"Respect the dignity of every human being."
We make this promise when we declare we will follow Jesus Christ wherever he leads—endeavoring to love our neighbor as ourselves.
We discover this inherent dignity when we see that each person is made in God's image.
Then, we cannot help but treat them as holy. Each interaction becomes a blessed act of respect that says, "I see you. You matter. So much so I will treat you as if you were Christ himself."
Preaching's "Vitamin C Deficiency"
There's one aspect of human dignity we often neglect to preach about, however: Creation.
Leah Schade, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, calls this our "Vitamin C Deficiency."
It's easy to preach on our interactions with other people. The connection between our actions and our attitude toward our neighbor is direct and clear.
But the connection between our treatment of creation and its impact on our neighbor may need to be preached more explicitly.
In our temperature-controlled urban and suburban environments, we are increasingly isolated from nature, from the sources of our food, and from the very real ways our physical environment is changing.
We often fail to understand the ways our everyday choices impact our environment and, in turn, our neighbor's quality of life.
As preachers, we have an obligation to illuminate this reality and invite our listeners into a new dimension of relationship with their neighbors through creation. And not just on Earth Day.
Creation as Love of Neighbor
If you were to imagine the ideal place for Jesus to live, what would it look like?
When I think of such a place, it isn't a fancy house with all the latest tech gadgets.
Rather, I imagine a place where God's unfailing love is evident in every aspect of the environment (Psalm 33:5).
- I think of a place with clean streams and rivers, lakes and seas offering a bounty of fish, and wells offering pure drinking water.
- I imagine lush, native vegetation with its attendant flora and fauna—even if that place is a crowded city filled with parks and living, green walls.
- I imagine fertile fields and green pastures where food grows abundantly and animals feast and thrive.
- I imagine clean air rich with oxygen and clear skies free from haze and smog.
- I imagine a world where "the rocks cry out" and the "trees of the forest sing for joy" and "the skies proclaim the work of [God's] hands (Psalm 96:12, Psalm 19:1).
Toxic water, ozone days requiring us to shelter inside from poor air quality, droughts and famines, rising sea levels threatening coastal communities, contaminated soil and groundwater, and a plundering of natural resources without thought for sustainability or the suffering ecosystems around said resources do not fit this vision.
And yet, so often our daily actions implicitly support and co-create this reality.
We don't want this reality for Christ. We wouldn't want it for ourselves. So we cannot condone it for others.
Our preaching can call followers of Christ to protect a healthy creation for our neighbor to the glory of God.
Creation as Preaching Partner
Furthermore, as preachers we must recognize creation as a fellow preacher, teacher, witness and worshiper. A faithful proclaimer of God's glory since the foundations of the earth.
Dozens of passages in the Bible speak to the testimony of the natural world and its role in drawing people to God. These are just a few.
Ever since the creation of the world, his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse.” (Romans 1:20)
The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard. Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.” (Psalm 19:1-4)
Ask the animals, and they will teach you, or the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or speak to the earth, and it will teach you, or let the fish of the sea inform you. Which of these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this? In his hand is the life of every creature and the breath of all mankind.” (Job 12:7-10)
When we recognize the witness of creation, we understand the importance of protecting its "voice."
Our preaching can help our listeners recognize this voice and tune into the teaching and testimony of creation. Then we can call our listeners into a partnership to protect this voice, to protect their neighbor, and thus participate in God's will on earth as it is in heaven.
Not sure how to preach this creation/neighbor connection?
The Backstory Preaching Collective+ will have the Rev'd Dr. Leah Schade as our special guest lecturer this week!
Wednesday, August 22nd at 3:00 Central*.
In the hour with Dr. Schade, you'll:
- Learn how you can proclaim justice for God’s Creation and human communities in the face of climate change and environmental devastation.
- Be equipped with tools you need to read Scripture through a “green lens” that helps make your preaching relevant, courageous and creative.
- Be inspired to make a difference for our planet, your community, and God’s future.
BONUS! Join The Backstory Preaching Collective+ for this special lecture, and your tuition will include our Stewardship Bootcamp coming in September and co-hosted by Lisa Cressman and the Rev'd Sarah Hollar, Backstory Preaching Mentor.
I hope you'll join us.
*Live sessions are always recorded and posted in our Collective+ FB group for those who cannot make it.
Dr. Schade earned both her MDiv and PhD degrees from the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (now United Lutheran Seminary), and completed her dissertation focusing on homiletics (preaching) and ecological theology. Leah is the author of Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).
- Learn more about her work at: https://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/
- Follow Leah’s “EcoPreacher” blog for Patheos which explores environmental issues, politics, religion, race, gender and women’s issues, and popular culture.