Category Archives: Lectionary Commentaries

Lessons for Year B (Lent – Easter 2018)

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)

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)

All Saints Sunday in Year A

The beatitudes address the oppressive conditions of empire—ancient and contemporary!

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year A 

By Dennis Ormseth (Reprinted from 2011)

Readings for:

All Saints Sunday

Psalm 34:1-10, 22

Revelation 7:9-17

1 John 3:1-3

Matthew 5:1-12

Blessed are the Children of God

The meaning of the festival of All Saints Sunday is aptly expressed in the Prayer of the Day from Evangelical Lutheran Worship:

Almighty God, you have knit your people together in one communion in the mystical body of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Grant us grace to follow our blessed saints in lives of faith and commitment, and to know the inexpressible joys you have prepared for those who love you, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever (ELW, p. 59).

The first reading from Revelation 7 provides a vision of those who gather with “inexpressible joy” in worship before the throne of God. The second lesson states the basis on which we might hope to be included in their number: the “love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God” (3:1). And the Gospel for the Day sets out, in the words of Jesus from his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5:1-12), a description of what such ‘lives of faith and commitment” might look like, so as to indicate the way we are to follow, and empower us to do so.

Is the lion an enemy or a creature created to praise God?

What might we draw from these readings of relevance to care of creation? Constituting something of a summary vision of the way and goal of Christian life as this collection of texts does, we are glad to see that creation and its care are richly implicated in them. We exclude from this characterization the appointed psalm. An individual lament, Psalm 34 is rather typically anthropological in focus and contrasts the well-being for which the psalmist prays with the “want and hunger” suffered by “young lions.” As Arthur Walker-Jones comments, “This typical imagery and implied narrative imagine a world that continues to influence contemporary constructions for nature. Thus, contemporary society continues to view wild animals as enemies and wilderness as both refuge and threat” (For the significance of this image, see Walker-Jones, The Green Psalter: Resources for an Ecological Spirituality pp. 44-47). Compare this imagery, on the other hand, with the image of the lion associated with the four creatures at the throne of God, discussed below.

Those robed in white and gathered around the throne of God and the Lamb in the text from Revelation 7 represent the saints whom we honor this day, as God honors them eternally. Of them it is said that they will no longer experience suffering in relationship to the rest of creation:

“. . . the one who is seated on the throne will shelter them.  They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Rev. 7: 15b-17). 

These images of reconciliation, moreover, are part of John’s great vision of the reign of God, to which v. 11 draws our attention: “And all the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures, and they fell on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, singing . .”  As readers of the Revelation of John are instructed at 4:6-8, the four living creatures are, respectively, one “like a lion,” one “like an ox,” one ‘with a face like a human face,” and the fourth “like a flying eagle.” Thus do creatures both heavenly and earthly join in praising God for the redemption of the saints.

Lions, Oxen, Humans, and Eagles praise God without ceasing

“Is heaven for pelicans?” asks Christopher Southgate in his provocative discussion of “Eschatological Considerations” in his The Groaning of Creation (p. 78ff.). A literalistic response on the basis of this text might be, “no, only lions, oxen, humans and eagles.” The images here are, of course, mythical. Each of the creatures is “six winged.” Though clearly angelic, they nonetheless represent humankind and all the animals created by God (cf. Genesis 1:20-27), perhaps as ‘they existed in God’s mind from all eternity, “to adopt the suggestion of a footnote to the text of The New Oxford Annotated Bible. Strikingly, these creatures are all “full of eyes all around and inside;” they are made for seeing the glory of God and giving God praise. “. . . without ceasing” they sing “Holy, holy, holy, the Lord God the Almighty, who was and is to come.” Ever watchful, they lead the elders in praise of the one who sits upon the throne, singing “you are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power, for you created all things, and by your will they existed and were created” (4: 9-11; see the footnotes to Rev. 4:6-11 in NOAB, P. 369NT).

For what reason do these four creatures join in the praise of angels and elders before the throne of God?  Because they see that God has brought the saints out of “the great ordeal.” Or, to respond as the author of 1 John might, they behold those who are now revealed to be children of God and are therefore “like God, for they see God as God is.” Or yet again, to draw insight from Chapter 8 of the Letter to the Romans, they rejoice to see those for whom “the creation waits with eager longing” in “hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (8:19-21). Or to turn to yet another relevant text, the Gospel for the day, they welcome those who have followed the way that Jesus, the Servant of Creation, showed them in his Sermon on the Mount.

The Beatitudes affirm “God’s favor for certain human actions and situations.”

We draw here from our previous comment on the Sermon, when it was the Gospel for the Fourth Sunday after the Epiphany. The four creatures, the elders, and the angels rejoice together, we want to suggest, because those who came through the great ordeal followed the teachings of Jesus, which constitute justice and which fostered love for the whole of creation. Warren Carter, whose exegesis of the Sermon we follow here (Matthew and the Margins, pp. 130 –37), proposes that the beatitudes concern “primarily God’s favor for certain human actions and situations (Ps 1:1-2).” Beatitudes, he writes, “are directed to the present and future ages.” The nine blessings of the Sermon identify and affirm certain situations and actions as signs of the coming of God’s reign, present or future. They “reassure those who already experience the circumstances or manifest the particular behavior that God’s favor is or will be on them.” Accordingly, our question is, in what way are the actions and situations so favored of benefit to all creation?

