All posts by Phoebe Morad

Retreat Center in Georgia hosts LRC Retreat – Winter 2018

February 2-4, 2018 in Tallapoosa GA ( @ LutherRidge Retreat Center) 
Over the course of two nights and three days 26 people from 8 different states gathered to equip one another with the spirit of Resurrection before Lent even got started! Check out our agenda and let us know if you think something like this would be helpful in your area. We will be following up with these participants to ensure they follow through on the action plans they put into to motion. Thanks to Region IX Stewardship Council & ELCA Domestic Mission, Stewardship for your support!

17 Ways to be an EcoPreacher

by Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Here are 17 ideas excerpted from my book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015) for helping make this vision for your preaching become a reality:

  • Imagine what your life would be like if you could be part of God’s work to heal this planet – right from the pulpit.
  • Imagine if your parishioners were inspired by your preaching to address the most pressing environmental concerns of our time.
  • Imagine hearing your parishioners actually thank you for preaching about protecting our planet.
  • Imagine discovering a new dimension to your preaching that opens a whole new world of perspectives, creative ideas, and inspiration for reaching people with God’s Word.
  • Imagine finding a whole new perspective for engaging the Bible that deepens and expands your faith. [Read more…]

Lectionary Lessons Archive (Years A & B)

Some of our lectionary commentaries have not yet been moved to this website, but are available on our old website. As time goes by, these commentaries will be moved to this active website. We hope this will improve the navigation and accessibility of these helpful resources.

YEAR A (2016-2017)

PENTECOST SEASON IN YEAR A

Christ the King Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

All Saints Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Reformation Sunday (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Kathryn Schifferdecker)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Paul Santmire)

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Richard Perry)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Trinity Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

LENTEN SEASON IN YEAR A

The Sunday of the Passion in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday in Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The Second Sunday in Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The First Sunday of Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD

The Transfiguration of Our Lord in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

EPIPHANY SEASON IN YEAR A

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Leah Schade)

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year A (Leah Schade)

CHRISTMAS SEASON IN YEAR A

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year A (Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday of Christmas in Year A  (Leah Schade)

 

YEAR B (2018)

PENTECOST IN YEAR B

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Sundays after Pentecost in Year B (from 2012, by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Amy Carr)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B. (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

Trinity Sunday in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Day of Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

EASTER IN YEAR B (2018)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday in Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Easter Sunday in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

LENT IN YEAR B (2018)

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in Year B (by Kiara  Jorgensen)

Passion Sunday in Year B (by Leah Schade)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)
The Second Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The First Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

 YEAR B (2014-2015)

    • Advent: (Four Sundays from November 30 to December 21) [Tom Mundahl]
    • Christmas: (Two Sundays after Christmas, December 28 and January 4) [Tom Mundahl]
    • Epiphany: (Six Sundays from January 11 to February 15) [Dennis Ormseth]
    • Lent: (Six Sundays from February 22 to March 29) [Rob Saler]
    • Easter: (Seven Sundays from Easter Day April 5 to May 17) [Dennis Ormseth]
    • Pentecost: (Sundays from Pentecost on May 24 to June 28) [Leah Schade]
    • Pentecost: (Sundays from Pentecost 6 on July 5 through Pentecost 11 on August 9) [Tom Mundahl]
  •  

The Season of Pentecost in Year B (2015)

Christ the King Sunday in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

OR Reformation Sunday in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Dennis Ormseth)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B ((From 2012, by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

2015  Special Series on St. Francis for Pentecost 18, 19, 20 (Scroll down for all Sundays) by Paul Santmire.

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

The Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Sundays after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

Trinity Sunday in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Day of Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Season of Easter in Year B (2015)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Resurrection of Our Lord in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Season of Lent in Year B (2015)

Palm/ Passion Sunday in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Third Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Second Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The First Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Season of Epiphany in Year B

The Transfiguration of Our Lord in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Third Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Second Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015).

Advent and Christmas Seasons in Year B

The Second Sunday of Christmas in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2015)).

