Tuesday, January 31, 2017


Congratulations to Margaret Bullitt-Jonas whose sermon “Sacred Earth, Sacred Trust” is the winner of the 2016 EcoPreacher Contest!  Margaret will receive a signed copy of Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015) and I’m featuring her sermon below.

Margaret serves as Missioner for Creation Care in both the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ. She preached this sermon on June 12, 2016, at a special service that brought together First Congregational Church and St. John’s Episcopal Church in Ashfield, Massachusetts. June 12 was a day when people of many faiths around the world celebrated a day of prayer and action for Earth, our common home. It was also a day that marked the six-month anniversary of the Paris Climate Agreement, and the first anniversary of the publication of Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical, Laudato Si.  This sermon was part of the chorus of voices announcing that the Earth is holy and that it deserves our protection and care.  You can learn more about Margaret’s work on her website:  http://revivingcreation.org/. Notice how Margaret uses all three aspects of the three-fold approach I recommend in my book Creation-Crisis Preaching:flowering” (consciousness-raising), “leafing” (calling for specific action) and “fruiting” (transforming lifestyles and culture for long-term, sustainable change) in this sermon.

Sacred Earth, Sacred Trust

The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Ph.D.

“Naboth said to Ahab, ‘The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance.’” (1 Kings 21:3)

Whenever you and I re-awaken to God’s presence in our hills and woods, in the grasses and dirt beneath our feet and in the stars overhead, we discover again that we are connected not only to other human beings but also to everything else. We are part of the web of life: connected by our breath, blood, flesh, and bone to the whole creation.  As our Protestant forebear, Martin Luther, pointed out: “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and the flowers and the clouds and stars.” God’s love and presence are everywhere – not just in church, not just inside a sanctuary built by human hands, but also outside, in the sea and sky, in the humble tomato plant valiantly trying to grow in my shady garden.  The crucified, risen and ascended Christ fills all things, sustains all things, and redeems all things.  Whenever you and I come to our senses and realize that God is giving God’s self to us in every part of creation – in this breeze and bird and leaf, in this breath, in this heartbeat – then reverence springs up in us, and a deep desire to give thanks.  We realize again that the Earth is sacred, and in the strength of that heartfelt wisdom we can fight the great battle of our time, which is to protect the integrity of God’s creation, to preserve a habitable planet, and to build a more just and sustainable society.
           A record 175 countries have already signed the Paris Climate Agreement, which is an historic first step toward limiting the ravages of climate change.  But the Paris Agreement is only a start.  It doesn’t go nearly far enough.  Its provisions won’t cap the rise of the world’s average temperature at 1.5˚ Celsius above pre-industrial times, which is the uppermost limit for ensuring a stable climate and livable planet.  Unless we get to work in every community and every sector of society to reduce our carbon emissions, unless we push political and corporate powers to keep fossil fuels in the ground and make a swift transition to clean, renewable energy, then the average global temperature is going to shoot far past that critical threshold of 1.5˚ Celsius.  Around the world, scientists and activists, vulnerable communities and communities of faith are fighting to avert runaway climate change.  Their cry and our cry is “1.5 to stay alive.”
            I usually take the Gospel as my sermon text, but this week I must turn to the Old Testament passage, that hair-raising story from First Kings about a powerless citizen being framed and murdered by an unjust king and queen so that they can seize his land.  Naboth has a vineyard beside the royal palace.  When King Ahab makes what sounds on the face of it like a reasonable offer to buy the vineyard, Naboth turns him down: “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance” (1 Kings 21:3).  Calling the land “my ancestral inheritance” suggests that the land has been in his family for a long time and also that he holds the land in trust.  To Naboth the land is not just a commodity, not just real estate, not just a source of profit and gain: it is a gift from God; it is sacred; it is entrusted to his care.  

