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Environmental Stewardship Commission
(MEESC)

Episcopal Church in Minnesota

 
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We meet quarterly close to the solstice and equinox.


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Resolution on the Spirituality of Food Production

Resolution on Church Buildings and Grounds


Resolution on Creation Season

Resolution on Green Congregations

 

 

Lectionary Reflection

Year C, Proper 24
Revised Common Lectionary (Semi-Continuous Track)
Old Testament (Hebrew Scripture) Reading

 

Jeremiah 31: 27-34 :

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will sow the house of Israel and the house of Judah with the seed of humans and the seed of animals. And just as I have watched over them to pluck up and break down, to overthrow, destroy, and bring evil, so I will watch over them to build and to plant, says the Lord. In those days they shall no longer say:

‘The parents have eaten sour grapes,
and the children’s teeth are set on edge.’

But all shall die for their own sins; the teeth of everyone who eats sour grapes shall be set on edge.

The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah. It will not be like the covenant that I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt—a covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, says the Lord. But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the Lord: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the Lord’, for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the Lord; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more.

 

 

Reflections on Jeremiah 31: 27-34
by the Rev Margaret W. Thomas

God promises a new covenant. The prophet uses metaphorical language for Israel of planting and nurturing and caring in order to renew their spirits following the time of testing. This language may also be used literally. Remember John Steinbeck's book The Grapes of Wrath which emanated from the dust bowl years of American? New planting and tilling practices helped to alleviate farming's loss of moisture which resulted in blowing earth pollution in those days. The book highlighted the plight of the poor and marginalized who always suffer most in climate change and resulting inability to feed themselves.

by John G. Gibbs, PhD

God's purposes are not limited to human beings, much less to "I, me, and myself." Much as the interior health of mind and soul depends on consciousness of God's presence as the creator/redeemer and healer (forgiver), also our entire bodily existence depends on the constancy of God's grace toward all creation. Truth to tell, so does our spiritual life depend on the same reality. "Even more, given the close interrelationship of human beings and environment, only when the natural order has been healed will human salvation be fully realized. (Terence Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Abingdon, 2005), p. 194 (italics his).

Estrangement exists not only between individuals, and not only between human communities, but also between humanity and the creation. God's new covenant addresses all these alienations. It places the nexus between humanity and cosmic totality on as sure a footing as the nexus between the creation and God. The Sinai covenant is made new and as sure as God's covenant with Noah and all creation (Fretheim, p. 325n47). The resulting change in human beings has "positive effects on the natural order" (Fretheim, p. 196; cf. Ezekiel 36:29-36), and a "covenant of peace" is made between humans and animals (Ez. 34:25-29). Hosea 2:28-23, Amos 9:11-15, Isaiah 11:6-9 and other texts describe the same phenomenon. Jeremiah's vision of the new covenant likewise includes the creation.

That inclusion of the creation is all the more remarkable and illuminating when we recall that Jeremiah wrote for exiles who knew too well into the marrow of their bones the terror that Jeremiah accurately portrayed, and needed desperately the rugged hope he brought to them. "This artifact of hope, this artifact of terror," as Louis Stulman describes the book of Jeremiah, "may indeed be as urgent today as it was for a refugee community living under the shadow of empire in the sixth century B.C.E. It may also be as disconcerting, especially for citizens of the empire." That's us. (Stulman's article in Interpretation, vol. 62 #1, p. 19, italics his)

The following comments are a slightly revised version of my meditation for Proper 25, Year B in the Creation Season of 2009 (elsewhere on this website). We remain focused on the covenant formula which is given its most well-known expression in the "new covenant" text Jeremiah 31-27-34.

First, there is no covenant without creation. That may not at first be apparent when one recalls Jeremiah's oft-repeated covenant formula: "And you shall be my people, and I will be your God" (Jer. 30:22; cf. Jer.7:23; 11:4; 24:7; 31:1, 33; 32:38). That formula appears to be focused solely on the relationship between humans and God. However, as the prophet makes clear, we do not live in a vacuum. We live in the creation, within the space/time continuum. That is where God's covenantal promise is made. There in the creation is where covenant comes to life, becomes visible, and finds expression.

This covenant formula also does not exist in a vacuum. The formula's context spells out blessings that covenantal living brings to the creation. Our receiving "a land flowing with milk and honey" depends on our hearing and doing the words of this covenant (Jer. 11:5; 32:22). The continued "goodness" of the world for us (Gen. 1) depends on our looking forward rather than backward, and walking "only in the way that [God] commands" (7:23-24).