The First Sunday of Christmas in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2014))

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2014))

The Third Sunday in Advent in Year B (Tom Mundahl, 2014))

The Second Sunday in Advent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2014))

The First Sunday in Advent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2014))

Pentecost Season in Year A

Christ the King Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

All Saints Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Reformation Sunday (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Kathryn Schifferdecker)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Paul Santmire)

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Paul Santmire)

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Richard Perry)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Trinity Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Pentecost Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Easter Season in Year A

Overview of all lessons in the Easter Season of Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Leah Schade)

The Fourth Sunday in Easter in Year A (by Leah Schade)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Leah Schade)

Easter Sunday in Year A (by Leah Schade)

Lent in Year A

Passion Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Lent in year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Lent in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Lent in year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday of Lent in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The First Sunday of Lent in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Epiphany in Year A

The Transfiguration of Our Lord in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth).

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday of Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Second Sunday in Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Baptism of our Lord in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

Advent and Christmas in Year A

The Second Sunday after Christmas in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The First Sunday after Christmas in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Advent in Year A (by Rob Saler)

The Third Sunday in Advent in Year A (by Rob Saler)

The Second Sunday in Advent in Year A (by Rob Saler)

The First Sunday in Advent in Year A (By Rob Saler)

Year B

Christ the King Sunday in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

OR Reformation Sunday in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B. (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

Trinity Sunday/ The First Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Day of Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

Easter: The Resurrection of Our Lord in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

Passion Sunday and Holy Week in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B (Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year B (Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday after Lent in Year B (Tom Mundahl)

The Second Sunday in Lent in Year B (Tom Mundahl)

The First Sunday in Lent in Year B. (Tom Mundahl)

Transfiguration Sunday in Year B (Robert Saler)

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (Robert Saler)

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (Robert Saler)

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (Robert Saler)

All commentaries below this point were written by Dennis Ormseth.

The Third Sunday after Epiphany in Year B

The Second Sunday after Epiphany in Year B

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year B

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

The First Sunday of Christmas and the Naming of Jesus in Year B

Fourth Sunday in Advent in Year B

Third Sunday in Advent in Year B

Second Sunday in Advent in Year B

First Sunday in Advent in Year B

Christ the King Sunday in Year A

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

All Saints Sunday in Year A

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Reformation Sunday in Year A

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A 

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A 

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A 

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Holy Trinity Sunday in Year A

Pentecost in Year A

Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year A

Previous Easter Season Commentaries for Year A.

Epiphany Commentaries for Year A

Christmas Commentaries Year A

Climate Change Revival – New England Congregations Unite (2013)

The weekend that Boston’s Copley Square re-opened after the devastating Marathon Bombings brought healing and refreshment in many forms. A large gathering of ecumenical environmental groups gathered for worship and networking all day of April 27th. LRC was one of many featured groups at a poster session. New England ELCA Bishop Hazelwood was part of a panel discussion commenting on critical nature of climate change as a social justice issue.

Carers for Creation Collaborate in the Northeast to Support the Earth and One Another (2015)

Check out the list of assets all these people bring to the table and how many forces are represented here! (Download notes from our January 2015 Gathering at Hartford Seminary by clicking this link). Watch out despair – this alliance remembers how to put hope into action!

 

 

Nurturing A Network: NW Minnesota Creation Care Team 2013

The mission of the Northwest Minnesota Synod Creation CareTeam is “to nurture a growing network that inspires our congregations and their members to live out God’s call to be stewards of the earth for the sake of the whole creation.”

At the 2012 synod assembly, the Synod Creation Care Team conducted a survey to learn how it might support the creation care work of congregations.  Many congregations asked for more training. In response, the team is offering annual retreats to equip congregational leaders on how to integrate God’s call to care for the Earth into the core elements of congregational life: worship, stewardship, education, and outreach.

The first training retreat was held at Camp Hiawatha on February 22-23, 2013.  The focus was on worship and the Season of Creation liturgical resource because, in the words of the team, “worship is at the heart of everything we do and are as the church.”

