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Preaching On Creation: Sunday October 30 – November 5 in Year A (Ormseth)

Called To Be No Less Than Servants of Creation. Dennis Ormseth reflects on servant leadership.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 

Readings for Sunday October 30 – November 5, Year A (2011, 2014, 2017, 2020, 2023)

Micah 3:5-12
Psalm 43
I Thessalonians 2:9-13
Matthew 23:1-12

Live a life worthy of the creator.

The scriptures appointed for this Sunday after Pentecost are focused on the theme of authentic leadership. Over against “prophets who lead my people astray” and rulers of the house of Jacob and chiefs of the house of Israel, who abhor justice and pervert all equity” (Micah 3:5, 9), “those who are deceitful and unjust” (Psalm 43:1), and those scribes and Pharisees who “do not practice what they teach,”  Matthew’s Jesus lifts up the images of the “one Father, the one in heaven” and the “one instructor, the Messiah” (Matthew 23:9, 10), to the end that his disciples should be mindful that “the greatest among you will be your servant” and that “all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted” (Matthew 23:11-12). In the second lesson, Paul writes to the congregation at Thessalonica as “brothers and sisters” who will recognize shared burdens and a fatherly concern for a ‘life worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (I Thessalonians 2:9, 12).

 Care for creation practitioners: Practice what you teach!

Those who would lead the Christian community into care of creation do well to heed these counsels. To be credible, leaders on any issue of environmental concern must “practice what they teach” with a seriousness that goes beyond mere show. The burden of behavioral change necessary to restore creation is indeed heavy. Sharing that burden equitably in relationship to one’s responsibility is a complicated challenge; it can probably be met only by those who are willing to forego their own claims for equity and set an example by strict adherence to principle. Especially those who draw on special authority to instruct us regarding environmental damage (climate change scientists, for example) will find that their effectiveness is proportional to their ability to demonstrate their own serious commitment to real behavioral change.

The servant model of leadership.

The most significant element in these readings, however, is the way in which Jesus again lifts up the model of the servant. Jesus’ criticism of the leaders serves to underscore the practical importance of this model: their way is the exact opposite of how a genuine servant would lead. We recognize the model as his own: we confess him to be the Lord, the Servant of Creation (see our comments on Passion Sunday). What particularly interests us here is the way in which the model serves to bridge the way leaders conduct themselves in relationship to their community, with the way Christians, following the model of Jesus, might understand the relationship of humans to creation. The servant model of leadership reinforces the servant model of human care of creation in a manner that other models do not do.

Steward as Model?

In his discussion of three such models, those of steward, citizen, and servant, Norman Wirzba points out that “at least in the popular imagination,” the model of the steward “maintains the notion that human beings are in control, and so stewardship stand in stark contrast to other environmental approaches that stress a more egalitarian view’ (Wirzba, The Paradise of God, p. 130). “Though it serves well as a titular designation, its programmatic neutrality with respect to means and ends . . . makes it susceptible to misuse and distortion” (Ibid., p.132). The way that the model functions in human community, in short, does not work well as an image for our relationship with nature.

Citizen as Model?

Alternatively, Wirzba suggests, the model of humans as citizens in nature serves to emphasize that “we are through our bodies necessarily and beneficially embedded in a historical and biological context that, while making our individual lives possible, is nonetheless greater than us.” This model is well suited for illuminating our pursuit of self-interest in nature’s arena of conflicting and competing interests, and thus points to our need to expand our range of interest to the “health of the whole” as “citizens entwined together in a common fate” who “harm ourselves and each other if we think and act too much on the assumption of our individuality.” On the other hand, the model so closely identifies human identity and ecological context as to ignore moral and spiritual capacities unique to humans that are needed for the ”transformation that will bring our hearts and minds into alignment with the divine intention for creation” (Ibid., 134-35.)

