Category Archives: Adult Forum and Bible Study

Creation Care Congregation: Building and Grounds Ideas

Building and Grounds: “The church as an alternative community”

Energy Stewards Initiative. LRC program for congregations to reduce your energy use/costs and carbon footprint, with online tracking of energy data via the EPA’s Energy Star Portfolio, an action plan, and consultation and accountability through regular webinars. Or get an energy audit and follow steps to reduce energy. For more info contact your local utility or visit: https://www.energystar.gov/buildings/owners_and_managers/congregations

Comprehensive Environmental Guide for Churches, Their Buildings and Grounds. Use a checklist along with the full guide for an overall environmental inventory of your congregation, and take action. Download the entire guide – some details may be outdated, but the ties to faith and ideas are timeless. www.webofcreation.org/Environmental%20Guide.pdf

Choose a specific project: Replace all incandescent bulbs; retrofit fluorescent lighting; develop a recycling program; reduce paper use; purchase green cleaning products; make Earth-friendly food choices; eliminate Styrofoam; develop Earth-friendly lawn care, among others.

Use of land & water: Community garden; restore to prairie; preserve natural habitats; plant trees; create a sanctuary or peace garden; nurture animal life. Phase out fertilizers and pesticides use for lawns. Many free resources, stories, samples and readings to share throughout the LRC site, but local experts are best to build on existing relationships. Consider sharing a broader understanding of our relationship with soil by researching the “Kiss the Ground” program. This educational movement has the potential to involve those interested in agriculture, science, history, gardening and climate change.  Watershed discipleship resources are plentiful and offer a safe entry point for many who may not feel called to other issues in creation care.

Know your property as an “Earth community.” Get to know the trees, plants, animals, insects, birds, and other creatures who live with you on this space. Live in such a way that all of you may thrive together. Pray for them. Worship with them. Include some in your church directory as your creation family. For directions, go to: http://www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org/stewarding-your-property-as-an-earth-community.

For more information about Becoming a Caring-for-Creation Congregation, visit this page.

Creation Care Congregation: Education Ideas

Education: “Know your traditions and your world”

Earthbound: Adult education for this six-part video series produced by the ELCA to explore the theological foundations of Earth care and to examples of Lutheran Institutions carrying them out.

“Caring for Creation.” Organize a forum or study group to read and discuss the ELCA Social Statement. Copies available from the ELCA with guide. See the 52 excerpts from this social statement for use for use in the church bulletin each week.

Awakening to God’s Call to Earthkeeping. A timeless four-session, small group study curriculum for adult forums. Or consider using the ELCA Lenten series “Creation Waits with Eager Longing”

Youth. Try the “Know Trash? No Trash!” program designed by Lutherans Restoring Creation, read stories from other Youth Groups, raise funds through a recycling program. More info here.

Children. Kid’s books abound with environmental themes (The Lorax, The Giving Tree, etc) but for integration of scripture try: I Love God’s Green Earth: Devotions for Kids Who Want to Take Care of God’s Creation by Michael and Caroline Carroll (Tyndale House Publishers, 2010). VBS guides from Lutheran Outdoor Ministries are adaptable to any venue – most are free to download!

Other: For example, organize forums with local experts or develop a Bible study.

For more information about Becoming a Caring-for-Creation Congregation, visit this page.

 

Creation Care Congregation: Worship Ideas

Transformation through Worship: “Let all creation praise God”
(all resources found if searched on LetAllCreationPraise.org)

All Worship: Render every service as creation-care worship: call to worship, confessions, prayers, and blessing/commission, plus scriptures, hymns, and sermons.

Season of Creation. Observe a four-week optional season to celebrate creation as part of the church year, with liturgies, sermons, and alternative scripture lessons, etc.

Special Worship Services. Observe a special day, such as Earth Sunday in April www.creationjustice.org, Rogation Sunday, or a “Greening of the Cross” service in the Easter Season.

Blessing of the Animals. Hold a service near the time of St. Francis Day (in October) or any time in the church year.

Appoint the sanctuary. With creation-care banners, greenery, art.

Green your worship practices: energy-saving lights and heat; altar plants, local wine, green cleaning products, eliminate/recycle/reuse paper, intinction.

Other: For example, develop your own worship resources and occasions for celebration.

For more information about Becoming a Caring-for-Creation Congregation, visit this page.

