Beautiful Things

This post comes from Jenn Hosler, pastor at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Jenn recently shared this sermon as a reflection on Earth Day.

Daffodils, tulips, cherry blossoms, and magnolia trees. Hyacinths and dandelions, sprouting leaves and singing birds. Friends, spring is here and it is beautiful. Last Sunday was one of my favorite days in DC, when I had the joy of taking my annual visit down to the cherry blossoms in peak bloom. I am always astounded by the magnificence of the cherry blossoms. The sea of pinkish white trees gleaming in the sun makes my heart sing. Each year I go, the cherry blossoms remind me that the world is good and beautiful and that God the Creator is reigning.

You may know that Earth Day is this Wednesday, April 22nd. Because of this, I thought it apt that we should spend this Sunday’s worship reflecting on the Earth. Earth Day, however, does not have a place in the Lectionary, the calendar of readings and scriptures used by many denominations. On that calendar, today is the third Sunday of Easter. Does Earth Day have anything to do with Easter? Should Earth Day be on the church calendar?

What exactly does Scripture teach us about this world in which we live? Do we have a biblical theology of creation? How does creation relate to other parts of theology, like how we understand Christ or salvation? If we look across scripture, we can see three truths that the Bible teaches about creation. First, the earth is created by God and it is good. Second, human sin impacts the earth and all of creation. Third, through Christ, both we and the earth are being reconciled to God and made beautiful.

Created and Good

If we are looking at what the Bible says about the earth, a logical place to start would be at the beginning, at the Creation story presented in Genesis 1. In the Creation story in Genesis, God repeatedly calls the earth “good”. What does it mean to say that something is good? The word “good” has a wide semantic range – we use it for a lot of things. One of my Australian friends found my use of “good” to be very perplexing.

When waiting for him to finish something up so that we could leave and go sightseeing in DC, I asked him, “Are you good?” He replied, “Do you mean ontologically good? Am I in fact a good person, good by nature?” What I meant was, “are you ready?” Are you “good to go?” In North America, we say “good to go” and shorten it to good, which can be a bit perplexing or funny for other English speakers. We use good in a lot of ways: it can mean favorable, righteous, or pleasant. It can mean something is suitable, adequate (or good enough), or even just “okay”.

The meaning here in Genesis 1 is much more than “just okay”. In Genesis, good is pleasing, pleasant, pure, and delightful. “God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. And God saw that the light was good.” God then creates the sun, moon, and stars, calls into existence the sky and land, gathers the waters, makes vegetation, plants, and animals, and He after He is finished each one, He calls each of them “good.”

The Creator gazes upon oceans and rivers and trees and streams and birds and mammals and fish and declares all of them pleasing, pleasant, pure, and delightful.  From the beginning of our human story, we see that physical matter, the biological world around us, and the environment—they are all God-designed, God-crafted, and God-approved.

Genesis 1 teaches us that God created this earth and that He called it good. Genesis 1 also details the creation of human beings. Humans are shown to be in unique relationship with God, the only part of creation that is made in the image of God. In verses 26 through 28, we see God speaking humanity into existence: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’” When God is finished, He looks upon the humans and says that it is “very good.”

Being made in the image of God gives us a special relationship with God—and also a special relationship with the rest of creation. Being made in the image of God brings with it a functional authority: there is a task to keep, guard, and protect the earth under human care.

While the words used in our English translation—fill the earth and subdue it, have dominion—seem exploitative, the biblical understanding is anything but. Old Testament theologian Walter Brueggemann (1982) describes how “The ‘dominion’ here mandated is with reference to the animals. The dominance is that of a shepherd who cares for, tends, and feeds the animals… Thus the task of ‘dominion does not have to do with exploitation and abuse. It has to do with securing the well-being of every other creature and bringing the promise of each to full fruition” (p. 32).

From the start, humans were to have an ongoing relationship with the created world, caring for it, tending it, and protecting the earth and its creatures.

Cursed and Broken

In Genesis 1, the beautiful creation story is presented at a macro level. In chapter 2, we get a closer up look at human beings, with God creating people out of the earth itself, out of dust from the ground. Again, we see humans and the earth intertwined—physically this time. From dust we are made. Things get darker, however, as the book of Genesis continues. In Genesis 3, Adam and Eve rebel against God. The consequences of human sin proceed to spread across creation. These consequences include a broken relationship between humans and also a combative relationship between humans and the earth.

