Here Am I! – Leah Schade reflects on answering the call to love and serve creation.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary
Readings for the The Holy Trinity, Year B (2015, 2018, 2021, 2024)
The Isaiah text and Psalm 29 for Trinity Sunday contain strong, masculine images of a king seated on his throne above Creation, exercising his power in magnificent, yet frightening ways. God speaks and the voice is like thunder over the waters, resonating with enough force to break trees and send entire countries running like scared young animals. The personification of the deity as a mighty ruler whose power flashes like lightning and whips up catastrophic storms on a whim is common across many religions. Yet in light of earthquakes, typhoons, hurricanes, and other natural events that can shatter lives, communities, and nearly entire countries, we must be careful not to attribute such occurrences to a capricious deity who appears to arbitrarily wreak havoc on Earth. If this is who our Triune God is and what this Abba/Father does, our awe may turn to abject fear, and there may be little reason to trust and love such a God.
A better way to explore the concept of the Trinity is provided by theologian Elizabeth Johnson, who, in her authoritative and preeminent work She Who Is, seeks to appreciatively uncover, recover, and assess those classic theological resources that may fund a feminist theology (Elizabeth A. Johnson, She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse, New York: Crossroad, 1992). For example, she draws on the Cappadocian Fathers’ idea of the perichoresis, or mutual in-dwelling of the persons of the Trinity, to describe a three-way partnership that is fully relational with each other and with the world.
At the same time, she is not hesitant to point out the way our forefathers in theology created a religious system that inscribes patriarchy into all aspects of the faith. Drawing on the work of Elisabeth Schüssler-Fiorenza, Sallie McFague, and Rosemary Radford Ruether, Johnson recognizes the importance of language to both name and create reality. She beckons us to expand our images of the Trinity and offers us new ways to understand our triune God’s relationship to humanity and nature. She insists that Sophia, the female personification of Holy Wisdom, can and should be the lens through which the Trinity is viewed, as well as the language through which we speak and hear about God. Thus she coins the terms Spirit-Sophia, Jesus-Sophia and Mother-Sophia as an alternative Trinitarian formulation that places Wisdom/Sophia as the primary metaphor.
According to Johnson, the Church is the most obvious candidate for modeling what it means to answer Wisdom’s call to undergo transformative attention to those most vulnerable, including the species, habitats, and human beings most threatened by oppression, and to take responsibility for the health and respectful treatment of all Creation. As Johnson describes:
“Alive in the koinonia of SHE WHO IS, women and men are called to be friends of God and prophets, that is, appreciators of her wonders, sympathizers with her resistance to whatever degrades beloved creation, companions to her passion for the world’s flourishing, starting with the nearest neighbor in need and extending to the farthest flung system by which we order, or disorder, our common life” (She Who Is, 244).
Johnson also suggests that Jesus reimaged as Jesus-Sophia can be understood as Wisdom incarnate, thus joining him with the Hebrew feminine images of shekinah and ruah. Seeing a connection between the Greek masculine logos, or Word of God, and Hebrew shekinah/ruah, or Spirit of God, she argues for the recovery of the feminine Sophia in order to counterbalance the preponderance of male imagery so often associated with the Trinity. This is an especially poignant insight when considering John’s Gospel, which is replete with references to the logos, while often presenting Jesus as a Wisdom figure along the lines of Lady Sophia from Proverbs.
So if the “voice” of the Triune God is more than a masculine roar triggering cataclysmic events, how might we recalibrate our hermeneutic for hearing the “voice” of SHE WHO IS, Spirit-Sophia, Jesus-Sophia and Mother-Sophia? One way is to remind parishioners that if we listen to the voice of Jesus-Sophia, we will clearly hear that God is not intent on inflicting pain and suffering on Creation, inclusive of humanity. How do we know this? Because, as Jesus-Sophia clearly stated, “God so loved the world,” (John 3:16, emphasis added). The Greek word here is cosmos—meaning not just the human “world,” but all of Creation. Thus God is not intending to destroy that which God loves. Nor does God intend for humans to destroy what God loves. Rather, God intends to redeem all of Creation, which serves as a model for humans to care for what God loves as well.
At this point, the sermon might invoke the image of the searing, yet cleansing, heat from the fiery ember placed on the prophet Isaiah’s tongue. We know our own lips are unclean and that we live among a people of unclean lips, especially regarding the realities of environmental devastation. The successful attempts either to “spin” the truth about the dangers of extreme energy extraction, cover up or minimize the horror of the damage, or to tell outright lies about the science of climate change illustrate the ways in which we live in a time of manufactured realities peddled by the “Merchants of Doubt” (referring to both the book and documentary by Naomi Oreskes).
In the face of such deception, we hear the voice of our Triune God asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” (note the plural pronoun, which lends itself well to a perichoretic model of the Trinity!). To which we—individually, collectively, and as people of faith—can boldly answer: “Here am I; send me!” In other words, we can answer the call to announce the prophetic truth—that God is indeed the sovereign over all Creation, and we are called to be servants in this Earth-temple. And that we, as the beloved Children and caretakers of this temple of Earth, will be held accountable for what we have done and what we have left undone. The sermon should encourage listeners to bravely join their voices and efforts with others to speak truth to power and to work on behalf of Earth and those most vulnerable.
Here the preacher may echo the call for collective action—in this case, inviting listeners to write down concrete actions they can take for caring for Creation, thus increasing their level of commitment and participation. Other possibilities for listeners to live out the Gospel might include asking them to sign a petition stating their support for a piece of environmental legislation, or signing up for a road clean-up, or taking part in a field trip to a local creek. In any case, such a sermon might use more direct language to state the need for action in the face of environmental degradation and call on listeners to respond with the courage of Isaiah: Here am I—send me! Send us! See also the short documentary film by Josh Fox, The Sky is Pink, recounting the deliberate attempts of the fracking industry to deceive the public about the dangers of shale gas drilling.
Originally written by Leah Schade in 2015.
Read more by Leah Schade at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/ecopreacher/