Thanks to Rev. Kris Litman-Koon, as the South Carolina’s Synod Creation Care convener, a group of ELCA members from across the country came together for rejuvenation and inspiration in November 2019 at the Coastal Retreat Center.
Choosing Life – Dennis Ormseth reflects on Moses’ Farewell Speech and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary (originally written by Dennis Ormseth in 2017)
Readings for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A (2017, 2020, 2023)
As we continue to mine the readings of these Sundays of Epiphany for foundations of an “Earth-honoring faith,” the first reading is obviously most relevant. The reading from Deuteronomy is the end of Moses’ farewell speech to the people he led out of Egypt, to Mount Sinai and through the wilderness, to the banks of the Jordan river at the boundary of the land promised to them. He will not enter the land with them, so the speech carries the full burden of his hopes for them as they enter and claim their heritage. The choice they face is a stark one: in Moses’ words, it is between “life and prosperity,” or “death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:15). The choice concerns their relationship to God, but also their relationship to the land. If they “obey the commandments of the Lord . . by loving the Lord your God, walking in his ways, and observing his commandments, decrees and ordinances,” they “shall live and become numerous, and the Lord your God will bless [them] in the land that [they]are entering to possess.” On the other hand, if their “heart turns away and [they] do not hear, but are led astray to bow down to other gods and serve them, [they]shall perish. [They] shall not live long in the land that [they] are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.” Significantly for our search for an “Earth-honoring faith,” which we initiated the Fourth Sunday after Epiphany with Micah’s metaphor of God presenting God’s case against the people in the court of the mountains, Moses here calls both “heaven and earth” as witness to the choice he has set before them. The whole creation is to be aware and observe how the people choose.
For what might these witnesses be watchful? In the chapter previous to our appointed text, Moses foresees what will take place if the people forsake the covenant:
the next generation, your children who rise up after you, as well as the foreigner who comes from a distant country, will see the devastation of that land and the afflictions with which the Lord has afflicted it—all its soil burned out by sulfur and salt, nothing planted, nothing sprouting, unable to support any vegetation, like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, Amah and Zeboiim, which the Lord destroyed in his fierce anger –they and indeed all the nations will wonder, “Why has the Lord done thus to the land? What caused this great display of anger?” (29:22-24).
Moses also foresees an alternative future, however, in which “the Lord your God will restore your fortunes and have compassion on you, gathering you again from all the peoples among whom the Lord your God has scattered you . . Then [they] shall again obey the Lord, observing all his commandments that I am commanding you today, and the Lord your God will make you “abundantly prosperous in all your undertakings, in the fruit of your body, in the fruit of your livestock, and in the fruit of your soil” (30:9).
The contrast is thus sharply drawn: people and environment either thrive or languish together. In accordance with Deuteronomic theology, the consequences described here are attributed to the divine wrath as punishment for their idolatry, or divine favor for their obedience. We would rather see a more directly causal relationship between their behavior and the consequence. As Terry Fretheim explains, “The law is given because God is concerned about the best possible life for all of God’s creatures.” The intent of the law is to serve life, in accordance with God’s overriding interest that the creation as a whole should be served well by those who have responsibility for it. There are three aspects to this concern. First, “the law helps order human life so that it is in tune with the creational order intended by God.” Secondly, “because life in creation is not free from all threats, law is given for the sake of both the preservation of God’s creative work and the provision of the most welcoming context possible for ever new creational developments”. The law calls for “basic human respect for the earth” because “’the earth is the Lord’s’ (Ps 24:1) and the animals and land belong to God.” And thirdly, “law is given to serve the proper development of God’s good but not perfect creation.” There are “creative capacities built into the order of things and the charges given its creatures. . . God’s creation is also understood to be a work in progress.” Thus the law reveals God’s will for the creation God loves, and it is the God-given vocation of God’s image-bearing animal creature, the human being, to love the creation as God does, with an eye to its future perfection, not only its past integrity and present condition. Failure to obey the law thus carries with it the destructive consequences of what might be deemed opposition to God’s creative love. (See his discussion of ‘Creation and Law,” in God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005, pp. 133-56).
The choice Moses has placed before the people, we might therefore observe, is an affair of the heart, both God’s heart and the human heart. The decisive issue, as the text says, is whether or not the people “love the Lord their God, walk in his ways, and observe his commandments, decrees, and ordinances” — the choice of life — or turn their hearts away – the choice of death: love God and so be sustained in their life in the land for generation upon generation, or refuse to acknowledge God as giver of the gift of the land and the law by which they shall live in it, and so perish from the land as the land itself dies beneath them. So choose, says Moses. “Choose life so that you and your descendants may live, loving the Lord your God, obeying him, and holding fast to him, for that means life to you and length of days, so that you may live in the land that the Lord swore to give to your ancestors, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob (30:19-20).”
We are familiar with a similar choice today, albeit one framed in much more secular terms. Our relationship with the land in America is defined for our culture mainly in terms of the rights and freedom to take and dispose of it according to the contracts we have struck regarding possession of it, versus a deeper relationship with the land that is part of an older agrarian ethos that regards the land as living habitat for ourselves and the other non-human creatures with whom we share it. For the one, the land has values to be exploited for our commerce; these values are assigned values, determined by those who have control over it. For the other, the land is valuable in and of itself, a fund of value which can be drawn upon to sustain the life of the animal communities that are dependent upon it, as part of what makes it valuable, but which really do belong to the land itself. For the one, the concern is to protect those rights of possession, and to preserve the self-interest of its owner; for the other, laws are sought that set out general principles developed within the interdependent community on how to safeguard and conserve the land’s inherent value. The one relationship is in fact predominantly a matter of self-interest or self-love on the part of the people who own it; the other is a “love affair:” a love of that which is other than oneself. For the one, loss of value in the land due to ecological degradation is at best a loss of wealth or potential wealth to the owner. For the other, loss of value is destruction of some or all of life’s generative possibilities.
