Dr. Barbara R. Rossing’s April 26, 2018 lecture from Garrett Seminary, “On Earth as In Heaven: Biblical Ecology for an Eco-Reformation.”
Dr. Barbara R. Rossing’s April 26, 2018 lecture from Garrett Seminary, “On Earth as In Heaven: Biblical Ecology for an Eco-Reformation.”
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.
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.
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.”)
What is the Sacrament of the Altar?
It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.
Where is this written?
The holy evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and St. Paul write thus:
“In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.”
Think! One of the last things Jesus did, before being arrested in a garden and condemned to death, was to share a meal. In various stories, one of the first things Jesus did, after rising from the dead in a garden, was to share meals. What does it mean that Jesus shares this meal with you? How do you feel about Jesus being present in something so common as a bit of bread, of God embodied in the earthly elements of our world?
Act! Visit ELCA World Hunger resources webpage for a toolkit on “Hunger and Climate Change Connections” that has activities and resources for a guided conversation on what climate change means for world hunger. Find this and other ways you can help the ELCA share food and address changing resources by searching www.ELCA.org for “hunger and climate.”
What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?
The words “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sin, there is also life and salvation.
How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?
Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but the words that are recorded: “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” These words, when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, and whoever believes these very words has what they declare and state, namely, “forgiveness of sin.”
Think! In regular daily meals, God is present to sustain your life. In communion with so much of creation, with the willingness of sunshine and miracle of photosynthesis, of farmers and pollinators and yeast, by soil and in a vessel God’s salvation is again made present for you. How does their part in bringing you the sacrament bring you to care for them?
Act! The physical eating and drinking is clearly a worthwhile and necessary part of God’s blessing and work. Choose ingredients and bake bread for communion. Visit a winery. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8)
Who, then, receives this sacrament worthily?
Fasting and bodily preparation are in fact a fine external discipline, but a person who has faith in these words, “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin,” is really worthy and well prepared. However, a person who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, because the words “for you” require truly believing hearts.
Think! In this way of looking at the Small Catechism, or in your life generally, what have been actions and behaviors that have been very important for you in saving the earth? How do you feel about the statement that individual actions are “significant but not sufficient” for the problem at hand? What more needs to be done that you cannot do alone?
Act! Always give thanks to God for this abiding grace in Christ, continuing to give to you and everything else. As Psalm 145:15-16 says, “The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature.” With this in mind, say a prayer before each meal. Luther suggests, “Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these your gifts, which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
I. What is Baptism?
Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.
What then is this word of God? Where our Lord Christ says in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
Think! What a great blessing clean “simply plain water” is! God could have chosen any way to act, but makes this promise to you with amazing, abundant water. How would your view of baptism change if the water were polluted and dirty or if there were no water available? How does God’s word with the water remind you of God’s work in the world?
Act! Touch the water in your baptismal font. Make the sign of the cross on yourself and others. If there is no water in the font, ask your pastor if you can add some. And then touch and enjoy its cleanness—God works in things like this!
II. What gifts or benefits does baptism grant?
It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promises of God declare.
What are these words and promises of God? Where our Lord Christ says in Mark 16: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”
Think! Christians have unfortunately been apt to think of baptism as an insurance policy in case of accidental death. Why, from an ecological perspective especially, might God want to save you for your life now for the sake of this world?
Act! Think of saints you’ve known and celebrate what others have accomplished in their lives. Visit a cemetery or memorial garden and note how it continues to be a place of life. Use it as an occasion to remember that our actions today affect generations yet to come.
III. How can water do such great things?
Clearly the water does not do it, but the word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit,” as St. Paul says to Titus in chapter 3, “through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.”
Think! Because we know of this special bath, we can also see God’s grace working through the “plain waters.” What are some of the “great things” plain water does in our world?
Act! We often overlook the value of water. Water Footprints, like the more common Carbon Footprints, are a new way to be attentive to our use and impact on water supplies. Give it a try at http://www.waterfootprint.org/ Visit http://www.elca.org/hunger/water for church resources.
