Jesus says, ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom-culture of God is near.’ (Luke 21:29-31)
What are ‘these things’ of which Jesus speaks? Well, he has just detailed them in the previous verses: earthquakes, famines, plagues, invading armies, the roaring of the ocean, terrible suffering, and people ‘fainting from fear and foreboding’. Once, these words referred to the brutal repression by the Romans of the Jewish Revolts, using cosmic imagery to allude to forces of violence and empire; now, as the living Word continues to speak into our lives, we might hear them as also referring to climate catastrophe and all that comes with it.
In each context, Jesus’ words directly challenge the greeting card sentiment that ‘God is in heaven and all’s right with the world’ and we can put up our feet and relax. They challenge the despair which insists the world’s going to hell in a handbasket and there’s nothing we can do about it. And they challenge the idea that, when disaster strikes, then God is nowhere to be found.
For Jesus insists that it is precisely when everything falls apart that God’s culture is near: and that it calls for speech and other powerful acts of witness (v15 ff). ‘When these things begin to take place,’ he says, ‘stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’ (v 28). Don’t simply eat, drink and be merry in defiance of the coming suffering, or engage in frantic consumption lest you miss out. Conversely, don’t shove your head in the sand. Don’t ignore what is unfolding. Don’t give up. Instead, speak up, speak out, and speak truth, trusting the Holy Spirit to give you the right words.
So as we see ‘these things’ taking place, that is, as climate catastrophe unfolds, let’s remember that God’s kingdom is very near; indeed, says Jesus, it’s among you (Luke 17:21). It’s small, local, humble; it’s immanent.* But what, then, are the signs? And what words might we speak?
Well, twenty years ago, Mt Leura and Mt Sugarloaf were depleted paddocks; now, after years of community action and planting, they are gently forested. Sheoaks whisper and manna gums sway, and wallabies have moved in. Once, the dunes around Warrnambool were brutally cleared; but many years of council and community plantings have seen them revegetated and bursting with life. Once, Tower Hill was a bald overgrazed paddock; but thanks to the work of traditional owners, state government and the wider community, it’s once again home to koalas and emus; the lake is a plethora of birdlife; wedge tailed eagles soar over the basin.
And in a tiny sign no larger than a mustard seed, we here at Sanctuary are working on planting out our nature strip with locally Indigenous plants; and this involves conversations with neighbours and increasing their curiosity about what grows here, and why. Colonial invasion devastated the land and its people; but even in a colonized society, renewal and regeneration are possible, and they are happening all around.
Indeed, where once traditional owners were massacred, displaced, silenced and erased from the white gaze, there has been a major shift towards acknowledging, listening, learning, and working towards treaty. The history is horrific, deep and deadly racism continues, and there’s a very long way to go; even so, every time we acknowledge country, or adopt a stance of listening, or advocate for treaty, we take another small step towards God’s kingdom-culture.
This week, then, I encourage you to look for signs: that is, evidence of renewed and right relationship between God, people and land which bear the hallmark of love. Reflect on the economic and political choices you make every day as you travel, work, shop and eat; as you live and make a home here; and as you welcome Christ and seek shalom. Finally, wonder if God is inviting you / us into a fresh way of participating in God’s kingdom-culture. And if the Holy Spirit gives you words to speak of the land, write them down: for our Lent Book in 2023 will be a collection of reflections and prayers grounded in the local landscape. It’s one way of witnessing to the kingdom-culture in our midst; perhaps you’d like to contribute.
*immanent (not to be confused with imminent): of God, pervading and sustaining the universe
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