God blesses those who are crushed in spirit and who grieve their ills.

 “Blessed are the poor in spirit,” Jesus begins. The poor in spirit,” argues Carter, “are those who are economically poor and whose spirits or being are crushed by economic injustice. They can see no hope, but they know the corrosive effect of hopeless poverty. They are described in several psalms as oppressed by the wicked” (p. 131). The issue here is the overcoming of a totally negative expectation regarding the fulfillment of the promise of well-being, which from time to time dominates the spirit of an individual or a community. This is a condition experienced by people who, as Carter puts it, are “without resources and hope, subject to larger forces that seem beyond reach,” but also by their advocates that the powerful in an oppressive political arena refuse to hear. It is not uncommonly the experience in our culture of people who care passionately about Earth and its non-human inhabitants. Their advocacy on behalf of the ‘non-human other’ seems so futile, because the lives of the creatures that are the focus of their concern and love are threatened so totally; and the powerful appear so completely indifferent to their fate, maintaining policies that are completely driven by their own self-interest. A judgment expressed by Carter fits both oppressed humans and dominated nature equally well: “Denied justice, adequate resources, wholeness, and subject to the power of the ruling elite, there is no hope of change. Unless God intervenes” (p. 132). But God will intervene, Jesus promises: The poor in spirit are blessed because the kingdom of heaven is theirs. The fulfillment of the promise given with their creation is guaranteed to come to them, in the eschaton—if not sooner.

The point of the first beatitude bears emphasis by repetition, Carter thinks: “The declaration that the hopeless poor are blessed (see 5:3) because God is in the process of liberating them, is so startling that it is repeated. Blessed are those who mourn.” Yes, they are blessed precisely because they mourn “the destructive impact of imperial powers. . . . Oppression is not normative. It should be mourned.” Their mourning is, in fact, a sign of the enduring vitality of their spirit, however diminished in strength it might be.

Inherit the Earth is restoration to land.

With respect to the first two beatitudes, then, the blessings relevant to non-human creatures occur by virtue of the human impact on them, by the circumstances and behaviors of human beings. With the next several beatitudes, on the other hand, the application is rather more direct. Jesus continues: “Blessed are the meek,” those who give place to others and thus show appropriate respect for their need of that place for their existence. Theirs is an implicitly profound ecological behavior; and so the blessing is appropriate: “they shall inherit the earth.” As Carter insists, “this is not to be spiritualized. God, not the meek, will overthrow the elite so that all may use the earth (Ps 37:10-11).” But neither is this to be limited anthropocentrically, for “The present inequitable access to land, based on exploitative societal relationships will end. The earth and its resources belong to God (Gen 1; Ps 24:1). As stewards, humans are to nurture Earth (Gen 1:28-31) as a basis for a community in which all have access to necessary resources . . . Earth, then, refers not only to the land of Israel but to all of God’s creation” (p. 133).

Being peacemakers is the opposite of Empire—Roman and American

So, also, accordingly, those “who hunger and thirst for righteousness”—understood here as existence characterized by right relationships, including adequate resources for living (space, water, energy, sustenance)—“will be filled.” And, we would add, fulfilled: “for those who show mercy will receive mercy,” not just from God, but reciprocally in a community of practical and active love. The “pure in heart,” humans whose external actions must be consistent with internal commitments and motivations, but also non-humans whose external life conforms to the purposes God has instilled in their very nature—they will all together “see God,” again a promise that necessarily points to an eschatological fulfillment that is open to all creatures. And, finally, the peacemakers—certainly not the peace of the Roman Empire’s “order, security, and prosperity” and certainly not the peace of the American empire with its exhaustive quest to secure resources that now extends out into the cosmos beyond Earth. Rather, the reference is to God’s “cosmic peace in which all things are in just relation with each other and their creator.” Called children of God, the identity of peacemakers is shaped neither by ethnicity nor by species-being, but rather by conformity to the self-giving pattern of both God and Jesus.

Blessed are those who give up their lives in the struggle for justice.

The final two beatitudes return to the struggle identified in the first two, that of meeting and dealing with the overwhelming opposition which the forces of the status quo, with “its commitments, power structures, and beneficiaries,” mount against the just and reconciling way of life envisioned in his beatitudes: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (5:10-11). What does it mean that God looks with favor on those who give up their lives in the struggle? Their reward, it notes, is “the kingdom of heaven.” Indeed, says Jesus, “rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven.” They will participate in the completion of God’s purposes, enjoying the fullness of God’s presence and empire,” Carter insists (p. 136). And on All Saints Sunday, we are given to behold the confirmation of this promise.

For additional 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

The Second Sunday after Epiphany (January 14-20) in Year A (Schade)

Droplets of Paradox: The Ripples of Our Baptismal Calling  –  Leah Schade reflects on the “foolishness” of creation care ministry.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary
(originally written by Leah Schade in 2017)

Readings for the Second Sunday after Epiphany, Year A (2017, 2020, 2023)

Isaiah 49:1-7
Psalm 40:1-11
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
John 1:29-42

The texts assigned for this Sunday originate from different times, different authors and out of the midst of different communities.  Imagine them as droplets falling into the still baptismal font on Sunday morning.  The ripples of each drop merge with the others, creating movement across the surface, stirring the waters of our faith.