IV. What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?
It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.
Where is this written? St. Paul says in Romans 6, “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we to might walk in newness of life.”
Think! Again, not waiting for afterlife, here is a daily hope that you may live rightly in God’s world. What are five things you can do for the world today because you have the benefit and grace of life?
Act! Obviously God’s Word is strongest, but notice how this cleansing and purifying of baptism is done with water. Take this opportunity to see what harmful cleaning chemicals you could replace with something better.
Our Father in heaven.
What is this? With these words God wants to attract us, so that we come to believe that he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, as loving children ask their loving father.
Think! Calling God a Father “in heaven” was to clarify we weren’t talking to a birth parent. It is not trying to say God is “in some heaven light years away.” How is God even more nurturing and trustworthy like a loving parent if God is “Here in this Place” (ELW Hymn #532), still walking amid the garden (Genesis 3:8)?
Act! Since our minds are on the heavens with this prayer, don’t let it get too ethereal! Go outside and notice the clouds or the stars. Feel the sunlight. Watch the phase of the moon. Pause in this prayer to look up from life’s busy paths.
Hallowed be your name.
What is this? It is true that God’s name is holy in itself, but we ask in this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us.
How does this come about? Whenever the word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as God’s children, also live holy lives according to it. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven! However, whoever teaches and lives otherwise than the Word of God teaches, dishonors the name of God among us. Preserve us from this, heavenly Father!
Think! Asking that God make us holy, we often think about it as more pious, more focused on the supernatural. How do you think God would define holy living amid creation? (You might see the prophets for help—Isaiah 5:8, 11:6-9, 24:3-6; Hosea 2:18-19, 4:3; Amos 5:8-12; Micah 4:4, 6:8)
Act! Adopt a new way of holy living by finding at least one new way to be mindful about conserving resources: Shut off lights. Recycle. Use less water. Pay attention to your actions as a spiritual discipline.
Your kingdom come.
What is this? In fact, God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us.
How does this come about? Whenever our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace we believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.
Think! Notice again that the kingdom is not equated to heaven, but comes in how we live here and now. Read Mark 4:30-32, where Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a mustard shrub in which we all rest. Where do you experience the nesting comfort of God’s promise?
Act! Since the parable talks of birds and plants, find and identify one around you. Know this amazing diversity of who your nest-mates are.
Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.
What is this? In fact, God’s good and gracious will come about without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come about in and among us.
How does this come about? Whenever God breaks and hinders every evil scheme and will—as are present in the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh—that would not allow us to hallow God’s name and would prevent the coming of his kingdom, and instead whenever God strengthens us and keeps us steadfast in his word and in faith until the end of our lives. This is God’s good and gracious will.
Think! The prayer continues reinforcing that this is a matter for this life—for this earth! If flowers bloom to the glory of God, gurgling rapids sing God’s praises, and even rocks do what they’re supposed to do, how can you listen for God’s will for you to love all your creaturely neighbors on earth?
Act! Luther says God breaks us from the world, here not meaning the natural world but the things that get in the way of focusing on what God wants. Make a list of at least 5 ways your actions or lifestyle get in the way of God’s good for the natural world. Then list at least 5 things of this world you’d like to pay better attention to. Finally, list at least 5 things to change for the culture of your church, community, or country.
Give us this day our daily bread.
What is this? In fact, God gives daily bread without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.
What then does “daily bread” mean? Everything included in the necessity and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.
Think! Luther here already admits the ecological expanse of our daily sustenance. Where did your last meal come from and what did it take to produce it? How much can you trace about the full origins of your food?
Act! Go one day per week without eating meat. If all Americans did it, it would be the same as taking one of every eight (8 million) cars off the road! Help spread what our resources can sustain.
Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.
What is this? We ask in this prayer that our heavenly Father would not regard our sins nor deny these petitions on their account, for we are worthy of nothing for which we ask, nor have we earned it. Instead we ask that God would give us all things by grace, for we daily sin much and indeed deserve only punishment. So, on the other hand, we, too, truly want to forgive heartily and to do good gladly to those who sin against us.
