin, could not imagine that an African could have created such art works and therefore they must have been the work of a lost civilisation. At the same time many women who wished their writing to be accepted, has to assume a male pseudonym.
  • Are they so enmeshed in a culture and system – largely of their own making – that they cannot see or imagine any different way of doing things? Does this culture and system so embrace every part of their life, their past and their future, that there is no room for any alternative?
  • Are they self righteous? Are they so sure that they are right, that their understanding of the world and their interpretation of what is happening is right, that they cannot envisage an alternative view point?
  • Are they obtuse? Do they just not want to hear or believe or countenance anything that involves change?

When Jesus is then brought before Pilate, it seems as if Pilate is at least willing to explore what it is that Jesus represents, what it is that he is about. Pilate does at least lift the edge of the curtain so as to speak, to see what might be happening. Then the opportunity becomes engulfed in matters that Pilate finds more pressing. The discussion is foreclosed. 

The story of Good Friday tells us whilst the obstinacy, the short sightedness and narrow mindedness of those in authority led directly to Jesus’s execution, God’s capacity for salvation exceeded everyone’s dreams. 

God’s kingdom, God’s rule, is present here and now on earth for those who wish to be part of it, yet complete salvation is still a work in progress, and humanity faces many trials and ills. One of the most pressing is the climate crisis. With only a handful of years grace remaining before catastrophes overwhelm us, we sense we have a last chance to transform the ways in which we live so as to truly care for one another and the whole of creation. The message seems so clear. The message has been so oft repeated. The route maps to safety so clearly plotted. How is it then that those in authority do not understand, do not respond, do not take action? How can they be so obstinate, so obtuse, so short sighted? 

Must we brace ourselves for further tragedy? Is our only consolation that Christ will be with us? Let us pray and act for change. Let us strive for conversion. 

 Counting on ….day 46

30th December 2021

As well as counting on ourselves, as consumers, to make changes, we should be counting on our  government and councils to make changes too. Chose a topic close to your heart (re-wilding, cycle lanes, biodiversity etc) and write to your local council and/MP and ask them how they are going to effect the change to a more sustainable world. 

Green Tau: issue 27

15th December 2021

“Palm oil piece”

Palm oil comes from the palm oil tree which grows in tropical regions of the world. Its fruit – both flesh and kernel – are processed to extract the oil. The oil is attractive for many reasons. 

It contains no trans fats making it healthier than other oils.  It is a good (and affordable) source of vitamins A and E and antioxidants. It is resistant to oxidisation giving it, and things made with it, a long shelf life. It is a highly productive crop: where sunflowers produce 0.7 tonnes of oil per hectare, palm oil produces 4 or more tonnes. It can be used to make a wide range of products from soap to biscuits, toothpaste to icecream, lipsticks to pizzas, pet foods to chocolate. Some is also used as a bio fuel.

Not surprisingly it is in high demand. Global production has increased from about 2 million tonnes in 1960 to 70 + tonnes in 2018 (https://ourworldindata.org/palm-oil). Production on this scale has led to vast areas of land being repurposed for palm oil plantations – with individual plantations covering 10,000 hectares (approximately 10,000 international rugby pitches or a little smaller than Jersey).  

Monoculture on this scale comes with many environmental issues, that lead to droughts, wild fires and flooding – and require widespread use of fertilisers and pesticides which pollute both water supplies and the air.  These detrimental effects are further compounded when the land cultivated involves the destruction of native forests. An estimates 5% of tropical deforestation is attributable directly to oil palm plantations  although on a positive note, the annual loss is decreasing as countries and companies respond to public criticism (https://palmoilalliance.eu/palm-oil-deforestation/).

In places such as Borne and Sumatra much of the land is covered with virgin forest which is home to many plant and animal species and notable home to large mammals such as orangutans, tigers, rhinos and elephants. Expansion of human enterprises removed the equivalent large mammals many centuries ago. One hopes that we will not allow the same to happen again.

On the other hand palm oil production is an important cash crop for many developing economies. As with the cultivation of cocoa beans (https://greentau.org/2021/12/11/green-tau-issue-26/) the profitability of this crop often does not benefit the workers on the ground. In response to both this and the threat to biodiversity – especially orangutans – some consumers and manufacturers actively avoid palm oil. The following logos are used  by

https://www.palmoilfreecertification.org/

Iceland Foods and the https://orangutanalliance.org/

Ethical Consumer has produced a list of manufacturers who avoid the use of palm oil – or use  sustainably sourced palm oil: https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/palm-oil/palm-oil-free-list

The main industry certification scheme for sustainable palm oil is provided by

The Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil. However its scheme is not always transparent, and includes companies who are working towards sustainable production. As with cocoa beans, companies can use the certification if they pay the premium that pays for sustainable production somewhere within the supply chain. For more information see https://www.ethicalconsumer.org/food-drink/what-rspo

