A Season of Creation is an opportunity to spend the month of September focused on creation-centered themes. Begun in Australia nearly two decades ago, this initiative has spread worldwide and has generated substantial resourcing, some of which is captured on the website, seasonofcreation.com.
Here, for our use, is an organization of the themes of “A Season of Creation” based on the Revised Common Lectionary readings for each Sunday of Year C, plus additional suggestions for music from several United Methodist resources, along with ideas for visuals, media, prayers, planning, preaching and Great Thanksgivings.
UMH=United Methodist Hymnal
TFWS= The Faith We Sing
UMBOW= United Methodist Book of Worship
Reflections on the Theme
“Dwelling” may have become a quaint word in current usage. As a noun, it is a bit of an anachronistic way to refer to a house. We do still have the phrase “try not to dwell on it” in common usage. But with the exceptionof some older translations of the psalms and a handful of choir anthems or songs some may still sing (“O How Amiable Are Thy Dwellings,” based on Psalm 84 or “On Eagle’s Wings,” based on the Psalm for today), “dwelling” is not a word we often hear, even in worship.
Its origins as a word in English relate in meaning to another quaint word, “tarrying.” It means to stay somewhere for what we might also perhaps quaintly say “a good long while.” We might say that dwelling somewhere means we’re going there intending to “stay put.” In “tarrying,” in “staying put,” in staying “a good long while,” we get to know the place and the people and other creatures in it quite well, until we, too, feel ourselves part of the landscape. We might say it is taking the time to dwell in a place and with its people and other creatures that makes that place home.
Today’s readings capture what it means for us to become dwellers and not just inhabitants, residents, tourists, or visitors. Jeremiah, confined in Jerusalem during the siege that would lead to the exile of many of his people, purchases the deed for land in Anathoth as a pledge that his people would one day return from exile in Babylon and once again dwell in their own land. Remember, it is this same prophet who advised those already in exile to buy land, build houses, dwell there, and work for the welfare of the cities and towns where they had been exiled. Dwelling, taking the time to know and care for the neighbors and the land, mattered to the prophet.
The psalm chosen in response to this reading also focuses on dwelling, this time not in a particular place, but “in the shelter of the Most High, in the shadow of the “All-Compassionate One.” The imagery the psalmist uses is that of a mother bird sheltering her young in her nest, covering them with her wing feathers, protecting them from all who would hunt them down (verses 1-3). Beginning in verse 14, the speaker of the prayer shifts from the people (or the psalmist) to God. In verse 15, the voice of God recalls the mother bird imagery of the opening verses, “When they call to me, I will answer them.” In other words, it is not only we who dwell in God’s shadow, but God who comes to us to make a dwelling with us when we call. The psalm also reflects the degree to which the psalmist and the people had come to dwell with other creatures, become observant enough of the life of birds around them that they could become powerful metaphors for God’s care for God’s people.
Paul writes to Timothy about how to handle wealth and Christian people who have it. Contentment with whatever we have is the key. If we have more than we need, the call for them, as for all, is to dwell in God, and then use the excess with generosity so others have what they need to dwell to make room for those without resources to dwell among us by the grace of God who seeks to give to all abundantly.
The rich in Timothy’s charge may also do well to listen to the story Jesus tells in this week’s reading from Luke about the rich man and Lazarus. The story is a foil of the “deuteronomic” economic values of Jesus’ day (if you are rich, God has blessed you, and you should be at the center of attention; if you are poor, God has cursed you, and you should be avoided). But it, too, addresses dwellings— mansion and gate, Abraham’s bosom and the “bad” side of Hades. The rich man had chosen to dwell with his opulence. Lazarus sought even the crumbs that might fall from the rich man’s table in his courtyard out into the street, and had the company, at least, of the street dogs. Lazarus, dwelling in some kind of community in his life, ends up blessed in the coming age. The rich man, living only for himself, is tormented.