Think! How do we balance pardoning and holding accountable environmental sins? Will seals forgive us our oil spills? Will ancient redwoods and Amazon rainforests forgive air pollution and deforestation? Will stream life and coral reefs forgive us for mountain top removal and burning coal? Will people of island nations forgive us for the flooding of their homes?
Act! As atonement for our corporate sins, plant a tree, ride a bike or find another way to atone for and mitigate the destruction humans cause. And know that God is eagerly helping you!
Save us from the time of trial. (Lead us not into temptation.)
What is this? It is true that God tempts no one, but we ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may be attacked by them, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.
Think! An average child watches 20,000 commercials on TV each year. This corporate consumer myth of brand identity and purchasing ease and inexpensive happiness is much of what got us into our current ecological crisis. How can you help a child to enjoy life in a natural state?
Act! Don’t forget to get outside yourself! Shut off the TV or computer at some point this week and go for a walk, or sit and enjoy.
And deliver us from evil. (For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.)
What is this? We ask in this prayer, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven may deliver us from all kinds of evil—affecting body or soul, property or reputation—and at last, when our final hour comes, may grant us a blessed end and take us by grace from this valley of tears to himself in heaven.
Think! In Luther’s summary, this perhaps also points to the close of the prayer—and the start—that we are in God’s care forever and ever. Even in this time of trial where we may fear irreversible harm, God is with us. “Yes, it is going to come about just like this!” How does God’s ongoing work for good in this world empower you and give you hope?
Act! Pray for God’s work to save the whole earth. And pray that you also will love what God loves and save what God saves. Yes it shall be so!
The 1st Article, on Creation
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.
What is this? I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.
Think! In the Creed, Luther frames his thoughts as “me” so that I can know how good God is in my life. We can easily also hear that promise for all of creation. Read Job 38-41, where God the Father speaks of delighting in all of God’s children—including those of no use to humans or even seen by humans as dangerous. What are ways God the Father might be working to “preserve” and “protect” other creatures in this world?
Act! Listen as rivers clap their hands (Psalm 98:8) and trees sing for joy (1 Chronicles 16:33) at God’s goodness and steadfast love! Sing with St. Francis in his Canticle of the Sun (ELW Hymn #835, LBW #527), joining with all our sisters and brothers in praise of God.
The 2nd Article, on Redemption
I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father; and he will come to judge the living and the dead.
What is this? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.
Think! Read Romans 8:18-23. What are ways around us where you think the whole creation has been groaning until now because of our sin, waiting for us to live righteously?
Act! Next time in worship at Confession and Forgiveness, confess your complicity in humanity’s greatest sin of catastrophic planet-wide destruction. Then hear the word of forgiveness in Jesus’ name as your vocational call to go and live rightly amid creation, serving Christ by loving others.
The 3rd Article, on Sanctification
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.
What is this? I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.
Think! Read Genesis 1:1-5. The Spirit that moved over the waters is the Spirit who breathes new life into you, making you a new creation. What can you celebrate as resurrection moments in your life and in this world? When has the Spirit enlivened you, inspired you or those around you to live in new ways amid creation?
Act! Watch the wind blow waves across a lake or find some water to blow on with your own breath. This is the source of life, and God says it is good!
The 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods.
What is this? We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.
Think! Read Matthew 5:45. Jesus makes a promise of sun and rain, that this is always around us—good or bad, human or not. How does this promise of needs of life help you love and trust God? What leads you away from the promise, leading you to place trust in other things?
Act! Give thanks for 100 things you encounter in creation today as a way to remember that God is source of everything, working forever to bless us all with what we need to live.
The 2nd Commandment: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.
Think! 2 billion people (1/3 of the planet) are Christian. What a huge difference our prayers could make in this place! Still, we often think “heaven is my home,” as if we don’t have a part of this world. How does that view take God’s name in vain for this life?
