Tag Archives: preaching resources

Tools for Talking and Listening

Being church together doesn’t have to mean we have one mind.  Listening to the Holy Spirit within each of our stories can help us move beyond disagreement and confusion.   There is no one way to help us along this journey, but there are many resources to help us find common ground.  Below are some suggestions – please let us know if you have experience with these or other tools you want to share.

Methods:

Talanoa Dialogue – Read the history (click here) of this telling/listening process based on three foundational questions:
>Where are we now?
>Where do we want to go?
>How do we get there?
View sample workshop on how to share this method (click here). 

World Cafe Method – There is a whole community of facilitators with online advice (click here) who can help you figure out how to use this manner of group decision making.  This is a great format when you have people together who already care about an issue but don’t know what steps to take next or feel like they aren’t hearing from all perspectives.   Download an easy visual guide here.

Deliberative Dialogue – For a clear definition of this process of group engagement explore the National Issues Forum site (click here).  For a whole toolkit using this process re: Climate Choices (click here). 

Resources:

Finding Community in our Holy Waters During a Time of Isolation

While many are anxious and isolated during this time of response to a pandemic, we offer these reflections on this week’s readings. (If there are other recordings you wish to share as a balm to soothe and inspiration to act for the common good please submit them here.)

March 15, 2020 – 3rd Sunday in Lent (John 4, 5-42) – Woman at Well – Pr. Susan Henry – House of Prayer, Hingham MA

Why do Lutherans Believe in the Resurrection of the Body?

by Cameron Harder at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Saskatoon

Well, let’s back up and ask “Should they?”  Each Sunday we confess belief in “Jesus Christ who…rose again from the dead” and “in the resurrection of the dead and the life everlasting.”   But we live in a pragmatic, science-focused world where resurrection can seem like a superstitious relic, or a fantasy element like the phoenix rising from its own ashes in Dumbledore’s office.

So let’s ask the hard question:  Can 21st century Canadians, with integrity, believe in the resurrection of the dead?  Can we support Paul’s conviction that what is “sown a physical body is raised a spiritual body… “ (I Cor 15: 44)?

Yes! Scientists in fact tell us that such transformation  is the heart of creation’s story: Vast clouds of hydrogen erupted from the Big Bang.  Collapsing, they gave birth to stars, galaxies, rocky planets like our Earth. On earth ancient seas spawned life, simple cells which burped out a breathable atmosphere that could support more complex species like pterodactyls, baboons and great blue whales. And from that extravagant diversity we humans emerged, not only conscious, but self-conscious and God-conscious.   Christians of course believe that this was no accident—that the extraordinary history of the universe has been the work of God, constantly coaxing the new and unimaginable into existence.

 Surely then billions of years of evidence give us reason to hope that such a Creator has another  level of existence yet ahead of us,  a “new creation.”  After all we have seen “the first fruits” of it, Paul says, in Christ.

A second question:  Why does it matter that we believe in the resurrection of the body?  Paul regards it as crucial: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” and “If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied” (I Cor 15: 17, 19).  Without resurrection what would our future hold?   Applied to the present ecological crisis, Paul’s words imply  “If there is no new humanity possible our species is doomed to destruction by its sinful excesses.”  If the future holds nothing more than the mass extinction we see happening  around us  then like atheist Bertrand Russell we might well give up in despair:  “Brief and powerless is Man’s life; on him and all his race the slow, sure doom falls pitiless and dark” (1918).

But what if there is real hope—not in ourselves, but in God who raises the body, who transforms humanity and all creation?  Such a hope allows us to persist in cleaning up our planetary home, making room for other creatures, knowing that our work is not in vain but is truly a “foretaste of the feast to come,” a preview of God’s “peaceful kingdom” (Isaiah 11).

And the resurrection of Christ matters because it reminds us that there is continuity between the old and new.  Jesus’ risen body did not replace his old one; the risen Christ still bore the scars of his former life. But neither was the old body simply restored, as when Lazarus returned to life. Instead Jesus was transformed. His scars remind us that the crucifixion we inflict on this creation will have an impact on the next. Even as it is renewed the earth remembers its traumas in craters and bones. Our world is not a piece of trash, to be used and thrown away; though it come through great suffering the new creation will be a transformation of the one we live in now.

Believing in the resurrection of the body, Lutherans cannot simply focus on saving souls for a spiritual heaven. We can’t ignore the earth and our earthborn bodies. We don’t turn our faces away from illness, violence, degradation or environmental harm.  Hoping, trusting in God we work and we wait for a new creation (Rev 21:1).

Take the LRC Reformation Day Preaching Challenge

Preach the Good News for all Creation on Reformation Sunday
“When anyone is in Christ, creation is new. The old has passed away. Behold! Everything is new!” II Corinthians 5:17

Why an eco-reformation?

There are voices across the ELCA calling for a reformation of the church to encompass care for all of God’s good creation.

We have spent centuries rightly nurturing our relationship with God (Love God) and one another (Love your neighbor). However, we have neglected God’s relationship with creation, our relationship with the rest of creation, and God’s relationship with us through the rest of creation (love creation). Now it is time to turn to this task with our full resources.

God’s Earth is in great trouble—pollution of air, land, and waters, ozone depletion, loss of forests and loss of farmable land to desert, proliferation of waste, global climate change, and much more. These changes are wreaking unjust havoc upon Earth, especially the poorest and most vulnerable humans, and on innumerable other creatures and plants of the entire natural world.

The overwhelming majority of scientists believe that these conditions are due in large part to the accumulative impact of human activity since the industrial revolution. To stop the destructive activity and to embrace practices that restore Earth, we will need sweeping changes in our society and our world.

Let’s begin with ourselves as a church. This will involve more than modest reforms such as adding a few hymns or using green cleaning products. This issue is not an add-on or simply a cause for those so interested. It involves all of us together. We need a transformation in our life and mission as a church, individually and together. We need to reform our worship, our theology, our ethics, our practices, and our spiritual disciplines.

As a church, we have always chosen to focus on care for the most vulnerable. We have rightly chosen as a church to emphasize feeding the hungry. Can we now broaden our commitment to the most vulnerable so as to care also for vulnerable earth and to address the connection between hunger and our ailing planet.

Our church needs a New Reformation as radical and transformative as the first one in the sixteenth century. We need to address the signal issue of our time (the restoration of Earth), as the sixteenth century reformation addressed their signal issue of that time (the salvation of the individual). We need to shift from being human-centered in our understanding of salvation to being Earth-centered in a way that seeks the well-being of all Earth Community.

We are approaching the observance of the five hundredth anniversary of the Sixteenth Century Reformation in 2017. As preparation for this event, Lutherans Restoring Creation urges us to consider embracing a New Reformation, an Eco-Reformation, as our means to rise to the greatest challenge of our time.

The Preaching Challenge: LRC invites you to take the occasion of Reformation Sunday to preach to your congregation the good news of God for all creation and to challenge your parish to respond to the love of God for creation and the grace of God in all creation so as to commit ourselves “to the care and redemption of all that God has made.”

We invite you to look at the resources available here as well as other resources you may wish to consult as preparation for preaching on Reformation Sunday on the church’s need to address the crises of creation.
We also invite you to submit your sermon to us sometime during the week after Reformation Sunday so that we can post it for others to see.

Here are some resources for you to consult in giving thought to this invitation:

  • For the ELCA Social statement, “Caring for Creation: Vision, Justice, Hope” and the study guide, click here.

Katrina Martich

Katrina Martich is a speaker, trainer, and consultant, who helps organizations find holistic approaches to today’s environmental challenges. To this task she brings over twenty years of practical experience as an environmental engineer in public and private sector positions.  In addition to running her own environmental consulting company, Katrina has been an adjunct instructor for The University of Texas at Arlington and completed an internship with the Texas Interfaith Center for Public Policy.  Katrina grounds her approach to environmental challenges in the justice tradition of the Abrahamic faiths, with a focus on personal and business practices that allow all people and life to thrive in this world.