 

Action Plan Ideas

The goal is to make a difference by transforming attitudes and commitments and by embracing concrete actions that reduce human ecological impact on the earth and contribute to justice for people affected by environmental degradation. The following links will provide ideas for you as you create your congregation’s action plan:

Transformation through Worship: “Let all creation praise God”

Education: “Know your traditions and your world”

Building and Grounds: “The church as an alternative community”

Discipleship at home and work: “Love your neighbor”

Public Witness/Policy Advocacy: “Church exists to serve the world”

These ideas are also shared in our congregational self-organizing kit. For more details, visit this page.

 

 

Creating An Action Plan

Action Plan Guidelines

1. Explore our action plan ideas: Consult the Manual and the websites/ resources listed with each item for more information.

2. Choose one project from each category for the year. Count the projects you are already doing and add more where feasible [e. g. celebrate Earth Sunday]. Be sure to choose from each of the five areas. As you proceed fill in the Action Plan Form. Choose more than one project if it seems feasible.

Choose actions/projects that . . .

  • Have support in the congregation
  • Have committed people to carry them out
  • Are affordable for the congregation
  • For which you have energy and inspiration!

3. Delegate the responsibility: Identify which individuals or committee will be responsible for carrying out each project. Contact them to see if they are willing to do it [e. g. The Worship Committee]. Offer access to the resources available to do the project [e. g. two websites].

4. Identify a committee member to follow up: designate a member from the creation-care team to offer support to the committee to whom the project has been delegated and follow up to track the project through to completion. Or use the liaison representatives to the various committees who are on the church council [e. g. a liaison from the Creation-Care team to the worship committee].

5. Make the project ongoing: When it is completed for that year, set things up so that the project will continue into the next year [e. g. Put the celebration of Earth Sunday on the worship calendar as a regular part of each year].

6. Report: Report your successes to the church council, the congregation, and across the entire LRC Network (use this form!) Promote your identity as a creation-care congregation [e. g. Church newsletter with pictures of Earth Sunday celebration. Local newspaper].

7. Start again for the next year. Begin process of choosing projects for the following year. Begin with #1 above. [e. g. celebrate The Season of Creation]. Be sure to revisit the overall vision provided by the five areas.

8. Other. If the projects recommended in the action plan do not fit your situation, consider opportunities that use the resources of your congregation or serve the needs of your community.

Evaluate and adjust: Meet regularly (once a month or once every two months). As you work through the year, evaluate your action plan. Where needed, go back and retrace steps to make sure your action plan is being carried out. Affirm where it is working. When the steps suggested here are not working for you, revise the plan and adjust it to your needs and situation.

Remember the overall goal: To incorporate care for creation into the identity and mission of your congregation so that there is an ethos of care for God’s Earth in all that you do.

These ideas are also shared in our congregational self-organizing kit. For more details, visit this page.

 

 

Approving the Covenant

1. The purpose of accepting the program and approving the mission statement is to engage the entire congregation through its leadership to be aware of our Christian vocation to care for creation and to participate in this mission of the congregation. The benefit of pursuing efforts in five areas serves to make the mission comprehensive and to generate an identity of Earth-care as integral to the congregation. The program gives structure to your efforts in Earth-care and makes them intentional and public.

2. A first step would be for those who initiate the process to make the church council aware of the proposal to accept the care for creation mission for your congregation. In turn, the council may want to make the statement known to the whole congregation through a newsletter and/or bulletin insert. Invite input about the program and the covenant’s affirmations.

3. When you distribute the Covenant, make it clear that this is part of a program to be a care-for-creation congregation identified with Lutherans Restoring Creation. Make it clear that this is not a certification program and does not commit the congregation to any particular actions, projects, or expenses apart from what the congregation itself chooses to do. Use the statement “Ten Why Lutherans Care for Creation” to establish the reasons for the program.

4. We encourage the clergy and church council to read the statement carefully and to edit or adapt it to your situation and congregational ethos. In a formal procedure, the council will approve the affirmation, identify/authorize the liaison/green team, and establish any protocols for responsibility and reporting. You may want to have the covenant approved in a plenary meeting by the whole congregation.

5. You may want to consider incorporating into the overall mission statement of your congregation a phrase or sentence reflecting your commitment as a creation-care congregation.

6. Announce the approval of the program and the mission statement through the newsletter, bulletins, and personal witness at congregational gatherings. Urge people to participate in and support the effort. Consider using the brief ritual in this kit that can be part of any worship service as a way of integrating the program into the life of the congregation and acknowledging the sacred nature of our common vocation of Earth-Care.

8. Consider renewing the commitment to be a congregation that cares for creation on an annual basis, such as at an Earth Sunday service in April or perhaps at a service in the fall when you also ask members to make their personal stewardship commitment: (See “Covenant with Creation” and ritual in this kit).

