6th Sunday after Pentecost

Lectionary 1st Reading Psalm 2nd Reading Gospel
Anglican lectionary
Gen 24:34-38 & 42-49 & 58-67
Romans 7:15-25a
Matt 11:16-19, 25-30
Catholic lectionary:
Zechariah. 9:9-10
Romans 8:9, 11-13


Old Testament

These verses are extracts from the love story of Isaac and Rebekah, and contain many details showing how different ancient middle eastern cultures are from much of today’s world. Abraham’s unnamed chief servant plays a central role, travelling to Nahor in Abraham’s homeland, prayerfully seeking God’s guidance about a suitable wife for Isaac, and acting with careful diplomacy in negotiating with Rebekah’s family.

There is nothing explicitly about creation care, but there is a context of good things being God’s blessings, of the importance of watering places in a dryland ecosystem, of seeking God’s wisdom (see sermon notes) and working within rather than against cultural norms. Verse 50 (not in the set reading) contains the lovely words from Laban and Bethuel, “This is from the Lord; we can say nothing to you one way or the other”. Rebekah’s role is not entirely passive which may have been counter- cultural at the time. In vs. 57-58 she is consulted about the marriage proposal and agrees to go to meet Isaac, and in v.67 we are assured that although this was an arranged marriage, it was also a love match.


This is an unusual Psalm and reads more like part of Song of Songs. It is a Royal wedding song with fulsome praise of the King (vs.1-9) and then his Bride (vs.10-17). Christians have usually interpreted it as Messianic, pointing to Christ as the King and the Church as his bride, and Hebrews 1:8-9 quotes vs.6-7 in relation to Jesus. Following the Old Testament reading – the love story of Isaac and Rebekah – we should interpret this both spiritually and in terms of loving human relationships.

Perhaps we can also go further, as Ellen Davis does in her commentary on Proverbs [Ellen Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, 2000, 265-272], and note the three loving relationships at the heart of God’s purposes from creation onwards: the spiritual, the social (including love and marriage) and the ecological. The love flowing from God in creation itself is seen both in this idealised portrait of human love, and in the relationship of intimacy and purity into which God invites his people.


The first seven chapters of Romans contain St Paul’s fullest overview of the human need for salvation from sin through faith in Jesus Christ. Chapter 8, which follows this passage, puts the human salvation story in a cosmic context of God’s good purposes for all creation, which is longing to be liberated from its bondage to decay (8:21).

However, in these verses the focus is on our personal inner struggle between our sinful nature, subject to the law of sin and death, and our identity in Jesus Christ (7:25) as those freed from sin to live by grace. We can apply verses 18-19 ecologically: “For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing.” Many of us struggle with knowing what we should do (recycle more, avoid plastics, reduce polluting travel) and the temptations of an easy consumer-materialist life.

Rather than wallowing in guilt and wretchedness (v.24) we should focus on our life in Christ (v.25). We are not called to become slaves to ecological legalism (eco-Pharisees) but are set free to be disciples of Jesus. Our response in caring for creation, reducing our carbon footprint, and living sustainably, should flow out of our loving, worshipful response to Jesus, who is Lord of creation (Colossians 1:15-16), not out of guilt and duty.


At first reading, this seems a strange and disconnected series of verses, and impossible to relate to sustainability! Yet, on closer inspection, there are several important insights contained here. In vs.16-19 Jesus contrasts John the Baptist’s ascetic, simple lifestyle with his own more celebratory, community-orientated, perhaps even consumerist (!) lifestyle, and points out how both were criticised, condemned and judged by people. As we noted with our Epistle from Romans, it is easy for Christians who are concerned about environmental and justice issues to become judgmental about others who live differently. It is God’s job to judge, not ours.

The important thing is to look at the fruit our lives produce for God’s Kingdom: “wisdom is proved right by her deeds” (v.19). The reference to wisdom is important. Biblical wisdom, as opposed to human wisdom, is rooted in knowledge of God and the study of nature / creation. 


