Tag Archives: Paul Santmire

Sunday September 25 – October 1 in Year A (Santmire)

Things Fall Apart: One Center Holds Paul Santmire reflects on a counter-cultural alternative to a consumer economy.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 

Readings for Sunday September 25 – October 1, Year A (2014, 2017, 2020, 2023)

Ezekiel 18:1-4, 25-32
Psalm 25:1-9
Philippians 2:1-13
Matthew 21:23-32

Some of the most quoted lines of poetry in the modern era are these, from the poem “The Second Coming,” by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939):

Things fall apart; the center cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.

These words have not lost their claim on us, as we hesitate to open the daily paper or turn on the news, for fear that some new political or ecological disaster is upon us. Think of the Cuban missile crisis or the events of 9/11 or the increasing number of disastrous droughts or tsunamis around the world.

Sadly, things may be worse than we realize. Never mind the loud noise of world history, which Yeats seemed to have in mind. We also are faced with a quiet crisis (Stewart Udall), which appears to be even more insidious. Call this the Walmart crisis.  In a sense, Walmart rules the world, from rural America to urban China, and back again. Our lives, or the lives of many of us, and the lives of many around the world are focused on getting more things. Ours is the world of global consumerism.  Consumerism makes the world go ‘round.

The problem is—to cite some innocuous sounding words from the Yeats poem—“Things fall apart.” Consumerism has its costs, and they are indeed costly. Think of the Pacific Ocean.  Discarded things that have fallen apart—garbage, it’s called—form a kind of floating island in the Pacific that’s bigger than the state of Texas.

And worse. The “throw away culture” of global consumerism gets us in the habit of treating the whole earth in throw-away terms. One writer has called this the “creeping commodification of everything.” Unconsciously, if not by conscious choice, we treat people, as well as material things, as commodities. Everything gets discarded.

Consider how many Americans are in the habit of “shopping around” for churches that might better satisfy their needs, discarding along the way relationships they’ve built up in the congregations they’re leaving behind. Some even shop around for a new spouse, discarding one husband or wife for another.

Seeking still higher profits or to cut their losses, corporate executives sometimes discard thousands of employees, with little apparent regard for the impact of such decisions on local communities or families. Coal companies blast away the tops of whole mountains, with little serious regard for the human communities in the valleys or the plant and animal communities on the mountains.

Throw it all away! Both the things and the people! That’s how the system of commodification of everything works. A way of life that concentrates on getting more things is a way of life that falls apart.

The Church of Jesus Christ, when it’s faithful to the Word of God, offers a counter-cultural alternative. Instead of a throw-away culture, the Church serves as a “redemption center.” Instead of “my way or the highway,” the Church is committed to God’s way as the right way.  The Church puts God first, not things. This is the God who wants to give us life. And this God is the center that will hold, even when things are falling apart.

So, according to the prophet Ezekiel, God says to the wayward souls of Ezekiel’s own time: “get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit! Why will you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord GOD. Turn, then, and live” (Ezek 18:31b-32). The Psalmist speaks with the voice of one who has already decided to put God and God’s Word first in his life: “Show me your ways, O Lord, and teach me your paths” (Ps 25:3).

But which God is this, really? Most Americans say they believe in God and things still fall apart.  How is the faith of the Church different? Answer: the God whom the Church celebrates and announces to the world is not the God who blesses the American way of consumerism. This God is invested in a saving culture, not a throw-away culture. Accordingly, when you’re a church-member, you’ve really left the Walmart way behind.

So Paul says to the Philippians: “Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others” (Phil 2:5). And how do we do that? Paul answers: “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus” (Phil 2:5). Then Paul quotes an early Christian hymn, in order to make it absolutely clear who God is. God is the God who empties God-self (kenosis is the Greek word Paul’s thinking of) for the sake of the whole world in Christ: “he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death—even death on a cross” (Phil 2:8). The God whom the Church celebrates and announces to the world is thus not a “god” of getting, but the God of giving, indeed costly self-giving.

And more. According to the Word of God, this self-giving God has a passion for the poor and the lowly. Jesus was notorious in his time, because of the focus of his ministry:  on prostitutes and tax collectors and widows and others who’d been pushed to the edges of society. So, for example, the Gospel of Matthew quotes Jesus as saying to the leading religious authorities of his time: “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the kingdom of God ahead of you” (Mt 21:31b).

If you’re looking for Jesus in our world, then, where should you go? Jesus did spend a good deal of time in or near the Temple.  But for the most part, you’d have found him elsewhere, with the down-and-out people of his own day.

So, then, don’t stop at Walmarts. Drive by Nieman Marcus, for sure. Continue on into the city. Pass the elegant high-rise condominiums, where the rich and powerful live. Head over to the back streets. See the homeless wandering around. Visit the shelter for abused women and their children. Walk along the river downtown, whose waters are so polluted that fishing is prohibited (notice, though, that some immigrant families still fish there). Go to church some Sunday in the inner city. That’s where you’re most likely to find the Son of God on any given day in our world.

Some wag once proposed that we should think of the local church as “Consumer’s Anonymous.”  You go there to deal with your addiction to things. You know that things fall apart, but you can’t break the habit, just by working at your addiction on your own.

You go to church because you know you need hear stories about the true God, who stands over against the false god, Mammon: the true God who, according to Ezekiel and the Psalmist, wants you to have life, not death. You go to church to hear stories, as Paul tells them, about how this God has given God-self in Christ, on the Cross, for the sake of the whole world. You go to church to reacquaint yourself with who the Son of God really is: the One whom we know from the Gospels, who came to minister to the outcasts, the godforsaken, and all creatures of no account in this world.

And then, during the week, when you feel the urge to go shopping, because you think that that will make you feel really good, you call up a friend from your church, and he or she comes over to talk you out of your consumerism, once again. After you two have finished talking, you decide together to take some food to the food bank downtown and, on the way back, you make plans to attend a rally in your city to protest American inaction on climate change.

Originally written by Paul Santmire in 2014.

For further theological reflections on consumerism, see John F. Hoffmeyer, “Sacramental Theology in a Consumer Society,” Dialog 53:2 (summer 2014), 127-133.

 

Sunday September 18-24 in Year A (Santmire)

In Praise of Generosity Paul Santmire reflects on a kairos moment for Americans.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary 

Readings for Sunday September 18-24, Year A (2014, 2017, 2020, 2023)

Jonah 3:10 – 4:11
Psalm 145:1-8
Philippians 1:21-30
Matthew 20:1-16

In the liberal state of Massachusetts, a woman phoned into a radio talk show to ask that state’s governor a question: “Why do we have to spend our money to take care of somebody else’s children?” She was referring to the governor’s announced intention to provide a temporary, but safe place for some of the thousands of children who had been crossing into the U.S. from Mexico, in order to escape the constant violence of countries like Honduras.

Hers was a representative voice. Many Americans, some card-carrying Christians among them, are likewise distressed by the flood of immigrants crossing into the U.S. from the south.  Thankfully, church leaders of all stripes are standing up to speak in behalf of those children.  Whose voices will carry the day?

This may be a kairos moment for Americans in general and for American Christians in particular.  Kairos is one of the two Greek words for “time.” Kairos means “the right time” or an “urgent time”:  the time for the harvest, for example, or the time for the birth of a baby. In the 1980’s an ecumenical group of Christians in South Africa produced what they called “the Kairos Document,” a biblically based statement calling for the end of apartheid and all its violence. Thanks, in part, to their leadership, the South African people rose to the occasion, with a pervasive and passionate commitment to non-violent resistance. It was the beginning of the ending of the apartheid system.

The exodus of the children from Mexico into the U.S. may well be a kairos moment for our country, likewise, particularly for those who are committed to follow Jesus. All over the earth today, refugees are flooding into neighboring areas, desperately. Think not only of the U.S.-Mexico border, but of places like Syria and Gaza. But those are just today’s headlines.

Forces are also at work around the globe, driven by climate change, that will before too long produce countless millions of “environmental immigrants,” as well, people like those mostly poor families who live in Bangladesh, who will be driven from their ancestral lands by rising ocean waters.

Ours is indeed a kairos moment, not only politically, as in the case of the children’s exodus, but also ecologically, as in the case of threats to the very lives of millions of the poor of the earth in places like Bangladesh. How will Americans, particularly American Christians, respond to this kairos?

We could pout and then go sit in our gated communities or wherever, making sure not to listen to the daily news too much. We could complain the way that caller did to the Governor of Massachusetts. Call that the Jonah strategy. Jonah pouted when God didn’t destroy Nineveh, the way Jonah wanted God to do (Jon 4:1-5). So some Americans pout: Why should we have to pay attention to, not to speak of paying to help, all those political and environmental refugees?

But that’s not the way the God whom we know from the pages of the Bible wants things to be. God cares for all the children of this earth, including those living in alien places like Nineveh. God even cares about the animals of Nineveh! (Jon 4:11). Are we going to pout about the Ninevehs of this world? Maybe even buy a gun or two in order to feel more secure?

St. Paul was faced with this kind of choice. And he was ambivalent about it (Phil 1:22-24). Frankly, he said, he’d rather depart this stressful life and be with Jesus in the kingdom to come, where he could be at home, once and for all, and not have to face up to all the stresses and strains of his ministry:  prison, persecution, ship-wrecks, church members fighting with one another. But, notwithstanding the ambivalence, Paul knew who he was, one who had been called to take up his cross and follow Jesus. (Phil 1:21)

What does “dying with Christ” mean for those of us American Christians who live relatively comfortable, relatively secure and well fed, well cared-for lives? What is our kairos moment saying to us? How will we take to heart the plight of millions of political and environmental refugees today and in the years to come? What sacrifices are we prepared to make? How are we to take up our crosses, in this respect?

Are we ready to sacrifice time and resources so we can rally around our church leaders who are calling our whole society to love and care for the refugees at our borders, particularly the children among them? Are we ready to sacrifice our sometimes anxious sense of security, by welcoming refugees into our own communities and congregations? Are we ready to risk disapproval from our neighbors, by vociferously raising the issues posed by climate change or by passionately speaking out in behalf of those animals suffering the tortures of industrial farming?

But to do that, to be ready even to think about sacrificing ourselves, taking up our crosses, we’ve probably got to deal first with an inner agenda. And that may be the most difficult thing of all.

Many of us have borne the heat and burden of the day. We’ve been working long and hard, like our parents and maybe our grandparents before us (That our grandparents were poor immigrants from Germany or Sweden or Ireland is another matter; Worth thinking about, though). Why should we share our land and our resources and our economy and the fruits of our labors with all these latecomers flooding across our borders? Why should we have to change our way of life so that poor Bangladeshi children won’t be driven from their homes into even deeper poverty and social insecurity by rising waters?

Jesus has another take on these matters.  Those laborers who came to work in the vineyard at the end of the day were paid the same wages as those who had born the heat and burden of the day! (Mt 29:9)  That’s why those who worked all day of course grumbled, (Mt 20:10-11) like the woman talking to the Governor of Massachusetts. But Jesus has a simple answer to such inner discontent on the part of those who’ve worked so hard. God is a generous God! God cares for everybody! So we all are free to do the same!

Are we ready to make that inner change, to take the generosity of God to heart and to go and do likewise?  And to sing along the way, praising the generosity of God?  Singing with the Psalmist:  “The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made” (Ps. 145:8f). Isn’t the time—the Kairos—at hand now, for all of us to sing this song, praising the generosity of God, both in word and in deed?

For more information about “the crisis at the border” and advocacy opportunities in behalf of refugees, see the website of the Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service:  http://lirs.org/bordercrisis/

Originally written by Paul Satmire in 2014.

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany (February 11-17) in Year A (Mundahl)

Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth. Tom Mundahl reflects on our need to trust in God’s creation.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary (originally written by Tom Mundahl in 2014)

Readings for the Sixth Sunday after Epiphany, Year A (2014, 2017, 2020, 2023)

Deuteronomy 30:15-20
Psalm 119:1-8
1 Corinthians 3:1-9
Matthew 5:21-37

Even healthy memories can be buried deeply. It was only yesterday that what surely is a foundation of my creation faith “bubbled up” into consciousness. At every worship service I attended as a child, the pastor would intone: “My help is in the name of the LORD,” and the congregation would respond: “Who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124: 8, “Confession,” Service Book and Hymnal, Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1958, p. 15).

If I missed that important foundational statement, it is easier to see why writers of the Hebrew Bible felt compelled to emphasize in a host of creative ways the centrality of creation and its blessings. More recently, the church has had to break through the superstructure of a theology that has been aggressively anthropocentric, focusing primarily on “God’s mighty acts” and “human authenticity” (cf. Paul Santmire, The Travail of Nature: the Ambiguous Promise of Christian Theology, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1985, ch. 10, pp. 189-218).

This is especially important as we turn to our First Reading, the conclusion of Moses’ “Third Discourse.” Paging through Deuteronomy makes it clear that Brueggemann is right when he reminds us: “And if God has to do with Israel in a special way, as he surely does, he has to do with land as an historical place in a special way. It will no longer do to talk about Yahweh and his people but we must speak about Yahweh and his people and his land” (Walter Brueggemann, The Land, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1977, p. 6).

Deuteronomy is filled with the humming fertility of the gift of land, the gift of creation: “For the LORD your God is bringing you into a good land, a land with flowing streams, with springs and underground waters welling up in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, or vines and fig trees and honey, a land where you may eat bread without scarcity, where you will lack nothing. . . .” (Deuteronomy 8:7-9a). As Westermann argues: “We can no longer hold that God’s activity with his people is to be found only in his ‘mighty acts.’ In addition to these acts, experienced in events, God’s work with his people includes things manifested not in deeds but in processes that are usually regarded as unhistorical—the growth and multiplying of the people and the effects of the forces that preserve their physical life. . . . No concept of history that excludes or ignores God’s activity in the world of nature can adequately reflect what occurs in the Old Testament between God and his people. . . . The activity of God that determines these events is not primarily deliverance but blessing” (Claus Westermann, Blessing, Philadelphia: Fortress, 1978, p. 6).

Most characteristic of Deuteronomy is a series of “blessings and curses.” For example, in Ch. 28, the writer describes the results of harmony with God’s gracious instruction (torah). “Blessed shall you be in the city, and blessed shall you be in the field.  Blessed shall be the fruit of your womb, the fruit of your ground, and the fruit of your livestock, both the increase of your cattle and the issue of your flock. Blessed shall be your basket and your kneading bowl” (Deuteronomy 28:3-5). That these blessings are synergistic—they multiply as they are lived out and received—is suggested by the notion that “these blessings shall come upon you and overtake you, if you obey the LORD your God” (Deuteronomy 28:2).

But living out of harmony with God’s template results in curse, a “force” that carries its own negative synergy, bringing downhill spiral. In fact, the ultimate result of continuing to live lives of self-interested greed and obsession with control is a reversal of the Exodus itself! Should this reach critical levels, Israel will experience all the plagues the Egyptians suffered. (Deuteronomy 28:59-61). They shall be brought back in ships to Egypt “by a route that I promised you would never see again; and there you shall offer yourselves for sale to your enemies as male and female slaves, but there will be no buyer” (Deuteronomy 28:68).

The conclusion of “Moses’ Third Discourse”—our appointed reading—summarizes the two diverging paths God’s people face. “See, I have set before you today life and prosperity, death and adversity” (Deuteronomy 30:15). Even though the choice is clear and available, the Deuteronomist relies on a strong Wisdom tradition (a kind of “sophic hortatory imperative”) to call on everyone, “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” (Deuteronomy 30:19b-20). It is as if the covenant promise pulls the people forward into the power of blessing.

While the language of blessing and curse may seem strange to us, their reality is not. For example, the psychologist, Erik Erikson sees the characteristic developmental challenge defining adulthood as the tension between “generativity”—using one’s gifts to care for the earth and each other—and “stagnation”—living as “one’s own only child” focused on self (cf. Erikson, The Life Cycle Completed, New York: Norton, 1982). These psychological terms certainly remind us strongly of “blessing” and “curse.”

Seen more broadly, the whole panoply of reports describing the environmental crisis contain more than a little suggestion of “curse.” When we read about the need for Charleston, West Virginia, residents to use only bottled water because of a chemical spill, we cannot help thinking of “curse.” The recent spate of fires on freight trains carrying oil from North Dakota’s “Bakken Play” unveils a new kind of inferno-like consequence for our desire to extract oil at any cost. When we consider these consequences, we can understand why Philip Sherrard suggests that we look more closely at the basic technological environment we “swim” in. “There is . . . a price to be paid for fabricating around us a society which is as artificial and mechanized as our own, and this is that we can exist only on condition that we adapt ourselves to it. This is our punishment” (Philip Sherrard, The Eclipse of Man and Nature, West Stockbridge, MA: Lindisfarne, 1987, pp. 70-71).

Confronted with a Corinthian community that is rapidly falling into factionalism, Paul employs a somewhat different dichotomy than blessing and curse—that of “flesh” and “spirit.” This should in no way be taken to devalue that which is created. Rather, Paul uses the term “flesh” to uncover the pretense that some in the community are “spiritual superstars.” What makes Paul confident of his assessment? “For as long as there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not of the flesh and behaving according to human inclinations?” (1 Corinthians 3:3). Being “of the flesh” means living with the self-assertion that becomes more important than God’s gift of unity (Richard B. Hays, First Corinthians, Louisville: John Knox, 1997, p. 48).

But there is a way to “spiritual” unity that is described very concretely. Because the community, in fact, belongs to God (1 Corinthians 3:21-23), the way toward reconciliation is a matter of finding each one’s role within it. Using the familiar image of a garden, Paul writes, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth” (1 Corinthians 3:6-7.  Not only do they now have a “common purpose,” but, in fact, the literal translation of v. 8 is “they are one.” This is simply the end of factionalism.

It is significant that this garden metaphor is used to promote healing imagination. As factional leaders and members begin to think of themselves as “working together” (v. 9– literally, synergoi, the root of “synergy”), they embark in a creation-connected project that is amazingly “synergistic.”  For example, corn kernels produce up to 200 ‘seeds’ apiece. Sunflower seeds multiply by a factor of 50, while lentils only multiply by a factor of 30. Even though gardening here is “only” a metaphor (Hans Conzelmann, First Corinthians, Philadelphia: Fortress Hermeneia, 1975, p. 73), the tremendous “increase” that may occur in growing things together suggests a kind of blessing that provides hope not only for the Corinthian assembly, but also for those called to creation care.

For God’s earth is divided into an almost incomprehensible array of “factions” when it comes to commitment to care for the earth. To adopt a version of Paul’s call to unity, where each person relinquished narrower interests in favor of the health of the whole, would be, at minimum, a kind of “spiritual breakthrough” that could hardly help bringing “blessing” to this earth and all its creatures.

If Corinthians believers were tempted to see themselves as “spiritual superheroes,” this week’s text from the Sermon on the Mount provides an antidote. In this section outlining the relationship between this new creation community and the torah, Jesus demonstrates how the law is fulfilled through finding its intention. At the heart of this section is the realization that both the new community and all of creation are made up of relationships that must be nurtured.

This can be seen in Jesus’ reconsideration of murder (Matthew 5:21-22) If vital relationships are to be maintained, murder must be stopped at its source—anger, insult and slander. Much the same could be said of the “lust” (Matthew 5:28). These are quite clearly both behaviors that betray insecurity that call for a deeper foundation of relationship.