The tension in Isaiah 49:1-7 is palpable.  The speaker is held taut between his call to prophetic ministry and feelings of frustration in seeing nothing come from his work.   For those answering the call to Creation-care ministry, this text speaks to the kind of tension we experience as well, caught between two poles of paradox.  At one end is the undeniable call to preach to every nation from coast to coast, calling for people to heed God’s message of justice, reconciliation, and restoration for our planet.  At the other is the undeniable experience of utter despondency because either not enough people are heeding the call, or the response is happening too slowly.  Especially for those of us who have felt “deeply despised” for attending to this call, the announcement that “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you” (v. 7) seems like a pipe dream at best, and a cruel lie at worst.

Charles Campbell and Johan Cilliers talk a great deal about paradox in their book Preaching Fools:  The Gospel as a Rhetoric of Folly (Baylor University Press; Waco, TX, 2012).  “Paradox could be described as holding together irreconcilable opposites in order to create and sustain liminality,” they explain (185).  Liminality is “the experience of being and moving in between spaces and times,” (39), and, for preachers, involves actually creating that in-between time and space so that people can come to experience the transformative work of God.  They note that is exactly when the church’s existence seems ludicrous that the foolish message of the preacher is needed.  Especially “during periods when the church has power and accommodates to the political and social structures,” preaching fools are necessary. They are needed to “interrupt the status quo by unmasking and deconstructing the structures of the day,” (154).

Campbell’s and Cilliers’ words resonate strongly given the way in which many church leaders have either acquiesced or actually thrown their support behind the incoming president who has threatened to derail much of the progress that has been made toward protecting God’s Creation.  From appointing pro-fossil-fuels leaders to the highest positions, to vowing to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement to curb carbon emissions, to calling climate change a “hoax,” it can feel as if all our work on environmental issues is being derailed, undermined, and erased.

It is into this kind of fraught time that Jesus came a-wadin’ into the baptismal waters to be baptized by John.  The Baptist was one of those prophets who drew the ire of the political leaders.  He was not afraid to use his powerful proclamation to create a liminal space, critiquing the abuse of power, and calling people to repent of their selfish habits.  He must have known his ministry was bound to meet a violent end.  So to see the One who was at once timeless and “right on time” stepping into the waters of the Jordan must have been an answer to fervent prayer.  The ripple effect of that baptism would indeed reach the furthest coasts, “to the end of the earth,” (Isaiah 49:6).

Campbell and Cilliers remind us that we stand in a long line of “preaching fools” from St. Francis of Assisi to Desmond Tutu, who have “emerged in times when the church (or significant parts of it) has settled comfortably into the status quo and adorned itself with power.  The church, in fact, cannot do without the curious character called a fool, who prospers in times of liminality, as well as in times of stagnation and accommodation,” (155).  So as much as you may feel caught in that tension of paradox, or unsure whether to preach in a way that creates liminality, I would encourage you to hold steady and watch for what God is doing.

You may try asking of Jesus the same question posed by the two disciples who began following him, “Where are you staying?”  In other words, where can we find you, Jesus?  Where have you located yourself?  And then we must keep our eyes and ears tuned to the answer: “Come and see.”  Because it is likely that we will find the Lamb of God in the most unlikely, but nevertheless, life-giving places.

For example, the Preaching Fools authors relate a story told by Barbara Lundblad who described visiting a neighborhood in the South Bronx, New York: a neighborhood marked by poverty and violence, with numerous ‘shrines’ painted on the sides of buildings in remembrance of young people gunned down on the streets. ‘Picture after picture after picture, until we could not bear another,’ Lundblad comments after viewing a slideshow of these shrines.  But in the midst of this neighborhood, Lundblad is shown some brightly colored church doors: ‘The doors, once covered with graffiti, had been transformed into gospel doors by youth of the parish.  Almost every week, teenage artists paint a new scene, their interpretation of God’s good news for their community.  I wish you could have seen the painting on those doors!  On the left-hand door, a young boy had opened up a fire hydrant – a New York City ritual on stifling summer days.  Water was gushing out in a cooling stream that flowed in a wide arc from one door to the other.  When it reached the right side, the water splashed into the baptismal font, making one continuous stream from the font to the street and back again.  Beneath the flowing water, a table was set: a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, along with a whole roasted chicken and a quart of milk – sacraments of life in the midst of the city.  I knew we were in the South Bronx.  The sign on the corner said Prospect Avenue and 156th Street, but we had come to Galilee.  Jesus was there in the doorway, very much alive.  As usual, he had gotten there ahead of us.’ [187, quoting Barbara K. Lundblad, Transforming the Stone:  Preaching Through Resistance to change (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001) 27].

Where are the droplets of baptism falling around you?  What are the signs that justice is still stirring the waters in the midst of political upheaval? That grace is flowing even over seemingly impenetrable stones of hatred, poverty, xenophobia, misogyny, white privilege, and environmental destruction?