9. You may want to let the larger community in which your church is located know about your Earth-care commitment via a local newspaper or through your synodical media outlets.

These ideas are also shared in our congregational self-organizing kit. For more details, visit this page.

 

Green Teams

How to create a “Green Team” with your congregation:

1. Formation. A green team may come into existence in a variety of ways: a self-designated group that approaches the pastor and the church council for authorization, appointed by the pastor and the church council, or recruited in response to an educational program on Earth care or a care for creation worship service.

2. Maintain Momentum. Maintain the green team through regular meetings, representation from various committees, invitations to current and new members.

3. Choose a name: Green Team, Creation Care Task Force, Earth-Care Committee, Stewards for Conservation; choose a name that acts as a welcoming banner to all. Discuss what words in your community have politicized connotations and try to veer away from those that may alienate anyone in your congregation.

4. Leaven for the Entire Congregation: The use of “Team” is our term for the group that sees that the commitments to care for creation are carried out, because a “team” functions differently from other committees. The team may take the leadership on some projects, but mainly it does not serve like other committees. It is like leaven in the congregation to see that the various committees, staff, youth group, older adult organization, Bible Study Groups, and functionaries of the church carry out the various programs. [See the directions for the use of the action plan.]

5. Alternatives. We recommend that a distinct group, such as a Green Team, has the responsibility to give leadership in carrying out the Earth care commitments. However, there need not be a separate group. The functions of the Green Team can be carried out by a standing committee such as the social ministry committee or the stewardship committee or by the church council representatives from the various committees, as long as the arrangement is working well to carry out the commitments of the mission statement.

These ideas are also shared in our congregational self-organizing kit. For more details, visit this page.

 

 

 

Getting Started, First Steps

Getting Started

The program, becoming a creation care congregation, can begin from any place—pastor, interested lay people, a standing committee, the church council. Once there is some interest, take the program to the pastor and church council for discussion, approval, and implementation on behalf of the congregation. If desired, have the congregation approve the plan at a duly constituted congregational meeting.

This is not a top-down program. It is directed by you at the congregational level. You are free to change, adapt, and add to the program. Edit the mission statement to meet your needs and commitments. Develop your way of implementing the program and adjust the action plan to serve your situation; celebrate all that you do.

1. Approval of a Covenant with Creation. The pastor(s) and church council approve the mission statement on behalf of the congregation, expressing your creation-care commitment in the following five areas: worship, education, building and grounds, member discipleship, public witness. You can make the commitments public in a brief ritual within a worship service.

2. A Green Team and the Action Plan. As part of this process, the pastor and church council authorize the establishment of an individual liaison or “green team” to record, carry out and report the commitments through the action plan. The church council or another committee may serve to carry out the creation care commitments.

3. Promote your identity. Fill in and display the certificate identifying your congregation as a creation care community affiliated with Lutherans Restoring Creation. Promote this identity among the members. You may also want to display “Ten Reasons Why Lutherans Care for Creation.” Encourage the congregation members and request the committees to participate in carrying out the commitments.

4. Report and renew. We encourage the green team to report their projects and events to the church council/ congregation and to redo the action plan process on an annual basis.

Lutherans Restoring Creation stands ready to assist you in providing this program, in making resources available for its implementation, and for promoting your story online as you choose to share it with us.

These ideas are also shared in our congregational self-organizing kit. For more details, visit this page.

 

 

Ten Reasons Why Lutherans Care for All Creation

To join with other Lutherans in caring for creation, help your congregation become a Creation-Care congregation; visit this page for more information.

Lutherans care for creation for many reasons, including:

1. Theology: We affirm God as creator of all. We have an incarnation theology that cherishes the continuing presence of God in, with, and under all reality. We see redemption as the restoration of creation, as “new creation.” We see the future straining toward the fulfillment of creation.

2. Cross and Resurrection: The gospel leads us to see God in solidarity with the human situation in all its pain and agony, especially the most vulnerable—humans and non-humans. A theology of the cross gives us solidarity with “creation groaning in travail” and stresses that God redeems all creation. Our affirmation of resurrection offers hope for new life in this world.

3. Worship and Sacraments: We affirm that the material is a vehicle of the divine and that Christ is present in such ordinary elements of life as grapes and grain—the basis for our delight in and reverence for creation. Our worship invites us into transforming encounters with God deep in the flesh and in the world. We are called to worship God with creation.

4. Ecclesiology: Our human vocation is “to serve and to preserve” Earth. We believe that the church exists for the sake of the world. We do not have an escapist theology. We are called to continual reformation in response to the needs and crises of this life. When Luther was asked what he would do if the world would end tomorrow, he apparently replied, “Plant a tree.”