In Genesis 3 and other parts of the Old Testament, we see that human sin impacts creation, both directly and indirectly. In Deuteronomy, the Mosaic Covenant between the Israelites and Yahweh contained within it both blessings and curses tied to the Land of Israel. Devotion to Yahweh would bring blessings and the land would produce bountifully.  Turning away from Yahweh—and toward idol worship, greed, and injustice—would lead to drought, devastation, and barrenness.

In the Hebrew prophets, Isaiah, Micah, Jeremiah, and others, the effects of human sin on the land are described in vivid terms of desolation and brokenness. The land is personified as mourning the sin of the Israelites. Jeremiah 12:4 reads, “How long will the grass mourn, and the grass of every field wither? For [Because of] the wickedness of those who live in it the animals and the birds are swept away…”

The prophet Hosea proclaimed something similar in chapter 4, verses 1-3, “Hear the word of the LORD, O people of Israel; for the LORD has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land. There is no faithfulness or loyalty, and no knowledge of God in the land. Swearing [oaths], lying, and murder, and stealing and adultery break out; bloodshed follows bloodshed. Therefore the land mourns, and all who live in it languish, together with the wild animals and the birds of the air, even the fish of the sea are perishing” (Hos. 4: 1-3).

In the Old Testament, human sin is not just an individual problem. Sin affects the well-being of the community and also the well-being of the environment. If human sin impacts all of creation, it would make sense that God’s story of salvation and redemption would not bring healing to our relationship with God, but also to all of creation.

Flesh vs. Spirit? Reconciling all Things

At times throughout history, Christians have had difficulty understanding salvation beyond what it means for an individual soul. Christians have struggled with strains of philosophy that denigrate the physical world, or think that the physical world is something to get past. In dualism and Gnosticism, to use technical terms for some of these philosophies, the immaterial world is spiritual, while the material world is evil, imperfect, and to be shunned.

Some biblical illustrations, like Paul’s use of the word “flesh” for sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21; Rom. 8), have given the impression that dualism is biblical or scriptural. They’ve pointed to some scriptures and said, “See, the Bible says the physical world is bad.” One of these scriptures is in Romans 8:5-6. Here, Paul says that “those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. To set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the Spirit is life and peace.”

This contrast between flesh and Spirit, death and life, can leave us confused and perplexed. Does salvation mean we don’t care for the earth – we only the Spirit? As with many theological concepts, it is important to read widely in scripture to get the full context of Christian teaching.

With Paul’s writings, we hear “flesh” bad and Spirit good and can easily assume that Paul was speaking universally. But Paul used “flesh” to describe the sinful nature, but still maintained that God’s creation was good and part of God’s overall all plan. Looking further just within Romans 8, the same chapter that talks about flesh versus Spirit, we can see that Paul is not a dualist. Paul teaches that it is not only humanity that needs Christ’s redemptive power. The earth and all creatures in it also eagerly await Jesus’ redemption.

Paul writes in Romans that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed. 20 For the creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God. 22 We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the first-fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption [as God’s children], the redemption of our bodies” (8:19-23).

This created world, plants and animals and ecosystems, is tied up in the spiritual and physical fate of humanity. God’s plan of salvation does not just lead to souls being saved, but our physical bodies and the rest of Creation are also being redeemed.

Earlier, I asked, does Earth Day have anything to do with Easter? I think the answer is yes. This morning’s passage in Colossians says that Jesus is the visible image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. “In him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross” (1:19). Through Christ Jesus, the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. Through His death and resurrection, God is reconciling to himself all things. He is making all things new. We experience the first fruits through the Holy Spirit now and some day it will all be brought to fulfillment. Destruction, death, and decay will be replaced with wholeness, life, and beauty.