As Campbell and Cilliers remind us, “God’s weak power humanizes, gives back, and enhances life.  Christ, the powerless One, gives life in abundance.  In God’s compassion lies God’s power – the foolish power of God’s compassionate weakness,” (58).  Claim that power, and proclaim that abundance.  Let your own droplets fall into that font and stir the waters!

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship
Lexington Theological Seminary, Lexington, KY
Author, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2016)

Lectionary Lessons Archive (Year C)

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 C

2013 Season of Creation Plan on celebrating this season of the church year.

WEEKLY REFLECTIONS ON THE LESSON FOR YEAR

Christ the King Sunday in Year C (by Leah Schade)

No commentary for the Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C.

All Saints Sunday in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

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

**The Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Universe Sunday (by Leah Schade)

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

**The Third Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Storm Sunday (by Leah Schade)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler)

**The Second Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Animal Sunday (by Leah Schade)

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C by Robert Saler

**The First Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Ocean Sunday (by Leah Schade)

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler).

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Holy Trinity Sunday and the Second Sunday in Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Day of Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Second Sunday of Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Resurrection of Our Lord/ Easter Sunday (by Tom Mundahl)

Palm/ Passion Sunday in Year C (by Rob Saler)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year C (by Rob Saler)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year C (by Rob Saler)

The Third Sunday in Lent in Year C (by Rob Saler)

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

The First Sunday in Lent in Year C (br Robert Saler)

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Epiphany of Our Lord in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

The First Sunday of Christmas in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

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

The Fourth Sunday in Advent in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

Third Sunday in Advent in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

Second Sunday in Advent in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

First Sunday in Advent in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

YEAR C (2015-2016)

The Season of Pentecost

Reformation Sunday in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Twenty-First Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

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

**The Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Universe Sunday (by Leah Schade)

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

**The Third Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Storm Sunday (by Leah Schade)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler)

**The Second Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Animal Sunday (by Leah Schade)

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C by Robert Saler

**The First Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Ocean Sunday (by Leah Schade)

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler).

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler) (2013)

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler) (2013)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler) (2013)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler) (2013)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Robert Saler) (2013)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth) (2013)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth) (2013)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth) (2013)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth) (2013)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth) (2013)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth) (2013)

Holy Trinity Sunday and the Second Sunday in Pentecost in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth) (2013)

Easter Season

The Seventh Sunday in Easter in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Sixth Sunday in Easter in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Fifth Sunday in Easter in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Fourth Sunday in Easter in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Fourth Sunday in Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year C (by Robert Saler)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Second Sunday of Easter in Year C (by Tom Mundahl)

The Resurrection of Our Lord/ Easter Sunday (by Tom Mundahl)

Season of Lent

Introduction to the Season of Lent in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

Passion Sunday in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Lent in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday in Lent in Year C (by Dennis Ormseth)

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

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

Epiphany Season

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

The First Sunday after Christmas in Year C (A Sermon by Paul Santmire)

Season of Advent

Preface to the Eco-Justice Commentary for Year C (2015-2016 by Dennis Ormseth)

The First Sunday of Advent in Year C (2015 by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday of Advent in Year C (2015 by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Advent in Year C (2015 by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year C (2015 by Dennis Ormseth)

 

Season of Creation Commentary Archive (Years A, B, and C)

The First Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year B: Planet Earth Sunday (by Rob Saler) “Creation bears enduring testimony to God’s goodness.”
 
The Second Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year B: Humanity Sunday (by Rob Saler). “We are most fully human when we care for creation with humility.”
 
The Third Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year B: Sky Sunday (by Rob Saler) Scripture enjoins us to care for earth, sky, and sea as “the commons” we share together.
 
The Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year B: Mountain Sunday (by Rob Saler) Scripture changes how we view mountains. 
 
The Season of Creation in Year B: Saint Francis Sunday (by Rob Saler) Jesus and St. Frances showed deep tenderness towards creation and passionate advocacy against injustice.
 
YEAR C
 
Commentary on lessons for the Season of Creation in Year C (by Leah Schade)
The First Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Ocean Sunday.  Wisdom teaches that what God has gathered up in Christ, we humans should make healthy, free from toxins, cleaned of trash, and restored to abundance.
The Second Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Fauna Sunday. Wisdom leads us to change our relationships with our animal brothers and sisters in God’s creation.
The Third Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Storm Sunday. Finding the peace of God in the storm, we are called wake up to the storms we have created.
The Fourth Sunday in the Season of Creation in Year C: Universe Sunday. There is one Wisdom, one Beauty, one Mind that flows through the universe.
For additional resources for the Season of Creation visit www.letallcreationpraise.org.

Preaching On Creation: Sunday of the Passion (Palm Sunday) in Year A (Mundahl)

Offering Life for the World Tom Mundahl reflects on Christ’s suffering and death.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary (originally written by Tom Mundahl in 2017)

Readings for the Sunday of Passion, Year A (2017, 2020, 2023)

Matthew 21:1-11
Isaiah 50:4-9a
Psalm 31:9-16
Philippians 2:5-11
Matthew 26:14-27: 66 or Matthew 27:11-54

The Sunday of the Passion begins the eight-day holy week, which culminates in the central celebration of the Christian faith: the passage of Jesus from death to life marked by the Three Days. Not only do the readings contain rich support for serving creation, but the gospel readings show the cosmic significance of the events—ranging from the donkey and tree branches of the entry into the city to the cosmic elements of darkness and earthquake in the passion story.

