Craft of Preaching

Scriptural Wisdom Makes Ecological Sense

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Wisdom rules the September lectionary. Several weeks of Proverbs and James sets the mind on virtues like diligence, discernment, foresight, generosity, humility, justice, peacemaking, and self-control. From wisdom’s frame we may easily find in the month’s other passages insight for prosperity in God’s realm.

What do these traditional virtues have to do with creation care? Every folly scriptural wisdom decries contributes in some way to ecological devastation. And each virtue Scripture teaches is an ingredient for healthy creation care.

Self-control and its evil twin greed come to mind first. Eagerness for gain leads individuals and corporations to take shortcuts that externalize the high costs of mining, manufacturing, and discarding, leaving neighbors to pay the price. Satisfaction with what can be gained without harm, however, leads to blessed contentment.

But ecological waste is not all about greed. There’s also carelessness, and its wise antonym diligence. Both the wise woman in Proverbs 31 and those that James portrays as “doers of the word” are hard workers, taking responsibility for the welfare of those around them. Diligence and irresponsibility characterize not only individuals but organizations, which must be prodded toward accountability.

Or how about humility, which James is especially keen to teach? Arrogance in relation to nature has led many to exploit its elements -- forests, mountains, seas, rivers -- in radically destructive ways. It leads to introducing chemicals without studying their effects on life and health. It assumes that anything we don’t understand won’t hurt us, or others. But humility tunes in to learning, attends to the reactions of natural forces, and resists the assumption that we know everything worth knowing.

Recently I ran across an entertaining, tongue-in-cheek article called “17 Things Animals Do Better Than Humans.” I don’t know why it’s 17 -- it could have been a dozen, or a hundred. Here’s a taste:

            Digesting food
            Humans: have to cook meat
            All other carnivorous animals: Do not have to cook their meat
            Winner: All other carnivorous animals.

            Staying warm
            Emperor Penguins: survive temperatures of -76 degrees F
            Humans: complain, put on down jackets, and light campfires at 45-50 degrees F
            Winner: Penguins

            Home construction
            Humans: hire construction companies or pitch tents
            Spiders: spin web using materials from own body
            Winner: Spiders

We might argue or simply chuckle with the article’s claim that having more legs like a millipede or more stomachs like a cow spells superiority. But who hasn’t dreamed of flying, or breathing underwater, or running like a cheetah? Like Proverbs and James, this article assumes we can learn much about ourselves by observing other species.

September 6

  • Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 reflects on true wealth, justice, and generosity.
  • Psalm 125 offers reassurance of God’s protection, imagined as mountains.
  • Isaiah 35:4-7a (alt.) describes waters breaking forth in the wilderness, streams in the desert.
  • Psalm 146 (alt.) advises trusting not in mortals but in the maker of heaven and earth, who keeps faith, executes justice, and gives food to the hungry.
  • James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 reminds readers that, since God chose the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of God’s realm, it’s foolish to despise them. It also comments on the inadequacy of saying, “Be warmed and filled,” since faith without works is dead.
  • Mark 7:24-37 offers a foreign woman’s forthright response to Jesus’ comparing her to a dog, and Jesus’ retraction.

September 13

  • Proverbs 1:20-33 portrays Wisdom advising the simple of folly’s terrible results, “when panic strikes you like a storm, and calamity comes like a whirlwind.”
  • Psalm 19 magnificently pictures God’s glory coming as wordless speech from the heavens, day after day and night after night.
  • Isaiah 50:4-9a (alt.) portrays the servant waking morning by morning to hear, and teach others, God’s instruction.
  • Psalm 116:1-9 (alt.) describes God’s bountiful deliverance from death.
  • Wisdom of Solomon 7:26 - 8:1 (alt.) calls wisdom more beautiful even than sun and stars, reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other, and ordering all things well.
  • James 3:1-12 contrasts all that is tamable with the human tongue, “a world of iniquity” that we cannot prevent from “setting on fire the circle of nature.”
  • Mark 8:27-38 portrays Jesus reminding the disciples, “Those who want to save their life will lose it,” and it will not profit them “to gain the whole world and forfeit their life.”

September 20

  • Proverbs 31:10-31 describes a strong woman who cares diligently for household and neighbors.
  • Psalm 1 pictures the wise as “trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither. In all that they do, they prosper.”
  • Wisdom of Solomon 1:16-2:1, 12-22 (alt.) puts ironic words into the mouths of the foolish.
  • Jeremiah 11:18-20 (alt.) portrays the prophet as a “gentle lamb led to the slaughter” and a tree that the ungodly intend to cut down.
  • Psalm 54 (alt.) offers prayer for delivery from the insolent and ruthless.
  • James 3:13 - 4:3, 7-8a describes the wisdom from above as “pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy,” and concludes “a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”
  • Mark 9:30-37 pictures Jesus speaking of true leadership service to all, and the welcoming of children as welcoming of God.

September 27

  • Esther 7:1-6, 9-10; 9:20-22 narrates Queen Esther’s crafty advocacy for her people, against Haman who was plotting to destroy.
  • Psalm 124 celebrates God’s deliverance from those who would have swept them away like a flood. “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers.”
  • Numbers 11:4-6, 10-16, 24-29 (alt.) portrays Israelites glorifying their memories of Egypt and despising the daily gift of manna, and God’s merciful answer to Moses, who complained that they were too much for him to bear.
  • Psalm 19:7-14 (alt.) describes God’s law as more desirable than gold and sweeter than honey.
  • James 5:13-20 eloquently commends prayer for neighbors, prayer as powerful as Elijah’s, which invoked drought and rain.
  • Mark 9:38-50 offers advice to those who doubt their allies: “Whoever is not against us is for us,” and “whoever gives you a cup of water to drink because you bear the name of Christ will by no means lose the reward.” He concludes: “Be at peace with one another.”
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