Traidcraft for one, did not feel that RSPO assured a fair trade product. They have established their own small scale certification platform, Fair Palm through their work with Serendipalm in Ghana. Here oil palm growers use regenerative farming techniques growing a mix of trees and shrubs that provides a range of sustainable – organically grown – crops. In addition the processing of the palm oil fruits is kept small scale so as to employ people rather than automated machines. This video clip shows the process of change from monoculture to agroforestry:  https://youtu.be/moRmOu634rk

If consumer power has already seen a reduction in the rate of deforestation , continuing consumer power should be able to demand truly sustainable and fairly traded palm oil. Careful research will be needed  as the presence of palm oil products may not always be obvious. Palm oil may be hidden under the general title of ‘vegetable oil’ or may be given a chemical name such as aluminium stearate, ammonium Lauretta sulphate, capric glyceride, or ascobyl palmitate. Ethical Comsumer’s palm oil list will help you evaluate which products you wish to buy and which you might prefer to avoid. 

Counting on … day 31

14th December 2021

It is a month since the end of COP26  on climate change. It can seem as if it was something that happened in a different time. It can feel as if it was blip that changed nothing.  Various environmental and faith groups have since then held reflections, trying to evaluate what happened. One of these took place at the the a Franciscan friary at Hilfield. Below is a link to a YouTube recording of their gathering. The first part by Andy Lester of A Rocha gives a very concise overview of what the COP objectives were and how they were and were not met. Both A Rocha and Franciscans are identified by their concern for the world and its environment,  and  for justice. Both agree that faith groups have an important role to play in standing up for the well-being of the environment and all our brethren. 

Sunday Reflection: third in Advent

12th December 2021

The Collect 

Stir up your power, O Lord, and with great might come among us; and, because we are sorely hindered by our sins, let your bountiful grace and mercy speedily help and deliver us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Sing aloud, O daughter Zion;
shout, O Israel!

Rejoice and exult with all your heart,
O daughter Jerusalem!

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you,
he has turned away your enemies.

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst;
you shall fear disaster no more.

On that day it shall be said to Jerusalem:

Do not fear, O Zion;
do not let your hands grow weak.

The Lord, your God, is in your midst,
a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,
he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing
as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you,
so that you will not bear reproach for it.

I will deal with all your oppressors
at that time.

And I will save the lame
and gather the outcast,

and I will change their shame into praise
and renown in all the earth.

At that time I will bring you home,
at the time when I gather you;

for I will make you renowned and praised
among all the peoples of the earth,

when I restore your fortunes
before your eyes, says the Lord.

Canticle: Isaiah 12:2-6

Surely, it is God who saves me; *
I will trust in him and not be afraid.

For the Lord is my stronghold and my sure defence, *
and he will be my Saviour.

Therefore you shall draw water with rejoicing *
from the springs of salvation.

And on that day you shall say, *
Give thanks to the Lord and call upon his Name;

Make his deeds known among the peoples; *
see that they remember that his Name is exalted.

Sing the praises of the Lord, for he has done great things, *
and this is known in all the world.

Cry aloud, inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, *
for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.

Philippians 4:4-7

Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near. Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Luke 3:7-18

John said to the crowds that came out to be baptised by him, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor’; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.”

And the crowds asked him, “What then should we do?” In reply he said to them, “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.” Even tax collectors came to be baptised, and they asked him, “Teacher, what should we do?” He said to them, “Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.” Soldiers also asked him, “And we, what should we do?” He said to them, “Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.”

As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, John answered all of them by saying, “I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

Reflection 

The collect calls out to God, “Stir up your power!” This is not about Christmas puddings. It has a feeling of a whirl wind, a tornado, that will rip through us. A feeling of an electrical force that will spin things into motion. A centrifuge that will separate pure from dross. In the gospel John summons up the same prospect: Now is the time to act! Something is coming for which you have not yet prepared! That which is fruitless, that which shows no penitence or regret, will be cut away and destroyed. Radically alter your lives now before it is too late! For the messiah is coming with wind and fire and will stir up and sift you, shaking out all that is chaff – separating it from what is good. 

Think how that can transform not just us, but the whole world! At the same time, does this sound rather too scary? Do we want to be stripped of our chaff? Do we want to radically change the way we live? Do we feel that there is anything in us worthy enough to remain?

The words from Zephaniah sound equally radical but in a different way for Zephaniah tells us that God will rejoice over us! God’s love for us must be incredibly huge and incredibly forgiving. Looking at the state of the world, the ways in which we have damaged it, the ways in which we harm our selves and one another through our failure to love, through our greed and selfishness, is it credible that God will rejoice over us? Yes says Zephaniah, God will rejoice over us and will renew us with love, restore

Ing what has been  lost, healing what has been damaged and making us a praiseworthy part of creation. 

Where John suggests practical actions people can take – being generous with what we have, not being greedy, not abusing any power or authority we have – the writer of Philippians commends attitudes: being gentle, joyful and prayerful. Let’s be guided by both these figures and let the transformative power of God work in ourselves and the world we inhabit. 

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?