Servant as Model—in the Image of God

What is needed, Wirzba argues, is a model that “takes seriously the imago Dei and that acknowledges our ecological interdependence, an image that recognizes human uniqueness without turning it into despotic exploitation.” The model of servant of creation meets this need. The model of servant,

“…which itself draws on many human responsibilities, can help us as a focal image that animates and is at work in the various tasks we perform. Servanthood, in other words, permeates the many roles of the religious follower, often by informing the specific practices associated with religious life: prayer, worship, and work each require, at some point, exemplification in a life of service. Moreover, to speak of servants, rather than stewards or citizens, of creation is to highlight the counter-cultural nature of the task before us. Servanthood, unlike major emphases in current cultural life, shifts the orientation of our action away from ourselves to the well-being of others, to the work of ‘making room’ for others to be, and finally to the praise of the creator. It takes our minds off the current obsession with the consumption of creation and redirects it to the work of enabling the continuity of creation. Servanthood, in short, introduces us to the long, patient labor of fitting ourselves within God’s creative work.” (Ibid., p. 135-36. Wirzba develops this theme more fully in his The Paradise of God, “On Being Servants of Creation,” pp. 136 – 145.)

And, we would add, it has the obvious advantage of authorization by the Servant of Creation, as in our Gospel reading for this Sunday!

Live a life worthy of the creator.

Care for creation practitioners: Practice what you teach!

The servant model of leadership.

Steward as Model?

Citizen as Model?

Servant as Model—in the Image of God

Originally written by Dennis Ormseth in 2011.
dennisormseth@gmail.com

Rev. Dr. H. Paul Santmire Publishes New Book Dedicated to Lutherans Restoring Creation and it’s Founder, David Rhoads

The Rev. Dr. H. Paul Santmire, Lutherans Restoring Creation (LRC) Advisory Board member, has published a new book dedicated to LRC and to its Founder, David Rhoads, Celebrating Nature by Faith: Studies in Reformation Theology in an Era of Global Emergency (Cascade). Along the way, Santmire credits LRC and Rhoads, in particular, with helping to inspire and to shape what he considers to be the substantive and highly influential ecojustice ministries of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Santmire, who helped to write the ELCA 1993 Social Statement, “Caring for Creation,” has been a leader in the field of ecological theology and ethics since he published his first book in 1970, Brother Earth: Nature, God, and Ecology in a Time of Crisis (Thomas Nelson). In this volume he proposes a fresh construct for the Christian’s life with nature, partnership, rather than stewardship. He offers a comprehensive study of Martin Luther’s rich theology of nature and a review of the contributions of the eminent American Lutheran theologian of nature, Joseph Sittler, along with discussions of works by other major Lutheran ecological thinkers of the last century. The book concludes with an autobiographical chapter tracing Santmire’s more than fifty years of engagement with the theology of nature and ecojustice issues.

In her endorsement of this book, retired ELCA Montana Synod Bishop, Jessica Crist, writes, in part: “Celebrating Nature by Faith is Paul Santmire’s urgent plea to rethink Christianity’s approach to nature…. With new insights into Bible and theology, Santmire stands out as both scholar and pastor, with a lifetime of passion for nature, faith, and justice. This is an important read for people of faith concerned about the future of the planet.”

How Do We Truly Commit to the Earth Charter?

During the 2019 Churchwide Assembly the ELCA voted to officially sign onto the principals of the Earth CharterFor a history on that process read here (click).

Now what? How do we all make sure we live this out? 

Thanks to the focus of the Delaware-Maryland Creation Care Ministry group who is acting as shepherd for the larger ELCA Sustainability Table on this facet of our work together.

See most recent working group notes here (from May 2020) and consider how your synod (or just your congregation) may follow their lead: 

As part of the Sustainability/Environment Table workgroup to implement the Earth Charter, the Delaware-Maryland Synod Creation Care Ministry decided to focus on principles 7.a. and 7.b. under II. Ecological integrity.

7. Adopt patterns of production, consumption, and reproduction that safeguard Earth’s regenerative capacities, human rights, and community well-being.

a. Reduce, reuse, and recycle the materials used in production and consumption systems, and ensure that residual waste can be assimilated by ecological systems.

b. Act with restraint and efficiency when using energy, and rely increasingly on renewable energy sources such as solar and wind.

These were recommended because we believe these goals can be embraced and achieved by our congregations and because energy efficiency and adoption of renewable energy sources is critical to address our climate crisis.

As such, we developed an Eco-Resolution (see here) that was to be presented during this year’s Delaware-Maryland Synod Assembly in May 2020.  Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, our assembly was cancelled, however we continue to share our message via digital means including videos we have produced.

Our Synod Council will vote on whether to pass the resolution and Larry Ryan produced a video to explain our objectives:  YouTube link

  1. Awareness of the ELCA’s longstanding support of Creation Care and specifically the 1993 ELCA Social Statement on the Environment.

