Blessed Assurance

hourglass on a beach
Photo by Aron Visuals on Unsplash; licensed under CC0.

If you are reading this column, chances are, you are already involved in earth care. Maybe you call your listeners’ attention during worship to the majesty of God’s creation, the natural world’s importance to us, and its current crisis. Maybe your congregation has responded by advocating for environmental justice, improving energy efficiency in the church building, installing solar panels, or turning the lawn into a garden or a native prairie, helping neighbors through climate-related disasters, or bringing nature into worship and teaching.

If so, you know that it’s none too soon, because the planet needs attention. The climate has already grown hotter, fiercer, more unpredictable. Wildfires, floods, droughts, and heat waves are dominating the news in ways they didn’t even five years ago. According to the Pew Research Center, most Americans (60%) now agree that climate change is a major threat. We join much larger majorities in countries polled around the world—such as most of Europe, but also South Korea, Mexico, Canada, Argentina, Brazil, Kenya, the Philippines, and Tunisia—who recognize climate change as an eminent danger.

Given the many years of inaction and the short timeline remaining, it is easy to become discouraged. It’s tempting to wonder why we even try, when we see others—many of our leaders, in fact—still living in denial. The frightening truth is, we do not yet know how the story will end.

At the same time, there are some things we do know, things worth remembering each day. I’ll mention some, and I am sure you can think of others:

  • As this wonderful short video by Katharine Hayhoe describes, it’s way too early to give up, because millions of smart people are working with us to solve this problem.
  • We do not always know who is influenced by our words and deeds. We can only entrust them to God and keep them flowing.
  • As recent history shows, it doesn’t take all or even half of society to agree, just enough leadership to nudge a shift in direction.
  • God gave us the rhythm of work and Sabbath rest to remember that all doesn’t depend on us. Creation depends upon God, who has graciously invited us to join in during our lifetimes, and then to pass the baton to others.
  • The effort of creation care itself that buoys our hope.

The Gospel of Mark’s readings reflect Jesus’ wisdom:

  • Mark 8:27-38 (Sept 12, 2021) 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.”
  • Mark 9:30-37 (Sept 19, 2021) pictures Jesus speaking of true leadership service to all, and the welcoming of children as welcoming God.
  • Mark 10:2-16 (Oct 3, 2021) highlights children’s receptivity to God.
  • Mark 10:17-31 (Oct 10, 2021) subverts reliance on material wealth, calling the last first, and the first last.
  • Mark 10:35-45 (Oct 17, 2021) calls into question the search for worldly recognition, claiming that “whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant.”
  • Mark 10:46-52 (Oct 24, 2021) shows Jesus bringing sight to a blind man, a motif that throughout Scripture signals acquisition of insight as well.
  • Mark 12:28-34 (Oct 31, 2021) invites hearers to redraw the boundaries of “neighbor.” If, like the good Samaritan, our non-human neighbors give so freely, should we not concern ourselves with them as well?

Passages from James and Hebrews reinforce honesty, humility, kindness, and faithfulness:

  • James 2:1-10, (11-13), 14-17 (Sept 5) reminds readers that, since God chose the poor to be rich in faith and heirs of God’s realm, it is foolish to despise them.
  • James 3:13 – 4:3, 7-8a (Sept 19) describes wisdom from above as “pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.”
  • James 5:13-20 (Sept 26) eloquently commends prayer for neighbors, prayer as powerful as Elijah’s, which invoked drought and rain.
  • Hebrews 1:1-4, 2:5-12 (Oct 3) uses Psalm 8’s creation themes to describe Jesus.
  • Hebrews 5:1-10 (Oct 17) counsels living rightly within limits as Jesus did.
  • Hebrews 7:23-28 (Oct 24) offers sober reminders of mortality.

Four semi-continuous readings from Job lead to a revelation about human’s place in the world:

  • Job 1:1, 2:1-10 (Oct 3) introduces Job’s suffering.
  • Job 23:1-9, 16-17 (Oct 11) develops his plea that God justify his afflictions.
  • Job 38:1-7, (34-41) (Oct 17) reveals God’s answers, changing the subject. Job had thought humanity the center of the world, with human good and evil the universe’s defining forces. God does not discount his suffering, but places it in a larger sphere, a world filled with wild creatures in whom God delights. Human moral behavior may be important, but it is arrogant to assume human welfare the universe’s sole concern.
  • Job 42:1-6, 10-17 (Oct 24) concludes with Job recognizing that God’s priorities differ from his own assumptions, and departing from patriarchal order to give his daughters inheritances alongside his sons.

Many other lectionary passages likewise show promise for ecological preaching:

  • Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 (Sept 5, semi-continuous) reflects on true wealth, justice, and generosity.
  • Isaiah 35:4-7a (Sept 5) describes waters breaking forth in the wilderness, streams in the desert.
  • Psalm 146 (Sept 5) advises trusting not in mortals but in the maker of heaven and earth, who keeps faith, executes justice, and gives food to the hungry.

Patricia Tull’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “The Great Community,” focuses on ecological themes for preaching.