            King Ahab is frustrated.  He goes home “resentful and sullen” (1 Kings 12:4), lies down on his bed like a pouting child, and refuses to eat.  Enter, then, the strong negative character of the story, Queen Jezebel, who basically asks, “Hey, don’t you have power to do whatever you want?”  She tells him to quit moping; she will take care of this.  Using Ahab’s credentials, she arranges for “two scoundrels” (1 Kings 12:10) to make false charges against Naboth in front of the city council and to have him stoned him to death.  And so the deed is done: through backroom dealings that include perjury, conspiracy, and theft, Naboth is framed and murdered, and the king claims the vineyard as his own.
            This is an almost archetypal story about dirty politics, about violence and the misuse of power.  It resonates down through the centuries and up to the present moment.  A few days ago, when I was visiting Union Theological Seminary in New York City to speak to an ecumenical group of clergy who had gathered from all over the country for an intensive, weeklong training on climate change, I learned that activists fighting to stop construction of a trash-burning incinerator in a low-income neighborhood of Baltimore are using the story of Naboth’s vineyard to illuminate their own experience of social and environmental injustice.
            The mindset that allows Ahab and Jezebel to kill Naboth so that they can grab his land is the same mindset that allows governments and businesses to push aside low-income people and indigenous peoples and people of color to exploit, pollute, and take possession of their land, the same mindset that allows a nation to go to war against another nation so that it can seize control of another country’s natural resources, the same mindset that allows the fossil fuel industry to keep expanding its search for more oil and gas, despite the enormous human cost – especially to the poor – of burning fossil fuels.  Injustice against human beings is intimately linked to desecration of the Earth. 

            Because of that mindset, Naboth is killed, and for a while it seems that Ahab has triumphed.  But then, the story tells us, God intervenes. In the prophet Elijah’s heart a holy resistance rises up.  A sacred protest fills him, a Spirit-filled energy to stand up against unjust power, a compelling need to protect the rights of the poor and to defend the sacredness of the land.  “The word of the LORD came to Elijah” (1 Kings 21:17), says the text. We don’t know how that word came to him, whether it came through a dream, a vision, or simply through the painful and gut-wrenching awareness that what Ahab had done was wrong.  What we do know is that the word of God came to Elijah, and that he received courage to stand up to the king, to stop the injustice, and to change the course of history.        
            The same Holy Spirit that spoke through Elijah and through the life and words and deeds of Jesus Christ is speaking through countless people the world over today.
            “1.5 to stay alive” – that is the cry of every God-inspired prophet who stands like Elijah beside the vulnerable Naboths of this world
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with the low-income community of Baltimore that is fighting for the right to clean air. 
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with Pacific Islanders forced to leave their homeland because rising waves are washing away their buildings and contaminating their water supply. 
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with indigenous peoples in the Arctic whose cultures are disintegrating as the ice melts. 
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with frightened pregnant women in the global South and the Southern U.S. who know that the Zika virus, which spreads in a warm, humid climate, could irreparably harm their unborn child. 
            We say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand with every person and every community that wants to live in a just and peaceful world with recognizable seasons and moderate, predictable rains, in a world with enough clean, fresh water for all and an ocean teeming with life. 
            And we say “1.5 to stay alive” to stand against the political and corporate powers that view the Earth as nothing more than a source of profit and who exploit the Earth and other people as if it’s every man for himself and the Devil take the hindmost.

            Thanks to one of our members, Bob Parati, we have a sign that proclaims, “1.5 to stay alive.”  After the service, I invite anyone who wishes, to join me outside so that we can take a group photo.
            I invite you to do some other things, too.  If you haven’t done so already, I invite you to join Climate Action Now, our vibrant, local grassroots climate action network.  I’ve put a sign-up sheet in the back of the church, so you can receive Climate Action Now’s terrific weekly newsletter.  I will also gladly share your name with a new interfaith climate group I’m helping to lead, Massachusetts Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action.  
            Thanks to some of the people in this room, and to people like you, Kinder Morgan’s NED pipeline was stopped.  Now the fight is on to stop another dangerous and unnecessary fracked gas pipeline, Spectra Energy’s West Roxbury Lateral pipeline.  Two weeks ago I was arrested in Boston along with fifteen other religious leaders after we sat down on the edge of the trench that runs down the middle of the street where the pipeline is being constructed.  Sitting at the edge of that trench was like sitting at the edge of an open grave, proclaiming the power of love and life as our legs dangled in the pit.  We clergy came from a variety of denominations and traditions – American Baptist, Buddhist, Episcopal, Hindu, Jewish, Presbyterian, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian Universalist.  We represented a range of religions, yet all of us were drawing from a holy power greater than our selves.  All of us were rooted in a reality that transcends the unjust structures of this world.  And all of us were fired by the vision of a better world, by faith in the human spirit, and by faith that God would guide us to courageous and visionary action. We prayed and preached and sang until the cops handcuffed us and took us away. 
The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas engaging in civil disobedience with interfaith colleagues to protest a fracked gas pipeline construction project in Boston. (Photo credit:  Robert A. Jonas)