Katrina has a degree in Agricultural Engineering from Auburn University and a Master of Engineering from the University of Texas at Arlington.  In 2013, Auburn University’s Department of Biosystems Engineering (formerly Agricultural Engineering) honored Katrina with its Outstanding Alumna Award.  She is a consecrated deaconess by the Lutheran Diaconal Association, a licensed professional engineer in Texas and New Mexico, and a Certified Professional in Sediment and Erosion Control.  Katrina lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her husband and three rescued cats.  In her spare time, she volunteers at an equitherapy facility and enjoys hiking, working in the yard, and watching birds.  Contact her at 817-471-0520 or contact@katrinamartich.com

Fourth Sunday of Easter in Year C (Susan Henry)

Revelation’s Easter Message

Readings for Series C (2016, 2019, 2022)

Revelation 7:9-17 **Acts 9:36-43 **John 10:22-30

Sermon from Pastor Susan Henry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church,  Hingham MA

More than Just Weird

Grace to you and peace from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

After Sunday worship last week, Kurt Lundin leaned in conspiratorially to greet me, saying “Did you notice – hymn number 666?” Indeed I did, and I told him I suspect that the people who put the hymnal together thought long and hard about what song should go with that infamous number.  It’s “What Wondrous Love Is This,” and there are clear references in it to the book of Revelation — which is where 666 and all that “mark of the Beast” stuff comes from.  In the third verse of that hymn, we find, “To God and to the Lamb I will sing, I will sing . . . To God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM, while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing.”   So there, 666!  “To God and to the Lamb” we will sing, we will sing.  You can’t scare us!

In Revelation, the last book of the Bible, a seer named John who is in exile on Patmos, likely for being a thorn in the side of the Roman empire, writes to seven churches in what’s now Turkey about a heavenly journey he experienced in a series of strange visions.  Through what John has received, he wants believers to find hope and courage so they can live faithfully in even the most difficult times and circumstances.

John’s visions are weird stuff, to put it mildly, although the meaning of the coded language was clearer in its own time and culture than it is to us.  Rome was an oppressive empire, and it expected blessing and honor and wisdom and power to be given to Caesar, the ruler Nero at that time.  It was dangerous not to do that, but Christians then (and now) rightly give honor and blessing and glory and might to God, not to imperial rulers or authoritarian leaders.  Just as Voldemort in the Harry Potter books was sometimes referred to as “He who shall not be named,” Nero was alluded to by believers in other ways.  For example, since Jewish numerology assigns numbers to the letters of the alphabet, when you spell out Caesar Nero, you get – ta-dah! – 666.   He who shall not be named.

The book of Revelation was controversial enough to be the last book accepted as part of the Bible, and Martin Luther was never convinced Revelation really belonged there – although he felt free to appropriate some of its imagery to viciously attack the pope.  Revelation has been used and misused throughout the centuries, and the current iteration of misuse is the well-known series of Left Behind books and movies.  In them, born-again Christians get “raptured” up to heaven out of their beds, cars, or planes, leaving behind their clothes, glasses, hearing aids, and maybe even their hip replacements.  The rest of us get left behind.  Lutheran scholar and professor Barbara Rossing recalls how her seminary students once left clothes carefully arranged on their chairs for her to find when she came to class.  Nobody got raptured, she said – “I found them in the cafeteria.”[1]

The whole rapture thing, she insists, “is a racket.”  It was invented back in the 1830s as part of preacher John Nelson Darby’s system of biblical interpretation.  The word “rapture” doesn’t occur anywhere in the Bible, so the concept got pieced together from a verse here and a verse there.  The Left Behind books are grounded in Darby’s system, and they lead to what Rossing sees as a preoccupation with fear and violence, with war and “an eagerness for Armageddon.”[2]  For fundamentalist Christians – who are politically influential right now — all of this has significant implications for American foreign policy in the Middle East, which should give us pause.

It’s only on All Saints Day and during the Easter season every three years that we hear readings from Revelation, so it’s a perfect time to leave behind the misuses and abuses of it and wonder how it might be the word of God addressed not just to first-century Christians, but to us today.  It’s full of rich images for worship that are meant to be read more as poetry than prediction.  And while John hears about the coming Lion of Judah – fierce and violent – what he sees is “the Lamb who was slain” – vulnerable and victorious.

As I was studying Revelation this week, I found myself thinking about the baptismal font in the church where I grew up.  It was white marble and on its cover stood a little lamb with a tall, thin pole leaning against it.  At the top of the pole was a narrow signal flag.  Oh, I realized, that’s “the Lamb who was slain [who] has begun his reign.”  And we who got baptized in the water in that pure white font were washed in the blood of that slaughtered Lamb.  It’s a shocking image that we’ve thoroughly domesticated, and of course it’s not meant to be taken literally.  However, it bears witness to how life is stronger than death and how God’s vision is about new life, restoration, renewal, and healing.

When chaos threatens, people of faith can live as people of hope, enduring through struggles and suffering because we trust that ultimately God’s power is greater than any other power, God’s grace is stronger than the world’s sin, and God’s reign has already begun, even if we don’t see it.  Revelation is a pretty bracing witness – encouraging us to not give up or give in to whatever is not “of God.”  We sometimes pay lip service to how a life of faith is a counter-cultural way of life, but Revelation amps that way up and exhorts us to resist the cultural and political forces that work against God and seek to thwart God’s desire for an end to violence and oppression.  The Lamb who was slain becomes the shepherd who leads the flock to green pastures and springs of water, and through places of danger to where “God will wipe every tear from their eyes.”  John wants believers to listen in worship to his visions so that they will find courage and discover strength for the present because they have hope and trust in God’s future.

A week or so ago, Kris Niendorf came to the Thursday Bible study with a bunch of origami peace cranes she’d made as signs of hope while watching the not-so-hopeful news on tv.  It seems to me that, through these tiny symbols of resistance to the world’s injustice and violence and oppression, Kris was refusing to give in to the despair that I suspect can tempt us all.  Images, gestures, and actions can embody hope and offer strength in anxious times like our own, and worship itself is full of such images and actions.  We come to remember who God is and who we are.  We come to be put back together after the past week so that we can be signs of peace and hope in the week ahead, bearing witness to God’s power to sustain and encourage us and to lead us to live ever more deeply into our identity as people of faith.  Revelation speaks as powerfully about our call to live with hope and courage in the face of injustice and violence as it did in the first century.

Revelation offers us a word from the Lord in another way, too.  In a couple weeks, we’ll hear a reading from Revelation in which John sees the holy city, the new Jerusalem, “coming down out of heaven from God.”  He hears a voice saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals.  He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them.”[3]  In John’s vision and God’s plan, the earth matters.  We don’t go up to God; God comes down to us and makes God’s home with us.  If we took that image seriously, how might it affect how we care for the earth and for all life on this planet we call home?

The language of Revelation is filled with images of all creation being restored and redeemed, and of all who make earth their home singing praises to God.  As part of the Great Thanksgiving in the liturgy during the Easter season, I say, “And so, with Mary Magdalene and Peter and all the witnesses of the resurrection, with earth and sea and all its creatures, with angels and archangels, cherubim and seraphim, we praise your name and join their unending hymn. . . .”  Did you catch that?  It’s not just us who sing but it’s the earth itself, the sea, the creatures who walk and swim and fly.  We all sing “to God and to the Lamb” and “millions join the theme” as we sing, as we sing.  We’re part of a cosmic chorus.

We humans are smart but not necessarily wise, and technology allows us to exploit our planet’s resources faster than the earth can renew itself.  That has never been true until now.  We who are called by God to care for and protect what God has made are surely called to repent — not only for what we have done but also what we have left undone in caring for God’s creation.  From the beginning, we were created for partnership with God, for joining all creation’s song of praise.  We were not made to wreak havoc on creation, which humankind increasingly is doing.

In that holy city that comes down from God, the water of life that we know in baptism flows through the city from the throne of God and of the Lamb.  John sees that “On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  Can you picture in your mind God’s new creation where water flows freely, all are fed, and healing marks all kinds of relationships?  Where our allegiance is to God alone?

That’s the vision John describes, and we are called to live into it, to let God’s future draw us to it and to work for its fulfillment.  A clear-eyed look at the forces, fears, appetites, and institutions that resist what God desires makes it clear that courage and hope will be crucial if we are to live faithfully.  A community of worship that sings “with earth and sea and all its creatures” and receives the Supper of the Lamb will help sustain us.  The book of Revelation – which, as you see, is not just weird — will ground us in a deep ecology that is the word of God addressed to us today.

And so, let us be faithful people of hope and courage, of strength and healing.  Let us be faithful people together in worship and praise.

Amen.

 

[1] Amy C. Thoren, “Barbara Rossing:  The Wittenburg Door Interview,” Issue #202, November/December 2005.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Revelation 21:2-3

Public Witness: from hand-wringing to actively loving neighbor

The 2019 ELCA Advocacy Convening (April 29 – May 1)  gathered over 100 lay and rostered  leaders to be trained as advocates. The theme: “Prepared to Care: Our Advocacy in Light of Disasters Intensified by Climate Change.” Below are some highlights as I, Phoebe Morad, experienced them. Thanks to those who support Lutherans Restoring Creation and help get our voice on the scene and for sharing this information and inspiration with your congregations and communities.

