Craft of Preaching

Theology and Interpretation

Working with texts and placing them within a theological framework.

Not A Safe God

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"Triopetra", image by Theophilos Papadopoulos via Flickr, Licensed under CC BY NC ND 2.0

 


I am often asked, as I was this past Sunday at a church gathering, what is the one easiest step a Christian can take to care for creation. It was a “bite your tongue” moment. What I knew I must say differed markedly from what welled up.

What I must say (said my brain): Something encouraging and inspiring that might help her realize it’s not about ease, but conviction and daring persistence.

What welled up (said my last nerve): What do you mean, easy? Do you think it was easy for God to create this whole amazing universe, including yourself? Are you grateful? Do you know your actions matter? Repent, lazy sinner!

I gently tried to redirect her question from “one thing” to a few, and from “easy” to effective. Yet I wished I could have learned what underlay the question. Because what struck me as lazy and ungrateful might well have been busy and overwhelmed, perhaps a tentative effort to find her way into environmental waters, one cautious toe at a time.

Some of us are like that. Others are reckless. Still others are methodical. As long as we are moving forward, the pace matters somewhat less than the direction.

Such conversations remind me of Aslan, the lion in The Chronicles of Narnia. When the four siblings are told of him in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, Susan, the cautious one, responds first:

“Ooh!” said Susan, “I’d thought he was a man. Is he -- quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”

“That you will, dearie, and no mistake,” said Mrs. Beaver; “if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”

“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn't safe. But he’s good.”

If any time of the year assures us that Christian discipleship is neither safe nor tame, but indeed very good, it’s the season from Easter through Pentecost. Stories from John and Acts remind us that for Jesus’ disciples, caught up in new understandings of their purpose on earth, old ways were being shed and new ones had to be donned with courage, confidence, and trust.

Like the experience of Jesus’ disciples, the environmental challenges we face are unprecedented. These scriptural stories help challenge assumptions about our own purpose. Likewise, images of God’s splendor in the natural world found in the Psalms and elsewhere inspire our expanded imagination. In these verdant weeks following Earth Day, the lectionary offers many opportunities to bring forth bold creation care efforts.

Readings from Acts

  • Acts 2:42-47 (May 7) depicts the growing community of Jesus’ followers in Jerusalem relinquishing security to share their possessions and devote themselves to the gospel.
  • Acts 7:55-60 (May 14) tells of Stephen dying courageously without denying this gospel.
  • Acts 17:22-31 (May 21) describes Paul preaching of a shared creator God who lives beyond all human imagination, in whom, in fact, “we live and move and have our being.”
  • Acts 1:6-14 (May 28) portrays Jesus, when asked what he would do, instead tells the disciples what they would do powerfully in their own city, country, and to the ends of the earth.
  • Acts 2:1-21 (Day of Pentecost, June 4) uses wind and fire to describe the Holy Spirit, and describes meteorological events as harbingers of Jesus’ presence as the disciples set out to change the world.

Gospel readings

  • John 10:1-10 (May 7) uses the extended metaphor of a shepherd with sheep to describe Jesus’ continuing care for disciples.
  • John 14:1-14 (May 14) reassures disciples of Jesus’ accompanying them, through faith.
  • John 14:15-21 (May 21) assures disciples of the Spirit’s presence, and reminds them of their responsibility to faithful service.
  • John 17:1-11 (May 28) defines eternal life as knowing God, and emphasizes Jesus’ work on earth.
  • John 20:19-23 (Day of Pentecost, June 4) portrays the gift of the Holy Spirit to the disciples as human breath.
  • John 7:37-39 (Day of Pentecost, June 4 complementary) describes rivers of flowing water welling up from the hearts of believers.
  • Matthew 10:24-39 (June 25) describes God’s care for the sparrows.

Epistle readings

  • 1 Peter 2:19-25 (May 7) highlights Jesus as the model of endurance even in unjust suffering.
  • 1 Peter 2:2-10 (May 14), like the Psalm for the day, employs the metaphor of stones, calling the disciples “living stones” that are being “built into a spiritual house.”
  • 1 Peter 3:13-22 (May 21) reminds disciples that “it is better to suffer for doing good, if suffering should be God’s will, than to suffer for doing evil.”
  • 1 Corinthians 12:3b-13 (Day of Pentecost, June 4) emphasizes the diversity of gifts given to all, because though the body is one it has many members. This is not only for humans but for all members of the created community, who each play a crucial role.
  • Romans 6:1b-11 (June 25), using water imagery, describes baptism as burial into Christ’s death, in order to “walk in the newness of life.”

Psalms

  • Psalm 23 (May 7) in six brief verses draws images from the natural world (trusting sheep, green pastures, still waters, dark valleys) and encapsulates God’s guiding presence.
  • Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16 (May 14) describes God as the psalmist’s rock of refuge.
  • Psalm 66:8-20 (May 21) reinforces courage, and compares humans to precious metal, saying, “You have been tried as silver is tried.”
  • Psalm 68:1-10, 32-35 (May 28) calls God the one riding upon clouds, and shows the heavens pouring down rain.
  • Psalm 104: 24-35 (Day of Pentecost, June 4) describes the multitude of earth’s creatures, “living things both small and great,” created by God’s spirit, looking to God for their food, and returning to dust when they die.
  • Psalm 8 (Trinity Sunday, June 11) complements Genesis 1, below.
  • Psalm 69:7-10, (11-15), 16-18 (June 25, complementary) prays not to be swept away by enemies and floods, or swallowed up by the deep.

Old Testament readings

  • Numbers 11:24-30 (Day of Pentecost, June 4) relates Moses’ wish that all would speak prophetically and truly, guided by God’s spirit.
  • Genesis 1:1-2:4a (Trinity Sunday, June 11) tells the grand creation story, complemented by Psalm 8, which observes “the heavens, the work of your fingers.”
  • Genesis 21:8-21 (June 25) relates the story of Hagar and Ishmael, sent out to the wilderness, met by God and given both a promise for the future and water for present thirst.
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