Greening Spaces

"Green Flowers." Image by Emily Carlin via Flickr; licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0.

Mark A. Torgerson’s book Greening Spaces for Worship and Ministry (Alban, 2012) offers numerous case studies of congregations that have incorporated creation care practices into their worship buildings. Some of these have built LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)-certified new buildings; most chose energy efficient updates for their existing buildings and eco-friendly practices in their groundskeeping and congregational lives. Story after story highlights the benefits for people of faith of widening their attention to worship practices that reflect God’s love for creation. Any reader who lives with a church building will immediately recognize in these accounts of forward-thinking congregations’ decisions practical examples to imitate in our own structures.
Before getting pragmatic, the book begins by examining Scripture. While creation care ethics are easily found in the Hebrew Scriptures beginning with Genesis 1 and 2, Torgerson also devotes attention to the New Testament, where some passages have been interpreted as denying the value of God’s creation and suggesting that humans should look forward to the earth’s dissolution. Torgerson argues that the debate boils down to whether one believes that the redemptive work of Christ applies only to humans or to the whole created order.
Put that way, the idea that a God who created the whole world, calling it good and delighting in its vastness and multiplicity, might not be able or willing to save it, while saving humans alone — who are arguably the earth’s most disruptive troublemakers — seems perversely shortsighted. And indeed, Torgerson cites passage after passage demonstrating that it is creation itself, which “waits with eager longing” (Romans 8:19), that God looks to redeem. Even the fire of 2 Peter 3:10 can be viewed as purgative rather than destructive. Heaven and earth are depicted as being restored in Revelation 21:1-5, as God comes to dwell with mortals.
Christians who anticipate leaving the earth behind to dwell with God in heaven have their own way of reading Scripture that will likely never aspire to environmental health. But even they must pay rising utility bills for aging buildings and could find money-saving information showcased in this book. Those of us who recognize Scripture’s celebration of the God of all creation will find here practical help for working out our salvation day by day.

July 7, 2019 (Ordinary 14C)
Isaiah 66:10-14 compares prosperity to an overflowing stream bringing plenty.
Psalm 66:1-9 proclaims God’s rule over all the earth.
2 Kings 5:1-14 describes Naaman seeking a cure from Israel’s God and nearly missing the Jordan River’s healing water.
Psalm 30 demonstrates the continuous availability of divine redemption for those who seek God’s help.
Galatians 6:(1-6), 7-16 foresees that we reap what we sow, and exhorts us therefore not to grow weary in doing right for the good of all.
Luke 10:1-11, 16-20 portrays Jesus sending disciples out to preach taking little baggage with them, but only word of the nearness of God’s healing, restoring reign.

July 14, 2019 (Ordinary 15C)
Deuteronomy 30:9-14 portrays obedience to God’s word as leading to prosperity of body, livestock, and soil.
Psalm 25:1-10 imagines God as a patient teacher, leading the teachable into faithful paths.
Amos 7:7-17 shows Amaziah mistaking Amos’s warning for a political conspiracy, though Amos remains steadfast.
Psalm 82 imagines the powerful who fail to give justice to the destitute as unable to maintain their lofty status.
Colossians 1:1-14 prays that the Colossians may know God’s will and lead worthy lives, bearing fruit in good works.
Luke 10:25-37 narrates the Good Samaritan’s freedom to respond effectively to perceived needs of others.

July 21 (Ordinary 16C)
Genesis 18:1-10a depicts hospitality toward strangers bringing unexpected awards.
Psalm 15 lists the social virtues of the faithful: they speak truth, refrain from slandering neighbors, honor God, and behave honestly and generously toward others.
Amos 8:1-12 offers Amos’s warnings that cheating in business will bring ecological disaster.
Psalm 52 compares those who trust God to fruitful olive trees.
Colossians 1:15-28 describes the cosmic Christ holding all creation together.
Luke 10:38-42 describes Mary sitting to listen, not too busy to think clearly — a prescription for a richer and more well-considered inner life, attentive to one’s impact on the world.

July 28, 2019 (Ordinary 17C)
Genesis 18:20-32 raises the problem of collective, ecological punishment for evil, and the disaster that results when the few who are willing to behave justly are absent.
Psalm 138 offers thanks and praise to God for caring for the lowly.
Hosea 1:2-10 introduces a book in which faithfulness to God is directly correlated with ecological prosperity.
Psalm 85 portrays faithfulness springing from the ground like a perennial plant, and righteousness looking down from the sky like the sun’s brightness.
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19) reminds readers that, despite appearances, it is God who rules over all creation.
Luke 11:1-13 depicts Jesus teaching his disciples that God wishes to provide their needs, and instructing them to pray simply for food, forgiveness, and peace.

August 4, 2019 (Ordinary 18C)
Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23 portrays busyness for economic gain as wind-chasing vanity.
Psalm 49:1-12 likewise portrays trust in wealth as pure folly.
Hosea 11:1-11 imagines God not only as a tender parent, but as a lion roaring.
Psalm 107:1-9, 43 presents God as savior of the thirsty, filling the hungry with good things.
Colossians 3:1-11 counsels readers to “set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.”
Luke 12:13-21 describes the rich fool who built bigger barns to hoard his grain, but died instead.

August 11, 2019 (Ordinary 19C)
Genesis 15:1-6 promises Abraham descendants as numerous as stars.
Psalm 33:12-22 portrays God watching from heaven over all earth’s inhabitants.
Isaiah 1:1, 10-20 describes the acceptable offering: rescuing the oppressed, defending orphans, pleading for widows. Only then will all eat the land’s abundance.
Psalm 50:1-8, 22-23 proclaims God’s ownership of every animal, domesticated and wild, and demands worshipers’ thanks in acts of justice.
Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 describes faith as “the conviction of things not seen.”
Luke 12:32-40 portrays Jesus instructing disciples, “Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out.”

August 18, 2019 (Ordinary 20C)
Jeremiah 23:23-29 reminds hearers that God fills heaven and earth.
Psalm 82 depicts God excoriating other gods for failure to defend the weak.
Isaiah 5:1-7 portrays God as a vintner expecting growth from God’s “pleasant planting,” but finding disappointment.
Psalm 80:1-2, 8-19 describes God as having “brought a vine out of Egypt” and planted it.
Hebrews 11:29-12:2 describes heroes who endured persecution in unjust societies.
Luke 12:49-56 shows Jesus warning hearers to heed the signs of the times in the same way they interpret the weather.

August 25, 2019 (Ordinary 21C)
Isaiah 58:9b-14 foresees that a city offering food to the hungry will become “a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”
Psalm 103:1-8 depicts God as one who satisfies worshipers with good, renewing their youth “like the eagle’s.”
Jeremiah 1:4-10 describes God’s call “to pluck up and to pull down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”
Psalm 71:1-6 portrays God as rock and refuge.
Hebrews 12:18-29 anticipates divine justice as “the removal of what is shaken — that is, created things — so that what cannot be shaken may remain.”
Luke 13:10-17 shows Jesus setting the standard for compassion, healing a crippled woman, instructing hearers to set those in bondage free.

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