Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Creation-Crisis Preaching - resource for pastors

Now that #COP21, the Paris conference on climate change, has finished, it's time to start equipping people of faith to take action to enact climate justice.  This book, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015), is a helpful guide for pastors and preachers to frame the climate issue - as well as other environmental justice topics - within biblical and theological themes.  With a blend of theory and practical tips, as well as examples of sermons that address ecological themes, this book can be useful for book study groups, pastor study groups, and for sermon preparation.  Also helpful for homiletics professors looking to give their students a useful resource as they begin their ministries in a time of increasing environmental challenges.

Creation-Crisis Preaching is available at Chalice's website for 50% OFF now thru December 31! Do you have some budget left for continuing ed/resources this year? Spend it now and stock up for 2016! Here's how to save 50%: On the third screen of checkout (in the right sidebar, where it says "Coupon or Promotional Code"), enter coupon code SAVE50, click the "Apply" button, and 50% will be taken off this title (and any of the other 2015 titles and dozens of other backlist titles on 50% off discount right now, see the "Specials" section for the complete list). Order now:

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Sermon, Advent 3 - Time to Come Home

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Luke 3:7-18

Keywords: refugees, gun violence, climate change, racism, Confederate flag, domestic violence

Recall the words of the prophet Zephaniah, the words he spoke on behalf of God to the people of Israel:  “I will deal with all your oppressors at that time.  And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.  At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you.” (Zephaniah 3:19-20).

I will bring you home. 

A father carries his brand new baby son out of the hospital in the carrier they received at the shower just last month, now 7 pounds and 6 ounces heavier than when he brought it into the birthing suite.  He opens the door to the car and places the carrier into the seat, fumbling with the harness and strap, making sure that everything is secured just right.  He helps his partner climb into the passenger side, and they both look back at the seat.  They have a moment of paralyzing reflection, realizing how fragile is the life wrapped in those blankets, and how dangerous is the journey they are about to begin.  More carefully than the day he took the test for his driver’s license, he pulls out of the parking space and cautiously drives into their new life as a family.  I will bring you home.

Across the sea, another father wraps his daughter in her warmest winter coat.  At thirteen, the top of her head just reaches his neck line, and she looks up at him, her smooth olive skin and soft brown eyes framed by her favorite orange and green hijab, the head-covering her mother made for her last month.  His wife opens the door of their house onto the street strewn with rubble, empty shell casings, and traces of blood.  He tucks his worn copy of the Koran into his backpack and pulls the straps, making sure everything is secured just right.  He helps his daughter and wife climb over the broken concrete as the ratatata sound of gunfire in the distance rattles their nerves.  He looks back at his house, the roof partially collapsed from a mortar shell from last night.  He has a moment of paralyzing reflection, realizing how fragile is the life wrapped in that coat, and how dangerous is the journey they are about to begin.  More carefully than when he used to climb rocks in the foothills as a boy, he leads his family down the street into their new life.  I will bring you to a new home.

What a comforting word Zephaniah proclaims to a people who knew what it meant to be forced from their homes in a time of brutal war and a series of relentless military conquering.  “I will deal with all your oppressors . . . I will save the lame and gather the outcast . . . I will bring you home.” 

Home is where the aroma of a warm drink and the light of a kitchen table surrounds those who embrace you, gently tease you, worry about you, and make sure that the door is unlocked for you when you arrive. 

Home is the town where you can walk the street and gather smiles from passers-by, exchange jokes and friendly words with acquaintances, and travel to work and shopping and recreation with only the baggage of your day, rather than the baggage of your skin color, or your religion, or your gender and sexuality. 

Home is the planet where the water is clean, the air is fresh, the seasons change with comfortable predictability, and other lifeforms can enjoy the same.

I daresay that in the last two months, many of us have not felt at home.  Forsythia bushes and cherry trees are being tricked by the consistently high temperatures into blooming in December.  This season is out of season, and while we may enjoy the spring-like weather, deep in our bones we know – this is not right.  This does not feel like our home.

In the last two months, many of us have not felt at home. 