            More resistance is ahead.  I invite you to consider joining a group from western Massachusetts that will protest the West Roxbury pipeline on June 28, and I invite you to consider joining a march against new gas pipelines that Better Future Project will lead in mid-July. I’d be glad to speak with you about those events, after the service.
             Near and far a wave of religious protest and activism is rising up around the world as we respond to the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.   The first followers of Jesus tapped into a source of love and power that gave them strength to challenge injustice.  And we tap into that holy power, too.  Here at this table, we followers of Jesus will share in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, knowing that God will give us strength for the journey and will nourish our hungry souls.  The Church was made for a time like this – a time when God calls all people to recognize that we form one human family and that the Earth is sacred and entrusted to our care. Just as Naboth said to Ahab, so we, too, say to the powers-that-be, “The LORD forbid that I should give you my ancestral inheritance” (1 Kings 21:3).  With the Spirit of Jesus to guide us, we head into the world to proclaim the good news of the reign of God.  
The Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas with protesters at the Spectra Pipeline in Boston. (Photo credit:  Robert A. Jonas)

Monday, January 30, 2017


An Annotated List
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship
Lexington Theological Seminary
Lexington, Ky

You’re a preacher and you know you need to address the assault against humanity and our planet that is being perpetrated by the Trump administration.  But some things are holding you back.  Maybe you don’t feel informed enough about certain issues.  Maybe you don’t feel you received enough training in seminary for how to preach a prophetic sermon.  Maybe you’re afraid of the push-back from members of your congregation if you tackle topics that seem too “political.”  Or maybe you just need a shot of homiletical chutzpah.

If you’re reading this, consider yourself part of the new Prophetic Preacher of the Month Club. Below are my recommendations for the coming year.  This is an arbitrary list, I know.  And there are many more that could (and should) be included.  But this is a start.  If you read just one book a month, you will increase your effectiveness as a preacher and be doing a great service for those in your congregation who are looking for a sermon that addresses the issues that matter to them, to our communities, to our Earth, and to “the least of these.”  

Preaching Justice: Ethnic and Cultural Perspectives; Edited by Christine Smith (Wipf and Stock, 1998)
Black History Month is an ideal time to familiarize yourself with the standpoints of “the other.”  Whether you are a white preacher looking for an essay from an African American woman’s perspective (provided by Teresa Fry Brown), or an African American preacher wondering how Korean Americans fare in this country (explained by Eunjoo Mary Kim), or a Latina/o preacher wanting to help your congregation understand the Jewish perspective on justice (shared by Stacy Offner), these and five other essays will expand your preaching horizons.

Preaching Fools: The Gospel as a Rhetoric of Folly; Charles L. Campbell and Johann H. Cilliers (Baylor University Press, 2012)
You’ll be reading this book in preparation for Sunday, April 2, the day after April Fool’s.  There will be many times when you feel like an utter fool in the pulpit against the powers of evil-on-steroids that have strengthened with this president. Campbell and Cilliers’ book will not only help you rethink and reframe the homiletical task, it will equip you with stories, images and metaphors for helping your congregation celebrate their role as “fools for Christ,” proclaiming the message of the cross that tells the truth and calls the gospel-reality into existence.

Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit; Leah D. Schade (Chalice Press, 2015)
Shameless self-plug here, I know.  But Trump has appointed some of the most heinous climate-denying, anti-environmental, anti-public-health people ever for the positions of leadership in the White House. So preachers need to keep Creation-care front and center for their congregations.  Especially as the world celebrates Earth Day, we need sermons that will prophetically and creatively engage this reality in the face of the climate-change denial exhibited by the incoming administration.  This book will provide theological and scriptural background for greening your preaching, as well as practical tips for becoming an “ecopreacher.”

Telling the Truth:  PreachingAbout Sexual and Domestic Violence; Edited by John S. McClure and Nancy J. Ramsay (United Church Press, 1998)
With Mother’s Day this month, the focus is on women.  The onslaught against women’s access to reproductive health and their right to choose how to make decisions about the most intimate parts of their bodies is exacerbated by a misogynist president who bragged about sexual assault.  Nearly every congregation in this country has victims, survivors, or perpetrators of sexual and domestic violence in its pews.  This is the book I recommend for preacher who need sage guidance about how to address these issues as a pastor and a preacher.  The collection of 15 essays covers theological and biblical perspectives, provides resources for telling the truth about sexual and domestic violence, gives practical how-to’s for preaching, and includes model sermons.

