Craft of Preaching

Extra-Ordinary Time

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Fruit: A night market in Phnom Penh, Cambodia
Creative Commons image by Ross Pollock, on flickr


June brings the extraordinary time of summer harvest and outdoor enjoyment. But the lectionary enters “ordinary time,” offering semi-continuous readings from Galatians, Luke, and the Elijah narratives. Except for the Psalms, which nearly always offer striking reflections from the natural world, what the lectionary offers for ecologically themed preaching this month is subtle almost to the vanishing point.

But for ordinary time this is only right. Drawing attention to the natural world on particular holidays -- Earth Day in April, the Season of Creation in September, and St. Francis’s Feast Day in October -- puts creation on the calendar and on the agenda. But we may communicate just as much by remembering nonhuman creation alongside the social world each time we preach, week by week.

After all, it’s not a zero-sum game. In the larger scheme, ecology and economy do not oppose one another, as some insist. Rather, enormous as it is, the total human economy exists as a smaller system within, and dependent upon, the great economy of the earth -- that is, God’s realm.[1] As we have seen so dramatically in this past year’s extreme weather events, without a healthy ecology, there is no healthy economy. A human economy that violates the earth’s offerings, shortchanges the future for momentary gain, steals from both nature and coming generations. But a small economy of stewardship provides meaningful life and work for all, and enjoyable locales to inhabit now and forever.

Similarly, just as good preaching does not support the interests of men alone, or women alone, blacks alone, or whites alone, it does not support the interests of society alone over against God’s entire realm, nor the nonhuman world over against society. Rather, these coexist in our attention as they do in our creator’s.

At first glance, the epistle sequence in Galatians, with its emphasis on faith over action, may appear less than ecologically fruitful. Yet as Paul’s letter unfolds, it becomes plain that trust in God leads to valuing all equally, no matter their station, and to a life of Christ-like generosity, free from consumerism’s addictions:

  • Galatians 1:1-12 (June 2) counsels the audience to continue in God’s ways.
  • Galatians 1:11-24 (June 9), continuing last week’s reading, describes Paul’s own journey.
  • Galatians 2:15-21 (June 16) emphasizes living by grace.
  • Galatians 3:23-29 (June 23) reminds readers of the equality of all in God’s eyes.
  • Galatians 5:1, 13-25 (June 30) commends the fruit of the spirit. True freedom consists in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control, not in self-centered grasping.

Luke’s gospel readings picture Jesus as a radical reconciler and healer. Although not particularly attentive to the nonhuman world, they do draw attention to surprises inherent in God’s deeds, and to the radical freedom of the faithful:

  • Luke 7:1-10 (June 2) finds faithfulness in unexpected places -- in this case, in a foreign leader.
  • Luke 7:11-17 (June 9) discloses God’s power to restore even the dead.
  • Luke 7:36-8:3 (June 16) shows those who recognize how greatly God has blessed them displaying more fervent gratitude.
  • Luke 8:26-39 (June 23) narrates Jesus’ healing of a mentally ill man, and his request that the man broadcast what God has done for him.
  • Luke 9:51-62 (June 30) relates the single-minded path of non-materialism followed by Jesus and his disciples.

The Psalms draw attention, as always, to the natural world. Ten are available this month:

  • Psalm 96 (June 2) calls not only all people but all creation to praise God as creator and ruler. The earth rejoices, the sea roars, and trees shout joyfully.
  • Psalms 146 and 30 (June 9) both speak of trust. Psalm 146 describes God’s care for hungry, prisoners, blind, and poor, and proclaims God as the benefactor not only of humble people, but also of all who live in earth and sky and sea. Psalm 30 reminds readers that restoration depends upon God, who established the speaker as “a strong mountain.”
  • Psalms 5:1-8 and 32 (June 16) both counsel reliance upon God and attentiveness to God’s paths.
  • Psalm 42-43 and Psalm 22:19-28 (June 23) both employ animal imagery. Psalm 42-43 envisions the speaker as a thirsty deer in the wilderness. Psalm 22 envisions the enemies as dogs, lions, and wild oxen, reminding readers of these animals’ agency and power.
  • Psalms 77:1-2, 11-20 and 16 (June 30)both describe God’s paths in wild places.Psalm 77 describes the waters of the Red Sea parting before God, whose path was through the mighty waters. In Psalm 16, God shows the joyful path of life.

The two tracks of Old Testament readings, primarily from Kings, are subtle and variable in the clarity of their ecological possibilities:

  • 1 Kings 18:20-21, (22-29), 30-39 and 1 Kings 8:22-23, 41-43 (June 2) both describe a God who answers faithful prayers, regardless of normal human possibility.
  • 1 Kings 17:8-16, (17-24) and 1 Kings 17:17-24 (June 9) continue stories of the prophet Elijah. God provides food for the poor and rescues them from sorrow.
  • 1 Kings 21:1-10, (11-14), 15-21a and 2 Samuel 11:26-12:10, 13-15 (June 16) both relate stories of violent ecological theft by the greedy: Naboth loses his vineyard and his life; the poor man loses his beloved lamb. God’s reactions show disdain for greed and concern for close ties between humans, their land, and their animals.
  • 1 Kings 19:1-4, (5-7), 8-15a and Isaiah 65:1-9 (June 23) both show divine care for the minority who seek justice.
  • 2 Kings 2:1-2, 6-14 and 1 Kings 19:15-16, 19-21 (June 30) both tell of Elisha’s following after Elijah, the first from the end of their story together and the second from the beginning, narrating the passing of faithful vocations from one generation to the next.

[1] See Wendell Berry, “Two Economies,” in What Matters: Economics for a Renewed Commonwealth (Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2010), 115-37.

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