Across the continent, the Native American town of Quinault Village of Taholah on the Pacific Coast is having to relocate because of sea level rise due to melting glaciers.  “Five years ago, the Anderson Glacier, which contributes cool water to the Quinault River at critical times of year, disappeared for good. It had been receding for as long as locals had been photographing it, but one woman still remembers the day when she saw that it was completely gone.  ‘In that moment I could feel my heart sinking, thinking that the glacier that feeds the mighty Quinault River has now disappeared,’ she says. Without the glacier, the Quinault River was lower than ever recorded. So low that while walking through a newly exposed stretch of riverbed, one tribal member stubbed his toe on what turned out to be a mastodon jaw that may have been submerged since the last ice age.” ( This does not feel like home. 

Have you felt things shift in your home?  In your home planet?  In your hometown?

Just thirty minutes south of this church, a woman sat on the porch of her hometown one October Saturday watching the annual Halloween parade.  This is the town where she had grown up as one of the only black families in the community, but had always felt accepted and safe – that this town was her home.  But on this day she watched as a float featuring a Confederate flag moved down the street, and her blood ran cold as she heard shouts of “light ‘em up” from some in the crowd - a phrase used to give the order to shoot at one’s enemy.  Add this to the many other red and blue-x flags she has seen displayed in increasing numbers around the Valley in the last six months.  Add this to the pick-up truck with the flag that drove past her on the street where she lives, and the words hurled at her:  “Nigger – go back to Africa where you belong!”  This does not feel like home.

Just a few blocks away, a 10-year-old boy scuffs his feet along the sidewalk as he reluctantly makes his way to the place where he lives. He had tucked the test with the D-grade into his backpack before leaving school, making sure the strap was secured tight.  He prayed his father would not ask to see it as he walked up the steps of the porch with paint peeling off the banister and the recycling can of empty bottles and cans of alcohol sitting beneath the window sill.  He could hear his father in the house yelling, screaming.  And he had a moment of paralyzing reflection, realizing how fragile his life was, and how dangerous was the world inside of that door.  More carefully than when he used to sneak down in the middle of the night to lift a cookie from the canister, he crept through the kitchen, hoping to escape to his bedroom without being noticed.  I wish this was not my home.

It is very difficult to feel at home when the threat of violence seems ready to erupt from any car, in any school, in any building, in any home.

It is hard to feel at home when so many angry voices scream at refugees and Muslims and blacks to stay away, go away. 

It has become increasingly depressing to look at the home of this fragile orb spinning in space, its climate and its cities and its towns and its homes spinning out of control.

And it is precisely into this spinning whirlwind of chaos and fear and hatred that the prophet’s voice calls out:  “I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth.  At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you.”

Those words echoed down through the centuries and landed at the feet of a man standing at the Jordan River two thousand years ago.  He picked up those words and added his own unique invitation:  “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.”  Turn your lives around.  Be washed clean of all this nasty, selfish, greedy arrogance and complacency. Repent – turn around.  Come back home.

Are you ready to return home?  What might it look like – this homecoming?

It might look like people wading into that river and actually changing their ways, actually listening and responding.  It might look like people sharing what they have – their extra coat, their extra food, their extra room, their hometown, their country – sharing with people who may not look like them or worship the same God as them, or have the same skin color as them.  But they do it because they want to help someone feel at home.

It might look like the very rich, and the comfortably well-off, and the modestly privileged making the deliberate decision to live within their means, and establish just and equal pay, and repent of their sinful accumulation of wealth.  And they do it because they want to help others be able to afford to live and survive and be at home.

It might look like soldiers and police restoring trust and adhering to justice for themselves and those they are charged with protecting.  It might look like a place where firearms and weapons are so few and far between that people finally feel safe to walk into their school, their workplace, their local movie theatre, their shopping store, their home, and not worry about who might channel their rage and insanity and evil thoughts into the barrel of a gun.  And they will feel like they can safely be at home.

