Episcopal Church in Minnesota

Environmental Stewardship Commission
General Reflections on Lectionary Readings
Year A, Easter 2 through 7

Reflection on Lectionary Readings, Year A, Easter 2-7
by John Gibbs, Ph D

There's a bigger goal now than "making the world safe for democracy."  If there could be a unifying theme for our lectionary texts between Easter and Trinity Sunday, it may be this:  "Becoming People who are Safe for the World."

The reflections for these Sundays suggest the possibility of one or two Post-Easter Sermon Series.  The series could be announced in an Easter bulletin and subsequently on Easter 2.

Sermon titles for the suggested series would be what they are in parentheses, or something similar as follows:
Sunday Title
Easter 2 Becoming People who are Safe for the World (Ecological Covenant)
Easter 3 Becoming People who are Safe for the World (On the Road with a Large-Scale View)
Easter 4 Becoming People who are Safe for the World (Sheep of the Shepherd)
Easter 5 Becoming People who are Safe for the World (The Way to Greater Works)
Easter 6 Becoming People who are Safe for the World (God's Offspring)
Easter 7 Becoming People who are Safe for the World (Witnessing to God's Rule in the World)

Please consult the discussion for the set of texts assigned to each Sunday.  There the rationale for each title is stated, and the relevance of the texts to this theme is discussed.

It is widely understood that we need "the ecological reformation of Christianity," as James A. Nash has described it in his article for the journal Interpretation (Vol. 50, #1; January 1996), pp. 5-15.  What is required is not alone recovery of creation vocabulary, and renewed attention to biblical materials that emphasize God's creative acts and the creation as a whole.  It is not even enough to try to recover biblical resources that model how humanity best relates to animals, plants, earth, water, and all creation.

A series of sermons, homilies, or meditations on "becoming people who are safe for the world" will do those things, to be sure, but also move on to explore the ecological relevance of other theological perspectives and doctrines.  As Nash suggests, ecological reformation entails searching "all doctrinal themes" for their "ecological potential" (p. 7).  While respecting the "historic identity" of a doctrine, we look for ways to correlate that doctrine or theme with recent  "ecological knowledge and values."

As we work through this process, we may find ourselves agreeing with Nash's claim:  "The Christian faith, when properly interpreted, has the impressive potential to provide firm foundations for ecological integrity – second to none" (p. 7).  That is the message we want to communicate in such a series, leaving in our workshop/study most of the careful theological explorations and correlations mentioned above.

The entire January 1996 issue of Interpretation is devoted to the theme "Theology and Ecology."  It includes 3 other articles that are rich resources for a series of sermons in some area of environmental responsibility:  Holmes Rolston, III, "The Bible and Ecology"; W. Sibley Towner, "The Future of Nature"; Theodore Hiebert, "Re-Imaging Nature: Shifts in Interpretation."

You may notice that the I Peter Lectionary texts have not been discussed.  The reason is that I have in mind a series of sermons that would be based solely on the Lectionary texts in I Peter.  The circumstance that we have I Peter texts on Easter 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, and 7 provides the opportunity to sustain the congregation's attention to this one epistle during these 6 Sundays.  Rather than being a recipe for boredom, such a series can in fact build momentum and interest all the way from Easter to Trinity Sunday.

I Peter is not filled with creation vocabulary, nor is it replete with creation texts.  But it does describe the kind of Christian community that is equipped by its faith to live as "exiles of the dispersion" in a hostile environment.  Though we do not face persecution for being stewards of the earth, we do face frequent lack of understanding or, among those whose profits may be diminished by the demands of ecological responsibility, we may even face hostility and political or social or economic threats.

Only at some later time may I complete the outline of this second possible series of sermons, based on the I Peter lectionary texts, which would speak to the theme of our becoming people who are safe for the world.  By "world" we mean not only humans, of course, but also the entire spaceship earth, and all that exists on and in it.

The First Epistle of Peter describes the kind of people that the rigors of ecological stewardship require.  In this time of terrorist threats and attacks, with concomitant increased demands for energy and attempts to lower standards against pollution, the fate of spaceship earth hangs all the more in the balance.  Demands are all the greater on those who swim against the stream of an ever-growing GNP that both widens the gap between rich and poor, and contributes yet more ominously to climate change.

Perhaps you can proceed to work out the details of the "ecological relevance" of I Peter in your own series.  If so, share it with us.

John Gibbs, PhD, a retired theologian, attends Trinity Episcopal Church, Park Rapids, MN.   He originally wrote this reflection series in 2002.  He and we welcome your comments. Please address your comments or additional reflections to John Gibbs or any MEESC member, or mail them to:
c/o C. Morello
4451 Lakeside Drive
Eveleth, MN 55743-4400 USA

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