Act! Say a prayer, calling on God presence to be with you today. Ask this same thing for five kinds of other creatures around you.
The 3rd Commandment: Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s Word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.
Think! Read Leviticus 25:1-12. Not only humans need sabbath. Why does God want soils also to rest and “all inhabitants” of a place to have the chance to return?
Act! Learn about or visit a place that has been used and had a chance to rest – a vacant lot, a Superfund site (http://www.epa.gov/superfund) or Conservation Reserve Program farmland (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/CRP/)
The 4th Commandment: Honor your father and your mother.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.
Think! It doesn’t just take two parents, or even a village. Our lives are birthed and nurtured by this whole world. How would we treat Earth differently if we really honored her as our Mother?
Act! Water a plant, bow to the soil, or delight in a weather forecast today. Serve, love, and respect the planet!
The 5th Commandment: You shall not murder.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all life’s needs.
Think! Climate change is already causing what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction, greater than what killed the dinosaurs. Why might our destruction of biodiversity—of God’s great variety of creatures, from polar bears and coral reefs to dwarf crocodiles and others we haven’t even discovered—why might that be of concern?
Act! The impacts of burning fossil fuels are also hurting our poorest human neighbors worst. Go to http://www.lwr.org and search “climate” for stories of how Lutheran World Relief is working to help communities around the world mitigate and adapt amid changing weather patterns.
The 6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in words and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.
Think! From the last commandment about not harming a creature, this extends to not harming its closest relationships. We could think of it as a ripple effect through the ecosystem. Many orchids, for example, evolved to be pollinated by a single species of insect or bird. How might our world be different without bees to enable plants to reproduce?
Act! Author Michael Pollan says humans have historically eaten 80,000 species but today products of four (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice) amount to 2/3 of our calories. Spread the love—and the genes! Buy food or plant a garden with something you wouldn’t normally—especially an heirloom variety.
The 7th Commandment: You shall not steal.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.
Think! If all 7.3 billion people of the planet consumed like Americans, we would need the resources of more than four planets to sustain us. Using or abusing in this way, how are we stealing the planet’s resources—and from whom?
Act! Do an online search for “environmental refugees” and learn about how climate change will cause millions of people to be without food, water, or homes.
The 8th Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.
Think! In a harsh climate, it can be hard to speak kindly, with self-righteous tree-huggers versus global warming deniers. What way today can you gently but firmly encourage care for creation?
Act! Become a defender of wildlife and an advocate for justice. Lobby your government officials to speak out against threats and speak up on behalf of creation, from children to polar bears to clean air. Or contact the media and ask that climate change be presented not with skeptics’ perspectives but according to the overwhelming scientific consensus.
The 9th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors our of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and be of service to them in keeping what is theirs.
Think! This one we could take pretty directly. According to the US Census, the average house was 1660 square feet in 1973 and 2519 square feet in 2008, more than 50% bigger. Why have we become accustomed to feeling we need so much and aren’t satisfied without more?
Act! Find ways to make your home simpler and less cluttered. Give something you don’t need to a secondhand store or put it on Craig’s List. Make your home better with an energy audit or Energy Star appliances and Water Sense products when needed.
The 10th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force, or steal away from our neighbors their spouses, household workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and fulfill their responsibilities to our neighbors.
Think! Let’s think of habitats others need to survive: For most of 4 billion years, other creatures didn’t need to compete with us wanting what they’ve got. Now, whether urban sprawl or using resources, we are changing habitats in our world. Agricultural land is drifting toward higher latitudes because of warming. Desertification affects over 2 billion people. A swath of plastics twice the side of Texas floats in the North Pacific Gyre. What is the problem with treating this whole planet as if it is here only for us?
Act! Fight deforestation by using shade-grown coffees (and eco-palms!). Look for the Forest Stewardship Council label for sustainably harvested papers (www.fscus.org/). Plant trees from the Arbor Day Foundation (www.arborday.org/).
