“First things” is a time-to-time look at the first reading for this coming Sunday. This Sunday’s reading is Isaiah 55:10-13, which you can find by clicking here.
This summer, it appears that we are beset by ecological disasters. Some areas of the world are experiencing intense heat and drought, while others are devastated by flooding. Here in New Jersey, it seems we vacillate between the two. The earth is experiencing record heat this year, evidence of human-driven climate change that only promises to worsen as the years progress.
As many do, I lament the destruction of the earth and question if the best years of human history are behind us, not ahead. What has my generation—and the generations to follow—inherited from our predecessors? Why does there seem to be little urgency to fix what is clearly broken?
While climate change, or global warming, was hardly a concern of the ancient Israelites, they had their own issues. The Book of Isaiah deals primarily with the Exile, the violent and terrible episode in Israel’s life where the Persian Empire conquered Jerusalem and removed many to Babylon. In exile, the Israelites yearned for their homeland as they confronted how to live as strangers in a foreign land. Their God seemed as far-off as their land, and hope was scarce.
It is into this difficult time that the prophet Isaiah (or many prophets writing in his name) speaks these words of grace. Throughout Isaiah, salvation—or God’s rescue from harm—is depicted not just as a human experience but as an experience for all of creation.
God will deliver God’s people, but more than that — God will deliver all of the cosmos.
To a people waiting for deliverance, Isaiah’s promise is rooted in ecological imagery. “As the rain and snow come down from heaven, and do not return there until they have watered the earth… so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose.”
God reassures the Israelites—and us—that the Word of God will do its job. It will bring relief, consolation, salvation to a people in need. Even—especially?—when we wonder what good it is, God’s actions are working. They will not fail. They will not be wasted.
All around the world, people of all ages are standing up for our climate and for environmental justice. Across the world, the “School strike for climate” is activating youth to resist ecological harm. Our own partner organizations, the Lutheran World Federation and ELCA Advocacy work tirelessly to advocate for the earth.
But, crucially, God’s word does not begin and end with us. Just as the rain and snow fall everywhere, God’s Word is both within us and outside us. The central promise is that God’s Word of salvation for all will come true.
And, crucially, this includes the biosphere to which human sinfulness has done great harm.
“The mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands. Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress; instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle.” (55:12b-13a)
Throughout the Bible, from Genesis through Revelation, a sign of all creation renewed gives us hope. God’s love is poured out upon all the earth (and beyond! …but that’s another blog), and there is nothing, nothing that humankind can do that will stop that.
God’s Word will accomplish salvation; God’s dream will come true. And as church, God puts us to work to be part of this restoration of creation.
We here at St. Stephen's care about the environment, incorporating the care of creation in our worship and teaching, and taking steps to be good stewards of the environment. Much of this occurs through our continued support of organizations like ELCA Advocacy and Lutheran Disaster Response. In worship, we make ample use of Augsburg Fortress’s (the publishing house of the ELCA) new worship supplement, All Creation Sings. This hymnal for our time includes many prayers and songs that highlight God’s salvation in and through creation.