Tag Archives: 2018

YOUTH: How can YOUR decisions impact your global neighbor?

While the following pledge form was originally poised to the hundreds of Lutheran youth attending the 2018 Gathering in Houston, these questions help people of any age recognize their impact and how many tools their are to make changes of habit that offer fulfilling prayerful actions to every step of their day.  To put the questions in context check out the walk through presentation: Your Day – Your Global Neighborhood.

As you consider the unintended impacts of our daily actions,  commit with hundreds of other youth to try a few things differently. Our collective prayers are being listened to – our collective actions are being felt:

Where are We? From the Microscopic to the Cosmos: Services and Sermons

Over the summer of 2018 Pastor Susan Henry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Hingham Massachusetts decided to try something a little different.  After reading several books about the human relationship with creation over the years she wanted share some of these perspectives that may not come up in the typical lectionary cycle. The following are three services and sermons that she has graciously shared with our Lutherans Restoring Creation community. Feel free to use the material, but kindly be sure to credit the original authors as she has done.

Photo Credit - UnSplash - David Sandvik

Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year C (Susan Henry)

Revelation's Easter Message Readings for Series C (2016, 2019, 2022) Revelation 7:9-17 **Acts 9:36-43 **John 10:22-30 Sermon from Pastor Susan ...
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God in Forests: Who is Jesus for Chipmunks?

God in Forests: Who is Jesus for Chipmunks?

A Service In and For the Forests - Feel free to share this worship service or get ideas - we ...
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Microscopic - Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise

Microscopic – Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise

Micro-Creation Service Bulletin - Click here - free to share! (wonderful readings, music, etc.) Homily by Pastor Susan Henry, House ...
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Creation of the Cosmos: "Of All that is Seen and Unseen"

Creation of the Cosmos: “Of All that is Seen and Unseen”

Creation of Cosmos Service - Feel free to download and share this bulletin.  Please don't forget acknowledgements. Creation: The Universe  ...
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Christmas Eve, Year C (Schade)

“And on Earth – Peace: A Christmas Eve Eco-Reflection”
Leah D. Schade
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship
Lexington Theological Seminary
Author, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015)

Christmas Eve in Year C
Isaiah 9:2-7
Psalm 96
Titus 2:11-14
Luke 2:1-14

In the scripture readings on this holy night, the word peace is repeated often. Isaiah heralds the coming of the “Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:7). The angels proclaim “peace on earth” (Luke 2:14). But what does it mean to preach peace when so much of our world is in the midst of just the opposite—war, violence, strife, abuse, and oppression? How can we sing “peace on earth” when even the Earth itself seems engaged in a battle with us, or, rather, humanity battles against Earth?

In August of 2016, Bill McKibben wrote a piece for the New Republic entitled “A World at War” explaining the ways in which climate change is a war that is attacking our human society at every level. The climate war is “a world war aimed at us all,” he said. “And if we lose, we will be as decimated and helpless as the losers in every conflict—except that this time, there will be no winners, and no end to the planet-wide occupation that follows.” He said that the only hope was to mobilize ourselves like we did for WWII.1

McKibben’s article was intended to be a kind of “call to arms” for citizens to rally for the climate movement. His hope has not been realized. In the two years that followed McKibben’s article, the highest level of elected leaders in the U.S. all deny the existence of climate change and have undone countless environmental regulations while pulling our country out of the Paris Climate Accords. In the meantime, the hurricanes in August and September of 2017 were like “climate bombs”—the largest, most devastating superstorms ever experienced in this country, dropping within weeks of each other. And more “bombs” have hit us this year in different places around the planet.

Here’s what I’m starting to realize.  The Great War metaphor is wrong. The problem with the WWII comparison is that the metaphor positions us as “the good guys” who swept in and took care of those evil Nazis and the Empire of Japan. But those of us who live a life of privilege in the West and North are not the good guys this time. We’ve been insisting that we can have our way with the planet while others must bear the brunt of the cost. The United States has been at the forefront of launching the eco-holocaust. We have muscled our way across the Earth, digging, drilling, fracking, pipelining, and toxifying water, land, air, and human health along the way.

It appears, however, that Earth is rising up and fighting back. When I look at pictures of the charred remains of the California fires, I cannot help but recall pictures I’ve seen of the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945. I believe the planet is sending us a direct message:  surrender and accept the terms of peace. So I wonder what it would mean to live in peace with Earth on this holy night?

It was into a world ravaged by human hubris and power that Jesus was born. While human civilization was not threatened by anthropogenic climate disruption as it is now, the Roman Empire had imposed its heavy-handed imperial rule over every people it conquered. The military machine muscled its way across the land, digging and mining, logging vast forests, diverting waterways through its aqueducts, and subjecting its conquered peoples to exorbitant taxes that kept them poor, disempowered, and under the constant threat of military violence.

What they did not know is that the Earth itself was rising up and responding to God’s call. The origin story in Luke shows us that the seeds for a moral uprising were embedded into humanity’s story from the beginning. In Luke 3:23-38, Jesus’ ancestors are traced all the way back to Adam. Adam was himself a child of Earth. From the very soil, God created the first humans, fashioning them out of clay and breath. Yes, they and their progeny sinned and broke the covenant God made with them again and again. But the prophets knew that God was also working within this flawed humanity to bring about a Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6). Through the generations, this promise sustained people in their most difficult times. Isaiah reminded the Israelites living in exile far away from their sacred land: “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness, on them light has shined” (9:2).

The story of this light shining in darkness is what we tell on this holy night. We tell it with shepherds, but not in some pretty, romantic, bucolic hymn. We tell it with a full-throated song of resistance to the powers that subjugate them and all workers of the field and mines and assembly lines and classrooms whose work is disregarded, dismissed and disrespected.

We also tell this story with a man (a descendent of Adam) and his pregnant wife (a descendent of Eve) who must make a journey to be counted by the Roman census. They are counted in order to be taxed, their lives under strict governmental control. Yet she carries within her womb a child who will bring freedom to his people, to all people, to all the Earth. “For God so loved the world,” not just the human part of the world, but the whole world (John 3:16a).

This child will grow up among the lilies of the field and observing the birds of the air. And as a rabbi, he will call on them as his teaching partners (Luke 12:24-34). They will try to get through to us that a life spent chasing unnecessary material possessions is not only silly but violates the lilies and birds themselves as they choke on our trash and plastic and die from our pesticides.
This child will grow up watching Roman boys trained by the state to become ruthless soldiers—soldiers like the ones who killed the Hebrew boys his age, hoping to end his life (Matthew 2:16-18). All in the service of an empire that has no problem sacrificing the bodies of soldiers and citizens alike to protect the wealth of the ruling class. As a rabbi, he will teach his followers about the futility of this wealth not just for the way it manipulates those soldiers, but because of the terror it imposes on the planet and its peoples. “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?” (Luke 9:24-25).

In other words, we must surrender to a higher calling of humility, obedience to the dictates of God’s Creation, and radical focus on rebuilding a just and equitable society and economic infrastructure focusing on “the least of these”—those who have suffered under our oppressive reign.

The Bible shows us that even a suffering Earth raises its voice in lament and protest (Genesis 4:10), in judgement (Psalm 50:1-6), and in praise of our Creator. Psalm 96:1 addresses Earth not as an object, but as a subject capable of singing to God. “O sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the Earth.”

So as we sing a lullaby to Baby Jesus—“sleep in heavenly peace,” and our holiday cards are adorned with fancy scripts reading “Peace on Earth,” what would it mean for peace to be not just on Earth, as if it were just a stage for the human salvation drama, but actually within Earth? What would it mean for us to be partners with Earth in bringing about this peace?

Can we imagine the heavens being glad because air pollution has ceased? Can we imagine the seas roaring with life because the plastics and garbage have been removed? Can we see fields exulting because they are protected from “development” in the form of shopping malls or oil and gas rigs? What would it look like for the remaining trees of the Amazon rainforests to sing for joy, knowing that they are being preserved?

This holy night, our song must be more than sweet lullabies and romantic hymns. Our song must be one of protest and resistance proclaiming that Christ’s birth is bringing righteousness to all the world. So, yes, let us indeed raise our voices with Creation: “Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy” (Psalm 96:11-12). Sing with the angels of heaven a song of peace on Earth and with Earth and with all those who live in a place of deep darkness.
Where the smell of ashes still choke the air, sing of peace.
Where the flood waters overcome the boundaries set by God, sing of peace.
Where water runs with poison from lead or fracking fluids, sing of peace.
Where bulldozers rip ancient trees from their roots, sing of peace.
For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. His authority shall grow continually, and there shall be endless peace for the throne of David and his kingdom.—Isaiah 9:6-7

I think of the children who even now are fighting to sue our government to stop climate change, using the power of the law to truly preserve life on this planet—to bring peace.

I think of the Indigenous children who stood up at Standing Rock to claim the sacredness of their land and resist the construction of a pipeline filled with filthy, explosive oil. They did this to bring peace.

I think of the young elected leaders in our country who are challenging their elders to create legislation that curbs greenhouse gas emissions and implements a plan to mitigate the worst effects of climate change. The do this to bring peace.

I think of former child soldiers who, like their Roman counterparts millennia ago, were trained to kill and torture as pawns for the military and wealthy, ruling class, but now are learning the ways of peace.

I think of my own children sitting in science classrooms where they are learning how science works, and why it matters, and how it can be used to understand our world and make informed choices about how we live and work, how we generate electricity, how we structure our economy. They, too, are learning the ways of peace.

When I think of these children, I listen hard to the words of the angel: “Do not be afraid; for see—I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger” (Luke 2:10-12).

That Christ child was a sign unto us that the Earth itself is rising up and responding to God’s call. These children today who are resisting and protesting and learning and organizing and legislating are signs unto us that Earth is continuing the rise up and respond to God’s call. Earth is yielding the seeds for a moral uprising that were embedded into humanity’s story from the beginning.

Yes, we have sinned and broken God’s covenant with us again and again. But the prophets knew that God is also working within this flawed humanity so that this Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Mother/Father, Prince of Peace will work in us and through us. In this most cursed of generations, we must cling to this promise that sustained people in their most difficult times. We, too, are living in self-imposed exile far from the sacred land. We are a people who walk in darkness, but we are being shown a great light. We live in a land of deep darkness, but upon us light is still shining.

“And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on Earth,
in Earth,
with Earth –
peace among those whom God favors!”