Resisting Structural Evil: Love as Ecological-EconomicVocation; Cynthia D. Moe-Lobeda (Augsburg Fortress, 2013)
The summer is an ideal time to tackle a sermon series on the ways in which systemic evil attacks “the least of these.”  While Moe-Lobeda’s book is not aimed at preachers per se, her approach to the complexity of interrelated structures of evil is very helpful for sermons because she provides case studies that give us glimpses into the lives of real people affected by the decisions we make every day.  The first half of the book will give you incredible insights into the economic and ideological patterns that gave rise to Trumpism in the first place, while the second half of the book provides concrete approaches to galvanizing yourself and your community for resistance.

Under the Oak Tree: The Church as a Community of Conversation in a Conflicted and Pluralistic World; Edited by Ronald J. Allen, John S. McClure and O. Wesley Allen Jr. (Cascade Books, 2013)
You’ll be reading this book in preparation for leading a series of conversations in your congregation about some of the “wicked” (i.e. complex) problems our country is facing.  The task of preaching about difficult social justice issues is helped when we have cultivated a culture of dialogue in our congregations.  Under the Oak Tree contains eleven essays to help you think through the concept of conversational practical theology and how to view the tasks of ministry (including preaching, worship, evangelism and interfaith relations) through this lens of conversation. 

Prophetic Preaching: A PastoralApproach; Leonora Tubbs Tisdale (Westminster John Knox Press, 2010)
With the “community of conversation” as your frame of reference, you’ll read Tisdale’s book to give you that infusion of courage for addressing social issues in the pulpit in tandem with the dialogue series you’ll be leading this month.  The author suggests a myriad of reasons why pastors resist preaching about justice issues and offers practical suggestions for ways to be both pastoral and prophetic in their preaching.  This book offers specific strategies to break through resistance as well as a variety of forms to help spark your prophetic imagination.

Preaching as Weeping, Confession and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil; Christine M. Smith (Westminster/John Knox, 1992)
The month of October brings out the ghosts and goblins as our culture celebrates Halloween.  Consider a sermon series entitled “Something Wicked This Way Comes” and address the true demons loosed on our society.  Christine Smith’s book gives you the theological and biblical tools to address handicappism, ageism, sexism, heterosexism, white racism and classism.  The last chapter provides some model sermons to prime your preaching pump.

Preaching Politics: Proclaiming Jesus in an Age of Money, Power, and Partisanship; Clay Stauffer (Chalice Press, 2015).
November is usually the month when churches launch their stewardship campaigns.  This year as we contend with a president who wouldn’t even be forthcoming about his tax returns or divest himself from his companies, help your congregation understand why Jesus’ teachings speak a necessary ethical corrective.  Stauffer provides a guide for understanding the need and biblical justification for preaching about the politically contentious issues of money, greed, and power within a capitalist society.   With sound exegesis of key teachings of Jesus on money and faith, as well as robust theological engagement with Stanley Hauerwas and Adam Hamilton, this book is useful for both preaching and leading Bible studies.  Stauffer encourages, equips and emboldens preachers to tackle these issues from the study and the pulpit with renewed confidence.

Living Beyond the “End of the World”: A Spirituality of Hope; Margaret Swedish (Orbis Books, 2008)
If you follow the Revised Common Lectionary, the Advent readings contain the apocalyptic texts of Jesus.  The Bible does not shy away from naming the upheaval in our world, and neither does Swedish.  Yet she challenges us to articulate what kind of human beings we will be as we approach this difficult period in human history, and how we will live into that.  With solid biblical exegesis (especially her treatment of the “loaves and fishes”) your preaching will benefit from the way she clearly presents the values, vision, and spiritual resources that can nurture a new human community even when the evidence points to the world falling apart. 

AND COMING SOON: PREACHING IN THE ERA OF TRUMP  by O. WESLEY ALLEN. Watch for a release date from Chalice Press soon!