It might look like a father carrying his brand new baby son out of the stable in the swaddling clothes they had received from the innkeeper’s wife – that bundle now 7 pounds and 6 ounces heavier than when he brought it into the manger.  He opens the stable door and helps his wife onto the donkey, strapping on their meager bundle of clothes and supplies, fumbling with the harness, making sure that everything is secured just right.  He had been warned to escape this place – because the troops were coming.  The weapons would soon be spraying blood.  He and his beloved gaze at the smooth olive skin and soft brown eyes looking up at them.  They have a moment of paralyzing reflection, realizing how fragile is this life wrapped in those blankets, and how dangerous is the journey they are about to begin.  More carefully than the day he helped guide that donkey into the stable with his pregnant wife balanced between contractions, he pulls the reigns of the animal and cautiously begins the journey south, hoping and praying to find a place and a people who will welcome him and make a safe place for his new family.  I will bring you home.

The One who was born into the spinning whirlwind of extreme violence and racial hatred, of extreme poverty in the midst of extreme wealth, of extreme darkness in a fearful world – this One, the Messiah, was born for peace and equity, for hope and generosity.  This One stands with those most vulnerable and invites us to do the same – to respond with compassion and courage and just plain old decent courtesy.  He is calling us to come home – and to open our home, and to cherish and clean up and protect our planetary home, and to make our home free of violence so that it is safe and welcoming. 

“At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you.”  We are being gathered – we are being called.  It’s time to return home.  Amen.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Advent 2: New Growth from Old Stumps

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
 Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5 

If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a metaphor is worth a thousand feelings and connections.  The Bible is replete with images that not only spoke to the original hearers, but also speak to us, Many generations removed.  This imagery of new growth arising out of the stump was so powerful for the people in Isaiah’s time.  Their history was marked with periods of utter devastation, sometimes at the hands of their enemies, but other times through their own failure to enact justice for those most vulnerable in their own community. 
We, too, can resonate with the loss God feels for this vineyard that had been Israel – “he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!”  And how anguished those cries have been this past month across our world, as we saw story after story of bloodshed in Baghdad, Beirut, Paris.  And here in the United States where we have had more mass shootings than days of the year in 2015.  And in refugee camps and walking trails across the globe where thousands are fleeing for their lives, trying to find safety in a place that will welcome them, rather than shutting them out.
“O Come, O Branch of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny,” we sang in the opening hymn.  What does this mean – Branch of Jesse?  It comes from this passage in Isaiah: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.”  Jesse was the ancestor of David, the great king of Israel.  At the time when Isaiah was writing these words, it appeared that the line of kingship had been cut to the stump, along with the rest of the nation of Israel.  They were existing on bare bones, with little hope, and not many prospects for a better future.
I came upon a stump earlier this summer.  

It was a tree that had been ripped down by a storm.  All that was left was this stump. 

But that was not the end of the tree.  A new branch began growing out of the stump. 
And today, this is the tree that has grown just as tall as the other trees around it.  

I have to admit – I passed by this tree for years and never really took notice of its trunk, what had happened to it.  But one day as I was walking past it, something made me stop and notice the raggedness of the trunk.  And as I took a closer look, I realized what had happened to it.  This tree had once been just a stump.  But look at it now. 
An image like this, like the one we have in Isaiah, is so important – because it ignites our theological imagination.  Theological imagination is the capacity to see the world as God would have us see it, to see people and communities and our planet as God sees them.  A metaphor like a new tree rising from the stump gives us access to a regenerative theological imagination and helps us to see a God-directed future.

 “Theological imagination?” you might ask.  What good is that going to do for us when we’re just struggling to make ends meet?  When we’re facing a rising tide of racism, gun violence and terrorism around the country and around the block?  When the doctor puts her hand on my shoulder and gives me the news I was not prepared to hear?  How is theological imagination going to help us – help me – then?
But you see, lack of imagination is precisely the problem.  When we refuse to see our fellow human beings as children of God, when we cannot see beyond a person’s gender, or skin color or sexual orientation, or immigration status, or police record – it is a failure of imagination.  When we can no longer imagine any solution for our conflicts that does not involve guns or bombs – that is a failure of imagination.  When we cannot see any alternatives for our economy, and our ecology, and our agriculture in order to create a more just way of life for people and our planet – that is the failure of imagination.  When the news about our health, or that of a loved one, leaves us so distraught, we can barely get out of bed in the morning – a healthy dose of theological imagination can go a long way.