5. Ethics: We have an ethic of faith-active-in-love for neighbor and for all creation. Liberated from a legalism that enslaves, we are freed to address new situations, such as the ecological state of the world. We do so not to dominate but as servants to our human and non-human neighbors. We do so not out of fear or guilt or arrogance but joyfully out of grace, love, and gratitude.

6. Social Ministry: With a heritage back to the Reformation, Lutherans have a history of social service to the poor, the elderly, the sick, the oppressed, the marginalized—through hospitals, homes for the elderly, social ministry agencies, Lutheran Immigration Service, and Lutheran World Relief. We extend that service to healing Earth community.

7. Advocacy: We ELCA Lutherans have relevant social statements: “Caring for Creation” and “Sustainable Livelihood for All.” We have a staff person in environmental/hunger advocacy in Washington and Lutheran Public Policy offices in many states.

8. Scholarship and Education: Many Lutheran scholars have written and spoken on ecology—in theology, ethics, biblical study, and social commentary. Colleges and seminaries of the ELCA have environmental ministry courses that prepare Lutherans for leadership in church and world. Many continuing education events for clergy and laity highlight creation care.

9. Caring for Creation across the church: Several synods with creation-care committees have declared themselves to be Care-For-Creation Synods. Many Lutheran congregations incorporate Earth-care commitment in their life and mission—worship, education, building and grounds, discipleship at home and work, and public ministry. Lutheran camps have brought environmental concerns to many people. The ELCA headquarters has a Green Team that works to model environmental action. The ELCA offers grants for environmental projects.

10. Organizations for Earthkeeping: Lutherans have led in the Green Congregation Program, the Green Seminary Initiative, the Web of Creation, promoting creation-care worship throughout the church year and the Season of Creation (www.letallcreationpraise.org), and, of course, Lutherans Restoring Creation (this network, this site!).

Lutherans are in a critical position to listen to the cry of the poor along with the cry of Earth and to take leadership in addressing these critical issues of our day. In whatever context you may be serving, we encourage you to participate in this endeavor.

These ideas are also shared in our congregational self-organizing kit. For more details, visit this page.

 

 

Sacraments and Creation

The sacraments are occasions to reflect on human relationships with the rest of creation. Different Christian communities recognize different sacraments. We will reflect here on the two most common sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The presence of an element of nature and the pronouncement of a word in relation to the offer of the element of nature assure us that the reality of Christ/God will be present in, with, and under the elements and the whole event, so that they are sacramental—capable of bearing the holiness and grace of God into our lives so as to transform us.

We often focus on the symbolic meaning of the elements used in sacraments: water, bread, and wine. But in the context of our concern for the environment, we can focus on the elements themselves.

Notice how the status of grapes and grain and water as vehicles of the divine can in turn serve to give meaning to and to enhance our experience of these tangible realities of life for their own sake. For example, as a Eucharist or “thanksgiving,” Holy Communion can be an opportunity to express gratitude for all the natural order that sustains life at a material (and a spiritual) level, leading us to delight anew in the creation. To see the natural elements of both sacraments—water, grain, and grapes—as vehicles of grace is to realize that the finite can indeed bear of the infinite to us. This in itself elevates the goodness of nature as worthy and capable of being the means by which we establish a relationship with God and by which God establishes a relationship with us.

Baptism. Traditionally, baptism involves water for cleansing and for judgment or it symbolizes death and resurrection. However, what about also exploring the richness of the symbol of water in new ways in light of our contemporary knowledge and experience of water? We now know that water is the primordial context out of which life emerged and evolved to its present state. Why not connect this with the new creation at baptism? If baptism symbolizes a new beginning to life, then we can reflect on the new beginning to humanity that comes by immersing ourselves in water—so that we can, in a sense, re-emerge from water as a renewed humanity or as renewed life in all its manifestations—and in solidarity with all the life forms that led to human evolution.

Or could we not emphasize how vital water is to life—how our bodies are 90% water and we cannot live long without it? In this way, the water of life in baptism reinforces our gratitude for the water upon which we depend for life and health. Or baptism may remind us of how tragic it is to consider being baptized by water that is polluted rather than the pure living water that God created. Such a connection could lead us to see anew our vocation as baptized people to preserve clean water on the Earth. Or by baptism in water, we may acknowledge how much of the whole earth is comprised of water. In this way, the very fact that we are declared a child of God by immersion into nature itself can serve to get us in touch with our em-beddedness in nature as human beings. In all these ways we may re-connect the water of baptism to the water around us in nature.

The Lord’s Supper. The sacrament of Holy Communion is another opportunity to realize how integral is our human em-beddedness in nature. In the Eucharist, we are using natural fruits of Earth as a vehicle for God’s presence: wine from grapes and bread from grain. But it is more than that. Grapes grow from the vine that brings it forth, the ingredients of the soil, the water that nourishes the soil, the beetles that aerate the soil, the sun that shines on the plants, the air that surrounds the plant—and the composition and the combination of these elements is unique to the particular area or region where the grapes are being raised. Add to these factors the wood from the trees used to make the barrels in which the wine was stored and the ingredients employed as fermenting agents. We can reflect in a similar way on the bread used for communion. Some congregations use organically-grown, whole grain bread. Some congregations use bread made of multiple grains originating from several continents. In these ways, the elements of the Eucharist get us in touch with all of nature.

In addition, the Eucharist is connected to all of life in another way. It is a reminder of the death of Jesus, a recollection that all of life is a cycle of living and dying and resurrection. This is not to reduce the particularity of Christ’s death or the efficacy of it for salvation to the processes of nature. Rather, it is simply to recognize that the death of Jesus is an analog to the natural order in which death gives birth to life. The deaths of trees and other plants and the death of animals over the life span of the planet have made the earth into a great store of energy and one great compost heap that is the source of life and energy today.

The Sacramental Presence of God/Christ everywhere. Finally, it is important to observe that the elements of the sacraments are “common” elements of life—elements of food upon which we depend for life—assuring us that if God can be present in and through such common elements as bread and wine, then surely God is present to us everywhere in life. What difference does it make to our view of the daily food we eat and the daily drinks we drink knowing that bread and wine are sacramental? What difference does it make to our experience of water and soil and air, knowing that water is sacramental? The Eucharist is meant not only to lead us to experience the particularity of its symbolic meaning in the communion meal. It also leads us to think differently about all common elements of life—in such a way that our common experiences of them also become sacramental. That is, all elements of nature may convey for us the grace of God, that dearest freshness that lies deep down all things. As Martin Luther wrote, “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”

When we see all of life as sacramental, it changes our relationship to and our responsibility for creation—concern for pure water, our desire not to waste food, the problems with pesticides on grain and grapes, and a host of other ecological problems to which humans have contributed. We re-dedicate ourselves in worship to stop our actions that degrade nature and to find ways to restore God’s creation.

Tool Kit on Climate Change Connections

Take yourself, your class, or your congregation on a journey that explores the intersections between climate change and hunger. These toolkits are designed to be a program-in-a-box or customizable segments of information and activities for use in many congregational or educational settings. [Read More Here]

 

 

Living Earth Reflections from the ELCA Advocacy Office

ELCA Advocacy Office Relections

Living Earth Reflections from ELCA Advocacy offers writing from staff and guest writers on a variety of issues. Search on the ELCA Advocacy site to download reflections and use for Adult Forums or Bible Studies or as a preaching resource.

Subscribe to receive these reflections by email.

2016 Churchwide Assembly Passes Memorial To Move Towards A Responsible Energy Future

2016 Churchwide Assembly Passes Memorial To Move Towards A Responsible Energy Future

During the months leading up to the August 2016 ELCA Churchwide Assembly, a group of people promoted memorials to suggest that the church divest from fossil fuels and/or invest in renewable energy, and worked to ensure that the issue was properly discussed by voting members.
Read their position paper and follow their efforts as reported on our Facebook page  See also information on Key differences between divestment and shareholder advocacy
We still have a ways to go – but with the advocacy office, Portico, and a handful of dedicated “restorers of creation” progress is being made.
 

From minutes of Plenary 8 session – August 13th, which can be found in full here.

MEMORIAL B3:

To receive with gratitude the memorials of the Saint Paul Area, Metropolitan New York, Northeastern Pennsylvania, Upper Susquehanna and Northwestern Pennsylvania synods related to climate change and fossil fuels;

To urge all ELCA members, congregations and synods to inform and educate themselves about the effects of climate change through the lens of the “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice” social statement, and to advocate for policies that reduce energy use and our dependence on fossil fuels and encourage development of renewable energy sources as an expression of our commitment to address climate change and caring for God’s creation;

To affirm the action of the 2013 Churchwide Assembly and subsequent action of the Church Council in 2014 related to the development of revised or additional investment screens on fossil fuels, and to support and commend ELCA members, congregations, synods, the churchwide organization, and related institutions and agencies such as ELCA Endowment Fund and Portico Benefit Services for their leadership efforts to invest in companies that are taking steps toward a sustainable environment;

To affirm Portico’s balanced approach to supporting this church’s principles and directives as stated in the social statements — including the commitment to help transition to an economy less dependent on fossil fuels.