April 29th, after an 8 hour train ride from Boston: (The passenger next to me said I was taking the train such a long way to “make AOC happy,” but I said I was doing it for my kids.)

Opening worship at the glorious new space of St. Matthew’s in DC set the stage. This part had to include a bit of hand-wringing; admitting that we are full of fear and that it paralyzes us.  Director of ELCA’s Advocacy office, Amy Reumann shared that message of moving past fear in her sermon.  Washington D.C. April 2019 Service (great hymns and sample litanies)

During dinner together we heard from Lutherans across the country and globe dealing with fires, floods, immigration and agricultural devastation.  A disturbing collage of stories that are all magnified (if not caused) by a changing climate.  The positive take-away from that evening: with our combined forces of ELCA’s Global & Domestic Mission, Disaster Response, Advocacy, AND the people power in the congregations (go LRC Green Shepherds!)  we are uniquely poised to attack these issues on all fronts.

It was also terrific to have Bishop Elizabeth Eaton serve us communion as well. Photo: South Dakota Synod

 

April 30th, day two, of our training was focused on forcing ourselves into other people’s shoes.  How do we talk to people who think differently, have difference perspectives/priorities? Ani Fete-Crews from ecoAmerica’s Blessed Tomorrow’s presentation on 15 Steps to Effectively Talk about Climate utilizes current statistics about what people actually hear (which isn’t always what you say).   Time spent learning and practicing Talanoa Dialogue offered a tool for church leaders to bring back to communities with disparate views and learn how to listen to one another and find common solutions.  Hearing from pivotal leaders from island nations surrounded by the threat of rising seas and our neighbors to the South fleeing from long-term drought made the current impacts on our neighbors very real.

Her Excellency Dr. Thelma Phillip-Browne shares her concept of LIGHT from Saint Kitts & Nevis.

Conflict is not what many flee from in Nicaragua… a valley of drought for over a decade pushes families to find food.

The last day (May 1) of the convening we started out at a Mexican restaurant for (an awesome breakfast) and to be officially sent into the world – specifically to ASK our elected officials to consider the human toll of climate change.  What exactly did we ask for? Download the 2019 Advocacy Ask here which led us in conversation with our public servants.

Photo credit: Hunger Network-Ohio “Food security is tied directly to the environment and natural disaster. Droughts around the globe have led to conflict and our polluted waterways make the water impossible to drink. The Hunger Network is #Preparedtocare with ELCA Advocacy as we stormed Capitol Hill to meet with our Senators and Representatives to talk climate changes impact on our most vulnerable communities impacted by natural disaster.”

 

The energy was palpable in the ELCA DC Advocacy office as cohorts came/went to the Hill, and, it felt like  – at least for a day – we were being heard.  Bumping into other Lutherans among the offices and around the Capital was a thrill (maybe because I’m a public policy nerd).  However, the reality of complex conversations and endurance needed for collaborative work hung in the air after hours of meetings.  It was quite a refreshment to then be invited to a vibrant, grassroots reception in an inner-city church basement. With dozens of partner organizations invited to the Interfaith Power & Light’s event, we could be restored in each other’s company and be inspired by one church acting as a beacon of hope in the city.  Reformation Lutheran Church was a not only a host to this rejuvenating event, but also invited us to transformational experience called the Healing Blanket Exercise, facilitated by Prairie Rose Seminole,  ELCA’s American Indian Alaska Native Program Director.

Rooftop party with solar panels, the ELCA Advocacy Director of Energy and Corporate Responsibility and Rev. Mike Wilker.

In a contrast to the “bottom-up” mentality of the evening before, May 2nd offered a very hopeful glimpse of what is happening from the “top-down”.  Fortunately, our grassroots movement is in partnership with ecoAmerica which connects leaders from the health, policy, and religious realms so that we can leverage each other’s assets. There are MANY vignettes I would be happy to share in our next Connections Call, but if you can take the time to explore the recording below please do. Rep. Whitehouse (Dem-RI) shared a very clear understanding of what is the hold-up in his “habitat,” Dr.  Gail Christopher shared a staggering account of the impacts on health care costs, and Rev. Dorhauer talks about privilege as an impediment to the church.  If nothing else, let Shantha Ready-Alonso lead you through a guided visualization of why any of us do this work (start at minute 15 below).

Thanks again so much for being a part of this movement and helping ensure the concerns, efforts, and strengths that come from the Caring for Creation ministries within the ELCA are heard.  Meeting with leadership from all sectors of our church in person and focused on the urgent issues of climate was more effective than dozens of conference calls and hundreds of emails.  I returned home (via train of course) with a full plate of next steps and a full heart of hope.  

Let All Creation Praise! – companion site

Our ecumenical companion site, www.LetAllCreationPraise.org ,   is maintained by long-time supporter and fellow Lutheran restoring creation, Nick Utphall.     This site is an online library of commentaries, hymns, worship samples and devotions which speak to a wide variety of Christian faiths.  Rev. Utphall is pastor at Madison Christian Community in Wisconsin. Check out their site for more testimonials of working together to celebrate all of God’s gifts.

God in Forests: Who is Jesus for Chipmunks?

A Service In and For the Forests – Feel free to share this worship service or get ideas – we appreciate acknowledgement!

Click here to download bulletin.

Pentecost Creation/Forest — July 15, 2018
Homily by Pastor Susan Henry, House of Prayer Lutheran Church

Who Is Jesus for Chipmunks?

For maybe twenty-five years, I’ve mulled over a theological question that makes me feel a little foolish. I never raised it in a seminary class or talked about it with a professor, and when I’ve tentatively mentioned it to a colleague or two, they’ve looked at me like, “What???” But this question keeps coming up for me, and that kind of insistence in my life is sometimes God’s way of nudging me to stick with something that matters. So, even though you’ll probably laugh or give me the “What?” look, I’m going to share my theological question with you: “Who is Jesus for chipmunks?”
Stated more broadly, I guess this is a question about Jesus’ relationship with life other than human life – with chipmunks and vultures, worms and whales, Easter lilies and Queen Ann’s lace, cornfields and baobab trees. Who is Jesus for the rest of God’s created world? Does other-than-human life need Jesus, just as we do?

Martin Luther taught that “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees and in the flowers and clouds and stars.” Luther must have thought that something important about being saved, about being made whole, is written right on creation itself. And Luther perceived God as “entirely and personally present in the wilderness, in the garden, in the field.” Imagine that! In suggesting that the gospel is not only proclaimed in Jesus but also revealed somehow in creation itself, maybe Luther too had been wondering about who Jesus is for chipmunks.

I don’t have a definitive theological conviction about this chipmunk thing yet, but over the past couple years I’ve felt something shifting in me that makes me way more attentive to all of life, not just human life, and to God’s relationship with life itself on the planet we all call home. Where I’ve been, who I’ve met – especially Phoebe, and what I’ve read has given me new and helpful vocabulary about “the web of life” and about “other-than-human life” and about how everything belongs, everything is connected, every kind of life matters.
Throughout my ministry, I’ve talked about the Bible as the long story of God’s loving way with God’s people, and although that’s true, it doesn’t seem quite sufficient anymore. I see how I’ve skipped over the part of the Flood story where the rainbow is a sign of the covenant God makes not only with humankind, but also with all the creatures of the earth. God saves life. People matter, but we’re not all that matters to God.

When I was on sabbatical a couple years ago, I invited you all to “notice and note” the created world around you with the hope that you (and I) would really see more, would care more about what we noticed, and would be moved to care for God’s creation more faithfully and intentionally. While you were here noticing the world around you, I was in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan noticing and noting the national forest in which I could drive at least ten miles in every direction and maybe only cross one road. It was amazing, dense, dark, humbling. I was fascinated by all the life around me at Carrie’s cabin – the jackpines with cones that only open under intense heat so that new life can begin after a forest fire, the trees with straight rows of woodpecker holes in them – like corncobs, the eagles that dove for fish in the lake in front of the cabin and took their catch home to the eaglets in their massive nests. I saw more, I learned more, I cared more. I felt more connected to creation and to all life.

For days, I tried to identify some other huge birds that I knew weren’t eagles and didn’t seem like osprey or hawks, either. Finally, I saw one – then another, and then a third — land in a couple dead trees fairly nearby. I grabbed the binoculars, zeroed in on those birds, and discovered that they were huge, ugly, disgusting, bare-headed, hunched-over vultures. Ha! I laughed out loud because I was expecting beauty and grandeur but I got these less-than-lovely scavengers who nevertheless are a really important part of the web of life. We need those vultures!

In the UP, I saw the startling, bare, ruined earth where land was being clear-cut for the sake of more and more new construction, for joining house to house to house, despite its cost to the life of the forest community. I learned a little about woodlot management where mules or horses are used to haul out what is selectively cut, instead of using massive machinery that makes it necessary to cut more in order to sell more in order to pay back the massive loans on that incredibly expensive logging equipment. It’s a pretty vicious cycle and a pretty grim story.

Right alongside all this, I was reading Earth-Honoring Faith, Lutheran ethicist Larry Rasmussen’s urgent call to sing faith’s song in a new key – an unfamiliar key that no longer treats the earth only as something to be used, even exploited, by humankind, but in ways that foster the well-being of all creation, ways that “sing to the Lord a new song.” Spirituality and ecology become allies in this transformation, for the sake of the world God created and loves.
Back in 1971, Dr. Seuss wrote The Lorax, and it’s still a call for voices that will speak for the trees and for people who will act for the sake of nature’s well-being. In a way, it’s even a call to what Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann names as “a new ecological perspective in which the earth and all of the creatures of the Earth are treated like covenant partners who are entitled to dignity and viability. Every acre,” he says, “every squirrel, every radish, every whale, every cornstalk is entitled to viability and respect.”
The Lorax calls us to speak for the trees and act for the sake of creation, but scripture, creation itself, theologians, and ethicists call us to do so because we are people of faith, because we know Jesus, because we love the world that God loves. “God so loved the world” – the cosmos, the planet, the people, the trees, the oceans, the creatures, even the chipmunks – that God came and lived among us on this beautiful blue marble that is life’s home. And not just for our lives, but for all the life we know.

When our fallenness, our sin, our very human unwillingness to let God be God in our lives compromises other life and maybe the life of the planet, God’s saving work in Jesus matters, and our faithful response to God’s grace matters, too. Never before has human life had so large an effect on our planet, and that just might call for an enlarged understanding of what it means to live faithfully. Our assumption that human life matters most to God might be challenged by the gospel written in trees and flowers and clouds and stars; in beauty, wonder, well-being, fullness of life, and harmonious relationship with God and all creation; in life together that’s more like life in the kingdom Jesus came preaching.

It may be quite a shift for you to take that “new ecological perspective” Brueggemann describes “in which the earth and all of the creatures of the Earth are treated like covenant partners who are entitled to dignity and viability.” I’m still in the midst of that shift myself. You might wonder about, be drawn to, challenge, or even resist such a new perspective, but perhaps we can’t sing in a new and unfamiliar key without a new perspective. It won’t be easy, but it might be necessary for us as people of faith. If Jesus came that we might have life and have it abundantly, such abundance surely includes respect for the life of, as Brueggeman puts it, “every acre, every squirrel, every radish, every whale, every cornstalk.”
Every chipmunk, too.

Amen

Sources: 

Attributed to Luther, cited in Awakening to God’s Call to Earthkeeping, elca.org

 LW 37:61, ibid.

Genesis 9:9

Earth-Honoring Faith: Religious Ethics in a New Key, Larry L. Rasmussen, Oxford University Press, 2013

 Walter Brueggemann, “Jesus Acted Out the Alternative to Empire,” posted June 22, 2018, sojo.net

Microscopic – Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise

Micro-Creation Service Bulletin – Click here – free to share! (wonderful readings, music, etc.)

Homily by Pastor Susan Henry, House of Prayer Lutheran Church – Hingham MA

Pentecost 13 B Creation  – –  August 19, 2018

Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and from our Lord Jesus Christ.

Lost in Wonder, Love, and Praise

Because I was appalled at the prospect of dissecting a frog, I never took biology. My study of living organisms hasn’t been academic, but it has led me to love life, to stand in awe of God’s creative impulses and energy, and, lately, to feel more and more connected not just with human life, but with all of life.

I wasn’t in a biology lab, but I learned about dinosaurs, insects, and sea creatures because I was teaching four-year-olds about them. I know chicken anatomy because whole chickens are cheaper than chicken parts, so I long ago learned how to cut them up. I’ve milked goats and stirred a microbe-rich culture into that milk to make yogurt, and I’ve watched and smelled yeast at work in fragrant, rising bread dough. Most of what I know about plants comes either from gardening, being in the woods, or drawing what I see around me. Really, what I know about biology is more like having a pocketful of seeds, twigs, and shells than knowing where everything fits in a grand scheme. But, as a hymn puts it, I’m “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”

This is the third of three summer worship services that have been turning our hearts and minds to God the Creator “of all that is, seen and unseen” – the God of galaxies so vast and so distant it’s hard to wrap our minds around them, the God of forests that breathe in the carbon dioxide we have exhaled and then breathe out the oxygen we will inhale, the God of a fungal network so infinitesimal that 800 miles of it runs through the soil beneath just one footstep that we take. Really, the mind boggles!

The biblical writers knew nothing of micro-organisms, of course, but they too were lost in wonder, love and praise: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.” “How great are your works, O Lord! Your thoughts are very deep!” Both worship and study can draw our attention to what we might often take for granted about God’s awe-inspiring, gracious, creative work made known in human and other-than-human life.

At Bible study Thursday morning, we read today’s verses from scripture, and then we sat in awe of how our bodies are able to heal when we get a cut or break a bone. We laughed in amazement at the number of cherry tomatoes a mere three plants can produce from three tiny seeds. We pondered what we can see through a telescope and what is far beyond our seeing. We caught a glimpse of how everything is connected, how everything belongs. We were lost in wonder, love, and praise.

It’s good for us to intentionally focus on the marvels of creation and on the Creator of all that exists. It’s good for us to contemplate how interrelated all of life is, so that we can honor, respect, and protect what God has made and continues to create. It’s good for us to acknowledge how the Earth suffers when we fail to care for God’s creation, so that we can confess “what we have done and left undone” and so that we can change our ways.

Our reflection today about “the zoo in you” comes from Larry Rasmussen, a Lutheran ethicist who teaches at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. He too is lost in wonder, love and praise when he considers the sacredness of the web of life of which we are a part. But out of a passion for the well-being of that whole web of life, he is calling us to a life of faith that honors not only human life, but the life of the Earth itself. We’ve not been very good at that. We humans most often see our planet through the lens of how it can be useful to us, and we’ve gotten quite adept at consuming Earth’s resources – often without considering the consequences of what we do. Never before in Earth’s history have human actions been able to have such a massive impact on the web of life on Earth. That is no small thing.

People of faith bring a perspective to this situation that is grounded in knowing and loving God who creates, redeems and sustains us. And although we do think of God as the creator of all life, we probably haven’t thought much about God’s redeeming and sustaining work for the sake of all of life, for the sake of the web of life itself. Even less have we considered what it might ask of us to honor God’s desires for the well-being of all life.

Well-being, wholeness, fullness of life, flourishing, completeness, harmony, peace – this is the future God is drawing us toward. Scripture uses the word “shalom” to speak of this kind of life. We can also recall Jesus’ many parables about the kingdom of God. People kept asking Jesus, “What is the kingdom of God like? What is life like where what God desires is how life actually is?”

One time, Jesus said, “[The kingdom of God] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened.” Now, you may find that as enigmatic a response as the Bible study group did, but that’s the nature of parables. Jesus didn’t hand out easy answers but instead left his hearers puzzling over his words, taking them back home with them, pondering what yeast is and what someone did and what the result was – and what all that has to do with wholeness and well-being and flourishing.
Among other things, perhaps Jesus was calling his followers to be leaven in the loaf of their society, to help create something life-sustaining and God-honoring. People of faith like us today can be the leaven mixed into critical discussions and decisions about the well-being of the Earth and about the flourishing of all life – the leaven, the soil, the wheat, the baker, and those who share the bread. In living out such an Earth-honoring faith, we may discover that the kingdom of God has come near.

Amen

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

Creation of Cosmos Service – Feel free to download and share this bulletin.  Please don’t forget acknowledgements.