During the retreat, thirty-four participants from 12 congregations, two camps, and one campus ministry experienced the Season of Creation in worship, learned how other congregations are practicing creation care, shared success stories, and went home equipped with many resources.

“It was a rich experience that provided a lot of encouragement,” according to one participant.

Pastor Karen Foster, team co-chair, said, “This retreat is clearly the beginning of nurturing a growing network through which our congregations, camps, and campus ministries can encourage, inspire, and support each other in this vital focus!”

Training schedule, training brochure

SCCT Training Retreat Letter:

NE MN Retreat on Worship: Letter of Invitation
Northeastern Minnesota Synod Creation Care Team

Greetings from your NEMN Synod Creation Care Team, and an Invitation to participate in:
Creation Care 2013
The Season of Creation: A Retreat to Equip Congregational Leaders
February 22-23, 2013 at Camp Hiawatha

At this year’s (2012) synod assembly, the Synod Creation Care Task Force conducted a survey to learn how congregations are involved in creation care efforts and how our task force might support that work. From these surveys, we gathered names of some of the congregations who desire more information and training. We are encouraged by what congregations like yours already do and by your desire to network and grow with other congregations!

Many congregations asked for more training in living God’s call to care for creation. In response to this interest, we are offering the congregations of our synod an annual retreat to equip congregational leaders. These retreats will focus on integrating God’s call to care for the Earth into the core elements of congregational life: worship, stewardship, education, and outreach.

The Synod Creation Care Team invites your congregation to assemble a team of key leaders to participate in the first training retreat on Friday, February 22 and Saturday, February 23 at Camp Hiawatha in Deer River. Since worship is at the heart of everything we do and are as the Church, this first retreat will focus on worship, specifically on a season of the church year called the Season of Creation. Developed by the Lutheran Church in Australia and adapted for use in the ELCA, this is a four to six week liturgical season typically inserted mid-way through the green season after Pentecost. It corresponds to our three year lectionary cycle with weekly themes that include, for example, earth, sky, mountains, humanity and world communion.

During the retreat, congregations will experience the Season of Creation in worship, learn how other congregations are practicing creation care, share success stories, and go home equipped with many resources. Registration starts at 4:00 p.m. with introductions at 5:00, supper at 5:30, and opening worship at 6:15. It will conclude about 3:00 p.m. on Saturday. The cost for the retreat will be $50 per person, which cost includes dinner Friday night, overnight accommodations, and breakfast and lunch on Saturday. We are seeking scholarship assistance to help defray the participant cost. More information will be available in the coming weeks.

This is a great opportunity for pastors and other key congregational leaders to become better equipped to lead their congregation in implementing God’s call to be stewards of the whole creation. We hope to hear from you and see you in February. For further questions or to convey your interest in this synodical initiative, please contact either of our team co-chairpersons: Pastor Kristin Foster at 218-741-7057 or Pastor David Carlson at 218-722-3381.

Yours in Christ,

NEMN Synod Creation Care Team

P.S. For more information, check out the web site at http://www.letallcreationpraise.org/season-of-creation.

The NE MN Synod Creation Care Team Mission: To nurture a growing network that inspires our congregations and their members to live out God’s call to be stewards of the earth for the sake of the whole creation!
(*formerly Synod Creation Care Task Force)

Third Sunday in Advent, Year C

There is reason for all of God’s creation to rejoice!

By Dennis Ormseth

Zephaniah 3:14-20

Isaiah 12:2-6

Philippians 4:4-7

Luke 3:7-18

Rejoice!  Rejoice!  It is the Third Sunday of Advent and the readings all agree: it is time to rejoice. It is a liturgical tradition (Gaudete Sunday). And the readings give us ample reason to rejoice. After three chapters of gloomy judgment from the prophet Zephaniah, for instance, our first lesson breaks out with several of them:

The Lord has taken away the judgments against you

he has turned away your enemies (3:15).