Agents of Reconciliation

So what does this mean for our lives as followers of Jesus? Through Christ, we have been brought from death to life. Because of Jesus’s death and resurrection, we are freed from sin, freed from hatred, freed from greed, freed from our tendency to exploit and consume. It is in this freedom that we learn to love God, learn to love others, and also learn to reclaim our role as shepherds and keepers of the earth. Made in the image of God and empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are called to be agents of God’s reconciliation. We are called to proclaim and live out and model reconciliation in our relationships and also in how we relate to the earth. God is making all things new – and He’s doing this in us and through us by the power of the Holy Spirit – transforming the broken into beautiful things.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to fixing our relationship with our environment. This is because our culture and our standard of living has emphasized consumption and comfort over caring for the earth. Overconsumption and disregard for the earth pervade much of our lives – how we transport ourselves, how we eat, what we buy, whether we fix things, and more. Transforming our relationship with the earth is a long process, one that we are called to undertake both as individuals and as a faith community.

As a church, we have taken some steps to be stewards of the earth, such as our rain barrel and our rain landscaping. Through the Office of Public Witness, we will soon install a demonstration and kitchen garden beside the church. These are all great steps. Yet if reconciliation is a process, we should be asking together, “What is our next step of in reconciling ourselves to God’s good earth?”

This is a question we also ask in our individual lives: how can I make one step further toward being a good steward of God’s creation. How can I reduce what I send to a landfill, maybe by recycling or composting or just buying less? How can I reduce pollution – can I go meatless one day a week? Can I drive less and walk, bike, or metro more? Can I carpool? There isn’t one set plan for everyone: the key goal is to understand how our actions impact the earth which has been entrusted to our care.

Sisters and brothers, let us rejoice. The earth is good and beautiful. Jesus is reconciling us to God, reconciling us with each other, and reconciling us with this earth. We are not passive bystanders in this plan, but active agents of God’s reconciliation. May we be faithful to our call to guard and protect and tend God’s good creation. Amen.



Brueggemann, W. (1982). Genesis. Interpretation. Louisville: Westminster/John Knox.

Nigeria: Conflict and the Environment


Tuesday, April 28, 2015

7pm EDT

While there are many causes to crisis in Nigeria, natural resources, both plentiful and scarce, contribute to the ongoing situation.  From oil in the south to the rapidly expanding desert in the north many layers of the conflict connect to the environment. This webinar will consider these issues as well as our relationship to them.

As a nation, our consumption of goods is leading to ever increasing strain on our global resources, causing harm to our environment, and is promoting conflicts in parts of the world that have limited resources. The reality of these impacts can be witnessed in the current Nigerian conflict. Join the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness as we discuss the environmental impacts of our actions on our world and our global neighbors in the context of the crisis in Nigeria, as well as how we think theologically about this.

During this second webinar of the Going to the Garden spring series, we will focus on ways to live out the call to love our neighbors through our choices that affect all of creation.

To register for this webinar, please visit: Any questions can be directed to


Kate Edelen is a Research Associate at the Friends Committee on National Legislation where she conducts research and analysis at the nexus of peacebuilding, environment, and counterterrorism policy, with special focus on Africa. Previously, Edelen was a Fulbright Fellow at the Peace Research Institute Oslo (PRIO) in Norway where she conducted research on the relationship between political violence and climatologically-affected water resources in South Asia. She holds a M.Sc. in Water Science, Policy, and Management from the University of Oxford.

Nathan Hosler is the Director of the Church of the Brethren’s Office of Public Witness in Washington, DC and a minister at the Washington City Church of the Brethren. Previously he worked with Ekklesiyar Yan’uwa a Nigeria (CoB, Nigeria) for two years teaching peacebuilding theology and practice.

How Does Your Garden Grow? The How-To’s and Many Benefits of Community Gardening

going-to-the-garden-titleTuesday, March 31, 2015
7:00pm EST

Spring is right around the corner, and that means it is time to start thinking about planting a garden! Gardens are more than a space to grow food or flowers. They can also strengthen communities through a common purpose and bring our attention to larger issues of food security and creation care.

This webinar will focus on basic gardening how-to’s, such as site selection and ways to get started in a new space, as well as learning how your congregation can start growing through Going to the Garden. We will also take the time to reflect on why it is important for us, as people of faith, to consider where our food comes from and the role of gardening in our own lives.