Aldo Leopold, a founder of the modern discipline of ecology, is well known for his formulation of a “land ethic” which acknowledges the inherent value in land: “A thing is right”, he holds, “when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability and beauty of the biotic community. It is wrong when it tends otherwise” (From his Sand County Almanac). Adherence to this ethical principle as a guide through the complex and difficult decisions our society faces might be one way of responding today to Moses’ challenge to “choose life.” It is a principle, we contend, that is genuinely “Earth-honoring.” The choice of life, in this sense, leads to a way of living that exhibits consonance with the ecological and evolutionary relationships inherent in nature. But attending to those relationships is not simply a matter of following scientific rationality. As Leopold himself said, “It is inconceivable to me that an ethical relation to land can exist without love, respect and admiration for land, and a high regard for its value.” It is for him, too, fundamentally an affair of the heart. (See Norman Wirzba’s The Paradise of God, pp. 100-111 for the discussion that underlies this comment.)
When Moses finished his address to the people, we read in the closing chapter (34) of Deuteronomy, God led Moses from the plains of Moab, up another mountain to show him all the land promised Abraham’s descendents, and there Moses died. God had let him see the land with his eyes, but said: “you shall not cross over there.” Thus did Mount Nebo become the resting place of the prophet whom “the Lord knew face to face,” the like of which has “never since arisen in Israel” (34:10). Never, that is, until Jesus, according to Matthew, who was baptized at the Jordan, and coming away from the river, “went throughout Galilee” and, followed by great crowds from “Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea, and from beyond the Jordan,” went up the mountain with his disciples, where he sat down and taught them (Matthew 4:25 – 5:1). Jesus has accordingly entered deeply into the land, and now from a new mountain, within the land, he returns to the law and commandments of Moses, as the section of his Sermon on the Mount assigned for last Sunday made clear: as he said, “whoever does [the commandments] and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven (5:20).” And indeed, far from abolishing Moses’ teaching, in the verses we read this Sunday, he lifts up selected provisions of that teaching to “radicalize” them, in Robert Smith’s term. Not only murder, for example, but anger, insult , and disparagement” are condemned. Not adultery only, but lust. Not only false oaths, but any oaths at all, “either by heaven, for it is the throne of God, or by the earth, for it is his footstool, or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the great King” (5:21-37). His teaching at this point calls us, as Smith puts it, to “look into the depths of the human heart.” At the same time, however, he “shares with us his vision of new human community.” (New Proclamation Series A, 1998-1999, p. 158.)
The character of that community has been sketched out in the previous beatitudes. As we have seen in our discussion of earlier sections of the Sermon, he calls for a disposition of meekness (the meek give place to others in the community of life); he creates a thirst and hunger for righteousness (the purpose of his mission is the fulfillment of all righteousness); he promises mercy for the merciful. And to the “pure in heart” (those who render inwardly held conviction of God’s love visible in outward service to the cause of God’s love for the creation) he has promised nothing short of the vision of God. But in the depths of the human heart vigorous forces of opposition fight against these provisions. Refusal to give place to others, which leads even to murder, the absolute disrespect for life, bursts out of the deep dispositions of anger, hate, or disparagement of the other. Lust manifests itself in the drive to possess and dominate the other, as in the adulterous exploitation of women. Deception of the other by calling on either heaven, or earth, or Jerusalem destroys the possibility of righting these relationships by making claims to sacred status, earthly power, or political privilege. Jesus’ vision of a new human community is one in which these destructive “habits of the heart” have no place. Smith describes this community in a way that must give us pause at this point in American political life: it is a “wondrous world where personal and corporate transactions no longer require batteries of lawyers and reams of documentation, where such safeguards are no longer necessary, where deceit and half-truths and downright lies are unknown, where our speech is simple, direct, and completely honest (5:33-37)” (Smith, p. 159).
The relationships discussed here are obviously social and interpersonal. Is any of this understanding relevant to relationships with non-human others of God creatures? Choose life, pleaded Moses, and the governing principle here is clearly the loving service of the life of the other. Domination of every form, physical, sexual, verbal, has been displaced, as next Sunday’s gospel makes explicit, by genuine love for the “other,” even the one who is “the enemy” (5:43-44). All actions are understood to involve love of the other, as love of relationships that God loves. Such love of the other moves, not easily but faithfully, in the face of earth’s destruction, from the human community to that of the whole creation. Thus the life of the community becomes a demonstration project of the power of God’s love lived out in community relationships, including our relationships with our habitat, the earth. The reading from 1 Corinthians illustrates the point. The Apostle Paul’s challenge to the conflicted parties dividing the congregation in Corinth strikingly employs the metaphor of one who plants and one who waters, to characterize a relationship of interdependence between participants in the community: “So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. The one who plants and the one who waters have a common purpose, and each will receive wages according to the labor of each. For we are God’s servants, working together; you are God’s field, God’s building” (I Corinthians 3:1-9). What is said here of the congregation, could, and should, be said with reference to our relationship to of all God’s creation: we are God’s servants, working together, in God’s original field, God’s original “building.”