The Lord, your God, is in your midst, a warrior who gives victory;

he will rejoice over you with gladness,

he will renew you in his love;

he will exult over you with loud singing

as on a day of festival.

I will remove disaster from you, so that you will not bear reproach for it.

The king of Israel, the Lord, is in your midst; you shall fear disaster no more.

. . .

At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you; for I will make you renowned and praised among all the people of the earth, when I restore your fortunes before your eyes, says the Lord ( 3:15-20).

The psalm reading from Isaiah 12 doubles on the theme with its “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation . . . .” and “Sing praises to the lord, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth” (Isaiah 12:3, 5). And the second lesson from Philippians 4 redoubles it: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.”

Reasons for all this joy, as we read these texts, are twofold. First, joy results from the removal of fear of disaster (Zephaniah 3:15, 18b), connected in the first lesson with return of the people from exile (“At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you.” Zephaniah 3: 20) and in the second lesson with the coming near of the Lord (“Do not worry about anything.” Philippians 4:5). And secondly, the joy is due to high expectations of the presence of the Lord amidst the people (Zephaniah 3:15, 17, 18; Isaiah 12:6; Philippians 4:5). We will see that the Gospel for the day contains both of them as well. Because we read these scriptures in the season of Advent, our attention is naturally drawn to the second of these reasons, expectation of the presence of the Lord. For the sake of care of creation, however, it is important that we attend here to both: first, removal of the fear of disaster; and then, secondly, the expectation of the Lord’s presence.

The specific disaster mentioned in the Gospel, “the wrath to come,” is of particular interest to us because it includes the destruction of forest: “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees” (Luke 3:9a). Yes, this is a metaphor for judgment against those who came out to John the Baptist in order to avoid that wrath: “every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire (3:9b).” But for early readers of Luke, we want to suggest, the force of this metaphor would have depended at least in part on the actual destruction of trees which they witnessed in the Roman occupation of Palestine.  As Barbara Rossing points out, the Jewish author Josephus, contemporaneous with Luke, laments the horror of destruction of the landscape of Jerusalem and the surrounding countryside by the Roman armies. . . Rome’s deforestation of conquered lands was notorious. Both Josephus and Aelius Aristides use the same Greek word, “make naked” (gymnos; verbal form, gymnoo), to describe Rome’s stripping of forests. Josephus laments the beautiful countryside around Jerusalem that was logged by the Romans to construct massive wooden siegeworks and embankments: “[Caesar] at once gave the legions permission to lay waste the suburbs and issued orders to collect timber . . . So the trees were felled and the suburbs rapidly stripped [gegymnoto]” (Josephus War 5.264).

Aelius Aristides admires Rome’s power to strip distant forests “bare” (gymnos). The huge logs that he sees arriving on ships from Asia are evidence of Rome’s global commercial hegemony:

So many merchants’ ships arrive here, conveying every kind of goods from every people every hour and every day, so that the city is like a factory common to the whole earth.  It is possible to see so many cargoes from India and even from  Arabia Felix, if you wish, that one imagines that for the future the trees are left bare [gymna]  for the people there and that they must come here to beg for their own produce. (Aelius Aristides Orations 26.12)

Roman devastation of the landscape, Rossing concludes, was a significant aspect of its imperialism and injustice, noteworthy for us “in a time when global deforestation is an increasing problem” (Barbara R. Rossing, “River of Life in God’s New Jerusalem: An Eschatological Vision for Earth’s Future,” in Christianity and Ecology, ed. by Dieter T. Hessel and Rosemary Radford Ruether Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2000, p. 211-12).

