Editor’s Note: During September (the four weeks leading up to the Feast Day of St. Francis), a growing number of congregations adopt the alternate lectionary Season of Creation. This month, Working Preacher is hosting commentaries on Year 3 Wisdom Series of these readings, featuring creation texts from Job, Proverbs, and Psalms, and passages from Luke and the Epistles. This column, as usual, comments on the Revised Common Lectionary texts.
Photographer Chris Jordan turns garbage into gripping portrayals of consumer culture. In one series, “Intolerable Beauty,” he photographs piles of electronic and other waste, and in another, “Midway,” he documents the death by plastic waste of albatrosses on an island two thousand miles from the nearest continent.
Scripture’s many warnings concerning greed and other dangers accompanying wealth are well known. Yet when we are beset by consumerism, taking these warnings seriously enough to change our actions can be as challenging as swimming habitually upstream.
Ecological sensibilities offer Christians new reasons for material simplicity. On the joyful side, these reasons include the free abundance to be found in all that God has made, which far outweighs what money can buy — abundance among friends, family, and other people; in the natural world not only in the countryside but even in cities, if we have eyes to see; in the processes of nature themselves; among animals; in gardens.
Negatively, reasons to resist materialism extend to our sense of justice and health for both the world’s poor and the earth’s biosphere. Waste and pollution accompany overuse of natural resources. The sheer quantity of products that must be mined, manufactured, shipped, used, and discarded puts an overwhelming burden on the ecosystem, far greater than most imagine. U.S. power from fossil fuels lays waste to mining sites and pollutes the air with both toxins and greenhouse gases.
Many of September’s readings concern wealth. Luke’s passages counsel relying on God rather than on money. The epistle and complementary Old Testament readings reinforce this wisdom.
- Luke 14:1, 7-14 (Sept 1) advises humility as guests and generosity as hosts who invite the poor, crippled, lame, and blind.
- Luke 14:25-33 (Sept 8) counsels counting the cost of discipleship, since “none of you can become my disciple if you do not give up all your possessions.”
- Luke 15:1-10 (Sept 15) compares God to a shepherd seeking one lost sheep, and to a woman searching for one lost coin.
- Luke 16:1-13 (Sept 22) discusses honesty and dishonesty, and concludes “you cannot serve God and wealth.”
- Luke 16:19-31 (Sept 29) describes the poor reward of a self-consumed rich man.
- Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16 (Sept 1) counsels “keep your lives free from the love of money, and be content with what you have.”
- Philemon 1:1-21 (Sept 8) describes the slave Onesimus as a brother, upholding equality in Christ.
- 1 Timothy 1:12-17 (Sept 15) expresses gratitude for God’s mercy, though Paul was a foremost sinner, suggesting that, in God’s creation, no one is beyond redemption.
- 1 Timothy 2:1-7 (Sept 22) urges prayer for all who govern, so that all may lead peaceable lives.
- 1 Timothy 6:6-19 (Sept 29) describes a holy wealth: contentment with food and clothing, refusal to be trapped by the love of money.
First Readings (complementary)
- Sirach 10:12-18 (Sept 1 complementary) describes God as one who plants and plucks up nations.
- Proverbs 25:6-7 (Sept 1 complementary alternate) commends humility.
- Deuteronomy 30:15-20 (Sept 8 complementary) counsels living well and generously in the land, so that blessings will come and descendants will thrive.
- Exodus 32:7-14 (Sept 15 complementary) portrays Moses as the one who must plead for the lives of disobedient Israelites.
- Amos 8:4-7 (Sept 22 complementary) graphically describes the dishonesty of those who cheat the poor out of food.
- Amos 6:1, 4-7 (Sept 29 complementary) predicts crisis for those who live in luxury while others live in want.
Semi-continuous First Readings
The semi-continuous Jeremiah passages employ language from the natural world to describe Jerusalem’s destruction as de-creation and the prophet’s mourning and hope.
- Jeremiah 2:4-13 (Sept 1) describes the people’s forsaking God, the “fountain of living waters,” and digging for themselves “cracked cisterns that can hold no water.”
- Jeremiah 18:1-11 (Sept 8), using imagery similar to the Genesis 2 creation story, compares God to a potter making vessels.
- Jeremiah 4:11-12, 22-28 (Sept 15) describes creation’s destruction: the earth becomes “waste and void” (tohu vavohu, as in Gen 1:2); mountains quake; birds flee; fruitful land turns to desert; earth mourns.
- Jeremiah 8:18-9:1 (Sept 22) laments, “O that my head were a spring of water, and my eyes a fountain of tears!”
- Jeremiah 32:1-3, 6-15 (Sept 29) portrays Jeremiah buying a field to show hope that “houses and fields and vineyards shall again be bought in this land.”
As usual, the psalms employ much imagery from the natural world.
- Psalm 81:1, 10-16 (Sept 1) expresses God’s wish to provide abundance, “the finest of the wheat … honey from the rock.”
- Psalm 112 (Sept 1) describes the righteous and generous as secure.
- Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 (Sept 8) brings awe toward God’s creation down to the personal level: “I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
- Psalm 1 (Sept 8) compares the upright to a tree watered by streams and yielding fruit, but the wicked to chaff blown by the wind.
- Psalm 14 (Sept 15) warns the foolishly greedy that “You would confound the plans of the poor, but the LORD is their refuge.”
- Psalm 51:1-10 (Sept 15) requests a new act of creation: create in me a clean heart.
- Psalm 79:1-9 (Sept 22) confronts God with the ruin of Jerusalem, where enemies have “given the bodies of your servants to the birds of the air for food.”
- Psalm 113 (Sept 22) praises a God who “raises the poor from the dust and gives the barren woman a home.”
- Psalm 91:1-6, 14-16 (Sept 29) imagines God as a mother bird who “will cover you with pinions,” under whose wings you will find refuge.
- Psalm 146 (Sept 29) extols the God “who made heaven and earth,” and who “executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.”