We Are Home. – Tom Mundahl reflects on the community of creation.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary
(originally written by Tom Mundahl in 2014)
Readings for the Second Sunday in Epiphany, Year A (2014, 2017, 2020, 2023)
1 Corinthians 1:1-9
As we considered the prologue to John’s Gospel in our comments for Christmas 2, it was suggested that its communal nature not be forgotten. The evangelist makes it clear that this new divine venture is profoundly social: “the Word became flesh and lived among us;” “we have seen his glory” (John 1:14). We claimed that because the Word became flesh, that Word is capable of continuing the process of creation, in part, by forming a new community of faith.
The assigned reading from John not only continues the baptismal theme, it describes the beginnings of this new community. The very newness of this movement is made embarrassingly clear by the response of two of John the Baptist’s disciples. After hearing John testify to the significance of Jesus for the second time in as many days, these disciples take their teacher at his word “and followed Jesus” (John 1:37). When Jesus saw them following, he uttered his first direct speech in this Gospel: “What are you looking for?” (John 1:38).
Just as Jesus’ first words in Matthew revealed the obedience which shapes that evangelist’s understanding of new community, so this short phrase uncovers an important theme in John’s Gospel. The simple question, “What are you seeking?” underlines the basic need of humankind to turn to God. That is, human beings need to “dwell” or “abide” with God in order to escape the terrors of insecurity, always looking for something or someone that is trustworthy (Raymond Brown, John, I-XII, New York: Doubleday, 1966, p. 78). If humans constantly seek a community to belong to, a secure home, a “nest,” we may reflect “otherkind” more than we would admit.
And in this reflection, we may conclude one of the most important outcomes of faith is to learn to be at home. This should not surprise us. The author of Colossians describes Jesus this way:
“He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, visible and invisible . . . ” (Colossians 1:15 -16a).
Perhaps, then, to answer the question “What are you seeking, or looking for?” we need to be disarmingly honest and respond: “We are looking for a community to identify with, a community that can be part of making it possible for “all things in heaven and on earth” to be “at home” (see Shannon Jung, We Are Home: A Spirituality of the Environment, New York: Paulist, 1993, pp. 54-69)
But it is only when we are “at home” in God’s creation that we are free and secure enough to open our doors and make our ‘walls’ into windows. This is certainly the strategy of the community described in our reading from Second Isaiah. Even if many of its most important leaders remain in exile, the prophet delivers a startling message. Going home is not enough. The impact of this new word extends beyond traditional borders, from “coastlands” to “peoples far away” (Isaiah 49:1).
This places the prophet squarely in the center of the post-exilic debate between those who would build the walls high to prevent outside cultural influence (Ezra and Nehemiah) and those whose notion of God could not be so limited (Jonah and Ruth). This text makes it clear that Second Isaiah stands with those who would not limit the aspiration of this people only to becoming a “safe” and “pure” religious enclave.
But this is not only the prophet’s view; it is the word of the LORD, a word that “called” this people to servanthood before birth (Isaiah 49:1b). This is no half-cocked, vague internationalism, but divine purpose that has been determined beforehand (that is, before the foundation of Israel and/or the birth of the prophet). Since a sharp distinction between individual and community is alien to Second Isaiah’s thought, we can only conclude that the servant Israel (49:3), or the prophetic word bearer who becomes the “heart of Israel,” bears this task given in much the same language as the prophetic call of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5).
Despite the language of lament with which people-prophet respond to this extraordinary universal charge (49:4), the call stands. Once more we have what amounts to a “messenger formula” directed to the whole people: “And now the LORD says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant . . . . ”It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of the Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:5-6).
This task of being a “light to the nations” is invested in a complaining, rather unreliable people. By going beyond parochial limitations, however, even this bunch “glorifies God” (49:3). And this seems to be, according to Isaiah, the way to build a strong community, by sharing the LORD’s “cause” (mispat) with the nations of the world. (Paul D. Hanson, Isaiah 40-66 (Louisville: John Knox, 1995, p. 129).
This “scandal of universality” is completely understandable, however, when we recall that it “stems from the inseparability of creation and redemption in the thought world of Second Isaiah. Since the compass of God’s redemptive activity is the entire created world and its scope is the restoration of all that exists to wholeness, the nations are included in God’s plan” (Hanson, p. 130). And, of course, so is the whole of creation!
What makes a strong community of faith today? How are God’s people to be “at home” in creation? There are certainly those who would argue that getting ‘dirty hands’ from anything other than what we narrowly construe as “religious activity” is the only safe path. But that certainly is not the direction these Epiphany texts send us. This is not the way to reflect light for the world.
A local congregation I know well works very hard on caring for one another within the context of responsible worship and fine music. But hearing God’s word and sharing the meal in weekly assembly has strengthened this community to open its doors. Not only has it welcomed everyone regardless of background, race, or sexual orientation, it has given its land over to 24 community gardens, a restored prairie, and maintaining an urban micro-forest. This has created new friends in the neighborhood and helped to restore creation.
But the gifts of this community have not stopped there. Surprising connections have been made with Circle of Empowerment in southwestern Nicaragua, a health and education “ministry” that promotes bottom-up development. Whether it is financial sponsorship of students in the seven-village school, purchasing a new “used” bus to transport these students to school, or building a medical clinic, this has been a crucial part of “building community” in this small congregation. The more that has been given away, the stronger this congregation has become!