Concern on the part of John the Baptist’s audience about the “ax lying at the root of the trees” would have also been reinforced by biblical tradition, of course. From the beginning to the end of the Scriptures, trees are powerful symbols of life. The tree with its seed is there at the beginning in Genesis both as primal life (1:29) and as weighty symbol of the good life (2:9); and it is there in the closing vision of John’s apocalypse, Revelation 22:2, again with its “twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month;” and all along the way in between, the tree is the enduring symbol of life blessed by God. The death of a tree, by the same token, is a sign of loss of blessing, or as here in our Gospel for this Sunday, of divine judgment on the people. It is particularly significant to note in this connection that for the prophet Isaiah (whose book, as we saw in our comment on the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, is such a rich resource of models and metaphors for Luke’s narrative), the tree represents the nation in both judgment and blessing as recurrent event. In Isaiah 6, lacking comprehension and understanding the people refuse to “turn and be healed;” “How long, O Lord?” cries the prophet; God replies,

Until cities lie waste without inhabitant,

and houses without people, and the land is utterly desolate;

until the Lord sends everyone far away,

and vast is the emptiness in the midst of the land.

Even if a tenth part remain in it, it will be burned again,

like a terebinth or an oak

whose stump remains standing

when it is felled.” (6:11-13a)

If for the prophet there is still hope, here at the beginning of his book it is faint hope: “The holy seed is its stump” (6:13). At the end of the book, on the other hand, the metaphor is used to bespeak exuberant expectation:

They shall not build and another inhabit;

they shall not plant and another eat;

for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,

and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. (65:22)

From Babylon to the Roman Empire, from Isaiah’s to Luke’s audience, historical contexts  and textual connections combine to make “an ax lying at the root” an ominous sign of threatening disaster, material, social and religious.

In our comment on the reading for the Second Sunday in Advent, we noted the importance of Luke’s dependence upon Isaiah for natural metaphors that could be readily appropriated and understood by gentile readers not familiar with Mosaic traditions. These metaphors help his contemporary readers make the connections to our context as well: the “ax lying at the root” signals impending disaster for our generation also, not only with respect to deforestation, but with its associated contribution to the threat of climate change. Loss of forests, particularly the large forests of the tropical regions of Earth, is one of the major causes of the increase of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere. And, as Larry Rasmussen argues in his insightful essay “Why Trees?”, loss of our arboreal companions on Earth threatens to close off a main source of  “meaning and a way of standing upright in the world”: trees, he writes, entertain the journey of the spirit–of forest peoples and others.  They are the subject of story, poetry, painting, and sculpture and the site and substance of things religious.  They are, then, essential to both the basic needs of civilization and its flowering.  Trees of life are life.

The dependence is profound. Trees do hold up the sky! More precisely, without them and other green plants, “sky” would not be. Every single breath every single human has ever taken or will take depends on trees and other green plants. Oxygen is the work of trees, not the nurse and hospital supply room. In fact, in Earth’s slow womb, trees together with other plants created the very conditions that eventually made for life as we know it. The coevolution of plants, air, water, and animals depends on the first-listed of these as much as any. And trees, by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, link air, water, and biota (living things) together in the unity that continues to make for life. The Native American legend is thus quite exactly the case, even when the language is mythic: “The sky is held up by the trees. If the forest disappears the sky, which is the roof of the world, collapses. Nature and man then perish together.” All trees are literally trees of life (Larry L. Rasmussen, Earth Community, Earth Ethics, Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1996, p. 213-4; the quotation is from Shridath Ramphas, Our Country, the Planet: Forging a Partnership for Survival, p.65).

No civilization, no matter how culturally or technologically advanced, has any substitute. One can therefore understand, Rasmussen insists, why people, especially people who have lived close to trees in undeniable dependence, have pictured the axis mundi, earth’s axis itself, as a tree. Or have seen in the canopy of trees the cosmos in its infinity and the arch of heaven. Or have found in tree life the power of all life: of fertility and growth, of seasons of change, or survival against all odds, of beauty, and of death and regeneration.