Of course, one might argue that “swearing oaths” moves toward finding a firmer base for safety—the appeal to God to undergird messages. But as Carter reveals: “The practice, intended to guarantee reliable human communication and trustworthy relationships, ironically undermined them through evasive or deceptive uses of oaths and by creation a category of potentially unreliable communication not guaranteed by oaths” (Warren Carter, Matthew and the Margins, Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2000, p. 149)

Even though oath-taking is not as prevalent in current public communication, much the same thing occurs when statements are legitimated by appeals to “scientific ‘fact.’” Here science takes the place of the divine as a source of legitimacy. For example, a series of radio programs in the late 1940’s featured ads for R. J. Reynolds’ Camel cigarettes that claimed, “More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette.” This was allegedly based on a survey of 113,597 physicians!  Journalists did find, however, that those few doctors that were contacted had, the week before, all received complimentary cartons of Camels (Martha N. Gardner, “The Doctors’ Choice is America’s Choice,” American Journal of Public Health, Feb. 2006, p. 223). Of course, much the same misuse of “scientific oaths” has gone on among so-called “experts” casting doubt on the effects of greenhouse gases on climate change.

The solution is “Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’”—a call to simple truth telling that requires profound security, security that often comes from a strong sense of belonging to a community and a basic trust in creation. Perhaps this comes most powerfully in the Sermon on the Mount in Jesus’ teaching about prayer: addressing God as “Our Father” (Matthew 6:9) and asking with confidence for “daily bread” (Matthew 6:11). Not only does this provide the courage “not to worry about tomorrow” (Matthew 6:25-34), but it sends us back to durable worship forms from more than 50 years ago: “Our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).

Tom Mundahl, Saint Paul,MN                                              tmundahl@gmail.com

Third Sunday of Advent (December 15, 2019) in Year A

Expanding the Imagination with Vision: Robert Saler reflects on Isaiah 35.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary
(originally written by Robert Saler in 2013)

Readings for the Third Sunday in Advent, Year A (2013, 2016, 2019, 2022)

Isaiah 35:1-10
Psalm 146:5-10
James 5:7-10
Matthew 11:2-11

The Isaiah text for this week is another Advent reading that offers a unique eschatological perspective—one that might be labeled as a utopia were it not centered in the midst of the ongoing struggle for salvific wholeness experienced by God’s people Israel. The reading contains imagery that is deeply tied to the notion of renewed creation. Much like Isaiah 11’s invocation of the lion lying down with the lamb, here a refreshed and renewed creation is depicted as having its barren and dry places inundated with life-giving water, its habitats kept safe from flesh-eating predators, and (as implied by the language of “everlasting joy”) even the power of death being removed from the creation.

This imagery of creation’s eschatological renewal has been deeply formative in both the Christian and Jewish imagination. Indeed, to the extent that studying early Christian writers is helpful for understanding how the gospel might have impacted those who were hearing it in its early stages, it is striking how often these images recur in patristic writings. As Paul Santmire notes, the church father Irenaeus (130-200) is particularly notable in this regard. As Santmire puts it:

Irenaeus does not assume a dialectic of human salvation and the whole creation, as Origen and many later theologians were to do. He does not envision any kind of pretemporal drama in eternity, where the elect are chosen (thesis); next a scene in time, the creation of the whole world for the sake of providing a place wherein the human creatures or rational spirits already chosen might be saved (antithesis); and then, finally a scene of reconciliation, where the human creatures or rational spirits are enabled to return to God again (synthesis). Rather, Irenaeus begins with the temporal beginning of the creation, as we have seen, and envisions one act of God, one divine economy, aimed at bringing the entire creation of a new status to a final fulfillment through the Word and Spirit” (Santmire, The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology, Fortress 1985).

In his text Against Heresies, Ireaneus picks up on Isaiah’s imagery as he imagines the eschatological fulfillment of creation’s blessedness:

The predicted blessing, therefore, belongs unquestionably to the times of the Kingdom, when the righteous shall bear rule upon rising from the dead, when also the creation, having been renovated and set free, shall fructify with an abundance of all kinds of food, from the dew of heaven, and from the fertility of the earth.

He even envisioned a situation in which predatory animals would no longer have to hunt each other for food, having returned to a state akin to vegetarianism.

Similar imagery is offered by the patristic writer Lactantius (~260-317) in his text Divine Institutes:

Then, there will be taken away from the world those darknesses with which the sky is obscured and blocked from sight, and the moon will receive the brightness of the sun, nor will it be diminished anymore. The sun, however, will become seven times brighter than it now is. The earth, in truth, will disclose its fecundity and will produce the richest crops of its own accord. Mountain rocks will ooze with honey, wines will flow down through the streams, and rivers will overflow with milk. The world itself will rejoice and the nature of all things will be glad, since the dominion and evil and impiety and crime will have been broken and cut off from it. Beasts will not feed on blood during this time nor birds on prey, but all things will be quiet and at rest. Lions and calves will stand together at the manger to feed; the wolf will not steal the sheep; the dog will not hunt; hawks and eagles will not do harm; a child will play with snakes.

What might these ancient images have to do with contemporary preaching during Advent? The twentieth-century French writer Antoine de Saint Exupéry once remarked, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” In a time when so much preaching towards care for creation (as in other important matters) can easily cross the line into mere moral exhortation (or, even worse, scolding), a rich homiletical challenge for today’s preacher—heir to Irenaeus and Lactantius—would be to imagine what sort of vision of fulfilled creation might stir the imaginations of congregations today, and how that vision might inspire creative action towards ecological justice today. Would imagining a world in which coal-burning plants were no more? Where the rich and the poor no longer have to be cast in the roles of ecological enemies? Where species can be appreciated in all their diversity without nagging fears of extinction?

When the preacher engages the Christian eschatological imagination in such fashion, the congregation is left open to surprise as to what actions such an imagination might give rise to, this Advent and beyond. As Jesus himself indicates in the Matthew text for this Sunday, the in-breaking of God’s kingdom into our world produces effects beyond what the world might have imagined previously; so it is that the church, Christ’s body on earth, might exceed all expectations (even its own) for what God’s spirit calls and equips it to do.

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

First Sunday of Advent (December 1, 2019) in Year A (Santmire)

Why bother with Advent?  Paul Santmire reflects on the start of the Advent season and offers a sermon example.

Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary
(originally written by Paul Santmire in 2016)

Readings for the First Sunday in Advent, Year A (2016, 2019, 2022)

Isaiah 2:1-5
Psalm 122
Romans 13:11-14
Matthew 24:36-44

The season of Advent in North America is all-too often swallowed up by the so-called “Christmas spirit.”  Pastors know well the pressures from congregational members to sing Christmas hymns as soon as possible.  Never mind the fact that Christmas decorations already have been up for sale in Home Depot since the end of August.  Why bother with Advent?

Most pastors also know well that the biblical meanings of Christmas only make sense when they’re interpreted in terms of the rich texts of Advent.  Christmas, biblically interpreted, is countercultural.  The countercultural pilgrimage of Advent prepares the way for such understandings.  It’s not enough, in other words, for the people of faith to realize that “Jesus is the reason for the Season” of Christmas.  They need to understand that the biblical Jesus stands over against every human season, both in judgment and in promise.  Advent, rightly preached and enacted, will help the faithful claim that understanding as their own.

Karl Barth was wont to talk about “the strange new world of the Bible.”  What if the presiding pastor were to say, in introducing the themes of Advent:  “You’re not going to ‘get’ our Advent texts, at least not the way you might want to.  I sometimes have trouble understanding them myself.  Listen to them as if they were beamed here from some hitherto totally unknown planet in some strange language.  Advent texts refer to difficult ideas, like ‘the end of the world,’ which some Christians think they know all about, but which in fact are obscure to the point of being unintelligible.  On the other hand, what if the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, is urgently concerned to speak to you through these very texts?”

Isaiah 2:1-5 is a kind of free-floating text, only loosely related to its context.  Likewise for Micah 4:1-3, which is roughly identical with the text from Isaiah.  The words we have in Isaiah appear to reflect a kind of communal affirmation of faith, analogous, in Christian practice, to use of the Apostles Creed.  Why did that prophetic text have that kind of traditional place of honor in the memories and celebrations of the ancient People of God?  Its countercultural witness to a coming world of universal peace seems to be almost too much to believe in a world of constant warfare, with which the ancient People of God were well-acquainted.
Psalm 122 picks up many of the same themes of universal peace, flowing from Jerusalem.  Note the play of words with the name of the city, shalom or “peace.”  In terms of the history of religions, moreover, the city of Jerusalem for the Hebrew mind is a kind of umbilical center of the cosmos, the place where heaven and earth, the Divine and the mundane worlds are joined with unique intensity.

Romans 13:11-14 discloses the eschatological mind-set that permeates the faith of the Apostle Paul, a mindset that is sometimes forgotten as interpreters, especially Lutherans, focus on the Pauline theme of justification by faith (Romans 1:17).  But for Paul, the two are inseparable.  The Pauline vision comprehends the whole history of God with the creation, not just the pro me of justifying faith.
Matthew 24:36-44 may be the single most difficult biblical text to preach on in North America today.  Countless millions – including many members of mainline churches – have read the many popular novels in the Left Behind series, the idea being that the day is at hand when a few believers will be “raptured” up to heaven by God, saving them from the total destruction that God is allegedly about to wreak on the whole world.  For New Testament faith, on the contrary, the heavenly Jerusalem comes down from heaven to earth (Rev. 21:2), leading to a new heavens and a new earth.  Jesus’ language here is figurative throughout, not literal.  It’s intended to shock the hearer into a new way of hearing and understanding (cf. “Keep awake”), akin to his puzzling reference to a camel going through the eye of a needle. (Luke 18:22-25)

Sample Sermon:  Let it Dawn on You Today

Text:  “…It is the hour for you to awake from sleep.  For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed, the night is advanced, the day is at hand.” (Romans 13:11-13)

St. Paul’s words to the early Christian Church at Rome strike me with a certain terror.  Because I’m a night person.
Are you a morning person?  Or are you a night person?  If you’re a morning person, let me tell you what it’s like to be a night person.  It’ll be good for your spiritual health.  If you’re a night person, like me, then I imagine you’ll be glad to empathize with me, every step of the way.

I.
First, and you morning people may find this difficult to believe, it take a lot of energy to wake up.

My wife’s a morning person.  It took her many years into our marriage to realize that it didn’t make any sense for her to say anything of significance to me first thing in the morning.  You know, she pops right up, and starts talking to me about my “honey-do” list.  And I respond obediently, “uh-huh, uh-huh.”  Two hours later she discovers that I don’t have a bird of an idea what she said to me.

Sin is like that.  It takes a lot of spiritual energy to wake up.  So you’re a smoker.  You know that smoking’s a kind of suicidal behavior.  You know that the Lord doesn’t want you to kill yourself.  You’re going to stop sometime, you know.  But it never really dawns on you that now’s the time to wake up.

So you’re a cheater, at times.  Maybe it’s on your exams at school.  Maybe it’s cutting corners at work.  Maybe it’s on your spouse, real or imagined.  Maybe it’s on your income tax, hugely or just in detail here or there.  You fill in the blank.

Mostly you don’t get caught.  But the whole thing troubles you.  What’s more, you know that once you get into the habit of cheating one thing can lead to another.  And that could be catastrophic for you or for others.  If you’re a surgeon, the sleep you cheat on at night could lead you to amputate the wrong leg the next day or to fall asleep at the wheel on a high speed family outing.

Then there’s voting, in particular, and political action, more generally.  If press reports are to be believed, a majority of the U.S. electorate is now disgusted by the tenor and even the substance of our recent elections.  You may well be tempted to throw in the towel of politics, as if nothing political matters any more.  But the truth of the matter is that everything political matters today, perhaps more than ever.  What about the biblical vision of a just peace for all peoples and indeed for the whole creation?!  You heard it again in our readings today.  But if many Christians let themselves go groggy or even fall asleep on the political superhighways of our society, what’s to become of the promise of peace on earth, good will to all?

II.
That’s why we night people need alarms.  Sometimes I set two alarms, one on the bed table, one across the room.  Because I don’t trust myself.  I’m likely to turn off the alarm next to me, roll over, and go back to sleep.  Now as a bona fide night person, I hate those alarm clocks.  But all the more so, I know how much I need them.

Did you ever think that God is setting off dozens of alarms all around you?

Everybody these days is “in” to spirituality.  Go to your local big box book store and you’ll find dozens and dozens of books on spirituality.  So you stand there, like a deer at night staring at the headlights, wondering how you can possibly read enough of those books to be the kind of spiritual person you want to be.

In the meantime, God is setting off alarms all over the place.  Your physician tells you that you’d better quit smoking or you’re going to have a heart attack by the time you’re fifty.  Your teacher at school quietly takes you aside and tells you that moral integrity is more important than straight A’s, so you might consider writing your own papers and not getting them on line.  Your secretary tells you that she’s leaving, because the environment you wink at in your office is so abusive that she can’t take it anymore.  Then your pastor tells you that, notwithstanding all the toxicity of the last election, Jesus calls you to get back into the political struggle in behalf of the poor and the oppressed and indeed the whole Earth, that Jesus wants you to plunge in, not drop out.

Some people wonder where God is in their lives.  If that’s you, you could start by listening to all the alarms that’re going off all around you, every day.  “It is the hour for you to awake from sleep,” says Paul.

III.
But I can assure you.  There is hope, even for bona fide night people like me.

Let me tell you what characteristically happens to me on Sunday mornings.  Both my alarms go off.  During the dark winter mornings that we have in Advent, I stumble around in the twilight to get ready.  I rummage through the paper to see what happened the day before.  I say a quick prayer.  I gulp down some coffee.  And off I go.

Now and again, it happens.  I’m driving along West Market Street heading downtown, in the dawn twilight.  And then I happen to see the first rays of the sun.  On occasion, this is my vision.  At the top of the last hill down into the city, I look across the way and I see the sun coming up, right behind this church!  What a marvelous sight!

Did it ever dawn on you?  Did it ever dawn on you that if you were at the right place, at the right time, you could see that this world of sin and death and disappointment and political toxicity is in fact God’s world, where God’s struggling to overcome all the darkness?  Did it ever dawn on you that this commonplace society of sinners here on Sunday mornings who are struggling to believe in the midst of the darkness of this world:  that here’s a reliable place for you to see the Light of God?

That’s the way it’s been for me all my life.  However much I’ve stumbled around in the darkness, the Light of Christ has already been there for me, beginning with the mysteries and the ministries of the Church of Christ.  That doesn’t mean that the darkness is going to go away.  That means that you have seen the Light, baby.  Actually, in the person of a baby.  But I don’t want to get ahead of myself – because this is Advent, when what I need to be working on first and foremost is waking up, not figuring out how to hold an infant in my arms.

IV.
Let me tell you a story.  Happens to be a true story.

When I first started preaching and teaching about God’s love for the whole creation, not just humans, I felt very much alone.  In those days, back in the early nineteen-sixties, most of the Church’s preachers and teachers had other axes to grind.  Only a very few, like the great Lutheran theologian of nature, Joseph Sittler, even cared about such things.  Meanwhile, a few of us were indeed convinced that God so loved the world that God gave the Beloved, God’s only Son, so that the world might be saved through Him.

Similar developments were unfolding in a number of Christian churches.  By now the spiritual vision of God loving the whole world – every creature! – has taken over the hearts and minds of Christians throughout the world.  Pope Francis’ justly celebrated encyclical Laudato Si’, is the most visible of these developments, but only one among many.

In Lutheran circles, a growing grassroots ecojustice network, Lutherans Restoring Creation, is being used by God to transform Lutheran minds and hearts throughout our church.  A new generation of Lutheran theologians, too, dedicated to Earth ministry and to the poor of the Earth, is now calling on our congregations to participate in a new Eco-Reformation – the title of their recently published theological manifesto, which will hopefully inspire new conversations and new commitments in celebration of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation in 2017.

Once upon a time, when I was working through my days of depressed theological slumber about these theology and ecology matters, I never could have anticipated what has happened in our churches in the current generation.  But now it’s dawned on me!  God has not forsaken his churches!  I just had to wake up and see!  I also had to wait – but that’s another Advent theme for another day.

V.

It’s not easy being a night person, as I say.  Sometime it takes a long time to wake up and see the light!  But I can tell you, on the basis of my own experience, that sometimes, when you do get around to waking up, after you’ve heard the alarms, the experience of the dawning Light can be remarkable, even overwhelming, right in the midst of the darkness of this world of sin and death.

Hear this Word of the Lord, therefore.  Let it dawn on you this day:  “…It is the hour for you to awake from sleep.  For our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed, the night is advanced, the day is at hand.”  Amen.

American Lutherans Engage Ecological Theology

American Lutherans Engage Ecological Theology: The First Chapter, 1962-2012, And Its Legacy1

by Paul Santmire

Ecological theology is a relatively new movement in the world of christian thought and practice and therefore is neither widely understood nor easily defined, even by those who are variously involved in the movement.2  But however one might understand this theological trend, this much we know.  From the outset, particularly in the United States, Lutherans have been deeply involved.  One might even argue that american Lutherans have played a central role in the cultivation of this new field, both at the reflective, theological level and in the wider dimensions of church life, especially by the production of two theologically substantive social teaching statements (1972, 1993) and by the emergence of a host of practical ministries in lutheran circles that have embodied and, in some sense, tested the viability of the theological reflection and the social teaching statements.3

To be sure, as Hegel famously observed, the owl of Minerva does not take to flight until the dusk has come.  Which is to suggest that it is difficult, if not impossible, to identify the meaning of any historical era until its trends have run their course.  It is much too early, I am suggesting, to draw any kind of satisfactory conclusions about where ecological theology as a whole – now a global, ecumenical phenomenon – is going and what its influence might be, much less to assess the significance of american lutheran contributions to the field along the way.  This paper, therefore, must necessarily have a modest scope.

So I will restrict myself to historical impressions, rather than trying to develop any kind of historical argument.  More particularly, I will explore the story of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology as one who has had a hand, here and there, in shaping the first chapter of that engagement, for better or for worse.4  Indeed, as far as I can determine, my 1970 study, Brother Earth: Nature, God, and Ecology in a Time of Crisis, was one of the first books on the american scene in ecological theology and the first book of its kind written by a Lutheran.5  This, of course, makes it all the more difficult for me to see the forest for the trees.  But this is what I think I know.  The first chapter of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology was not written by a committee, nor by any kind of “theological school” comprised of teacher or teachers and disciples.  This chapter was written by a number of often isolated individuals who happened to have shared some theological and contextual assumptions and who were variously moved, some more self-consciously than others, by the challenge of fostering what a number of us thought of from the start as an ecological reformation of christianity.6

I will endeavor, then, to identify some trends in this first chapter in the story of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology, assess the significance of those trends as best I can, and then call attention to some areas that require or even cry out for, further discussion and field-testing, especially in the ranks of those Lutherans, and others, who care about ecological theology and related ethical issues.  I do this with the hope that these musings will then be of some value to those who are already engaged in making contributions to the second chapter of this critically important theological movement in american Lutheranism and in the life of the church more generally.

Do note that this paper is entirely about that first chapter of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology.  This paper has six sections, all of which pertain to this first chapter, in one way or another.  The second chapter of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology begins today, as scholars and practitioners chart their courses toward the future, presupposing their learnings from the first chapter, positive or negative.  This is an essay, in other words, that seeks to describe what was, in order to facilitate and, hopefully, to strengthen the work of those who already are involved, or who would like to be involved, in writing the second chapter of the story I am telling here.

