Sunday, September 29, 2013

From Cosmos to Atoms: Religion and Science Meet

Fourth Sunday, Seasons of Creation Year C (Universe)
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD

Proverbs 8:22-31; Psalm 148; Colossians 1:15-20; John 6:41-51

In 7th Grade science class our teacher wanted us to learn about the solar system.  
So he gave us each a bag of Styrofoam balls, some wire, and a diagram of the planets orbiting the sun.  In a few weeks each of us had created homemade Milky Way solar systems.  
I marveled at the simple, yet elegant design of what I saw in those diagrams: all the planets knowing their place, following the path, circling around and around endlessly.

Then our next assignment was to learn about atoms.  Remember the parts of the atom?  Protons and neutrons made up the nucleus, and the electrons sped around the nucleus in endless zipping orbits.  
It suddenly clicked for me – the parallel between the two models.  And what really blew my mind is that one was so huge – the universe - it overwhelmed me; and one was so small – an atom -  it could fit inside my body a billion times over.

And then I read the words we recited today in Psalm 148:  Praise the Lord!  Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise God in the heights!  Praise God, sun and moon, praise God, all you shining stars!  
The psalmist did not have an electron microscope, but if he did, he might very well have added:  praise God you atoms!  Praise God, protons and electrons, quarks and dark matter.  The patterns of the universe reflect each other, magnify and concentrate each other all at the same time.

Some Christians will tell you that science and religion are incompatible.  Some scientists will tell say that science and religion contradict each other.  But our passages in Scripture for this Sunday show us that, in fact, science and religion are not so far apart after all.  The highest levels of science and the most intense levels of mystical religion share much in common.  Particle physics, astrophysics, cosmology are fused with an almost religious-like mysticism that causes many scientists to simply stand in awe of what they observe. Eric Jantsch was an astrophysicist wrote in his book The Self-organizing Universe (Pergamon; 1st edition, 1980) that that God is the mind of the universe – the self-organizing principal of cohesion and organization that evolves as the universe evolves. It is the mind in all things, in the fire, in the ecosystem, in the amoeba, in the galaxies, and in us.

The passages in the scripture readings echo this concept of the wisdom/mind of the universe.  Proverbs personifies Wisdom as a woman who works alongside God before time even began, helping to organize the universe in all its splendor. The Creation story in Colossians is a cosmic story that shows Christ present with God at the beginning, and that Christ’s presence dwells in every aspect of the universe.  How can that be?  How can Christ be present in all things?  Remember the Big Bang theory taught in science class? 
That supernova had a life, death and resurrection, in that it birthed the elements of the universe as it exploded. Its death brought new life – helium, hydrogen, the beginning of galaxies. This means that Nature itself contains this imprint of the crucified and resurrected Christ – a death that brought new life. Thus Christ is in every place, in every creature.

And what does this Wisdom have to do with us?  Wisdom intimately forms every aspect of the elements, matter and energy itself.  Dianne Bergant observes:  "From the pathways of human society, she transports her hearers to the primordial arena of creation.” [1]  Wisdom beckons people to follow her, to learn from her, to feast at her table.  Wisdom formed earth, water, plants and animals. Wisdom formed you, and invites you to learn all you can about the wonders of God’s creation.  You want to be a scientist and be a Christian?  There is no conflict.  Watch, observe, learn, offer hypotheses, create theories.  Carl Sagan once said that human beings are the way the cosmos becomes aware of itself.  You are one expression of the universe becoming conscious of itself.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Cosmic Christ becomes Jesus of Nazareth, God Incarnate, God of the Flesh, God the Human Being.  The Gospel text from John illustrates the sensuous particularity of Wisdom-Christ’s teachings.  Jesus said:  “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” Bread is so tangible, so earthy, so incarnational.  Smell a loaf of freshly baked bread and think of the memories that are evoked for you.  
Grandma’s kitchen, a favorite corner bakery, an aunt’s house at the holidays, all remind us that love is often expressed by the labor of our hands meant for the hunger of our mouths and bodies.  The same material that makes up the stars in the heavens is the same as the atoms that make up the bread that nourishes your body.  It is all imprinted with the mark of the Cosmic Christ.