Trees bear profound religious significance in that they bring heaven and earth together.  They offer a “glimpse of God as Other and as Thou. . .  They bring the far God nigh, and they do so in ways we know the other as genuinely other and not ourselves in disguise.” At the same time and of “direct moral import,” trees . . .help disclose that we are located in nature, amidst deep kinship and deep difference in the same moment. Nature is in us as essential relationship, and this relationship is not peripheral: the relationship with the other constitutes our being itself. Deeper appreciation of difference—the ‘otherness’ of the other—thus goes hand in hand (or hand in branch!) with a sense of the underlying kinship of all things together (Rasmussen, pp. 215-16).

In conclusion, Rasmussen too turns to the prophet Isaiah, who, he suggests, “with characteristic prophetic passion for earth’s redemption,” offers a “picture of the just, sustainable society” that, as we have seen, includes “in passing–or more likely not in passing—the days of a tree” (Isaiah 65:22; Rasmussen, p. 217).

John the Baptist, we are suggesting, preached repentance and reformation of life to those who sought to escape the impending disaster they saw on the horizon of their community’s existence under Roman occupation and Jewish resistance. We are also suggesting that this preaching is relevant to our situation in the early twenty-first century, as we confront the threatened disaster of deforestation and climate change. When John’s hearers asked him, “What then shall we do?”, however, his answers concerned matters of social justice; deforestation as such was not among them and, of course, neither was climate change. Nevertheless, the combination in this text of implied forest destruction with tolerance of poverty, dishonest tax collection and police extortion, makes sense in terms of an indictment of behaviors for which the “brood of vipers” might well have had occasion to repent, as more or less passive or even willing collaborators with the Roman occupation forces, their identity as Jews (“children of Abraham”) not withstanding.

The “wrath to come” that they sought to escape was perhaps associated in the minds of Luke’s early readers with the destruction of Jerusalem during the Jewish Wars, as it appears Luke intended it to be (21:23; cf. Luke Timothy Johnson, The Gospel of Luke. Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press,1991, p. 324). We clearly catch sight here, in any case, of a society on the verge of impending disaster, from which they might very well have been impelled to flee when news reached them of John’s preaching in the region of the Jordan River. And John’s counsel to them was just as clearly to stay with their community while making the changes in their behavior that Luke lists: sharing clothing and food with the poor, fair taxation, and honest government. These are not irrelevant to the development of solutions of our ecological crisis: poverty, financial manipulation, and corrupted regulatory enforcement are all factors that contribute to environmental loss. Furthermore, similarly posed changes in our behavior and policies regarding forest and energy conservation are obviously helpful and necessary responses to the crisis, if nonetheless insufficient. It is often observed that moral persuasion in the face of impending disaster has not proved adequate to motivate changes in society powerful enough to reverse environmental destruction, particularly not on the global scale of massive deforestation and climate change. Hence, it is the religious aspect of John’s preaching that strikes us as the more important and promising contribution of these readings to care of creation.

At the outset of this comment, we noted that along with fear of disaster, there was a second theme of equal importance, one more likely to be picked up here in the season of Advent with its call for joy: expectation of the presence of the Lord, the drawing near of God. In the Gospel, this is the third part of John the Baptist’s three-part sermon, after the call to repentance and the reformation of life, a response to the question of his audience as to whether he might be the Messiah: One who is more powerful than he is coming, he says, one who will “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. His winnowing fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.” We understand that this one is Jesus, empowered by the Holy Spirit, but why “Spirit and fire”? Commentators have suggested a number of interpretations of ‘”the Spirit and fire,” as Alan Culpepper notes in his commentary on the Gospel of Luke:

(1) fire describes the inflaming, purifying work of the Spirit; (2) the repentant will experience the judgment of fire; (3) since the Greek term for “Spirit” can also mean ‘wind,’ the meaning is that Jesus’ baptism will bring the judgment of a mighty wind and fire; (4) as might be implicit in the first option, “Spirit” or “wind” and “fire” reflect the Christian interpretation of the Pentecost experience; or (5) John saw in Spirit and fire the means of eschatological purification: the refiner’s fire for the repentant and destruction for the unrepentant. The last combines elements of (2) and (3) and fits both the historical context of John’s preaching and the literary context in which the saying about winnowing follows (R. Alan Culpepper, The Gospel of Luke: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections. The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 85-86.