The beginning of the first chapter of the story I have in mind, in terms of historical significance, can be precisely dated.7  In 1961, a then little known american lutheran theologian, Joseph Sittler, stepped to the podium of the World Council of Churches Assembly in New Delhi and delivered an address calling for a christology of nature.  In retrospect that address can only be considered to have been a theological tour de force (so recognized widely today, by Juergen Moltmann, for example), although at the time many members of the then reigning theological guilds appeared to have had little or no awareness of what the import of Sittler’s prophetic presentation actually was and therefore tended to downplay its significance to the point of insignificance or even derision.  Sittler’s address was published a year later, which I will take as our point of departure.8

If 1962 is a clearly fixed point at which to begin these explorations, the end point of the first chapter of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology is much more difficult to identify.  We meet Minerva’s owl once again.  It is not easy to make judgments about the trends in which one is immersed.  With total and perhaps entertaining arbitrariness, therefore, I will simply say this.  The end of the first chapter of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology is provided by the body of writings and practical ecclesial initiatives produced by a cadre of american lutheran theologians and practitioners who, as of 2012, either have died or who are in or very near retirement.  Which gives us fifty years of theological engagement which to survey in the course of these musings, a daunting task in itself.

Autobiographical Reflections: Encountering the Lutheran Mainstream

I begin with some autobiographical reflections, in order to highlight the milieu in which those of us who were interested in an ecological reformation of christianity initially worked and continued to work for some time.  Today there is widespread awareness of the extent, if not the depth, of our global ecojustice crisis.  Today is a time, more particularly, when the christian churches and their leaders around the world – Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant, Evangelical, and ecumenical – have become highly visible advocates of ecojustice and when written works in ecological theology have proliferated virtually to the point of infinity.9

Those who live and work in this context may find it difficult even to imagine the theological situation faced by some of us who first addressed the challenge of an ecological reformation of christianity in the sixties and seventies of the last century.  We knew that something momentous was unfolding in the world around us and we felt called upon to address the then emerging crisis theologically, but most of us also felt very much alone – and without viable theological resources with which to work.

When, for example, in 1963, I first broached the possibility of doing a doctoral dissertation on the theology of nature with my then recently assigned advisor at Harvard Divinity School, Gordon Kaufman, he told me that “theologians are no longer interested in nature.”  I remember those words vividly.  Some years later, to be sure, Kaufman would do an about-face on this issue, and would become a highly vocal champion of the theology of nature.10  But his 1963 comment to me typified the theological assumptions prevalent in those years in seminaries and graduate programs in theology, as well as in the preaching and teaching of the churches at the grass roots, at least according to the anecdotal evidence that I was able to accrue.

The theology we had inherited circa 1963 was self-consciously anthropocentric or, in Karl Barth’s memorable language, “theo-anthropocentric.”  Its chief concern was God and humanity, often to the disinterest in or even to the total abandonment of the wider world of nature.11  With the exception of only a few theological projects, such as Paul Tillich’s12 or Joseph Sittler’s,13 dogmatic or systematic theology at that time was thoroughly theo-anthropocentric.14  Biblical studies, dominated by the self-consciously existential New Testament interpretation of Rudolf Bultmann and his followers, and by the over-against-nature Old Testament hermeneutics of G. Ernest Wright and the Albright school, were also generally theo-anthropocentric.  Christian ethics, whether domesticated in the form of personal, contextual ethics or more publicly responsible in the forms of the ethics of technology or politics, was likewise mainly theo-anthropocentric.

We should not forget that there were profound contextual reasons behind this trend.  It was not simply a matter, as it is sometimes portrayed, of anthropocentric arrogance, predicated perhaps on western imperialistic pretensions.  It was that in significant ways, but it was also an expression of soul-shaking revulsion against the National Socialist ideology in Germany, and the “German Christian” movement in particular.  The Nazis and their theologizing ideologues were, in their own demonic ways, champions of the theology of nature!  Their ideology of Blut und Boden presupposed a heroic, amoral fascination with nature red in tooth and claw and a social darwinian ethos of survival of the fittest.  Not for nothing, then, did Barth sound his resounding Nein to Emil Brunner’s proposal for a very modest, reconfigured “natural theology.”

That kind of theological revulsion against the Blut und Boden ideology as a matter of course also shaped the american theological world  – including, perhaps above all, the hearts and minds of Lutherans – where the story of the Confessing Church and the resistance-theology of Bonhoeffer understandably had come to preoccupy theologians and practitioners.  All this was predicated on the rejection-story of any theology even thematically associated with nature.

For a whole range of reasons, then, the larger world of nature was rarely considered in its own right in what might be called mainstream american theological circles circa 1963.  Nature was viewed mainly as the stage for human history and as the world of resources given to humans by God for the sake of human well-being and human justice.  And things did not quickly change in this respect, certainly not in the teaching in mainstream denominational seminaries and graduate schools of theology, as far as I could determine at the time, notwithstanding the fact that manifestos like Rachel Carlson’s Silent Spring15 in 1962, the ecological critique of christian thought and practice by the historian Lynn White, Jr.16 in 1967, and the first, much hailed Club of Rome Report, The Limits to Growth,17 in 1972 were widely being discussed in the media and in academic circles generally.

The global cultural context had begun to change radically.  No longer was the issue before the church the challenge of nature understood in terms of Blut und Boden.  The issue was fast becoming the desecration and ongoing destruction of nature, our earthly home, primarily by the principalities and powers of western imperial aspirations.  A range of american theologians, however, a number of lutherans among them, were slow to realize that that change was underway.

Fast forward some years now to 1984, to a period when ecology had emerged as a public issue of considerable proportions.  The tenth anniversary of the first Earth Day had been celebrated in 1980.  Ecology had become a public cause celebre.  Juergen Moltmann was giving his 1984-85 Gifford Lectures, God and Creation: An Ecological Theology of Creation.18  Nineteen-eighty-four was also the year when a major, two-volume lutheran summary and synthesis of major christian teachings, Christian Dogmatics, appeared in the U.S.19  Its title suggested that it may well have been intended to provide an american lutheran alternative to Barth’s multi-volumed, reformed Church Dogmatics. Written by a number of the leading lights of american lutheran theology in that era, Carl Braaten, Gerhard Forde, Philip Hefner, Robert Jenson, Hans Schwarz, and Paul Sponheim, that massive 1190 page work was in many ways historically well-informed and systematically coherent, notwithstanding the fact that it had been forged by many hands.

The word “ecology,” however, did not appear in the index of the Christian Dogmatics.  I do not want to make too much of this bland fact (actually, I have noticed that the word ecology does appear in these volumes at least three times).  Nor do I want to exaggerate the fact that Joseph Sittler is referred to only twice and in passing.  Not every theologian of note could find a place in such a comprehensive project.  Further, themes pertaining to the world of nature did emerge here and there in those two volumes, as in Hefner’s exposition of the meaning of creation, Jenson’s description of the beauties of the creation (under the rubric of the works of the Spirit), and Schwarz’s inclusion of nature in his discussion of eschatology.

Still, coming where I had come from autobiographically, as one who had to fight to do a – critical – dissertation on Karl Barth’s theology of nature, as a student of Tillich for six years who had fallen under the spell of his nature-mysticism, as one who had developed what was to become a life-long fascination with the story and the theology of Bonhoeffer, and as one who was excited by Sittler’s 1961 New Delhi address, early on I concluded that that 1984 Christian Dogmatics was deeply indebted to the theo-anthropocentric tradition of theological reflection exemplified by Barth, and had not been fundamentally responsive to the issues raised by Sittler in 1961 and thereafter.  For sure, the Christian Dogmatics was not written, in part or in whole, in order to foment an ecological reformation of Christianity.

Such, apparently, was the shape of mainstream lutheran academic theology during the second half of the last century.  No wonder that lutherans committed to ecological theology in those days had to invest enormous energies even to be heard in official lutheran theological circles.  But numbers of lutheran theologians and practitioners did work energetically and imaginatively in the field of ecological theology during the last fifty years and did leave a legacy, I believe, which is worth reclaiming – critically, to be sure – by those Lutherans and others who now are beginning or even well into their work in this field in the twenty-first century.

The Paradigm-Shift From Theo-anthropocentrism To Theo-cosmocentrism

To take some steps toward identifying the legacy of that first chapter of lutheran engagement with ecological theology, 1962-2012, I now want to invoke a construct that some might find tiresome:  Thomas Kuhn’s highly valuable, in my view, but perhaps overly popularized idea of a paradigm shift.20  Beginning with Sittler’s 1961 address and followed by a range of works over the ensuing fifty years, a number of lutheran theologians and practitioners – call this a minority witness or the lutheran theological sidestream – began to take for granted a theological paradigm shift, sometimes unconsciously, sometimes consciously, from theo-anthropocentrism to theo-cosmocentrism, if I may introduce this neologism here for the sake of clarity.

What was the character of that paradigm shift, from theo-anthropocentrism to theo-cosmocentrism?  I want to identify that shift here, as clearly and as briefly as I can.  For those who thought in terms of the first, the theo-anthropocentric paradigm, the chief objects of theological reflection are God and humanity, with the natural world often identified as the stage God puts in place to make possible God’s history with humanity (Emil Brunner actually proposed this metaphor in so many words).  The accent for this paradigm also tends to be on the divine transcendence of nature, since God and humanity are the primary objects of theological reflection, with the natural world emerging into the picture only in a secondary, often instrumental fashion.  Likewise, the accent tends to be on human transcendence of the world of nature, for the same reason.

The ethos that typically accompanies this paradigm ranges from total neglect of or even scorn for the natural world (fostering theoretical or practical expressions of gnostic traditions) to emphatic and energetic commitment to the “wise use” or the “responsible stewardship” of the natural world for the sake of supporting God’s primary purposes with humanity.  This ethos is typically underwritten, in biblical terms, by the received translation of Genesis 2:15, according to which God places Adam in the garden of Eden in order “to till and to keep it.”  Human justice and ecojustice issues more generally are then worked out in the framework of this theo-anthropocentric ethos, often in terms of the construct of responsible stewardship.

For the second, the theo-cosmocentric paradigm, the chief objects of theological reflection are God and the whole created world (the latter sometimes called “nature” in the traditional, comprehensive theological sense, including therewith what in common parlance today we call “the natural world”).  The accent here tends to be on the divine immanence in nature, since God is, as it were, equally near to all things, the human creature not being privileged in this respect.  The accent here also tends to be on human immanence in nature.  Humans, according to this way of thinking, are fully and irrevocably imbedded in nature, notwithstanding the fact, variously expressed, that humans, even as they are essentially interconnected with all other creatures, nevertheless have a divinely bestowed vocation that in some sense differentiates them from all other creatures, just as all other creatures also have divinely bestowed characteristics that in some sense differentiate them from one another, in the one created world of “nature” (Joseph Sittler) or the one created earth-community (Larry Rasmussen).

The ethos given with this theo-cosmocentric paradigm is typically one that accents the kinship of all creatures and, in particular, human caring or even love for all creatures, however differentiated these creatures may be from one another.21  The language of human communion and cooperation with nature (or with the earth or the cosmos) is also sometimes used.  This ethos has come to be underwritten biblically, with increasing frequency, in terms of a fresh translation of Genesis 2:15, according to which God places Adam in the garden of Eden in order “to serve and protect it,” no longer “to till and to keep it.”  Human justice and ecojustice issues are then worked out in the framework of this theo-cosmocentric ethos.  But the enormously popular protestant construct of stewardship tends to fall to the wayside, in the context of this second paradigm, in favor of kinship categories such as caring or loving, communion or cooperation.

In a paper like this, I will not be able to delve into all the works by lutherans that show evidence of having claimed that new paradigm as their own, 1962-2012.  But I will mention several of them, and highlight two in particular:  the contributions of Sittler and, most recently, Larry Rasmussen.  I will also consider, briefly, how the two lutheran social teaching statements, to which I have already referred, also presuppose the new theo-cosmocentric paradigm, as do a variety of practical ecclesial initiatives in lutheran circles.

The Case of Joseph Sittler: The Lutheran Sidestream Comes Into View

While Joseph Sittler’s ecological theology burst upon the public theological world in 1961 and the following year when it was published, he himself had been working on such themes for some time.  Thus in a 1954 essay, “A Theology for Earth,” he identified two ways that humans had characteristically related to the world of nature in the past: (1) subsuming nature under human life and, (2) the exact opposite, subsuming human life under nature.(S 27)  In contrast, said Sittler (using the sexist language and categories many of us employed in those days), “Christian theology, obedient to the biblical account of nature, has asserted a third possible relationship:  that man ought to stand alongside nature as her cherishing brother, for she too is God’s creation and bears God’s image.” (S 28) Sittler then called attention to Psalm 104, a doxolological parallel to the Genesis 1 creation account, and – as ecological theology began to unfold as a field in its own right – a text that was to become a key biblical rallying point for many:

Here [in Psalm 104] is a holy naturalism, a matrix of grace in which all things derive significance from their origin, and all things find fulfilment in praise.  Man and nature live out their distinct but related lives in a complex that recalls the divine intention as that intention is symbolically related on the first page of the Bible.  Man is placed, you will recall, in the garden of earth.  This garden he is to tend as God’s other creation – not to use as a godless warehouse or to rape as a tyrant. (S 28f)

Sittler concluded that essay, suggestively, anticipating his 1961 New Delhi address, and even foreshadowing conclusions that have been drawn by others in recent second-chapter discussions, concerning what is now sometimes called “a deep Incarnation”:

The Incarnation has commonly received only that light which can be reflected backward upon it from Calvary.  While, to be sure, these events cannot be separated without the impoverishment of the majesty of the history of redemption, it is nevertheless proper to suggest that our theological tendency to declare them only in their concerted meaning at the point of fusion tends to disqualify us to listen to the ontological-revelational overtones of the Incarnation. (S 31 it. his)

Already in 1954, then, Sittler had put in place the scope, if not all the content, of a theology that was predicated on the theo-cosmocentric paradigm, a theology of God and the whole creation and an ethos of human kinship with nature.  Notable also was his inclination to shape that theology, not solely or even primarily or in terms of a theology of creation and its frequently, although not always, invoked stewardship ethic, but primarily in terms of a christological vision.  This christological focal point would then allow him, with texts like Philippians 2:5ff. in mind, along side of Colossians 1:15ff., to envision an ethos of service to nature, framed by the vision of the servanthood of Christ.

Lifting up the claims of Colossians 1:15ff., in particular, then, Sittler forcefully set in place the theo-cosmocentric paradigm in his 1961 New Delhi address, with a vivid picture of what was to become his signature christological vision:

A doctrine of redemption is meaningful only when it swings within the larger orbit of a doctrine of creation.  For God’s creation of earth cannot be redeemed in any intelligible sense of the word apart from a doctrine of the cosmos which is his home, his definitive place, the theater of his selfhood under God, in cooperation with his neighbor and in caring relationship with nature, his sister. (S 40)

In Sittler’s view, christians in the modern period lost the power of this robust faith in cosmic redemption, because they allowed the Enlightenment worldview to reign unchallenged.  “A bit of God died,” he said, “with each new natural conquest.” (S 43) The claims of human autonomy ruled the day.  The realm of grace retreated.

But the reign of human autonomy, in this respect, according to Sittler, has left us and our world bankrupt.  The relationship of humanity with its God-given home, nature, is now in profound crisis in every culture around the globe.  So, Sittler concluded, presciently, drawing on imagery from Colossians,  “the root-pathos of our time is the struggle by the peoples of the world in many and various ways to find some principle, order, or power which shall be strong enough to contain the raging ‘…thrones, dominions, principalities’ which restrict and ravage human life.” (S 45)

In this situation of global crisis, Sittler then announced that for Christians “the way forward is from christology expanded to its cosmic dimensions, made passionate by the pathos of this threatened earth, and made ethical by the love and wrath of God.” (S 48) Hence Christians, in Sittler’s view, should not be driven, first and foremost, by the thought of our global crisis, but rather by the reality of God’s grace, established cosmically in Jesus Christ, according to the witness of the Bible as a whole, of which the vision of Colossians 1:15ff. is but one stellar example, in Sittler’s view:

For it was said in the beginning that God beheld all things and declared them good, so it was uttered by an angel in the apocalypse of John, ‘…ascending from the east, having the seal of the living God:  and he cried with a loud voice to the four angels, to whom it was given to hurt the earth and the sea, saying, Hurt not the earth neither the sea, nor the trees…’ (Revelation 7:2-3 KJV)  The care of the earth, the realm of nature as a theater of grace, the ordering of the thick material procedures that make available to or deprive men of bread and peace – these are christological obediences before they are practical necessities. (S 48)

Nine years later, in 1970, in an essay entitled “Ecological Commitment as Theological Responsibility,” (S 76-86) Sittler drew out implications of this vision for the christian ethos.  To this end, he forcefully announced the theme “the integrity of nature,” one of the bedrock notions of the theo-cosmocentric paradigm.  Sittler did this in response to Jesus’ saying, as Sittler believed it should have been translated, not “Consider,” but “Behold the lilies of the field.” (Matthew 6:28):

The word “behold” lies upon that which is beheld with a kind of tenderness which suggests that things in themselves have their own wondrous authenticity and integrity.  I am called upon in such a saying not simply to ‘look’ at a nonself but to ‘regard’ things with a kind of spiritual honoring of the immaculate integrity of things which are not myself. (S 80) 

Sittler argued that “this way of regarding things is an issue that the religious community must attend to before it gets to the more obvious moral, much less the procedural and pedagogical problems.” (S 80) This means, he says, bringing into question the notion that humans in their historical experience and in their selfhood as individuals are so set apart from the rest of God’s creation that they can deal with it in olympian arrogance.  We are in fact siblings of the whole creation, he concludes, and called therefore to care for the creation.  Which means, finally, in Sittler’s view, “that ecology, that is, the actuality of the relational as constitutive of all our lives, is the only theater vast enough for a modern playing out of the doctrine of grace.” (S 85)

Sittler would then develop this core of theological reflections in a variety of directions in ensuing years.  The literature on his work is thankfully growing.22  But this overview of his thought is sufficient here, in order to show how creatively and how vibrantly he claimed the theo-cosmocentric paradigm as his own, as early as 1954 and then with his grand public statement in 1961 and in his 1970 article.

Others In The Lutheran Sidestream

Before I conclude this portion of my discussion with a review of Larry Rasmussen’s thought, however, I want to mention in passing several other theologians who, in my view, also made contributions to the first chapter of the american lutheran engagement with ecological theology and whose works, more particularly, show, I believe, that their authors also had – consciously or unconsciously – presupposed the theo-cosmocentric paradigm as their own.  Further research and reflection about this theme may indeed show that many others – biblical scholars, ethicists, and practitioners, as well teachers and historians of doctrine – along with those who I am citing here, also had adopted the same kind of thinking.

But the short list I have chosen at this point should suggest at least this much:  that adoption of the theo-cosmocentric paradigm was a visible and viable trend, albeit not the dominant trend, in lutheran life and thought during the last fifty years.  Moving with the currents shaped by the theo-cosmocentric paradigm, in other words, was not just the hallmark practice of two widely known theologians, Sittler and Rasmussen, but of many others.  I will also highlight, in this connection, two major lutheran social teaching statements from this period and other practical ecclesial initiatives, since they also show the breadth of lutheran theological commitment in these years to what I have been calling the ecological reformation of Christianity.