What then does God say about all these commandments?
God says the following: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those that reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”
What is this? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore we are to fear his wrath and not disobey these commandments. However, God promises grace and every good thing to all those who keep these commandments. Therefore we are also to love and trust him and gladly act according to his command.
Think! Even if we stopped adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and oceans immediately, today’s CO2 would still be affecting the climate for a hundred years. How does it feel that God would leave us to suffer at least that long, and perhaps irreparably, the devastating consequences of our actions?
Act! Find a way to talk to somebody about how relevant (or how unimportant) you feel your behavior amid creation is for your faith.
We marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with the occasion of Martin Luther writing his 95 Theses. For those of us living with the Reformation heritage, however, another of his writings has likely been more influential in shaping our identity: his Small Catechism of 1528. The occasion for this handbook was that Luther discovered the need to teach the basics of the faith after visiting the evangelical or protestant congregations a decade in to the Reformation.
This exercise takes Luther’s back-to-basics approach, and also sets it in a broader ecological perspective. As a church that is “always reforming,” we know that the good news of God continues to encounter us in our life. Just as the papacy and indulgences (the focus of the 95 Theses) are not our central concern, so we also attend to contemporary threats and current events, recognizing the need in our times for Eco-Reformation.
Here, each piece of Luther’s Small Catechism is followed by a learning question, then by a suggested participatory action. You may use this personally, or print one section each week in your bulletin, or adapt it for confirmation classes. This is only one way to try seeing the entirety of our faith as permeated with creation care.
The Green Bible (Harper Bibles, 2008). New Revised Standard Version that highlights in green print all passages related to nature throughout the Bible. Wonderful for personal devotion. Excellent introductory articles on Bible and Ecology by N.T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, Matthew Sleeth, Pope John Paul II, and Wendell Berry.
Green Bible Devotional: A Book of Daily Readings (Harper Collins, 2009) A book of sixty daily readings, each of which is based on a “green-letter” passage in the Bible. Meditations and prayers follow the themes of water, air, land use, animal protection, human health, and responsible stewardship.
Stewardship of Creation: 30 Days with Nature (Prepared by students at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago) With daily Bible passages and reflections for personal use. Download, copy, and fold as a booklet to be distributed to congregations as shared devotional material.
Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer with God’s Creation Edited by Sam Hamilton-Poore (Upper Room Books, 2008) An excellent collection of scripture passages, hymns, prayers, blessings, and quotations for forty days of devotions for personal use. Good resource also for opening and closing meetings.
Discipleship at home and work: “Love your neighbor”
Personal Covenant with Creation: Plan a worship service in which members can identify the Earth-friendly practices they are willing to commit to at home and work. Use a brief ritual that makes these commitments a stewardship offering. Our online form helps you save paper and participants will be sent a copy of what they pledged. Use the link at our site under Personal Discipleship and those eager to make change can be connected with other members of ELCA churches across the country.
Conduct a workshop on making your home Earth-friendly. Use the material available in the Comprehensive Environmental Guide for Congregations, Their Buildings and Grounds as a guide to inform members about the areas of greening they can do.
Support groups. Excellent for change of habits and accountability for “eco-recovery.” Use Simpler Living, Compassionate Life [www.earthministry.org].
Devotional resources: Recommend creation-care resources to members for personal devotions, like this “Stewardship of Creation: A Thirty Day Discipline.” Ask people to sign up to follow a discipline with a resource for a season of the church year.
A retreat in nature. Take a walk outside the next nice day after worship. Lead a retreat for people to get closer to the natural world. For guidelines, see http://www.letallcreationpraise.org/retreat-on-awe-and-mystery
These ideas are also shared in our congregational self-organizing kit. For more details, visit this page.
Education: “Know your traditions and your world”
Earthbound: Adult education for this six-part video series produced by the ELCA to explore the theological foundations of Earth care and to examples of Lutheran Institutions carrying them out.