Nowhere is this more real than at the Eucharist, at Communion where the cosmic and the particular come together. Think of the doxology we sing or speak at the time of Holy Communion:  “Holy, holy, holy Lord, Lord God of power and might, heaven and earth are full of your glory.” Doxa means glory, radiance, beauty – it is a cosmic word; it is the radiance that permeates all things. Hildegard of Bingham says that there is no creature that does not have a radiance. A tiny single-celled sea creature, an elephant, a redwood, a baby.  Even the atoms of the universe contain photons – radiance, light rays! The glory of God, the radiance of the Cosmic Christ is, literally, in all things!
Every person is a unique expression of that radiance – there is no one else in the history of the universe who was you, or is you, or ever will be you. When that bread is put into your hand, you hear the words:  “The body of Christ given for you.” 

You – a being of light, an expression of God’s consciousness, a student at Wisdom’s table.  You, too, are the Alpha and the Omega. You are the first and last you. And you are precious, cherished by the Wisdom, the Beauty, the Mind of God who beholds you and loves you – right down to your smallest atoms.  Amen.

[1] Dianne Bergant, Israel's Wisdom Literature : A Liberation-Critical Reading (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1997), 83.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Waking Up to Confront the Storm

Third Sunday, Seasons of Creation Year C (Storm)
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD
 [This is part of a four-part series of commentaries for the lectionary series "Seasons of Creation."  You can find this commentary and others in the series here:  You can also find resources for sermons, liturgies, hymnody, devotions and other Creation-centered worship ideas at: and]

Job 28:20-27; Psalm 29; 1 Corinthians 1:21-31; Luke 8:22-25

When I was a child I looked forward to thunderstorms.  At the first rumble of thunder and crack of lightning, my father would call my three siblings and me out to the porch swing where we all cuddled under the blanket and sang the songs he taught us.  As the rain came down in sheets, bathing the green yard, we were bathed in the warmth of a father’s love singing “Down in the Valley.”  There was a feeling of peace in the midst of the storm.
The writer of Psalm 29 seems to have a similar positive experience with storms.  While there is certainly awe of those mighty energies of nature that can break trees and cause the wilderness to shake, there is also a feeling of comfort hearing the voice of God over the waters.  The psalmist recognizes that nature gives testimony to God’s ultimate power over the forces of nature.  In the temple of Earth, all say, “Glory!” – both human and other-than-human.
Insurance agencies and power company crews have a less positive view of these energies of nature.  Interestingly, when major weather events happen they are called “acts of God.”  But the attitude is not necessarily one of reverence.  When those broken trees fall on houses and cars, snapping lines strung between poles and cutting off electricity, very few are saying “Glory.”  More likely they are cursing or lamenting the destruction left behind.

Something has happened to the quality and quantity of storms in the last few decades, however, that has fundamentally changed the nature of these weather events.   In an interview with Bill Moyers on climate change, scientist Anthony Leiserowitz, director of the Yale Project on Climate Change Communication, described the situation: “2011 was an all-time record year in the United States, for example. We had 14 individual climate and weather related disasters that each cost this country more than $1 billion. That was an all-time record, blew away previous records. And in 2012 we had events ranging from the summer-like days in January in Chicago with people out on the beach, clearly not a normal occurrence, an unusually warm spring, record setting searing temperatures across much of the lower 48, one of the worst droughts that America has ever experienced, a whole succession of extreme weather events.” (
Are these really “acts of God”?  Or should they be described as “acts of human-induced climate change”?  How easy it is for some to wave away these new climate realities as just “part of the natural cycle of the earth.”  But the refusal to recognize that climate change is caused by humanity’s addiction to fossil fuels that leads to greenhouse emissions that warm the planet and cause untold counts of destruction and suffering is actually a form of evil.  Ecotheologian Cynthia Moe-Lobeda calls it “systemic evil” that enlists the “over-consuming class” of society in its never-ending greed for more, at the cost of untold suffering of billions across the planet (Cynthia Moe-Lobeda, Resisting Structural Evil:  Love as Ecological-Economic Vocation, Fortress Press, MN, 2013).