We conclude this year’s Season of Creation, then, contemplating what it may mean for us to dwell deeply with God, neighbor, and all creation in ways that bring life, and hope, and community to all. As part of that, you may wish to incorporate a blessing of houseplants, pets, and companion animals. This service may work best outdoors, weather permitting.
Announce that worship will start ten minutes earlier for this Sunday. As people arrive with their houseplants, pets, or companion animals, or photographs (if the plants or animals to be blessed are not able to be moved or the animals don’t behave well in crowds), invite them to sit in or find a favorite spot and get acclimated, listening for the sounds of nature, the street, and the other animals present, enjoying the ambience.
Before the call to worship begins, invite those who have brought plants, animals, or photographs to join the procession to the Lord’s Table during the opening hymn, following the choir or praise team and before the clergy, and return to their seats after they have reached the Lord’s Table.
Call to Worship
Pastor: How good it is to dwell in the shelter of the Most High!
People: To abide in the shadow of the Almighty.
“All Creatures of Our God and King,” UMH 62
“All Things Bright and Beautiful,” UMH 147
WORD AND RESPONSE
If you have children or youth who are strong public readers, invite them to read the first and second lessons today (Jeremiah and I Timothy). For the Psalm after the first reading, invite the choir or praise team to sing the verses of “On Eagles Wings” and the congregation to join in the chorus (UMH 143). (Words for the verses may be found in choral editions, or in the New Century Hymnal, UCC, #775).
After the reading of I Timothy, have the congregation sing the chorus of “On Eagle’s Wings” one last time as the pastor or deacon moves into the midst of the people to read the gospel and begin the sermon.
Remember, you have a lot of extra guests “dwelling” with you today, few of whom will understand anything you say, so offer a brief (brief!) meditation on the texts—the meaning of dwelling, the hope people have had for centuries for dwelling in a place and with the people and creatures there long enough for it to become home and them to become part of it and one another’s lives, the blessing we are given to dwell in God, and how we are called to share our dwellings generously with all creatures great and small around us.
Response to the Word
Move from the brief meditation after the readings directly into the Prayer of Blessing of Plants and Animals (United Methodist Book of Worship, 609-610). That service does not include a blessing for plants, so add this one:
"Blessed are you, O Lord of the Universe;
you create the plants that give oxygen for all animals to breathe,
food for many species, enrichment to the soil, and blessing to our souls by their beauty. //
O God, how wonderful are the works of your hands."
Depending on the size of your congregation, you may find it helpful to have more than one "station" for individual blessing of the plants or animals. Avoid having long lines! There is nothing about this service that requires clergy to offer the individual blessings, so consider creating multiple stations hosted by either a clergyperson or a layperson so each plant or animal (or photo!) brought may be blessed without rushing and without the blessing taking too long. Assume each act of blessing may take about fifteen seconds, and plan for lines no longer than ten each at any given time.
Be sure as well to have bowls of water available for animals that may be brought today. What Jesus said about a cup of cold water to disciples applies to disciples offering this basic hospitality to our animal guests today as well!
When the blessing is complete, move to the Invitation to the Table, Confession, Pardon, Offering, and Great Thanksgiving.
"Great Thanksgiving from General Conference 2012, Day 8." This form of the Great Thanksgiving may have several clergy (elder or local pastor) as presiders, or just one. Its advantage is its interactivity, something well-suited for the outdoors and perhaps more informal setting a service with a blessing of all creatures in the midst of it may require.
For a song of Sending, sing the last verse of "All Things Bright and Beautiful," whether for the first time in this service or as a reprise.
In the name of Jesus I say to you,
let there be no more great gulfs fixed between you.
Go forth and dwell.
Dwell with your families.
Dwell with your neighbors.
Dwell with the creatures who live with you, and around you,
all of them, great and small.
And as you do,
dwell richly in God,
One in Three, and Three in One,
who will always come to dwell with you
when you call.