Leah is currently working on her next project, Preaching in the Purple Zone: Homiletics in the Red/Blue Divide, that will look at ways in which preachers can effectively address controversial justice issues in the pulpit.  Click here to learn more. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

17 Ways to be an Ecopreacher in 2017


The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

Imagine what your life would be like if you could be part of God’s work to heal this planet – right from the pulpit.

Imagine if your parishioners were inspired by your preaching to address the most pressing environmental concerns of our time.

Imagine hearing your parishioners actually thank you for preaching about protecting our planet.

Imagine discovering a new dimension to your preaching that opens a whole new world of perspectives, creative ideas, and inspiration for reaching people with God’s Word.

Imagine finding a whole new perspective for engaging the Bible that deepens and expands your faith.

Here are 17 ideas excerpted from my book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015) for helping make this vision for your preaching become a reality in the coming year:

1.     Walk. Walk the grounds around the church building. Consider your surroundings, which include the land you are sitting or standing on, the plants near you, the air you are breathing, other living creatures perceptible to your senses. Who are your biotic neighbors? Also consider the houses, buildings, businesses, factories, and other human-made “neighbors,” etc. Reflect on the interactions that are occurring between you and these multi-faceted surroundings. Are they harmful? Beneficial? Neutral? How do your natural surroundings affect your physical or spiritual existence? Your feelings? Your values?

2.     Look at a topographical map where the congregation is located. Google Maps, Google Earth, or other online mapping services are free and can reveal a bird’s eye view of your setting. Notice the local waterways, landscape features (mountains, desert, beach, green spaces, etc.). How are they are disrupted, connected to or otherwise intersecting with human civilization?
3.     Talk with members of your congregation to get a sense of “who” (in the expanded ecological sense) are their neighbors, and who has been beaten and lies along side of the road. Who are “the least of these” (Matthew 25:40) in need of attention and care?
4.     Talk with other clergy to learn the history of “neighbor-relations” in the community. What stories do they tell about neighbors helping each other (or not)? Do any of them have share your interest in environmental issues so that you may collaborate on preaching ideas?
5.     Talk with community members to hear their stories about environmental issues that are part of the community’s history. Were there any grassroots efforts to clean up blighted areas? Protest pollution? Confront toxic dumping? What was successful? What work remains to be done?
6.     Talk with local health care workers such as doctors and nurses to find out what the key public health issues are in the community. There are often environmental connections (asthma, obesity, cancer, and depression, for example, are all exacerbated by deleterious environmental conditions such as air pollution, radioactive waste, waste incineration, etc.).
7.     Meet with local chapters of environmental groups such as Sierra Club, Clean Air Council, Interfaith Power and Light and grassroots activist groups to find out what environmental issues are facing your community. Ask how local houses of worship can be helpful in their work.
8.     Talk with local naturalists, master gardeners, fishermen, hunters, farmers, beekeepers, or others whose work involves the natural elements. Ask what changes they have observed in animal, plant, insect, fish or other biotic communities in the last few decades.
9.     Search for clean-energy businesses in your community such as wind farms, solar farms, geothermal companies, etc. Inquire as to how they see their work in relation to the community and the planet.
10.  Meet with your elected officials. Ask them who they consider “the least of these,” or those most vulnerable among their constituents. What are their main environmental concerns regarding their watersheds, land, forests, and biotic communities within their territories?
11.  Preach as one of the “nature” characters in a biblical text (e.g., preaching as the fig tree whom Jesus causes to wither, preaching as the stones about to cry out along the “Palm Sunday Road,” preaching as the birds or lilies from Jesus’ parable).
The author preaching as the character of Ruah, the wind/Holy Spirit, in a sermon about climate change.

12.  Bring in or at least show a picture of an actual object of nature mentioned in a biblical text (tree stump, water, flowers, rocks, etc.).
13.  Preach a sermon series on Jesus’ parables about or interactions with Creation.
14.  Provide time in a sermon for listeners to share about their favorite places in Creation, or particular aspects of Creation. This not only allows them to hold an image in their mind, but helps to foster a relationship between the listener and some aspect of Creation within the context of preaching.
15.  Tell the story of a local natural habitat, framed within a biblical context or concept. Incorporate Earth’s story with the biblical story, and connect it with the listeners’ stories.
16.  Do a sermon series on features of nature in the Bible, such as rivers, mountains or valleys.