Join us for this first webinar in our spring series about community gardening! If you have any questions about this webinar or Going to the Garden, please e-mail

To register for this webinar, please go to:


DSCN0742Gerry Lee
has done community gardening for decades in diverse neighborhoods in Boston and Philadelphia.  In West Philadelphia, Gerry worked for three years with an alliance of small urban growers who raised organic vegetables and fruits on empty lots, and on marginal land, for sale or donation in areas designated as food deserts. Those years taught him about the unique opportunities and challenges for the passionate urban farmer.

Cynthia's Royer-Miller photo2Dan and Margo Royer-Miller began their farming experience in 2005 with an internship at an organic farm, followed by a three-year apprenticeship at Ecology Action in Willits, CA. There they learned the small-scale food-raising method called biointensive agriculture. They, with their two boys, now live in Trotwood, Ohio, working toward an ever simpler and more meaningful life.

Ragan-headshot smallRagan Sutterfield is a writer and ecological theologian currently sojourning in Northern Virginia.  His work includes Farming as a Spiritual Discipline, Cultivating Reality: How the Soil Might Save Us, and most recently This is My Body: From Obesity to Ironman, My Journey into the True Meaning of Flesh, Spirit, and Deeper Faith. He can be found online at


New Frontiers for Farming Solidarity

“Community organization is the key to agricultural success.”

Those words came from Melicio Cantoral Gonzalez, a Honduran farmer who works with the Food Resource Bank’s Nueva Frontera program. During a recent presentation, Melicio and his colleague, Delmis Licona-Godoy, who works in another part of the program, spoke on how their communities’ involvement with the Food Resource Bank, an initiative supported by the Global Food Crisis Fund, has empowered them to make changes to the overall structure of how food security is perceived and what they can do about it.

Despite being an agriculturally centered country, there are 1.5 million people in Honduras who struggle with some form of food insecurity, meaning that they don’t always know where their next meal will come from. Much of this comes from the predominant practice of monoculture in which farmers grow one or two major crops to be sold at market; if something goes wrong during the season, then the farmers experience extreme loss. Melicio spoke about how, during the last season, he and his neighbors lost most of their corn, beans, and coffee due to extreme droughts in the first part of the season followed by constant rain; without the crops to feed their families or to sell, Melicio watched as his neighbors struggled. Through Nueva Frontera, he had begun to diversify his crop selection and was able to sustain his family, and even some of his neighbors, with the harvest of the unaffected crops. While he was still hurt to see many of his crops fail and did not experience as abundant of a harvest, Melicio recognized that he was still far better off than many other farmers in his community.

In addition to learning new growing techniques to aid in establishing food security in Honduras, community engagement around these issues is also flourishing. Delmis Licona-Godoy, a regional program coordinator for Nueva Frontera, spoke about the tools the group is using to encourage conversations between individuals and the local government.  By building relationships with government officials, the advocates for change have been able to work within the system to improve standards of living and farming practices while decreasing negative environmental impacts. Delmis also said that they are working with women and youth in order to give them a voice in their communities through which they can speak about issues such as creation care and women’s rights.

Seeing these two empowered individuals speak was encouraging. Too frequently, food aid programs are not holistic in such that all aspects of the social systems which affect food insecurity are considered. Food aid is given, but the culture of farming or the governmental structure is not affected in such a way as to help the communities stand independently; instead the communities who receive food aid are often pushed into an endless cycle that destroys economies and ecosystems as they fight to keep up. By engaging all parts of society, these cycles are broken, and communities are able to provide for themselves.

Positive and impactful change doesn’t happen overnight. This sort of change requires individuals who are willing to ask questions and to challenge systems which are already in place. Once these questions are asked, a space for revolution is created. By working as a community, these Hondurans have been able to begin to establish a sustainable agricultural system which will benefit many.

We must ask how we can stand in solidarity with those who are working to change such structures while also trying to bring about change in our own communities. One way that we can advocate for such change is to challenge the preconceived notions of the food systems in which we participate; it is easy to overlook the growing practices of what we eat and how it affects the environment and those who work to produce it. Through activities as simple as establishing community gardens, we can create space for a dialogue which will challenge these systems and bring about change and justice for those involved.

For information on how your congregation and community can begin this dialogue by establishing a garden, please visit Applications for grant funding are currently being accepted.