Or, the more “at home” with itself a community can be, the freer it is to share. And the freer it is to share, the more “at-homeness” it will experience. Wendell Berry calls this “the cultivation of a sympathetic or affectionate mind” (“Two Minds,” Citizenship Papers, Washington, D.C.: Shoemaker and Hoard, 2003, pp. 90-91). This “mind” differs from the “economic mind” in that “it refuses to reduce reality to the scope of what we think we know; it fears the mistake of carelessness more than it fears error; it seeks to understand things in terms of interdependent wholeness rather than isolated parts; it appreciates that a cultural landscape must grow up in faithful alignment with the natural landscape that sustains and inspires it . . . .”(Berry)
Tom Mundahl, St. Paul, MN email@example.com
The plant giveaway at Luther College is sponsored by the Center for Sustainable Communities and Luther College Wellness. The event is made possible through the hard work of Luther College Facilities staff who cultivate and love these plants.
This event is a great opportunity for students to build their collection of plants, learn more about sustainability and wellness at Luther, and have a chance to connect with Sustainability Educators and Wellness Ambassadors.
Last spring, the Texas Lutheran University chapter of Water To Thrive (W2T) successfully raised $7,922 through its annual benefit dinner and silent auction. The funds will complete TLU’s sixth and seventh wells and raised about $1,500 toward the cost to construct their eighth well in Ethiopia.
Since 2011, W2T and the Center For Servant Leadership (CSL) have raised $35,000 for sustainable wells that provide fresh and clean water to surrounding communities.
“The TLU Water to Thrive chapter’s success throughout the years can mostly be attributed to a strong group of student leaders that are passionate about involving the entire community of Seguin (Texas) in the mission of Water to Thrive,” Morgan Klaser, CSL director, said. “While the wells are impacting communities around the globe from Texas, Seguin businesses, churches, community organizations, and individuals have been inspired by the cause. Access to clean water is a universal human right and the students here have clung to their ability to make a difference about this issue through partnering with Water to Thrive.”
President Katie Morton has been involved with the organization since her sophomore year. She is a junior majoring in molecular biology.
“The most exciting aspect about Water To Thrive has to be the idea of sustainability,” said Morton. “Our organization focuses not only on building wells, but also on how to maintain them and keep them functional within the hands of the community. This is a huge challenge and I’m so glad to be part of something that sees a problem and actually commits to action. My favorite thing about what we do is how each well is marked with a plaque that has TLU’s name on it. It’s so exciting that we are physically able to see what our hard work and donations have gone to.”
Learn more on the TLU website.
The Global Climate Strike (9/20 thru 27) was an opportunity for many people of faith to lift up their voices as witnesses to the critical moral issue of our time and accompany a generation of youth who are calling for the end of “business as usual”. What does that look like? What are all the various expressions of this witness and action? Below are some illustrations and examples – send us what your congregation/circle is doing.
Check out Kim Acker, member at University Lutheran, Palo Alto explaining her reason for taking to the street – Watch clip here prior to their arrest as a result of civil disobedience.
Check out some scenes from Lutherans on the streets:
- Synods and congregations can call for prayers and join others in the streets. For instance: Metro New York Synod and South Central Synod of Wisconsin
- Consider starting a team for an upcoming ecoChallenge (and find another team to compete with!)
- For those of us who are older and want to respectably accompany youth-led initiatives: Download an Adult Ally Toolkit (click here).
- Ever wonder if these things ever make a difference? Interesting article on the impact of non-violent activism: The 3.5% Rule
The kingdom calls for down-to-earth benefits for the entire community.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year C by Dennis Ormseth
Readings for Series C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)
Psalm 66:1–9 (4)
Galatians 6:[1–6] 7–16
Luke 10:1–11, 16–20
This Sunday’s scriptures provide a basis for extending our reflections from the previous Sunday on the concept of the Kingdom of God as an ecologically sustainable Great Economy. Wendell Berry’s translation of the Kingdom as Great Economy, we saw, envisions a realm inclusive of all things, in which everything is in principle “joined both to it and to everything else that is in it,” an order “that is both greater and more intricate than we can know.” We participate in this economy whether we acknowledge it or not, but certain behaviors, especially the competitiveness that is the foundational dynamic of our capitalistic economy, are antithetical to an order that offers “a membership of parts inextricable joined to each other, indebted to each other, receiving significance and worth from each other and from the whole.” Those economies that presume upon this membership or violate it need to expect that “severe penalties” will be exacted; in terms of modern environmental discourse, they are not sustainable and will result, in due course, in ecological disruption and even collapse.
Jesus’ words and action as he turned his face toward Jerusalem embodied a principled refusal to engage in a culture of competition dominant in his time. A church seeking to model an ecologically sustainable economy in the face of our environmental crisis will heed his example by promoting activities that demonstrate ecologically sustainable membership in its neighborhood. Love of neighbor is a major theme of this section of Luke (and the explicit message of next Sunday’s Gospel); as we noted in last week’s comment, quoting Berry, “the good choice in the Great Economy is to see its membership as a neighborhood and oneself as neighbor within it.”
Thus, when Jesus sends the “seventy” to go out into the harvest of the Kingdom in this Sunday’s Gospel, we understand that his followers are thrust into an arena of heightened “competitiveness” that has the potential to explode at any time in violence. They are, as Jesus tells them, “like lambs” sent “into the midst of wolves.” His instruction to “carry no purse, no bag, no sandals,” might signal an obvious display of poverty that would forestall wayside robbery; so also the instruction to “greet no one on the road” would prevent unwanted provocation. On the other hand, the guidance concerning purse, bag, and sandals could signal the intention to create a condition of dependence upon those who welcomed them into their homes; and Jesus’ further instruction to “remain in the same house,” leads us to suggest that these emissaries are to enter into the economy of that village “eating and drinking whatever they provide,” for they are “laborers who deserve to be paid” (10:7). Moreover, they are also to engage in “curing the sick”; and the report of the seventy evokes from Jesus an acknowledgment of their success. We are reminded of the earlier freeing of the Gerasene demoniac from the destructive “spirituality of the people” (the phrase is from Walter Wink; see our comment in this series on the readings for the June 19-25 Sunday after Pentecost). Here even the chief demon, Satan, falls down in defeat.