The lutheran theologians I have in mind at this point, in addition to Sittler and then Rasmussen, have worked in many, sometimes overlapping fields, but all are, to various degrees, dependent on the theo-cosmocentric paradigm.  Philip Hefner23 has focused much energies on explorations in theological anthropology, particularly as that field intersects at many points with the findings of the natural sciences, above all in his 1993 study, The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, Religion.24  Hefner understands human beings to be thoroughly immersed in nature, especially in its evolutionary history, although distinct from other creatures in important ways.  For Hefner, even though his chief interest is in the human being as created, co-creator, the primary objects of theological reflection are thus God and the cosmos, which is understood to be an intricately interconnected, ecological whole.25  Behind all this, for Hefner, is the biblical vision of God’s history with nature, announced in scripture by the story of God’s covenant with Noah and by the proclamation of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.26  Seen from any angle, then, Hefner’s thought is fundamentally shaped by the theo-cosmocentric paradigm.

Ted Peters has likewise been extensively interested in the interface – for him, the “consonance” – between science and theology.  In this context, he, like Hefner, as a matter of course developed a keen interest in ecological theology and environmental justice over the years.  He publicly entered the discussion of the environmental crisis in 1980 with theological themes that he would later bring to completion in a number of major works:  his vision of the eschatological fulcrum of theology, his view of God’s consummating future as encompassing the whole of cosmic history, not just human history, his understanding of the church’s vocation as a proleptic community, called to embody the cosmic promise of God’s future, here and now, insofar as that is possible in a broken world, and his eagerness to engage secular thought, both in its popular and its most sophisticated expressions.27

By 1992, Peters’ theological eschatology had come into full view, as what is perhaps his most important work, God – the World’s Future: Systematic Theology for a Postmodern Era, shows.28  Peters’ vision of God, from beginning to ending, comprehends the whole cosmos and, above all, the cosmos’ eschatological future, not just God’s history with humankind.  God creates and brings all things to fulfillment from that future.  God also initiates the consummation of the whole creation by sending Jesus Christ to the here and now, says Peters.  Jesus is thus the first embodiment or the prolepsis of the eschatological Peaceable Kingdom.  Through Jesus, in turn, in Peters’ view, God then calls together a community of the end-times to love the lost and to care for nature.29  At its most fundamental level, then, Peters’s thought presupposes the theo-cosmocentric paradigm, eschatologically elucidated, to be sure.

Terence Freitheim has been one of several biblical scholars in the ecumenical community who have fostered a figure-ground reversal in Old Testament studies in recent years.30  For this new reading of the Old Testament, the theology of creation, in general, and the theology of nature, more particularly, is now the primary framework for biblical interpretation, rather than the theology of human redemption, as it was for the preceding generation of biblical scholars, such as the aforementioned work of G. Ernest Wright.  Freitheim’s magisterial 2005 study, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation,31 indicates the fruitfulness of a biblical scholarship that presupposes, consciously or unconsciously, the paradigm of theo-cosmocentrism.  Fretheim shows, again and again, how the theologies woven into the Old Testament understand creation as one world, with which God has a history, and not as some alleged stage for God’s history with humankind.  More particularly, Fretheim documents how Genesis 1:26-28, the notorious dominion text, is not to be read as an excuse for domination, as that construct is often understood, and how Genesis 2:15 is rightly to be read in terms of Adam’s serving and protecting the earth.32  Fretheim’s exegetical investigations thus, in effect, read the theo-cosmocentric paradigm as a fundamental datum of Old Testament theology.

In liturgical studies, a field that has often been self-consciously theo-anthropocentric in character, Gordon Lathrop has interpreted the classical christian liturgy as deeply embedded in God’s good earth and indeed in the whole cosmos of God, both in the liturgy’s various current formations and as profoundly shaped by eschatological hope.  Lathrop’s pioneering 2003 study, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology,33 shows how the formative ritual of the christian community is developed not only as embedded in the earth and in the greater cosmos, but as a praxis that shapes the christian life to be a life of caring for the whole creation, not just for other humans.  To this end, Lathrop emphasizes the liturgy as rooted in local, natural places and as maximizing gratitude for the material gifts of God, such as water.  Lathrop’s work is also noteworthy because it is shaped throughout by a theology of the cross, interpreted suggestively in terms of the earth and the cosmos.  Lathrop’s achievement is perhaps all the more remarkable, because he takes the theo-cosmocentric paradigm as a datum, which, for him, requires no defense, as the subtitle of his major work, “a Liturgical Cosmology,” indicates.

I mention, lastly, at the end of this listing, my own work in historical studies in the theology of nature, particularly my 2000 outline of classical christian attitudes toward nature, The Travail of Nature: the Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology.34  I followed a method of motif-research in that work, and identified two major motifs in the history of christian thought about nature, the spiritual and the ecological (or what I elsewhere called the theology of ascent and the theology of descent).  Those motifs are more or less expressions of the two paradigms that I am discussing in this paper, the theo-anthropocentric and the theo-cosmocentric.  This method allowed me to adduce and to discuss a number of representative classical theologians,35 whose thought was shaped by the ecological motif.  Ireneaus, the later Augustine, St. Francis, and Luther and Calvin, can helpfully serve, I argued, as conversation partners with those working in the field of ecological theology today.  From this perspective, ecological theology in our era is not something totally new under the sun in the history of christian thought.  Something like the theo-cosmocentric paradigm has been presupposed by a major christian theological trajectory since the second century.

Practical Ministries In The Lutheran Sidestream – Now Mainstreamed?

While such a list of theologians, in addition to Sittler and, presently, Rasmussen, shows that the lutheran sidestream of ecological theology is a historical trend of note during the last fifty years in the U.S. – that this theological sidestream had, as it were, its own kind of discernable and moving currents – there were also more mainstream expressions of ecological theology in lutheran life and thought during the same period, readily visible, I believe, for all who have eyes to see.  First I want to call attention to two lutheran social teaching statements and the supporting theological interpretation of the first.36

The 1972 statement by the Lutheran Church in America was called “The Human Crisis in Ecology,” as was the theological guidebook that was circulated church-wide with the statement during the approval process.37  Of special interest for my purposes here is the central theological chapter of the guidebook, “The World as Community.”  Not only did that chapter speak of God and the whole creation, nature included, as a community, it also highlighted what it called “the integrity of nature.”38  Moreover, both the guidebook and the statement itself favored the language of caring, rather than stewardship language (that term was used once in the statement) in their references to the human-nature relationship when it is as it should be.  Both the guide and the statement also stressed the importance of social justice in response to all ecological concerns.39

The 1993 social teaching statement by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, “Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice,” was, in my judgment, a much sharper and richer document.40  Its biblical foundations were more clearly identified and its analysis of the then current crisis was much more extensive.  Its ethical discourse was at once much more comprehensive and much more sophisticated.  But like the 1972 statement and guide, the 1993 statement also projected a vision of God’s universal history with the whole creation, of the human creature as immersed essentially in that history and embedded in nature, and of human caring for nature – not stewardship over nature (this terminology does not appear in the1993 statement) – as the proper theological framework for interpreting what the human relationship with nature is intended by God to be.  The ethic toward nature that the statement recommended was also global and focused on the just claims of the poor and the oppressed around the world.  And it affirmed nature’s own standing as a participant in God’s history with the whole creation.

In retrospect, in my judgment, both the1972 statement and guide, and the 1993 statement were paradigmatically shaped by theo-cosmocentric assumptions.  Accordingly, the ethos proposed in both cases was predicated on kinship imagery, rather than on management imagery.  And social justice imperatives were remarkably well-integrated into both the substance and the recommendations in both 1972 and 1993.  How much, however, these materials, widely circulated in lutheran circles as they were, led to appropriate behavioral changes in grassroots lutheran communities or to organized ecclesial pressure in behalf of substantive theological, liturgical, social, and political change for the better in public arenas is an entirely different matter.  But better to have tried and perhaps to have failed, than not to have tried at all.

It did appear to me at the time, and it still appears to me, that the theological impetus that produced these social teaching statements and that first supporting theological document was sustained and developed, along the way, by a number of grassroots theological initiatives in lutheran circles.  I have in mind especially the emergence of the website “The Web of Creation,” sparked by the New Testament scholar, David Rhoads, and the Lutherans Restoring Creation movement, also fostered by Rhoads, a venture that championed the establishment of “Green Congregations,” “Green Synods,” and “Green Seminaries” in the world of american Lutheranism, all in conjunction with a variety of programs and groups focused on ecological issues in lutheran colleges, universities, and campus ministries.  From this movement, moreover, again at Rhoads’ initiative, also arose a proposal for an experimental liturgical lectionary, for a portion of the church year, focusing on ecological theology and ecojustice issues.41  Rhoads edited a volume of “Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet,” too.42

Not to be overlooked, either, has been the marked impact the social teaching statements have had in the context of lutheran liturgical life.  As a longstanding “consumer” of such services in those years, I often recognized the language and the theology mandated by the social teaching statements in a variety of church publications intended for parish clergy.  The prayers made available to congregations through the lutheran bulletin-service, “Celebrate,” regularly included thoughtful references to nature and ecojustice concerns during in this period.  Likewise for suggested eucharistic prayers in the new 2006 hymnal, Evangelical Lutheran Worship, along with a number of new hymns that reflected creation and ecojustice themes.43

The church-wide adoption of those social teaching statements and the implicit sanctioning of the accompanying theological document of the first, along with the ensuing church-wide practical initiatives, some of which I have catalogued here, were not, I believe, a result of some popular fancy, a thought that I have heard from critics over the years.  Did all this happen on the basis of a cultural frenzy that came to expression in Earth Day celebrations in those years, which then flowed over into the life of the church, particularly into the world of the laity, prompting them to call on their churches to address ecological issues?  Yes – and no.  The enthusiasm for “environmental issues” generated by the widespread cultural impact of trends collectively known as the Ecology Movement in the U.S. surely prepared the way for the church-wide actions in 1972 and 1993 and for ensuing practical ecclesial initiatives.  But the church-wide support for those statements would not have happened, I am convinced, on the basis of extensive anecdotal evidence, without the practical support of a widespread church ministry that flourished in those years in lutheran circles, the outdoor ministry movement.

I like to think of that movement as an alternative system of theological education in that era of american lutheran history.  In those years, scores of “church camps” flourished and served large, even huge, numbers of laity of many ages and many clergy as well, in every corner of the lutheran church in the U.S.  While there were undoubtedly numerous false starts in those settings, theologically speaking, for example a certain overly-innocent cozying up to Native American traditions or a facile romanticizing of nature, especially wild nature, in a Thoreauvian mode, serious theological reflection about nature and the global ecojustice crisis was also underway in many of those outdoor ministries during the last fifty years, sometimes self-directed, sometimes dependent on published works that could, willy nilly, be plucked from the Lutheran ecological sidestream that I have been discussing.44

Prima inter pares, perhaps, among all the lutheran outdoor ministries in this era, from the perspective of ecological theology, was Holden Village in Washington state.  A former mining town (with much polluted soil), nestled deep in the wilderness of the Cascade Mountains, Holden Village has fostered serious theological engagement with ecological issues for many years and has, thereby, been a source of theological renewal for many lutherans all over the U.S., above all in ecological theology.  There, significantly, theological specialists such as Larry Rasmussen and a wide variety of grass roots church leaders, experienced in the struggles for ecojustice, have been teachers, off and on, for many years.

In my judgment, which I cannot document at this point, the often-unheralded work of countless lutheran outdoor ministries, like Holden Village, prepared the theological way in the lutheran churches in America for the popular church-wide adoption of the aforementioned 1972 and 1993 social teaching statements and the 1972 supporting theological document, and for serious-minded follow-up initiatives such as Lutherans Restoring Creation.  In this practical respect, if not in others in the last fifty years, lutheran theological engagement with ecological theology appears to have been mainstreamed.

The Case of Larry Rasmussen:  New Currents in the Lutheran Sidestream

Larry Rasmussen, alongside Sittler, is the second and the last theologian I want to feature here in my discussion of the first chapter of american lutheran engagement with ecological issues.  I read Rasmussen as a lutheran theologian-ethicist, notwithstanding the fact that he has written publicly as an “ethical monotheist.”45  In my view, all along he has presupposed the kind of rejuvenated lutheran faith and praxis proposed by Bonhoeffer’s “secret discipline of faith” and Bonhoeffer’s view of “a world come of age.” 46

Not for nothing does the theology of the cross emerge organically in the flow of Rasmussen’s exposition in his major, prize-winning 1997 study, Earth Community Earth Ethics.47  Not for nothing, as well, did he chose to write from the context of communities of creative ecojustice formation, especially those, such as a variety of christian communities, which have considered themselves to have been eschatologically shaped by the biblical vison of the coming Peaceable Kingdom, announced by Jesus.  Not for nothing, likewise, has Rasmussen celebrated Luther’s often misunderstood vision of the divine immanence, of God “in, with, and under” the whole cosmos.  For Rasmussen, above all, in historic lutheran fashion, everything depends on grace, and then faith.48  Everything, in Rasmussen’s view, particularly the biophysical matrix in which we all live and which lives in us, is a divine gift.  Everything, in this sense, for Rasmussen is sacramental.  On the other hand, Rasmussen gives shape to that vision not in the familiar and evocative christological terms of a Joseph Sittler, but with his own, to me, compelling pneumatalogical and sacramental musings, terms that some Lutherans might, perhaps ironically, find to be new and therefore not immediately accessible.49     It is of particular interest to me in this context, that one of the frequent criticisms that was directed against the works of Joseph Sittler was that, in a sense, he quoted poetry too much, and that he did not identify the foundations of his theological argument with sufficient clarity.  Could it be the case that there is something about thinking under the influence of the theo-cosmocentric paradigm that requires us to plumb meanings from the arts and the sciences, as well as from the normative theological tradition?  Still, in my view, Rasmussen moves freely within that lutheran theological sidestream that I have been highlighting, presupposing throughout in his writings the theo-cosmocentric paradigm.50

Rasmussen’s thought can be approached from many different angles, as a recent Festschrift in his honor revealed.51  I will concentrate here on those elements of his theology which disclose his particular expression of paradigmatic theo-cosmocentrism.  All that Rasmussen writes in Earth depends on his analysis of the current global ecojustice crisis, which he describes vividly in cultural, social, and scientific terms, yet with an underlying theological cantus firmus.  His search, he says, is “for an earth cosmology and an earth ethic, carried out in the recognition that nature and earth compose a single community.  Whether we like it or not, it’s life together now or not at all.  Earth faith and earth community – this is humanity’s next journey.” (R19) Rasmussen insists that we are concerned here with one community, indeed, “not of culture and nature, or history and nature, but of culture and history in and as nature.” (R32) This is the kind of vision of the one created world that the theo-cosmocentric paradigm fosters.52 This is the vision of the one created world, which as a whole has its own integrity and each part of which also has its only integrity. (R98)

Rasmussen develops his argument in Earth with a kind of inductive sensibility, rather than beginning, say, as Sittler did, by exploring and explicating the meaning of key christian symbols. Rasmussen’s point of departure is the world as all can in principle know it, seen globally and through the eyes of numerous cultures.  This is the global context in which the theological cantus firmus can be heard, he believes.  People of all cultures cannot resist speaking of religious concerns, and dreaming dreams and seeing visions.  “Whatever the wishes of the cultured despisers of religion,” Rasmussen comments, “as a species we yearn to see things whole and sacred.  We insist on telling a cosmic narrative and locating ourselves somewhere in it.” (R178)

In this global religious context, in Rasmussen’s view, “the peoples of the Book,” Islam, Judaism, and Christianity, hewed a bold line from the beginning that Rasmussen wants to commend, “a certain focus and concentration on community and social justice as a God-given vocation.” (R183) Rasmussen thus wants to commend these particular religious traditions, which have kept faith and justice-ethics in the closest possible relationship.  But not at the expense of a vibrant faith itself.  So he argues that “an evolutionary sacramentalist cosmology offers the richest conceptual resources for addressing earth’s distress,” on the one hand, but that that cosmology must be “infused with a profound earth asceticism and married to prophetic efforts aimed at ‘the liberation of life: from the cell to the community’ [Charles Birch, John Cobb],” on the other. (R247)

Seamlessly, then, Rasmussen moves from his general discussion of the human need for a cosmic narrative, which need religions address, and from his commendation of religions of the book, in particular, for their accent on communities of social justice, to explore the ambiguities and the promise of the christian tradition more particularly.  First, regarding the ambiguities of the christian tradition:  Rasmussen presents a nuanced critique of the classical christian accent on contempt for the world (contemptus mundi).  Yes, wealthy Christians, in particular, must be overcome by a new ascetic spirit, he says.  But all too often, in Rasmussen’s view, the attitude of contempt has more generally paved the way for rapacious patterns of hostility against the poor, women, and the whole earth, as well.  Even in our own era, he says,  “neither existentialism, neoorthodoxy, liberalism, common church practice, nor society at large in the North Atlantic world has a cosmology worthy of the name in many influential circles.”(R191)

In this connection, Rasmussen mounts an extensive and insightful critique of the familiar american christian fascination with stewardship.(R230ff.).  He illustrates these dynamics with a revealing account of his own efforts, which ultimately failed, to influence the 1991 Canberra meeting of the World Council of Churches to move beyond stewardship theology. (R227f.)  Such a theology, in Rasmussen’s view, will inevitably prove itself to have been counter-productive.  It all too easily goes with the flow of our freewheeling industrial society.  On the contrary, he believes, what is needed now is for christians, and adherents of other religions and ways of life, too, to claim or reclaim “those symbols that effect a ‘reenchantment of the world’ [Max Weber] that edges out the deadly cosmology of mindless and valueless nature worked over by ghostly human freedom in all too much of modernity.” (R194)

What can a christian faith – or the faith of many “christianities,” as Rasmussen prefers to say – do to respond to this situation which requires a new and enchanted global cosmology, which can heal the earth and transform the christian life?  Something radically new is required, Rasmussen announces, as he quotes the cry of the Korean theologian, Chung Hyun Kyung, on the floor at the Canberra meeting, with reference to the then emerging voices of the so-called Two-Thirds World: “We are new wine.  You will not put us in old wineskins.” (R233) Rasmussen then tries to suggest some directions, perhaps not yet fully developed proposals, for further theological reflection.