2. Awareness of the Earth Charter that was endorsed during Churchwide Assembly in 2019.

3.  Implementation of portions of the Earth Charter working in cooperation with the ELCA Sustainability/Environment Table.

4. Engaging with congregations to help them be better stewards of creation as defined in our project “New Hope for Creation” that received funding from our Synod Connectedness Team.

In addition to our video on the Eco-Resolution, we asked Delaware-Maryland Synod Bishop Bill Gohl to produce a video that explains the Earth Charter at a high level : CLICK HERE

And as part of our outreach to congregations with our New Hope for Creation project, Charlie Bailey produced a video (click here) for his congregation that invites them to become better stewards of creation by becoming a covenant congregation, modeled after LRC’s Covenant for Congregation.

The Delaware-Maryland Synod Creation Care Ministry would be happy to engage with other Synods in implementing the Earth Charter and other creation care work.

Inspirations and gratitude: a Thank You Card for God’s Good Earth

John 15:5 ” I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.”
Isaiah 55:12 For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
St. Peter's Lutheran in Marble Falls, Texas
For Oliver, my furry companion

Atonement Lutheran Church - Overland Park, KS

Luther Springs, Camp Shalom, and Camp Lutherlyn
My farming family and my beautiful surroundings in Austin, TX give me an appreciation for God's Creation.
Matthew 6:26-29 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to your life’s span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.”

In honor of Deacon Laura Heller, Chair of the Delaware/Maryland Synod Creation Care Team

from Brad Schlegel
My beautiful, green, community, abundant with wildlife
1 John 4:7-8 Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love.
In honor of the High Peaks region of the White Mountain National Park, N. Conway, New Hampshire

From Lawrence Ryan

Psalm 65:5-7 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas. By your strength you established the mountains; you are girded with might.
Psalm 65:5 By awesome deeds you answer us with deliverance, O God of our salvation; you are the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas.

In honor of the Redwoods of John Muir Woods

Heaven is under our feet and over our heads...always.

For those who advocate & steward well for the Earth!

In honor of Kris McDowell

With love for the North Shore of Minnesota!

Psalm 104:14 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.

Thanks to the people of Creation Keepers Ministry at St. Andrew’s Lutheran, Columbia, MO

In Thanks for Holden Village
Psalm 1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

David Rhoads!
Your stories, your wisdom, your dedication, your friendship.

In honor of My Father, Christian Kilgus
North Rim Grand Canyon and
Big Bend National Parks

For my Grandchildren

In Honor of Pastor Jim Friedrich

In gratitude for our life-giving rivers and lakes

Matthew 6:26-29 “Look at the birds of the air, that they do not sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not worth much more than they? And which of you by being anxious can add a single cubit to your life’s span? And why are you anxious about clothing? Observe how the lilies of the field grow; they do not toil nor do they spin, yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory did not clothe himself like one of these.”

- In honor of Zulu Davidson -
May we treasure all our elder creatures!

In honor of Jane Affonso, co-chair with me of the Southwest CA Synod Green Faith Team.

Psalm 104:14-21 You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth, and wine to gladden the human heart, oil to make the face shine, and bread to strengthen the human heart.

In Honor of Dad & Mike

Phoebe Morad
For all of your dedication, friendship, and hard work. :)!

Psalm 1:3 They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.

Phoebe Morad for her awesome job as Executive Director of Lutherans Restoring Creation!

Thanks to all the passion from the North West Pennsylvania Synod Green Team!

Genesis 1:20-23 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.” So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.” And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

Isaiah 40:12 Who has measured the waters in the hollow of his hand and marked off the heavens with a span, enclosed the dust of the earth in a measure, and weighed the mountains in scales and the hills in a balance?
In honor of
Pastor Dan, Bethlehem Lutheran Church, Fairfax, Va
In thanks to Barbara Rossing & David Rhoads
In Honor of Jeff Schlesinger
Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Port Angeles, WA
In honor of Nathan Brueschiff
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As we recognize 50 years since the first Earth Day in 1970, supporters from across the nation say thanks by giving a donation to Lutherans Restoring Creation and lifting up the people, scripture, places, creatures which remind them of God’s love shown through Creation and our vocation to care for it: