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.
There is plenty of information “out there” on how we can make steps to live a life with less of a negative impact on our neighbors and bring the Outside in… but that’s only if you happen to go looking for it. Perhaps adding a few simple pieces of inspiration that can work for your fellow worshipers in the material the read periodically can start new habits and open closed minds. Below are some links that you can copy and paste shared by folks throughout the Lutherans Restoring Creation community. (Please acknowledge source when sharing!)
E – news “blurbs” for Winter 2020:
Lutherans Restoring Creation
Never heard of us? Find out more below!
Lutherans Restoring Creation exists to inform, encourage, and uplift the discipleship practice of caring for the environment throughout the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.This is accomplished by cultivating a network of dedicated stewards of earth and neighbor who proclaim God’s promise of hope and healing for all.
Who We Are
Lutherans Restoring Creation is a grassroots movement of Lutherans, driven by laity, pastors, lay professionals, synodical leadership, and others who hold positions in the ELCA and its institutions. This movement grows out of a long history of Lutheran concern (the 1993 social statement Caring for Creation: Vision, Hope, and Justice).
Search “Congregations” for more resources at www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org.
Looking for a Lenten Discipline?
Every little thing can make a big difference when it comes to care for creation! If you are looking for ways to conserve energy and be a good steward to our earth, Lutherans Restoring Creation can help! They have developed a whole checklist for energy savings in your home and congregation! Visit www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org to discover what you may need for Personal Discipleship. Maybe each day of Lent, we can take some time to better care for God’s creation!
Lutherans Restoring Creation Devotionals
We are facing a critical time in our world when we need to put extra focus on the environment and God’s creation. If you’d like to focus on care for creation during this season of reflection, you can find great devotional materials on www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org.
Lutherans Restoring Creation Commentaries
Preachers: Are you looking for resources and commentaries about care-for-creation during this season? Lutherans Restoring creation has created a wonderful database of commentaries for the entire lectionary cycle. You can find them all by season and narrative sermons at http://www.LutheransRestoringCreation.org
Care for Creation Congregational Covenant
Interested in taking the next step with Lutherans Restoring Creation in your congregation? Our congregational self-organizing kit — available for download at: LutheransRestoringCreation.org. This is a step-by-step guide to help you function as a creation-care congregation as well as how to access to the resources needed to carry out this program on an ongoing basis. Whether or not you are already active in greening your congregation, this kit will enable you to identify yourself with Lutherans Restoring Creation, provide an overall plan for your efforts, and help you to further your congregational commitment to ecology and justice.
Lutherans Restoring Creation: Going a step further
We care for creation on more than just the individual or congregational level! ELCA members have the opportunity to be public witnesses through the process of submitting, educating fellow members, and eventually passing synod resolutions. Some of these public statements and declarations of change also move along to be a Memorial to be passed by the entire Church-wide body which meets every three years. For details about your local submission requirements contact your synod office. You can see examples of synod resolutions on the Lutherans Restoring Creation website.
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.
Attributed to Luther, cited in Awakening to God’s Call to Earthkeeping, elca.org
LW 37:61, ibid.
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
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.
Over the summer of 2018 Pastor Susan Henry at House of Prayer Lutheran Church in Hingham Massachusetts decided to try something a little different. After reading several books about the human relationship with creation over the years she wanted share some of these perspectives that may not come up in the typical lectionary cycle. The following are three services and sermons that she has graciously shared with our Lutherans Restoring Creation community. Feel free to use the material, but kindly be sure to credit the original authors as she has done.
Created by Bridget Jones in 2018 as part of her Masters of Divinity program at Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago (Environmental Emphasis)
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:
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.
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The Green Bible (Harper Bibles, 2008). New Revised Standard Version that highlights in green print all passages related to nature throughout the Bible. Wonderful for personal devotion. Excellent introductory articles on Bible and Ecology by N.T. Wright, Barbara Brown Taylor, Brian McLaren, Matthew Sleeth, Pope John Paul II, and Wendell Berry.
Green Bible Devotional: A Book of Daily Readings (Harper Collins, 2009) A book of sixty daily readings, each of which is based on a “green-letter” passage in the Bible. Meditations and prayers follow the themes of water, air, land use, animal protection, human health, and responsible stewardship.
Stewardship of Creation: 30 Days with Nature (Prepared by students at the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago) With daily Bible passages and reflections for personal use. Download, copy, and fold as a booklet to be distributed to congregations as shared devotional material.
Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer with God’s Creation Edited by Sam Hamilton-Poore (Upper Room Books, 2008) An excellent collection of scripture passages, hymns, prayers, blessings, and quotations for forty days of devotions for personal use. Good resource also for opening and closing meetings.
Discipleship at home and work: “Love your neighbor”
Personal Covenant with Creation: Plan a worship service in which members can identify the Earth-friendly practices they are willing to commit to at home and work. Use a brief ritual that makes these commitments a stewardship offering. Our online form helps you save paper and participants will be sent a copy of what they pledged. Use the link at our site under Personal Discipleship and those eager to make change can be connected with other members of ELCA churches across the country.
Conduct a workshop on making your home Earth-friendly. Use the material available in the Comprehensive Environmental Guide for Congregations, Their Buildings and Grounds as a guide to inform members about the areas of greening they can do.
Support groups. Excellent for change of habits and accountability for “eco-recovery.” Use Simpler Living, Compassionate Life [www.earthministry.org].
Devotional resources: Recommend creation-care resources to members for personal devotions, like this “Stewardship of Creation: A Thirty Day Discipline.” Ask people to sign up to follow a discipline with a resource for a season of the church year.
A retreat in nature. Take a walk outside the next nice day after worship. Lead a retreat for people to get closer to the natural world. For guidelines, see http://www.letallcreationpraise.org/retreat-on-awe-and-mystery
These ideas are also shared in our congregational self-organizing kit. For more details, visit this page.
The Environmental Stewardship Team (EST) at St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church in Mahtomedi, MN (a congregation of some 6,000 people on a campus of three sizable buildings) was founded nine years ago.
Jim Malkowski, a retired naturalist who started a large nature/environmental center and served 21 years as CEO of two centers, is co-founder of the group and was its chairman until recently. He reports on the work of EST:
“A few of our achievements over the years have been co-sponsoring a wind generator on a co-campus with a high school, converting our 3 buildings to all LED lighting, an annual week-end devoted to a church-wide environmental messaging (called “Caring for Creation Weekend” – “C4C Weekend”) including exhibits, music, literature and a sermon.
“We have met monthly for nine years, formulated on-going 3-Year Planning Projections integrated into the church’s 10-Year Plans, and recently applied a $10,000 grant into a comprehensive recycling/composting program. We are now in our second year working toward solar energy for St. Andrews, conducting walk-through planning estimates from contractors. So, it’s been an active nine years.
“While we have the basic support of pastors’ leadership, we have yet to achieve comprehensive support to declare our church as a “Green Congregation,” a goal we continue to calculatingly pursue, vis-a-vis the Lutherans Restoring Creation Manuals. As the church’s EST, we are on the verge of much more fully integrating our work into the full mainstream of this Church’s worship and outreach. Truly, it is a “Lutherans Restoring Creation” movement.”
Lutherans Restoring Creation greatly appreciates the volunteers who keep the following resources updated. We are also blessed to have a ELCA Stewardship and Advocacy teams who manage a standing library of resources ranging from public policy how-to’s to every social statement in entirety to study guides to talk about holistic stewardship practices in your church:
The following sites are great for referencing material and tracing the history of this work. However, there are many broken links and out-dated contact information. Please use these resources with that in mind and ask firstname.lastname@example.org for any updates.
One way to look at worship is to say that it is the place where we can express with the larger community the Christian life we have nurtured at home and work throughout the week. Another way to look at worship is to say that it is about reinstating our proper place in relation to God, ourselves, and other people when we have had difficulty maintaining these relationships through the week. It is like being lost in the woods and then stopping to orientate ourselves to the directions by means of a compass and our nearness to the edge of the forest—and then finding our way home. It is like being lost at sea and then stopping to locate ourselves from the stars in the sky so that we know where we really are—and then returning to solid ground. It is like using a global positioning locator to know just where we are in relation to everything else—and then being moved into the right position. Worship is a matter of getting/keeping our bearings and being situated in our rightful place in the universe. In this process, it is important to emphasize that it is not we ourselves who get our bearings. Rather, we put ourselves into a position to allow God to give us our bearings, to restore us to our rightful relationships.