By virtue of these behaviors, we are given to understand, the hosts might see that “the Kingdom of God has come near.” Their purpose is to embody the “peace” of the Kingdom that is the first word of the guests to their hosts. But this is no merely “spiritual” peace. Especially when read alongside Isaiah 66, we are reminded that as Moses once before chose seventy to provide for Israel’s welfare in the wilderness, so this new prophet “generates a world of blessing where none seemed possible,” as Walter Brueggemann puts it in a comment on our Old Testament lesson. Jesus “is perceived to be doing what Yahweh characteristically does,” transforming “situations of threat and distress into livable circumstances, wherein Israel surprisingly experiences joy and well-being.” The results of the actions of the seventy portend an astonishing transformation of cosmic import, bearing witness “to Yahweh’s capacity to bring life and fruitfulness out of circumstances of chaos and conditions of barrenness” (Walter Brueggeman, Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1997; pp. 204-205). Appropriately, Jesus’ blessing quickly follows: “Blessed are the eyes that see what you see. For I tell you that many prophets and kings desire to see what you see, but did not see it, and to hear what you hear, but did not hear it” (verses 23-24, not included in the assigned reading).
“Make a joyful noise to God, all the earth,” reads the expansive psalm for this Sunday, and the congregation will understand in this interpretation of our readings the grounds on which such all-inclusive praise is warranted. “All the earth worships” Yahweh in response to this narrative, because we have to do here with the God who “turned sea into dry land” to provide not only safety in the Exodus from Egypt, but land, the “spacious place” in which they dwell (Psalm 66: 1, 4, and 12). But let the congregation also be mindful of the possible power of their witness to their faith in this God, in such appropriate demonstrations as they can mount of their vision of the Kingdom that is also a truly “great” and accordingly fully sustainable Economy. As Paul’s letter to the Galatians reminds us, “God is not mocked, for you reap what you sow. If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” Again, the words might suggest preoccupation with the Kingdom of God as heavenly realm; but this is not so. The Apostle’s counsel is for behavior that holds out the possibility of genuine down-to-earth benefit for the entire community of which we are members: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up. So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” With the congregation at Galatia, we are to step out beyond the religious competition to curry God’s favor and enter “a new creation” (6:15), the sustainable harvest of the Great Economy.
For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288
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:
Join all the Earth in a new song to the Lord.
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary—Year C by Dennis Ormseth
Reading for Series C (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)
1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43
Psalm 96:1-9 (3)
The encounter in Capernaum portrayed in the Gospel for this Sunday is a model of communal interaction. The Roman centurion has a desperate need for healing of his beloved but ailing servant, on account of which he is willing to seek the help, not only of the elders in the Jewish community whom he has patronized with support for the building of their synagogue, but also of the itinerant teacher who has newly entered the city. The elders support his plea, commending it as a proper return for the “worthy” centurion’s generosity; as David Tiede notes, “Luke depicts this officer as a genuine friend of Israel” (Luke. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1988; p. 149). Surprisingly, however, the centurion sends additional emissaries, “friends” whose task is to make clear that the centurion did not base his plea on that worthiness. On the contrary, he declares himself as “not worthy” to have Jesus come to him, and proposes instead that Jesus, as a person like himself, “under authority,” need only speak the word and the servant would be made well. Tiede insightfully explains: “The episode now escalates into a story of the ability of someone who deals in authority all the time to discern real authority when he sees it, even if he has only heard about Jesus from afar” (Tiede, p. 150). And just so: Jesus in turn escalates the exchange yet another step, astonishingly praising the centurion for faith the likes of which he has not encountered “even in Israel.”
Can the reader be blamed for being puzzled by the course of this exchange? What, exactly, is “such faith”? Again, Tiede offers a helpful explanation: “The faith of the centurion is a discernment of Jesus’ authority and an implicit trust in it” (Tiede, p. 150). We are moved to ask, then, what precisely is the nature of that authority and why should the centurion, or more to the point, Luke’s readers, including ourselves, place trust in it? Luke’s own answer follows later in the chapter, after a second story of resuscitation: “Fear seized all of them,” he writes, and they glorified God, saying, ‘A great prophet has risen among us!’ and ‘God has looked favorably on his people!’” (8: 16). Clearly, the purpose of the story is to manifest the presence of God in Jesus, a presence which brings healing, to be sure, but not only for the centurion’s servant. Here self-interest, care for others, and “faith” merge in an alliance that transcends barriers of culture and power and promotes the common good of all parties.
