3rd Sunday after Pentecost [by Dr Rachel Mash]

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa


In 1997, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew stated the following

“To commit a crime against the natural world is a sin. For human beings to cause species to become extinct and to destroy the biological diversity of God’s creation; for human beings to degrade the integrity of the earth by causing changes in its climate, by stripping the earth of its natural forests, or by destroying its wetlands; for human beings to injure other human beings with disease by contaminating the earth’s waters, its land, its air, and its life, with poisonous substances – all of these are sins.”

In the Galatians passage 5:1, 13-25 there is a list of those issues which we normally consider to be sins:

5:19 Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these. I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.

These are mostly individual sins and the Church has tended to focus very much on one or two of them such as sexual immorality or drunkenness. And yet the passage goes on to say:

5:14 For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

God has given us certain commands, how can we say we are loving our neighbour if we are destroying the web of life on which our neighbour depends for life? When our lifestyles are causing misery for the poorest of the poor in terms of flooding, drought and soaring food prices?

The Law of God includes some basic teachings:

The creation of the world by the loving Creator (Genesis 1.26), Genesis 2.15 (we are commissioned to serve and preserve creation), Genesis 9.8-17 ( the covenant between God and the world), and Ezekiel 34.18-19 (abuse of creation and injustice to our neighbour), as well as the Lord’s Beatitudes (Matthew 5.2-12) and Mark 16:15 (the Great Commission – preach good news to the whole of creation)

So therefore if we break the law of God, by not caring for creation and by not loving our neighbour, we are sinning. Our neighbour is not just the person who lives downstream of our waste and carbon emissions, “our neighbour” also refers to the generations to come.

And yet, it is not only the command to “love our neighbour” that we are breaking. A powerful quote from Gus Speth, former Environmental Advisor to President Bill Clinton said the following

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

Selfishness, greed and apathy – these are all ‘individual sins”. Climate Change is a symptom of the underlying cause which is greed and inequality. Our access to cheap consumer goods comes from abuse of the environment and abuse of workers. The rich are getting richer, the poor are getting poorer. Authentic Christianity has always been deeply suspicious of materialistic views of prosperity – “ you cannot worship God and Mammon”, and yet over the centuries we have rationalised this saying away. We need to move from a vision of development as ever increasing industrial growth, to a vision of life and community sustaining civilization.

Biblical archaeology studies looking at the ruins of ancient Israel reveal that during the period when houses were more or less the same size, the prophets grew silent. At other periods when huge houses stood next to tiny dwellings, the voice of the prophets rose and they thundered for justice.

A sense of sinfulness , of lament can lead to repentance and change.

We live in a global community , where our selfish actions impact on those most vulnerable. In the words of Bono: “I think that God is on His knees to us, to the Church, waiting for us to turn around this supertanker of indifference. Waiting for us to recognize that distance can no longer decide who is our neighbor. We can’t choose our neighbors any more.”

by Rev Dr Rachel Mash, Southern Africa