Norman Wirzba summarizes the connection between our readings and ecojustice concerns: “We discover that sacrificial offering is a condition for the possibility of the membership of life we call creation. Creation, understood as God’s offering of creatures to each other as food and nurture, reflects a sacrificial power in which life continually moves through death to new life” (Food and Faith, Cambridge, 2011, p. 126). While the very notion of sacrifice is uncomfortable to death-denying North Americans, it still is the way of the cross that leads to new life.

To grasp Isaiah’s Third Servant Song (Isaiah 50:4-9a), it is important to uncover the world of self-deception many exiles still embraced. In fact, one of the purposes of Second Isaiah is to convince the people that they were responsible for their condition; they had lost their freedom and land because they had convinced themselves that any wealth and status they enjoyed resulted from their own efforts, not as a gift of God. They had clearly forgotten the warning of the Deuteronomist: “Do not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gotten me this wealth’” (Deuteronomy 8:17).

Yahweh responds to this arrogance with an indictment and trial immediately preceding our First Reading. Here the very notion that the LORD is responsible for breaking the covenant and selling the people off to the highest bidder is shown to be pathetic and self-serving (Isaiah 50:1-3). Since living in self-deception only leads to greater self-destruction, the verdict is a stiff dose of the truth. As Paul Hanson suggests, “the God of the Hebrew Scriptures is not dedicated to avoiding offense at all costs, but to dispelling the delusions that imprison human beings” (Isaiah 40-66, Louisville: John Knox, 1995, p. 137). As the prophetic word delivered by Isaiah has it, “I the LORD speak the truth, I declare what is right” (Isaiah 45:19).

This reminds us of nothing so much as the delusion of “American exceptionalism” that credits national wealth totally to a genius that forgets what once were seen as limitless natural “resources,” centuries of slave labor, and the genocide of native people. Like the exiles, advocates of eco-justice are called to be prophetic truth-tellers, awakening us to the fact that we, too, because of water depletion, resource waste, and climate change are also living in an illusion of prosperity containing the seeds of destruction.

This Servant Song reminds us that, in spite of human delusion, God does not give up on sending prophets as messengers to help the recovery of our senses. Whereas in Isaiah 42 it is the Spirit that emboldens the servant, in this Sunday’s text it is the power of the word itself: “The LORD has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word” (Isaiah 50:4). In fact, this Servant Song comes close to presenting a job description for prophets. The power of calling provides the endurance to confront those who meet the truth with “insults and spitting” (Isaiah 50: 6). The simple fact of persistence—“setting the face like flint” (Isaiah 50:7)—in the face of constant ridicule is the key to prophetic effectiveness (Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40-66, Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969, p. 229).

It is through the suffering of the servant that power to transform the whole community grows. One of the great mysteries of faith is that those with the greatest ability to encourage the distraught are often those who, far from being exempt from suffering , discover special gifts of empathy and empowerment precisely in their own valleys of personal suffering (Hanson, p. 141). Again. we see life emerging from death.

As we began these comments on Lenten season texts, climate activist and Methodist layperson Bill McKibben’s 2016 lecture to inaugurate the Jonathan Schell Memorial Lectures was referred to. We saw that McKibben took as his task applying the lessons of the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970’s and 80’s to the climate struggle. The first lesson McKibben mentioned was the power of “unearned suffering” (This lecture is available online at www.fateoftheearth.org). Increasingly, it appears that McKibben’s prescience was uncanny. The courage to endure in seeking eco-justice in the face of opposition from the current presidential regime can only come from a source as strong as that described by Isaiah: in our case, the power of baptismal calling to give us strength “to set our face like flint” in the quest for eco-justice, a quest that seems more likely with each passing day to require civil disobedience. This may be how we offer ourselves to one another “to till (serve) and keep” the creation.

Few texts sing the melody of self-offering for the life of the world as clearly as our Second Lesson, Philippians 2:5-11. “For at the heart of the story of creation, from its origins through problem to resolution is the story of Christ, who enters the world to redeem it, and is raised to glory as the firstborn of the new creation. Paul summarizes this story most famously and tellingly in the Philippian hymn” (Horrell, Hunt, and Southgate, Greening Paul, Waco: Baylor, 2010, p. 172).

Named after the father of Alexander the Great, by the middle of the first century CE Philippi had become a retirement center for the Roman military, a city where loyalty to the emperor was highly valued. In the face of the dominant culture, this Christ hymn makes the subversive claim that believers are “citizens of an empire where Christ is Lord” (Michael J. Gorman, Apostle of the Crucified Lord, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2017, p. 499). Of course, the appellation, “Lord,” was a commonplace when referring to the emperor. As Ovid wrote, the emperor is “Lord of the empire, no less mighty than the world he governs” (John Dominic Crossan, God and Empire, San Francisco: Harper, 2007, p. 108). To send a letter featuring this Christ-hymn naming Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:11) was surely crossing the line.