That approach includes has included:

1. shareholder advocacy (filing and supporting resolutions on environmental issues, including 150 resolutions in 2015),

2. focused investment screening, which has identified 113 companies screened for environmental reasons, and

3. ramping up positive social investments, such as investments in companies that develop solar, wind and water power generation systems, repurposing waste products and reducing toxic emissions;

and now:

To call upon Portico to evaluate the viability of an optional fossil -free fund for retirement plan participants; and To call upon the ELCA to heed the call of the Lutheran World Federation Council in 2015 to member churches “not to invest in fossil fuels and to support energy efficiency and renewable energy companies, and to encourage their institutions and individual members to do likewise”; and

As part of this church’s response to the Lutheran World Federation’s call, to request that the ELCA churchwide organization review the ELCA’s applicable social teachings and Corporate Social Responsibility policies and procedures, with the goal of not investing in, and removing the largest fossil fuel companies as identified by Carbon Tracker, and investing in corporations which are taking positive steps toward a sustainable environment.

 

 

 

 

The Second Sunday in Easter in Year C

A Sermon by Gil Waldkoenig, Professor at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Gettysburg.

Church of the Abiding Presence, April 10, 2013

The Second Sunday in Easter in Year C

John 20: 19-31
Rev 1: 4-8
Acts 5:27-32

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about unbelief.  The kind of unbelief that makes the news quite often has to do with climate change, also called global warming.

Almost half of the American population does not believe that the recent spike in global warming results from human activity, according to the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication. Some disbelieve very aggressively. They say global warming is a hoax. Some disbelieve more cautiously, saying we need to wait for more information or to see how things turn out. And then some people disbelieve in a way that is just plain lazy: they just hope it will all go away.

The disbelievers either don’t know, or don’t care to know, that the carbon that is clogging our atmosphere has gone up while oxygen has gone down in direct proportion. That indicates burning. And the carbon is a particular kind of carbon: carbon 12. Carbon 12 comes from plants long dead. It is not carbon 13 which could come from recently living plants (because carbon 13 becomes radioactive and dissipates).  Nor is it carbon 11 which comes from the molten geologic core of the earth when it releases through volcanoes. If the carbon is from burning, and it is not from volcanoes and not from recent plants, but is from plants long dead, then it can only be from fossil fuels. Last I checked no monkeys were burning fossil fuels. So I’m going to “believe” it has been some of the 7 billion humans on earth who have put over 380 parts per million of carbon into the atmosphere, which is drastically altering climate.[1]

Then there are some religious people who say, “Well, the planet is going to end anyway, when God blows it up or burns it up”—or whatever apocalyptic narrative you choose. The bad signs, the evidence of global warming and the troubles it will cause are warnings, and we must appease, they indicate, an obviously angry God before it is too late. If it gets to be too late for everyone else, at least a few who are on the right side of God could escape like Lot and Abram running away from Sodom.

So we have a set of disbelievers who don’t like the bad signs and deny them. And then we have another set of people who seem to relish the bad signs as a curse or judgment of doom that can inflame their religion of propitiation or appeasement.

In the closing chapters of the gospel of John, the disciples are being reassembled from here and there, drawn into good news, good signs, that Christ is risen, and that Christ abides with them, and they can respond to God’s world with love.

Thomas missed an earlier meeting where the disciples saw the wounded but resurrected Christ in person. The others are waiting for Thomas to join them, but Thomas is holding out for his own signs. Unless I see and touch to verify, I will not believe, Thomas says.

To me, it is interesting that even though Thomas gets to see and touch, and consequently expresses belief, he also in the same moment says “help my unbelief.” And then Jesus blesses all those who would not get the same signs that Thomas got, and yet would believe. I can’t help but imagine a kind smile on the face of Jesus when he says to Thomas, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.”

A couple of things are going on in John’s gospel here. It is a message of comfort to all those believers who would encounter Jesus through the written gospel, and the preached gospel and the acted gospel, rather than hearing and seeing Jesus in exactly the same manner as the first disciples did. And it is part of an ending to the gospel that is very consistent with the rest of the book–a book that had so much attention to signs, from water jars at Canaan to post-resurrection appearances. The blessing is for those who will NOT be eye-witnesses to the signs narrated in the gospel of John, but who WILL see and touch other signs in the days and years afterwards. Those signs would include bread and wine, words of good news spoken, baptismal waters splashed, and acts of compassion and justice.