So what is the voice of the Lord saying today, in the midst of these catastrophic weather events and the climate crisis?  Where is Wisdom-Sophia when we need her most?  At a time when our little boat of Planet Earth is more threatened than it has ever been – by a storm of our own making – it appears that someone is blithely asleep on the deck below.
The reading from Job reminds us that God’s wisdom is sometimes hidden.  There is a mystery, a profound unknownness to the inner workings of God’s mind, so to speak.  And, according to verse 28, the way to access that wisdom is through fear of the Lord and departing from evil.  The Hebrew word for fear in this passage is yi’rah, meaning fear, reverence and respect.  The problem with the corporations who profit so mightily from our addiction to fossil fuels is that they have no fear of the Lord.  In fact, they think of themselves as gods, and, indeed, appear to have the power to affect wind and water just as much as God.
The preacher of today’s readings may want to give the congregation an example of someone or some entity departing from evil because they finally “get it,” grasping the import of their decisions and actions.  Moe-Lobeda’s book gives excellent examples of individuals and groups of citizens who are, in a sense, waking up to the reality of the state of our planet.  They are realizing the way in which our purchases and choices of energy sources are connected with the storms and droughts that ravage our communities and lives.  They are rousing from sleep, as it were, and finally taking up the work of rebuking those economic systems that cause the raging wind and waves.  Perhaps that is one way to understand the story of Jesus being roused from sleep to calm the storm.  It may be that his actions were a kind of parable:  “The kingdom of God is like waking from sleep to confront the storm.”  Perhaps the Jesus we seek is within us, just waiting to be roused from sleep to rebuke the forces that are causing the raging wind and waves. 
Verse 24 of the First Corinthians passage reminds us that we are called.  In what way do we understand our calling as Christians to stand up together to confront the storm of systemic evil and call for another way to live?  It can feel intimidating to stand up to the mighty Goliaths of industry who laugh at our tiny, insignificant voices.  To paraphrase verse 26, many in the environmental movement are neither powerful nor of noble birth.  Aside from the handful of celebrities who lend their name-recognition to the cause, the majority of those who work in the environmental movement are ordinary citizens, many of whom had never been politically active, but now are compelled to do something to respond to threats to their children’s and community’s air, water, land and public health.  And those individuals are often despised and publicly derided by bloggers and pundits directly or indirectly paid through polluting corporations.  Yet we have faith that the actions of those who are “low” will “reduce to nothing things that are.”  And as Christians, we proclaim this action as initiated by God and ultimately giving glory to God.

The good news for me as a Christian environmental activist who is storm-weary from skirmishes ranging from confronting fracking to standing up to a proposed tire burner in my community, is that ultimately the powers that think themselves greater than God will fall just as easily as the waves and wind before the hand of Jesus.  Internally, the storms that rage in me are just as answerable to the command of Jesus.  With one cry to the Master, the wild waves and wind always calm themselves in his presence, and, once again, I experience peace in the midst of the storms.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

The Wisdom of Creation, Part Two: Animals

Biblical Commentary:  Second Sunday, Seasons of Creation Year C (Animal)
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD

Job 39:1-8, 26-30
Psalm 104:14-23
1 Corinthians 1:10-23
Luke 12:22-31

[This is part of a four-part series of commentaries for the lectionary series "Seasons of Creation."  You can find this commentary and others in the series here:  You can also find resources for sermons, liturgies, hymnody, devotions and other Creation-centered worship ideas at: and]

Once again, wisdom is the byword for these passages in Scripture that open a conversation about what humans consider worth knowing and valuing in the world, especially regarding animals.  These texts would be ideal for a Blessing the Animals Sunday where the congregation can be invited to bring their pets, farm animals, or pictures of their favorite creatures to the service.  Consider having a soundtrack of animal noises in the background during the prelude or at key parts of the service, invoking the presence of our other-than-human sisters and brothers in God’s Creation. 

Both the passages in Job and Psalm 104 engage in a positive theology of nature wherein animals are not just passive receptors of God’s grace, but actively doing God’s work with their very existence.  The processes of their life in the ecosystems God established testify to an enduring truth: God’s work never fails.  What does fail, however, is human willingness to recognize the intrinsic value of the animals and plants who share our home on Earth.  Too often animals are seen as nothing but our servants, entertainment, subjects of scientific experimentation, or food sources. 