Creation: The Universe  – – June 17, 2018
Homily by Pastor Susan Henry, House of Prayer Lutheran Church, Hingham MA

Of All That Is, Seen and Unseen

In the summer, it would be hard not to notice the goodness of God’s creation. Long days and starry nights; fruitful gardens and gorgeous flowers visited by bees and hummingbirds; picnics and cookouts; backyard sprinklers and ocean waves; time outdoors with families, friends and pets; vacation plans or memories – such things immerse us in the created world around us. On one Sunday in each of the summer months, we’ll turn our hearts and minds in worship to God whom we know not only as our Creator, but as the Creator of the vast, expanding universe, of the human and other-than-human life that’s all around us, and of the vital microbial life far too small for us to see.

We Lutherans are occasionally criticized for “an idolatry of the Second Person of the Trinity” – in other words, for so much emphasis on Jesus that we don’t pay enough attention to the Father and the Holy Spirit. It’s a critique worth considering. So, today, let’s affirm our belief “in one God, the Father, the Almighty, the maker of heaven and earth, of all that is, seen and unseen.”
I am thankful for all that God has made, but I too often take God’s ongoing creative work for granted. I water the herbs on my deck and Rae tends to the vegetables in his garden, but we know we ourselves don’t make them grow. In gardens and farms and vineyards everywhere, God keeps creating. Episcopal priest and chef Robert Farrar Capon once remarked on how next year’s wine depends on God saying, “Mmmm. That was good. Let’s do it again.”
The sun continues to rise and set, rain falls, the moon waxes and wanes, and I do nothing but stand in wonder now and then. Maybe you do, too. Poets, like the writers of Proverbs, Psalms, Isaiah 40, and the prologue to John’s gospel, all give voice to my wonder and yours. Together in worship today, we get to delight in Wisdom’s companionship with God. We get to imagine how the sun, the moon and the stars themselves praise their Creator. Seen from God’s perspective, we who look like grasshoppers have to wonder how it is that the God who called light and life and all creation into being cares about us churchgoers in a little town on the South Shore in Massachusetts. It’s stunning, really.

The ancient worldview seems quaint in relation to our knowledge about the universe today. Only relatively recently have we been able to see our own planet from beyond it. You’ve probably seen the iconic photograph of Earth, the “Blue Marble,” that was taken by astronauts on their way to the moon. Like the biblical writers, scientists too stand in awe and resort to poetic language to describe what the Apollo 17 astronauts saw: “Earth is revealed as both a vast planet home to billions of creatures and a beautiful orb capable of fitting into the pocket of the universe.”

It’s hard to get my head around what that lovely image describes – our planet spinning in a spur near the edge of our galaxy where a look at the night sky gives us a tiny, fuller glimpse of God’s ongoing creation. Out there, stars are born and die. Galaxies collide and trigger starbursts. Bright and dark nebulae, supernovas and black holes reflect the creative energy of the “maker of all that is, seen and unseen.”

I can barely get the vocabulary right, let alone comprehend the expanding universe that reflects our worldview. I’m happy to live with some mystery as I contemplate God’s creative energy and God’s astounding creation. This is more frenetic than poetic, but it might be a theme you recognize:

Our whole universe was in a hot dense state,
Then nearly fourteen billion years ago expansion started. Wait. . .
The Earth began to cool,
The autotrophs began to drool,
Neanderthals developed tools,
We built a wall (we built the pyramids),
Math, science, history, unraveling the mystery,
That all started with the big bang!

Awesome work, God. Now, one of the things I love about being the Lutheran kind of Christian is that we read the Bible as a book of faith. We don’t turn to it as a science book, and we recognize that the history it tells is told by people of faith for the sake of faith. We can still join our voices with people who held an ancient worldview that knew nothing of Earth’s place in the Virgo Supercluster. We can join our voices with all creation – sun, moon, stars, planets, galaxies – in praise of our Creator. And since we ourselves are literally made of stardust, we can truly “join in the hymn of all creation.”
As astrophysicist Karel Schrijver and professor of pathology Iris Schrijver put it, “Our bodies are made of remnants of stars and massive explosions in the galaxies. All the material in our bodies originates with that residual stardust, and it finds its way into plants, and from there into the nutrients that we need for everything we do – think, move, grow. And every few years, the bulk of our bodies are newly created.” In more than one way, God is always creating, renewing, feeding, and transforming us.

When we consider God’s heavens, the work of God’s hands, the galaxies that God has created, who are we that God is mindful of us, that God is concerned about us? The mind boggles. And yet – the witness of scripture is that God does indeed care about us and for us, that God cares so much that God came to live among us in Jesus, stardust himself, like us. So intimate was Jesus’ relationship with the Creator of the whole universe that Jesus prayed, “Abba, Father, Daddy. . . .” We who know Jesus as our brother may also pray, “Abba, Father, Daddy. . . .” And perhaps, as we stand awestruck by God’s creative power and saving love, we can pray a simple prayer. German mystic Meister Eckhart famously said that if the only prayer we ever prayed was “Thank you,” it would be enough.

So, let us pray. Creator of the universe . . . maker of all that is, seen and unseen . . . Abba, Father, Daddy . . . thank you. Amen.

Sermon on Public Witness

On the Way

Pentecost 17 B / Proper 19                             September 16, 2018

Isaiah 50:4-9a    James 3:1-12   Mark 8:27-38

Pastor Susan Henry – House of Prayer Lutheran Church,
Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

We’re right smack in the middle of Mark’s telling of the story of Jesus, but let’s look back to the start of it.  There, Mark writes that this is “The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.”  We’ve known who Jesus is from the very first verse of Mark’s gospel.  But Jesus’ disciples and the crowds who seek him out don’t know who he is – yet.  Some of the demons do, but nobody pays attention to them.  Peter and the other disciples have heeded Jesus’ call to follow him, going where he goes, crossing the Sea of Galilee again and again, watching and listening as his ministry unfolds, as he heals people, feeds them, delivers them from what torments them, and teaches them.  The disciples think they have a pretty good idea who Jesus is.

But they don’t, really.  Today’s gospel testifies to that.  Jesus is headed north to Caesarea Philippi, beyond Jewish territory, near some of the places where the Roman emperor is worshipped.  “On the way,” Mark says, Jesus wants to know who people think he is.  The disciples report that some think he’s John the Baptist come back from the dead or Elijah who was taken into heaven or one of the prophets of old who’ve come again.  Any of them could have “a word from the Lord” for those with ears to hear.

But then Jesus asks a harder question:  “But who do you say that I am?”  It’s “you” in the plural – “you all” – but Peter answers, “You are the Messiah.”  You are the Anointed One, the Christ, the Messiah of God – which is the “right” answer.  But then, instead of congratulating Peter on his insight, Jesus “sternly order[s] them not to tell anyone about him.” This confuses us – and I suspect it confused them, too.  If they’ve got it right, why wouldn’t they share it?  Isn’t this what people are waiting for?

We might imagine that Jews in Jesus’ time were all anticipating the coming of the Messiah, but Judaism then was more diverse than we used to think.  Some Jews did expect a powerful leader from King David’s line who would throw off the oppressive rule of Rome and instead establish a reign of peace and an era of holiness.  Some longed for a messianic age of religious purification.  Others no doubt recalled how not only kings but also prophets and priests were “anointed ones.”[1]  Maybe “Messiah” was a word like a Rorschach test – what you saw said more about you than about anything else.

Peter has the right word about Jesus, but we’ll soon see that he has the wrong meaning.  Maybe that’s why Jesus shuts the disciples down:  “Don’t go around talking about something you don’t really understand.”  When Jesus says that he “must undergo great suffering, and be rejected, . . . and be killed, and after three days rise again,” Peter is appalled.  He doesn’t want to hear anything remotely like that from Jesus.  And, anyway, what kind of Messiah would suffer and die?  It makes no sense, and Peter takes Jesus aside and starts to reproach him for saying such a thing.  Jesus, however, comes back at Peter harshly, saying, “’Get behind me, Satan!’  You’ve got your priorities confused with God’s.  Follow me, don’t get ahead of me because I’m not going where you want me to go.  Back off, Peter!”

Where Jesus is going is no longer back and forth across the lake or around the villages and cities, but toward Jerusalem.  From here on, he is on the way to rejection, to suffering, to death.  And even though he has told the disciples that he will rise again, I can’t imagine they could hear that, let alone envision it.  Whatever expectations they’ve held about a coming Messiah have been shattered.  Within those diverse understandings among Jews, none include rejection or suffering, death or apparent failure.  Surely any Messiah will come with strength and power, in glory and triumph.

While the disciples are still reeling from Jesus’ words, he gathers the crowd in with them and he tells all of them that following him will be costly.  It won’t lead to glory or wealth or success or power or whatever else the world counts as “winning.”  Our egos can be seduced by all those things, but if we define ourselves in terms of what our egos are desperate for, we will have a false sense of who we are.  That false self is what Jesus will call his disciples to deny so that they can live with a true sense of who they are — formed in the image of God, made for relationship, called to freedom, meant for serving, created for love.

