Create an ecosystem of faith! The psalmist and Jeremiah urge us to root ourselves near the living waters of the word of God.
Here are ideas for reading and preaching Psalm 1, Jeremiah 17:5-10, and Luke 6:17-26, assigned for February 13.and, 2022, the sixth Sunday after Epiphany in the Revised Common Lectionary. This is part of the EcoPreacher 1-2-3 series to equip pastors and congregations to engage the Bible through an ecological lens.
They are like trees planted by streams,
which bear fruit in their season, and whose leaves do not wither.
In everything they do, they thrive.
They will be like a tree planted near the water, and its roots will come out through the stream.
It will not be afraid when the heat comes, and its leaves will remain green;
in the year of the drought, it does not worry and does not cease to bear fruit.
Eco-exegesis is a method of interpreting biblical text through a green lens using the principles of ecological theology. For this passage, we turn to Calls Deep to Deep: Psalms in Dialogue Amid Disturbances by William P. Brown (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 2021).
William Brown, professor of Old Testament at Columbia Theological Seminary, notes that a relationship with Torah (Scripture) is not just about obedience and learning, but also about “delight” and “deliberation.” – descriptors unique to this psalm. We are drawn to the word of God just as we are drawn to beautiful trees by a flowing stream.
But more than that, Psalm 1 imagines those who deliberate on the word of God as trees themselves! The psalmist implies that God is the gardener, planting trees with the waters, conveying a sense of “fulfillment, rootedness and productivity” (186). “To ‘delight’ in the Torah is to drink its waters. To “deliberate” on the Torah is to plunge its roots alongside its nourishing currents”, explains Brown (187).
Be like the tree!
Psalm 1 and Jeremiah 17:7-8 draw contrasts between living things in nature that are sustained over time and those that are short-lived or not so substantial. Psalm 1 advises the faithful to be like the tree, not like the “chaff” that the wind scatters. In Jeremiah, those who “entrust themselves to mere mortals and make the flesh their strength, whose hearts turn away from the Lord” are compared to a “bush in the wilderness” devoid of water and healthy soil.
For Jeremiah, “He who trusts in [God] receives a high botanical status”, just as in Psalm 1 where the righteous is compared to a tree (183). In this way, the engagement of scripture itself creates what we might call an “ecosystem of faith” – a well-watered place with loamy, living soil supporting a tree that can live for decades and beyond. .
Luke 6:13-26, the Beatitudes
Just as the psalmist and Jeremiah contrast those who are blessed and cursed, so does Jesus in Luke 6:13-26, the Beatitudes. But he’s doing something very interesting – he’s turning the lesson upside down. He declares that it is the poor, the hungry and the hated who are blessed, while the rich, full and bloated are not. This teaching does not deny Psalm 1 or Jeremiah. Rather, it corrects a misunderstanding and misapplication of the idea of bliss, that those who have been made poor and starved by the rich deserve their lot. No, said Jesus, it is not.
As Psalm 1 shows us, God takes the shrunken shrub and transplants it so that it has access to the same water as the trees. In other words, the state of inequality is not divinely ordained. On the contrary, ensuring equity for all is what God desires.
What does this mean for us today?
We can draw implications for our current environmental inequalities, especially when it comes to those relegated to living in concrete deserts devoid of trees, running water, and the healing aspects of nature. Studies have shown that when local governments plant trees and create parks – especially in neighborhoods that were previously neglected by urban infrastructure – property values go up, pollution goes down, heating and cooling costs are reduced. and residents’ quality of life improves.
That said, congregations can consider how to defend urban forests, protect natural lands, and plant trees as part of their religious practices. By doing this work, we enable more people to be rooted in God’s creation and to draw nourishment for their spirits as well as for their communities. Together we can create an “ecosystem of faith” that nurtures, supports and beautifies.
The Eco-Idea is a succinct statement that tells us who God is and/or what God does in relation to Creation and how we should respond as people of faith.
Just as God desires that humanity be nurtured and supported by both Scripture and Creation, communities of faith can help ensure that more people are “planted” in healthy, green, tree-filled places.
Eco-questions are what we can ask to help a congregation draw out the implications of eco-exegesis and eco-idea.
- Where are the “tree deserts” in your community? Could your congregation create a “tree ministry” or “tree task force” to research how to defend urban forests (if your congregation is located in a city) or to protect and preserve existing forests?
- Some wooded areas become dumping grounds for people’s trash and unwanted household items. Could your congregation organize a day of cleaning up the forest to collect and transport the waste, restoring its beauty as God intended?
Eco-actions are ways in which a congregation could respond to the eco-idea and eco-questions. One of these possibilities may be relevant to your ministry context.
1 – Invite an arborist
Invite an arborist to teach your congregation how to plant and care for trees, then choose native trees to plant on church property and in the community. Learn the proper way to mulch a tree. For example, avoid “mulch volcanoes” – piling mulch around the bark transmits pathogens to the tree. Instead, spread it evenly around the base of the tree. Also, place a “name tag” on the tree so passers-by can learn its name.
2 – Create a “living garden” of memories
Organize youth and adult volunteers to visit residents of a local retirement home and take them outside to enjoy nature. Ask the resident how his family was connected to the land. Where did they play in nature when they were children? What are their memories of trees, gardens, animals and people growing up? Consider filming their stories to create a “living garden” of memories to share with the congregation.
3 – Plan your garden
Make a plan for your garden, whether at home or at church. Even if it’s just a few pots on the porch or windowsill, think about the vegetables and flowers you’d like to grow this season and decide when you’ll plant them. If your church has enough land, consider creating a community garden and offering plots to people who live in apartments or don’t have land big enough for themselves. Ask people to donate their extra produce to the local food bank.
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EcoPreacher 1-2-3 is a partnership between the Reverend Dr. Leah Schade and the Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development, publishers of ecological bible, a Jewish ecological commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures. EcoPreacher 1-2-3 provides creation-focused sermon preparation that is short, accessible, and grounded in a solid biblical foundation. To see more EcoPreacher ideas and to sign up to receive future EcoPreacher 1-2-3 installments, click here.
Cedars and mustard seeds: the arboretum of the Bible
Healthy Trees, Healthy People, Healthy Faith: Devotion, Wk. 1
Finding the Forests of Eden Amid COVID19
The Reverend Dr. Leah D. Schade is an associate professor of preaching and worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky and ordained in the ELCA. Dr. Schade does not speak for LTS or the ELCA; his opinions are his own. She is the author of Preaching in the purple zone: ministry in the red-blue division (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019) and Creation-preaching of crisis: ecology, theology and pulpit (ChalicePress, 2015). She is co-editor of Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in Times of Climate Crisis (Rowman and Littlefield, 2019). His latest book, co-authored with Jerry Sumney is Apocalypse When? : A Guide to Interpreting and Preaching Apocalyptic Texts (Wipf & Stock, 2020).