I once toured a “factory farm” that included warehouses of hundreds of turkey poults wandering motherless and shivering across sterile, hay-strewn concrete floors. 
  Outside were acres of large pens packed so tightly with young turkeys they could barely turn around, the scene reminiscent of dismal German concentration camps.  
When I asked the farmer whether it bothered him to see the turkeys in such a state, I received a blank look.  These turkeys were nothing more than a cash crop for him, no different than the rows of genetically-modified corn stalks in his fields.  He was not an evil man by any means, and in fact was a faithful member of a local church.  But I had to wonder about the emotional disconnect the enabled him to ignore, deny or otherwise not register the suffering of these animals in his care.

And then I had to wonder at my own emotional disconnect when I next went to the grocery store and picked up the sterile, plastic-wrapped package of turkey meat hanging from the thin metal prong in the refrigerated aisle.  Which of the young turkeys huddled in the warehouse would I now feed to my children?  All of a sudden, meat-buying became uncomfortable because of what I had come to know about the turkeys.
“Consider,” urges Jesus in Luke 12:22-31.  Katanoeo, in Greek.  It means “perceive, remark, observe, understand, fix one’s eyes and attention on.”  In Job 39, God asks the man if he “knows” about the animals in the world around him.   Yada in Hebrew.  It means to “know, learn to know, use one’s mind, to be acquainted with.”  The function of Wisdom in this week’s readings, then, is to help us to perceive God’s Creation in a way that is not self-serving, but self-decentering.  Preachers of these texts might consider sharing their own story of a time when they came to a point of uncomfortable awareness of the suffering their own purchasing decisions made when it comes to animals.  Examples abound: seeing a Youtube video of chickens with their beaks cut off in tight cages; pictures of deformed dogs from “puppy mills” gone awry in the business of supplying pets; the conversation with the vegan who confronts us with their ethical reasons for refusing to eat meat.

The role of the Church in the twenty-first century, according to Thomas Berry, is to help shape a future that is based on human-Earth relations.   “The future of the other two relations [human-divine and inter-human] depends upon this third relation, our human capacity to recognize our place in the structure of the universe and to fulfill our role within this setting."[1]  Berry states that our “ultimate concern” must be “the integrity of the universe upon which the human depends in such an absolute manner."[2]  Berry coined the term "Ecozoic Era" to describe the period he would like to see emerge when humans "would be present to the planet in a mutually enhancing manner.  We need to establish ourselves in a single integral community including all component members of planet Earth."[3] 
This can only happen, says Berry, when humans come to see their place and role in the universe as completely dependent on the habitats, flora and fauna of Earth, all of which have intrinsic value not dependent on human needs or wants.  Accepting this limited role is the first, and most difficult, step that humans must take.  The next step for healing the damaged planet is based on an operating principle of creating continuity between the human and the non-human in every aspect of human life, from institutions and professions to programs and activities.  If these two steps are taken, Berry sees hope for humanity’s and the planet’s survival.

Of course, the world will see this kind of animal-ethics-activism by people of faith as “foolishness,” as Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians reminds us.    The meat-processing corporations that profit obesely from our addiction to meat would much rather have our Blessing the Animals service end with petting the pets and returning home for Sunday dinner complete with hormone-injected roast beef.  Likewise, those in our congregations whose livings depend on our subjugation and consumption of animals for their livelihood will not take kindly to a heavy-handed “law” sermon that leaves the congregation with feelings of guilt for their sins against animals with no recourse to the Gospel.

So what would God’s grace look like for human and animal in this sermon?  For me, it came from a vegetarian friend who once gave me an option between giving up meat completely and throwing up my hands in frustrated despair at my own meat-aholism.  “Just try one day a week without eating meat,” she suggested.  A meat Sabbath!  A day of rest for my body from having to process protein.  A day to eat lower on the food chain.  A day when one animal will not have to die in order for me to live.
Wisdom spoke through my friend that day, I recalled, as I stood before the plastic-wrapped turkey on the metal prong.  I pulled my cart away, and turned back to the produce aisle.

