About a decade ago, while teaching an adult Sunday school class, I was pulled up short by this question from a teacher: “What is our church doing for Earth Day?” I referred the question to my husband, the church’s pastor, and he referred it back to me, asking me to preach the church’s first creation care sermon. Out of that sermon came many others, a regular feature in our congregation’s worship. Out of it also developed our whole creation care ministry. Many vital projects can be traced back to this growing concern for earth care:
- Not only earth-attentive worship, but several educational forums
- A winter farmer’s market inside, complementing the local summer farmer’s market
- A fair trade sales table featuring coffee, tea, and chocolates from Equal Exchange
- Community events: electronic trash collection days, riverside clean-ups, bicycle rides
- Unique bike racks shaped as crosses, the ichthus, and our sanctuary’s arched stained-glass windows
- A Blessing of the Animals stained-glass window, shining outward at night by means of a small solar panel
- Energy bill reductions through insulation and weather stripping, LED lights, and high efficiency HVAC systems
- Installation of 12.96 kilowatts of solar panels on our roof
We became Indiana’s first Presbyterian Earth Care congregation, and are working to become an EPA energy star congregation as well. All this originated from a single person’s asking, “What are we doing for Earth Day?”
Since Easter came early this year, it leaves plenty of time to prepare for preaching and worship centered on creation for Earth Day, Friday, April 22, between two Sundays, April 17 and April 24. If your congregation hasn’t yet built Earth Week into its calendar, this is the year to start. If you have celebrated it before, remember to continue this vital tradition.
Among the many hats I wear is that of program director for Hoosier Interfaith Power & Light in Indiana. As we often have to explain, it’s not a utility company, but an interfaith environmental organization, part of the national movement Interfaith Power & Light, which has chapters in 40 states. (“The Hoosier State,” for those who haven’t heard, is Indiana’s nickname. Don’t ask why — no one seems to know!)
We call ourselves “a faith response to climate change.” The national organization coordinates an annual faith climate action week, which this year falls on April 15-24. They offer resources, supplies, tips for organizing, and the opportunity to list your worship service or event on their website. In addition, Hoosier IPL offers this climate preaching resource based on our statewide workshops for faith leaders, Climate Boot Camp.
Especially since Pope Francis’s encyclical Laudato Si’ appeared last summer, interest in environmental action has been exploding among congregations of all faiths even in conservative Indiana. We can hardly keep up with the demand for workshops, resources, and information. In mid-March, Hoosier IPL hosted a very well-attended statewide gathering called “Interfaith Voices for the Earth: Our Common Home,” featuring a panel of speakers including Hazem Bata, General Secretary of the Islamic Society of North America; Rabbi Paula Winnig, executive director of the Jewish Bureau of Education; and Archbishop Joseph Tobin of Indianapolis, all speaking on their faith’s commitment to environmental healing.
The opportunities for preaching ecologically sustaining sermons from this year’s April lectionary include stories from the book of Acts, which describe fundamental, relatively rapid changes of belief and practice in the years after Jesus’ resurrection, as his disciples reinvented what it meant for them to follow Israel’s God, and who was included. These narratives of bold alterations in early Christianity’s course offer precedent for today’s revolutions:
- Acts 5:27-32 (April 3): A newly valiant Peter defies authorities who try to keep him quiet.
- Acts 9:1-6, (7-20) (April 10): Paul’s life purposes make a dramatic U-Turn on the road to Damascus, and Ananias risks life and safety to help him.
- Acts 9:36-43 (April 17): Sometimes even death is turned into life.
- Acts 11:1-18 (April 24): Peter tells surprised apostles of God’s revelation that Gentiles too belong in the circle of believers.
The Psalms reliably include much discussion of the natural world and of humans’ role in the world:
- Psalm 118:14-29 (April 3) reminds us that God’s steadfast love is forever. In particular, it remembers what is undervalued: “The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.”
- Psalm 150 (April 3 alternate), and the book of Psalms overall, concludes by celebrating all of life’s dependence on God: “Let everything that breathes praise the LORD!”
- Psalm 30 (April 10) reminds readers that restoration and life depend on God.
- Psalm 23 (April 17) presents God’s tender love for humans as that of a shepherd caring for sheep, reminding us of the value of animals in God’s eyes.
- Psalm 148 (April 24) calls on all creation to praise God, from sun and moon to sea monsters and deeps to animals, both nonhuman and human.
The book of Revelation poses more challenges for ecological preaching, but some possibilities include these:
- Revelation 1:4-8 (April 3): God is known as “the alpha and the omega.”
- Revelation 5:11-14 (April 10): Jesus is called the Lamb (see above, Psalm 23), and…
- Revelation 7:9-17 (April 17): This Lamb Jesus is worshiped and will himself shepherd the people.
- Revelation 21:1-6 (April 24): God renews the earth and will live among mortals, wiping tears from all faces.
Finally, in the gospel of John:
- John 20:19-31 (April 3): Jesus both breathes the Holy Spirit on disciples and reminds them of the incarnational, fleshly nature of his presence.
- John 21:1-19 (April 10): Jesus instructs Peter to “feed my lambs” and “tend my sheep.”
- John 10:22-30 (April 17): Jesus again calls the believers his “sheep.”
- John 13:31-35 (April 24): Jesus commands that we love one another. As his own life makes clear, such love is not expressed in lip-service but in deeds, even costly ones, for the sake of the living.