When we talked in Bible study about what it means to “deny ourselves,” we struggled to understand what Jesus was asking.  If the disciples gave up everything to follow him, is that what Jesus calls us to do, too?  Do we have to abandon the people we love or the work we do or the joy we find in life?  Now, surely among God’s gifts to us are the people who love us and the right use of the abilities God has given us, so that can’t be what Jesus is talking about.  When the word “priorities” came up, something shifted from fear about what we might lose if we follow Jesus to curiosity about what we might gain, even as we reckoned with making some sacrifices as we get our priorities straight.

In denying our false and inadequate selves, we may see our true selves more clearly.  In acknowledging our own brokenness and in letting go of our selfishness – maybe only little by little — we will glimpse more of the full humanity God intends for us.  In following Jesus more faithfully, we will be drawn deeper into the world’s suffering, into Jesus’ suffering for our own and the world’s sake.  These are good things, but hard things.  They remind us that, while we might not get the God we want, we get the God we need.

We get Jesus, who knows that our false selves get in our way and lead us to worship all the wrong things in all the wrong places.  We get Jesus, who sees the messy, broken places in our lives and meets us there.  We get Jesus, whose story ended not in his rejection, suffering and death, but in new life which is ours as well.  And we get Jesus, who continues to love us out of our resistance to following him more faithfully, so that we can more fully experience life in him, in community, and in the kingdom of mercy and grace that is already but not yet here.

There’s hard stuff in the gospel today, for the disciples long ago and for us today, but let’s gather our courage and go where Jesus wants to take us, praying on the way that we may “see him more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly, day by day.”[2]

Amen

[1] David Schnasa Jacobsen, “Mark,” Fortress Biblical Preaching Commentary, Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2014, p. 120.

[2] Richard of Chichester, 12th century

Ecological Christianity Through The Sacrament of the Altar

What is the Sacrament of the Altar?

It is the true body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ under the bread and wine, instituted by Christ himself for us Christians to eat and to drink.

Where is this written?

The holy evangelists Matthew, Mark, and Luke, and St. Paul write thus:

“In the night in which he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus took bread, and gave thanks; he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying: Take and eat; this is my body, given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me. Again, after supper, he took the cup, gave thanks, and gave it for all to drink, saying: This cup is the new covenant in my blood, shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. Do this for the remembrance of me.”

Think! One of the last things Jesus did, before being arrested in a garden and condemned to death, was to share a meal. In various stories, one of the first things Jesus did, after rising from the dead in a garden, was to share meals. What does it mean that Jesus shares this meal with you? How do you feel about Jesus being present in something so common as a bit of bread, of God embodied in the earthly elements of our world?

Act! Visit ELCA World Hunger resources webpage for a toolkit on “Hunger and Climate Change Connections” that has activities and resources for a guided conversation on what climate change means for world hunger. Find this and other ways you can help the ELCA share food and address changing resources by searching www.ELCA.org for “hunger and climate.”

What is the benefit of such eating and drinking?

The words “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sins” show us that forgiveness of sin, life, and salvation are given to us in the sacrament through these words, because where there is forgiveness of sin, there is also life and salvation.

How can bodily eating and drinking do such great things?

Eating and drinking certainly do not do it, but the words that are recorded: “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin.” These words, when accompanied by the physical eating and drinking, are the essential thing in the sacrament, and whoever believes these very words has what they declare and state, namely, “forgiveness of sin.”

Think! In regular daily meals, God is present to sustain your life. In communion with so much of creation, with the willingness of sunshine and miracle of photosynthesis, of farmers and pollinators and yeast, by soil and in a vessel God’s salvation is again made present for you. How does their part in bringing you the sacrament bring you to care for them?

Act! The physical eating and drinking is clearly a worthwhile and necessary part of God’s blessing and work. Choose ingredients and bake bread for communion. Visit a winery. “Taste and see that the Lord is good!” (Psalm 34:8)

Who, then, receives this sacrament worthily?

Fasting and bodily preparation are in fact a fine external discipline, but a person who has faith in these words, “given for you” and “shed for you for the forgiveness of sin,” is really worthy and well prepared. However, a person who does not believe these words or doubts them is unworthy and unprepared, because the words “for you” require truly believing hearts.

Think! In this way of looking at the Small Catechism, or in your life generally, what have been actions and behaviors that have been very important for you in saving the earth? How do you feel about the statement that individual actions are “significant but not sufficient” for the problem at hand? What more needs to be done that you cannot do alone?

Act! Always give thanks to God for this abiding grace in Christ, continuing to give to you and everything else. As Psalm 145:15-16 says, “The eyes of all wait upon you, O Lord, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand and satisfy the desire of every living creature.” With this in mind, say a prayer before each meal. Luther suggests, “Lord God, heavenly Father, bless us and these your gifts, which we receive from your bountiful goodness, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

 

 

Ecological Christianity Through The Sacrament of Baptism

I. What is Baptism?

Baptism is not simply plain water. Instead, it is water used according to God’s command and connected with God’s Word.

What then is this word of God? Where our Lord Christ says in Matthew 28: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”

Think! What a great blessing clean “simply plain water” is! God could have chosen any way to act, but makes this promise to you with amazing, abundant water. How would your view of baptism change if the water were polluted and dirty or if there were no water available? How does God’s word with the water remind you of God’s work in the world?

Act! Touch the water in your baptismal font. Make the sign of the cross on yourself and others. If there is no water in the font, ask your pastor if you can add some. And then touch and enjoy its cleanness—God works in things like this!

II. What gifts or benefits does baptism grant?

It brings about forgiveness of sins, redeems from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation to all who believe it, as the words and promises of God declare.

What are these words and promises of God? Where our Lord Christ says in Mark 16: “The one who believes and is baptized will be saved; but the one who does not believe will be condemned.”

Think! Christians have unfortunately been apt to think of baptism as an insurance policy in case of accidental death. Why, from an ecological perspective especially, might God want to save you for your life now for the sake of this world?

Act! Think of saints you’ve known and celebrate what others have accomplished in their lives. Visit a cemetery or memorial garden and note how it continues to be a place of life. Use it as an occasion to remember that our actions today affect generations yet to come.

III. How can water do such great things?

Clearly the water does not do it, but the word of God, which is with and alongside the water, and faith, which trusts this word of God in the water. For without the word of God the water is plain water and not a baptism, but with the word of God it is a baptism, that is, a grace-filled water of life and a “bath of the new birth in the Holy Spirit,” as St. Paul says to Titus in chapter 3, “through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. The saying is sure.”

Think! Because we know of this special bath, we can also see God’s grace working through the “plain waters.” What are some of the “great things” plain water does in our world?

Act! We often overlook the value of water. Water Footprints, like the more common Carbon Footprints, are a new way to be attentive to our use and impact on water supplies. Give it a try at http://www.waterfootprint.org/ Visit http://www.elca.org/hunger/water for church resources.

IV. What then is the significance of such a baptism with water?

It signifies that the old person in us with all sins and evil desires is to be drowned and die through daily sorrow for sin and through repentance, and on the other hand that daily a new person is to come forth and rise up to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.

Where is this written? St. Paul says in Romans 6, “We have been buried with Christ by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we to might walk in newness of life.”

Think! Again, not waiting for afterlife, here is a daily hope that you may live rightly in God’s world. What are five things you can do for the world today because you have the benefit and grace of life?

Act! Obviously God’s Word is strongest, but notice how this cleansing and purifying of baptism is done with water. Take this opportunity to see what harmful cleaning chemicals you could replace with something better.

 

Ecological Christianity Through The Lord’s Prayer

Our Father in heaven.

What is this? With these words God wants to attract us, so that we come to believe that he is truly our Father and we are truly his children, in order that we may ask him boldly and with complete confidence, as loving children ask their loving father.

Think! Calling God a Father “in heaven” was to clarify we weren’t talking to a birth parent. It is not trying to say God is “in some heaven light years away.” How is God even more nurturing and trustworthy like a loving parent if God is “Here in this Place” (ELW Hymn #532), still walking amid the garden (Genesis 3:8)?

Act! Since our minds are on the heavens with this prayer, don’t let it get too ethereal! Go outside and notice the clouds or the stars. Feel the sunlight. Watch the phase of the moon. Pause in this prayer to look up from life’s busy paths.

Hallowed be your name.