“Caring for Creation.” Organize a forum or study group to read and discuss the ELCA Social Statement. Copies available from the ELCA with guide. See the 52 excerpts from this social statement for use for use in the church bulletin each week.
Awakening to God’s Call to Earthkeeping. A timeless four-session, small group study curriculum for adult forums. Or consider using the ELCA Lenten series “Creation Waits with Eager Longing”
Youth. Try the “Know Trash? No Trash!” program designed by Lutherans Restoring Creation, read stories from other Youth Groups, raise funds through a recycling program. More info here.
Children. Kid’s books abound with environmental themes (The Lorax, The Giving Tree, etc) but for integration of scripture try: I Love God’s Green Earth: Devotions for Kids Who Want to Take Care of God’s Creation by Michael and Caroline Carroll (Tyndale House Publishers, 2010). VBS guides from Lutheran Outdoor Ministries are adaptable to any venue – most are free to download!
Other: For example, organize forums with local experts or develop a Bible study.
For more information about Becoming a Caring-for-Creation Congregation, visit this page.
The Environmental Stewardship Team (EST) at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, MN (a congregation of some 6,000 people on a campus of three sizable buildings) was founded nine years ago.
Jim Malkowski, a retired naturalist who started a large nature/environmental center and served 21 years as CEO of two centers, is co-founder of the group and was its chairman until recently. He reports on the work of EST:
“A few of our achievements over the years have been co-sponsoring a wind generator on a co-campus with a high school, converting our 3 buildings to all LED lighting, an annual week-end devoted to a church-wide environmental messaging (called “Caring for Creation Weekend” – “C4C Weekend”) including exhibits, music, literature and a sermon.
“We have met monthly for nine years, formulated on-going 3-Year Planning Projections integrated into the church’s 10-Year Plans, and recently applied a $10,000 grant into a comprehensive recycling/composting program. We are now in our second year working toward solar energy for St. Andrews, conducting walk-through planning estimates from contractors. So, it’s been an active nine years.
“While we have the basic support of pastors’ leadership, we have yet to achieve comprehensive support to declare our church as a “Green Congregation,” a goal we continue to calculatingly pursue, vis-a-vis the Lutherans Restoring Creation Manuals. As the church’s EST, we are on the verge of much more fully integrating our work into the full mainstream of this Church’s worship and outreach. Truly, it is a “Lutherans Restoring Creation” movement.”
The sacraments are occasions to reflect on human relationships with the rest of creation. Different Christian communities recognize different sacraments. We will reflect here on the two most common sacraments: baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The presence of an element of nature and the pronouncement of a word in relation to the offer of the element of nature assure us that the reality of Christ/God will be present in, with, and under the elements and the whole event, so that they are sacramental—capable of bearing the holiness and grace of God into our lives so as to transform us.
We often focus on the symbolic meaning of the elements used in sacraments: water, bread, and wine. But in the context of our concern for the environment, we can focus on the elements themselves.
Notice how the status of grapes and grain and water as vehicles of the divine can in turn serve to give meaning to and to enhance our experience of these tangible realities of life for their own sake. For example, as a Eucharist or “thanksgiving,” Holy Communion can be an opportunity to express gratitude for all the natural order that sustains life at a material (and a spiritual) level, leading us to delight anew in the creation. To see the natural elements of both sacraments—water, grain, and grapes—as vehicles of grace is to realize that the finite can indeed bear of the infinite to us. This in itself elevates the goodness of nature as worthy and capable of being the means by which we establish a relationship with God and by which God establishes a relationship with us.
Baptism. Traditionally, baptism involves water for cleansing and for judgment or it symbolizes death and resurrection. However, what about also exploring the richness of the symbol of water in new ways in light of our contemporary knowledge and experience of water? We now know that water is the primordial context out of which life emerged and evolved to its present state. Why not connect this with the new creation at baptism? If baptism symbolizes a new beginning to life, then we can reflect on the new beginning to humanity that comes by immersing ourselves in water—so that we can, in a sense, re-emerge from water as a renewed humanity or as renewed life in all its manifestations—and in solidarity with all the life forms that led to human evolution.