[1] Thomas Berry, Mary Evelyn Tucker, and John Grim, The Christian Future and the Fate of Earth (Maryknoll, N.Y.: Orbis Books, 2009), 46-7.
[2] Ibid., 48.
[3] Ibid., 48-9.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Sermon: Hauling in the Catch

By The Rev. Leah Schade
Sept. 8, 2013; RALLY SUNDAY
Texts:  Luke 5:1-11 

Sardines! Carp!  Comb-fish!  Biny-fish!  Every kind of fish!  Just look at at ‘em all!  Wriggling and slappin’ their tails, flippin’ and floppin’, a mass of glassy eyes and shiny scales!  Can you just imagine how much money we’ve just hauled in??  We hit the Sea-of-Galilee jack-pot!
The net is starting to tear!  My hands – burning, the net’s cuttin’ through my skin.  It’s so heavy!  I can’t haul this in by myself.  I need help! Okay, here they come.  Now, grab the other end!  I know, I can’t believe it either!  Hurry, the net’s about to break!

Look at all these fish!  Oh my God! I’ve never seen a catch like this!  Oh my G- . . .
Oh my God . . . I don’t know who you are.  But if you knew who I was . . . Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man.  You just don’t know.  Well . . . actually, you probably do know.  Just . . . I don’t deserve this. This is too much.  I mean, thank you, of course, but . . . 

People?  You’re going to teach me how to catch people?  Like this?  You’re either crazy or you’re the Messiah.  Either way, you got my attention.  I’m following you.
My sisters and brothers, we worship a crazy Messiah!  Because only a crazy Messiah would be crazy enough to climb into this boat on in out-of-the-way Kelly Township of Union County set back among the cornfields.  Only a crazy Messiah would be crazy enough to tell us to throw our net into the water.  Because, let’s face it, this boat’s been out for a long time and the net has come back pretty much empty.  You’ve probably felt like Peter on that boat by the Gennesaret Sea (another name for the Sea of Galilee) feeling just as frustrated as he did that early morning.

Let me give you a little background on what it was like to fish with these nets.   Our text from the Gospel of Luke tells us that the fishermen worked at night, and they used something called a trammel net, which was actually composed of three nets.  
A trammel net had two large mesh walls about five feet high with a finer net in between. The boat went out at night into deep waters where there are no rocks so that the nets would not be torn. One end of the net was let down into the sea, then the boat made a circle creating a sort of tub in the water. The net gathered in every kind of fish, as they were unable to escape through the three layers of netting.  Sometimes the boats worked in pairs so that the teams could drag in the net filled with fish, back to the shore. This would go on several times during the night until exhaustion set in or the sun came up, whichever came first.

But when Jesus came to this spot along the shore on this particular morning, he found two boats – not out at sea, but sitting there empty of men and fish.
Why are the boats empty?  Because, the text tells us, the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets.  Here it was, the middle of the morning.  They should have been out hauling in their fifth or sixth catch of fish.  But no.  The fishermen in these boats have been out all night long and caught nothing but nothing.  They’d given up.  Nothing left to do but wash the nets and let them out to dry in the sun.  Simon Peter, the owner of this particular boat, is tired, grumpy, and in no mood for this preacher who suddenly gets a notion to climb into his boat and use it as a pulpit.  All Peter wants to do is go home, grumble to his wife over breakfast about how God has cursed him once again with no fish, and then collapse in bed until the sun starts to set.  Peter, you see, worked the night shift.  But instead, here he is with his sore muscles and his aching back, rowing this preacher out so he can teach the people on the shore. 
Dang crazy fool preacher, makin’ me row out here in the hot morning sun.  Won’t be makin’ any overtime for this, will I?  He’s just gonna talk and talk.  I’m just gonna catch me a nap.

Wait, what did he say? Why is he telling me, now, to throw my net into the water?  Lots of these rabbis have healing powers.  But, what – he thinks he has control over the fish in the sea?  He must be crazy.  Or the Messiah.  Either way, he’s got my attention.  What do I have to lose?  I’ll just throw my net in and see what happens . . . .
People of United in Christ, are you ready to throw your net into the water today?  You’re going to need a trammel net, understand.  It’s going to have to be wide, you understand?  You’re going to have to cast it all around this neighborhood in a great big circle and let it sink deep.  You’re going to need three layers of net so that you can catch the fish. 