The signs can change. The array of signs in John makes John a great piece of literature: from jars of water to bread and vines and sheep and gates and light and dark and descent and ascension and authority and subversion of authority and more.  The signs are many. But Christ is one, and grace is one.

It is hard to imagine the narrative in John 20 going any other way, but try this as an exercise. Thomas sees Jesus and touches his wounds. Then Thomas says, well, I need a bit more evidence. Please eat a fish right here in front of me.

Eating fish is a different sign, by a campfire, on the lakeshore, in chapter 21. Nobody falls on their knees saying “my Lord and my God” when they see Jesus eating fish—maybe because they were stuffing their faces with fish. But that sign is another physical sign, like touching and seeing for Thomas, that showed Jesus is bodily resurrected and abiding close by within creation.

If Thomas had asked for a fish [comp. Luke 24:41-42], it would have changed his experience but it would not have changed the cross. Not one bit. His belief and yours and mine do not make the cross of Christ more or less of what it is, the once and central triumph of God’s grace over all that would oppress it—and the resurrection is its twin sign of God’s good intent and faithfulness to Christ and to creation forevermore. Thomas and the disciples find that Christ is still one, even after the cross tore him and them apart, and grace is one in the resurrection forevermore. That’s why the blessing of all those who don’t see belongs in the narrative with the really fine Jesus-sighting that Thomas received.

In our time, when the climate is warming, many signs are not good. The bad signs ought to be evidence for us that we must care for our planet and our neighbors in new and better ways. Some of the denial and disbelief ring suspiciously similar to our old human unwillingness to change because it is going to cost something to care for neighbor and planet.

But all who gather around the signs of grace have an orientation and centeredness to face the bad signs in their stark reality, without denial and without avoidance. The church is already learning to change and respond in new ways, because from the source of grace we can respond beyond denial and fear, with love – love just like the gospel of John features from beginning to end! In other words, go ahead and ask for a fish or any other signs—the work of our time still lays before us. The cross and the resurrection are still what they are, and from that orientation, we’re going to be able to move and respond.

When the floods come, and hurricanes and winds and storms—or when the drought cracks the land and the people and animals and plants perish—we humankind will indeed lament our deeds which have brought these conditions upon us and upon our home, planet earth. The disbelief and denial is but the first whimpering before the real wailing (Rev 1:7). But the church of Jesus Christ, abiding in his presence and the cross accomplished, stands with the sign of resurrection at the center of all other signs. The cross flowers into the renewed tree of life on the last page of the Bible (Rev 22::2; cf. Acts 5:30),[2] after apocalyptic waves pass, and wailing gives way to hymns of grace and courage, hope and joy. In the meantime, the church can and will be a community of resilience[3] with open doors to which the flooded and parched alike may come, to hear not a word of curse but a word of redemption and grace. Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

[1] Information in this paragraph is from Earth: The Operator’s Manual DVD by Richard Alley (PBS, 2011)

[2] Thanks to Dr. Matthew Sleeth for attention to the tree on the past page of the Bible, as an object of focus by God. Sermon, Sunday, March 10, 2013, Washington National Cathedral (http://tinyurl.com/cz2w762)

[3] Thanks to Mary Minette, ELCA Director of Environmental Education and Advocacy, for the term “communities of resilience” that she suggested to me in conversation about the widening attention to sustainability/greening in congregations, synods and church wide that is fostered by Lutherans Restoring Creation (lutheransrestoringcreation.org) & GreenFaith (greenfaith.org).

 

GreenFaith: Mobilizing God’s People to Save the Earth

GreenFaith: Mobilizing God’s People to Save the Earth gives concrete examples and tips that will help people of faith and worshiping communities engage in Earth care—in bold, life-giving ways. Each chapter has questions to guide personal study and group conversation.

Solar on religious facilities. Mass, multi-faith mobilizing. Spirituality that really brings people alive. The religious-environment movement is an awesome story.

Nobody tells it like Fletcher Harper, our Executive Director.

This spring, Abingdon Press released Fletcher’s first book – GreenFaith. Get your copy today and use it in a discussion group in your house of worship.

GreenFaith tells about outdoor spiritual experiences.Eco-teachings from the great religions. Congregations protecting the planet and reinvigorating their faiths. Activism that’s makes a major impact.

And with each chapter – discussion questions for small groups, and ways faith communities can get involved.

This is a great book at a critical time. I hope you’ll get GreenFaith today.