To this end, he reaches deeply into the currents of the lutheran tradition, as an exercise in critical, but creative theological ressourcement.  He explores Luther’s rich theological immanentalism, in particular.  Luther presents us, in Rasmussen’s view, with a cosmos – not just human history – charged with the presence of God.(R272f.)  The whole cosmos is God’s, intimately, powerfully, and pervasively, in Luther’s view.  Luther further accents the solidarity of humankind with otherkind, with the animals, in particular.  Tutored by Luther, in a word, the universe can once again be enchanted for us.  And we can care for nature in solidarity with all the creatures of nature.  This is Rasmussen, in his own voice now, summarizing that aspect of Luther’s vision:

[Luther’s] finitum capax infiniti – the finite bears the infinite – is grassroots earth theology.  It is earthbound and limited.  That is God’s way, among us.  The body, nature, is the end of God’s path.  God is not a separate item, even a very large one, on an inventory of the universe, but the universe itself is God’s “body”….  God is not totally encompassed by the creaturely, but the creaturely is the one and only place we know the divine fullness in the manner appropriate to our own fullness.  Experiencing the gracious God means, then, falling in love with earth and sticking around, staying home, imagining God in the way we can as the kind of creatures we are.  The only viable earth faith is thus a biospiritual one.  Earth ethics is a matter of turning and returning to our senses.  The totality of nature is the theater of grace.  The love of God, like any genuine love, is tactile. (R280f.)53

The second major theme from Luther’s theology that Rasmussen commends to us to consider as we seek to identify a new cosmology appropriate to our own times of global crisis is Luther’s passionately affirmed theology of the cross. (R282f) This means for Rasmussen, to begin with, drawing on Luther’s own images, that This Jesus is wholly of earth.  He is not a fleeting docetic visitor, nor a ghostly bearer of gnostic truth, but really mortal flesh and blood from the countryside.  Joseph tickles his bare belly button and covers his bare bottom; Mary puts his hungry mouth to her bare breast. (R283)

It also means, for Rasmussen, a dual reference, to the universe as whole and to the meaning of this one particular person, Jesus:

Yes, God is the ultimate life-source of the entire universe, its creator, sustainer, redeemer; and this God is disclosed in the cosmos as a whole.  But, in the manner appropriate to human experience and knowing, this life-source is disclosed most compellingly in Jesus.  This Jesus is the incandescence of God in human form. (R282)

And this Jesus, born in and of the earth, is then made known by the formation of a people whose mission is to display redeemed creation as a just community.  “Such is the pattern for both the formation of Israel and the ‘People of the Way’ of Jesus (Acts 4:32-35),” Rasmussen explains.  “This is Luther’s argument for Jesus as the masked clue to the revelation of the Ineffable One.  A humanly experienced historical event opens onto an apprehension of all reality.” (R283)

But Rasmussen believes that perhaps Luther’s most profound contribution to aid us in our quest for a new and vital cosmology is Luther’s sometimes misunderstood view of the suffering of Christ.  “What is discovered via Jesus,” Rasmussen says of Luther’s perspective, “is this: only that which has undergone all can overcome all.  In this sense, cross and resurrection ethics is an utterly practical necessity.  Suffering, in its many expressions among its many creatures, will not be redemptively addressed apart from some manner and degree of angry, compassionate entry into its reality, some empowerment from the inside out, some experience of suffering as both a burden and a burden to be thrown off, some deep awareness of it as unhealed but not unhealable. (R286)

Rasmussen observes that lutheran cross and resurrection theology is thus curiously optimistic.  It has seen the worst and discovered a mighty power for life.  And this leads to a profound ethic of compassion and solidarity that “seeks out the places of oppressive suffering in order to overcome suffering’s demonic, or disintegrative, manifestations….  Its quest is not for victims but for the empowerment needed to negate the negations that generate victims….  It insists that environmental justice is also social justice and that all efforts to save the planet begin with hearing the cry of the people and the cry of the earth together.” (R291)

     Rasmussen has many other things to say in explicating his vision of an earth ethics for a earth community, both in Earth and in his other writings.  But we have seen enough at this point to permit this judgment, that this lutheran theologian and ethicist has dreamed dreams and seen visions of God and the whole creation, surely not just God and human history, in a way that makes it possible for us to see, if we are so inclined, the whole world as reenchanted with the presence of God and also God’s incandescent and compassionate self-disclosure in that person of the earth, Jesus and his cross, with Jesus thus pioneering the way of suffering love for the whole creation as it groans in travail.  In that vision, in Rasmussen’s terms, we may also see an ethos of deep caring for every creature transfigured into the struggles of justice, again, for every creature, especially for those who suffer and are oppressed, a struggle to be claimed by that community of ecojustice that has received the name of that very Jesus for the sake of the whole world.

Lutheran Engagement with Ecological Theology, 1962-2012, in Retrospect

     May I say at this point that this lutheran sidestream that we have been considering has indeed strong currents?  From 1962 to 2012, lutheran engagement with ecological theology has proven to be commensurate with the scope of a world in crisis and with the challenge of fostering an ecological reformation of christianity because, in varying ways, it has presupposed the theological paradigm of theo-cosmocentrism.  This has been particularly true of the contributions of Joseph Sittler and Larry Rasmussen.  But others have played vital roles in this respect, too, as have church-wide social teaching statements and other practical ministries.  But today is the ending of that first chapter, I am suggesting in this paper.  What are we to make of that first chapter in retrospect, then, insofar as we can manage to find some critical distance to allow us at least to raise some questions?  Should this beginning have a future?  And if so, what should it be?

     One question immediately come to mind.  This has to do with a certain pronounced theological diversity, even within this lutheran sidestream.  Each figure I have considered has moved within the currents of ecological theology.  But each has also had his own characteristic sense of direction, sometimes sharply different from the others:   christology (Sittler), anthropology (Hefner), eschatology (Peters), biblical studies (Fretheim), liturgical studies (Lathrop), historical studies (myself), and ethics (Rasmussen).   And those engaged in the practical initiatives I have touched on in this paper on occasion, if not always, have seemed to speak with many tongues, too. How will those who are now writing or who will hopefully soon be writing the second chapter of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology respond to what might seem to be, in some respects, that theological glossolalia of chapter one?  Might it be possible to have a more unified lutheran voice – perhaps even a systematic lutheran voice – addressing all these issues?  On the other hand, perhaps the problem is that the diversity has not been great enough.

     This question points to the challenge of hearing other voices, as the second chapter is being written.  The figures I have discussed in this paper, you will have noticed, all are men.  Yes, they all have been sensitive to a variety of issues that transcend their social location.  But this situation must change.  And, as a matter of fact, as the second chapter of lutheran engagement with ecological theology is now being written, that situation apparently is changing, whether fast enough and extensively enough, however, is another question.  How far away is the day when we all will be able to join in public accolades for a lutheran Rosemary Radford Ruether, a lutheran Sallie McFague, or a lutheran Elizabeth Johnson?

     Related to this issue is the question of contributions to ecological theology, both academically and practically, from global lutheran communities.  The figures I have discussed in this paper all are relatively affluent american academics.  How are we american lutherans to hear other lutheran voices – not to speak of ecumenical voices and the testimonies of other religious traditions – from the front lines of the global churches, addressing ecological issues?  I remain enchanted, in this respect, with the fruits of Larry Rasmussen’s sabbatical adventure of a few years ago, when he visited grass-roots, ecologically engaged christian communities in Zimbabwe, Scotland, Alaska, and the Philippines.

     Perhaps a single revealing case for us all to ponder in this respect is the situation of the lutheran congregation in Shrishmaref, Alaska.  These are lutherans who belong to a people which has lived in that area for countless generations.  But now their ancestral home is about to be washed away by rising waters driven by global warming.  Their voices and others like theirs must be heard and given a place in the unfolding second chapter of lutheran engagement with ecological theology.  That process, it seems to me, is already underway.  But can it be sustained and expanded?

     Is it time, in this respect, for the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America to begin working on a new social teaching statement in the context of this our global emergency and our world of incredibly rich cultural and religious diversity?  Hopefully such a statement would clearly address, in particular, what Rasmussen has called environmental apartheid, at home as well as abroad.  This convocation, with its focus on sustainability issues, which are global issues and which are local issues, which are everyone’s issues, certainly seems to be a critical moment in the writing of the second chapter to which I have been referring.  Perhaps this gathering could give impetus to the birthing of a new kind of church-wide deliberation about ecological and ecojustice issues.

    Finally, from the global to the parochial, a personal plea for renewed attention, as the second chapter of lutheran engagement with ecological theology is being written, to historical investigations in the theology of nature, both studies of scripture and post-biblical christian traditions.54  We do not want to stumble, due to lack of knowledge, into the pitfalls of the christian past.  Nor do we want to overlook the riches of the christian past.  We need all the help we can get.

Epilogue: From Lutheran Minimalism to Lutheran Maximalism in a Time of Global Crisis

     Which brings me at the very end to a single historical issue that must be addressed, in my view, if the lutheran ecological sidestream I have been discussing in this paper is ever to be fully mainstreamed, and thus be in a position to impact the crisis of our times head on, as Luther impacted the crisis of his times head on.  This, then, is my question, at the end of these explorations.  Are lutheran theologians and practitioners fully equipped today to foment – or to keep fomenting – an ecological reformation of Christianity and to do so with a sense of urgency?

     This is how I propose to respond to this question briefly, by raising another.  I know that the following question may sound regressive or parochial or even quaint to some, but I believe that it goes to the heart of the matter for those who approach ecological theology as lutherans in these times.  How do we Lutherans read Luther?  I have explored this question at length in other settings.55  Here I simply want to outline an answer and then sharpen it, in conclusion.

     There are minimalist and a maximalist readings of Luther.  The first, in all likelihood, if not inevitably, makes it all too easy for lutherans to think primarily in terms of the theo-anthropocentric paradigm.  The second, in all likelihood, if not inevitably, makes it easy for lutherans to think in terms of the theo-cosmocentric paradigm.

     This is lutheran minimalism. You focus on those theological constructs that drove Luther’s reforming zeal at the outset:  faith over against works; justification over against sanctification; the theology of the cross over against the theology of glory; the hearing of faith over against the seeing of speculation; the revealed God in word and sacraments over against the God contemplated in nature; the hidden God over against the God who is encountered in, with, and under all things; the Christ who is given for me over against the Christ who is given for the world; the Spirit of God who calls me to faith over against the Spirit of God who hovers creatively over the whole cosmos; and the book of scripture over against the book of nature.  To that end, you will turn again and again to engage the Luther who wrestled with Romans 1:17ff. and who wrote the Heidelberg Disputation.  Lutheran minimalism clings passionately to those moments in Luther’s life and thought that were his breakthrough moments to the reassuring and powerful and liberating gospel of the forgiveness of sins.

     If that is how you read Luther, mainly in terms of his breakthrough moments, then, it seems self-evident to me, your own theology and spirituality and discipleship will in all likelihood, if not inevitably, end up being thoroughly shaped by the theo-anthropocentric paradigm.  Because all those existentially traumatic and spiritually powerful breakthrough moments have to do with God and you. Or, more generally: with God and humanity.  Accordingly, you will receive the bread and the wine of the Eucharist as given for you.

     And in the spirit of Luther, perhaps one of the greatest polemicists in the history of christian theology, you may be moved to take your stand against anyone who says, in a manner Kierkegaard would also have abhorred, both/and.  No, you cannot have it both ways, both faith and works; both cross and glory; both hearing and seeing; both word/sacrament and creation; both the book of scripture and the book of nature; both the Spirit who brings Christ to you and the Spirit who brings Christ to the whole cosmos.  You must have it the one lutheran way, so-called.  That is the spirit of lutheran minimalism in its most contentious form.

     On the other hand, would it not be possible to be a lutheran maximalist?  To begin with, you would, of course, affirm those lutheran breakthrough moments and never for a moment let them slip through your hands.  But you would also explore the paradoxical promise of having it both ways:  faith and works; justification and sanctification; the theology of the cross and a theology of eschatological glory; the hearing of faith and the seeing of inspired contemplation; the revealed God in word and sacraments and the God encountered in, with, and under nature; the immediately present Christ, given for me, in word and sacrament, and the immediately present Christ in all things, given for the whole world; the Spirit of God who calls me to faith and the Spirit of God who hovers creatively over the whole creation; and the book of scripture and the book of nature.

     And you would read and ponder not only Luther’s commentary on Romans 1:17ff., but also his thoughts about one of his other favorite texts, Ephesians 4:10, pertaining to Christ: “He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.”56  You would, likewise, read not only Luther’s Heidelberg Disputation, but also his sacramental reflections about God, in, with, and under all things, in his conversations with Zwingli, and his commentary on John 1, concerning the cosmic Christ, and on Genesis 1 and 2 about God’s gracious giving in the whole creation and God’s gift of solidarity with the animals to Adam in Genesis 2.  You would understand the gospel not just as the forgiveness of sins, but, in Luther’s own words in the Small Catechism, as the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation.  You would receive the bread and wine in the Eucharist as given for you and for the world.

     Lutheran theological maximalism thus provides us with a way of thinking that can readily be shaped by the theo-cosmocentric paradigm, which comprehends all things (ta panta).  From this angle of vision, everything counts, not just God and humanity, certainly not just God and me.  Embracing this theological maximalism will allow us, in turn, even encourage us, I believe, to find new and more forceful ways to address the distress of a creation groaning in travail, whether it be a polluted wetland, a low income neighborhood where people of color live, whose children have inordinately high asthma rates, the unprecedented extremes of weather in coastal or wilderness areas, or the ultimate demise of our universe as it accelerates itself toward a colossal heat-death.  And lutheran theological maximalism, shaped, again, by the theo-cosmocentric paradigm as it readily can be, offers us the impetus we need, I also believe, rightly to celebrate the goodness of the whole creation, the miracles of a grain of wheat, the wonders of a child’s caress, the glories of coastal and wilderness vistas, and the infinite mysteries of the resplendent heavens above and all around us.57

     This is not to suggest that lutheran theological maximalism is the whole gospel truth for our times.  We Lutherans still have much theological work and much deep soul-searching to do with our two kingdoms ethical heritage, for example.  All the more so, time may not be on our side, if our modus operandi continues to be the often cautious and sometimes self-protecting processes of our scholarly discourse, the measured social teaching statements we produce, after three years of study and hearings, and the modest congregational mission initiatives to which many of us have grown accustomed.

     Let’s assume, then, that that theological maximalism is what we Lutherans need, at this the end of the first chapter of lutheran engagement with ecological theology.  The following question still is unescapable: is not the time – the kairos – at hand, perhaps as it never has been before, to translate that theological maximalism into public theological praxis and to do that with all the spiritual passion and moral urgency that our times require?58  Given the global emergency of the ecojustice crisis that we face today, enormously more pronounced than it was fifty years ago, when some of us first began to explore what an ecological reformation of Christianity might mean, must not we Lutherans now reclaim not only the full breadth of Luther’s theology, as lutheran maximalists, but also the apocalyptic sensibility which drove Luther’s reforming zeal?

     Luther was willing to confront Pope and Emperor in the name of the gospel truth.  He was willing to sacrifice all that had hitherto been of existential import to him in the furtherance of that cause.  Is not the time at hand for those of us who treasure lutheran theology, now in its maximalist expressions, to confront the principalities and powers of our own world with the same kind of apocalyptic intensity?  Has this not become for us a time of passionate public witness and resolute communal action, a status confession is, as Luther’s time was for him?59

1   A paper prepared for the Convocation of the Association of Teaching Theologians, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, at Columbus, Ohio, August 13-15, 2012.  The proceedings of the Convocation are to be published by Lutheran Universtiy Press, Minneapolis.

2   One of the best recent attempts to do this is Willis Jenkins, Ecologies of Grace: Environmental Ethics and Christian Theology (New York: Oxford University Press, 2008).

3   The focus on lutheran engagement with ecological theology in this paper is by no means intended to suggest, even implicitly, that Lutherans were the only ones during this period who were so engaged.  The development of ecological theology as a whole, from its very beginnings, was ecumenical in character.  Lutherans and Presbyterians, for example, worked closely together, from time to time, to identify an approach to this challenge.  The Presbyterians also produced a substantive social teaching statement and a valuable theological guide of their own.  The American Baptists, too, issued a statement on the environmental crisis in these early years.   The Methodists, in turn, pioneered research and reflection about what they called (among the first, if not the first, groups anywhere to publicly identify this phenomenon), “environmental racism.”  The Methodist, John Cobb, was an early and forceful voice in ecological theology, likewise (see his Is It Too Late? A Theology of Ecology [Beverly Hills, CA: Bruce, 1972]).  Above all, perhaps, the theological influence of those who might very cautiously be called the catholic ecofeminists, Mary Daly (later ex-Catholic, indeed ex-Christian), Rosemary Ruether, and Elizabeth Johnson, was enormous.  Any complete story of ecological theology in this era would have to tell their stories and identify their impact.  But sometimes it can be instructive to undertake this kind of vertical historical study of a single communion.  When parallel vertical studies of the engagement of other christian communions with ecological theology then become available, our grasp of the field as a whole from a horizontal, ecumenical perspective will hopefully be strengthened.

4  See H. Paul Santmire, “Ecology, Justice, Liturgy: A Theological Autobiography,” Dialog 48:3 (2009), 267-78,

5   H. Paul Santmire, Brother Earth: Nature, God, and Ecology in a Time of Crisis (New York: Thomas Nelson, 1970).

6   In 1974, I and the staff of the Boston Industrial Mission organized a conference at Wellesley College with the topic  “An Ecological Reformation of Christianity?”  This was a theme that suggested itself to numerous Protestants in this period.  Cf. especially James A Nash, “Toward and Ecological Reformation of Christianity,” Interpretation 50:1 (1996), 5-15.

7   I am passing by Paul Tillich.  While I and others regard Tillich as a bona fide lutheran theologian, Tillich himself, even as he recognized his indebtedness to Luther, in particular, and to Protestantism, in general, did not regard himself as a lutheran theologian, nor was he widely regarded as such by many (other) lutheran theologians and practitioners in his time.  Nevertheless, in my view, Tillich’s essay “Nature and Sacrament,” in The Protestant Era, tr. James Luther Adams (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948), can be viewed as an important first step toward an authentically lutheran ecological theology in the U.S., historically speaking.

8   Joseph Sittler, “Called to Unity,” Evocations of Grace: The Writings of Joseph Sittler, ed. Steven Bouma-Prediger and Peter Bakken (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2000), 38-50.  For convenience’s sake I will hereafter cite this volume in the text as “S” followed by the page number e.g. (S 38-50).

9   It made sense in the mid-nineties for Peter E. Bakkin, Joan Gibb Engel, and J. Robert Engel to produce what was more or less a complete bibliography of english works in ecological theology, Ecology, Justice, and Faith: A Critical Guide to the Literature (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1995).  It would not make sense to produce such a printed work today, since it would be out of date before it made its way into readers’ hands.  Even some on-line bibliographical record of such works might not be all that helpful, since it would be difficult to keep up with the global sweep of such publications.

10  Gordon Kaufman announced this about-face in his article, “The Concept of Nature: A Problem for Theology,” Harvard Theological Review 65 (1972), 337-66.

11   On Barth, see my study The Travail of Nature: the Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1985), chapter 8.  This material is a summary of the findings of my doctoral dissertation, Karl Barth’s Theology of Nature: A Historical and Critical Study(Cambridge, MA: Harvard University, 1966) [unpublished].

12   For Tillich, see Michael F. Drummy, Being and Earth: Paul Tillich’s Theology of Nature (New York: University Press of America, 2000).

13   More on Sittler presently.

14   An important exception to this rule is the group of theologians whom I have elsewhere called “reconstructionists,” thinkers who generally held that the classical christian tradition is ecologically bankrupt and who therefore concluded that christian theology must be reconstructed from the ground up.  Representative of this trend were the process thinker, John Cobb (see Is It Too Late?), and the ecofeminist, Rosemary Radford Ruether (see New Woman New Earth: Sexist Ideologies and Human Liberation [New York: Seabury Press, 1975]).  For the categorization of ecological theologians as “apologists,” “revisionists,” and “reconstructionists,” see my book Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of ChristianTheology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2000), 6-10.

15   Rachel Carlson, Silent Spring (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1962).

16   Lynn White, Jr., “The Historical Roots of Our Ecological Crisis,” Science 155:10 (March 1967), 1203-4.

17   Donella H. Meadows, Dennis L. Meadows, Jorgen Randers, William W. Behrens, The Limits to Growth (New York: Universe Books, 1972).

