Like Trees Planted by Streams of Water – The Bible on Trees

Texts: Psalm 1 & Deut. 30:15-20

Happy (blessed) are those
    who do not follow the advice of the wicked
or take the path that sinners tread
    or sit in the seat of scoffers,
but their delight is in the law of the Lord,
    and on his law they meditate day and night.
They are like trees . . . .

I wonder if you’ve ever dug into the soil with your bare hands and attempted to trace a network of roots. It’s not so hard in tilled land, but if you were in the forest there would be so many roots that following just one or two would be difficult. Scientists who study these root networks often use water to wash away the soil to get a better look.

What I would like us to do today is role up our sleeves and push our fingers into the soil of scripture. We will try to follow a few strands from the root network that connects these 66 books. We will start in Psalm 1. The roots that I want us trace relate to what the bible has to say about trees.

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Eco-Anxiety and Divine Providence

Not long ago I was asked to contribute to an upcoming issue of Vision: A Journal of Church and Theology.* It was suggested that I write on uncertainty in light of the environmental crisis. I ended up writing on how we might think about God’s providence at a time when eco-anxiety is running high. The journal issue doesn’t come out until the spring, so I thought I’d post a few of my concluding paragraphs here.

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One place we find God’s providential care at work is in the persistence of nature’s cycles. Though stressed, these patterns remain. There are seasons. There are migratory patterns. There is the host of biogeochemical cycles—water, nitrogen, and carbon, to name a few. We sometimes identify this aspect of God’s ongoing provision as creatio continua. In the face of our worries about environmental doom, we would do well to see these cyclical changes as an expression of God’s patient and wise rule. God’s providence is not anticipated as an emergency backup. It is found in the system itself, the arc of life. 

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A Sermon with Trees in View

Here’s a sermon I gave a few weeks ago in a retreat setting. I was asked to speak about how the Bible might help us appreciate nature. It was a very warm southern Ontario morning, but great to be with the group under some wonderful old maples.

* * *

My assignment is to talk to you about how the bible helps us appreciate nature. However, I must be honest and start by saying that I do not think we need the bible to appreciate nature. You don’t have to be a Christian to appreciate the beauty of the natural world. Many people report that they feel most calm and most satisfied when they are outdoors. People flock to beaches and trails on days like today.

As a kid, I was introduced to nature conservation, not through the bible but through local farmers and hunters who loved the land. These people got to know the flora and fauna; they cared about the well-being of plants and animals. You can’t watch a whitetail doe and her fawn walk into an alfalfa field on a misty morning and not think there is something special in our world worth caring for.

What I’ve discovered, though, is that people who believe the bible has authority over their life have even more reason to appreciate nature.

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Packing as Reflection – Scripture, Ecology, Vocational Change

If you’ve ever had to pack up the stuff in your office and move it out in boxes, you know it’s a weird feeling. Is the change a symbol of success . . . or failure . . . or just the start of a new season? I’ve done this kind of packing twice now. Both times it’s been an exercise in reflection and hope. Conversations I’ve had with people run through my mind. I reflect on what my work might have meant to others and what it’s meant to me. I sort through pictures and cards. I try to fit the greatest number of books in the fewest number of boxes. I’ve been a theology prof and a pastor. These are both book-heavy jobs, so packing up is a slow process. 

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A Sermon for May 1

I was grateful for the opportunity to join the good folks at St. Clement’s Church in Toronto yesterday. My sermon text is below. A recording of their worship service is available here. All the best to this congregation as they consider how creation care could be more fully expressed in their ministry.

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Texts: John 21:1-19; Psalm 104:24-30; Romans 8:18-25

Once someone mentions it, it is obvious: the Bible is an outdoor book. Someone has said that we spend 90% of our time inside—not true for the people of the Bible. Most of the action in the Bible occurs outside.

The thought that I want you to consider today, is not just that the Bible is an outdoor book, but that the Bible’s core message has deep ecological significance. Ecology, of course, is the study of connections—the connections that make up the web of life. Hear, once again these verses from John’s gospel, imagine the scene:

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. . . . Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. This was now the third time Jesus had appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.”

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Creation Care or Climate Justice – Does the Distinction Matter?

While I was on my way to work several weeks ago, I was reflecting on an email that had shown up in my inbox some time before. It was an update from an organization working to spur action mitigating climate change. What had caught my attention was the group’s worry that some impending action from a Christian denomination would engage “creation care” and not “climate justice.” That distinction had troubled me, but I couldn’t figure out if my unease was simply personal preference or something deeper.  [Read my full column here.]

Against Boredom and Disenchantment – A Sermon for Feb. 13

Texts: Ps. 104:1-4,14-24; 1 Corinthians 15:12-20

I would like to begin this morning by drawing out two phrases from our scripture readings—just two. The first is from Ps. 104, “Oh LORD, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you have made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.”  Let me distill these sentences into one word: wonder.

And from I Corinthians 15, a question from the apostle Paul, “Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection from the dead?” Let me distill this sentence into one word: hope.

Wonder and hope are of crucial importance today. Wonder and hope are worth cultivating. They are even worth defending. Wonder and hope—in all their biblical nuance and universal appeal—are a response to a pernicious set of modern temptations.  

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Faith and Public Life – Back to Basics

As protests continue in our nation’s capital, there are a many things I would like to see less (intimidation and hate symbols for instance), but there are also a few things I would like to see more. One thing I would like to see more is the use of that very Canadian phrase, “peace, order, and good government.” The phrase comes from the Constitution Act of 1867, and it’s long been held as one of the articulations of Canadian political values that distinguishes this country from others.

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I’m Headed to A Rocha

Seasons, seasons, seasons . . . my season of ministry at Ottawa Mennonite Church is coming to an end. Though many of you are aware of this already, it is still strange to write these words. It will be hard to say goodbye to the many wonderful people my family and I have gotten to know here in eastern Ontario. OMC is a special congregation with a rich history and an important role to play in this city. Though I’m stepping away from pastoral ministry, I remain deeply convinced that faith communities are a vital part of the social fabric and essential to our spiritual lives.  

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