What significance might this narrative have for care of creation? Besides confirming the above interpretation, the accompanying readings for this Sunday provide a basis for developing that concern. While scholars point to other interpretive antecedents in the Hebrew scriptures such as the resuscitation performed by Elijah and the healing of Naaman the leper by Elisha, our first reading suggests the relevance of an alternative framework: Solomon’s prayer of dedication in the temple. He prays that the presence of God be accessible in the temple not only to the people of Israel but to “the foreigner” who “comes from a distant land because of [Yahweh’s] name” (1 Kings 8:41-42). As Walter Brueggemann explains, Solomon claims for Yahweh an incomparability that “begins with reference to ‘heaven above or on earth beneath,’ thus taking in all of creation as witnesses to Yahweh’s enormous power,” but which, with his reference “to covenant and steadfast love,” also emphasizes solidarity (Theology of the Old Testament: Testimony, Dispute, Advocacy. Minneapolis, Fortress Press, 1997; p. 142). What Solomon prayed for happens in this Sunday’s Gospel narrative, only not in the temple, nor even in Jerusalem. It happens instead in the presence of Jesus, in the Galilean city of Capernaum, bringing together with the Roman centurion both elders of the people and Jesus’ Jewish followers. Read in the assembly on this Second Sunday after Pentecost, moreover, it is a first enactment in the Season of the Spirit of the power of the resurrected Jesus in the community of faith, which by Jesus’ intent now embraces not only all peoples, but also all creation.
Why else should the congregation join “all the earth” in a “new song to the Lord”?, as the psalm for the day invites (96:1)? And how else shall God’s glory be declared “among the nations, his marvelous works among all the peoples?” (96:3). “Worship the Lord in holy splendor,” the psalmist insists; “tremble before him, all the earth.” And the following verses list out the several members of the community of 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
before the Lord; for he is coming,
for he is coming to judge the earth.
He will judge the world with righteousness,
and the people with his truth (96:11-13, not included in the appointed reading).
The psalm thus clarifies what is at stake in the Capernaum exchange. The declaration of “the glory of Yahweh” in the psalm, Walter Brueggeman explains, “refers to the claim and aura of power, authority, and sovereignty that must be established in struggle, exercised in authority, and conceded either by willing adherents or by defeated resisters” (Brueggemann, p. 283). The purpose of the psalm’s. . . narrative recital and liturgical enactment is to make visible and compelling the rightful claim of Yahweh to glory. The temple where Yahweh abides and from which Yahweh enacts glory (=sovereignty) is a place filled with glory. But even in its cultic aspect, we must not spiritualize excessively, for glory has to do with rightful and acknowledged power. . . .
From this political dimension of glory as the right to wield authority over all rivals, the testimony of Israel takes care to affirm and enhance temple presence as a way in which the presiding power of Yahweh is a constant in Israel (Brueggemann, p. 285; cf. Psalm 29).
A “pivotal and characteristic affirmation” of the liturgy of the Jerusalem temple, reflected in Psalm 96, is to assert and to enact Yahweh’s legitimate governance over the nations and the people of the world (v. 10), and over the “gods of the peoples” (v. 5). This liturgical exclamation asserts the primary claim of this unsolicited testimony; that Yahweh holds sovereign authority over all the nations and that all the nations must come to accept that rule, which is characterized by equity (v. 10), righteousness, and truth (v. 13.) This assertion, critically, is a rejection of any loyalty other nations may give to any other gods and a rejection of any imagined autonomy on the part of any political power. Positively, the assertion promptly brings the nations under the demands and sanctions of Yahweh’s will for justice.
This claim to universal sovereignty, cautions Brueggemann, is “never completely free of socio-economic-political-military interest.” But that does not mean the claim “is reduced to and equated with Israelite interest, for this is, nonetheless, a God who is committed to justice and holiness that are not coterminous with Israel’s political interest. In the process of working out this quandary, moreover, Israel makes important moves beyond its own self-interest” (Brueggemann, p. 493).
The exchange in Capernaum in today’s gospel is an instance of such a move. Acting on the basis of enlightened self-interest, the elders of the community facilitate action that leads to the healing of the centurion’s servant. In so doing, however, they (perhaps unwittingly) subsume that interest under the authority of the God who is sovereign over all nations. This is the authority under which Jesus acts, as was recognized by the centurion in his “unsolicited testimony” to God’s glory manifest in the locality of Capernaum, which brought Jesus’ affirmation of faith. Strikingly, it is also the authority cited by the Apostle Paul , “sent neither by human commission nor from human authorities,” when he wrote to the churches of Galatia, albeit now explicitly naming that authority: “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to set us free from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be the glory forever and ever” (Galatians 1:3-5).
Our challenge is this: how can the congregation that confesses itself to be under that same authority and experiencing such liberation “from the present evil age,” so act within its local context to bring healing not just to individuals, but to the communities in which they live, and ultimately, to the whole earth. If, as Norman Wirzba suggests, the aim of our worship “is to reorient our busy, increasingly frantic, lives around the truth of God’s creative and sustaining presence,” thus “returning . . . ourselves and the creation to the presence of God so that we might enjoy God’s grace,” might not a healing transformation of the community to which the congregation belongs be expected to follow? It is important to stress here that, as in Capernaum, the cooperation that resulted in the healing of the centurion’s servant comes about by way of neither a covert exercise of power nor overt coercion. As Wirzba points out,
. . . the heart of community is expressed in our “mutual serviceableness” to each other. Community is not built up around the fact that all its members share the same vision, as when clubs are formed around political platforms,hobbies, or social causes. In fact, sameness or similarity is not the key factor at all. What matters is that each member be able to serve another and thus help another flourish in ways that it could not if it were alone. Rather than requiring the difference of another to be sacrificed for the sameness of the group, [this] vision encourages the difference of another so that it can be most fully what it is (The Paradise of God: Renewing Religion in an Ecological Age. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003; p. 175. Wirzba is discussing the vision of Thomas Traherne, from his Centuries of Meditations).
What the Christian congregation can bring to the larger community is an awareness that communal life is “the dynamic upbuilding and care for difference that is rooted in the sort of love that nurtures and encourages others to flower into the beautiful beings that God intends. It is the vast interconnection of difference as difference held together by divine love, the mutual serviceableness of one to another” (Wirzba, p. 177).
For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288
The PLU Community Garden is completely run by students with support from PLU staff. The Garden is dedicated to adding local, fresh produce to the Parkland community while providing a resource to experienced gardeners and those just beginning!
The Garden donates a variety of fruits and vegetables to the nearby Trinity Lutheran Food Pantry.
The property is managed by a PLU student group, Diversity Advocates for the Garden. The student leader is supervised by the Coordinator for Sustainability Integration and can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org, for questions, inquiries about service opportunities or to reserve a plot. Contributions are also made by the PLU Garden Club and local volunteers.
“The College is pleased to offer this new partnership with LANTA which will provide free, convenient and environmentally-friendly transportation for our students, faculty and staff,” said Muhlenberg College President John Williams. “This service will make it easier for our students to connect more extensively with the Allentown community as well as the Lehigh Valley more broadly and it will be a great option for our employees to travel to and from work.”
Read more about this story from Muhlenberg College.
California Lutheran University hosted a free clothing swap in conjunction with an art exhibit that examined the harmful effects of fast fashion.
People could drop off lightly used clothes they no longer want and pick up apparel that others had donated. The event tied into “Garment Girl,” an exhibit by Cal Lutheran adjunct art faculty member Jennifer Vanderpool that explored the textile industry and labor activism. The art exhibit highlighted the hidden costs and consequences of clothing production, including the sweatshop conditions in developing nations, the chemicals used to dye fabric, and the volume of water used to grow cotton.
The clothing swap provided people with a way to reduce their clothing footprint by extending the life of discarded items. Participants could bring in as much or as little usable clothing as they wanted, or none at all, and take as much as they wanted.
During the exhibit’s opening run in Vietnam last year, Vanderpool and Hanoi-based artist and fashion designer Phạm Hồng organized an event called “Remake” to extend the life of clothing. They converted the art gallery into a “factory” with sewing machines in imitation of Vietnamese sweatshops. They invited Hanoi garment and apparel industry workers to work with them and visitors to create new garments from scraps and fix damaged clothing.
“Garment Girl” features photographic prints, textiles and videos of Vietnamese refugees in Los Angeles sweatshops and female textile laborers in Hanoi telling their stories. Vanderpool also conducted interviews with scholars and activists in both locations. In one of the videos, Phạm asks people to think about the efforts of workers who designed and manufactured the clothes they wear, the social and environmental impact of the global supply chain, and their responsibility as consumers.
This December, Concordia College entertained audiences with beautiful choral and orchestral music during the annual Concordia Christmas Concert. This year’s concert was themed “The Beauty of the Earth” and featured a number of environmentally focused pieces. Some examples included material from the UN Environmental Sabbath Service, Jean Richie’s song “Now is the Cool of the Day”, and arrangements of two 19th-century hymns–“This is My Father’s World” and “For the Beauty of the Earth”. These portions of the concert, woven together with traditional Christmas hymns such as “Joy to the World” and “For the Beauty of the Earth” drew clear links between the Christmas season and the beauty of our natural world. Through efforts such as these Concordia strives to weave sustainability throughout all aspects of the college experience.
Lutherans Restoring Creation partnered with Presbyterians for Earth Care for their bi-annual conference at Stony Point Retreat Center in NY August 6-9, 2019 where over a hundred earth-keepers gathered. Below are some of the remarkable reflections during our time together processing how to take some of the Bible’s directives to bring us to the frontline. Using the World Cafe Method, participants conversed around the three following verses and considered how the Word could help them (and their faith community) progress from movement to action.
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. ” John 15: 5
“Your word is a lamp for my feet, a light on my path.”
For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.
Romans 12: 4-6
Here are images of our time together at Stony Point Retreat Center:
ELCA churches across the country are working to serve our neighbors and to ensure that how we live does not harm others, including those yet to be born, vulnerable populations, and even life other than human. We have an ELCA Social Statement written over 25 years ago on the topic, but how do we live that out? The compilation of voices above give some examples, but it is clear we need to do more. Lutherans Restoring Creation can help you determine what next steps your congregation can make. Click here for a Step by Step guide to begin work now from your pulpit, pews, and personal life.
There is plenty of information “out there” on how we can make steps to live a life with less of a negative impact on our neighbors and bring the Outside in… but that’s only if you happen to go looking for it. Perhaps adding a few simple pieces of inspiration that can work for your fellow worshipers in the material the read periodically can start new habits and open closed minds. Below are some links that you can copy and paste shared by folks throughout the Lutherans Restoring Creation community. (Please acknowledge source when sharing!)
E – news “blurbs” for Winter 2020:
Lutherans Restoring Creation
Never heard of us? Find out more below!
Lutherans Restoring Creation exists to inform, encourage, and uplift the discipleship practice of caring for the environment throughout the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.This is accomplished by cultivating a network of dedicated stewards of earth and neighbor who proclaim God’s promise of hope and healing for all.
Who We Are
Lutherans Restoring Creation is a grassroots movement of Lutherans, driven by laity, pastors, lay professionals, synodical leadership, and others who hold positions in the ELCA and its institutions. This movement grows out of a long history of Lutheran concern (the 1993 social statement Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice).
Search “Congregations” for more resources at www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org.
Looking for a Lenten Discipline?