18   Juergen Moltmann, God and Creation: An Ecological Theology of Creation, tr. Margaret Kohl (London: SCM Press, 1985).

19   Carl E. Braaten and Robert W. Jenson, eds. Chistian Dogmatics, 2 vols.(Philadelphia:  Fortress Press, 1984).

20   Thomas S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962).

21   One of the better books on ecological ethics in these years, written by a Methodist, presupposes the theo-cosmocentric paradigm; and it explores the theme of love explicitly: James Nash, Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and Christian Responsibility (Nashville: Abingdon, 199l).

 

22   For an entry into this literature, see the introduction and the conclusion by Peter W. Bakken and Steven Bouma-Prediger, respectively, to Grace and the short bibliography in that volume, p. 237.

23   Hefner, as I have noted, was one of the authors of the Christian Dogmatics, a work that I have associated in this paper with theo-anthropocentrism.  If I am right about that judgment, Hefner’s place in that volume would have to be considered ambiguous, since, in my judgment, Hefner’s own thought is theo-cosmocentric.

24   Philip Hefner, The Human Factor: Evolution, Culture, Religion (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1993).

25   In the following discussion of the doctrine of creation, Hefner essentially gives us a sketch of the theo-cosmocentric paradigm, without using such language: “The doctrine of creation not only serves as an essential framework on which the soteriological statements of faith depend for their credibility and meaning.  It is also one of the chief resources for overcoming what has come to be known, perhaps exaggeratedly, as the ‘unitarianism of the second article.’  The object of concern in this phrase is a reduction of christian theology to soteriology, which falsifies the christian faith because it cuts off the larger connectedness between redemption in Christ and the panorama of God’s intentions and actions from creation to consummation.  Such a reduction also thereby cuts the link between redemption and the physical world, society, and world history.  If theology does not overcome this tendency, it finds it difficult to relate the faith to such issues as ecological concerns, our vocation in society, and the manifestation of God’s Spirit in the world’s history.”(Philip Hefner, “The Creation,” in Christian Dogmatics, I, 272.)

26   Consider this elegant theological testimony by Hefner, “Nature’s History as Our History: A Proposal for Spirituality,” in After Nature’s Revolt: Eco-Justice and Theology, ed. Dieter T. Hessel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 182f.: “[The Noah story] occurs as the second reading within the ritual of the Easter Vigil.  As such, the rainbow covenant with Noah is connected to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  The meaning is unavoidable: the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth is an event within a continuum of events in which God has been active, and the continuum includes the history of nature.  Here God affirms a covenant with every living thing and with the earth itself, in full recognition that in light of the evil that is in the human heart, this sets up a lovers’ triangle.  In that triangle, consisting of God, humans, and all of the earth’s other biological and physical systems, humans could find themselves outside the chainlink of the covenant with nature.  God will never again permit that covenant to be breached in favor of humans at the expense of the earth….  The rainbow covenant predicates God as a higher advocate for nonhuman nature.

“The proposals for organizing our consciousness contained in these packets of poetic, mythic information articulate themselves with forcefulness.  They point outward in projecting possibilities for human involvement in community with the rest of nature that can make both for the wholeness of the Creator’s covenant shalom and also for the terror that accompanies the destruction of that wholeness.  Shalom comes when we consider that our calling to be: sibling to the geese and the spider; eye, tongue, and heart to sweet earth; covenant partner with earth and its birds, cattle and every beast.”

27   Ted Peters, Fear, Faith, and the Future: Affirming Christian Hope in the Face of Doomsday Prophecies (Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1980).

28    Ted Peters, God – the World’s Future: Systematic Theology for a Postmodern Era (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992).  For a more succinct treatment of the underlying themes of his thought, cf. Ted Peters, Science, Theology, and Ethics (Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2003), chap. 4:  “God as the Future of Cosmic Creativity.”

29   Cf. Peters, God – the World’s Future, p. xii (it. his): “The exhilarating impact of the gospel is that it evokes in us the life of beatitude.  In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus describes the life of beatitude as living a blessed life today in light of the coming of God’s kingdom tomorrow….  In the life of beatitude the Holy Spirit collapses time, so to speak, so that believers can. share ahead of time in the oneness of all things that is yet to come….  Amid the viciousness of devouring competition, one can envision the lion lying down with the lamb.  Amid the desert of portending mass destruction, one can glimpse the river of life flowing from the throne of God.  Amid the wanton lack of care for the beings and things of this world, one can feel the heart beat with the rhythms of the divine love that pervades and promises wholeness throughout creation.”

30   In addition to Fretheim’s work, two of the most important studies in this area are Theodore Hiebert, The Yahwist’s Landscape: Nature and Religion in Early Israel (New York: Oxford University Press, 1996); and William P. Brown, The Ethos of Cosmos: the Genesis of Moral Imagination in the Bible (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999).

31   Terence Fretheim, God and World in the Old Testament: A Relational Theology of Creation (Nashville:  Abingdon, 2005).

32   Fretheim, God and the World, 48–56.

33   Gordon Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003).  My own work in liturgical ecology, Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), is dependent on Lathrop’s argument in significant ways.

34  See note 11 above.

35  One of the several limitations of this book is that I did not attempt to review the classical mystical traditions of christian life and thought regarding nature, a context in which many women theologians flourished.

36   A more complete treatment of lutheran social statements in this era would also review a 1970 statement on the environment by the American Lutheran Church(ALC).  I am not considering that statement in this paper for two reasons:  first, to keep my own discussion within reasonable limits; second, because the LCA statement was accompanied by a study guide, which set forth underlying theological understandings explicitly.  The ALC statement is available in the archives of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America: https://www.elca.org/Who-We-Are/History/ELCA-Archives/Archival-Documents/Predecessor-Body-Statements/American-Lutheran-Church/The-Environment-Crisis.aspx

37   The Human Crisis in Ecology, ed. Franklin L. Jensen, Cedric W. Tilberg (Philadelphia: Board of Social Ministry, Lutheran Church in America, 1972).

38   Full disclosure:  I wrote that chapter (and another) and also helped – as a member of an interdisciplinary team, including Joseph Sittler – to draft the statement itself.  Sittler wrote the concluding chapter.

39   A further popular publication came out of the working group that produced the 1972 statement, co-written by the chair of the group, who was an academic biologist, and myself:  Paul E. Lutz, H. Paul Santmire, Ecological Renewal, ed. William H. Lazareth (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1972).

40   Full disclosure: I also helped to draft this statement, as one member of a gifted interdisciplinary team.

41   The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary, ed. Norman C. Habel, David Rhoads, and H. Paul Santmire (Minneapolis:  Fortress Press, 2011).  Cf. also the related lectionary aid written from the perspective of the science and theology dialogue, George L. Murphy, Lavonne Althaus, Russell Willis, Cosmic Witness: Commentaries on Science and Technology Themes (Lima, OH: CSS Publishing, 1996).

42  David Rhoads, ed. Earth and World: Classic Sermons on Saving the Planet (New York: Continuum, 2007).

43  Cf., for example, the hymn “Touch the Earth Lightly,” Evangelical Lutheran Worship (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 739, stanzas 1 & 2:  “Touch the earth lightly, use the earth gently, nourish the life of the world in our care:  gift of great wonder, ours to surrender, trust for the children tomorrow will bear.  We who endanger, who create hunger, agents of death for all creatures that live, we who would foster clouds of disaster – God of our planet, forestall and forgive!”

44   Anecdotally, in those years my book, Brother Earth, was widely read by leaders in outdoor ministry; and I was regularly asked to consult about educational materials in outdoor ministry.  I even wrote some of those materials myself, see, for example, H. Paul Santmire, “Introduction to the Theme,” Creation: Called to Freedom.  Outdoors Ministry Curriculum (Chicago: Division for Congregational Life, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, 1990), 1-10.

45   Larry Rasmussen, Earth Community Earth Ethics (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1997), xiii.  For convenience’s sake, I will hereafter cite this work in the text and the notes as “R” followed by a page number, e.g. (R10.)

46   For Rasmussen’s relationship to Bonhoeffer, cf. John DeGruchy, “A Concrete Ethic of the Cross: Interpreting Bonhoeffer’s Ethics in North American’s Backyard,” in Fidelity to Earth: A Festschrift in Honor of Larry Rasmussen, ed. Daniel T. Spencer, James Martin-Schram, Union Seminary Quarterly Review, 58:1-2 (2004), 33-45. 1-201.

47   See note 45 above..

48  See (R349-354).

49   And not only Lutherans.  Consider this response to Rasmussen’s opus magnus by Charles R. Pinches, chair of the theology department at the Jesuit-run University of Scranton, in the Christian Century, August 12-19, 1998, p. 756: “[O]ne… feels the nagging tension [in Rasmussen’s book] between explicitly theological categories and those of the environmental crisis and deep ecology.  In Rasmussen’s case, however, this is not because theological concepts are radically revised [as is done by the advocates of deep ecology] but because theology is not the primary language of the book.  While Rasmussen does a bit of theology here and there, the book lacks a theological structure.  He never decides to consider systematically or historically what Christian theology has to say about ecology, the earth, or even creation.  As a result, there is no theological context into which the reader can place the book’s otherwise quite interesting reflections about our environmental troubles.”  Which is damning, I suppose, by faint praise.

 

50   I do not want to push the question about Rasmussen’s lutheran credentials too far. On the one hand, who cares?  The theological/ethical challenge before us in today’s world is too great for such parochial-sounding questions.  On the other hand, I care, since I am instancing him and his work under the rubric of american lutheran engagement with ecological theology.  So it has been necessary for me too say something about this question, in order not to say nothing, especially given the character of what might be called Rasmussen’s post-lutheran Lutheranism.  If anyone would like to pursue this question further, I refer him or her to one of Rasmussen’s former students, Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, “Christian Ethics Toward Earth-Honoring Faiths,” Union Theological Seminary Quarterly Review, 146: “Larry’s deeply critical, appreciative, and reconstructive relationship with Lutheran traditions, in which he stands, demonstrates his approach to tradition.  His Earth ethic and call for eco-Reformation are notably Lutheran…. [He] finds riches in central Lutheran theological themes; and ‘thinks creatively with’ Luther, Bonhoeffer, and, to a lesser extent, Joseph Sittler and other Lutheran theologians to retrieve and reconstruct less recognized resources proffered by their work.”

51   See note 46 above.

52   Cf. (Rxii): “The world around us is also within.  We are an expression of it; it is an expression of us.”

53   I disagree with Rasmussen’s interpretation of Luther at this point.  Nowhere that I am aware of did Luther suggest that the world is God’s “body.”  For a discussion of this, and related, issues in Luther-interpretation, see my essay “Creation and Salvation according to Martin Luther,” in Ernst. M. Conradie, ed. Creation and Salavation, I:  A Mosaic of Selected Classic Christian Theologies (Berlin: LIT Verlag, 2012), 183-187.  On the other hand, in every other respect, I believe, particularly with regard to Luther’s rich theology of the divine immanence, Rasmussen presents a balanced and instructive interpretation of Luther’s thought.

54   My study, The Travail of Nature, was intended to be exploratory in character, more an effort to raise questions than to provide answers.  I fully anticipated in 1985 that a wave of historical studies in the christian theology of nature would follow, with the result that my book would quickly be put on the shelf.  But sadly, in my view, except for a few notable exceptions, scholars have for some reason not been generally interested in exploring the history of christian thought about nature in great detail.  Two of those notable exceptions are the study of Tillich by Michael Drummy (see note 12 above) and the exposition of Calvin’s thought by Susan E. Schreiner, The Theatre of His Glory: Nature and the Natural Order in the Thought of John Calvin (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 1991).  Also cf. the previously referred to collection of essays edited by Ernst. M. Conradie, Creation and Salavation.  Scholarly study of the theology of nature in the Old and New Testaments, however, has expanded geometrically in recent years.  The trove of these riches, however, is too large to describe here.

55  See, for example, H. Paul Santmire, “Healing the Protestant Mind: Beyond the Theology of Human Dominion,” in After Nature’s Revolt: Eco-Justice and Theology, ed. Dieter T. Hessel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 57-78.  On Luther’s thought about creation, in particular, see H. Paul Santmire, “Creation and Salvation according to Martin Luther: Creation as the Good and Integral Background,” in Creation and Salvation, I.

56  For an attempt to explicate Luther’s “cosmic christology,” see H. Paul Santmire, “Toward a Cosmic Christology: A Kerygmatic Proposal,” Theology and Science 9:3 (August 2011), 287-306.  Also, see the study by the lutheran theologian/physicist George Murphy, The Cosmos in Light of the Cross (Harrisburg PA: Trinity Press International, 2003).

57   This lutheran maximalism, at home with the theo-cosmocentric paradigm as it typically is, it appears to me, could also have a sharp public impact, over against the dominant cultural trends of our times, which are so thoroughly shaped by “the information revolution.”  The presuppositions of that revolution are radically anthropocentric, even gnostic, not cosmo-centric.  The information revolution is predicated on the assumption that there is a technological fix to serve any human desire, nature to the contrary notwithstanding.  Nature, in this perspective, is the mere object or the toolbox for the satisfaction of human “needs.”  Nature has no standing, no integrity, no voice of its own.  For an illuminating description of this current culture of power over nature, see Larry Rasmussen, “Next Journey: Sustainability for Six Billion and More,” in Ethics for a Small Planet: New Horizons on Population, Consumption, and Ecology, ed. Daniel C. Maguire and Larry L. Rasmussen (Albany: State University of New York Press, 1998), especially 102f.

58   This is not the place to describe the extent and the depth of the global crisis before us.  From many scientific and prophetic voices that might be amplified here, consider only one, the widely-respected Oberlin environmentalist, David W. Orr, Down to the Wire: Confronting Climate Collapse, paperback edition (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), xii-xiii.: “The capacity and apparent willingness of humankind to destabilize the climate conditions that made civilization possible is the issue of our time; all others pale by comparison.  Beyond some unknown threshold of irreversible and irrevocable changes driven by carbon cycle feedbacks, climate destabilization will lead to a war of all against all, a brutal scramble for food, water, dry land, and safety….  Sheer survival will outweigh every other consideration of decency, order, and mutual sympathy.  Climate destabilization will amplify other problems caused by population growth, global poverty, the spread of weapons of mass destruction, and the potential impact of high consequence events that have long-term global consequences….”

59   I am aware that the expression status confession is is ambiguous, both historically and theologically.  For a thoughtful exploration of this ambiguity, see Eugene Teselle, “How Do We Recognize a Status Confession is?,” Theology Today 45:1(1988), 71-78.  The expression is rooted deeply in lutheran history, from mid-sixteenth century intra-lutheran theological debates in Germany, through the german church struggle of 1933, to the 1977 declaration of the Lutheran World Federation that apartheid is a heresy.  Minimally, the idea is this, in Teselle’s words, that “to declare a status confession is is to say that the time has run out, that toleration has reached its limits, that a line must be drawn.  It is to say that the time is ‘an evil time’ (Amos 5:13), but one in which we may no longer keep a prudent silence.” (78)  Given the severity of the global crisis (see note 58 above), does the church today have any other option than, in the name of God’s love for the whole creation, especially for the downtrodden of the earth, to publicly and zealously speak the truth to power, and to its own members, with a willingness to put its own body at risk?  Isn’t the burden of proof on the shoulders of those Christians, particularly Lutherans, who would maintain that ours is not a time of status confession is?

Creation reorientation: Liturgy to Reconcile People and Planet

(Click here to download this document.)

Created by Bridget Jones in 2018 as part of her Masters of Divinity program at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (Environmental Emphasis)

Introduction

As the climate warms, sea levels rise, forests are decimated, and numerous species become extinct, there is no denying that humans are more estranged from the rest of the created universe than ever before. As Christian communities, we are called to join God’s work of reconciliation and healing throughout the cosmos. Our earth is not just a collection of natural resources for us to steward wisely, but a fellow created-being, a creature in need of healing.

Within the past few years, many works have been released about “greening” a congregation, with subjects like incorporating creation care practices into fellowship hour, planting community gardens, and engaging in eco-justice. However, much of this new information stops at the doors of the sanctuary. While many congregations have begun to celebrate Seasons of Creation, there is usually not a year-round emphasis on everything else God has created. But as we continue to do damage to the Earth and everything that lives on it through our lifestyles and participation in systemic sin, there is a need for creation-centered liturgy.

Worship can be a reorientation, a way to focus us toward our values and toward God’s mission of justice throughout the earth. We can begin to pay attention to the needs of fellow created beings as we gather each week. As Gordon Lathrop states, “Sunday after Sunday, our own worldviews are reconstituted, and we are made witnesses to the triune God’s engaged care for the beloved, wounded earth.”1

As witnesses, we remember that we are not just care-takers or stewards. That is part of our vocation as fellow created beings, but we are not creation’s saviors. Ultimately, it is God’s power that heals and renews the cosmos and continues the creation that God started. Rather than continually asking God to help us to remember the earth, or to give us courage to carry out the effort alone, we can begin to remember God’s action and let that give us courage to join in the ongoing work.

Sometimes Lathrop seems to argue that the ordo itself already points to all creation, and the solution to our eco-alienation is more teaching about our traditional elements.2 However, I would argue for an altering of the ordo that is more obvious so that even those unfamiliar with the ancient traditions of the liturgy will be drawn into right relationship with everything God has made. Our task as worshiping communities “…is to anticipate and contribute to the promise of ultimate liberation and reconciliation in human communities and with the rest of nature.”3

To state it even more boldly: “God’s love of creation, God’s desire to redeem creation, and God’s action in reorienting our human relationship with the rest of creation ought to be so present in all we do in worship that they claim our hearts and minds with enthusiasm.”4

To that end, this guide will focus on five guiding principles to reorient every liturgy toward our wounded siblings:

Worship reorients us toward all other created beings.
Worship draws our attention to the cries of creation.
Worship demonstrates the sacramental nature of creation.
Worship joins us to the liturgical life of all creation.
Worship with creation can happen every week.
Worship reorients us toward all other created beings

Often the central idea of worship is only giving praise to God, but in reality worship is doing much more. In fact, rather than a one-way relationship where we shape worship services, we find that in a way worship shapes us. Paul Santmire states it even more unequivocally when he claims, “…ritual creates and sustains the ideas and values and myths, the power relationships and fears, not the other way around.”5

Worship has a powerful influence on congregations that often goes unacknowledged. It has the potential to enact great change in the hearts and minds of worshippers as they gather each week, especially if the service is constructed in such a way that allows for such a transformation. In fact, “…when we worship we put ourselves in in a position to allow God to give us our bearings, to reorient us, to restore us to our rightful relationships.”6

Most liturgies already restore right relationships with God and may even point us toward our neighbors, but unfortunately, “…the orientations we have allowed our religious rituals to give us have been almost exclusively interior orientations to the self, a map of the human heart without a macrocosm, without exterior references except to a World Away From Here, “heaven,” we may call it.”7

It is more than past time to update our liturgy so that it also restores us to rightful relationships with all creation and allows us to be shaped into fellow Earth creatures who care for our siblings, all other created beings. As Lathrop would argue, those seeds have already been planted: “The cardinal directions in Christian liturgy are these: toward God, toward each other in the assembly, toward the needy, toward the earth.”8 However, just as a GPS in your car is unhelpful if it doesn’t give you turn-by-turn directions, these compass points can be similarly unhelpful without obvious arrows pointing toward their directions.