Katie Furrow

“For we are co-workers in God’s service:” Farm Workers and Gardens

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

7pm EST

Where do our fruits and vegetables come from? Who is responsible for seeing that these foods are harvested for us to buy and eat? What are the lives of these farm workers like? And how does our faith connect us to our brothers and sisters who do this work?

Through the Going to the Garden grant initiative of the Office of Public Witness and Global Food Crisis Fund, this webinar will focus on issues surrounding the national farm workers movement to create better work and living standards, and we will hear from individuals deeply involved with the National Farm Worker Ministry (NFWM) and the NFWM’s Youth and Young Adult network in order to understand what these two groups are doing to support farm workers. We will also discuss how individuals can show support and solidarity in their own communities through initiatives like Going to the Garden.

Join us as we discuss how farm workers are organizing, how individuals and groups are becoming involved, and what we can all do about it in our own communities and churches! If you have any questions, please email, and to register for this webinar, please go to


Lindsay-ComstockRev. Lindsay Andreolli-Comstock, an ordained Baptist minister and former human-trafficking specialist, serves as Executive Director of the National Farm Worker Ministry.  Andreolli-Comstock has served congregations in Virginia and Massachusetts as well as four years as a human-trafficking specialist in Southeast Asia.  She is a former Board of Directors member for the Alliance of Baptists and a doctoral candidate at Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.  Andreolli-Comstock holds a bachelor’s degree in Religion and Philosophy from Chowan University in Murfreesboro, N.C., and a Master of Divinity degree from Baptist Theological Seminary of Richmond.

Nico - YAYA.NFWMNico Gumbs is the Florida state coordinator of the National Farm Worker Ministry’s youth-led program, YAYA.  Gumbs has been in the agriculture sector most of their live, from growing up on a farm, in avocado groves to over 8 years with Future Farmers of America (FFA) and now active in the farmworker movement for over 3 years.  Their undying compassion for farm worker justice is pertinent to their idea of a socially just world.

imageedit_1_9065135270Daniel McClain is the Director of Program Operations for Graduate Theological Programs at Loyola University Maryland. His areas of research and publishing include the doctrine of creation, theologies of education and formation, political theology, and theologies of art and image. In addition to these areas, he has also led classes and workshops on the theology and ethics of work and creativity.

Planting New Seeds

Katie FurrowHello! My name is Katie Furrow, and I am working as the Food, Hunger, and Gardens Associate for the Global Food Crisis Fund and the Church of the Brethren Office of Public Witness through Brethren Volunteer Service. I am a recent graduate of Bridgewater College where I majored in Sociology with a minor in Peace Studies; in my senior year at Bridgewater, I was able to conduct a nine month long study on topics of hunger, food access, and community gardening, so I am very excited to spend my BVS term transforming the ideas I learned about into actions to benefit the community and the church.


During my time in Washington DC, I will be working closely with the Going to the Garden grant initiative to help congregations establish, maintain, and expand community gardens in their areas. It is our goal to use the gardens that have been established through the grant as educational tools to inform individuals in the gardens’ respective communities about issues surrounding hunger, food insecurity, and environmental stewardship. Hunger and food insecurity are major issues in nearly every community today. Nearly 1 in 8 individuals suffer from chronic hunger ( meaning that this is a subject which can no longer be ignored; given these numbers, it is likely that we all know someone who is having to face hunger, whether or not we realize it.


It is important to understand the causes of hunger and what we can do about it within our own communities; therefore, it is our hope that these gardens can become a starting point to introduce individuals and communities at large to such topics. Also, given my proximity to the workings of the national government, I will be working on larger advocacy concerns related to food access and insecurity while trying to maintain a focus on the local impacts of these issues. The constant and growing presence of hunger, and its multitude of causes, means that many different approaches must be taken to resolve it, and by creating a space for education and discourse, we can begin to understand ways to resolve such concerns and to empower individuals and their communities to take action.


In the words of 1 John 3:18, we are called to love not “with words or speech but with actions and truth.” Together, we can show love to those who are hungry in a multitude of ways, whether it is through a local community garden, advocating on a national level, or something in between. Together, we can make a difference in this movement toward fair food access for everyone.