What is this? It is true that God’s name is holy in itself, but we ask in this prayer that it may also become holy in and among us.

How does this come about? Whenever the word of God is taught clearly and purely and we, as God’s children, also live holy lives according to it. To this end help us, dear Father in heaven! However, whoever teaches and lives otherwise than the Word of God teaches, dishonors the name of God among us. Preserve us from this, heavenly Father!

Think! Asking that God make us holy, we often think about it as more pious, more focused on the supernatural. How do you think God would define holy living amid creation? (You might see the prophets for help—Isaiah 5:8, 11:6-9, 24:3-6; Hosea 2:18-19, 4:3; Amos 5:8-12; Micah 4:4, 6:8)

Act! Adopt a new way of holy living by finding at least one new way to be mindful about conserving resources: Shut off lights. Recycle. Use less water. Pay attention to your actions as a spiritual discipline.

Your kingdom come.

What is this? In fact, God’s kingdom comes on its own without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come to us.

How does this come about? Whenever our heavenly Father gives us his Holy Spirit, so that through the Holy Spirit’s grace we believe God’s holy word and live godly lives here in time and hereafter in eternity.

Think! Notice again that the kingdom is not equated to heaven, but comes in how we live here and now. Read Mark 4:30-32, where Jesus compares God’s kingdom to a mustard shrub in which we all rest. Where do you experience the nesting comfort of God’s promise?

Act! Since the parable talks of birds and plants, find and identify one around you. Know this amazing diversity of who your nest-mates are.

Your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

What is this? In fact, God’s good and gracious will come about without our prayer, but we ask in this prayer that it may also come about in and among us.

How does this come about? Whenever God breaks and hinders every evil scheme and will—as are present in the will of the devil, the world, and our flesh—that would not allow us to hallow God’s name and would prevent the coming of his kingdom, and instead whenever God strengthens us and keeps us steadfast in his word and in faith until the end of our lives. This is God’s good and gracious will.

Think! The prayer continues reinforcing that this is a matter for this life—for this earth! If flowers bloom to the glory of God, gurgling rapids sing God’s praises, and even rocks do what they’re supposed to do, how can you listen for God’s will for you to love all your creaturely neighbors on earth?

Act! Luther says God breaks us from the world, here not meaning the natural world but the things that get in the way of focusing on what God wants. Make a list of at least 5 ways your actions or lifestyle get in the way of God’s good for the natural world. Then list at least 5 things of this world you’d like to pay better attention to. Finally, list at least 5 things to change for the culture of your church, community, or country.

Give us this day our daily bread.

What is this? In fact, God gives daily bread without our prayers, even to all evil people, but we ask in this prayer that God cause us to recognize what our daily bread is and to receive it with thanksgiving.

What then does “daily bread” mean? Everything included in the necessity and nourishment for our bodies, such as food, drink, clothing, shoes, house, farm, fields, livestock, money, property, an upright spouse, upright children, upright members of the household, upright and faithful rulers, good government, good weather, peace, health, decency, honor, good friends, faithful neighbors, and the like.

Think! Luther here already admits the ecological expanse of our daily sustenance. Where did your last meal come from and what did it take to produce it? How much can you trace about the full origins of your food?

Act! Go one day per week without eating meat. If all Americans did it, it would be the same as taking one of every eight (8 million) cars off the road! Help spread what our resources can sustain.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us.

What is this? We ask in this prayer that our heavenly Father would not regard our sins nor deny these petitions on their account, for we are worthy of nothing for which we ask, nor have we earned it. Instead we ask that God would give us all things by grace, for we daily sin much and indeed deserve only punishment. So, on the other hand, we, too, truly want to forgive heartily and to do good gladly to those who sin against us.

Think! How do we balance pardoning and holding accountable environmental sins? Will seals forgive us our oil spills? Will ancient redwoods and Amazon rainforests forgive air pollution and deforestation? Will stream life and coral reefs forgive us for mountain top removal and burning coal? Will people of island nations forgive us for the flooding of their homes?

Act! As atonement for our corporate sins, plant a tree, ride a bike or find another way to atone for and mitigate the destruction humans cause. And know that God is eagerly helping you!

Save us from the time of trial. (Lead us not into temptation.)

What is this? It is true that God tempts no one, but we ask in this prayer that God would preserve and keep us, so that the devil, the world, and our flesh may not deceive us or mislead us into false belief, despair, and other great and shameful sins, and that, although we may be attacked by them, we may finally prevail and gain the victory.

Think! An average child watches 20,000 commercials on TV each year. This corporate consumer myth of brand identity and purchasing ease and inexpensive happiness is much of what got us into our current ecological crisis. How can you help a child to enjoy life in a natural state?

Act! Don’t forget to get outside yourself! Shut off the TV or computer at some point this week and go for a walk, or sit and enjoy.

And deliver us from evil. (For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen.)

What is this? We ask in this prayer, as in a summary, that our Father in heaven may deliver us from all kinds of evil—affecting body or soul, property or reputation—and at last, when our final hour comes, may grant us a blessed end and take us by grace from this valley of tears to himself in heaven.

Think! In Luther’s summary, this perhaps also points to the close of the prayer—and the start—that we are in God’s care forever and ever. Even in this time of trial where we may fear irreversible harm, God is with us. “Yes, it is going to come about just like this!” How does God’s ongoing work for good in this world empower you and give you hope?

Act! Pray for God’s work to save the whole earth. And pray that you also will love what God loves and save what God saves. Yes it shall be so!

 

 

Ecological Christianity Through The Creed

The 1st Article, on Creation

I believe in God, the Father Almighty, creator of heaven and earth.

What is this? I believe that God has created me together with all that exists. God has given me and still preserves my body and soul: eyes, ears, and all limbs and senses; reason and all mental faculties. In addition, God daily and abundantly provides shoes and clothing, food and drink, house and farm, spouse and children, fields, livestock, and all property—along with all the necessities and nourishment for this body and life. God protects me against all danger and shields and preserves me from all evil. And all this is done out of pure, fatherly, and divine goodness and mercy, without any merit or worthiness of mine at all! For all this I owe it to God to thank and praise, serve and obey him. This is most certainly true.

Think! In the Creed, Luther frames his thoughts as “me” so that I can know how good God is in my life. We can easily also hear that promise for all of creation. Read Job 38-41, where God the Father speaks of delighting in all of God’s children—including those of no use to humans or even seen by humans as dangerous. What are ways God the Father might be working to “preserve” and “protect” other creatures in this world?

Act! Listen as rivers clap their hands (Psalm 98:8) and trees sing for joy (1 Chronicles 16:33) at God’s goodness and steadfast love! Sing with St. Francis in his Canticle of the Sun (ELW Hymn #835, LBW #527), joining with all our sisters and brothers in praise of God.

The 2nd Article, on Redemption

I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead. On the third day he rose again; he ascended into heaven, he is seated at the right hand of the Father; and he will come to judge the living and the dead.

What is this? I believe that Jesus Christ, true God, begotten of the Father in eternity, and also a true human, born of the virgin Mary, is my Lord. He has redeemed me, a lost and condemned human being. He has purchased and freed me from all sins, from death, and from the power of the devil, not with gold or silver but with his holy, precious blood and with his innocent suffering and death. He has done all this in order that I may belong to him, live under him in his kingdom, and serve him in eternal righteousness, innocence, and blessedness, just as he is risen from the dead and lives and rules eternally. This is most certainly true.

Think! Read Romans 8:18-23. What are ways around us where you think the whole creation has been groaning until now because of our sin, waiting for us to live righteously?

Act! Next time in worship at Confession and Forgiveness, confess your complicity in humanity’s greatest sin of catastrophic planet-wide destruction. Then hear the word of forgiveness in Jesus’ name as your vocational call to go and live rightly amid creation, serving Christ by loving others.

The 3rd Article, on Sanctification

I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting.

What is this? I believe that by my own understanding or strength I cannot believe in Jesus Christ my Lord or come to him, but instead the Holy Spirit has called me through the gospel, enlightened me with his gifts, made me holy and kept me in the true faith, just as he calls, gathers, enlightens, and makes holy the whole Christian church on earth and keeps it with Jesus Christ in the one common, true faith. Daily in this Christian church the Holy Spirit abundantly forgives all sins—mine and those of all believers. On the last day the Holy Spirit will raise me and all the dead and will give to me and all believers in Christ eternal life. This is most certainly true.

Think! Read Genesis 1:1-5. The Spirit that moved over the waters is the Spirit who breathes new life into you, making you a new creation. What can you celebrate as resurrection moments in your life and in this world? When has the Spirit enlivened you, inspired you or those around you to live in new ways amid creation?