17.  Preach outside. This is a natural way to de-center the anthropocentrism of the congregation and directly address the larger “congregation” of the Earth community.
What ideas do you have for greening your preaching?  Post a reply to share what has worked for you in bringing Creation-care to the forefront of your preaching.
For examples of Ecopreacher sermons, visit: http://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/sermons

For more information on the book Creation-Crisis Preaching, visit: http://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/

Friday, January 13, 2017

Preaching in the Purple Zone: Homiletics in the Red/Blue Divide

The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship
Lexington Theological Seminary, Lexington, KY

Just before the 2012 presidential election in the United States, CNN posted to its website an article by John Blake entitled, “Do you believe in a red state Jesus or a blue state Jesus”?[1]  Though the question assumes a false dichotomy, the author’s observation of the election four years ago was just as applicable in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election:  “Here's a presidential election prediction you can bet on. Right after the winner is announced, somebody somewhere in America will fall on their knees and pray, ‘Thank you Jesus.’ And somebody somewhere else will moan, ‘Help us Jesus.’ But what Jesus will they be praying to: a red state Jesus or a blue state Jesus?” 
Blake went on to explain that both faith and elections are about choices, and that those choices are informed by how one views Jesus.  It may be tempting to assume that liberals “see Jesus as a champion of the poor who would support raising taxes on the wealthy, while some conservatives think Jesus would be more concerned with opposing abortion and same-sex marriage,” Blake observed, but the reality is that just as Jesus cannot so easily be coopted into a political position, Christians, too, may be more nuanced in their beliefs.  “Perhaps most Christians follow not one Jesus, but many – including a bit of a red state Jesus and a bit of a blue state Jesus,” the author surmises.  The article’s online quiz, however, gives only two choices for each of the 10 questions aimed to help voters see where they fall on the red state-blue state Jesus scale.  Nevertheless, the fact that many voters (and hence parishioners) often categorize themselves according these ideological lines raises the question of how preachers might approach the homiletic task of addressing controversial justice issues in such a fractured and deeply divided socio-political culture, especially given the contentiousness of the 2016 presidential election and its aftermath.
As you probably already know, the divides themselves are illusions.  None of us lives in a truly “red” or “blue” state.  Those colors run together in our families, our houses of worship, our schools, our places of employment, and even within our own hearts and minds.  Our job as preachers, then, is to find a way to courageously step into the “Purple Zone” – where the colors red and blue combine into various shades of purple – to listen with hospitality, engage with integrity and prayer, and learn with intellectual rigor in order to speak a Word that addresses the Powers, casts out demons, and proclaims the crucified and risen Christ. 
Leonora Tubbs Tisdale, in her excellent book Prophetic Preaching: A Pastoral Approach (Louisville, KY, Westminster John Knox, 2004), suggests a myriad of reasons why pastors resist preaching about justice issues and offers practical suggestions and strategies for ways to be both pastoral and prophetic in their preaching.  My project is building on that work.  I designed a questionnaire to ascertain if, why, and how theologically-trained ordained preachers in Mainline Protestant traditions choose to address controversial issues in their sermons, and have collected over 1000 responses.  As I analyze the data, I'll be sharing my findings.  Sign up to follow this blog for updates.
 The long-term goal of this project is to develop a book that:  1) provides data that helps us survey the landscape of preaching about controversial issues during this deeply divided time in our nation’s history; 2) establishes both scriptural and theological rationale and authorization for addressing contentious issues; and 3) offers insights from my own experience as well as scholars and other practitioners about best practices for addressing “hot topics” in sermons. 
Finally, this project will build on the concept of conversational preaching as developed by Lucy Atkinson Rose, and within the book Under the Oak Tree edited by Ronald J. Allen, John S. McClure and O. Wesley Allen.  I will make the case that using a process known as “deliberative dialogue” in tandem with conversational preaching can be an effective way to address controversial issues in our churches.  Deliberative dialogue is a process developed by researcher Scott London and used by organizations such as the National Issues Forum which involves face-to-face interactions of small groups of diverse individuals exchanging and weighing ideas and opinions about a particular issue. I will be testing my hypothesis that conversational preaching - together with deliberative dialogue within a congregation - is an effective and potentially powerful venue for entering the Purple Zone and emerging with new insights and healthier relationships not only within the church, but for civic and public discourse in our communities and our country.

To learn more, visit Leah's new website:  https://www.thepurplezone.net/ to get the latest updates on the results of her survey and its implications for churches, preachers and the intersection of Christianity and politics.

Leah Schade is the author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, and an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

[1] Blake, John, “Do you believe in a red state Jesus or a blue state Jesus?” CNN, Nov. 2, 2012, http://www.cnn.com/2012/11/02/politics/red-blue-state-jesus/

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Droplets of Paradox: The Ripples of Our Baptismal Calling

January 15, Second Sunday after the Epiphany
Texts:  Isaiah 49:1-7; John 1:29-42
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship
Author, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2016)

The texts assigned for this Sunday originate from different times, different authors and out of the midst of different communities.  Imagine them as droplets falling into the still baptismal font on Sunday morning.  The ripples of each drop merge with the others, creating movement across the surface, stirring the waters of our faith.

The tension in Isaiah 49:1-7 is palpable.  The speaker is held taut between his call to prophetic ministry and feelings of frustration in seeing nothing come from his work.   For those answering the call to ministry, this text speaks to the kind of tension we experience as well, caught between two poles of paradox.  At one end is the undeniable call to preach to every nation from coast to coast, calling for people to heed God’s message of justice, reconciliation, and restoration for our planet.  At the other is the undeniable experience of utter despondency because either not enough people are heeding the call, or the response is happening too slowly.  Especially for those of us who have felt “deeply despised” for attending to this call, the announcement that “Kings shall see and stand up, princes, and they shall prostrate themselves, because of the Lord, who is faithful, the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you” (v. 7) seems like a pipe dream at best, and a cruel lie at worst.

Charles Campbell and Johan Cilliers talk a great deal about paradox in their book Preaching Fools:  The Gospel as a Rhetoric of Folly (Baylor University Press; Waco, TX, 2012).  "Paradox could be described as holding together irreconcilable opposites in order to create and sustain liminality," they explain (185).  Liminality is "the experience of being and moving in between spaces and times,” (39), and, for preachers, involves actually creating that in-between time and space so that people can come to experience the transformative work of God.  They note that is exactly when the church’s existence seems ludicrous that the foolish message of the preacher is needed.  Especially “during periods when the church has power and accommodates to the political and social structures,” preaching fools are necessary. They are needed to “interrupt the status quo by unmasking and deconstructing the structures of the day,” (154). 

Campbell’s and Cilliers’ words resonate strongly given the way in which many church leaders have either acquiesced or actually thrown their support behind the incoming president who has threatened to derail much of the progress that has been made toward protecting God’s Creation, ensuring equal rights for all citizens, and providing for access to basic human needs such as a liveable wage, housing, health care, and education, for example.  From appointing racist, xenophobic, pro-fossil-fuels leaders to the highest positions, to vowing to withdraw the U.S. from the Paris agreement to curb carbon emissions, to threatening to require a Muslim registry, to belittling everyone from the disabled to women to immigrants, to calling climate change a “hoax,” (and the list goes on), it can feel as if all our work on environmental, racial, gender and so many other social justice issues is being derailed, undermined, and erased.

It is into this kind of fraught time that Jesus came a-wadin’ into the baptismal waters to be baptized by John.  The Baptist was one of those prophets who drew the ire of the political leaders.  He was not afraid to use his powerful proclamation to create a liminal space, critiquing the abuse of power, and calling people to repent of both individual sins and systemic evil.  He must have known his ministry was bound to meet a violent end.  So to see the One who was at once timeless and “right on time” stepping into the waters of the Jordan must have been an answer to fervent prayer.  The ripple effect of Jesus’ baptism would indeed reach the furthest coasts, “to the ends of the earth,” (Isaiah 49:6).

Campbell and Cilliers remind us that we stand in a long line of “preaching fools” from St. Francis of Assisi to Desmond Tutu, who have “emerged in times when the church (or significant parts of it) has settled comfortably into the status quo and adorned itself with power.  The church, in fact, cannot do without the curious character called a fool, who prospers in times of liminality, as well as in times of stagnation and accommodation," (155).  So as much as you may feel caught in that tension of paradox, or unsure whether to preach in a way that creates liminality, I would encourage you to hold steady in your prophetic task and watch for what God is doing.

You may try asking of Jesus the same question posed by the two disciples who began following him, “Where are you staying?”  In other words, where can we find you, Jesus?  Where have you located yourself?  And then we must keep our eyes and ears tuned to the answer: “Come and see.”  Because it is likely that we will find the Lamb of God in the most unlikely, but nevertheless, life-giving places.