But the “career trajectory” of this lordship is unlike any sanctioned by Roman culture. Instead of a climb to the top, this lordship participates in the depths of life by obedient self-emptying (kenosis). Influenced by elements of the Fourth Servant Song (Isaiah 52:13-53: 12), the Genesis narrative of disobedience (Genesis 3), and the Roman cult of the emperor, this Christ-hymn concisely summarizes the story as one of incarnation (he emptied himself), death (he humbled himself), and glorification (Gorman, p. 506).

Although we are mindful of the final verses of the Christ-hymn, it is crucial to recognize on this day, formerly referred to almost exclusively as Palm Sunday, that it was not “hosannas” all the way. To remind his audience (and all hearers) of this, Paul makes it clear that Jesus’ self-emptying is the pattern of faithful life: “Let this same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus….” (Philippians 2: 5).

Some years ago, Wayne Meeks suggested that the basic purpose of Philippians “is the shaping of a Christian phronesis (way of thinking) that is ‘conformed to Christ’s death in hope of resurrection’” (“The Man from Heaven in Paul’s Letter to the Philippians,” in Birger Pearson, ed., The Future of Early Christianity: Essays in Honor of Helmut Koester, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1991, p. 333). As we recently celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Lutheran Reformation, perhaps we could see this “way of thinking” as shaping Luther’s theology, in particular his notion of the “priesthood of all believers.”

Early in his career as a reformer, Luther made it clear that “everyone who knows he is a Christian should be fully assured that all of us alike are priests” (“The Pagan Servitude of the Church” (1520), in Dillenberger, ed., Martin Luther—Selections from His Writings, New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1961, p. 349). That same year, in his “Appeal to the German Nobility,” Luther defines this priesthood, drawing from Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians (12:12f.): “We are all one body, yet each member has his own work serving others” (Ibid., p. 407). Surely this priesthood—offering life for the world in the name of the Christ—includes serving creation and securing eco-justice.

Even on the Sunday of the Passion, we “lean” toward the culmination of this holy week at the Vigil. Therefore, we cannot ignore the glorification in the final part of the Christ-hymn. This, too, reflects the baptismal priesthood we share. We learn that “what a priest does today is ‘lift our hearts’ to the place of heaven so that heavenly life can transform life on earth here and now . . . . When we ‘lift our hearts’ to God, what we are really doing is giving ourselves and the whole world to the new creation, ‘the new heaven and new earth’ (Rev. 21:1). As priests we begin to see the whole creation as an altar of God’s offering. This altar becomes the inspiration for our offering of the world and ourselves” (Wirzba, p. 207).

We cannot neglect our gospel reading(s). The processional reading requires good participation from the congregation—energy is important (as are eco-palms that are widely available). Because it is important to begin this week being immersed in the passion story, my recommendation is reading the longer version. If it is a single reader, it should be done at an appropriate pace, unhurried. If there is a talented storyteller in the congregation willing to take this on, what a gift! Even better is a choral reading using resources that are widely available. However, the key to a good choral reading is recruiting good readers, all standing near the lectern, who have practiced together at least twice. If sound reinforcement is necessary, that should also be “practiced.”

Is a traditional sermon necessary? That is a local decision. While serving as a pastor, when I did preach I usually focused briefly on the Philippians Christ-hymn. In the last fifteen years of ministry, simply hearing the passion gospel read was more than enough. If this is done, it is particularly important to allow silence (more than a minute before and two minutes or more after the Passion Gospel) for reflection and prayer.  While this may seem unusual and even uncomfortable for some, silence is a gift of life for this unique week and always in congregational worship.

Hymn Suggestions:

Processional: “All Glory, Laud, and Honor,” ELW, 344
Hymn of the Day: “A Lamb Goes Uncomplaining Forth,” ELW, 340
Sending: “What Wondrous Love Is This,” ELW, 666

Tom Mundahl, Saint Paul, MN
tmundahl@gmail.com

Robert Saler

Robert Saler is Research Fellow, Christian Theological Seminary at Indianapolis and Director of the Lilly Endowment Clergy Renewal Programs. He has served as pastor of Bethel Lutheran Church in Gary, IN and visiting lecturer in theology at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He received his BA from Valparaiso University, his MA from the University of Chicago Divinity School, and his M.Div., Th.M., and Ph.D. from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago. He is the author of numerous articles in the areas of biblical hermeneutics, ecological theology, patristic thought, and contemporary ecclesiology. He is currently writing an intellectual biography of the 20th-century theologian Joseph Sittler. rsaler@hotmail.com.

 

 

Tom Mundahl

Tom Mundahl has served as pastor of Lutheran Church of the Reformation, St. Louis Park, MN since 2007 (the home of Sen. Al Franken and the Coen brothers). During more than a decade in Dubuque, IA, he helped to develop statewide, ecumenical ‘care of the earth’ seminars, chaired the NE Iowa Synod Care of Creation Work Group, and sat on the Iowa Environmental Council. A graduate of St. Olaf College and Luther Seminary, he holds graduate degrees from the Universities of Iowa and Michigan, and has taught political theory at the University of Iowa and Luther College. He also has served as Director of the Christus Community, Lutheran Campus Ministry, at the University of Iowa. tmundahl@gmail.com.