The Season of Creation is one way to make those directions more obvious. Beginning in the mid 1990’s, congregations all over the world have devoted several weeks to focusing on God the Creator and worshipping with all creation. “The Season of Creation challenges us to reorient our relationship with creation, with the Creator, with Christ, and with the Holy Spirit…We return to see ourselves again as part of the very Earth from which we are made.”9 If we continue this trajectory to encompass all seasons of the church year instead of just four weeks, we can strengthen this reorientation, which is what the founders of the Season of Creation intended.

As we gather each week as communities of faith, we continue to turn back to God and to our neighbor. Now we can turn also to the Earth and the entire universe. As Ben Stewart states, “[Christian worship] is an act that ascribes worth to God, to us, and to the whole environment around us, stretching out to include the entire ‘very good’ cosmos.”10 Updating our liturgies can communicate how we value the earth and everything on it as we turn toward our hurting created siblings.

Worship draws our attention to the cries of creation.

In the liturgy of the Greek Orthodox Church, there are several places where the presider will say, “Let us attend!”11 In other words, pay attention! One could go through a worship service in a kind of mental fog, but these words call the congregation to be present and aware as important things happen. In the same way, now that our lives are so isolated from nature, we too could go through life in a kind of fog without fostering any kind of connection with God or our neighbors or the Earth. Liturgy itself already calls out, “Let us attend!” to the poor, to the needy, and to our loving God, but what of the creatures that cry out, or our wounded planet? Just as our worship reminds us to pay attention to the least of those around us as we go forth into the world, it can remind us of our siblings of other species and their concerns.

Similarly, there are several places in the Gospels where Jesus brings healing to those who cannot use their senses – though quite often, it is the disciples who are rebuked for seeing and hearing, yet not understanding. As earth-dwellers, our senses have become numb to the suffering of creation, and often when we do perceive what is going on around our fragile planet, we do not fully understand. The liturgy has a place in helping us regain our senses and our understanding of our place in the cosmos

It allows us to ask questions like, “What if authentic biblical religion and the liturgy that enacts and celebrates that religion really do mean to heal our eyes so that we may see the world itself held into holiness in God?”12 Eco-liturgy is the mud placed on our eyes, the fingers in our ears as God says, “ephphatha” – be opened – so that our senses may perceive what has been there all along: a cosmos in need of healing.

Creation itself is a sign that opens our senses and causes us to pay attention. As we hear the whispering of grasses, smell the saltiness of the ocean, see the beauty of majestic animals, taste the sweetness of honey, and feel snow falling softly on our upturned faces, we are called again to “attend” to creation and reminded of its need of healing. These material signs are a gift from our God who continues to offer tangible reminders to people who easily forget.

According to Martin Luther, God has always graciously condescended to our need for material signs:

For all the sacred accounts give proof that by His superabundant grace, our merciful God always placed some outward and visible sign of His grace alongside the Word, so that men, reminded by the outward sign and work or Sacrament, would believe with greater assurance that God is kind and merciful…Thus the church has never been deprived to such an extent of outward signs that it became impossible to know where God could surely be found.”13

These signs and opening of our senses point us toward creation and creation’s cries, as well as the ways that God is dwelling in the broken creation.

Worship demonstrates the sacramental nature of creation

As we become aware of how God dwells in the earth that God has declared very good, we also become aware of how the Word comes to the material elements of the cosmos, giving all creation a sacramental nature. While different theologians can argue over the intricacies of sacral versus sacramental, both positions share common ground in that God dwells in, with, and under all the earth, God has made a covenantal promise with all creation, and creation itself is an element containing the presence of God.

Thus: “…our transcendent God is not floating loose somewhere beyond, but is bound to creation. In this sense, creation is God’s home, even as we can think of it as our sanctuary. Hence, as we have said, all creation is sacral, not just the eucharistic meal.”14 While we can easily recognize water, bread and wine as participating in God’s grace, the rest of creation also points to God’s saving love for a broken cosmos. Furthermore, “The god whose presence fills Earth and who suffers with creation is also the God who through Christ is restoring creation and reconciling alienated dimensions of the creation.”15

God’s presence fills Heaven and the earth, pointing toward God’s grace through physical signs and symbols. All creation participates in this reorientation toward God’s saving love for the cosmos. This is shown also throughout the year as we celebrate different seasons of the church year. “So the liturgical year offers what we might call a sacramental approach to the earth’s seasons, approaching the earth’s great cycles as holy signs of Gods’ saving action in history, drawing us into worship alongside the whole living earth.”16

Just as Sunday morning helps us see ordinary bread, wine, and water as symbols of God’s expansive love for the entire universe, our worship can help us to realize the natural world is also pointing toward God’s grace. Thus all created things become sacramental, “…because the mystery of divine, self-giving presence is really mediated through the riches of the heavens and the earth. Participating in the glory of God, our whole planet is a beautiful showing forth of divine goodness and generosity.”17

Worship joins us to the liturgical life of all creation.

It could be easy to imagine that only humans have a relationship with the Creator, but in fact everything that God has made rejoices in the Lord. Because humanity is relatively new to the planet, we are becoming part of a worship service that is already in progress and has been for eons. “Christian worship has always been an act of joining the wider worship of the whole creation, a liturgy that began long before humans even existed.”18

This worship is mentioned throughout the scriptures, in like Psalm 19:1-4:

The heavens declare the glory of God,

and the sky proclaims its maker’s handiwork.

One day tells its tale to another,

and one night imparts knowledge to another.

Although they have no words or language,

and their voices are not heard,

their sound has gone out into all lands

and their message to the ends of the world,

where God has pitched a tent for the sun.

Similarly, Psalm 148:1-6 declares:

Halleluia!

Praise the Lord from the heavens;

praise God in the heights.

Praise the Lord all you angels;

sing praise, all you hosts of heaven.

Praise the Lord, sun and moon;

sing praise, all you shining stars.

Praise the Lord, heaven of heavens,

and you waters above the heavens.

Let them praise the name of the Lord,

who commanded, and they were created,

who made them stand fast forever and ever

giving them a law that shall not pass away.

The psalm goes on to assert that sea monsters, fire and hail, mountains, wild beasts, and all people join in the worship of the Lord. This hymn of praise continues whether humans can hear it or not. Thus worship becomes a communal act throughout the entire cosmos rather than a gift only humanity can offer God.

Worship with creation can happen every week.

Reading through the principles, case studies, and guidelines in this study could cause one to think that this guide may be helpful around Earth Day or in a liturgical Season of Creation. However, if we take seriously the depth of humanity’s alienation from the rest of the cosmos and the urgency with which we must approach the planetary crises we are facing, these principles should be incorporated each and every week to begin to create the kind of transformation creation cries out for.

Even those responsible for popularizing the Season of Creation in the United States admit that those four weeks are only the beginning of a larger movement. As they say, “A Season of Creation has proven to be valuable in its own right. Yet we also need the Season of Creation to wake us up and show us another way to do worship all the time.”19

Worshippers may object to what could be considered a special interest taking over the liturgical life of a congregation. After all, incorporating all of these principles every single week could seem like pastors and worship leaders are trying to hit their parishioners over the head with their pet project. However, if truly believe that creation cries out for healing and that it is part of our Christian vocation to care for creation, then leaders will do the work to prepare their people for this liturgical revolution.

After all, we do not celebrate four weeks of justice for the oppressed, nor do we wait for one Sunday per year to proclaim God’s love. Those compass points are part of our worship practice in the way that eco-worship can and should be. Furthermore, because human beings are also created beings along with the entire cosmos, literally every human concern is a derivative of creation care. Wounded veterans, the poor and oppressed, the sick and dying, and others we pray for each week are all earth creatures in need of healing. If congregations can understand that, “According to the creation story in Genesis 1, this is what we are called to do: love God, love our neighbors, care for creation,”20 then every worship service can continue to point to our Christian vocation.

Final thoughts

The task before ministers, liturgists, and worship leaders is clear: humanity must be reconciled to the rest of the cosmos. As all creation continues to cry out in pain and brokenness due to human activity, our vocation is more urgent than ever before. But as we begin to be returned to our proper place in the cosmos, our senses restored to recognize creation’s brokenness, recognizing God dwelling in this very good earth, joining in the worship of the whole universe, and doing those things every week, we will come to perceive and join God’s work of healing and salvation for all the cosmos. Finally:

If God created the world as a place in which human life in inextricably woven into the rest of creation, then we need to make the natural world self-consciously an integral part of our worshiping experience. If worship means being restored to our proper place in the world in order to reorient us, to recall who we are, where we have come from, the things upon which we depend, and that for which we are responsible, then worship must be a celebration of all creation and a reorientation of ourselves to our proper place within it.21

Case Studies

As a Lutheran worship leader, I draw heavily from the hymnal and liturgical guide published by the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. These case studies and the rest of this guide will reference material from Evangelical Lutheran Worship, or the ELW. However, the principles can be applied to other worship sources and resources from other denominations just as easily.

Prayers of Intercession

The prayers of intercession, or the prayers of the people, are a major part of reorienting the congregation toward creation as we intercede on creation’s behalf. Gradually, more of creation has been included in these petitions that are provided by the resource Sundays and Seasons (sundaysandseasons.com), so that at least one each week is geared toward the natural world. However, often these petitions subtly reinforce humanity’s dominance by praying that creation continue to benefit us and by excluding prayers for God’s restoring and healing power and focusing solely on humanity’s agency.

For example, prayers asking for blessing upon agriculture, hunting, or fishing are not intercessions on creation’s behalf for the sake of creation; they are intercessions that these parts of creation continue to be beneficially exploited by humanity. Similarly, prayers that humankind become better caretakers of this earth on which we live become prayers directed toward human agency as we clean up our own home so that we can continue to live in it.

For instance, look at the creation petition for the fifth Sunday after Epiphany in 2018:

For the earth and all living creatures, for those preparing fields for planting, and for favorable weather, that all of us who care for this life will find voice to help creation thrive, let us pray.22

While the beginning phrase “for the earth and all living creatures” turns us toward other created beings, and the phrase, “help creation thrive,” in a way can draw our attention to the parts of creation that are not thriving, the third and fourth principles are not realized. Since this genre of prayer has continued to be incorporated on most Sundays, it does continue every week. A different prayer could perhaps strengthen our reorientation for this single petition, as would a second petition specifically for human concerns as related to nature. For example:

Indwelling God, the earth is filled with your glory. We pray for the planet and all living creatures, especially creation in need of healing. Bring your power of redemption to the whole cosmos that all may continue to worship you.

And for humans:

God our provider, you have given humankind food and shelter on this earth. Bless those preparing fields for planting and provide favorable weather. Give us strength and courage to join your work of healing our common home.

Not every prayer each week needs to include all of the principles. However, the more principles that are included, the more a congregation can be turned toward the rest of creation. For example, while the prayer for the first Sunday in Lent for 2018 does not address the sacramental nature of creation or the ways creation worships God, it does turn those praying toward creation in a way that includes humankind in creation without placing humanity at the pinnacle:

“We pray for the world. For the well-being of both our own surroundings and of distant places. For favorable weather and sustaining rains. For creatures awakening from hibernation or beginning seasonal migrations. Provide safe habitats and abundant food for all. Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer”23

One edit to make our place in creation even more clear would be to change “For the well-being of both our own surroundings and of distant places” to “For the well-being of all environments around the globe.”

One of the best prayers for creation in Evangelical Lutheran Worship can be found in the additional prayers section in the front of the hymnal. The prayer called Creation’s Praise centers creation’s worship and draws humanity into that praise without making the prayer all about humanity. While it might be tempting to read this prayer only on special celebrations, such as Earth Day or a season of creation, parts of this prayer can be adapted and used many times throughout the church year.

“Praise to you, Lord Jesus Christ, who in your self-emptying love gathered up and reconciled all creation to the Father. Innumerable galaxies of the heavens worship you. Creatures that grace the earth rejoice in you. All those in the deepest seas bow to you in adoration. As with them we give you praise, grant that we may cherish the earth, our home, and live in harmony with this good creation, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.”24

Eucharistic Prayer

Another large section of the liturgy that should be subjected to scrutiny and careful choices is the Eucharistic Prayer. There are several different options offered in the ELW, some used more than others. The first one offered is incredibly anthropocentric, to the point where it ignores the rest of creation altogether:

You are indeed holy, almighty and merciful God.

You are most holy,

and great is the majesty of your glory.

You so loved the world that you gave your only Son,

so that everyone who believes in him may not perish

but have eternal life.

We give you thanks for his coming into the world

to fulfill for us your holy will

and to accomplish all things for our salvation.

In the night in which he was betrayed,

our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;

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 sin.

Do this for the remembrance of me.

For as often as we eat of this bread and drink from this cup,

we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Christ has died. Christ is risen. Christ will come again.

Remembering, therefore, his salutary command,

his life-giving passion and death, his glorious resurrection and ascension,

and the promise of his coming again,

we give thanks to you, O Lord God Almighty,

not as we ought but as we are able;

we ask you mercifully to accept our praise and thanksgiving

and with your Word and Holy Spirit to bless us, your servants,

and these your own gifts of bread and wine,

so that we and all who share in the body and blood of Christ

may be filled with heavenly blessing and grace,

and, receiving the forgiveness of sin,

may be formed to live as your holy people

and be given our inheritance with all your saints.

To you, O God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

be all honor and glory in your holy church, now and forever.

Amen, amen, amen.25

The phrase, “We give you thanks for his coming into the world to fulfill for us your holy will and to accomplish all things for our salvation,” ignores the redemption of the cosmos and focuses on humanity’s salvation. As it asks, “that we and all who share in the body and blood of Christ may be filled with heavenly blessing and grace, and, receiving the forgiveness of sin, may be formed to live as your holy people,” this prayer’s praise and petitions are all focused on the congregation’s relationship with God to the exclusion of all else. This Eucharistic prayer orients the congregation toward God and the rest of the assembly, but not toward the needy or the rest of creation. It doesn’t acknowledge the cries of creation, admit to the sacramental nature of creation or join us to the liturgical life of creation. This prayer – in some ways the apex of the service – can play a pivotal role in reconciling people to the cosmos if some of these principles are incorporated.

Different liturgical seasons offer slightly more ecological guidance. The Eucharistic prayer offered for the season of Advent and Christmas begins:

Holy One, the beginning and the end, the giver of life:

Blessed are you for the birth of creation.

Blessed are you in the darkness and in the light.

Blessed are you for your promise to your people.

Blessed are you in the prophets’ hopes and dreams.

Blessed are you for Mary’s openness to your will.

Blessed are you for your Son Jesus,

the Word made flesh.26

By adding a blessing for the birth of creation and in darkness and light, this prayer orients us toward other species. However, the line, “Blessed are you for your promise to your people,” ignores God’s covenant with all creation in the Flood Narrative and the way creation also participates in God’s work of redemption.

Another option offered in the ELW is the sixth prayer. It begins:

Holy God, mighty Lord,

gracious Father:

endless is your mercy

and eternal your reign.

You have filled all creation

with light and life;

heaven and earth are full of your glory.27

By referencing all creation and declaring that all creation is filled with God’s light and life, this prayer both points worshippers toward the cosmos and demonstrates the sacramental nature of creation. This is a good option for a eco-Eucharistic prayer during ordinary time. However, the best option is the seventh prayer in the ELW:

Holy God, holy and mighty, holy and immortal:

you we praise and glorify, you we worship and adore.

You formed the earth from chaos;

you encircled the globe with air;

you created fire for warmth and light;

you nourish the lands with water.

You molded us in your image,

and with mercy higher than the mountains,

with grace deeper than the seas,

you blessed the Israelites and cherished them as your own.

That also we, estranged and dying,

might be adopted to live in your Spirit,

you called to us through the life and death of Jesus.

In the night in which he was betrayed,

our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks;

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 sin.

Do this for the remembrance of me.

Together as the body of Christ,

we proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes:

Christ has died.

Christ is risen.

Christ will come again.

With this bread and cup we remember your Son,

the first-born of your new creation.

We remember his life lived for others,

and his death and resurrection, which renews the face of the earth.

We await his coming,

when, with the world made perfect through your wisdom,

all our sins and sorrows will be no more.

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.

Holy God, holy and merciful one, holy and compassionate,

send upon us and this meal your Holy Spirit,

whose breath revives us for life,

whose fire rouses us to love.

Enfold in your arms all who share this holy food.

Nurture in us the fruits of the Spirit,

that we may be a living tree, sharing your bounty with all the world.

Amen. Come, Holy Spirit.

Holy and benevolent God,

receive our praise and petitions,

as Jesus received the cry of the needy,

and fill us with your blessing,

until, needy no longer and bound to you in love,

we feast forever in the triumph of the Lamb:

through whom all glory and honor is yours, O God, O Living One,

with the Holy Spirit, in your holy church, now and forever.

Amen.28

The very beginning of this prayer alerts us to the fact that we are not the only ones in relationship with the Creator. By declaring, “You formed the earth from chaos; you encircled the globe with air; you created fire for warmth and light; you nourish the lands with water,” this prayer points us toward the entire cosmos as benefiting from and participating in God’s creative power. We are again reminded of our place as one species of created beings among many.

This prayer also opens our senses to the cries of creation by declaring, “We remember his life lived for others, and his death and resurrection, which renews the face of the earth.” Humans are not the only ones in need of healing and renewal. The entire cosmos cries out in brokenness, and in his resurrection Jesus brings wholeness to all creation.

This prayer could more strongly fulfill the third and fourth principles, but by asserting Jesus is “the first-born of all creation,” it points to the sacramental nature of creation. Jesus is present in all the earth and dwells with all creation. The prayer also alludes to creation’s worship by stating, “You molded us in your image, and with mercy higher than the mountains, with grace deeper than the seas, you blessed the Israelites and cherished them as your own.” However, both of these could be strengthened.

Finally, this Eucharist prayer, or one that is similar, could be prayed every week. It is a bit longer than some congregations are used to, so it could also be shortened to leave the most essential parts. Or different principles could be highlighted each week without necessarily demanding that all be present.

Other illustrations

Everything throughout the liturgy can be evaluated with the five guiding principles and altered to form congregations into witnesses for our fellow created beings. Following is a guide through a traditional service from the ELW with various changes to make the creation orientation more obvious.

Gathering

Confession and Forgiveness

If, as Lathrop says, the cardinal directions in our worship are God, each other, the needy, and creation, the rite of Confession and Forgiveness is sorely lacking in the final aspect. While it may be helpful to add a specific petition for forgiveness from our ecological sins, you may also simply recognize our shortcomings in the first prayer for forgiveness like thus: “We have not loved you with our whole heart; we have not loved our neighbors as ourselves; we have not loved all Creation with the love of the Creator.”

Thanksgiving for Baptism

The Thanksgiving for Baptism is perfect place to bring in language that illustrates the five principles mentioned above. One way to open worshippers’ senses to perceive creation’s cries is through the practice of aspurging, or flinging water over the congregation. This tangible reminder of baptism can help draw us back into relationship with water. This is also a good point to have children be involved in the service. Another way to bring actual water into the sanctuary is to include prayers for the health of the local rivers, lakes, streams, oceans, or watershed.