 

 

 

 

Fourth Sunday in Advent, Year C (Mundahl)

Ecojustice Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Series C: 2018-2019

by Tom Mundahl

The Fourth Sunday in Advent
Micah 5:2-5a
Luke 1:46b-55
Hebrews 10:5-10
Luke 1:39-45

As we approach the last Sunday in Advent and lean toward the Festival of the Incarnation, we marvel at Luke’s creativity in presenting the parallel births of John and Jesus in both prose and lyric song. Although it may be the case that the Magnificat, the Benedictus, and the Nunc Dimittis were among a growing collection of early hymns, their use by the evangelist is entirely original (see Gordon W. Lathrop, The Four Gospels on Sunday, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2012, p. 122).

Perhaps the most important function of these songs is to express amazement and wonder at the birth of two children destined to renew their people, a wonder that overflows to the whole creation. Luke makes the force of the births crystal clear by situating them during the regimes of Herod and Caesar Augustus (Luke 1:5, 2:1). These political leaders wield power with the lifeless language of decrees and tax bills. In contrast, Brueggemann suggests: “There is no way to begin this new narrative except by a new song in the mouths of angels. The very idiom of lyric means the penetration of closed royal prose. The beginning is with a song that stands in conflict with the decree. All the old history is by decree, but the new history begins another way” (The Prophetic Imagination, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001, p. 103).

Not only does Luke here honor the Greco-Roman mode of enlivening historical narrative with the energy of speech in the style of Thucydides or Lucian, but employing “lyric hymnody” to celebrate divine action, he moves far beyond setting forth an “orderly account” (Luke 1:3) to “bring to fruition” (Luke 1:1, alternative translation of “fulfillment”) new life among the hearers of the story. Just as the root meaning of the word “poetry” is “to create or make,” so all captured by this narrative are enlivened and share in the remaking of creation.

While there is no doubting the significance of the Davidic pedigree (Micah 5:2-5a), nor the utter newness in atonement the author of Hebrews shares (Hebrews 10: 5-10), this final Sunday in Advent belongs to Mary and Elizabeth. The annunciation, the visitation, and the Magnificat reveal the power and the mystery of the coming of God. As poet Denise Levertov write of Mary, whose courage is confirmed by Elizabeth:

Bravest of all humans,
consent illumined her.
The room filled with its light,
the lily glowed in it,
and the iridescent wings.
Consent,
courage, unparalleled,
opened her utterly.
(The Collected Poems of Denise
Levertov, New York: New Directions,
2013, pp. 836-837)

As we have seen from Luke’s narration of the parallel births, he clearly favors Mary and Elizabeth. Despite his priestly credentials, Zechariah finds the promise that his elderly wife will bear a son ridiculous. His question, “How will I know that this is so?” (Luke 1:18) is the last we hear from him until John is named. By contrast, even though Mary is “much perplexed” (Luke 1:29) by Gabriel’s stunning words, she responds, “Here I am, the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). Wisely, she discerns Gabriel’s clue and travels to see her relative Elizabeth. Mary could receive no greater confirmation than Elizabeth’s rich blessings: “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (Luke 1:42), and “Blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what was spoken to her by the Lord” (Like 1:45). Blessing is always intimately linked with creation (Claus Westermann, Blessing in the Bible and the Life of the Church, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978, pp. 40-42).

And yet, we should not underestimate blessed Mary’s perplexity and the richness of the dialogue with the messenger that follows. We hear Mary’s confusion in the simple question, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?”(Luke 1:34b) Gabriel’s response goes far beyond obstetrics. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you….” (Luke 1:35) That this is an enterprise of deep meaning is made evident in the “overshadowing” (episkiatzo) of the Most High. This sense of the looming, creative presence occurs as God’s very being fills the “tent of meeting” as the Exodus (a critical theme for Luke) continues (Exodus 40: 34-35, LXX). It recurs in the Transfiguration narrative (Luke 9:34—Exodus again)), where a similar presence “overshadows” the disciple group, making any suggestions of marking the occasion with “wilderness booths” all the more ridiculous. Even more primal is the “wind from God” that “overshadows” the “face of the waters” at creation (Genesis 1:2, LXX). How could we conclude that the coming birth is anything less than a “new creation” leading to “exodus freedom?”

This birth brought on by the “overshadowing” of the Most High transfigures the earth household. The evidence is clearly heard in Mary’s response to the angelic messenger. Instead of being named “Queen Consort” of the divine, Mary entitles herself “the servant of the Lord” (Luke 1:38). This theme of reversal will explode in the Magnificat inspired by Mary’s visit to Elizabeth. The boldness of Mary’s song comes from the simple fact that we are in the realm of what Brueggemann calls “the theology of the impossible” (Brueggemann, p. 141). Gabriel makes this clear by repeating the words to Abram and Sarai under the oaks of Mamre: “For nothing will be impossible for God” (Genesis 18:14, Luke 1:37).

Electric as it is, even lyric poetry like the Magnificat exhibits structural elements. The poem moves from singing of the reversal of Mary’s condition from humility to blessing (1:46-49) to a wider statement of God’s mercy to all who are reverent (1:50), to a vivid description of the reversal of the poor and arrogant (1:51-53, concluding with a reminder that this all fulfills promises to Abraham and descendants that will overflow into the future (1:54-55). This schema is reinforced by an additional pattern emerging “from the repeated use of strong action verbs at the beginning of clauses.” For example, “magnifies,” “rejoices,” ”he has looked,” ”has done great things,” ”shown strength with his arm,” ”has scattered,” “has brought down,” ”has lifted up,” ”has filled,” ”has sent the rich away,” and “has helped” all serve to stress that this is, without question, God’s action (Robert C. Tannehill, The Narrative Unity of Luke-Acts, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1986, pp. 26-27).

But this narrative strategy does not compromise the free nature of this lyrical event. Here is no royal decree, no official administrative order. As Brueggemann concludes, “The event will not be contained by the rationality of kings, ancient or contemporary. Rather, there is here a brooding, a wondering, and an amazement” (Brueggemann, p. 104).

The wonder of all this is underscored by the use of the word formerly translated as “behold” (idou) three times in Gabriel’s “annunciation” (vv. 31, 36, and 38). The first two uses, by Gabriel, are translated by NRSV as “and now.” While the desire to avoid archaic language of “excessive holiness” is understandable, isn’t this just a bit too weak? It may be that returning to “behold” may restore the necessary authority of Gabriel and help us recover a sense of the mysterium tremendum with its riveting awe and overpowering urgency (Rudolf Otto, The Idea of the Holy, Oxford,1958, pp. 12-24).

Maggie Ross suggests “Hebrew and Greek authors are careful to distinguish bodily seeing from beholding or inward vision….To put this more simply, ordinary seeing is analytical; it discriminates, grasps, and controls. Beholding is organic, ungrasping, and self-emptying” (Writing the Icon of the Heart, London: BRF, 2011, p. 11). Joseph Sittler agrees, claiming that the biblical view of reality is particularly ecological—an ontology of creation community—that requires a “beholding of actuality” (“Ecological Commitment as Theological Responsibility,” in Bouma-Prediger and Bakken, Evocations of Grace, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000, p. 79).

Sittler continues: “To ‘behold’ means to stand among things with a kind of reverence for life which does not walk through the world of the nonself with one’s arrogant hat on….To stand ‘beholding’ means that one stands within the creation with an intrinsically theological stance” (Sittler, p. 80). Ross puts it more practically: “It is in the context of beholding that we were given stewardship of the earth; it is in the context of distraction that we have despoiled it” (Ross, p. 12).

The final use of “behold” in the annunciation is Mary’s most moving affirmation, “Behold (“Here am I,” NRSV), I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). While this is not so bad, with a deep performative meaning, it remains to poll the poets to determine the richer. And this is crucial, for as Paul Ricoeur reminds us, “obedience follows imagination” (quoted in Brueggemann, Finally Comes the Poet, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1989, p. 85). The search for ecojustice today requires a massive infusion of imagination, far more than the threat of more fires, hurricanes, and heat can provide. But then it cannot have been easy to face up to the task of becoming theotokos, the Mother of God—especially as a very young woman. William Butler Yeats helps us to begin to share the immensity of this calling in his poem, “The Mother of God,” which ends with this lament:

What is this flesh I purchased with my pains
This fallen star my milk sustains.
This love that makes my heart’s blood stop
Or strikes a sudden chill into my bones.
And bids my hair stand up?
(The Collected Poems of W.B. Yeats,
New York: Macmillan, 1956, p.244)

Even as we join Mary in lament—in our case frustration over the struggle for ecojustice—during this Advent season, we remember Gabriel’s words, “For nothing will be impossible with
God” (Luke 1:37).

Tom Mundahl tmundahl@gmail.com.

Third Sunday in Advent, Year C (Mundahl)

Ecojustice Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Series C — 2018-2019
The Third Sunday in Advent

by Tom Mundahl 

Zephaniah 3: 14-20
Isaiah 12: 2-6
Philippians 4: 4-7
Luke 3: 7-18

By tradition, the Third Sunday in Advent has been called Gaudete Sunday, a day to “rejoice” as we turn in hope and expectation toward the celebration of Christmas, the twelve-day Feast of the Incarnation. While the designation Gaudete stems from this week’s Second Lesson, Philippians 4:4-7, Gaudete in Domino semper, “rejoice in the Lord always,” the remaining readings hardly neglect joyful hope.

Despite the people of Judah concluding that “The LORD will not do good, nor will he do harm” (Zephaniah 1:12b), the prophet envisions a new day where a remnant “shall do no wrong and utter no lies” (3:13). Then the carnival of celebration envisioned in our reading will erupt, a celebration of singing based on the unshakeable faith that “the LORD, your God, is in your midst” ( 3:17) and, in fact, is joining the party. It is a time when even the lame and outcast will lose their shame and be at home (3:19-20).

Much the same can be said of the “songs of Isaiah” (Isaiah 12: 1-6). No matter how uncertain the international political system might be, God is trustworthy. When the community takes that to heart, it is always appropriate to sing these two short verses reminiscent of the songs of Moses and Miriam (Exodus 15:1-21). These songs are so powerful that they continue to be used as worship acclamations. There are few more powerful texts than: “Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid, for the LORD God is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation” (Isaiah 12: 2).

As good as it is to “rejoice,” we know that the new day has not arrived as we wonder how to respond to the worldwide refugee crisis, cholera in Yemen, mass shootings in the U.S., and the newly-released Fourth National Climate Assessment. It is no surprise that with high confidence this assessment predicts more floods, higher temperatures, more wildfires, reduced crop yields, transportation difficulties, and the appearance of previously rare diseases (www.nytimes.com/2018/11/23). Because the current administration released this report on so-called “Black Friday” (better celebrated as “Buy Nothing Day”), the hope was that it would be buried in this frenzy of consumption. Certainly it is not the kind of news that should spark community celebration.