For example, the Preaching Fools authors relate a story told by Barbara Lundblad who described visiting a neighborhood in the South Bronx, New York:

[It was] a neighborhood marked by poverty and violence, with numerous 'shrines' painted on the sides of buildings in remembrance of young people gunned down on the streets. 'Picture after picture after picture, until we could not bear another,' Lundblad comments after viewing a slideshow of these shrines.  But in the midst of this neighborhood, Lundblad is shown some brightly colored church doors: 'The doors, once covered with graffiti, had been transformed into gospel doors by youth of the parish.  Almost every week, teenage artists paint a new scene, their interpretation of God's good news for their community.  I wish you could have seen the painting on those doors!  On the left-hand door, a young boy had opened up a fire hydrant – a New York City ritual on stifling summer days.  Water was gushing out in a cooling stream that flowed in a wide arc from one door to the other.  When it reached the right side, the water splashed into the baptismal font, making one continuous stream from the font to the street and back again.  Beneath the flowing water, a table was set: a loaf of bread and a cup of wine, along with a whole roasted chicken and a quart of milk - sacraments of life in the midst of the city.  I knew we were in the South Bronx.  The sign on the corner said Prospect Avenue and 156th Street, but we had come to Galilee.  Jesus was there in the doorway, very much alive.  As usual, he had gotten there ahead of us.' [187, quoting Barbara K. Lundblad, Transforming the Stone:  Preaching Through Resistance to change (Nashville: Abingdon, 2001) 27].

Where are the droplets of baptism falling around you?  What are the signs that justice is still stirring the waters in the midst of political upheaval? That grace is flowing like water over seemingly impenetrable stones of hatred, poverty, xenophobia, misogyny, white privilege, and environmental destruction? 

As Campbell and Cilliers remind us, "God's weak power humanizes, gives back, and enhances life.  Christ, the powerless One, gives life in abundance.  In God's compassion lies God's power - the foolish power of God's compassionate weakness,” (58).  Claim that power, and proclaim that abundance.  Let your own droplets fall into that font and stir the waters!

Saturday, January 7, 2017


The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade

Click here for a 3-minute inspirational video for doing justice for our human and Earth-kin (text is below):

May God send you forth with courage to step into the prophetic role to which God is calling us.
May God send you forth to amplify the voices of “the least of these,” those most vulnerable human and Earth-kin who are impacted by the effects of extreme energy extraction, climate change, pollution, and habitat destruction, so that their voices may be heard. 

May God send you forth to and hold our elected leaders accountable for listening to science and protecting public health and God’s Creation. 

May God send you forth to find the values we share in common, whether you are from the city or the rural areas, whether you are a Democrat, Republican or Independent, whether you are a person of color or a person of privilege.

May God send you forth not just to protect the land, water, air, communities and the health of our citizens, but to create a world where the environment doesn’t need protection.

May the God of justice and truth empower your to put your faith not in corporations and temporary, corrupting wealth, but in the God who fights for the oppressed, the voiceless, and in those who stand on the side of righteousness. 

May God send you forth not just to care for the afflicted, but to stay the hand of the ones causing the affliction in the first place. 

May God stand with you as you stand in solidarity with those who suffer, calling our leaders to accountability, and living into the vision of a clean-energy future where all children, women, men, and Earth-kin may thrive.

May God send you forth to demand justice for our human community and for Creation.  Like the persistent widow in Jesus’ parable, like David fighting Goliath, like Moses and Aaron confronting Pharaoh, like Sojourner Truth confronting slavery, like Buddhists monks wrapping trees in saffron robes, may you be confident in the promise that justice and righteousness shall prevail.

May God send you forth knowing that you stand in a long line of faithful people who take their religions and traditions outside their houses of worship and out into the world, helping to create on the outside what we preach on the inside.

May God send you forth to attend to your tasks today with confidence, good humor, perseverance, fierce advocacy for justice, and great joy knowing you have friends and colleagues to support and encourage you in doing this Great Work of our time.

Salaam alekum. Blessed be. Shalom. Peace. Blessings. Namaste.  Amen.

Leah Schade is the author of the book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). She is the Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship at Lexington Theological Seminary in Kentucky, and an ordained minister of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.