One layer of that net is service to this community.  Draw them to you, work with them, listen to them, get to know who they are.  We’re opening up our new senior center this week.  Get to know the friends and neighbors, go deep with them so that you can draw them in.  Today we’re painting pavilions at the park, serving the community.  In a couple months we’re going to start helping to serve meals at St. Andrews, getting out into the community to serve those in need.  It’s all about spreading that net.

Another layer of the net is sound biblical teaching.  This is the fine mesh in between.  We need to help people learn about this God and this crazy Messiah and the Spirit that sustains and enlivens us through this sacred text.  Every Sunday morning, 9 a.m., is a chance to sit down with the Good Book and learn what it means for our lives today.

The third layer is love – agape love.  Embrace people with the nets of your arms.  Reach out with the love of Jesus to touch them.  Doesn’t matter how broke, or broken, how sick or disgusting they are – touch them, and let Christ’s love heal them through you.  Fellowship with them, break communion bread with them, baptize them, laugh with them, cry with them, love God with them.  And teach them to fish with you.

Already we are to finding our nets bursting with the haul God is sending, swimming, our way!  Have you looked at the bulletin board across from the bathrooms where we have pictures of the visitors we’ve had just in the last 3 months?  We’ve doubled our goal for how many visitors come to this church just in one year. 

Have you heard how God blessed our Can the Gap Campaign?  I’ll never forget times that Elwood and Carol and other counters had bags full – nets, if you will – of money that people brought it.  We hauled in more than $8000 – more than we had ever expected or hoped for.  God’s abundance is just overflowing in this church. 

This means we’ve all got to help with the catch!  If just a few of us do the work of hauling, our hands are gonna get net-burns with the weight of the fish.  But I know there’s a whole fleet of boats out there ready to help haul in our catch.  Just look out at all you fishermen and women!  You know something – you’re crazy too!  We were crazy to think that this church could turn things around, that if we put in a prayer room, open up our fellowship hall for seniors, paint and refurbish our youth room, that anybody would notice, let alone come into our nets!  But you see we worship a crazy Messiah.  A Messiah who is crazy in love with you!  And you and you and me and you.

And that Messiah is telling us – just throw your net into the water.  Trust me.  What have you got to lose? 

And here we are tossing the net around us, a net of service and scripture and agape love, inviting our friends, our co-workers, our family members.  Just look at them all!  Wriggling and slappin’ their tails, flippin’ and floppin’, a mass of shining eyes and burning hearts!  Look at all these people!  I know, I can’t believe it either!  I’ve never seen a catch like this before!  Oh my God!  Oh my crazy, crucified and resurrected Lord!  Send the fish, Lord!  Our nets are cast!  Hallelujah!  Hallelujah! 

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Hymn: "Earth and All Kin"


Click the link below for the hymn
“Earth and All Kin” – sung to the tune of “Earth and All Stars”

Thursday, September 5, 2013

The Wisdom of Creation, Part One - Oceans

First Sunday, Seasons of Creation Year C (Ocean)
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, PhD
Job 38:1-18
Psalm 104:1-9, 24-26
Ephesians 1:3-10
Luke 5:1-11

[This is part of a four-part series of commentaries for the lectionary series "Seasons of Creation."  You can find this commentary and others in the series here:  You can also find resources for sermons, liturgies, hymnody, devotions and other Creation-centered worship ideas at: and]