Second, to live otherwise is to become a curse not only to ourselves but also to the places where we live (24:1-10). That is when "The parents have eaten sour grapes, and the children's teeth are set on edge" (31:29). That is when (from God's perspective): "my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water" (Jer. 2:13).

Broken covenant leads to devastated ecology. When the people "are foolish and do not know [God]," that is when the whole earth is "waste and void" and there is "no light" in the heavens (4:23). "Because of this the earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black" (Jer. 4:28). Broken covenant leads to broken groaning creation (cf. Rom. 8:22).

This "eerie vision of the order of creation returning to primeval chaos" (4:23-28) is not scientific fiction, for it is hauntingly redolent of, among other things: "global economic policies that breed resentment, rage, and abject despair"; "rapid depletion of non-replaceable natural (and cultural) resources"; "limited access to basic health care, adequate food, and safe water among the world's most vulnerable communities" (Louis J. Stulman, "Jeremiah as a Messenger of Hope in Crisis," Interpretation, vol. 62 #1 (January 2008), p.6).

Third, on the other hand, covenantal living, as Jeremiah describes it in his Book of Consolation (30:1-31:40), brings "grace in the wilderness" (31:2), "vineyards on the mountains" (31:5), peace and restoration "by brooks of water" where God's people may walk "in a straight path in which they shall not stumble" (31:9).

The "new covenant" (Jer. 31:31-34) brings a future-oriented perspective on all creation, and on our life within it. The repeated emphatic promises of renewed covenant foresee not only the city Jerusalem rebuilt, but also the fields renewed to the point of being "sacred" (Jer. 31:40). Toward that end this prophet puts his money where is faith is. Even while the Babylonian army has Jerusalem under siege, and the surrounding territory occupied, Jeremiah buys a piece of land under the occupation forces at Anatoth (Jer. 32). If ever there was a future-oriented perspective, this is it. If ever there was hope for the creation, this prophesy-in-action brings hope for both people and land.

Fourth, renewal of covenant leads of necessity not only to new life within the People of God, but also to renewal of land, animals, plants - the whole ecosphere. When the law (or will) of God is within us, on our hearts, then we become a blessing to the entire ecosystem of which we are a part. There is a correspondence between the "fixed order" of creation and the reliable perdurance of God's covenant with us (and with "every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth," Gen. 9:16). We know that what God does with and for us endures, for we know the "fixed order" of "the sun for light by day" and "the moon and the stars for light by night" (Jer. 31:35).

"Everlasting covenant" is the one hope for our planet. When we leave behind the cracked cisterns of an inhumane globalization, when we forsake capital gains at the expense of impoverished people, when instead we build eco-justice in place of systemic injustice, when we embrace the interconnected web of life and rejoice in this God's gift to us, when we rejoice to be included within "the offspring of Israel" (Jer. 31:36-37) - that is when we become a blessing to all creation, and a recognizable image of God. The promise is then fulfilled: "You shall be my people, and I will be your God."

Jeremiah's Book of Consolation expects a future when humanity shall live in "new-covenant"-loyalty toward both God and the creation. As exiles long ago returned joyfully to their native land, so humanity today can leave behind its dry broken cisterns, and drink from the gushing fountain of flowing water.

If we do that, Jeremiah's expectation will be fulfilled, the "remnant" will be saved (31:7), and yet again "a great company…shall return" to harmony with their native land, "and they shall be radiant over the goodness of the Lord, over the grain, the wine, and the oil, and over the young of the flock, and the herd; their life shall become like a watered garden, and they shall never languish again" (31:12). What a day it will be for the creation when the promise is realized: "You shall be my people, and I will be your God."

 

 

Reflections on other Readings
[Standard (Episcopal) and Revised Common Lectionary]
for Year C, Proper 24

 
Revised Common Lectionary
 
 

Standard (Episcopal) Lectionary

Old Testament
(Hebrew Scripture)
Reading:
Jeremiah 31:27-34
this page
Genesis 32: 22-31
no reflection available
Genesis 32:8, 22-30
no reflection available
Psalm:
Psalm 121
no reflection available
Psalm 121
no reflection available
New Testament
Reading:
Gospel:

 

  • The Rev Margaret W. Thomas, a retired Episcopal priest, resuded in Duluth, MN, when she originally wrote this reflection in 2010.
  • John G. Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, resided in Park Rapids, MN, when he originally wrote his reflection in 2010.

Margaret, John, and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to The Rev Margaret W. Thomas, John G. Gibbs, PhD, or any MEESC member, or mail them to:


MEESC
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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This page last updated 2010-10-14.

 

 
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