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2 Thessalonians 3:6-13
Notes on the Readings
The nations are gathering in Egypt for COP27, as the impacts of climate change are becoming more and more severe around the world. The floods in Pakistan left one third of the country under water and affected 33 million people. The floods were caused by heavier than usual monsoon rains and melting glaciers that followed a severe heat wave, all of which are linked to climate change.
At the same time the Horn of Africa is being impacted by a devastating drought. The rains have failed for four years in a row. Hundreds of thousands of children are so weak that they are no longer going to school. Climate change is not a future disaster , it is a lived reality for millions around the world – we have to act, urgently and implement the promises made over so many years. The time for talk is over, the time for action is now.
In this context, what is the vision for the New Earth?
A VISION FOR A NEW EARTH
Comments on Isaiah 65:17-25
A fundamental question for us as Christians is this – what does “New Earth” mean? Does God promise us a Planet B?
We sing choruses such as “This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through, if heaven’s not my home then Lord, what will I do?”
This theology teaches that the new Earth is not here, it is somewhere else still to come. God will usher in a New Earth “ Heaven is described as a new creation in which we shall move in new bodies, possessed of new names, singing new songs, living in a new city, by a new form of government, and challenged by new prospects of eternity with social justice for all. The paradise that man lost will be regained, but it will be much more. It will not be the old one repaired, patched up, and made over. When God says, “Behold, I make all things new,” the emphasis is on all things. One day we shall live in a brand-new world..” Billy Graham
This type of Eschatology (teachings about last things) entered our theology about 100 years ago and has become standard in many places. “my home is in heaven , I am just passing through this world”. However, when we consider the original Greek for the word “new” we see that there are two words used in Greek for new . There is ‘Neos” and “Kainos”
As Dave Bookless of A Rocha explains – Neos means ‘brand new’, and Kainos means ‘renewed’. He gives the example of a car in a serious accident, the one is written off and the insurance company gives you a brand new ‘neos’ car. The other is sent to the panel beater, restored, renewed, given a new engine, this is ‘kainos’- renewed vehicle. The word in this passage is kainos- new heaven and earth – means restored, renewed heaven and earth.
This is the same word for “if anyone is in Christ they are a new creation” – when I turn to Christ I am still the same person – my family will still recognise me when I walk through the door – but I have been renewed, restored I am a ‘kainos creation” 2 Cor 5:17
Rom 8 :21 tells us that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. This is a picture of renewal, not of a brand new earth – there is no Planet B.
A VISION FOR THIS RENEWED EARTH
Comments on Isaiah 65:17-25
This passage of Isaiah gives us a wonderful vision of what this New Earth will look like. The picture begins with humans in a right relationship with God.
V 19 I will rejoice over Jerusalem, and take delight in my people;
The starting point of this new Earth is a restored relationship between God and God’s people. This wonderful relationship with God is seen in practical differences in people’s lives and it is fascinating how some of those changes are seen in relationship with the Sustainable Development Goals.
- Infant mortality rates will plummet, life expectancy increase
A key marker of inequality in a country or a region is seen in the difference in infant mortality rates and life expectancy. There is nothing more heartbreaking then to lose a little child.
20 “Never again will there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not live out his years;
- Reducing infant mortality and improving life expectancy depend on some of these goals:
SDG Goals 1, End poverty in all its forms, Goal 3 – Good health and well being, Goal 6 Clean water and sanitation. Malnutrition, poverty, lack of access to health care – all these issues will be met in this vision of the new creation. One of the leadings causes of infant mortality is lack of access to clean water. According to UNICEF, At any given time, more than half of the developing world’s population is suffering from one or more of the main diseases associated with unsafe water and poor sanitation. a lack of clean water and sanitation is responsible for 1.6 million preventable child deaths each year. What a vision of a renewed earth where clean water flows and hunger and poverty are defeated!
- Build houses and live in them, Eat from your own fruit
One of the markers of inequality – of which South Africa is the worst in the world, is to see workers who live in shacks building luxury homes and hotels. Due to poor wages and lack of access to healthy food, their lunchtime meal is a cheap brand fizzy drink, half a loaf of white bread and some slices of ‘polony’ (bologna)
21 They will build houses and dwell in them; they will plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
This vision of Isaiah brings to mind the following SDGS: Goal 2 : Zero hunger, Goal 11 Sustainable cities and communities, Goal 12: responsible consumption and production. What a vision of fair work, and a sustainable city where there is decent housing and healthy food for all. In poorer communities access to healthy foods is limited, due to cost and distance. A study of young women in Soweto found the following:
One said: ”Small businesses that are opening up in my community and they all sell fries, literally they just all sell fries…” Women said that cheap and unhealthy fast foods are on every street corner: “bunny chow” – hollowed out bread stuffed with curry – vetkoek (a fried dough bread stuffed with different fillings) and fried chips are affordable and available within a few steps of most houses. They didn’t feel able to demand that healthier food be bought for their homes, because many were not contributing financially and were therefore not in a position to control food purchases.
As food prices rise, oil and sugar are rising more slowly in price – and unhealthy foods are becoming relatively cheaper, leading to an increase in type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and other diet-related conditions. In this alternative vision of a sustainable city – people have decent jobs and can grow their own healthy food. Abundant life!
- They will not bear children doomed to misfortune
23 They will not labor in vain, nor will they bear children doomed to misfortune;
This is one of the saddest phrases in the Bible – children doomed to misfortune – children trapped in cycles of poverty, or abuse or neglect. Studies show that what happens to a child in the first 1000 days will impact their future. The right nutrition and care during the 1000 day window influences not only whether the child will survive, but also his or her ability to grow, learn and rise out of poverty. As such, it contributes to society’s long-term health, stability and prosperity. (Unicef)
SDG Goal 8 : decent work – can give the families a chance to break out of poverty
- The lion and lamb will feed together
25 The wolf and the lamb will feed together, and the lion will eat straw like the ox, and dust will be the serpent’s food.
Our eco-systems are breaking down, humans are threatening almost 1 million species with extinction. The SDG goal 15: Life on land – halt biodiversity loss gives us a vision for the restoration of depleted eco-systems. This is why we lament that God’s creatures are disappearing from the Earth at a rate we can scarcely comprehend. From humble insects to majestic mammals, from microscopic plankton to towering trees, plants and creatures from across God’s dominion are becoming extinct, and may never be seen again. This devastation is, in itself, a tragic loss. We contemplate this loss and pray that it ends. We also pray for justice, as the most vulnerable among us suffer most deeply as the web of life begins to unravel. Our faith calls us to respond to this crisis with the urgency born of moral clarity.
Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Revd Dr Rachel Mash
Rev Dr Rachel Mash is the environmental Coordinator of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. (South Africa, Swaziland- Eswatini, Lesotho, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique). She works with the Green Anglicans youth Movement which is taking off in Africa. She is also the secretary to the Anglican Communion Environmental Network and sits on the steering group of the Season of Creation group. www.greenanglicans.org | www.seasonofcreation.org | https://acen.anglicancommunion.org/