|Lectionary||1st Reading||Psalm||2nd Reading||Gospel|
Loss and Damage
I am based in the city of Nairobi, Kenya. Kenya is a beautiful country blessed with good farmland and natural resources, with a sizable skilled population.
The problems of Kenya just like most of Africa are not problems of capacity but problems of leadership. The determination to fight corruption is one that has been long promised but short on delivery. The theft and misuse of resources has meant that development projects have not been completed.
Kenya has also recently suffered greatly from the prolonged drought that affected the East and the Horn of Africa. The four years of successive drought have weathered the resilience of many farming communities and left them unable to recover from this setback. This has led to problems of migration and the squeeze on resources in particular areas.
The drought is causing great loss and damage to life and livelihoods and the eco-systems.
NOTES ON THE READINGS
Exodus 14: 19-31 – The wrath of Mother Nature
In the eyes of the Lord, there is a oneness of all of creation’s participation when His purposes are accomplished.
Creation participated in the deliverance of Israel from Egypt. Both the Red Sea and the Jordan rolled back for them. Creation celebrated when the Israelites were finally freed from bondage in Egypt. Creation is part, not apart from us.
In this passage we see nature as an actor in the story of salvation – first of all the pillar of cloud moves to hide the fleeing Hebrew slaves from the army of Egypt. Then as Moses holds out his arm over the sea the Lord drives back the sea with a strong east wind. The cloud, the wind and the waters save the people of Israel from the Egyptian oppressors. Nachmanides a leading mediaeval Jewish scholar wrote that God made the sea parting appear less like a miracle and more like a ‘natural occurrence’ by using the wind, so that the Egyptians would be enticed into the sea.
A recent computer modelling study by researchers at the US National Center for Atmospheric Research shows how the movement of wind as described in Exodus could have parted the waters. There is a bend where an ancient river is believed to have merged with a coastal lagoon. A strong wind, blowing hard all night could have pushed water into the two waterways, opening up a land bridge on the bend, and allowing people to walk across the mud flats to safety. As soon as the wind stopped blowing, the waters would have rushed back in.
Poignantly, these researchers were actually investigating how Pacific ocean typhoons can drive storm surges, with sudden increases in water levels causing severe destruction on land. Increasingly strong typhoons (known as hurricanes in other parts of the world) are a result of human caused climate change. Warmer ocean temperatures super charge typhoons. As the Earth’s atmosphere warms, so does the surface temperature of the ocean. When the ocean is warmer, it increases the rate of evaporation, leading to the formation of more water vapor in the atmosphere. This additional moisture acts as fuel for typhoons, contributing to their strength and the potential for heavy rainfall
Although this Exodus story tells us of the salvation of the Hebrew nation it is also a tale of destruction – an army of young men and horses drowning, a blow to the nation, its economy and political leadership. As hurricanes increase in frequency and intensity, so does the damage to infrastructure and loss of life and livelihoods increase.
When Israel saw the wondrous power that the Lord had wielded against the Egyptians, they feared the Lord
The people of Israel found faith when they saw the might of the Lord. We often look for miracles before we believe in God, and yet we only need to look at the wonders for God’s creation to believe:
“Lift high your eyes and see: who created these?” (Isaiah 40:26)
PSALM 114 – Worship the Creator , not the creation.
This Psalm is a beautiful poem retelling the pushing back of the Red Sea. Here the terrifying destructive power of Nature has been tamed, the sea flees before God and the mountains run away, skipping like lambs. The balance of nature has been recovered.
This is a different emphasis on the story, rather than the wrath of nature being revealed in all its destructive force, nature is seen almost as a plaything in the hands of God. This is perhaps something of a polemic against other faiths who worshipped the power of ‘Creation rather than the creator” (Rom 1 :25). Even the Earth trembles at the presence of God.
One of the challenges of Care for Creation theology is that when we worship God outside or talk of the sacredness of nature, people may be confused and say that is ‘nature worship’. To worship creation would be to break the first of the ten commandments “you shall have no other gods before me”. We worship God, but see the power and character of God revealed in nature . (Rom 1:20) “ God’s power and divine nature have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.
God is the artist and we can see God’s finger prints in Nature – let us worship God in awe and wonder
Romans 14: 1-12 To eat meat or not to eat meat, that is the question
One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. 3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Rom 14:2
Paul wrote to congregations that were often very divided, culturally, by class, by lifestyle. What does this passage say to the tricky question of whether a Christian should be a vegan, vegetarian, flexitarian, pescatarian, or omnivore?