Or could we not emphasize how vital water is to life—how our bodies are 90% water and we cannot live long without it? In this way, the water of life in baptism reinforces our gratitude for the water upon which we depend for life and health. Or baptism may remind us of how tragic it is to consider being baptized by water that is polluted rather than the pure living water that God created. Such a connection could lead us to see anew our vocation as baptized people to preserve clean water on the Earth. Or by baptism in water, we may acknowledge how much of the whole earth is comprised of water. In this way, the very fact that we are declared a child of God by immersion into nature itself can serve to get us in touch with our em-beddedness in nature as human beings. In all these ways we may re-connect the water of baptism to the water around us in nature.
The Lord’s Supper. The sacrament of Holy Communion is another opportunity to realize how integral is our human em-beddedness in nature. In the Eucharist, we are using natural fruits of Earth as a vehicle for God’s presence: wine from grapes and bread from grain. But it is more than that. Grapes grow from the vine that brings it forth, the ingredients of the soil, the water that nourishes the soil, the beetles that aerate the soil, the sun that shines on the plants, the air that surrounds the plant—and the composition and the combination of these elements is unique to the particular area or region where the grapes are being raised. Add to these factors the wood from the trees used to make the barrels in which the wine was stored and the ingredients employed as fermenting agents. We can reflect in a similar way on the bread used for communion. Some congregations use organically-grown, whole grain bread. Some congregations use bread made of multiple grains originating from several continents. In these ways, the elements of the Eucharist get us in touch with all of nature.
In addition, the Eucharist is connected to all of life in another way. It is a reminder of the death of Jesus, a recollection that all of life is a cycle of living and dying and resurrection. This is not to reduce the particularity of Christ’s death or the efficacy of it for salvation to the processes of nature. Rather, it is simply to recognize that the death of Jesus is an analog to the natural order in which death gives birth to life. The deaths of trees and other plants and the death of animals over the life span of the planet have made the earth into a great store of energy and one great compost heap that is the source of life and energy today.
The Sacramental Presence of God/Christ everywhere. Finally, it is important to observe that the elements of the sacraments are “common” elements of life—elements of food upon which we depend for life—assuring us that if God can be present in and through such common elements as bread and wine, then surely God is present to us everywhere in life. What difference does it make to our view of the daily food we eat and the daily drinks we drink knowing that bread and wine are sacramental? What difference does it make to our experience of water and soil and air, knowing that water is sacramental? The Eucharist is meant not only to lead us to experience the particularity of its symbolic meaning in the communion meal. It also leads us to think differently about all common elements of life—in such a way that our common experiences of them also become sacramental. That is, all elements of nature may convey for us the grace of God, that dearest freshness that lies deep down all things. As Martin Luther wrote, “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.”
When we see all of life as sacramental, it changes our relationship to and our responsibility for creation—concern for pure water, our desire not to waste food, the problems with pesticides on grain and grapes, and a host of other ecological problems to which humans have contributed. We re-dedicate ourselves in worship to stop our actions that degrade nature and to find ways to restore God’s creation.
A Shared Concern
This is a collective obligation,
this is a collective effort
by humanity as a whole,
by all who really care
to preserve and to protect
this precious gift,
this global treasure,
this divine creation,
the vital source which sustains life,
the source which shelters,
nourishes, and nurtures all of us,
to resist, to counteract, to prevent
the greed and the grabbing,
the trampling, the ravaging, the raping,
the polluting, and the trashing,
the subduing, and the smashing,
who are out and about
to plunder and pilfer,
to degrade and destroy,
and to enrich themselves
at the expense
of all forms of life
and the chances of survival
and continued living.
They are in in this
to enrich and aggrandize themselves.
They are in this
for the taking,
and not for the giving.
It is time to stand together.
to become and to remain as
collaborative shields of protection.
It is a deed and a duty
which most urgently needs to be done.