The combination of (2) and (3) commends itself most to us as well, but for a reason more in accord with (4), the Pentecost experience, which is not in the strictest reading an experience of “eschatological purification,”  but rather of empowerment of the community for the Spirit’s mission of bringing the Gospel to the whole earth.

In our view, the factor of judgment has been overemphasized. There is judgment, here, of course, but there is also new life in John’s promise of the coming of one with Spirit/wind and fire.  As we have been instructed by our other readings this Sunday to expect, there is reason here for joy as well as dismay and repentance: the disaster may occur, but that’s not the end of the story. The narrative moves forward to catch a glimpse of the beginning of the restoration of creation. As Culpepper explains, “At the harvest, grain was gathered to a threshing floor, where the farmer would pitch the grain into the air with a winnowing fork. The wind would blow away the light chaff, but the grain itself would fall back to the floor where it could be gathered for use” (Culpepper, p. 86).

Supportive background for this reading of the narrative is to be found, again, in Luke’s major source, the prophecy of Second Isaiah. As we noted in our comment on the readings for the Second Sunday of Advent, YHWH’s status as creator had come in Second Isaiah to rise above all other roles ascribed to the deity. As we wrote, “The creator of all is ‘above’ all. God creates both the darkness and the light, the old and the new. YHWH is a divine singularity, incomparable and exclusively divine, whose creative reach knows no bounds” (quoting William P. Brown, The Seven Pillars of Creation: The Bible, Science, and the Ecology of Wonder, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010, p. 219). If YHWH’s power was sufficient to move mountains, John asserts that it is also powerful enough to raise up new children of Abraham, which goes to the chief point here, the gathering of the people of God to do the work of God (3:8; cf. Johnson, p. 65, where he quotes Luke 1:37, “Nothing is impossible for God,” and comments, “This is hyperbole, but barely: it reflects the conviction that resurrection of the dead and creation from nothingness are both within God’s power,” and that “the ‘people of God’ for Luke will not be one defined by biological descent but by God’s gift of the Spirit and by faith”).

We also saw in our comment previous to this that “If Luke’s narrative of the life of Jesus begins with flattened mountains, it will lead to water flowing up in the desert, so that nothing is lacking for the new beginning of a  new creation.” And as we noted, following Brown again, Luke clearly understood that for Second Isaiah, . . .the “comfort” YHWH offers the people of Israel as they re-gather “dirties itself with transforming the desolate land into a veritable garden paradise.” The prophet’s language is ‘”rich with metaphors and images drawn from the realm of horticulture.” His “discourse covers a remarkable range of botanical diversity, from the lowly brier (55:13) to the most majestic trees, the cedar of Lebanon (41:19; 44:14). . . ‘Second Isaiah’ contains a veritable catalogue of flora.” Creation accordingly occurs not only from high, with God “single-handedly creating light and life, darkness and woe,” but also “emerges from below, from the ground up” (Brown, p. 206).

So the gardener or, better in this instance, the farmer comes with winnowing fork in hand to enlist wind and fire in preparation of grains for both harvest feast and new planting of seed—as the prophet had written, “the holy seed is [the tree’s] stump” (Isaiah 6:13; cf. above). Water is already at hand, available from the wells of salvation (Isaiah 12:3) and the Jordan river for the baptism of repentance; with the wind and fire brought by this farmer, new earth lies ready to be dug from the threshing floor. The primordial elements needed for new creation are thus gathered and all the Earth awaits the day when “all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” What precisely this might mean for Earth and its people—as we face forest removal and climate chaos—remains, indeed, to be “fleshed out.” But with the expectation of this gardener’s planting, there is truly marvelous reason this Sunday for all of God’s creation to rejoice.

For care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288