Proper 10 (15), Seventh Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
16 July 2023
Psalm 65:(1-8), 9-13
Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23
CBC News reported last week that this year’s drought is even more dire than last year’s drought.
A report from the River Forecast Centre says that four out of 34 water basins are at Drought Level 5, and 18 are at Level 4, on a scale that goes from zero to five.
We are told that this is the first time that this early in the year much of B.C. has experienced such levels of drought.1
For me this report coincided with headlines that told of climate activists in Germany gluing themselves to runways in Hamburg and Düsseldorf, causing flight delays, as well as anger and frustration among travellers.2
The name of the group responsible for these actions is “The Last Generation.”
In this case, activists and travellers did not meet face to face. But in other cases, in which activists glued themselves to roads, encounters took place and I imagine that they were not pretty.
Is it possible to reconcile radical climate activists with average citizens who simply want to live their lives? It seems that both have a point. We need to live our lives and we cannot live in a state of permanent anxiety. It is also true that we cannot live as if climate events did not effect us. Just remember the Province’s pleas for water conservation, something that only deals with symptoms, not causes.
Since these activists are radical, we might be tempted to call on them to lighten up, to be positive. We might do so because we can sense their anguish, and it is not easy to live in anguish. No one cannot live ‘the end’ every single day.
We might also do so because we are caught in various states of denial.
But recognizing the burden of what is often called climate anxiety and trying to cheer up someone is not the same as presenting a solution to a problem, or even for both sides to agree that there is a problem. Asking someone to lighten up may work when someone is in a bad mood, or carries a bad experience from one situation into another unrelated situation, but it falls short of providing a resolution.
The English literary theorist Terry Eagleton describes our helplessness in a series of lectures entitled Hope Without Optimism.3 On the first page he writes, “There may me many good reasons for believing that a situation will turn out well, but to expect that it will do so because you are an optimist is not one of them. It is just as irrational as believing that all will be well because you are an Albanian, or because it has just rained for three days in a row.”4
In last week’s reading the apostle Paul showed that the Law of Moses cannot bring about transformation. And having seen that this is so we know that we are all are on equal footing. All need to be saved. Paul had described our dilemma, asked who could save us, and then had answered that it is God in Jesus who has and who wants to save us.
In today’s reading Paul begins to unfold what such saving means.
It means that there is no condemnation. This echoes Jesus when he said that God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him.5
This means all the agony and despair expressed in chapter seven, ‘O wretched person that I am …’ is taken up into God. We need not despair, which reminds us of the despair we experience over many things.
But this not needing to despair is not because the things that worry us do not matter, they do. And thinking of those whose despair stems from environmental degradation, Paul will say that creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God. That is, creation waits for our redemption because our redemption will give reprieve to creation. Why will our redemption give reprieve to creation? Because the redeemed are no longer in the flesh but in the Spirit.
And flesh means simply our human ways, what we do when left to our own devices. When we say that the market will solve the housing crisis, or say that science will save us, we are in the flesh. It is not a duality of matter and spirit, it is about the contrast of God and self. Spirit means to live in God, and with God, and for God to live in us. It is the regime change of our lives. It is no longer I who live but it is Christ who lives in me.6
In the way that Paul echoes Jesus about it being God’s intention to save the world and not to condemn it, Paul’s speech about the indwelling of the Spirit also echoes Jesus as he prepares his disciples for his departure, which is his cross.7
Paul speaks of those who are in Christ Jesus (v.1), of the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus having set us free (v.2), of being in the Spirit (v.9), of Christ being among and in us (v.10), of the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwelling in and among us (v.11).
And so what happens here is that for God’s children the Spirit replaces Sin as the indwelling power that determines our direction and behaviour. In chapter seven Paul asked, who will rescue me. Here Paul answers, God in Jesus, and through the Spirit living in us.
This Spirit conforms our lives to the life of Jesus. We have died with Christ that we may live with him. That means dying to the flesh, which means dying to our own devices and wisdom, and taking our cues from God who lives in us and among us through the Spirit.
In verses six and seven Paul uses a phrase that expresses an attitude. Paul says, “To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.” This takes us back to our question about lighting up, about being optimistic, about how those who live with great anxiety and those who just want to live their life can come together.
What do we set our minds on?
The consumer society wants us to set our minds on mindless consumption. Those who glued themselves to roads and runways may only know their fear.
Both will leave us unfulfilled, for God wants us to dwell in the Spirit.
Paul says that for those who are in Christ Jesus, this change of inclination, of our mindset, affects the way we approach the world, not only as individuals but as the church, for while Paul spoke in the singular in chapter seven, he now speaks in the plural.
Those who are in Christ Jesus are changed because we no longer live in the flesh but in the Spirit. We neither live in hopelessness nor in apathy.
“The Spirit of God enables the children of God to resemble their Father by resembling the Son, who is their elder brother. Living in Christ means living according to Christ.”8
At the beginning of chapter eight Paul said, “For God has done what the law, (…) could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, (…), he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.”
The church fathers say that Christ became what we are so that we can become what he is.
Terry Eagleton, who says that being an optimist is as absurd as believing that all will be well because you are an Albanian, or because it has just rained for three days in a row, places a word by the late Herbert McCabe, OP at the beginning of his book. McCabe writes, “We are not optimists, we do not present a lovely vision of the world which everyone is expected to fall in love with. We simply have, wherever we are, some small local task to do, on the side of justice, for the poor.”
Hope then is not a rosy feeling but a moral commitment.
We who walk according to the Spirit can do the works of the Spirit. In John Jesus says, “I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
We live neither in apathy nor in hopelessness, and because our mindset is determined by the Spirit who dwells in us we are people of hope.
Thanks be to God.
3 Terry Eagleton, Hope Without Optimism, University of Virginia Press: 2015 Charlottesville, VA
4 Ibd. page 1
5 John 3:17
6 Galatians 2:20
7 John 14 and 17
8 Michael J. Gorman, Romans – A Theological and Pastoral Commentary, William B. Eerdmans: 2022 Grand Rapids, MI, page 194