During last February’s cold snap—the one in which millions of Texans lost electricity, natural gas, and water due to insufficiently weatherized utility systems, and at least 210 died—it was not the humans alone who needed rescue. Farm animals from chickens to cows took up residence by farmers’ living room fireplaces.1 And, remarkably, despite fearsome conditions, volunteers on the Texas coast rescued more than 4000 cold-stunned sea turtles that could otherwise have drowned in icy waters, housing them in the South Padre Island convention center.
Why did they brave the cold to rescue reptiles? Many recognize that threats to other animal and plant species are being accelerated by human activity. These threats include not only climate change, but also habitat loss, degradation of the oceans, over-hunting and over-fishing, and human overpopulation. Some are calling the current spiraling crisis the earth’s “sixth mass extinction.” The permanent destruction of 75% of all species toward which we are heading will be the first great extinction in 65 million years, and the first human-caused one (the last one was the famous asteroid that killed the dinosaurs).
Volunteer rescuers of sea turtles and other species are not simply being sentimental about animals. Many do their work in reverence for the importance to the health of the whole planet of every link in nature’s chain. Scripture reflects this understanding when Genesis, for instance, enumerates the animals and plants created by God, and narrates God’s commanding Noah to rescue animals from the flood. In the new year’s first lectionary readings, similarly, Ephesians 1:10 (January 2) describes all things in heaven and earth gathered in Christ. Psalm 36:6 (January 16) rejoices that “you save humans and animals alike.” The discussion in 1 Corinthians 12 (January 16, 23) of the strength to be found in diversity and the importance of every member is as true of creation as it is of human groups.
There is self-interest in working to forestall the destruction of other species. We humans know, or should know, our absolute dependence on the health of even the smallest creatures—bees, for instance, and even bacteria—for our own health and survival. But for Christians who respect the grandeur of the world God gave us to inhabit, sustaining its other parts also expresses our gratitude.
January 2, 2022 (Second Sunday of Christmas)
- Jeremiah 31:7-14 is filled with creation imagery depicting return and abundance, prominently comparing the joyful redeemed to “a watered garden.”
- Psalm 147:12-20 joyfully celebrates the divine blessings that come with regular weather patterns, including “the finest of wheat.”
- Ephesians 1:3-14 describes all things in heaven and on earth gathered up in Christ.
- John 1:(1-9), 10-18 emphasizes the connection between the eternal Christ and the created world.
January 9, 2022 (Baptism of Our Lord C)
Today’s passages draw attention to two powerful forces of creation, flood and fire, gifts beyond human control, sacramentalized as the water of baptism and the Holy Spirit’s fire.
- Isaiah 43:1-7 pledges that the redeeming God will transform flood and fire from threats into testing, cleansing agents of new life.
- Psalm 29 reinforces both the power of flood and fire and their subjection to the divine voice, thundering over the waters.
- Acts 8:14-17 moves the boundaries of water and fire beyond Judah into Samaria.
- Luke 3:15-17, 21-22 describes John’s water baptism and announcement that Jesus will baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.
January 16, 2022 (Second Sunday after Epiphany C)
Today’s texts congregate around God’s gracious gifts that reflect the world’s diversity and relationality.
- Isaiah 62:1-5 announces God’s reunion with Jerusalem, whose vindication shines like dawn.
- Psalm 36:5-10 shouts that God’s steadfast love extends to the heavens, and that God saves humans and animals alike.
- 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 lists the diversity of human talents, reflecting the teeming diversity of creation.
- John 2:1-11 recounts the egregious gift of water turned into wine to celebrate a marriage.
January 23, 2022 (Third Sunday after Epiphany C)
Through Psalm and Gospel, today’s passages recall the insistent correlation between God’s word through nature’s acts and God’s words in scripture.
- Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10 relates Ezra’s reading of the Torah before the Water Gate.
- Psalm 19 parallels the wordless natural theology reflected in creation to the sweetness of the written Torah.
- 1 Corinthians 12:12-31a uses the image of the body and its parts to remind readers that there is no incidental member—a message as applicable to the web of all creation as it is to human society.
- Luke 4:14-21 relates Jesus’ own interpretation of his ministry as one of healing for those most forgotten.
January 30, 2022 (Fourth Sunday after Epiphany C)
This Sunday’s passages commend courage.
- Jeremiah 1:4-10 recounts God’s call to the prophet: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you….”
- Psalm 71:1-6 requests protection from injustice, since “upon you I have leaned from my birth.”
- 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 commends love as the motivating force behind words and deeds.
- Luke 4:21-30 recounts Jesus’ bold sermon in Nazareth. Reviewing times of drought and disease, it highlights God’s justice toward foreigners.
February 6, 2022 (Fifth Sunday after Epiphany C)
Today’s passages highlight the extraordinary grace of God available to and through the lowly.
- Isaiah 6:1-8, (9-13) describes Isaiah’s eagerness to witness to an earth filled with God’s glory, and a people of “unclean lips,” blind to this very glory.
- Psalm 138 celebrates God’s regard for the lowly.
- 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 humbly summarizes Paul’s message.
- Luke 5:1-11 witnesses to God’s power to give food to ordinary people.
February 13, 2022 (Sixth Sunday after Epiphany C)
Today’s passages draw from the natural world to reassure the faithful.
- Jeremiah 17:5-10 and Psalm 1 both compare the faithful to trees planted by streams of water.
- 1 Corinthians 15:12-20 continues from last week, offering assurances concerning death.
- Luke 6:17-26, “the sermon on the plain,” reassures the faithful lowly of God’s provision.
February 20, 2022 (Seventh Sunday after Epiphany C)
This Sunday’s passages continue the theme of faithfulness that makes room for prosperity in the land.
- Genesis 45:3-11, 15 assures Jacob’s family of provision during famine.
- Psalm 37:1-11, 39-40 counsels that those who “trust in the Lord, and do good” will prosper in the land.
- 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-50 uses the example of seed sown to describe the miracle of new life following death.
- Luke 6:27-38 commends mercy and generous love even of one’s enemies.
Transfiguration Sunday – February 27, 2022
- Exodus 34:29-35 provides a model for Jesus’ transfiguration by describing Moses’ shining face after his encounters with God.
- Psalm 99 describes the natural world’s responses to God’s rule.
- Luke 9:28-36, (37-43a) tells the story of Jesus’ transfiguration, using the same Greek word that “metamorphosis” originates from.
Patricia Tull’s bimonthly Working Preacher column, “The Great Community,” focuses on ecological themes for preaching.