We cannot stand idly by
while this perpetual warring against the planet
by the narcissistically, selfishly, pointlessly palavering,
and incessantly plundering and profiteering plutocrats
and in due course,
to our individual detriment
and our collective cost,
by them would be won.
Gerhard A. Fuerst, 1/26/2016
Gerhard A. Fuerst
(retired secondary & university educator)
701 Academy Street
Kalamazoo, MI 49007-4681
Member of Trinity Lutheran Church
Teaching Environmental Ethics: Feeding “The Good Wolf” by Dr. Leah D. Schade
Take yourself, your class, or your congregation on a journey that explores the intersections between climate change and hunger. These toolkits are designed to be a program-in-a-box or customizable segments of information and activities for use in many congregational or educational settings. [Read More Here]
2016 Churchwide Assembly Passes Memorial To Move Towards A Responsible Energy Future
From minutes of Plenary 8 session – August 13th, which can be found in full here.
To receive with gratitude the memorials of the Saint Paul Area, Metropolitan New York, Northeastern Pennsylvania, Upper Susquehanna and Northwestern Pennsylvania synods related to climate change and fossil fuels;
To urge all ELCA members, congregations and synods to inform and educate themselves about the effects of climate change through the lens of the “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope and Justice” social statement, and to advocate for policies that reduce energy use and our dependence on fossil fuels and encourage development of renewable energy sources as an expression of our commitment to address climate change and caring for God’s creation;
To affirm the action of the 2013 Churchwide Assembly and subsequent action of the Church Council in 2014 related to the development of revised or additional investment screens on fossil fuels, and to support and commend ELCA members, congregations, synods, the churchwide organization, and related institutions and agencies such as ELCA Endowment Fund and Portico Benefit Services for their leadership efforts to invest in companies that are taking steps toward a sustainable environment;
To affirm Portico’s balanced approach to supporting this church’s principles and directives as stated in the social statements — including the commitment to help transition to an economy less dependent on fossil fuels.
That approach includes has included:
1. shareholder advocacy (filing and supporting resolutions on environmental issues, including 150 resolutions in 2015),
2. focused investment screening, which has identified 113 companies screened for environmental reasons, and
3. ramping up positive social investments, such as investments in companies that develop solar, wind and water power generation systems, repurposing waste products and reducing toxic emissions;
To call upon Portico to evaluate the viability of an optional fossil -free fund for retirement plan participants; and To call upon the ELCA to heed the call of the Lutheran World Federation Council in 2015 to member churches “not to invest in fossil fuels and to support energy efficiency and renewable energy companies, and to encourage their institutions and individual members to do likewise”; and
As part of this church’s response to the Lutheran World Federation’s call, to request that the ELCA churchwide organization review the ELCA’s applicable social teachings and Corporate Social Responsibility policies and procedures, with the goal of not investing in, and removing the largest fossil fuel companies as identified by Carbon Tracker, and investing in corporations which are taking positive steps toward a sustainable environment.
An Inconvenient Truth: The Planetary Emergence of Global Warming and What We Can Do About It by Al Gore Emmaus, PA: Rodale, 2008).
An Inconvenient Truth—Gore’s groundbreaking, battle cry of a follow-up to the bestselling Earth in the Balance—is being published to tie in with a documentary film of the same name. Both the book and film were inspired by a series of multimedia presentations on global warming that Gore created and delivers to groups around the world. With this book, Gore, who is one of our environmental heroes—and a leading expert—brings together leading-edge research from top scientists around the world; photographs, charts, and other illustrations; and personal anecdotes and observations to document the fast pace and wide scope of global warming
Climate Change Begins at Home: Life on the Two-Way Street of Global Warming by David Reay (New York: MacMillan, 2005).
Packed with provocative case studies, calculations and lifestyle comparisons, this entertaining and authoritative book makes the complexities of climatology understandable and challenges readers to rethink their notions of ‘doing their bit’. The paperback edition features a new preface from Mark Lynas, author of High Tide: News From a Warming World