Recently I was asked to speak in a church in the bluegrass area of central Kentucky on two related topics: “Creation Care and Kilowatt Hours” — a theology of earth care in general, and more specifically, how churches might acquire solar panels. Two topics near to my heart, one scriptural and spiritual, the other pragmatic and practical.
A smattering of pastors were present. As I talked about passages of Scripture through which to witness our faith ancestors’ thinking about the natural world and humans’ place in it, the pastors and more spiritually or poetically minded layfolk tuned in, taking notes and nodding their heads. I’ve seen this often: Scripture evidently murmurs in their hearts, as it does mine, confirming, prodding, guiding and, from the looks on their faces, evidently tasting “sweeter than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).
Others were waiting patiently to get to the topic they came for. The movers and shakers, the practical-minded people who needed no further authorization to do the right thing for their church and God’s creation, just wanted to hear stories about congregations that had installed solar panels — how they did it, what resulted, what the possibilities might be for their own churches. They plugged in when the talk turned to kilowatt hours. There were some in the group, I suppose, whose two-sided brains entertained both the theological and the practical, but what I witnessed were two distinct audiences.
Every congregation consists of both these crowds, and more besides. And both are crucial to what we do. Envisioning new roles for the human community from the bottom of our faith on up can transform us, deeply changing our minds and direction, and motivating us to practical acts of creation care. But without the “git ’er done” folks, churches would come to a standstill. Large forward movement would lack the heavy lifters needed to keep momentum going.
Just a few years ago it seemed inconceivable that we would see so many successes, so many congregations drawing most or even all of their electricity from the sun, congregations installing first one array and then another, funded by the generosity of members answering the call to reduce their carbon footprint. A few years ago I would not have predicted that several churches on the edge of Kentucky’s coal country would be raring to move into a carbon-free future. And yet there they were, thanks to the leadership of their own pastors and others nearby.
How do you lead? Preachers do serve as theological interpreters of Scripture and faith. We do help congregations ground their ethics in the Bible. We also, for better or worse, serve as gateways to congregational projects and priorities, helping congregations realize their faith through complex and substantial actions such as changing their energy sources. How can you stir up the scriptural imaginations of those longing for a deep connection with creation? How can you support the actions of those prepared to put their money where their mouth is?
Revised Common Lectionary readings:
January 7 — Baptism of the Lord
- Genesis 1:1-5 describes God’s calling light from the darkness that covered the face of the deep. This light was the first thing God called “good.”
- Psalm 29:1-11 repeated announces “the voice of the Lord,” which thunders over the waters, breaks the cedars, flashes forth flames of fire.
- Mark 1:4-11 shows John the baptizer, drawing people to the wilderness to experience God’s power.
- Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18 celebrates God’s knowledge of the psalmist, saying: “My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.”
- 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 teaches that the human body is God’s temple.
- Psalm 62:5-12 expresses confidence in God as rock and fortress, and not in human wealth.
- Mark 1:14-20 describes Jesus’ reaching out to fisherman on the Sea of Galilee with news of God’s reign.
- Deuteronomy 18:15-20 warns prophets against speaking words in God’s name that God has not commanded.
- Psalm 111 proclaims that God provides food and remembers God’s covenant.
- 1 Corinthians 8:1-13 reminds Christians that it matters how we eat.
- Isaiah 40:21-31 announces God’s creating the stars of heaven and reviving the strength of the powerless.
- Psalm 147:1-11, 20c proclaims that God heals the brokenhearted and binds their wounds, and names and numbers the stars.
- 1 Corinthians 9:16-23 forecasts woe for those who fail to proclaim the things of God.
February 11 — Transfiguration Sunday
- Psalm 50:1-6 announces God’s judgment, before heaven and earth, of God’s people.
- 2 Corinthians 4:3-6 reminds Christians that it was God who called light to shine out of darkness, both in the world in the human heart.
- Mark 9:2-9 describes the disciples’ seeing Jesus in his splendor, but still misunderstanding.
February 18 — First Sunday of Lent
- Genesis 9:8-17 emphasizes that God’s covenant pertains to all living creatures on earth.
- Psalm 25:1-10 pleads that God teach the psalmist God’s own paths of faithfulness to those who keep God’s covenant.
- Mark 1:9-15 relates Jesus’ baptism in the river and strengthening in the wild.
- Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16 relates God’s promise to Abram for new life.
- Psalm 22:23-31 celebrates life even in the midst of death.
- Romans 4:13-25 describes the one “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.”
- Mark 8:31-38 paradoxically observes that “those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.”
Patricia Tull’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “The Great Community,” focuses on ecological themes for preaching.