As we begin a sermon series on Wisdom as the force of creativity behind Creation and the energy that enables the human and other-than-human members of the Earth community to fulfill their roles, it will be helpful to provide the congregation with a framework within which to understand the concept of Wisdom.  Elizabeth Johnson’s work in She Who Is and Women, Earth and Creator Spirit is one possibility for such a framework.  She suggests that Sophia, the female personification of Holy Wisdom, can and should be the lens through which the Trinity is viewed, as well as the language through which we speak and hear about God.  Thus she coins the terms Spirit-Sophia, Jesus-Sophia and Mother-Sophia as an alternative Trinitarian formulation, which places Wisdom/Sophia not in a subordinate position, but as the controlling metaphor.  Johnson believes that the power of the Woman Wisdom image may enable contemporary women and other oppressed and marginalized members of the human community to move beyond the restrictions of patriarchal circumscriptions and realize their power to effect change for themselves, Earth, and their children.  According to Johnson, the Church is the most obvious candidate for modeling what it means to answer Wisdom’s call to undergo transformative attention to those most vulnerable, including the species, habitats, and human beings most threatened by oppression, and to take responsibility for the health and respectful treatment of all Creation. 
Applying this Sophia/Wisdom framework to the readings for this Sunday yields interesting points of entry for preaching.  For example, Psalm 104:24 states that “in wisdom” (hokmah in Hebrew) God created the earth.  Johnson reminds us that not only is the grammatical gender of the word for wisdom feminine in Hebrew, but “the biblical portrait of Wisdom is consistently female, casting her as sister, mother, female beloved, chef and hostess, teacher, preacher, maker of justice, and a host of other women's roles.  In every instance Wisdom symbolizes transcendent power pervading and ordering the world, both nature and human beings, interacting with them all to lure them onto the path of life,” (Women, Earth and Creator Spirit, p. 51).   
Wisdom, then, has many roles to play in God’s ongoing Creation, working alongside Jesus and the Holy Spirit to enliven, restore, teach and bring justice to our world.  In the reading from Luke, for example, we see an example of the way in which elements of earth become Jesus’ teaching partner.  When Jesus tells Peter to let down his net into the lake of Gennesaret, Peter protests, saying that their entire fishing trip had yielded nothing to that point.  What difference would it make now?  Yet when he acquiesces and follows Jesus’ command, the amount of fish in the net is so large they need the neighboring boats to come haul it in.  The waters and the fish play an important didactic role in teaching Peter and the others that God’s power and abundance never ceases to surprise us, gracing us beyond all expectations.
But the reality that also needs to be stated in a sermon is that if Peter let down his nets in open waters today, most likely his haul would be significantly compromised.  Overfishing would result in smaller and fewer fish.  And the nets would be heavy not from aquatic life, but from a disgusting array of trash, poisons, and toxic waste.  Simply enter the words “trash in the ocean” on to see (and perhaps show the congregation during the sermon?) pictures of floating islands of trash both on the surface and below the water.  Human waste chokes and poisons marine life in ways that cause immense suffering that most of us never see, nor want to face.
               Jesus’ teaching on the Gennesaret Sea is not just a metaphor for how the Kingdom of God will manifest itself.  That teachable moment has important significance for this particular time of ecological destruction, because it shows us that the very illustration that Jesus uses – the basic, natural and life-giving phenomenon of fish thriving in a healthy aquatic ecosystem – that very process is under threat of annihilation.  This is a troubling, but accurate reframing of the Gennesaret fishing expedition for today’s world.  Admittedly, it will be difficult for a congregation to hear.
But just as Jesus’ teaching ministry in first century Palestine was meant to shake people up and get them thinking about things in a new way so that they could hear the Gospel clearly, so must our teaching and preaching today include the Good News.  We hear so many examples of what human beings are doing to desecrate the Earth, it is important for us – especially as Christians who proclaim a theology of the cross that reminds us that God shows up in the last place you would think to look – to proclaim the Good News about what God is doing to restore the oceans, seas, rivers and streams, especially as they connect to the human and other-than-human lives around and within them.
In Job 38:1-18, we notice that the words “knowledge,” “know,” “comprehend” and “understanding” are prominent in God’s questions to Job.  Realizing how little we truly know and understand about Creation helps to humble the hubris of the human.  Part of our calling as Creation-Care-Christians is to devote ourselves to learning about the ecosystems that sustain us.  Congregations can host speakers and fairs that highlight local watersheds, lead trash clean-up events through local waterways, and write letters asking legislators and corporations to propose and support better waste management practices and policies.

The Christological statement of faith made by Paul in Ephesians 1:3-10 tells us that it is specifically through Jesus Christ that wisdom (Sophia in Greek) and insight (phroneisis in Greek) help us to understand the mysteries that once were closed to us.  And what is it that we are being enabled to comprehend?  It is that God is “gathering up all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth,” (v. 10).  Our preaching can echo this proclamation that Christ continues to gather up all things into himself.  And we can continue the good work of seeing that what is gathered up is healthy, free from toxins, cleaned of trash, and restored to abundance.