But then neither should being in prison. Yet that is precisely the venue from which Paul urges the Philippian community to “rejoice.” He is not alone in projecting hope in the midst of a situation which could only be called desperate. As Brueggemann suggests, the prophetic imagination bearing hope often emerges from the unlikeliest places: from a birth to an elderly couple and a young, unmarried woman, from a wilderness retreat enjoyed by thousands with seemingly no food, from capital punishment using brutal crucifixion, or from a Roman prison (The Prophetic Imagination, Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001, p. 102).

Perhaps this is because in all of these cases that which is seen as “ordinary and proper” (especially when backed up by imperial coercive power) is not ultimate. Paul makes this clear in Philippians when he urges hearers to be “minded,“ not by an Ayn Rand’s “virtue of selfishness,” but as Christ Jesus, “who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave….” (Philippians 2:6-7a). He continues this line of thought by providing assurance that it is the peace of God beyond understanding which will “stand guard” (froreo) over the hearts and minds of the faithful. No longer is it a centurion, as Paul saw daily in prison, who provides for the security of the community; now the Pax Romana is replaced by the Pax Christi, a peace extended to the whole creation.

This search for peace and safety is at the center as Luke’s narrative of the ministry of John the Baptist continues. “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (Luke 3:7). Security can never be found by leaving one’s city or village for a mere splash in the Jordan River. John’s baptism entails repentance and bearing fruits worthy of a new outlook on life. This is especially true in the face of the temptation to join Lot’s wife in looking back to embrace what seems like a safe past.

John sees through this tactic. “Do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our ancestor….’”(Luke 3: 8). As the Baptist uncovers this dodge, we see the sharp contrast between what John prepares the people to look ahead for and relying solely on pedigree—even from Abraham. An important clue is the word “begin” (archomai). Luke’s entire narrative moves God’s story forward, beginning with the communities of Abraham-Sarah and Moses-Miriam, but extending to all people and living creatures (Luke 2:32). No wonder John’s mission of preparation and baptism for repentance takes for granted congruence between cleansing water and bearing good fruit. Anything less neglects the coming future and needs to feel the axe; it is good only for burning (Luke 3: 9).

Much the same is true of current so-called “populist” movements that hearken back to a non-existent past when everyone had a good job, there was little crime, no environmental challenge, all went to church, and the dizzying assortment of “others” had not demanded a place at the table. Because this “past” can never be re-created, it is used primarily as a vague source of values aimed at choking off immigration, eliminating equal rights, and elevating an “ancestral group” on behalf of which authoritarians seek to rule. This backward looking ideology never bears good fruit as it spreads racism, sexism, homophobia, and neglects eco-justice. It makes nothing “great again,” but powerfully draws attention and energy away from responding to real needs.

What then is this “good fruit” that meets Luke’s intention in creating his “orderly account?” (Luke 1:1). Which is exactly what the crowds asked John the Baptist: “What then shall we do?” (Luke 3:10, 12, 14). Whether it is a matter of sharing clothing and food or exercising the power to collect taxes or serve in the military, the answer is the same: live out an “ethics of the Magnificat.” As Mary sings, “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty” (Luke 1:52-53). Like the provision of daily bread, all is gift—whether the harvest of wheat or the call to service. These gifts of creation become fruitful when they are shared as freely as they are received.

It is no surprise that John’s presence and teaching led people to “rejoice” that they had found the Messiah. John will have none of this. While he provides a water bath, the more powerful coming one will baptize with “the Holy Spirit and fire” (Luke 3:16), a clear reference to the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2). Once again we are reminded of the Exodus, where the spirit-wind parted the seas, while the people were led by a pillar of fire. This new exodus will go through the very gates of death to open not only the scriptures (Luke 24:27, 32, 45) and the eyes of the disappointed couple (Luke 24: 31), but also open the whole creation to reconciliation-shalom (Luke 24:47). Baptism into the death and resurrection of this coming one (Romans 6:1-11) means a life of fruitful working toward ecojustice in opposition to the forces of greed that continue to destroy creation, described as “chaff” slated for a good burning (Luke 3:17b).

This powerful and gracious opening of the Earth to reconciliation (Luke 24: 47) is echoed in baptismal liturgies. Candidates for baptism, parents, and sponsors are empowered to fulfill these central responsibilities: to “proclaim Christ through word and deed, care for others and the world God has made, and work for justice and peace” (Evangelical Lutheran Worship, Minneapolis: Augsburg-Fortress, 2006, p. 228). As we engage in pre-baptismal education and proclaim reconciliation, we are called to remember that our lives are formed to care for the whole creation.

Advent provides a fruitful time of opportunity for this message. While there is pressure to engage in endless shopping to find the most pleasing gifts, to load the calendar with a round of parties, card writing, and all the rest, the community of faith offers counter-cultural freedom to carve out time and space to focus on what is most important. While Christmas is hardly “Jesus’ birthday,” the phrase “Whose Birthday Is It?” had some real usefulness. Now broaden that to learn how to prepare for celebrating the Trinity dwelling with us—and we have something worth “rejoicing” in.

Tom Mundahl tmundahl@gmail.com.

Second Sunday in Advent, Year C (Mundahl)

Ecojustice Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Series C: 2018-2019
By Tom Mundahl
First Sunday in Advent
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Psalm 25: 1-10
1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13
Luke 21: 25-36

The season of Advent quietly opens the door to a new church year as assemblies focus on the coming of God. Not only do we celebrate the incarnation so beautifully narrated by Luke, we celebrate the continuous coming in creation, community, word and sacrament. Finally, we look forward to the mysterious advent that Moltmann calls “the sabbath of eternal joy” (The Coming of God, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996, p. 338).

As we reflect on Advent readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, we will hear texts concerned with both the future and the incarnation, texts that are woven together by deep confidence in the presence of a Word that empowers our lives and gives us endurance to struggle for ecojustice.

Each week during this dramatic season we must ask the question voiced by film director David Mamet: “Where do we put the camera” (David Mamet, On Directing Film, New York: Penguin, 1991, p. 10)? This week’s Gospel text, which will be our focus, suggests that we position our “cameras” as best we can facing what can only be called a threatening future. Elizabeth Kolbert sounds the alarm: “This fiery summer has given us a glimpse of what climate change will look like.” She proceeds to describe not only all-too-common blazes in the western U.S., but also to remind us of deadly fires ranging from Greece to Sweden’s Arctic Circle (Kolbert, The New Yorker, September 10, 2018, p. 36). Then, in early October, the IPCC reported that a 2.0 degree allowable rise in temperature sanctioned by the Paris Accords of 2015 must be reduced to 1.5 degrees C. Eric Solheim of the UN Climate Programme said of this new report, “It’s like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen. We have to put out the fire” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, October 9, 2018, pp. 1 and 10).

The reality of living in a new climate regime (labeled “anthropocene” by Earth systems scientists) intensifies our stance toward the future. Because of the Earth’s response to human release of greenhouse gases, we are learning that “in the anthropocene we may say that the present is drenched with the future…the unsettling presence of things to come” (Clive Hamilton, Defiant Earth, Cambridge: Polity, 2017, p. 132). To double down on this, Bruno Latour suggests, “we have to position ourselves as though we were at the end of time” (Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climate Regime, Cambridge: Polity, 2017, p. 213).

Perhaps we can slacken the tension by taking a biblical cue offered by Latour. It comes from Paul’s advice to the Corinthian community: “Those who mourn should live as if they did not; those who are happy as if they were not; those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7: 30-31, Latour). Not only does this orient us toward the future, but it reminds us that the end/purpose of our lives is to be about the down-to-earth task of worship, learning, and serving one another and the whole creation in expectation of renewal.

This new advent also calls our attention to Luke’s Gospel. Unique in sharing his methodology, the author proposes to undertake an investigation to write “an orderly account” (Luke 1:1-4) so that worshipping communities will hear reliable truth. This new “history” reckons with “the events that have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1b). Michael Trainor suggests that the verb translated as “fulfilled,” plerophoreo, might be better translated as “brought to fruition” (as it is translated more than 70 times in LXX), reflecting divine action to bear renewal for the Earth household (About Earth’s Child: An Ecological Listening to the Gospel of Luke, Sheffield Press, 2015, p. 65). That creational fruitfulness is central to Luke is underscored by his genealogy, beginning with “Adam, son of God” (Luke 3:38), not with Abraham as Matthew has it (Matthew 1:2). Creation, then, orders Luke’s Gospel.

As Luke orders the story of divine fruitfulness, concern for the future is unavoidable. Because this gospel stems from the post-temple era (after 70 CE) use of material from Mark’s “little apocalypse” is unique. No longer do we envision the elect being gathered in by angels (Mark 13: 27). Now the consequences of the coming parousia will be felt throughout the earth (oikoumene) (Luke 21:26, 35). What is more, this universal renewal of the fruitfulness of life is to be met not with fear but with eager joy: “raise up your heads” (Luke 21: 28) to “stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21: 36).

Just as Luke shapes the Markan tradition for the needs of his own audience, so must we interpret ‘sun, moon, and stars” (Luke 21: 25) in a manner more comprehensible to us. Influenced by the poetics of T. S. Eliot, Michael Trainor suggests that the meaning of a poem or verse is not fixed by the author’s milieu. “Its meaning continues and expands beyond the writer’s lifetime…and is the fruit of interrelated texts—earlier generational insights, cultural factors that influence the writer, the social world of the text’s original audience, previous texts and traditions, and the world which the interpreter brings to the text” (Trainor, p. 46).

While it is not the intention of this writer to literalize the metaphorical power of apocalyptic, the current despoiling of creation cannot help but influence our understanding. The sun and moon seen through the polluted air of Shanghai or San Francisco (or even the Twin Cities when choked by smoke from Canadian wildfires) offer a clear sign of threat. The distress caused in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, or the Gulf Coast of the U.S. by the “roaring of the sea” (Luke 21:25) during major storms fills living creatures with “foreboding about what is coming upon the world” (Luke 21:26). Advent of 2018 must still promise the Coming One—if only he can be seen through the cloud deck (Luke 21:27). Yet this is not a time of paralysis for the faith community. Instead, the call is to straighten up in confidence because of the divine commitment to creation, the same commitment shared by all seeking ecojustice.

Luke also transforms the “parable of the fig tree” (Luke 21: 29-33). Now we are invited to consider “the fig tree and all the trees” (v. 29). Because the fig tree is a common symbol for Israel (see Hosea 9:10), by referencing all trees the author signals an audience beyond the Jewish (or Jewish-Christian?) community. It is no longer that the Messiah is near, “at the very gates” (Mark 13: 29b), but that the more universalized “kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21: 31) and provides confidence in the integrity of creation.

This insight provides help in uncovering the meaning of this difficult concluding sentence: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21: 33). While current cultural forms and exploitation are transient, when we remember that divine speech (dabar) is the very basis of creation, we claim without reservation that removal of creation from God’s care would be impossible (Trainor, p. 258). Luke remains very down-to-earth.

It is these very mundane issues that comprise the final part of our text, all distinctly Lukan. Because Luke continues to call believers to attend to creation and evidence of needs, paying prayerful attention is crucial. As always (a word appropriate to Luke’s longer time horizon), there are temptations dulling this careful awareness. “Be on guard,” Luke warns, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life….” (Luke 21: 34).

No doubt there have always been diversions that get in the way of faithful responsibility. But no time in history has provided the distractions available in the present age. Neil Postman has captured the power of communications technology to divert in his Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1985), now a generation old. While information technology can be a powerful tool of change (witness this website), there is no doubt that, as Postman argues, in the US the real danger to civic culture is not only the hard-nosed authoritarianism (think of immigration and prison policies) depicted by George Orwell in 1984, but the pleasure-driven polity painted by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, a culture based on consumption, drug use, and self-absorption.

While the militarization of police forces and increasing surveillance technology do smack of Orwell, the mania of consumerism, advertising, and easy credit, especially this time of year, begin to resemble a hedonocracy. Naturally these have all infected the church where “entertainment-based worship” and messages promoting “adjustment” to this kind of culture are rampant. Recognizing this, Postman writes, “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether” (Postman, p.121).

Perhaps the most significant form that “dissipation” takes today is the refusal to take climate change seriously. How do we explain this? Is it because of lack of scientific understanding, the likelihood that homo sapiens is hard-wired by our evolution for short-term thinking, a psychology of previous investment that ill fits us for major change, increased urbanization with decreasing contact with the natural world, the lobbying of wealthy carbon companies, or sinful selfishness—the heart curved in upon itself? Likely all of these play a significant role.

French theologian and philosopher, Bruno Latour, asks that we dig deeper. While Lutherans have just last year celebrated one of the catalytic events of the Reformation, Luther’s October 31, 1517 call to debate the nature of church authority, we often ignore the tragedy of a century of European warfare sparked by this movement. By the time of the Peace of Westphalia (1648), parties exhausted by war sought a basis for order beyond divisive claims of religious truth. What emerged was a firm agreement to respect the principal cuius regio, cuius religio first promulgated as part of the Peace of Augsburg of 1555. This meant that religion now was less a search for truth and free to be used as an ideological support for the new mercantilism aimed at adding to the wealth and military power of the state, vast acquisition of natural resources from colonial conquest, the new science, and, eventually, the all-powerful market to allocate wealth (Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: the Hidden Agenda of Modernity, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 90).

In effect, states immanentized religious forces, giving a spiritual patina to the economic behemoths and empires that resulted. Although Karl Marx was wrong in many ways, he was dead right in his analysis of the ideological use of Christianity, a new gnosticism that gave divine authority to anything the Belgians did in the Congo or the English inflicted on child workers in what Blake called “the Satanic mills” (see Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952, chapters V and VI). Ironically, this ideological use of religion was precisely what was at the basis of Luther’s revolt—exposing the mis-use of the free Word of God as an “institutional mascot.”

Because human regimes were so confident of their arrogant divinely-approved goals, it was and is unthinkable that anything so mundane as the Earth system and its carbon-stuffed atmosphere should get in the way. The very notion that the earth could demonstrate agency, reacting to being treated like a cesspool, is unthinkable (Latour, p. 207). Is not the will of the Holy One that those created in the “image” of God produce and consume endlessly? To play on a well-known verse, “What use is it to save your soul, if it means losing the world? “ Even if it is God’s good creation.

Clearly, we are at a point where we have to listen to Luke and take the notion of “end time” seriously once more. Late in his life, Karl Barth wrote, “We do not know what Nature, what the cosmos in which we have lived and still live now, will be for us then; what the constellations, the sea, the broad valleys and the heights, which we see and know now, will say and mean then” (quoted in Hamilton, p. 133). Unfortunately, laments Hamilton, “we can indeed make out, through the haze of residual uncertainty, the future’s broad contours under the influence of this new human power” (Hamilton, p. 133).

As the shape of this anthropocene apocalypse becomes clearer, we are discovering where the cameras must be aimed: toward a people looking for freedom from all that “amuses us to death” and instead learning to live down-to-earth lives that focus on “where we are” (our home neighborhood) and “who we are” (servants of creation). This happens when we are alert at all times and pray that we have the strength not to flee our call to seek ecojustice.

By not fleeing, we embrace one of the richest themes in scripture: dwelling. “To dwell” means to make a commitment to a place, its people (neighbors), and its very humus. Even in Luke’s Gospel, which ends with the call to share the good news with all the world, beginning in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47-48), the purpose is to provide a home for all in this fruitful earth. This means that the greatest Advent surprise—echoing the Bethlehem birth—is John’s vision that at the fulfillment of all things we will:

See, the home of God is among humans (all that lives)
God will dwell with them…. (Revelation 21:3)

Not surprisingly, John’s apocalypse ends with the watchword for Advent: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22: 20).

Tom Mundahl tmundahl@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Prayers for Leadership on Climate Change

Representative, Ruth Ivory-Moore (Advocacy Energy & Environment) from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America joined the COP24 (the 24th Conference of the Parties) in Katowice, Poland. 

Light For Katowice 2018 >> Click here to download an easy-to-use copy of the prayer booklet.

Thanks to Lisa Brenskelle from the Christ the King Church in Houston Texas for assembling this resource!

First Sunday in Advent, Year C (Mundahl)

Ecojustice Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Series C: 2018-2019
By Tom Mundahl
First Sunday in Advent
Jeremiah 33: 14-16
Psalm 25: 1-10
1 Thessalonians 3: 9-13
Luke 21: 25-36

The season of Advent quietly opens the door to a new church year as assemblies focus on the coming of God. Not only do we celebrate the incarnation so beautifully narrated by Luke, we celebrate the continuous coming in creation, community, word and sacrament. Finally, we look forward to the mysterious advent that Moltmann calls “the sabbath of eternal joy” (The Coming of God, Minneapolis: Fortress, 1996, p. 338).

As we reflect on Advent readings from the Revised Common Lectionary, we will hear texts concerned with both the future and the incarnation, texts that are woven together by deep confidence in the presence of a Word that empowers our lives and gives us endurance to struggle for ecojustice.

Each week during this dramatic season we must ask the question voiced by film director David Mamet: “Where do we put the camera” (David Mamet, On Directing Film, New York: Penguin, 1991, p. 10)? This week’s Gospel text, which will be our focus, suggests that we position our “cameras” as best we can facing what can only be called a threatening future. Elizabeth Kolbert sounds the alarm: “This fiery summer has given us a glimpse of what climate change will look like.” She proceeds to describe not only all-too-common blazes in the western U.S., but also to remind us of deadly fires ranging from Greece to Sweden’s Arctic Circle (Kolbert, The New Yorker, September 10, 2018, p. 36). Then, in early October, the IPCC reported that a 2.0 degree allowable rise in temperature sanctioned by the Paris Accords of 2015 must be reduced to 1.5 degrees C. Eric Solheim of the UN Climate Programme said of this new report, “It’s like a deafening, piercing smoke alarm going off in the kitchen. We have to put out the fire” (Minneapolis Star-Tribune, October 9, 2018, pp. 1 and 10).

The reality of living in a new climate regime (labeled “anthropocene” by Earth systems scientists) intensifies our stance toward the future. Because of the Earth’s response to human release of greenhouse gases, we are learning that “in the anthropocene we may say that the present is drenched with the future…the unsettling presence of things to come” (Clive Hamilton, Defiant Earth, Cambridge: Polity, 2017, p. 132). To double down on this, Bruno Latour suggests, “we have to position ourselves as though we were at the end of time” (Facing Gaia: Eight Lectures on the New Climate Regime, Cambridge: Polity, 2017, p. 213).

Perhaps we can slacken the tension by taking a biblical cue offered by Latour. It comes from Paul’s advice to the Corinthian community: “Those who mourn should live as if they did not; those who are happy as if they were not; those who buy something as if it were not theirs to keep; those who use the things of the world as if not engrossed in them. For this world in its present form is passing away” (1 Cor. 7: 30-31, Latour). Not only does this orient us toward the future, but it reminds us that the end/purpose of our lives is to be about the down-to-earth task of worship, learning, and serving one another and the whole creation in expectation of renewal.

This new advent also calls our attention to Luke’s Gospel. Unique in sharing his methodology, the author proposes to undertake an investigation to write “an orderly account” (Luke 1:1-4) so that worshipping communities will hear reliable truth. This new “history” reckons with “the events that have been fulfilled among us” (Luke 1:1b). Michael Trainor suggests that the verb translated as “fulfilled,” plerophoreo, might be better translated as “brought to fruition” (as it is translated more than 70 times in LXX), reflecting divine action to bear renewal for the Earth household (About Earth’s Child: An Ecological Listening to the Gospel of Luke, Sheffield Press, 2015, p. 65). That creational fruitfulness is central to Luke is underscored by his genealogy, beginning with “Adam, son of God” (Luke 3:38), not with Abraham as Matthew has it (Matthew 1:2). Creation, then, orders Luke’s Gospel.

As Luke orders the story of divine fruitfulness, concern for the future is unavoidable. Because this gospel stems from the post-temple era (after 70 CE) use of material from Mark’s “little apocalypse” is unique. No longer do we envision the elect being gathered in by angels (Mark 13: 27). Now the consequences of the coming parousia will be felt throughout the earth (oikoumene) (Luke 21:26, 35). What is more, this universal renewal of the fruitfulness of life is to be met not with fear but with eager joy: “raise up your heads” (Luke 21: 28) to “stand before the Son of Man” (Luke 21: 36).

Just as Luke shapes the Markan tradition for the needs of his own audience, so must we interpret ‘sun, moon, and stars” (Luke 21: 25) in a manner more comprehensible to us. Influenced by the poetics of T. S. Eliot, Michael Trainor suggests that the meaning of a poem or verse is not fixed by the author’s milieu. “Its meaning continues and expands beyond the writer’s lifetime…and is the fruit of interrelated texts—earlier generational insights, cultural factors that influence the writer, the social world of the text’s original audience, previous texts and traditions, and the world which the interpreter brings to the text” (Trainor, p. 46).

While it is not the intention of this writer to literalize the metaphorical power of apocalyptic, the current despoiling of creation cannot help but influence our understanding. The sun and moon seen through the polluted air of Shanghai or San Francisco (or even the Twin Cities when choked by smoke from Canadian wildfires) offer a clear sign of threat. The distress caused in the Philippines, Puerto Rico, or the Gulf Coast of the U.S. by the “roaring of the sea” (Luke 21:25) during major storms fills living creatures with “foreboding about what is coming upon the world” (Luke 21:26). Advent of 2018 must still promise the Coming One—if only he can be seen through the cloud deck (Luke 21:27). Yet this is not a time of paralysis for the faith community. Instead, the call is to straighten up in confidence because of the divine commitment to creation, the same commitment shared by all seeking ecojustice.

Luke also transforms the “parable of the fig tree” (Luke 21: 29-33). Now we are invited to consider “the fig tree and all the trees” (v. 29). Because the fig tree is a common symbol for Israel (see Hosea 9:10), by referencing all trees the author signals an audience beyond the Jewish (or Jewish-Christian?) community. It is no longer that the Messiah is near, “at the very gates” (Mark 13: 29b), but that the more universalized “kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21: 31) and provides confidence in the integrity of creation.

This insight provides help in uncovering the meaning of this difficult concluding sentence: “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away” (Luke 21: 33). While current cultural forms and exploitation are transient, when we remember that divine speech (dabar) is the very basis of creation, we claim without reservation that removal of creation from God’s care would be impossible (Trainor, p. 258). Luke remains very down-to-earth.

It is these very mundane issues that comprise the final part of our text, all distinctly Lukan. Because Luke continues to call believers to attend to creation and evidence of needs, paying prayerful attention is crucial. As always (a word appropriate to Luke’s longer time horizon), there are temptations dulling this careful awareness. “Be on guard,” Luke warns, “so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life….” (Luke 21: 34).

No doubt there have always been diversions that get in the way of faithful responsibility. But no time in history has provided the distractions available in the present age. Neil Postman has captured the power of communications technology to divert in his Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business (New York: Penguin, 1985), now a generation old. While information technology can be a powerful tool of change (witness this website), there is no doubt that, as Postman argues, in the US the real danger to civic culture is not only the hard-nosed authoritarianism (think of immigration and prison policies) depicted by George Orwell in 1984, but the pleasure-driven polity painted by Aldous Huxley in Brave New World, a culture based on consumption, drug use, and self-absorption.

While the militarization of police forces and increasing surveillance technology do smack of Orwell, the mania of consumerism, advertising, and easy credit, especially this time of year, begin to resemble a hedonocracy. Naturally these have all infected the church where “entertainment-based worship” and messages promoting “adjustment” to this kind of culture are rampant. Recognizing this, Postman writes, “I believe I am not mistaken in saying that Christianity is a demanding and serious religion. When it is delivered as easy and amusing, it is another kind of religion altogether” (Postman, p.121).

Perhaps the most significant form that “dissipation” takes today is the refusal to take climate change seriously. How do we explain this? Is it because of lack of scientific understanding, the likelihood that homo sapiens is hard-wired by our evolution for short-term thinking, a psychology of previous investment that ill fits us for major change, increased urbanization with decreasing contact with the natural world, the lobbying of wealthy carbon companies, or sinful selfishness—the heart curved in upon itself? Likely all of these play a significant role.

French theologian and philosopher, Bruno Latour, asks that we dig deeper. While Lutherans have just last year celebrated one of the catalytic events of the Reformation, Luther’s October 31, 1517 call to debate the nature of church authority, we often ignore the tragedy of a century of European warfare sparked by this movement. By the time of the Peace of Westphalia (1648), parties exhausted by war sought a basis for order beyond divisive claims of religious truth. What emerged was a firm agreement to respect the principal cuius regio, cuius religio first promulgated as part of the Peace of Augsburg of 1555. This meant that religion now was less a search for truth and free to be used as an ideological support for the new mercantilism aimed at adding to the wealth and military power of the state, vast acquisition of natural resources from colonial conquest, the new science, and, eventually, the all-powerful market to allocate wealth (Stephen Toulmin, Cosmopolis: the Hidden Agenda of Modernity, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992, p. 90).

In effect, states immanentized religious forces, giving a spiritual patina to the economic behemoths and empires that resulted. Although Karl Marx was wrong in many ways, he was dead right in his analysis of the ideological use of Christianity, a new gnosticism that gave divine authority to anything the Belgians did in the Congo or the English inflicted on child workers in what Blake called “the Satanic mills” (see Eric Voegelin, The New Science of Politics, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1952, chapters V and VI). Ironically, this ideological use of religion was precisely what was at the basis of Luther’s revolt—exposing the mis-use of the free Word of God as an “institutional mascot.”

Because human regimes were so confident of their arrogant divinely-approved goals, it was and is unthinkable that anything so mundane as the Earth system and its carbon-stuffed atmosphere should get in the way. The very notion that the earth could demonstrate agency, reacting to being treated like a cesspool, is unthinkable (Latour, p. 207). Is not the will of the Holy One that those created in the “image” of God produce and consume endlessly? To play on a well-known verse, “What use is it to save your soul, if it means losing the world? “ Even if it is God’s good creation.

Clearly, we are at a point where we have to listen to Luke and take the notion of “end time” seriously once more. Late in his life, Karl Barth wrote, “We do not know what Nature, what the cosmos in which we have lived and still live now, will be for us then; what the constellations, the sea, the broad valleys and the heights, which we see and know now, will say and mean then” (quoted in Hamilton, p. 133). Unfortunately, laments Hamilton, “we can indeed make out, through the haze of residual uncertainty, the future’s broad contours under the influence of this new human power” (Hamilton, p. 133).

As the shape of this anthropocene apocalypse becomes clearer, we are discovering where the cameras must be aimed: toward a people looking for freedom from all that “amuses us to death” and instead learning to live down-to-earth lives that focus on “where we are” (our home neighborhood) and “who we are” (servants of creation). This happens when we are alert at all times and pray that we have the strength not to flee our call to seek ecojustice.

By not fleeing, we embrace one of the richest themes in scripture: dwelling. “To dwell” means to make a commitment to a place, its people (neighbors), and its very humus. Even in Luke’s Gospel, which ends with the call to share the good news with all the world, beginning in Jerusalem (Luke 24:47-48), the purpose is to provide a home for all in this fruitful earth. This means that the greatest Advent surprise—echoing the Bethlehem birth—is John’s vision that at the fulfillment of all things we will:

See, the home of God is among humans (all that lives)
God will dwell with them…. (Revelation 21:3)

Not surprisingly, John’s apocalypse ends with the watchword for Advent: “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (Revelation 22: 20).

Tom Mundahl tmundahl@gmail.com.

 

 

 

Twenty-Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Sassaman)

Ecojustice Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Series B: 2017-2018
By Jeremiah Sassaman

The 25th Sunday after Pentecost in Year B,
All Saint’s Sunday 2018, Feast Day of St. Martin of Tours 2018,
Veteran’s Day, USA 2018
1 Kings 17:8-16
Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24-28
Mark 12:38-44

Standing and gazing out over the crowd this morning, as the names of our veterans were read over the loudspeaker, three things were prominent. The trees on the hilltop horizon broadcast a beautiful tapestry of the changing seasons in southeastern Pennsylvania. Flags snap in the crisp breeze. The American flag waves proudly beside a banner encouraging passersby to buy and eat local. Yet it was the feeling in my heart that truly spoke the loudest. In an imperfect world, a troubled nation, and an unsettled mind, I was overjoyed to be alive. Honored to be a citizen of the United States of America, for which the flag stands. Happy to be a human, even though I know that perfection politically, socially and ecologically elude our painfully inadequate and sinful existence. I was proud of what my forebearers have accomplished, knowing that the negatives shall haunt me all the days of my life. Gazing out upon the scenery I found sanctuary on the wind. I was truly in God’s holy temple.

I am unapologetically patriotic and of deep Christian faith. I am an optimistic in the Lord. I accept reality as it is but refuse to surrender to the idea that reality is immutable. We can change ourselves and the world. I pray and strive to ensure that such change is for the betterment of all humanity and all creation. Douglas John Hall describes love as the notion that we are to be “with” one another as the human species, and with nature as is our calling as stewards of the cosmos. We do not lose our individuality in the literal sense, instead embracing the fullness of the other’s being with our own (Hall, Douglas John. The Steward. Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1990. Pages 207-208). While we may need to adapt our behaviors or refrain from detrimental actions, humans can and must be unabashedly glad to be human. To embrace the individuality of others, we must first embrace ourselves.

St. Martin of Tours, a soldier of the Roman cavalry in Gaul during the first years of the Empire post Edict of Milan, was raised a Christian. He served faithfully in the military until Caesar Julian “the Apostate” took the throne (https://www.britannica.com/biography/Saint-Martin-of-Tours , accessed November 3, 2018). Martin recognized that he could not serve Julian and the Empire under his authority, instead standing firm for his true leader and king, Jesus Christ. We remember St. Martin for his willingness to fight for and find sanctuary in Jesus. For knowing when and how to serve God. We can say the same of our veterans here today. We can rejoice and remember those who fell for the betterment of the world. Those who fought on the shores of Normandy to liberate the enslaved and tortured people of God. Those who sought to topple dictators and bring relief to those poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free (Emma Lazarus. “The New Colossus,” 1883). I am happy to be alive in this nation, even if imperfect.

Sanctuary is defined by the Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories as a church or sacred space where a fugitive was immune from arrest (Glynnis Chantrell, editor. The Oxford Dictionary of Word Histories. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002. Page 446). The implication by law was that the “holy” space was legally sacred. While the history of sanctuary laws has changed, the notion remains that some spaces offer protection. For Elijah, that location came in the place of Zarephath. Coping with the need for food and water, Elijah follows the command of God and goes to the town of Zarephath deep in the territory of Baal and his champion Jezebel (Richard Nelson. First and Second Kings. Louisville: John Knox Press, 1987. Pages 109-110). Not only did Elijah need that basics of life, he needed protection. In the guise of the widow, God provided not only what Elijah needed; God gave to the widow and her son that which they needed. God gave Elijah sanctuary and rest.

Looking out into the fall foliage, the sense of sanctuary under God’s watchful eye, was palpable. There was a sense that we were safe, because we stood together. The crowd stood silent as flags were retired in the flames of a billowing fire. A hawk screeched its disapproval at the thick smoke in the air, and the smell filled the nostrils of each soul that looked on. We stood together as local folks gathering to remember what we hold onto as a sacred service. We stood in a sanctuary from the world, praying, remembering, and hoping for a greater future, while refusing to neglect the past. The service was sponsored and took place in the midst of a local nursery, with trees and plants of all kinds surrounding the small handful of celebrants. It was a wonderful meshing of creation, love, and respect. It seemed a perfect little slice of our bioregion.

“Bioregionalism is a useful approach to the study of established and emerging links between cultural and ecological diversity” (Peña, Devon. “Los Animalitos,” in Chicano Culture, Ecology, Politics. Tuscon: University of Arizona Press, 1998, 53). The approach outlined in the article suggests that as we know ourselves and the other, we can celebrate and respect our differences, while at the same exact time celebrate unity. As an approach to the preservation of ecological diversity, bioregionalism is a much stronger approach when we understand our human diversity as being a blessing for everyone, and not as an entitlement or weapon. Being proud of who I am, where I was born, and the nuances of my biological being give me the power to be equally fascinated by the diversity in the world around me. Or such is the thought.

When we are healthy, the biological diversity around us is healthy. When we love one another, we beat our swords into plowshares, and the whole creation is loved. We find ourselves with one another, and not in opposition to the world. The banner reading “eat and buy local,” does not seek global isolation. Rather it encourages us to celebrate our bioregional greatness as part of a greater whole. How we view and treat ourselves and our own ecosystem home, is a foreshadowing of how we will treat the cosmic reality and the outsider. While in doubt of the claim, the widow of Zarephath none-the-less trusts and provides sanctuary in the form of oil and meal. God blesses the widow in return for her obedience, and God will bless humanity when we give sanctuary to the land and the whole of created life.

Much like the widow at Zarephath, St. Martin of Tours, leaving the service of the cavalry, embraced a ministry of sanctuary. For the broken and sinful saints on the journey of life, Martin sought to provide guidance and nourishment in the Christian faith. Martin, as a young man had encountered God’s love through a beggar in Amiens. Martin drew his sword and tore his cloak in two, to both clothe the beggar and himself. That night he saw, in a vision, the Lord praising Martin for being a mere catechumen, and yet clothing Jesus (https://www.catholic.org/saints/saint.php?saint_id=81 Accessed November 3, 2018). Saint Martin showed the same willingness to provide for others, even when he himself had little. He joins the widow at Zarephath and the woman of Mark 12:38-44, in trusting and obeying God. These examples of faithful women and men show how respect for the other, regardless of the differences dividing them, empowers and offers sanctuary to all.
Among the lessons for today, a theme runs strongly throughout. Love all and be “with” all humanity and creation. Respect and cherish diversity and unity; our uniqueness as equally as our sameness. Give without the need to ask why, how, or when. Provide sanctuary as it is provided to all who believe and obey the Lord.

Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year B (Sassaman)

Ecojustice Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Series B: 2017-2018
By Jeremiah Sassaman

The 24th Sunday after Pentecost in Year B
Deuteronomy 6:1-9
Psalm 119:1-8
Hebrews 9:11-14
Mark 12:28-34

“Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.”

The shema in its fullest authority and the necessary addition of Christ Jesus’s proclamation of the second commandment to, “love your neighbor as yourself,” in Mark’s gospel, form the foundations of Christian faith and life. It can be said that it is these two commandments that give meaning, purpose and direction to all of humanity. These commandments ensure life, liberty and happiness. These commandments are life-giving and life-sustaining. These commandments protect, preserve and provide for the coexistence of humanity within and alongside all of creation.

The people of God have from the beginning, known God as LORD and Creator of all. For the early Israelites, God’s authority and power were evident alone in Himself. While the world is the creation of God, and within the cosmos God’s power and glory could be witnessed or experienced, there was a clear distinction between God and the creation. To avoid the pitfalls of idolatry, God, and God alone, was separate from God’s handiwork (Eichrodt, Walter. Theology of the Old Testament, Volume 2. Philadelphia: Westminster Press, 1967. Pages 107-109). God created all things and declared them good. As such it can easily be deduced that all things too were created in perfection. The perfection of God, witnessed in God’s creations and creatures, are thus to be equally cherished. Humanity, given lordship over all of creation (in Genesis) as the representative of God, ought then to seek to adhere to the intent of God in His creative act (Von Rad, Gerhard. Old Testament Theology. Volume 1. New York: Harper and Row Publishers, 1962. Pages 146-147).

Now, to be clear, these initial thoughts surround the concept of Creation before the Fall of Adam. Before sin entered the world, the relationship between humanity and the creation was untainted and without death. Humans were alongside all animals in finding their sustenance in the waters and soils of the land. Killing was completely unnecessary and unknown. Pollution and destruction were unknown. There were simply no instances where greed and gluttony would cause the abuse of fellow creatures, their habitations, or sources of life.

With the advent of the knowledge of good and evil in the human consciousness, the relationship between humankind and every other component of the created world became broken. What was, for a time, the perfection of God’s hand was weakened and entered a terminal existence. Life changed. Creation began to groan in travail. Humanity and animals alike no longer ate from the fruits of the soil alone, choosing rather to regularly dine on one another. From a scientific standpoint, we can certainly argue with this biblical account in terms of its authenticity as myth or fact. Evolutionary science directs us to a deeper understanding of the reasons why species exist as herbivorous, carnivorous, or omnivorous. Yet the text itself leads us to ask the question, “Does it matter?” Does it matter if we take the text as literal or solely inspired? Or is there some concept of authority in between? I am by no means an Old Testament scholar. I am aware of the depth of biblical knowledge and interpretive possibilities; by no means a master. So, I pose these questions purely out of a sense of provoking existential thought. Can understanding our role as elements of God’s creation be simplified? Should it be? I am unsure, yet propose the following:

God is LORD alone.
God created all that has been made.
God saw that it was good.
We are part of what God has made.
We are created as lords and stewards of creation as God’s representatives.
Because God created things in perfection and declared them good, and we represent God, humanity thus ought to exert its representational authority according to God’s will and with God’s vision of creation as good.

These thoughts are by no means exhaustive or perfect, as nothing human hands and minds can devise is such. Yet in their simplicity can this line of thought be accurate? If so, humanity has a God-given responsibility to view all of creation as an affirmative witness of God’s awesome and everlasting grace and glory. Creation in its entirety, must be viewed as neighbor, not to be fenced in nor kept at arms-length but embraced and loved. Creation becomes something to commune with, not pillage. Regardless of one’s understanding of the role of humanity, it seems universal that people do not squat where they eat. Thus, pollution and destruction of earth’s non-living creation is equally repulsive to Christian life.

All of God’s creatures as our neighbors fall under Christ’s call to love our neighbors as ourselves. To fully love our neighbors and their existence, we must protect their homes as well. All of creation is our neighborhood. Dr. Kristin Largen suggests that we must see things this way first if we ever hope to love all that God has made, including ourselves as human creatures (Largen, Kristin Johnston. 2017. Neighbors, neighbor-love, and our animal neighbors.” Word & World 37, no. 1: 37-47. ATLASerials, Religion Collection, EBSCOhost accessed August 2, 2018). Indeed, caring for the world around us requires a radical rediscovery of our pre-Fall relationships.

Jeremiah Sassaman revsassaman@ptd.net

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Ecojustice Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
Readings for Series B: 2018
by Nick Utphall

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost
Isaiah 53:4-12
Psalm 91:9-16
Hebrews 5:1-10
Mark 10:35-45

From top to bottom this week, the lectionary readings seem ready-made for sacrificial substitutionary atonement. This is the view that Jesus died for your sins, that his righteousness is offered as recompense to cover the debt of your sins, a sense of justice that must be retributive, and—most centrally—that a perfect Father demands satisfaction so that you need not be condemned eternally, but since somebody’s gotta pay for it Jesus died vicariously in your place. Built partly on one reading of the Christ Hymn of Philippians 2:5-11, God the Father sends the Son expressly for this purpose, and Jesus was so obedient to this command that he suffered even to the point of death on the cross (I would say that’s a misreading, much preferring the sort of perspective that it is about love for humanity, like partially described here from David Fredrickson: https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=146). This substitutionary satisfaction view has become the dominant sense (in American Christianity, at least) of the whole reason for Jesus. It has even become the default understanding, where any other theological perspective is inherently viewed with suspicion.

As a reader of a care for creation commentary, I suspect that you might not fully endorse such an atonement theory. In a model that mainly deals with eternal consequences. Life in this world is mainly relegated to a tally sheet, keeping a record of how well you’ve done or noting that no matter what you’ve done, an eschatologically significant rupture of relationship with God will occur. Given that it deals with and focuses on Jesus’ death, it seems to be a matter for after-life and doesn’t seem to connect much to actual relationships and interactions of our lives on earth now. For that regard, I’d simply guess that most people invested in caring for creation are not as directly concerned with Jesus paying for our sins (Maybe someone could do a survey to find out just how much those two categories mix?).

So what are we to do with these readings, if they seem to scream a perspective of internal, spiritualized ledger sheets? Here’s some of the litany for the week:
Jesus said, “The Son of Man came…to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45)
He “was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole” (Isaiah 53:5)
He was “stricken for the transgression of my people” (Isaiah 53:8)
“It was the will of the LORD to crush him with pain” and “make his life an offering for sin” (Isaiah 53:10)
“The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous, and he shall bear their iniquities” (Isaiah 53:11)
Jesus “was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (Hebrews 5:7-9)

So how to confront these readings, or how to hear them in a way that isn’t about Jesus forced to serve as a vicarious satisfaction in substitute for you and your death demanded by a vengefully righteous God? Is there room for care for creation, or is it that all is lost and we must look to heaven (or, perhaps more palatable to us, the new creation yet to come)?

In his review of the alternatives to this dominant atonement theory, Mennonite and nonviolent theologian J. Denny Weaver points out that “In ‘God of the Oppressed,’ James H. Cone, the founder of the black theology movement, pointed out that the dominant Anselmian doctrine posed atonement in terms of an abstract theory that lacked ethical dimensions in the historical arena. Consequently, it allowed white people to claim salvation while accommodating and advocating the violence of racism and slavery”—a criticism also leveled by feminist theologians, among others (“The Nonviolent Atonement,” p 4). This begins to take seriously our human relationships and God’s actions in society, even as we who care for creation insist that this must be broader even than some multiracial and gender-inclusive anthropocentrism.

One way to approach these readings comes from Girardian theologian James Allison, who has posed the question, “Who sacrificed who to whom?” The answer should not be so directly presumed that God insisted on killing Jesus for God’s own sake. Humanity was and remains too steeped in the practice of doing violence to each other. The death of Jesus, in this Girardian view, was a rupture designed to break the perpetual cycle of scapegoating and violence. Allison, who takes seriously the notion and practice of sacrifice, can remind us that this is about life being able to continue on, about God entering the creation and being restored in right relationship. (For some of those historical reflections on sacrifice, where it is clarified that in traditional sacrifice God was sacrificing God-self for the sake of humanity and creation, a “divine movement to set people free,” see this essay: http://www.jamesalison.co.uk/texts/eng11.html.)