Leah D. Schade – Speaker, Author, Preacher

Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade first started helping Lutherans Restoring Creation as she joined us in a training at Mar-Lu Ridge camp in Maryland in 2011 and shared her personal experiences being a pastor on the frontline of the fracking issues in Pennsylvania. Then, in 2013, she graciously gave a group of LRC trainers at Gettysburg Seminary a sneak peek of her eco-feminist work as she was in the midst of crafting her doctoral thesis. That work evolved as she pursued her vocation of teaching and published her book, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit.

Most recently she has been sharing her gifts as Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Her book, Preaching in the Purple Zone: Ministry in the Red-Blue Divide, explores how clergy and churches can address controversial social issues (including climate change) using nonpartisan, biblically-centered approaches and deliberative dialogue. She also co-edited with Margaret Bullitt-Jonas a timely tool for all of us in this ministry: Rooted & Rising : Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, a collection of 21 essays from a cross section of faith leaders and activists offering their spiritual wisdom and energy for facing the difficult days ahead. Leah has also written a Creation-centered Lenten devotional, For the Beauty of the Earth. She is a sought-after speaker and has keynoted and led workshops across the United States.

Below is a listing of Leah’s various offerings to Lutherans Restoring Creation. We are proud to have her as a part of our church and larger cloud of witnesses.

Read her most recent posts at: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/ecopreacher/

Relevant Publications
“Connections to Creation” reflections for Sundays and Seasons, 2019-2020 and 2020-21.
“Encountering Pharaoh – and Climate Change” in Preaching as Resistance; Phil Snider, editor; St. Louis, MI: Chalice Press, 2018.
“Preaching the Body of God: Sallie McFague and a Homiletics of Creation Care,” The Other Journal; Fall 2018.
“Include Mother Earth in the #MeToo Movement: ‘Don’t Frack Your Mother,’” Mother Pelican: A Journal of Solidarity and Sustainability, Luis T. Gutiérrez, editor; Vol. 14, No. 3, March 2018; http://www.pelicanweb.org/solisustv14n03page11.html
“Let’s Make Earth Day about the Earth Martyrs,” The Christian Century, April 18, 2017. https://www.christiancentury.org/blog-post/lets-make-earth-day-about-earth-martyrs
Let All Creation Praise website contributor – http://www.letallcreationpraise.org/about-us

Pastoral positions
2016 – present: Supply preaching
2011 – 2016: Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, West Milton, PA
2009 – 2011: Bridge Pastor, Spirit and Truth Worship Center, Yeadon, PA
2000 – 2009: Associate Pastor, Reformation Lutheran Church, Media, PA

Links
Website for Creation-Crisis Preaching: www.creationcrisispreaching.com

Website for The Purple Zone – Ministry in the Red/Blue Divide: https://thepurplezone.net/

Featured faith leader in documentary In God We Trump by Christopher Maloney, 2017: http://ingodwetrumpfilm.com/

Featured in The Lutheran Magazine, “Restoring Creation with Faith,” April 2015 http://www.thelutheran.org/article/article.cfm?article_id=12519

Featured faith leader in 20-minute short film, Faith Against Fracking: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5R716qzQU8g

Climate Stew podcast profile and interview: http://climatestew.com/portfolio/rev-dr-leah-d-schade-phd/; http://climatestew.com/podcast/episode-eighteen-whats-faith-got-to-do-with-it/

Honors/Awards:
• Kentucky Council of Churches Award, 2019
• Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Pennsylvania Service Award, 2016
• The Mark McCollough Religious Leadership Award, presented by The Central Susquehanna Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), 2013
Environmental and Justice Advocacy and Activism
Member of Blessed Tomorrow Leadership Circle, a coalition of diverse American faith leaders committed to inspiring others to lead on climate solutions in their congregations, homes, and communities. Blessed Tomorrow is one of the sector programs of ecoAmerica, an organization committed to building institutional leadership, public support, and political will for climate solutions in the United States.
Trained workshop leader for Lutherans Restoring Creation, training congregations for starting care-of-Creation teams and programs.
Involvement with several different interfaith groups on environmental issues, including Interfaith Power & Light, the Poor People’s Campaign, Pa. MORALtorium on Fracking, etc. Prayer vigils, press conferences, government testimonies and protests.
Founding member of the Isaiah 1:17 Justice Team of the ELCA Indiana-Kentucky Synod, 2018 – present.
Sponsor of memorial to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly calling for divestment from fossil fuels. Motion passed by Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly (USS), June 2015.
Sponsor of memorial to the ELCA Churchwide Assembly and resolution to the Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly calling for integration of Eco-Reformation into the 500th Anniversary commemoration of the Reformation. Motions passed, June 2015.