Every little thing can make a big difference when it comes to care for creation! If you are looking for ways to conserve energy and be a good steward to our earth, Lutherans Restoring Creation can help! They have developed a whole checklist for energy savings in your home and congregation! Visit www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org to discover what you may need for Personal Discipleship. Maybe each day of Lent, we can take some time to better care for God’s creation!
Lutherans Restoring Creation Devotionals
We are facing a critical time in our world when we need to put extra focus on the environment and God’s creation. If you’d like to focus on care for creation during this season of reflection, you can find great devotional materials on www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org.
Lutherans Restoring Creation Commentaries
Preachers: Are you looking for resources and commentaries about care-for-creation during this season? Lutherans Restoring creation has created a wonderful database of commentaries for the entire lectionary cycle. You can find them all by season and narrative sermons at http://www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org
Care for Creation Congregational Covenant
Interested in taking the next step with Lutherans Restoring Creation in your congregation? Our congregational self-organizing kit — available for download at: LutheransRestoringCreation.org. This is a step-by-step guide to help you function as a creation-care congregation as well as how to access to the resources needed to carry out this program on an ongoing basis. Whether or not you are already active in greening your congregation, this kit will enable you to identify yourself with Lutherans Restoring Creation, provide an overall plan for your efforts, and help you to further your congregational commitment to ecology and justice.
Lutherans Restoring Creation: Going a step further
We care for creation on more than just the individual or congregational level! ELCA members have the opportunity to be public witnesses through the process of submitting, educating fellow members, and eventually passing synod resolutions. Some of these public statements and declarations of change also move along to be a Memorial to be passed by the entire Church-wide body which meets every three years. For details about your local submission requirements contact your synod office. You can see examples of synod resolutions on the Lutherans Restoring Creation website.
What is ELCA Coaching? Click here for a Ministry Description
Interested in upcoming trainings? click here.
What happens when Trained Coaches focus on helping those in Caring for Creation Ministries? All the action plans, resolutions, pledges, etc. that have emerged over years of active concern and deliberation are transformed into active progress by accompanying individuals leading these efforts to ensure goals are realized.
Response after Inaugural Creation Care Coach Training (NV- 2/6/19):
“… My most profound feeling is gratitude. THANK YOU to all of you for not only the training, but the preparation that went into it, your expertise, the vision that you invited me into, the people to whom you connected me, and the coming time of transformation. I could never have imagined what these three days would mean for me…and I am just beginning to realize it. Thank you for your partnership, your inspiration, your wisdom, and the HOPE that you have opened up for me! I carry you all with me today and in the days to come, and I look forward to connecting with you through our continued training.”
– Noni Strand, Kansas City – Central States LRC Mission Table Chair
Introduced in 2019, Caring for Creation Coaching is another area of specialty coaching being offered by the ELCA in collaboration with Lutherans Restoring Creation and ecoAmerica. Using a format similar to what has been successful with Stewardship and Discipleship Level II Coaching, this specialty will focus on developing coaching skills and competencies around five pillars (Personal Discipleship, Education, Building & Grounds, Public Witness & Advocacy) of caring for creation in the congregation and local community. Through a series of seven session, participants will be equipped as coaches to accompany individuals and small groups in achieving their dreams through actions that create change related to caring for creation and climate solutions.
In each session special attention is given to sharpening coaching skills and engaging coaching competencies as outlined by the International Coach Federation (ICF). These will help coaches journey alongside leaders involved in God’s work, both loving and serving the world. (Note: ICF is the leading global organization dedicated to advancing the coaching profession by setting high standards, providing independent certification and building a worldwide network of trained coaching professionals.).
Augustana College’s Sustainable Working Landscapes Initiative (SWLI) has expanded its program and will partner with the cities of Davenport, Geneseo, Morrison and Rock Island. Augustana students and faculty will be conducting research and creating solutions for real-life challenges facing each city. This is the third year the college has partnered with local communities.
“The partnership is a win-win for all those involved. It creates learning experiences for students while sharing Augustana’s most valuable assets, its students and faculty, with our local communities to help tackle the challenges facing them,” said Dr. Michael Reisner, the director of the Upper Mississippi Studies Center.
Beginning in 2016, the SWLI entered into a two-year partnership with the Scott County Health Department to identify a more preventative approach to solving the lead poisoning health crisis in the county. More than 300 students completed 14 course-based projects spanning 8 areas of study, including accounting, business, economics, geography, public health, psychology and environmental studies.
Learn more about the current projects in Augustana’s SWLI.
About 650 incoming California Lutheran University students worked to help the hills above Ventura recover from the Thomas Fire as part of a partnership with the City of Ventura that began over 10 years ago. The incoming freshmen class removed bottles and other trash exposed by the fire and helped spread mulch around surviving plants in the Ventura Botanical Gardens, Serra Cross Park and other areas of Grant Park. The benefits of mulching include reducing surface erosion, absorbing rainfall, reducing downstream runoff, protecting seed banks, providing favorable moisture and temperature for seed germination and suppression of non-native weeds.
The students participated in “You Got Served” during New Student Orientation. It is the university’s largest service-learning project in terms of student participants. Cal Lutheran’s Community Service Center has worked with the City Volunteer Ventura! office on the annual program since 2008. The partnership allows all the incoming students to work together on a single project that introduces them to Cal Lutheran’s commitment to service and justice and connects them with the local community in a meaningful way. Cal Lutheran President Chris Kimball and other faculty and staff members worked alongside the students.
There are currently eight ELCA schools that seek to promote sustainable living in community by designating on-campus houses.