In spite of how readily these Bible passages might be enlisted for the purposes of the retributive violent atonement models, it also is readily apparent that the goal is about life. It is not a story of a God whose will is suffering or punishment or death. Rather than terms or pain, notice Isaiah’s efforts for healing, wholeness, prolonged days, and life. One phrase in particular that jumps out is “by a perversion of justice” (53:8). Clearly any of the suffering or pain cannot be seen as right, the afflictions and oppressions cannot be labeled as divinely intended, when that is a perversion of justice. It is when the system is broken that pain and suffering prevail, not by the system God designed and intended and planned.

I’m averse to saying that we have to learn the perfect submission or that our suffering will make us perfect in that way that Hebrews perceives it. But the brutality of Isaiah may make more sense through a perspective of self-sacrifice. It seems vitally significant that suffering is not something that one is told to endure, but that one chooses for oneself. This is not the oppression of groups of people explained away, the abuse done in relationships excused, the subjugation and disregard that takes advantage of others. No one may be told to suffer, to confine them by telling them to learn obedience to that way. Rather, this is chosen. Following Cone’s criticism mentioned above, rather than masters justifying their enslavement of others, this voluntarily takes the place of a servant. This is a slavery opted into for the sake of love and in service of life. With Isaiah, the prophet sees himself as the suffering servant (and is not predicting the fate of another, much less saying what God will do to Jesus).

Here is one explanation from Terence Fretheim: “At the very least, we must say that the suffering of the servant is reflective of the suffering of God; in the giving up of the servant for the world, personal self-sacrifice is seen to define God’s purpose here. But even more, as the servant is the vehicle for divine immanence, we should also say that God, too, experiences what the servant suffers. This consequence is something which God chooses to bring not only upon the servant but also upon [God]self. While God does not die, God experiences in a profound way what death is like in and through the servant. By so participating in the depths of the death-dealing forces of this world, God transforms the world from within; and a new creation thereby begins to be born.” (“The Suffering of God: An Old Testament Perspective,” p164-65)

For this perspective of God’s efforts for life over death, one of the most useful aspects of this Gospel reading is as a corrective to the dominant and domineering readings of Genesis 1 that give license to the abuse of creation. When God offers the instruction for the humans to “have dominion over the fish of the seas and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth” (Genesis 1:28), dominion has much too frequently been interpreted as permission to do whatever we want. I believe it is helpful to consider the word “dominion.” It ties to the Latin “dominus,” for Lord.

Similarly, the word in Genesis 1:28 in the Septuagint or Greek version of the Old Testament includes Kyrie—which we know from “Kyrie eleison, Lord have mercy.” Although the term Jesus uses is the exact same word (katekyrie) for “lord it over,” we can see that he advocates and leads us into a very different kind of dominion. Though we might be more apt to be “like the nations” (in Jesus’ phrase from Mark 10:42), our own practice of lordship should not be to “lord it over” as tyrants, but should follow the model and example of the one we name as Lord. As disciples of our Lord Jesus, we see that dominion is about service, that greatness is found in being a “slave of all” (10:44). That is more representative of the kind of God we have. God is not one who is so far above us that we must fear threats. God is not so distant from us that we can’t even begin to hope to be so proper and holy that we could gain proximity. Our God comes to strive on our behalf, to offer God’s own self for the sake of our lives and ongoing goodness of creation.

Since this is what it means not just for John and James but also for us to be associated with Jesus, to share his baptism and receive from his cup, then we find our place separate from the “great ones” (with the depictive Greek phrase “megaloi”) who claim authority over others. It almost can feel like a Godzilla, stomping through the city and across a landscape, leaving a wake of destruction, entirely careless for what it has abused. We, instead, are called to serve, even to enter into the suffering Jesus has been describing and is moving toward in Jerusalem.

This is likely what is meant by the term “ransom,” in a paradoxical or ironic way. Similar to Luther’s paired theses in “The Freedom of a Christian,” that a Christian is “totally free master of all, subject to none; and totally bound slave of all, subject to all,” Jesus frees you in order to serve. “The term [‘ransom’] referred to the price required to redeem captives or purchase freedom for indentured servants” (Ched Myers, “Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Story of Jesus,” p279). Jesus frees you from slavery to the tyrannical overlords, in order that you may be slave not just to their whims but “slave to all.”

Further, we recognize that sometimes giving life should, indeed, be perceived as in line with God’s will. Parents give up and restrict their opportunities and options on behalf of their children. A firefighter will freely risk her own wellbeing, maybe even sacrificing to save others from a burning building. As a dog owner, I know that it means. I’m up in the middle of the night and out for walks in the cold. As a gardener, I’m rubbing sore back muscles and fighting sunburn and swatting mosquitoes so that I can care for those vegetables and flowers. Some labor is referred to as “punishing,” even though we might only be subjecting ourselves to the work. That seems a better and more life-giving view, and more appropriately tied to a God who created and sustains out of love, than one of obedience and being stricken for transgressions.

Nick Utphall
nick@theMCC.net

Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost, Year B

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year B 2018
Reading for Series B: 2018
by Nick Utphall

21st Sunday after Pentecost
Amos 5:6-7, 10-15
Psalm 90:12-17
Hebrews 4:12-16
Mark 10:17-31

I have a “green letter” edition of the Bible. There’s the more familiar “red letter” versions, where all the words of Jesus appear in a red font (mostly in the Gospels, but also occasionally applied in Revelation or Paul). The green version, however, tries to highlight passages that may be obvious in talking about creation and the environment and our ecological stewardship, verses that tie us in relationships to the world around us.

This week’s Gospel reading not only lacks a green highlighting in this version of the Bible, but seems like it could appear in even a blacker font, reinforcing a lack of connection and emphasizing a separation from nature. “Truly I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields, for my sake and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold now in this age—houses, brothers and sisters, mothers and children, and fields, with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life,” Jesus boldly but perhaps darkly proclaims (Mark 10:29-30).

I suppose there are many believers and many voices from pulpits who will find in this passage a heavenly removal from Earth. Not only will we escape the terrestrial bonds when we die, but it could seem that in this passage we are told to practice our release already, shunning all we would hold dear or claim is good in life.

Generally, our sense of connection to life on Earth may be most firmly established in exactly the places that Jesus seems to dismiss: familial relationships and agrarian harvest. Thanksgiving and prayers for crops and blessings of weddings are still some of the most common places that our Christian faith is invited into secular culture.

Our bread and butter in creation care has been an easy emphasis on farmers and their dedication to fields that feed; just look at the stewardship section of a hymnal:
“Sing to the Lord of harvest”
“Come, ye thankful people come; raise the song of harvest home”
“Praise and thanksgiving, God, we would offer for…harvest of sown fields, fruits of the orchard, hay from the mown fields, blossom and wood”
“We plow the fields and scatter the good seed on the land”
“For the fruits of all creation, thanks be to God… For the plowing, sowing, reaping, silent growth while we are sleeping”
But we might wonder from this Gospel passage if Jesus is singing a different tune.

Again, for a sense of vocation and purpose of earthly life, our roles and relationships in family have been central. The Lutheran Reformation supported those directly and predominantly, with Luther regularly declaring that somebody as spouse or parent was more clearly doing God’s work than one who withdrew into a monastery, and Luther himself ended up a “family man” exactly to embody the point of changing diapers as more godly than cloistered pious prayers. His Small Catechism’s explanation of the Lord’s Prayer says that the petition for daily bread includes “farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, [and] upright members of the household.”
But we might wonder from this Gospel passage if the Lord himself was trying to teach us some other way to pray and be remembered into his kingdom.

So what are creation-caring preachers and believers to do?
What to do with a counsel to forsake all our earthly “goods” (as the term would evaluate our possessions)?
If actually trying to sell everything we own, as Jesus counsels the rich young man, wouldn’t we remove ourselves from the economy? And wouldn’t that “eco” of the household there also function to remove us from the “eco” of ecology? Is Jesus suggesting we withdraw from the entire order of this earthly home?

Maybe a first re-entry point is to take Jesus seriously in this reading. A bracket of two phrases may be especially worthwhile in cushioning the shock. To conclude, we can cling to the proclamation that “for God all things are possible” (10:27). And to start, we should not miss verse 21: “Jesus, looking at [the rich man], loved him.” From those two gospel words—of possibility and love—then we can also genuinely receive Jesus’ instruction, not just for the man in the ancient account who had many possessions, but for us ourselves to sell what WE own.

But, first, a side trip through the first reading. The prophet Amos has some strong economic condemnation today, about injustice, sins, and transgressions, “because you trample on the poor” (5:11). Clearly in the view of the prophet and this word of the LORD, “seeking” and “loving” good (5:14 and 15) is a matter of the distribution of wealth.

These strong words, paired with Jesus’ injunction, may lead us to question which side we’re on. Are we like the grieving man who goes away after his many possessions, or are we like Peter and the disciples who have forsaken much? Are we like Amos’s rich people who have built nice houses and picture ourselves enjoying the wine of pleasant vineyards, or are we like the needy people who have suffered extortions and are pushed aside from the places we seek justice?

I find one helpful tool for determining our place is the Global Rich List, a website available here: http://www.globalrichlist.com/. This quick calculator creatively shows that almost all of us as Americans are well-established as the Haves and not as the Have-Nots, the rich and not the poor, the possessed man and not the disciple. I may not be Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, or a Rockefeller, but my own clergy salary (not to mention my other benefits and possessions and white privileges and all) puts me in the top tenth of a percent of the wealthiest on the planet, ahead of 99.9% of the other 7 billion people.

Rather than preemptively dismissing Jesus’ mandate to “sell what I own, and give the money to the poor,” I should allow my shock to stand. I should not pretend to depend on my pious thoughts of obeying the commandments and being a diligent churchgoer since my youth. I certainly should not perceive or call myself “good” (Mark 10:18). But I may then better recognize what it is when Amos calls me to seek and to love goodness.

Indeed, rather than this being a call away from the world toward heaven, this is a calling from Jesus to confront honestly my place—and our places—in this world. As long as I am ignorant of my premier standing among the wealthy, then I will be neglecting the good of the poor and the needy at the gate. With awareness of privileged place, that may begin to lead to practicing living more rightly. Doing that isn’t in order to win favor; after all, even with my ignorant or grieving possessiveness, still Jesus loves me. But maybe it will exemplify the new shock that “for God all things are possible.”

With this engagement in the world, the refrain of the Psalm comes to make more sense, as well. The Psalm concludes with the repetition: “Prosper for us the work of our hands—O prosper the work of our hands!” (90:17). Clearly this is not an escapist spiritualized realm where our handiwork is abominable and condemnable, earthy instead of heavenly. But neither is this the mad method of the so-called prosperity gospel, where blessing means that I will have more than others and become richer, that the prospering of my hands will proceed straight into my own pockets.