WISDOM IN A TIME OF CRISIS (based mainly on Matthew 11)

We are facing a deep global ecological crisis, which in turn is causing social, economic and political upheaval. We hear a lot about the Climate Crisis. After the latest report of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change), Climate Scientist and committed Christian Professor Katharine Hayhoe stated, “Climate change has already caused widespread and substantial losses to almost every aspect of human life on this planet, and the impacts on future generations depend on the choices we make NOW” [Twitter, 20th March 2023]. Yet Climate Change is only one aspect of the problems we have caused to our home planet.

Researchers increasingly use the concept of “planetary boundaries” to describe nine areas of human impact upon natural systems. The boundaries use a traffic light system to indicate whether current human impact is ‘green’ (a safe operating area for humanity), ‘amber’ (zone of uncertainty and risk), or ‘red’ (high risk to human thriving).

Figure 1. The nine planetary boundaries

Source: “Planetary Boundaries,” Stockholm Resilience Centre, University of Stockholm
accessed May 16, 2023, https://www.stockholmresilience.org/research/planetary-boundaries.html;
Credit: J. Lokrantz/Azote based on Steffen et al., 2015


It can be seen that climate change is currently in the ‘amber’ or warning zone, whereas ‘Biochemical flows’ and ‘Biosphere integrity’ are deeply into the red danger zone. ‘Biochemical flows’ refer mainly to nitrogen and phosphorous in agricultural fertilizers and their impact on soil and water quality. ‘Biosphere integrity’ covers loss of species and habitats (biodiversity loss) threatening earth’s life-support systems. The essentials on which all life depends are rapidly disappearing due to humanity’s impact.

To illustrate this, it is estimated that of all mammals on earth, 96% are livestock and humans and only 4% are wild mammals [The Guardian, 21st May 2018 based https://www.pnas.org/doi/full/10.1073/pnas.1711842115]. We cannot live without the oxygen, water, food, and many other services that healthy nature and wildlife produce. So, in this context, what wisdom can the Bible give us?

From our Gospel, we hear about two kinds of wisdom. In Matthew 11:19 Jesus commends wisdom that is proved right by her deeds, whereas in v.25 Jesus praises his Father who has ‘hidden these things from the wise and learned’. The ‘wise and learned’ are those who rely on human wisdom: what is gained from the abstract study of books, from human-centred philosophies and knowledge. Today, as we face global environmental crises, the wisdom of our politicians, economists and academics has worn thin. Our leaders don’t seem to know what to do, or are unwilling to do it. We need a different kind of wisdom. Jesus tells us this has been “revealed to little children”. Sometimes children see the stupidity of adults very clearly. We need to listen to children, to young prophetic voices like Greta Thunberg from Sweden, Malala Yousafzai from Pakistan, and Vanessa Nakate from Uganda. We also need to listen to the voices of indigenous and marginalised peoples across the world: those who have the deeply rooted nature wisdom that technocentric societies have lost, and those who are the victims of the groaning of creation today.

Biblical wisdom is very different from human wisdom. Proverbs 9:10 says ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.’ Wisdom comes in knowing our place before God, our creator and saviour, and from knowing our place in creation. In both the Old Testament, and Jesus’ teaching in the Gospels, wisdom is found both in knowing God and in studying nature. Solomon, the wisest man who lived, gained God-given wisdom by his study of plants, animals and birds (1 Kings 4:33). Professor Ellen Davis writes, “It is regrettable that the church has in the last three centuries largely lost sight of the fact that ‘nature wisdom’ is indispensable to an accurate estimation of the proper human role in God’s creation. Perhaps the time has at last come for the revival of this branch of theology” [Ellen Davis, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs, 2000, 56]. Jesus, with his frequent use of nature as the source of his teaching and parables, stood consciously in the Old Testament wisdom tradition. If we want to live wisely today, we need to study natural systems and mimic them more closely. We also need to listen to those indigenous communities who have never forgotten how to learn from, and live well within, nature, and to those scientists who dedicate their lives to studying and protecting wildlife and ecosystems.