Restoring relationships with God and one another: Through the rituals and events of worship, we find ourselves restored to right relationships. Through worship we are oriented to wholeness and our true purpose in life by being brought back into proper relationship with God, ourselves, and others. For example, by praise of God, we restore God to God’s rightful place in our lives as the one who created and sustains us. By thanksgiving, we recognize our human dependence on God for life and health. By confession and forgiveness, we seek to overcome our self-alienation and the brokenness of our relationships. By hearing the word of grace and challenge, we rediscover a proper sense of direction and our purpose in life. Through the offering, we give ourselves and our resources to this renewed vocation. Through prayer, we express a longing for all people who are lost or broken to be restored to a place of wholeness in relationship. By communing together, we return from alienation to a harmonious connection with others of the human community. With a blessing and a benediction, we go out with a renewed sense of who we are, where we are, and where we are going. We have become orientated. We have found our bearings, and we have reaffirmed who we truly are and whose we truly are—and, in so doing, we have found our home, our place of belonging in the world. Of course, it is our responsibility to seek to remain in these relationship from communal worship to communal worship.
Restoring our Relationship with nature. Unfortunately, our restoration/reorientation to place often leaves out an important and, indeed, crucial relationship. We reorient to God, self, and others, but often without restoring our relationship to nature. Yet nature is the web of life out of which we have come and where we will go. Nature is the inextricable matrix in which we live and move and have our being. We are a part of nature. Along with all other living beings and non-living things, we are nature. And if we are out of sorts with the rest of nature, if we are displaced from harmony with the creation of which we are such an integral part, if we are sinning against the natural world from which we ourselves have emerged, then we cannot fully find our bearings or our place.
If God created the world as a place in relation to which human life is inextricably woven, then we need to make the whole natural world an integral and important part of our worshipping experience. If worship is restoring ourselves to our proper place in the world—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 life and an orienting of ourselves to our proper place within it. Nature can and should be such a fundamental dimension of the Christian life that we reflect the triad: Love God, Love your neighbor as yourself, and Care for creation.
Worshiping with Nature. To be fully into right relationship, we are called not only to restore our relationship with nature, but also to experience our solidarity with nature in relationship with God. That is, we humans are to worship and praise God with nature. Remember that the Psalms call for the hills to clap their hands and the trees to shout praises, along with animals and sea creatures, the seas and the soils, the trees and the grain—thus calling: “All creation, praise the Lord.” Hence, we can think about nature as our partners in worship. Nature itself is part of our worshipping community. It is important then that we are both in nature and with nature in our worship.
Worship as Counter-Cultural. Restoration to relationship with God, others, and nature is not the same as accommodation or assimilation into the society and culture around us. In fact, it may be quite the opposite. Reconciled relationships with God will orient us to values, actions, and structures that may go against the grain of the world around us. Reconciled relationships will place us in an alternative community that reflects the vision of God for human life. Reconciled relationships with others may set us at odds with the injustices, oppressions, neglect, and discrimination of groups and individuals not sharing the values of the church. Similarly, reorienting ourselves to love of nature and care for creation may lead us to resist and oppose the practices of local and national government, businesses, corporations, and others who may contribute to the flagrant degradations of Earth’s natural systems and life. Worship can be quite radical in its call for discipleship. Worship can be subversive of the culture and an expression of counter-cultural thinking and acting. It can lead us to advocate for public policies and laws that foster love of neighbor and care for creation. At the same time, our re-orientation in worship may lead us to affirm many movements and actions in the culture that further the values and behavior fostered by our Christian way of being in the world.
Develop standard openings or vary it each week. Include it as a formal or an informal component of worship
Invoke the presence of the God of all creation. “We call upon the God of all creation to be present this day.” “We invoke the presence of God who created . . [ here you may list diverse domains of creation such as mountains, rivers, sky, forest or you may list specific creatures and places].
Invitation: Invite all creation to worship or invite humans to join the choir of all creation in praise of God. You may be concrete by inviting domains or even the plants and animals on your church grounds or in your geographical region.
Include at least one statement of confession that addresses our degradation and misuse of creation.
Introduction to scripture readings and the Psalm:
In the preface to scripture, encourage people to note the elements of the lessons that relate to nature as a whole.
Indicate in the preface to the prayers that you are including prayers “for all creation.”
Include at least one prayer of Thanksgiving for creation and a petition on behalf of the natural world (recent disaster, endangered species, people at risk from environment). Be specific about land and waterways in your area.
Commission people to “Go in peace. Serve the Lord, Remember the poor. Care for creation.” Or “Tend the Earth.”