Firstly – Paul is addressing the issue of food that had been sacrificed to idols, we now live in a very different context where we understand the health and environmental impacts of diet. So an omnivore cannot triumphantly point to verse two and say vegetarians are those of little faith!!
What are the principles to bear in mind around plant based or meat diets? The first is around treatment of animals and the second is environmental.
Firstly, the treatment of animals. There is no doubt that the way that animals are treated in industrial agriculture is appalling. One only has to see videos of pigs and chickens running and playing freely to see that these are creatures with feelings, emotions and who feel pain. To trap them their whole life, pumped full of antibiotics is cruel. God told Adam to name the animals which means that we are to look after and have a caring relationship with them. So the minimum that we should do as Christians is to avoid eating meat and eggs from animals raised in misery. This also means putting pressure on campaigns that get chickens out of cages and bans sows being kept in tiny cages etc.
Secondly the environmental impact. In order to consider the impact of meat eating , compare a lion with an impala – the same area of land can support many hundreds of buck but only one or two carnivores. It is much more effective to get our nutrition from plants, than to feed those plants to an animal which is then raised for food! It takes 25 kg of grain to produce 1 kg of beef.
The rearing of livestock generates 14 per cent of all carbon emissions globally, similar to the amount generated by all transport put together. Currently, farmed animals occupy nearly 30 per cent of the ice-free land on Earth. The livestock sector consumes roughly one-third of all freshwater on earth. Meat production is also responsible for large areas of deforestation, for land degradation and pollution of water. Moving to a more plant based diet is one of most effective steps you can take to reduce your carbon footprint.
3 The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them.
Paul’s message to us it to treat others with respect. Judging and criticising does not encourage others to change, it tends to make them stick more strongly to their ‘right’ to eat meat. Rather share facts and information with respect – not just negative facts but delicious vegetarian or vegan recipes!
Matthew 18 21-35 Forgive us our debts
Jesus’ teaching is very clear here – we are called to forgive debts, not just once or seven times, but seventy seven times!
We have tended to over-spiritualise the issue of debts “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors’ in the King James Version is now prayed as “forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us”
In this passage we are brought back to the reality of the impact of spiralling debt.
24 As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of gold[b] was brought to him. 25 Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.
We see here the devastating impact of debt as the man cannot pay and all that he has must be sold, including himself and his wife and children.
There is no doubt that Climate Change is throwing people into debt. Mozambique for example was devastated in 2019 by Hurricane Idai, the City of Beira will go down in history as the first major city to be completed devastated by Climate change. The country was forced to take out loans to rebuild vital infrastructure, roads, hospitals , schools. Just a couple of years later Hurricane Ana in 2022 destroyed some of the infrastructure that had been built and Hurricane Freddy followed in 2023. Each disaster increases the debt for the country.
On an individual level, a family will be struck by climate change related disaster such as floods or drought that makes them lose their harvest for the year. The only way to buy seed and other necessities is to take out loans. Survival becomes more and more difficult as you are servicing the loan and when another disaster strikes -the family is thrust into abject poverty.
Developing countries are calling on the global North to recognise the impact of climate change, loss of life and livelihoods and damage to infrastructure and economies and to pay into a loss and damage fund. Loss and damage is and will continue to harm vulnerable communities the most, making addressing the issue a matter of climate justice. At the COP27 UN climate summit in 2022 it was agreed to create a fund for addressing losses and damages in particularly vulnerable nations, many questions remain around how it will work and how much money wealthy nations will provide.
Will the Global North recognise that it is a spiritual requirement to forgive others their debts?
Lord you called your people out of Egypt
to new purpose and responsibility in the Promised Land.
Bind us together in care for each other
and deepen in us our vocation
to care for the community of life
through Jesus Christ our Lord
Eco Bible Volume 1: An ecological Commentary on Genesis and Exodus
We need to talk about meat: https://unfccc.int/blog/we-need-to-talk-about-meat
Loss and damage https://www.wri.org/insights/loss-damage-climate-change
Loss and damage a theological reflection https://www.christianaid.org.uk/sites/default/files/2022-10/loss-and-damage-a-theological-reflection.pdf
Eco Congregations Scotland- Season of Creation https://www.ecocongregationscotland.org/creation-time/
Bob Kikuyu is the Global Theology Advisor at Christian Aid, guiding the organisation in ensuring that our policies, processes and practices are developed and reviewed through a reflective process using theological input. He also leads on our global church relations, helping us to build and participate in movements for change