In faith,

Stacey Kennealy
Certification & Shield Director

Lutheran Study Guide to Pope Francis’ Letter on Climate Change

This is a four week study intended for church adult education, college, or seminary classrooms. The study takes up the theme of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation coming that happened in 2017. Please consider adapting this this curriculum for use in your adult educational opportunities.
You can download the study guide from the links below:
Week 1: 
Introduction: Climate Change and Faith
Week 2:
Claimed By God, Claiming our Calling
Week 3:
Gathered into an Integral Ecology
Week 4:
Sent: Eco-Reformation

 

Larry Rasmussen’s Lecture for the Bonhoeffer Lectures in Public Ethics at Union Seminary

Voices from science, ethics, and theology on Eco-Reformation.

Veni, Creator Spiritus!
An Ecological Reformation

Veni, Creator Spiritus! Once a World Council of Churches program theme, “Come, Holy Spirit, renew your whole creation!” surfaced again in an ecumenical gathering in Greece in March 2016, this time as a “Manifesto for an Ecological Reformation of Christianity.” The authors note the Reformation Jubilee of 2017 as the opportune moment for the manifesto. The backstory is the urgent call of Christians from areas most vulnerable to the constellations of economic power, whether in the Pacific, Africa, Asia, Latin America, or from minority populations in Europe and North
America. Add the Pope’s ringing encyclical, Laudato Si’ , and Protestant countries in the North keenly aware of the environmental degradation of their consumerist life style, and we have an ecological cry that is as clear, strong and emphatic as
Beethoven’s Ninth. [read more]

 

Rev. H. Paul Santmire writes for the rest of us

Behold the Lilies: Jesus and the Contemplation of Nature:  A Primer  (2017)

Read a chapter: From Lake Wobegon to the Streets of Manhattan: Behold then Follow

Behold the Lilies, by the Rev. H. Paul Santmire, draws from the riches of the author’s long-standing work in the theology of nature and ecological spirituality, especially from his classic historical study, The Travail of Nature (1985), and from his Franciscan exploration in Christian spirituality, Before Nature (2014). In this new volume, Santmire maintains that those who would follow Jesus are mandated not just to care for the earth and all its creatures but also to contemplate the beauties of the whole creation, beginning with “the lilies of the field.” His first-person reflections range from “Scything with God” to “Rediscovering Saint Francis in Stone,” from “Taking a Plunge in the Niagara River” to “Pondering the Darkness of Nature.” Behold  the Lilies offers brief spiritual reflections that can be read in any order, over a period of time. This accessible primer will be welcomed not only by those who have already identified themselves with the way of Jesus but also by others who are searching for a contemplative spirituality attuned to global ecological and justice issues.

Why We Need an Eco-Reformation

There are voices across the ELCA calling for a reformation of the church to encompass care for all of God’s good creation.
We have spent centuries rightly nurturing our relationship with God (Love God) and one another (Love your neighbor). However, we have neglected God’s relationship with creation, our relationship with the rest of creation, and God’s relationship with us through the rest of creation (love creation). Now it is time to turn to this task with our full resources.
God’s Earth is in great trouble—pollution of air, land, and waters, ozone depletion, loss of forests and loss of farmable land to desert, proliferation of waste, global climate change, and much more. These changes are wreaking unjust havoc upon Earth, especially the poorest and most vulnerable humans, and on innumerable other creatures and plants of the entire natural world.

The overwhelming majority of scientists believe that these conditions are due in large part to the accumulative impact of human activity since the industrial revolution. To stop the destructive activity and to embrace practices that restore Earth, we will need sweeping changes in our society and our world.

Let’s begin with ourselves as a church. This will involve more than modest reforms such as adding a few hymns or using green cleaning products. This issue is not an add-on or simply a cause for those so interested. It involves all of us together. We need a transformation in our life and mission as a church, individually and together. We need to reform our worship, our theology, our ethics, our practices, and our spiritual disciplines.

As a church, we have always chosen to focus on care for the most vulnerable. We have rightly chosen as a church to emphasize feeding the hungry. Can we now broaden our commitment to the most vulnerable so as to care also for vulnerable earth and to address the connection between hunger and our ailing planet.

Our church needs a New Reformation as radical and transformative as the first one in the sixteenth century. We need to address the signal issue of our time (the restoration of Earth), as the sixteenth century reformation addressed their signal issue of that time (the salvation of the individual). We need to shift from being human-centered in our understanding of salvation to being Earth-centered in a way that seeks the well-being of all Earth Community.

We are approaching the observance of the five hundredth anniversary of the Sixteenth Century Reformation in 2017. As preparation for this event, Lutherans Restoring Creation urges us to consider embracing a New Reformation, an Eco-Reformation, as our means to rise to the greatest challenge of our time.