A core mission of Lutheran higher education is the integration of faith and learning in service of the common good. In that spirit a liturgy for the broader church was commissioned in honor of Luther’s sesquicentennial. It is a collaborative project between Dakota Road Music and Luther College Ministries. The Liturgy for Earthkeeping is being offered as a resource for congregations and ministries that worship in outdoor settings to help strengthen connections between sustainability, liturgy, spiritual formation and joyful stewardship.
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Send resources or comments to Nick Utphall: email@example.com
by John Berge
Member of Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church in Racine, WI.
“Tell the truth. Give no false hope
Tell it like it is.
Tell the truth about the ecological state of the world. How easily we can give false hope by our silence or by minimizing the threats to our environment.
If we do not see the size of the problem, we will not see the size of the response required.
Then speak the truth of the Gospel.
The Bishop says, ‘So discipline yourself in life and teaching that you preserve the truth, giving no occasion for false security or illusory hope.'”
—From the ELCA Ordination Service, Bishop’s address to the newly ordained.
Here are the reflections of an ELCA layperson who tells it like it is in an article for his congregational newsletter for January, 2014.
by John Berge
Member of Mt. Pleasant Lutheran Church in Racine, WI.
While Wisconsin and the upper midwest was cooler than normal in 2014, this was an anomaly and the rest of the world appears to be heading to a record high in global temperatures. Unless December is much cooler around the world, 2014 will be the warmest since records have been kept and probably the warmest since the start of the industrial revolution. And as you may have noticed in the news, as predicted in virtually every computer model, storms are getting more severe due to global warming or climate change, whichever term you prefer.
Climate scientists outside the fossil fuel industry are in general agreement that climate change is a direct result of increasing levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere and the increase is caused by humans burning fossil fuels and cutting down forests. Reducing our use of fossil fuels such as coal, gasoline, natural gas has been much discussed both here and elsewhere. It is good environmental stewardship to reduce the miles we drive, drive vehicles with better gas mileage, turn down the thermostat, push for and install wind and solar power, etc. It is unfortunate that Wisconsin’s Transportation Department and Public Service Commission both are advocating penalties to those of us who try to be better stewards.
But CO2 is not the only greenhouse gas that is causing climate change; there are other “co-conspirators” in global warming which we as individuals may be able to help reduce. Many are short-lived in the atmosphere, and so will give a quick response.
Methane is 40 times as effective a greenhouse gas than CO2 and comes from a variety of human activity sources. Fracking which has greatly increased the drilling for both oil and natural gas releases (or spills) methane into the atmosphere. Reducing our thirst for fossil fuels will reduce the amount of fracing and the release of greenhouse gases in at least two ways. Other major sources include cows, truly great producers of methane from both ends. Our taste for beef drives this industry. Wastewater treatment plants produce a lot of methane and I have advocated with the Director to capture this byproduct for co-generation which could produce enough electricity and heat to run the plant without further fossil fuel use. Methane from landfills is being used to generate electricity and heat by the power company and local industry.
“Black carbon” is essentially soot from poorly tuned engines (mostly diesel trucks and buses but some cars, too) but also arises from wood burning stoves, bonfires, fireplaces and such. These amenities are things we can control and reduce. Unfortunately, the role of black carbon is not generally agreed upon and its reduction may in some cases hinder rather than help.
Hydrofluorocarbons, frequently and not always accurately referred to by the trademark Freon™, are capable of absorbing as much as 100 times the heat energy as carbon dioxide per molecule. Fortunately, so far there is not a large amount in the atmosphere. Since HFCs are used in a number of household appliances, we can be good stewards by making sure that we have no leaks in this equipment, having them fixed quickly by a competent professional, and disposing of old or defective equipment properly. HFCs are probably the coolant in your refrigerator, freezer, air conditioner and dehumidifier – some households have more than one of some of these. Do you have more than you need? Do you want to dispose of one or more? First of all, they DO NOT GO OUT IN THE TRASH. Anything containing HFCs should be properly drained by a professional who will collect and either reuse or properly dispose of the HFC. There are companies in the Racine area that will do this service, usually for a small fee, but postal regulations prevent me from including their names in this newsletter. If you are replacing a device which uses HFCs, the dealer will often take the old one off your hands and dispose of it properly. As in everything, look to the environmental consequence before you act. Everything we do can make a difference.