Greening the Lectionary

A Theological Response to the Ecological Crisis: Reflections, Reviews, Comment.

Year B - Trinity

The Third Sunday after Trinity 1 Samuel 17 ( Ia 4-11 9-23 ) 32-49; Psalm 9.9-end ; 2 Cor. 6.1-13; Mark 4. 35-41

This Sunday’s gospel comes at the end of a day when Jesus has been teaching on the edge of the lake, the ‘ boundary’ between land and sea where he called his first disciples. Jesus has been teaching on the Jewish side of Lake Galilee, or the Sea of Galilee ; on the other side is the Decapolis, mostly Gentile territory. This boat trip is going to cross much more than water; it will be a boundary crossing into the new and unknown deep of Jesus’s mission to the Gentiles. Boundaries are a challenge to disciples of all times – the crossing is often rough.

Jesus uses homely metaphors and parables to share his message. In these early chapters of Mark’s gospel, these metaphors and parables are theological in character in that they affirm the unity of nature and grace. He is saying that his heavenly Father so created everything that there is a direct correspondence between nature and grace – a oneness between the two which enables him to stand astride the two. Preceding the story of stilling the storm – which is probably an actual eye witness account- we have the ‘ grain of wheat’ parables , set in the rural countryside of Galilee. Jesus tells us he will be the grain of wheat dying and being buried to produce the harvest. The dying and bearing fruit principle is fundamental to Jesus’s disciples too.

Here the main point is Jesus’ work of salvation and discipleship are part of nature, part of the natural world. The parables are theological statements about how life is, because God made it so. They also imply that they reflect God’s way of working in every area of experience – nature and grace.

The calming of the storm on the lake of Galilee, which is our text for today, can be seen as a straightforward ‘ nature miracle’; as well as having a focus on the relationship between Jesus and his disciples.

We read of Jesus sleeping in the back of the boat with his head on the helmsman’s pillow. There is also the disciples’ reaction ‘ Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’, followed by ‘Do you still have no faith?’.

There is a sense that the incident is playing on different levels, Jesus is stilling the storms of our personal lives , even as he addresses the wind and the waves on the surface of the lake.

How do we feel about miracles? How do we feel about a nature miracle?

Our sympathies may well be with the disciples here. Some of them were fisherman. They knew the Lake Galilee very well. Experts are often the ones to raise the alarm – they can recognise what might happen, and the need to take action. Whatever the motivation, including their fear, their question reproaches Jesus for neglecting their safety by sleeping during a dangerous storm.

Jesus’s reply goes to the heart of discipleship: ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith? What or who is ruling their lives? The passages from Samuel explore the problems of rulers, and Paul’s letter to the Corinthians focuses on the trials and tribulations of life, and the need to stand firm. The disciples needed Jesus to do things: he wanted then to trust him His very presence amongst them was all that they needed to survive – they knew how to handle a boat in a crisis, just get on with it.

Jesus’s authority over the storm reveals him as Lord of Creation, and recalls the divine authority over the chaotic waters ‘ in the beginning’ ( Genesis 1.2;) and when God divided the waters to allow people to pass through from slavery to freedom ( Exodus 14-15). Readings from the Book of Job can also be beautiful companions for this gospel. We can extend the picture to include awesome cosmic forces of the sea that threaten to engulf everything. Yet, as Job tells us, God has established boundaries, this is a God we can trust – even as we cross boundaries and enlarge our vision of God’s reigning presence filling the whole of creation. In Christ we are called to be boundary crossers, until our vision extends throughout the world. We are asked to become stillers of storms, to become ‘ bridges over troubled waters’, to stand firm in the heat.

For the disciples, and for ourselves, it should be enough to be with the Lord, whether life’s seas are running smoothly or not. It is enough that Christ goes with us on our journeys. We shall not be overcome.

The Seventh Sunday after Trinity (2 Samuel 7. 1-14a; Jeremiah 23. 1-6; Ephesians 2. 11-22; Mark 6. 30-34, 53-56)

This week, we give thanks for God’s gift of hope. We praise God for the universal scope of the gospel and pray to accept both the reflective and active sides of the Christian life. The passage from the letter to the Ephesians has its main focus on the reconciliation of Jew and Gentile through the life of Jesus and is a work of reflection.

According to Donald English’s commentary on Mark’s gospel it was probably written by one of Paul’s disciples, a member of the group who continued to reflect on and hand on Paul’s teachings as new situations and concerns developed within those communities which Paul had founded. It has many close similarities with the letter to the Colossians, so it might well be appropriate to begin here with the creedal statement which comes in Colossians 1.16 ‘For in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible…. All things have been created through him and for him’.

In Ephesians, however, the writer is referring to the Church as the new place of reconciliation; in the body of Christ, Jewish and Gentiles believers are reconciled together. Paul uses different metaphors to describe their new relationship: members of the household of God, and part of a building with the apostles and prophets for its foundation with Jesus as the cornerstone. This building grows into a holy temple where God dwells. It is from here that Jesus’s life story, his teachings and his wisdom will be shared with the world and with the generations to come. Similarly, it is from our churches, our holy temples, that we hear about the two sides of Jesus’s work as described in the lectionary passage from Mark’s gospel which we read in our communities this Sunday after Trinity.

In the eye-witness gospel of Mark, the crowds continue to follow Jesus, asking not so much for teaching and preaching but for physical healing. With great energy the people brought the sick on their mats, asking for healing by even simply touching the fringes of Jesus’s clothing. According to Donald English’s commentary, Jesus, like every Jewish man, was required to wear fringes or tassels on his garments. The idea of concentrating the divine power in the person of Jesus is so strong that touching his garments is taken to be a source of healing. That much the crowd knew and responded too. The wider interpretation given here today is that it is best understood through the body of our churches as they continue to carry the message, interpreting as is felt best for the issues and concerns of today.

The lectionary readings of healing and reconciliation speak of a healing that is both physical and spiritual, in that the hurts and wounds of today’s divided world can find reconciliation and healing through Jesus and his message of peace. The earth aches for this peace and yearns for a radical transformation. Peace on earth will come through God entering the world and through Jesus the Son of God, Son of Man walking the face of the earth with the talk of God’s love and his authority to forgive. We know that only through world peace and forgiveness can action to alleviate climate impacts be effective.

Having noted the threat to humanity by our warming world, pray that we as individuals, and as church members, undertake all the actions, we can take ourselves. And pray that God will guide people around the world to demand action from governments and businesses, to avert some of the threats made known to us by current reports. Even as Jesus gave time to thought and prayer and then to action, so we too can shape our behaviour into thoughtful action without delay.