When we prosper and our hands are doing God’s work, then that won’t be with a closed-tight grip but with an open-handed release for sharing. If we consider wealth a blessing, then it fits the Abrahamic blessing of Genesis 12:2 that we are blessed in order to be a blessing, to extend the good. We have money in order to share it. We have possessions so that we can release and give them away. This is not a reading about separation from earthly possessions, but from the sense of hoarding them and exclusively claiming them. If we’re beginning to be able to consider that, then that seems like a valuable step, rather than pursuing the ultimate end of what will happen if we don’t sell everything, if we keep home or field or some possessions, if we don’t forsake family.

Turning again to Amos, we may discern rightful wisdom in this practice. We need not hear it only as a threat about giving away or redistributing incomes. When the prophet offers the conditional phrase, “Seek good and not evil, that you may live” (5:14), we may understand it not as divine legalism only but as logical economic fact. Our economic order that is built purely on extraction is not sustainable. When we try to claim wealth from other human beings and from mining, clear-cutting, and draining the planet, it not only will cause harm in sweatshops and food deserts amid communities of color, but will come back around to our own downfall. There is only so long we can wall ourselves off from that detriment in gated communities or insulated identities.

In his final Sunday sermon, Martin Luther King Jr. said,

“Through our scientific and technological genius, we have made of this world a neighborhood and yet we have not made the ethical commitment to make of it a brotherhood [sic]. But somehow, and in some way, we have got to do this. We must all learn to live together as brothers [and sisters!]. Or we will all perish together as fools. We are tied together in the single garment of destiny, caught in an inescapable network of mutuality. And whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly. For some strange reason I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. And you can never be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be. This is the way God’s universe is made; this is the way it is structured” (see “A Testament of Hope,” p269).

Over against the sibling rivalry of our standard economic struggles, these brotherly words may actually serve as a clarification of Jesus’ word about leaving family, that our view of family and sense of relationships and kindness of kinship need to be significantly broadened, to the human family and our siblings in all creation. As Jesus loved a man with too many possessions, we might also love. Anything else lets our neighbor loom too small and our possessions loom too large, precluding our passage through the eye of the needle.

Lest we still fail to hear gracious invitation and the promise of life in that, here is Ted Jennings on the renunciation of kinship structures and the means of sustaining life, reminding us of the experiences we recognize from those who heed this calling:

“This conforms exactly to the experience of mission, that those who enter into solidarity with the poor and afflicted find that they have hundreds of sisters, and brothers, and mothers . . . . We receive the hospitality of the poor, of those who say, ‘my house is your house’ . . . . Just as manna in the desert cannot become my private property to be stored up in barns, so also that which is offered by the poor to the poor is more than enough, yet is never accumulated or hoarded” (The Insurrection of the Crucified: The ‘Gospel of Mark’ as Theological Manifesto, p165-166).

And though I may not be Jeff Bezos and I may not feel the ability to renounce what I have and live in solidarity with the poor so ascetically as a Mother Teresa, still, when 388 people own fully half of the world’s wealth (as cited in an article on “The Inequality Industry” in The Nation’s October 8/15, 2018 issue), then it becomes clearer where most of us actually stand and where our place is in the struggle for equality and caring for the world’s family. And it is reverberatingly clear why Jesus would call us into such a mutually beneficial kind of living.

Nick Utphall nick@theMCC.net

 

 

 

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost, St. Francis Day, Year B

Creation Care Commentary on the Revised Common Lectionary
St. Francis Day, Lectionary 27
By Nancy Wright

Genesis 2:18-24
Psalm 8
Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12
Mark 10:2-16

We are given a wonderful series of texts for a St. Francis Day (Oct. 4) celebration. Although there are many themes in these texts, perhaps four might be brought to the attention of parishioners.

First, the role that God assigns human beings to play is highly significant. God challenges humans to call each creature by name. Second, a humble wonder is central to worship and care for Earth. Third, God’s Son sustains all things. And, fourth, the kingdom of God belongs to children. Let us take these in order.

In the understanding of the Hebrew people, to name is to know the essence of a human or other-than-human being. Thus,

“To name” or “to designate” belongs to the ordering of creation; …The bestowal of names initiates the human ordering of creation in Gen. 2:19….This association of the act of naming with creation underlines the fact that the name represents something wholesome and salutary; the knowledge of the name opens up specific human dimensions for communication and for fellowship (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Volume IV, “Names of God in the OT,” New York: Doubleday, 1992, p. 1002).

Even while mind-bogglingly and newly aware of scientific discoveries about the 13-billion-year-old universe, plate tectonics, cell division, dark matter, and the relatively infinitesimal lifespan of humans on Earth, we have become aware of the planetary role humans now play. As a planetary force, humans now hold the fate of the planet in our hands, determining, for example, how many species become endangered or extinct. The name for this age in which we exert such power is the Anthropocene. It has ushered in the Sixth Great Extinction, this one caused by human beings. Scientists describe five earlier Great Extinction events in Earth’s history, after which new species emerge over millions of years. Elizabeth Kolbert reports that “by the end of this century as many as half of earth’s species will be gone” (Elizabeth Kolbert, “The Sixth Extinction,” The New Yorker [May 25, 2009], accessed February 12, 2018, https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2009/05/25/the-sixth-extinction; see also Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History, New York: Henry Holt and Company, 2015).

Grappling with such power and loss, ethicists use the terms ecocide and biocide to describe human activity that unwittingly runs the story of the creation as told in the first book of the Bible, Genesis, backward.

Christians urgently need to reclaim their biblically assigned role of knowing the names of the surrounding animals and plants. We can do so by learning about biodiversity, the intricacies of the web of life, and the names and habits of creatures in our watersheds.

Watershed awareness is a movement within the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America stimulated by the Resolution Urging Stewardship of the Gift of Water, passed at the 2016 Churchwide Assembly. The resolution urges that congregations learn about their watersheds, lifting up the names of lakes, rivers, and streams in their worship. To learn the names of animals and plants in the watershed can involve fascinating congregational outings, lecture series, water trips, and prayers for the well-being of other-than-human neighbors. Further, such growing awareness should lead to advocacy for care for God’s creation and continued support for the Endangered Species Act, which is under threat from Congressional leaders, often buoyed by short-term corporate considerations that take no account of the health of a bioregion.

Second, a critical antidote to this tremendous knowledge linked with the ability to harm creation is to accelerate an attitude of wonder. Psalm 8 is a beautiful expression, filled with joy and gratitude, of wonder. Wonder and hope together foster courage and energy for the work of creation care. Writing about Psalm 104, but applicable to Psalm 8, Old Testament scholar William P. Brown writes,

As for humankind in this psalm, we are simply one species among many, and that too is a wonder. Creation is a shared habitation, and if there is a perfection or ideal presumed in the psalmist’s world, it is the perfection of biodiversity, the wild and wondrous diversity of life and habitat. By listing various animal species, the psalmist offers a selective sample of the vast Encyclopedia of Life, which continues to be catalogued day by day (www.eol.org) (Sacred Sense: Discovering the Wonder of God’s Word and World, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2015, p. 68-69).

Congregations can enliven a sense of wonder by preaching about the intricacies of animals and plants and the manifold wonders of life’s expression, by encouraging worship outdoors, by performing outdoor baptisms, and by including the voices of nature in worship (Paul Winter’s whale calls in his music, which I heard in the Cathedral of St. John the Divine at a Solstice celebration, will always haunt me).

Third, God’s Son sustains all things. The Cosmic Christ scriptural theology (John 1:1–14, Col. 1:15–20, Heb. 1:2-3), powerfully urges Christians to contemplate Christ’s shown forth in all of creation. In Confirmation class or Sunday school, students hopefully learn that the church is the congregation, not the building (using the hand motions that open out to show the fingers as the people), but reevaluating and reenergizing the church to care for creation engages Christians in understanding that nature co-worships with us (Is. 55:12) and is sacred, infused with Christ’s being. Therefore, does the church include all of creation? (How would hand motions express that wider, creation-centered awareness of church?)

To recognize nature as co-worshipers, or as part of the body of the Cosmic Christ, renders nature as numinous or sacramental. No longer do humans exclusively take up the center of God’s attention. Further, humans no longer see the discontinuity between their life and that of creation in that they perceive all as nourished and sustained by God. If we think of creation as sacred, how many decisions about land use, economic measurements, and transportation would be weighed with different, wider values and hoped-for outcomes that respect the web of life?

Finally, the kingdom of God belongs to children (Mark 2:14). Several points might be made about Jesus’ blessing of children. First, adults are to receive God’s kingdom of love and justice with devotion and trust, as a child is devoted to and trusts a good, loving parent. Second, since children are particularly vulnerable to pollution, war, and other traumas, making the world safe for children is a requirement for Christians. Third, faithful Christians will foster environmental justice. Noteworthy is the Our Children’s Trust Lawsuit, which goes to trial on October 29. Our Children’s Trust “elevates the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere for all present and future generations” (https://www.ourchildrenstrust.org/mission-statement, accessed September 24, 2018). Justice for #EachGeneration calls for thousands of sermons to be preached in support prior to that date. The website encourages preachers to sign up and learn more.

When Christians help society to move from denial, complacency, and greed to foster a world in which children are cared for to the Seventh Generation, as Native Americans have envisioned, we adults may have achieved wisdom and wonder and innocence enough to claim our inheritance with the children. Then we may enter into Jesus’ kingdom of justice, peace, and sustaining love.

The Rev. Dr. Nancy G. Wright, pastornancy@alcvt.org

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)

Youth Gather and We All Grow!

Back in the summer of 2018 hundreds of youth and group leaders visited our Lutherans Restoring Creation space in the Interactive Educational Area during the National Youth Gathering in Houston.

Every visitor was asked to spend about 5 minutes walking through a “tour” of their typical day and consider how their daily decisions impacted their global neighbors. 

Thank you Notes to GOD – for all the gifts given to us that we don’t have to pay for.

We don’t have to let it end there though!  Get your youth group (or adult forum, or bible study, or family…) to read through the tour with pledge form in hand (or on screen) and find solutions in a prayerful way of living.  If you use our online form we can stay on touch with you and let your synod leadership know what you’re aiming for.

Click here to download the “walk through” program – share it as a power point or print it out to pass around. Pledge form in pdf form can be downloaded here (let us know how it goes!) 

The two most requested tools for Youth Groups to use as follow up to this discussion starter:

Story of Stuff 20 minute video. (Ask your group what challenges they have with their “golden arrow.”)

Know No Trash Program