Act! Watch the wind blow waves across a lake or find some water to blow on with your own breath. This is the source of life, and God says it is good!

 

 

Ecological Christianity Through The Ten Commandments

The 1st Commandment: You shall have no other gods.

What is this? We are to fear, love, and trust God above all things.

Think! Read Matthew 5:45. Jesus makes a promise of sun and rain, that this is always around us—good or bad, human or not. How does this promise of needs of life help you love and trust God? What leads you away from the promise, leading you to place trust in other things?

Act! Give thanks for 100 things you encounter in creation today as a way to remember that God is source of everything, working forever to bless us all with what we need to live.

The 2nd Commandment: You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not curse, swear, practice magic, lie, or deceive using God’s name, but instead use that very name in every time of need to call on, pray to, praise, and give thanks to God.

Think! 2 billion people (1/3 of the planet) are Christian. What a huge difference our prayers could make in this place! Still, we often think “heaven is my home,” as if we don’t have a part of this world. How does that view take God’s name in vain for this life?

Act! Say a prayer, calling on God presence to be with you today. Ask this same thing for five kinds of other creatures around you.

The 3rd Commandment: Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not despise preaching or God’s Word, but instead keep that word holy and gladly hear and learn it.

Think! Read Leviticus 25:1-12. Not only humans need sabbath. Why does God want soils also to rest and “all inhabitants” of a place to have the chance to return?

Act! Learn about or visit a place that has been used and had a chance to rest – a vacant lot, a Superfund site (http://www.epa.gov/superfund) or Conservation Reserve Program farmland (http://www.nrcs.usda.gov/programs/CRP/)

The 4th Commandment: Honor your father and your mother.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither despise nor anger our parents and others in authority, but instead honor, serve, obey, love, and respect them.

Think! It doesn’t just take two parents, or even a village. Our lives are birthed and nurtured by this whole world. How would we treat Earth differently if we really honored her as our Mother?

Act! Water a plant, bow to the soil, or delight in a weather forecast today. Serve, love, and respect the planet!

The 5th Commandment: You shall not murder.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither endanger nor harm the lives of our neighbors, but instead help and support them in all life’s needs.

Think! Climate change is already causing what has been called the Sixth Great Extinction, greater than what killed the dinosaurs. Why might our destruction of biodiversity—of God’s great variety of creatures, from polar bears and coral reefs to dwarf crocodiles and others we haven’t even discovered—why might that be of concern?

Act! The impacts of burning fossil fuels are also hurting our poorest human neighbors worst. Go to http://www.lwr.org and search “climate” for stories of how Lutheran World Relief is working to help communities around the world mitigate and adapt amid changing weather patterns.

The 6th Commandment: You shall not commit adultery.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we lead pure and decent lives in words and deed, and each of us loves and honors his or her spouse.

Think! From the last commandment about not harming a creature, this extends to not harming its closest relationships. We could think of it as a ripple effect through the ecosystem. Many orchids, for example, evolved to be pollinated by a single species of insect or bird. How might our world be different without bees to enable plants to reproduce?

Act! Author Michael Pollan says humans have historically eaten 80,000 species but today products of four (corn, soybeans, wheat, rice) amount to 2/3 of our calories. Spread the love—and the genes! Buy food or plant a garden with something you wouldn’t normally—especially an heirloom variety.

The 7th Commandment: You shall not steal.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we neither take our neighbors’ money or property nor acquire them by using shoddy merchandise or crooked deals, but instead help them to improve and protect their property and income.

Think! If all 7.3 billion people of the planet consumed like Americans, we would need the resources of more than four planets to sustain us. Using or abusing in this way, how are we stealing the planet’s resources—and from whom?

Act! Do an online search for “environmental refugees” and learn about how climate change will cause millions of people to be without food, water, or homes.

The 8th Commandment: You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

Think! In a harsh climate, it can be hard to speak kindly, with self-righteous tree-huggers versus global warming deniers. What way today can you gently but firmly encourage care for creation?

Act! Become a defender of wildlife and an advocate for justice. Lobby your government officials to speak out against threats and speak up on behalf of creation, from children to polar bears to clean air. Or contact the media and ask that climate change be presented not with skeptics’ perspectives but according to the overwhelming scientific consensus.

The 9th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not try to trick our neighbors our of their inheritance or property or try to get it for ourselves by claiming to have a legal right to it and the like, but instead be of help and be of service to them in keeping what is theirs.

Think! This one we could take pretty directly. According to the US Census, the average house was 1660 square feet in 1973 and 2519 square feet in 2008, more than 50% bigger. Why have we become accustomed to feeling we need so much and aren’t satisfied without more?

Act! Find ways to make your home simpler and less cluttered. Give something you don’t need to a secondhand store or put it on Craig’s List. Make your home better with an energy audit or Energy Star appliances and Water Sense products when needed.

The 10th Commandment: You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.

What is this? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not entice, force, or steal away from our neighbors their spouses, household workers, or livestock, but instead urge them to stay and fulfill their responsibilities to our neighbors.

Think! Let’s think of habitats others need to survive: For most of 4 billion years, other creatures didn’t need to compete with us wanting what they’ve got. Now, whether urban sprawl or using resources, we are changing habitats in our world. Agricultural land is drifting toward higher latitudes because of warming. Desertification affects over 2 billion people. A swath of plastics twice the side of Texas floats in the North Pacific Gyre. What is the problem with treating this whole planet as if it is here only for us?

Act! Fight deforestation by using shade-grown coffees (and eco-palms!). Look for the Forest Stewardship Council label for sustainably harvested papers (www.fscus.org/). Plant trees from the Arbor Day Foundation (www.arborday.org/).

What then does God say about all these commandments?

God says the following: “I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and fourth generation of those that reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

What is this? God threatens to punish all who break these commandments. Therefore we are to fear his wrath and not disobey these commandments. However, God promises grace and every good thing to all those who keep these commandments. Therefore we are also to love and trust him and gladly act according to his command.

Think! Even if we stopped adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and oceans immediately, today’s CO2 would still be affecting the climate for a hundred years. How does it feel that God would leave us to suffer at least that long, and perhaps irreparably, the devastating consequences of our actions?

Act! Find a way to talk to somebody about how relevant (or how unimportant) you feel your behavior amid creation is for your faith.

 

 

Ecological Christianity through Luther’s Small Catechism

We marked the 500th anniversary of the Reformation with the occasion of Martin Luther writing his 95 Theses. For those of us living with the Reformation heritage, however, another of his writings has likely been more influential in shaping our identity: his Small Catechism of 1528. The occasion for this handbook was that Luther discovered the need to teach the basics of the faith after visiting the evangelical or protestant congregations a decade in to the Reformation.

This exercise takes Luther’s back-to-basics approach, and also sets it in a broader ecological perspective.  As a church that is “always reforming,” we know that the good news of God continues to encounter us in our life.  Just as the papacy and indulgences (the focus of the 95 Theses) are not our central concern, so we also attend to contemporary threats and current events, recognizing the need in our times for Eco-Reformation.

Here, each piece of Luther’s Small Catechism is followed by a learning question, then by a suggested participatory action.  You may use this personally, or print one section each week in your bulletin, or adapt it for confirmation classes.  This is only one way to try seeing the entirety of our faith as permeated with creation care.

The 10 Commandments

The Creed

The Lord’s Prayer

The Sacrament of Holy Baptism

The Sacrament of the Altar

 

 

Creation Care Congregation: Worship Ideas

Transformation through Worship: “Let all creation praise God”
(all resources found if searched on LetAllCreationPraise.org)

All Worship: Render every service as creation-care worship: call to worship, confessions, prayers, and blessing/commission, plus scriptures, hymns, and sermons.

Season of Creation. Observe a four-week optional season to celebrate creation as part of the church year, with liturgies, sermons, and alternative scripture lessons, etc.

Special Worship Services. Observe a special day, such as Earth Sunday in April www.creationjustice.org, Rogation Sunday, or a “Greening of the Cross” service in the Easter Season.

Blessing of the Animals. Hold a service near the time of St. Francis Day (in October) or any time in the church year.

Appoint the sanctuary. With creation-care banners, greenery, art.

Green your worship practices: energy-saving lights and heat; altar plants, local wine, green cleaning products, eliminate/recycle/reuse paper, intinction.

Other: For example, develop your own worship resources and occasions for celebration.

For more information about Becoming a Caring-for-Creation Congregation, visit this page.