Year B - September

Notes for the Sunday Lectionary from an environmental perspective

September 1st through to October the 3rd is the ‘season of creation’ in the church’s calendar. These notes are based on the Common Lectionary. Further material can be found at Season of Creation website and a full booklet,  2021 Celebration Guide. This year there are resources on the theme of ‘home’ and our planet as home, drawing on the Pope’s teaching in Laudato Si about home and the Greek word Oikos from which we also get ecology, economics and ecumenical. This is especially good to use this year with COP26 coming. There are also a lot of dedicated resources from the Iona community for the season of creation including ‘God’s Good Earth’ designed for COP 26 services and ‘This God’s World’ a song book with a creation theme.

September 2021 and first Sunday in October year B

5th September – ‘a Just home for all’

Oikos, the Greek word for ‘home’, is the root word for ‘economy’ – which, at a global level, is about planetary house-keeping. How far have modern understandings of the importance of the economy drifted from the root meaning of creating a secure and just home for all?

Proverbs 22 and James 2 make clear that God will champion the cause of the oppressed, and that poverty and injustice are deeply linked to our economic behaviour and systems.

In a world of climate injustice, where careless use of fossil fuels leads to insecurity, disaster and suffering for the world’s poor and marginalised, what is the ‘good news’ (the Gospel)? Can there be good news without addressing such injustice?

James 2:6 “Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?” Is this passage aimed only at the ‘super rich’ or also at the many Christians who live comfortable lives, acting as if they (we?) are ignorant of the links between that comfort – built on exploitative and unsustainable economic practices - and the suffering of the poor?

In Mark 7:28-29, Jesus commends the Syro-Phoenician (a woman and a Gentile) for arguing with him, and heals her daughter! Are there issues of injustice, where God seems silent, that drive us to wrestle with God in prayer?

In Isaiah 35 God’s justice is a sign of his coming kingdom when the blind and deaf shall be healed, hence this passage being linked to Jesus’ healing in Mark 7. But in Isaiah the earth is also healed as water flows in the desert. We are reminded that the coming Kingdom is not just about justice for people but all creation.

12th September – ‘wisdom from a planetary home’

‘Oikos’ is also the root word for ‘ecology’, the science of relationships of organisms (including us) to each other and their surroundings.

In Proverbs, Wisdom is personified as a woman, present at and involved in creation (8:22-31).  Theologians differ as to whether Wisdom is simply a literary device, or represents the Holy Spirit, or possibly even the pre-incarnate Christ.

Whichever view we take, Wisdom is clearly from God, and accessed both through study of nature / God’s world (eg. 1 Kings 4:29-33) and of scripture / God’s word. Psalm 19 beautifully outlines God’s ‘two books’: nature (vs.1-6) and scripture (vs.7-11). How can we ensure we gain wisdom by studying both of these means of God’s self-revelation?

How do Proverbs 1:26-30, about how disaster (often ecological) will overtake those who ignore God’s Wisdom, speak to our situation today? Are there examples in your context?

In James 3:7-12 vivid imagery contrasts the untameable human tongue with other aspects of nature. Is there a sense in which humanity’s increasing separation from nature leads to us speaking and behaving in more unnatural, and harmful, ways?

In Mark 8:34-35 Jesus asks his followers to take up their cross and follow him. How can we ‘take up our cross’ and follow Christ as Lord of creation in an era of ecological trauma? Why not share stories of environmental campaigners, eg in Latin America, who have lost their lives in challenging powerful vested interests that are destroying God’s world.

In Mark 8:36-37 Jesus asks what good it is to gain the whole world but forfeit our souls. Is this verse calling us to focus only on the ‘spiritual’ gospel, or is it rather a challenge to the materialism that hardens our hearts against God, and against true Wisdom?

19th September – ‘peace-making as home-building’

‘Peace’ is at the heart of the Christian gospel. We live in a fractured world, where relationships between people, nature and God are deeply broken. In Christ, God comes to bring ‘peace’, not only spiritually through the forgiveness of sins, but to restore all these damaged and broken relationships.

The Hebrew concept of ‘Shalom’, often translated as ‘peace’, reflects restored relationships in every dimension: with God, self, neighbours near and far, and with the earth and its creatures. It is an integrated vision of ‘the good life’ that combines faith, justice, and peacebuilding – as summarised by the idealised wife of Proverbs 31. Note how she ensures everyone and everything can flourish: her family, the poor, the land, the economy! This is a lovely example of being a peacemaker / home-builder / shalom-spreader in very practical local terms!