Community organizer and spokesperson for the Tire Burner Team, a group of community activists and grassroots citizens who successfully defeated a proposed tire incinerator in White Deer Township, Union County, PA; 2013 – 2014.
Representative for Lutheran Advocacy Ministry of Pennsylvania (LAMPa) and the ELCA, testifying in favor of the EPA’s Clean Air proposal for coal plants, 2014.
USS Bishop-appointed task group on fracking, 2013 – 2014.
Primary author of three resolutions on slickwater horizontal hydraulic fracturing for Upper Susquehanna Synod of the ELCA; one calling for formation of synod task force; one calling for ELCA to establish task force; one for the synod to call for a statewide moratorium; all three passed; 2012.
Clean Air Advocacy Conference participant and representative for the National Council of Churches in coalition with the US Climate Action Network; meetings with four congressional representatives in support of the Clean Air Act; Washington, DC, 2011
Over 100 radio, television and newspaper interviews, features, and op-eds covering topics such as local and national environmental issues, religion, and politics

SAMPLE KEYNOTES, WORKSHOPS, RETREATS
“Creation, Climate, and the Church: Healing Our ‘Vitamin C’ Deficiency”
In an increasingly polarized society, how can the church respond to the rising crises of environmental devastation and climate disruption? Rev. Dr. Leah Schade will share her research about pastors, preaching, and environmental issues, and suggest an approach that honestly and creatively names the reality of the “eco-crucifixion,” while proclaiming an “eco-resurrection” through Christ’s redemption of Creation.

“Beyond ‘Creation Care’: Building the Eco-Ethical Ark in the Age of Climate Disruption”
For many years, religious environmental activists used the term “Creation Care” to instill a sense of moral and ethical responsibility around ecological issues. Rev. Dr. Leah Schade will make the case that we need to expand and deepen our understanding of the phrase “Creation Care” so that it conveys the urgency needed to act on what is happening. She will propose adding three other alliterative phrases: Creation Clarity, Creation Compliance, and Creation Compassion, and will explore what they might entail for the church responding to the climate crisis.

Deliberative Dialogue on “Climate Choices: How Should We Meet the Challenges of a Warming Planet?”

Climate change is an issue that affects virtually every American, directly or indirectly, often in deeply personal ways. How can the church address this issue given the red-blue polarization of our time? Is there a way to faithfully engage important questions about the climate crisis that moves us beyond the current political debate and frames the conversation within a biblical and theological perspective? Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade will facilitate a nonpartisan deliberative dialogue in which we’ll explore the church’s role in engaging this difficult issue.

“Who Is My Neighbor” Mapping Exercise
Drawing from her book, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015), Rev. Dr. Leah Schade will present practical suggestions and questions for mapping the ecological, social, cultural and political location of a particular congregation to help churches better contextualize their ecology ministry. This workshop will be helpful for pastors looking to “green” their preaching and for church leaders wanting to find ways to create or expand their ecology ministry.

“Council of All Beings”
This workshop invites participants to spend time outside and connect with an aspect of nature that calls to them. Drawing on her book Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis co-edited with Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Rev. Dr. Leah Schade leads participants through a ritual of deep listening to the natural world in order to foster compassion for all life-forms and heal the splits that separate human beings from God’s Creation.

“Art as a Window into the Intersection of Religion, Gender, and Ecology”
Rev. Dr. Leah Schade shares provocative and moving images from artists depicting humanity’s different conceptions of the environment, religion, and the male/female dichotomy. How do our understandings of gender impact our theology and how we view the natural world? What impacts do these images have on everything from our religious language, to our environmental policies, to our treatment of males, females, transgender, and non-gendered persons? Through discussion, meditation, journaling, and group exercises, participants will be led to deepen their relationship with themselves, the natural world, and the Divine.

For Clergy

Creation-Crisis Preaching: Strategies, Tactics, and Text Studies
Preaching “good news” in the face of environmental devastation, the climate crisis, and extreme energy extraction can feel overwhelming to pastors and congregations alike. Rev. Dr. Leah Schade will introduce a three-fold approach for preaching that addresses environmental justice issues with a particular eye towards congregational context (geography, culture, community, political tensions, economics, etc.). The goal is to help preachers develop an environmentally-literate approach to preaching that honestly and creatively names the reality of our ecologically-violated world, while emphasizing a hope-filled “eco-resurrection” through Christ’s redemption of Creation.

Sermons preached as Earth, Water, or Air
“I Am Ruah: The Holy Spirit Speaks to the Climate Crisis”
“Ruah” is the Hebrew word for the spirit, air and wind that comes from God. How might Ruah, the very breath of God, experience the climate crisis and pollution? What insights can we gain from Jesus’ teaching about blaspheming the Holy Spirit when considering the moral and ethical implications of climate disruption? In this creative and engaging sermon, Rev. Dr. Leah Schade speaks as the character of Ruah and invites listeners to consider how their faith will shape their response to the climate crisis.

“I Am Water, I Am Waiting: John 4:1-42 (The Woman at the Well).
How does Water respond to being called hudor zoe, living water, by Jesus? How does she feel about baptism? About the pollution from fracking? In this dramatic and imaginative sermon, Rev. Dr. Leah Schade preaches as the character of Water telling the story of God’s Creation from the beginning, her relationship with Jesus, and her perspective on the story of the Woman at the Well in John 4:1-42.

Earth Speaks: What’s Next?
In this sermon listeners begin to see how the ideas of Earth-as-body, Earth’s co-creativity with God, the intrinsic value of Earth, and the relationship between Earth, its flora and fauna, human beings, and God are so intimately related. The sermon dramatically portrays what it looks like when the relationships between these entities are violated by human beings. Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade illustrates what it might be like if Earth were to hear and interpret a biblical text and provides insight into humanity’s relationship with God and Creation, as well as God’s in response to suffering, from Earth’s perspective.

Lessons for Year B (Pentecost – 8th Sunday after Pentecost 2015)

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)

 

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

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