The prayers throughout this rite can be adapted to include the gift of water and the way it brings forth life. Lathrop includes this prayer from the Common Book of Worship in his discussion of baptism: “At the beginning your Spirt was at work, brooding over the waters of creation’s birth, bringing forth life in all its fullness. Through the gift of water you nourish and sustain all living things. Glory to you forever and ever.” 29

If you use the traditional Thanksgiving for Baptism in the ELW, you can make small changes like adding all creatures to “Through the waters of the flood you delivered Noah and his family.”30 There were two of every animal but only eight humans on the ark, yet somehow we only recall God’s saving power toward humanity. In fact, the entire rite should be less human-centered, in recognition of water’s sustaining power for all Creation. It would be appropriate to add a beseeching prayer for the health of nearby waters, or for all water in the globe. “Perhaps even mountains and rivers and seas – even solar systems and galaxies – could enter our prayers. Baptism must not be about saving us from this company, but with this company.”31

Gathering Song

As we begin the gathering song, there are several options. All of them preference the well-being of humanity and exclude the rest of creation. Not all songs must be about the entire cosmos, but these songs are expansive, singing for peace for the entire world. If we have already included all human beings, not just the ones in our assembly, denomination, or faith, we might as well include all other species who worship God.

Slight adjustments to the lyrics may easily alter the song and continue to draw us back into relationship with all other created beings. This is easy in some settings where the Kyrie is chanted and thus more adaptable to changing lyrics, or in churches where the songs are printed in the bulletin instead of sung out of a hymnal. If you are a hymnal church and you do decide to permanently change the lyrics, consider printing a small booklet containing the service hymns with the alterations for each hymnal so that visitor may also participate.

Kyrie

Most of the Kyrie used in the ELW is fine, but the second line is problematic:

“For the peace from above, and for our salvation, let us pray to the Lord.”32

The line, “for the peace from above,” continues the earth-Heaven dichotomy that has led many Christians to treat this planet as disposable. If God truly dwells in the earth, if the earth is filled with God’s glory, then God’s peace is present in, with, under, around, and throughout the entire cosmos. It is not just descending from above, but rising from the deeps, and spreading out from each created being. An amendment that could recognize this might sound like:

“For the peace of the Creator, for the well-being of the church of God…”

Hymn of Praise

The first option for a hymn of praise begins and ends with the phrase, “Glory to God in the highest, and peace to God’s people on earth.”33 This anthropocentric song ignores the worship that creation is already and constantly engaging in. An adaptation could potentially sound like, “Glory to God in the highest and peace to creation on earth.”

The second option, “This is the Feast,” includes the line, “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood set us free to be people of God.”34 However, this language obscures the fact that God’s power of redemption is for the entire cosmos, and not just one species. A more accurate and rhythmically similar adaption looks something like, “Worthy is Christ, the Lamb who was slain, whose blood redeems us and all creation.”

Word

Sermon

Preachers are often willing to preach on creation during a special Season of Creation or Earth Day service, but what about the rest of the year? As part of the ordo, sermons continue the work that the beginning of the service has already started. “Preaching means to bring us again to faith and so gift us again with the reoriented view of the world that belongs to the whole liturgy.”35 While not every sermon has to have creation as its sole focus, there are other ways of bringing in lessons from the Book of Nature. One of the easiest is to include stories of time spent in nature.

For a January term class in seminary, I visited Holden Village – a Lutheran retreat and renewal center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington – to learn how the seasons of the Church were tied to the seasons of creation. Over the course of this class, other students gave presentations about different aspects of the liturgy, especially focusing on the cycle of daily prayer. We explored these topics through mystagogy, using our own experiences, stories, and metaphors to dive deeply into sacramental theology.

Beginning many sessions with prompts and questions like, “Think about your favorite sunrise,” or “What is a memorable scent for you?” allowed us to pull from our own natural experiences to explore theological topics like Gospel canticles and incense. It also demonstrated that almost everyone has cherished and memorable stories of creation that can be told with only a few moments of thought. These stories, of our relationships with creation, can be brought into any sermon as we continue to be reoriented toward our non-human siblings.

Not every sermon must include some sort of personal testimony of a creation experience, but including stories of time in nature throughout the year allows worshipers to continue being reoriented during the preaching event. There are many opportunities for this sort of story – stories of being lost in a wilderness during Lent, stories of new birth or growing things in Easter, stories of things dying through Advent, stories of light and darkness in Christmas and Epiphany, and many more throughout ordinary time.

Meal

The Eucharistic prayer has already been discussed at length, but there are other adaptations that can be made to the rest of the sacrament to strengthen the reorientation toward creation.

Offering

For example, during the offering, if your community has a garden some of the produce can be brought forward with the bread and wine and money. Similarly, flowers, changing leaves, and other parts of nature’s praise like rocks or shells could also be brought up as a representation of what creation is offering God in praise.

Communion

As for the actual physical part of the meal, consider offering vegan bread so that those who do not consume animal products can still partake. There are many excellent recipes online to guide you, and many are also gluten-free.

Conclusion

This guide is not intended to be the definitive answer on how to incorporate love for the earth into the liturgy, but merely the beginning of a conversation. The Holy Spirit will guide each community in their own respective contexts as to how we modify our worship to transform congregations into witnesses for all creation. Lathrop asks, “…does that assembly invite us to see the place on which we meet – and the earth all around the meeting – as holy ground? Do the stories we tell, the meals we eat, the rituals we keep, engage us in caring for the earth with which we live? Or not?”36

My hope and prayer for all worshipping communities is that they will be invited to know the place in which they meet – indeed, the entire earth – as holy ground, as they become reconciled to the rest of the created cosmos. As we are reoriented towards creation, sensing creation’s cries, being drawn to creation’s sacramental nature, joining creation in worship, and doing these things constantly, we will join God’s work of healing and salvation for the entire universe.

Bibliography

Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada. Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Leaders Desk Edition. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006.

Habel, Norman C., Rhoads, David, and Santmire, H. Paul, ed. The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011.

Johnson, Elizabeth. “Heaven and Earth Are Filled with Your Glory” in Finding God in All Things: Essays in Honor of Michael J. Buckley, S.J. New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996.

Lathrop Gordon. Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009.

Liturgical Commission of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America. The Orthodox Liturgy: The Greek Text of the Ecumenical Patriachate with a translation into English. Garwood, New Jersey: Graphic Arts Press, 1974.

Luther, Martin., ed. Jaroslav Pelikan. Luther’s Works Volume 1: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5. Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House,1958.

Nash, James. Loving Nature: Ecological Integrity and the CristianResponsibility. Nashville: Abingdon; in cooperation with The Church’s Center for Theology and Public Policy, Washington D.C., 1991.

Santmire, H. Paul. Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

Stewart, Benjamin M. A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology. Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2011.

“Sunday, February 4, 2018: Fifth Sunday after Epiphany/Lectionary 5,” Sundays and Seasons, accessed February 14, 2018,https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources ?date=2018-2&eventDateId=0#texts.

“Sunday, February 18, 2018: First Sunday in Lent,” Sundays and Seasons, accessed February 14, 2018, https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources/2018-2-18/0#texts.

Endnotes

1 Gordon Lathrop, Holy Ground: A Liturgical Cosmology (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2009) 135.

2 Ibid., 146.

3 James Nash, Loving Nature: Ecological integrity and the Cristian Responsibility (Nashville: Abingdon; in cooperation with The Church’s Center for Theology and Public Policy, Washington D.C., 1991), 133.

4 Norman C. Habel, David Rhoads, and H. Paul Santmire, ed., The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2011), 20.

5 H. Paul Santmire, Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 89.

6 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 17.

7 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 58-59.

8 Ibid., 63.

9 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 5.

10 Benjamin M. Stewart, A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress Publishers, 2011), 10.

11 Liturgical Commission of the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North and South America, The Orthodox Liturgy: The Greek Text of the Ecumenical Patriachate with a translation into English (Garwood, New Jersey: Graphic Arts Press, 1974), 25, 27, 71.

12 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 4.

13 Martin Luther, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan, Luther’s Works Volume 1: Lectures on Genesis, Chapters 1-5 (Saint Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1958), 248.

14 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 45.

15 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 39.

16 Stewart, A Watered Garden, 52.

17 Elizabeth Johnson “Heaven and Earth Are Filled with Your Glory” in Finding God in All Things: Essays in Honor of Michael J. Buckley, S.J. (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1996), 93.

18 Stewart, A Watered Garden, 18.

19 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 4.

20 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 19.

21 Habel, Rhoads, and Santmire, The Season of Creation, 18.

22 “Sunday, February 4, 2018: Fifth Sunday after Epiphany/Lectionary 5,” Sundays and Seasons, accessed February 14, 2018, https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources?date=2018-2&eventDateId=0#texts.

23 “Sunday, February 18, 2018: First Sunday in Lent,” Sundays and Seasons, accessed February 14, 2018, https://members.sundaysandseasons.com/Home/TextsAndResources/2018-2-18/0#texts.

24 Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, and Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada, Evangelical Lutheran Worship: Leaders Desk Edition (Minneapolis: Augsburg Fortress, 2006), 152. (Hereafter cited as ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE)

25 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 194-195.

26 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 196.

27 Ibid., 199.

28 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 200-201.

29 “Thanksgiving over the Water”, Book of Common Worship (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1993), 422. As cited in Holy Ground 104.

30 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 169.

31 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 113.

32 ELCA and ELCC, ELW:LDE, 170.

33 Ibid., 171.

34 Ibid., 173.

35 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 204.

36 Lathrop, Holy Ground, 125.

A Theology of Liturgy in a New Key: Worshiping With Creation

Thanks to David Rhoads,  Paul Santmire, and Norman Habel who share here their Chapter 2 of “The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary” (Fortress Press 2011). Please download and share the excerpt here- then buy the whole book!

This resource is a timeless guide for anyone curious about integrating caring for the earth and its creatures as a part of worship to God.  It recommended for anyone who wants a solid theological foundation to build upon and enact their passion for creation care.

Find  the Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary (here) at Fortress Press. 

 

 

The Nature of Things: Rediscovering the Spiritual in God’s Creation

Edited by Graham Buxton and Norman Habel
Forward by David Rhoads

With contributions by David Rhoads, Paul Santmire, Celia-Diane-Drummond, Heather Eaton, Ernst Conradie and others, this volume highlights a diversity of perspectives on the spiritual in creation, both traditional and radical.

Download a copy of the flyer here.

Visit the publisher’s website to order

A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology (Augsburg Fortress, 2011)

A Watered Garden: Christian Worship and Earth’s Ecology by Ben Stewart is excellent for worship committees and small group study.

Check out the chapter on “A Theology of Liturgy in a New Key: Worshipping with Creation” in The Season of Creation: A Preaching Commentary, edited by Norman Habel, David Rhoads, and Paul Santmire.

Watered Garden begins with the classic, ecumenically held patterns of Christian worship and explores them for their deep connections to ecological wisdom, for their sacramental approaches to creation, and for a renewed relationship to the earth now itself in need of God’s healing. This book is written especially for North Americans: people who live in a specific ecological region, and who play a particular role in the world’s ecology. And of course it is written for Christians, especially those who are part of the Lutheran movement. More information at Augsburg Fortress.

Now available in a Kindle edition.

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Stewart is the Gordon A. Braatz Assistant Professor of Worship and Dean of the Chapel at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago.

H. Paul Santmire

H. Paul Santmire has been a leader in the field of ecological theology and ethics for more than forty years. Ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), he has served as a teaching theologian, churchwide activist, and parish pastor. He is the author of Brother Earth: Nature, God, and Ecology in a Time of Crisis (1970), The Travail of Nature: The Ambiguous Ecological Promise of Christian Theology (1985), Nature Reborn: The Ecological and Cosmic Promise of Christian Theology (2000), Ritualizing Nature: Renewing Christian Liturgy in a Time of Crisis (2008), Before Nature: A Christian Spirituality (2014), and Behold the Lilies: Jesus and the Contemplation of Nature (2018). He was one of the theological writers of the ELCA’s 1993 social teaching statement on the environment, Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice. Paul has been a critical voice for ecojustice and the celebration of nature since he first completed his Harvard doctoral disseration on Karl Barth’s theology of nature in 1966 and subsequently became a champion of ecofeminism at Wellesley College, where he served as Chaplain and Lecturer in Religion for twelve years. He is eager to continue to support the commitments of a new generation of church ecojustice advocates and activists.

Rev. H. Paul Santmire writes for the rest of us

Behold the Lilies: Jesus and the Contemplation of Nature:  A Primer  (2017)

Read a chapter: From Lake Wobegon to the Streets of Manhattan: Behold then Follow

Behold the Lilies, by the Rev. H. Paul Santmire, draws from the riches of the author’s long-standing work in the theology of nature and ecological spirituality, especially from his classic historical study, The Travail of Nature (1985), and from his Franciscan exploration in Christian spirituality, Before Nature (2014). In this new volume, Santmire maintains that those who would follow Jesus are mandated not just to care for the earth and all its creatures but also to contemplate the beauties of the whole creation, beginning with “the lilies of the field.” His first-person reflections range from “Scything with God” to “Rediscovering Saint Francis in Stone,” from “Taking a Plunge in the Niagara River” to “Pondering the Darkness of Nature.” Behold  the Lilies offers brief spiritual reflections that can be read in any order, over a period of time. This accessible primer will be welcomed not only by those who have already identified themselves with the way of Jesus but also by others who are searching for a contemplative spirituality attuned to global ecological and justice issues.

Lectionary Lessons Archive (Years A & B)

Some of our lectionary commentaries have not yet been moved to this website, but are available on our old website. As time goes by, these commentaries will be moved to this active website. We hope this will improve the navigation and accessibility of these helpful resources.

YEAR A (2016-2017)

PENTECOST SEASON IN YEAR A

Christ the King Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

All Saints Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Reformation Sunday (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Kathryn Schifferdecker)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Paul Santmire)

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Richard Perry)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Trinity Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

LENTEN SEASON IN YEAR A

The Sunday of the Passion in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday in Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The Second Sunday in Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

The First Sunday of Lent in Year A (Tom Mundahl)

THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD

The Transfiguration of Our Lord in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

EPIPHANY SEASON IN YEAR A

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (Leah Schade)

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year A (Leah Schade)

CHRISTMAS SEASON IN YEAR A

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year A (Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday of Christmas in Year A  (Leah Schade)

 

YEAR B (2018)

PENTECOST IN YEAR B

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Sundays after Pentecost in Year B (from 2012, by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Amy Carr)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B. (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

Trinity Sunday in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Day of Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

EASTER IN YEAR B (2018)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday in Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Easter Sunday in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

LENT IN YEAR B (2018)

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday in Year B (by Kiara  Jorgensen)

Passion Sunday in Year B (by Leah Schade)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)
The Second Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The First Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

 YEAR B (2014-2015)

    • Advent: (Four Sundays from November 30 to December 21) [Tom Mundahl]
    • Christmas: (Two Sundays after Christmas, December 28 and January 4) [Tom Mundahl]
    • Epiphany: (Six Sundays from January 11 to February 15) [Dennis Ormseth]
    • Lent: (Six Sundays from February 22 to March 29) [Rob Saler]
    • Easter: (Seven Sundays from Easter Day April 5 to May 17) [Dennis Ormseth]
    • Pentecost: (Sundays from Pentecost on May 24 to June 28) [Leah Schade]
    • Pentecost: (Sundays from Pentecost 6 on July 5 through Pentecost 11 on August 9) [Tom Mundahl]
  •  

The Season of Pentecost in Year B (2015)

Christ the King Sunday in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

OR Reformation Sunday in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012 by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Dennis Ormseth)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B ((From 2012, by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

2015  Special Series on St. Francis for Pentecost 18, 19, 20 (Scroll down for all Sundays) by Paul Santmire.

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Tom Mundahl)

The Eleventh, Twelfth, and Thirteenth Sundays after Pentecost in Year B (From 2012, by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

Trinity Sunday in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Day of Pentecost in Year B (2015) (by Leah Schade)

The Season of Easter in Year B (2015)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday of Easter in Year B (2015) (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Resurrection of Our Lord in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Season of Lent in Year B (2015)

Palm/ Passion Sunday in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Third Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Second Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The First Sunday in Lent in Year B (by Robert Saler)

The Season of Epiphany in Year B

The Transfiguration of Our Lord in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Third Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Second Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015)

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth, 2015).

Advent and Christmas Seasons in Year B

The Second Sunday of Christmas in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2015)).

The First Sunday of Christmas in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2014))

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Advent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2014))

The Third Sunday in Advent in Year B (Tom Mundahl, 2014))

The Second Sunday in Advent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2014))

The First Sunday in Advent in Year B (by Tom Mundahl, 2014))

Pentecost Season in Year A

Christ the King Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

All Saints Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Reformation Sunday (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Kathryn Schifferdecker)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Paul Santmire)

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Paul Santmire)

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Richard Perry)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Trinity Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Pentecost Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Easter Season in Year A

Overview of all lessons in the Easter Season of Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Leah Schade)

The Fourth Sunday in Easter in Year A (by Leah Schade)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Leah Schade)

The Second Sunday of Easter in Year A (by Leah Schade)

Easter Sunday in Year A (by Leah Schade)

Lent in Year A

Passion Sunday in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Lent in year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Lent in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Lent in year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday of Lent in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The First Sunday of Lent in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

Epiphany in Year A

The Transfiguration of Our Lord in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth).

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday of Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Second Sunday in Epiphany in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Baptism of our Lord in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

Advent and Christmas in Year A

The Second Sunday after Christmas in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The First Sunday after Christmas in Year A (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Advent in Year A (by Rob Saler)

The Third Sunday in Advent in Year A (by Rob Saler)

The Second Sunday in Advent in Year A (by Rob Saler)

The First Sunday in Advent in Year A (By Rob Saler)

Year B

Christ the King Sunday in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

OR Reformation Sunday in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twenty-first Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Tom Mundahl)

The Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B. (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (by Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

Trinity Sunday/ The First Sunday after Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Day of Pentecost in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Sixth Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Third Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Second Sunday of Easter in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

Easter: The Resurrection of Our Lord in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

Passion Sunday and Holy Week in Year B (Dennis Ormseth)

The Fifth Sunday in Lent in Year B (Tom Mundahl)

The Fourth Sunday in Lent in Year B (Tom Mundahl)

The Third Sunday after Lent in Year B (Tom Mundahl)

The Second Sunday in Lent in Year B (Tom Mundahl)

The First Sunday in Lent in Year B. (Tom Mundahl)

Transfiguration Sunday in Year B (Robert Saler)

Sixth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (Robert Saler)

The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (Robert Saler)

The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany in Year B (Robert Saler)

All commentaries below this point were written by Dennis Ormseth.

The Third Sunday after Epiphany in Year B

The Second Sunday after Epiphany in Year B

The Baptism of Our Lord in Year B

The Nativity of Our Lord: Christmas Eve and Christmas Day

The First Sunday of Christmas and the Naming of Jesus in Year B

Fourth Sunday in Advent in Year B

Third Sunday in Advent in Year B

Second Sunday in Advent in Year B

First Sunday in Advent in Year B

Christ the King Sunday in Year A

Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

All Saints Sunday in Year A

Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Reformation Sunday in Year A

Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A 

Eighteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A 

Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Sixteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A 

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Thirteenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Eleventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Tenth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Ninth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Seventh Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Sixth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Fifth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Third Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Second Sunday after Pentecost in Year A

Holy Trinity Sunday in Year A

Pentecost in Year A

Seventh Sunday of Easter in Year A

Previous Easter Season Commentaries for Year A.

Epiphany Commentaries for Year A

Christmas Commentaries Year A