Building on last week’s theme of ‘Wisdom’, James 3:17-18 states, “But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness.” Jesus said ‘Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God’ (Matthew 5:9). The phrase ‘Children of God’ is often applied to those who believe in Christ – the church. How can we, as the Christian community, be peacemakers both globally and locally, particularly in a context of inequality and unsustainable lifestyle choices?

In today’s Gospel reading, in Mark 9:36-37, Jesus tells us that in welcoming children we welcome God himself. Today, many children and young people suffer from climate anxiety and despair about the future. How can we welcome the Father, by listening more effectively to the voices of young people and changing our attitudes and behaviour in response?

26th September – ‘praying for our planetary home and those who live in it’

There is a danger that responses to climate injustice and environmental chaos are only about activism: campaigns and advocacy. Today’s readings encourage us to turn to God in prayer in times of crisis, recognising that activism needs deep foundations in a spirituality that sustains and renews us.

James 5:13 states: “Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray.” The passage continues, “The prayer of a righteous person is powerful and effective” (5:16b) and gives the example of Elijah praying for no rain and then praying for rain which led to fruitful harvests (5:17-18). Do we pray about the Climate crisis? Do we pray for God’s mercy for people and places suffering devastating and catastrophic drought or flood, storms or erosion? Do we also pray for the political processes, for COP26 in Glasgow in November 2021, and for God’s Spirit to change the hearts of world leaders, to give them compassion and embolden them to take unpopular but necessary decisions?

The book of Esther is a story of a woman whom God used to bring justice and deliverance at the heart of the political process, at great personal risk. Can we intercede for those today who are strategically placed to speak truth to power, to challenge self-interest, and to advocate for climate victims and nature herself?

Mark 9:42ff uses strong language to warn of the danger of causing children and young people to stumble. A recent UK survey claimed 90% of young Christians see the climate as today’s most pressing and urgent issue, and yet 90% also say their churches are not doing enough on climate change. If churches are slow to pray, speak and act on the climate emergency, this passage suggests God will judge us harshly for causing young people to stumble in their faith. Our response needs to be in lament and repentance, in prayer and fasting, and in speaking out and acting decisively.

In Numbers 11 the people complain about the food they had in Egypt but that they only had Manna in the desert. God will give the meat, but in the verses skipped he is going to give them so much they become sick of it as a just rebuke for their complaining. It is easy to think of the past as ‘golden’ and not be prepared to make the sacrifices needed to get to the promised land, trusting in God’s provision. Is this a ‘parable’ for a comfortable society in an age of human caused climate crisis? Do we fear leaving behind the provision of the past and so won’t leave them for the promised land?

3rd October (St Francis of Assisi) ‘a home and hope for the future’

For the third consecutive week, the Gospel speaks of the place of children in God’s kingdom. In Mark 10:14-15 Jesus blesses children and states, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’ Today’s children will inherit an impoverished and unstable world due to our failures to address climate and ecological breakdown. Many suffer from deep anxiety and despair. Yet, God’s kingdom belongs to ‘such as these’. How can we both learn from today’s children and young people, and also become like them in trust and in seeing clearly?

Hope is the key to living through despair. Jesus’ teaching on the Kingdom of God speaks of a future hope that is guaranteed and certain. Even if today we see only glimpses and signs of hope amidst so much suffering, we can still live in the light of our prayer ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven’. One day, God’s kingdom will come in all its glorious fulness. That does not mean we passively wait. Rather it gives us the motivation to live today in the light of that future truth.

Hebrews 1:1-4 & 2:5-12 speak of Jesus as Lord of all creation. He is the one ‘through whom’ God made the universe (1:2), and who sustains all things ‘by his powerful word’ (1:3). He is ‘heir of all things (1:2). ‘now crowned with glory and honour (2:9) because of his saving death and suffering. We can have hope for the future of all creation, because Christ who died is now raised and reigns in glory. He is the one ‘for whom and through whom everything exists’ (2:10).

In some mysterious way, Hebrews 2 also suggests that we as believers, are caught up with Christ in his glory, made holy, and ‘crowned with glory and honour’, with all things placed under our feet (2:7-8, quoting Psalm 8). Back in Genesis 1, humans were made in God’s image and commissioned to reflect God’s loving purposes in leadership within creation. We have repeatedly failed, but here, as in Romans 8:19 which states ‘the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed’, it seems the Church (God’s ‘sons and daughters’) is once again given leadership within the community of creation. This is both a deep and humbling mystery, and a great privilege and responsibility.

This theme of humanity in God’s image is also present in Genesis 2 where Adam names the animals btu none was the right one to be Adam’s partner. This speaks of a deep relationship with all the animals in that they might even be the right partner, but also of human knowledge of creation as a force for good or misuse. Again it speaks of human responsibility in being made in the divine image.

Page last updated: 19th August 2021 5:20 PM