I have seen this happen for one of our own in this congregation.  One of our members has learned first-hand what it means to be cut down and be left with a stump.  The virus or bacteria or whatever it was that struck his heart and eventually led to loss of circulation in his leg has left him with one less limb.  I can only imagine the pain he is experiencing, the sense of loss, and the sinking feeling of knowing that his life is changed forever.  But he and his wife have told me that what has gotten them through, in addition to the medical care he has received – has been the love and prayers and support of their family, friends, and this congregation.  Soon he will be learning to grow a new life out of that stump, and it will take all of us to help him, encourage him, and lift him up in prayer.

            And that, my friends, is why you are here.  It’s why this church exists.  When you look back on the history of this church, you can see the ways in which theological imagination sustained the members of this congregation through very difficult and trying times.  And given what we face now in a time that is reminiscent of the exile the Israelites experienced – this is precisely the reason why theological imagination is so important.  This community, this synod, this area of Central Pennsylvania, this world needs your imagination.  And this church, United in Christ, is the place where you can cultivate just that – a vineyard with new growth emerging from what appears to be nothing but dead stumps.  This is the place where you can encounter God’s Word and feel its power to open up new possibilities of creativity for your life and your community.  This is the place where you are invited to dream of ways to reach out to your neighbors, offer hope and encouragement, work for justice, and sustain the communities around you with saplings of faith.
Remember, Israel had been cut down to the stump by the hands of those who sought their demise.  By all counts, they were done for.  But Isaiah was looking at that stump through the eyes of theological imagination and saw a connection between human spiritual and societal health and God’s Creation. That which was written off as hopeless is what actually contains the seed for new life.

Slowly, much more slowly than I’m sure they would have liked, Zion emerged as the people who would be strong. And where does that strength come from? On the back of a suffering servant figure.  While Israel did not envision such a root coming in the form of Jesus, as Christians, we can’t help but see the similarity in the life, death and resurrection of Christ.  This means that our hope, our strength, our renewal comes through Jesus – who is, by the way, a descendant of David’s line – a branch of Jesse. 

Now, of course, just because there is new hope does not mean that the angels will swoop down with a chorus of hallelujahs, and the heavens suddenly open up with rainbows and sunbeams.  If you read to the end of Isaiah, you see that he does not allow the reader to arrive at a simple solution. We can’t just expect God to come and clean up our messes and make a happily-ever-ending for us.  We will have to be honest about the wrongs that have been done, to be forthright about the injustices people have suffered.  And when we do discover this new growth, it will require patience and nurturing and protection.  You will not be able to make it grow faster than it will.  But you can be assured – it will grow.  And it is our theological imagination that enables that growth to flourish. 

            It is theological imagination that sparked the idea for our monthly senior center – OAKs.  We now have 50 people who have come to our program on the second Wednesday of the month.  Our society often looks at seniors as nothing but cut-off stumps, past their prime.  But this church said, wait a minute.  The seniors of this community are still Children of God.  They deserve a place where they can gather, talk with old friends and meet new ones, share memories, laugh with each other, share prayers and tears with each other, learn together, and grow, yes grow, in their faith.  A program like this helps people see that we need to value our senior citizens.  When I look at the folks who come to OAKs, I see saplings rising up out of the ground.  And it’s because this church remembers them and takes action.

This image of the saplings sprouting up out of stumps captures so well the spirit of this verse in Isaiah.  It activates our theological imagination to remind us of God’s promise that no matter how terrible the tragedy, not matter how difficult the problem, no matter how heavy the burden, no matter how long it takes - suffering is not the entire picture.  God will persist in helping us overcome the obstacles that prevent us from living the full, productive, peaceful, healthy lives that we were meant to enjoy – individually, as a family of faith, as a community, as a nation, and as a human community on this planet.
United in Christ – you are that sapling.  You are a sign of hope for a weary world.  You are the bearer of Christ’s branch, rising out of the stump of Jesse, bringing new life to your members, to your community, and to this world.  During this Advent season, may God give you each the gift of this theological imagination to see new growth from old stumps.  To see a future for this church that is reaching up and out, tenderly and tenaciously.  To see Christ’s hands reaching, beckoning us into this new future with confidence, patience, and quiet, unremitting joy.  Amen.

More ideas for sermons about the Creation-Crisis can be found in my book:
  And visit the website for more ideas for connecting faith and Creation: