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Season of Creation

by Rev. Dr. Bob Shore-Goss[1]

Season of Creation[2]

Two years ago we at MCC3 United Church of Christ in the Valley (North Hollywood, CA became acquainted with the Season of Creation.  A number of ecumenical churches celebrate this alternative liturgical season:  the four Sundays of September followed by a blessing of the animals on the first Sunday of October (close to October 4th, the feast day of St. Francis of Assisi).

The Season of Creation is an optional season during ordinary time, from Pentecost Sunday until Advent.  The season’s roots go back many centuries, but the practice was revived several decades ago by Dr. Norman Habel, an Australian Hebrew Bible scholar who has pioneered an immense endeavor: The Earth Bible Project.[4]  He assembled a number of prominent biblical scholars to articulate how people of faith might read the scriptures from the perspective of the Earth:

These are the six principles that the Earth Bible Project point out

1)    The universe, the Earth and all its components have intrinsic worth. All creation is loved by God.

2)    The Earth is a community of interconnected living things that are mutually dependent on each other for life and survival.

3)    The Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.

4)    The universe, Earth and its components are a part of dynamic cosmic design within which each piece has a place to play in the overall goal of that design.

5)    Earth is a balanced and divine domain where responsible custodians can function as partners with, rather than rulers over Earth, to sustain its balance and a diverse Earth community.

6)    Earth and its components not only suffer from human injustice but actively resist them in the struggle for justice.[4]

These Earth-centered principles are being used by Jewish and Christian interpreters to engage particular texts to uncover the voice of the Earth. Such readings shift a human-centric reading of scripture and provides a more inclusive creation-centered perspective, that is, a perspective from God.  I have used these principles often in sermons, and the books produced in the Earth Bible Project are often very good, startling us to see anew how much God loves creation.

The Season of Creation is a time to explore themes on God as Creator in our Sunday worship. Our liturgical seasons focus on incarnation of the Christ, his ministry, redemption and the sanctification of the church by the Spirit.

While the focus of liturgical seasons have been useful, they run the danger of partitioning Creation, Redemption, and Salvation in the minds of our congregants.  It is perhaps a healthier approach to comprehend the act of creation as one act of divine gracious love with the intention of Incarnation and Salvation. I know that this may be difficult for some who have been raised in an atonement model of sin-grace.  Such a theological/biblical shift of perspective, however, places in relief the grace dimensions of Creation, Incarnation, and Salvation.  It recovers Creation not only as an event in the past but also an on-going creative process guided by the Spirit and moving towards an intended conclusion of salvation. It places the creation as an original blessing.  For too long, western Protestant and Catholic theologies have started from original sin rather than original grace.  They concentrate on the negative, human sinfulness, rather than the grace of God. Beginning with grace rather than sin is healthier for our spiritual formation and progress in Christian discipleship.  Celtic and Orthodox Christians have preserved such a theological context of the priority of God’s grace, and only in the 20th century did such a perspective take root in Protestant and Catholic theologies.

The Season of Creation turns our liturgical attention to God’s relationship with all creation and with our relationship with creation. For our experience in the Valley church, it is a wonderful season to appreciate and become mindful of our connection with God in creation.

The Season of Creation for 2015 follows the theme of the word in Creation:

September 6     1st Sunday in Creation – Planet Earth Sunday
September 13   2nd Sunday in Creation – Humanity Sunday
September 20   3rd Sunday in Creation – Sky Sunday
September 27   4th Sunday in Creation – Mountain Sunday
October 4         5th Sunday in Creation – Blessing of the Animals

If you need worship resources, the Season of Creation provides scriptural readings, prayers, and suggestions of songs for each Sunday. Here is the link for suggested scriptural readings for this year:  http://seasonofcreation.com/worship-resources/readings/.  Using resources available at www.letallcreationpraise.org,  they follow an optional version of the Revised Common Lectionary with alternative lessons, liturgies, ideas for decorating the sanctuary and suggested actions.  Planning for worship teams can be found at http://seasonofcreation.com/resources/planning-worship-guidelines-for-worship-teams/  I know that Altadena Community Church is joining us this year to celebrate the Season of Creation. Many other UCCs and many other churches globally will participate.

Our congregation looks forward to the breaking up of Ordinary time with the Season of Creation themes.  It allows for some creative planning and activities for church and Sunday school activities.  The experience does not guarantee the “greening” of your congregation or a complete transformation to address environmental justice issues that face us, other life, and the Earth. But it is a start, for unless we can begin to fall in love with God’s creation and realize God’s statement “It is good,” we cannot begin to address the ecological problems we all face today on God’s Earth. It may awaken us to the green voice of the Spirit in scripture and within nature, encouraging us to be ever mindful of God’s relationship to us and Creation.

Finally, we end the Season with the blessing of companion animals; it is a bit chaotic but fun. I personally enjoy blessing every companion animal and give the householder a little medal with St. Francis of Assisi on one side and St. Anthony on the other (patron saint for loosing anything or anyone).  It is a nice touch to recognize how companion animals are not only members of households but belong to families. And our companion animals have much to teach us about God’s creation if we listen carefully. The blessing of animals reminds me of “the peaceable kingdom” vision in Isaiah 11:6-7.5 I usually take the time that Sunday to speak about St. Francis as a contemporary model of 21st century spirituality – living with Creation in a sibling or kinship model.

We invite you and your church to join us in celebrating the Season of Creation.

“The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them.

“The cow and the bear shall graze, their young shall lie down together, and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.”

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Bob-Shore-Goss_Thumb[1] Rev. Dr. Robert Shore-Goss is Senior Pastor/Theologian at MCC United Church of Christ in the Valley (North Hollywood, CA). He received a doctorate in Comparative Religion and Theology, specializing in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism and Theology from Harvard University and is author and co-editor of nine books, working on a book on eco-theology (www.mischievousspiritandtheology.com).  MCC United Church of Christ has a carbon neutral footprint   The church has attained level four, scoring over a 100 on the UCC Green Justice Congregational scale (http://www.ucc.org/environmental-ministries_just-green-congregations and received a Green Oscar for environmental advocacy from California Power and Light (2011).

 

[2] Image is one of the many images designated by Dr. Norman Habel for the Season of Creation.

[3] Metropolitan Community Churches

[4] http://www.webofcreation.org/Earthbible/ebprinciples.html

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