So, what does this God-centred, nature-studying wisdom look like in practice?

First, it is relational: Biblical wisdom comes from understanding that our fundamental relationships are with God, our human neighbours, and the earth and its creatures. We need to ensure that we have healthy relationships with all of these. Without God, we tend to either worship creation, or exploit it selfishly. Without loving our neighbour, we fail to love God or ourselves. Without knowing our place in creation, we are rootless and damage all that is around us. We need to work hard on all three of these core relationships. In terms of nature, we need to know our local place: to be aware of the changes that are happening, to know the names and habits of the wildlife and the uses of the plants that are native to our local area. We need to feel deep within ourselves, the groaning of God’s Spirit at the wounding of the earth by our greed and pollution.

Secondly, it is compassionate and loving:  Genesis 24 and Psalm 45 are both love stories: Rebekah and Isaac, and a King and his bride. The loving intimacy at the heart of our closest human relationships is a reflection of the love in the heart of the Godhead – flowing between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. That love is poured out into creation – which is itself an expression of Divine love. So we too should have relationships of love, with God, with fellow humans, and with creation. Psalm 145 contains these wonderful words: “The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made” (v.9). God’s goodness and compassion extend to the whole of creation, not just to people. This is very important theologically and ethically. It has implications for how we understand God’s loving and redeeming purposes for animals, birds, plants and ecosystems. It also has implications for how we, as those called to reflect God’s image, treat our fellow creatures. We are to exercise the same love and compassion as God does towards all creatures. The word ‘racham’ translated as compassion, or in other places as ‘mercy’ or ‘tender love’, is a powerful deeply-emotional term with its Hebrew roots in term for ‘womb’. God’s feeling towards his creatures, and all his creation, is that of a mother towards her child, and we should seek to discern and discover the same protective, passionate intimacy in our relation with our fellow creatures and our earthly home. We should seek to live without cruelty to fellow creatures that God is compassionate towards. This has clear implications for our attitudes to meat or dairy products that are produced by intensive and cruel farming methods, and to animal testing or experimentation. More positively, we should support wildlife conservation, habitat restoration and wildlife-friendly gardening.

Thirdly, it is Jesus-centred. Psalm 45 is referred to in Hebrews 1 as fulfilled in Jesus, the Kingly lover who enters our world because God loves the world so much. Jesus as Messianic King comes to bring God’s rule of ‘peace’ or Shalom. This peace is for the whole world. The term Shalom refers to restored relationships in every area of life: within ourselves, with God, with our human neighbours, and throughout creation. Shalom reminds us of the scope of the Gospel – God’s Good News, which of course with New Testament eyes we see focussed on Jesus Christ. The Gospel is not simply a spiritual transaction, but about the restoration of God’s rule – the kingdom of the just and humble King – in every sphere of the created order. For us as Christ-ians, followers of Jesus, caring for creation flows out of making Jesus our King – letting him be Lord in every area of our lives. It is not about a list of ecological commandments to make us feel guilty. It is about a relationship of love and a response of worship.

So, as we tackle the massive and multiple ecological crises we face, let us learn to live wisely in God’s world: to work intentionally on our relationships with God, with our neighbours – particularly the most vulnerable – and with creation. Let us seek to reflect and develop God’s motherly compassion towards all people and all creatures. And, let us do all of this with Jesus at the centre, because all things were made by Him and for Him, and as we care for creation in His name, we demonstrate that Jesus is Lord.

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Revd Dr Dave Bookless

Revd Dr Dave Bookless was born in India and has lived in multicultural Southall, London for over 30 years. He works for A Rocha International (www.arocha.org) as Director of Theology, speaking and writing about creation care, and has lectured in over 40 countries. He also serves as an Anglican priest in London Diocese, is a Catalyst for Creation Care with the Lausanne Movement, and has contributed to over 25 books.

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