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Preaching from Year A, May to July 2023

13 February 2023

Preaching with a Green Lens

By Duncan Macpherson

Features Editor, Roman Catholic Deacon in the Westminster Diocese, and retired Principal Lecturer in Theology, St Mary’s University, Twickenham

The three articles in this issue stress the urgency of the climate crisis and the responsibility of the preacher to address it in ways that lead to an active commitment based on Christian hope.

URC minister and member of the Iona Community, David Coleman offers us the disturbing information that by 2028 ‘the threshold of 1.5 degrees of global warming may be exceeded, with accompanying brutal extremes of weather globally.’ But for David, preaching is worthwhile ‘if it aids our falling in love with Creation, with a resultant effect on our decision-making, which facts and figures, available in abundance, would otherwise fail to do.’

Melkite priest and academic Robin Gibbons reminds us ‘none of us can now shy away from concerns about the environment for the fact of our own local climatic shifts and the drastic changes to our wildlife and habitat have become far too evident for us to ignore.’ However he admits that the crafting of a sermon that tackles issues of destructive change ‘to then focus on positive aspects of “greening”’ through the medium of the Lord’s words, isn’t always obvious or easy!’ But Robin recommends that ‘in order to be effective in our preaching we ourselves must first believe that all are part of that ‘Sacrament of Communion’.

Meanwhile, Leah D. Schade speaks from her experience ‘that when preachers make a regular practice of connecting Scripture and environmental issues, we can proclaim justice for God’s Creation in the face of climate change and environmental devastation.’ Among her recommendations she urges the interpretation of Scripture ‘through a ‘green lens’ to ascertain how texts may be oppressive or liberating to women, children, those most vulnerable, and the Earth community.‘

Among the sermons that follow several of our preachers provide effective models of how this can be done. I have selected three of these from three different Christian traditions.




My first example is from Methodist preacher and a former Editor of this journal, Paul Johns. He gives us an impressive example of ‘green lens preaching’ in his treatment of the readings for 18 June.

He begins by admitting that ‘Moses and Paul and Matthew knew nothing of climate change’ and that it ‘may seem stretching the Bible too far to use it to cover today’s preoccupying issue’ but he insists that the Bible is always open to fresh interpretation and in his treatment of Exodus 19 he finds just such an opening: ‘The people have arrived in the wilderness, the desert. There’s nothing to drink or eat. It’s like the ultimate destination of climate change…’ but then comes the good news that ‘it is God who releases us from slavery to destructive economic ideas, it is God who dwells with us and cares for us in the consequent wilderness. God in Christ is the ground of our hope. Our days in the desert are numbered.’




In the meanwhile, prophets of doom are seldom popular. Ashley Beck, Catholic priest, and theologian, addresses this problem in his sermon for 25 June, linking ‘our understandable sense of gloom about what we are doing to the planet’ with a ‘green lens’ of hope applied in the readings from Jeremiah 20:10-13 and Matthew 10:26-33.

While ‘so much religion tries to offer superficial jollity and comfort’ Ashley reminds us that the prophetic tradition calls for the speaking of hard truths. However, ‘this is not, for the Christian, an excuse for despair.’ Jesus tells his followers not to be afraid and ‘Jeremiah is not simply remembered for being rather gloomy: he is venerated because what he proclaimed is true’ and ‘…serious warnings about the world, grounded in what we do in our own lives, lead us to hope, to the vision of God’s kingdom.’




Applying a green lens to the readings for Trinity Sunday, Anglican Ordinand, Bethany Austin, provides a poetic image of the kingdom. First she proposes an inspirational parable of three trees, and argues that ‘humans choose the wrong tree. We forget that we are created as part of this creation, and we lift ourselves above it. We don’t choose the life of cultivators, but the knowledge of manipulators. This knowledge of good and evil curses us even now.’ We are urged to move from trampling to dancing, to respond to the invitation to ‘step, and sway, and embrace both God and creation… leap, and fling, and get out of breath, so that we can breathe in the oxygen our tree siblings breathe out, and inhale the Spirit which our Christ and God exhales.’

Maranatha! Come Lord, Come!

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