|Lectionary||1st Reading||Psalm||2nd Reading||Gospel|
1 Kings 19:1-15
1 Kings 19: 1-15
Sometimes the environmental challenges feel overwhelming. You are involved in a wonderful clean-up campaign – the group leaves the area or river looking wonderful and then the following week there has been illegal dumping and it looks worse than before. Or you have been involved in protests against a new fossil fuel project, celebrate success but the next week there is another one in the news!.
Elijah felt this sense of hopelessness. Facing death threats from Ahab and Jezebel, he runs for his life. With a sense of abject failure he lies down under a bush and prays for death.
God’s response to Elijah’s despair is not to send him back into action, but to offer him comfort in the form of rest and food, not once but twice. And not just basic food, but freshly baked bread hot from the coals!
Cole Arthur Riley shares this, “I find it beautiful that in the face of terror, God doesn’t bid us toward courage as we might perceive it. Instead, he draws us toward fear’s essential sister, rest—a sister who is not meant to replace fear but to exist together in tension and harmony with it.”[i]
There are times when we need to refill our tanks. As activists we need to listen to our bodies, are we resting, are we eating healthily?
It was only when Elijah took time to rest that he could hear God’s voice – in his moment of despair he heard God speaking not in the might of the earthquake or fire but in the quiet whisper.
At our moments of exhaustion, take time to listen to the quiet whisper of God in creation. I am reminded of Wendell Berry’s beautiful words
“When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free”[ii]
Psalm 42, 43
Today’s Psalms have a similar theme, where the psalmist feels abandoned, lost in the waters of chaos. He remembers times of wonderful worship when God felt very close, and now he is feeling abandonment. But hope comes as he experiences God in creation
“let them bring me to your holy mountain, to the place where you dwell.”
We are called to have a balance, if you continue with activism without a break you will burn out, you need to give yourself time to meet with God. We miss those ‘Festive throngs’ from before COVID emptied out our churches, but we can meet with God in the quietness of creation, and our souls will be filled.
Gal 3: 23-29
“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”
When we look at our world we see that this is not a lived reality. Everyone knows about the war in Ukraine How many are aware that nearly four million people across Kenya, Somalia and Ethiopia are facing famine-like conditions? Urgent appeals are woefully funded, as other crises, including the war in Ukraine, are worsening the region’s escalating hunger crisis.
When we look at the response to refugees, who are fleeing from violence or climate disasters, when the faces are white they are freely accepted, but when they are not, the barriers go up.
If we are to take this verse seriously, it is important that we recognise the reality of environmental racism. Anglican Bishops wrote a statement in 2020 that said this
The world is slow to respond to climate change, hanging on to an increasingly precarious and unjust economic system. It is predominantly Black lives that are being impacted by drought, flooding, storms and sea level rise. The delayed global response to climate injustice gives the impression that #blacklivesdontmatter. Without urgent action Black lives will continue to be the most impacted, being dispossessed from their lands and becoming climate refugees.
We stand at a Kairos moment – in order to fight environmental injustice, we must also fight racial injustice.
We call attention in particular to the impact of environmental racism on indigenous peoples decimated by the effects of colonization. Tribes of people were enslaved and annihilated by harsh conditions and by diseases for which they had no immunity in the first decades of colonization.
The Anglican Communion Environmental Network also witnesses the growing and alarming rise in the number of people becoming refugees due to climate change. It is estimated that there are 40 million climate refugees in the world today, and by 2050 that number could reach one billion.
In Central America thousands of indigenous people have been made climate refugees. Upon reaching the United States, they are often subjected to double discrimination, firstly for being refugees and then as people whose first language is a tribal language rather than Spanish.
Pacific islanders in places such as Tonga and Fiji face the destruction of their homes and cultures due to sea level rise.
Even in the midst of the wealthiest countries Black people bear the brunt of environmental racism. Dumpsites for toxic chemicals are situated near poorer Black communities. These communities become food deserts – lacking both access to nutritious food and safe water.[iii]
Gospel: Luke 8:26-39
This is a tricky gospel passage. Jesus heals the man who is demon possessed on many levels. Firstly, he is healed physically – I am sure he must have been quite a wreck living as he was; secondly spiritually as the demons left him; and thirdly socially as he was now able to return to his village and re-enter society.
And yet Jesus doesn’t seem to care at all for the pigs he sends the demons into them, where they rush into the sea and drown, destroying the income of the herders!
It is hard for us to understand the revulsion of Jews of Jesus’ day to pork. In the Law of Moses eating pork was forbidden -for various reasons. Some animals that were called unclean were objects of pagan worship, some were scavengers on unclean carcases, some were out of the order of creation (fish that don’t swim, birds that don’t fly, four legged animals that don’t eat grass).
One thing to notice was that this event took place on the other side of the lake – in largely Gentile territory. That explains the pig herders for Gentiles at that time did eat pork. Some commentators suggest that the owners were Jews who could not eat the pork but were selling it to Gentiles, and that is why Jesus allowed the pig herd to be destroyed.
The story raises the whole issue of ethical foods – many cultures have foods that they do not eat based on ethical, moral or cultural reasons.
In our current times, there seem to be two key reasons why Christians should also refuse or reduce meats eating.
The first is animal cruelty – chickens, pigs and cows are often kept in extremely inhumane circumstances. We know that animals are part of the great choir of creation that worships God in their own way – when they are so crowded in cages that their beaks must be cut off, how can this be?
The second is the environmental impacts of industrial meat production. Meat—particularly beef—drives climate change in two ways: first, through cows’ emission of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, and second, by destroying forests as they are converted to grazing land. Shifting our diets away from meat toward a more plant based diet, choosing vegetarian or vegan options, is a practical step that we can make to reduce our emissions.
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/