Bible Studies and Sermon Starters
The reflections below can be used as “sermon starters,” sparks meant to ignite the fire of a sermon or bible study. Use the text, the reflections, and your own meditation to craft a sermon or bible study around climate resilience.
"Then I said to them, “You see the trouble we are in, how Jerusalem lies in ruins with its gates burned. Come, let us rebuild the wall of Jerusalem, so that we may no longer suffer disgrace. Then They said, “Let us start building!” So they committed themselves to the common good." -Nehemiah 2:17, 18
Our natural response to disaster is to rebuild. In fact, that’s precisely what the book of Nehemiah is all about: rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem after its destruction. Rebuilding gives us a sense of safety. It gives us a sense of normalcy. After any major disaster it is political suicide for leaders to say anything but “we will rebuild!”
And yet, in the midst of rebuilding, we often fail to ask the questions: what caused the disaster in the first place? How might rebuilding be a process of undoing systems that are failing our community? If we do rebuild, how can we make changes that ensure we are creating a just and equitable community?
The climate crisis forces us to confront questions of rebuilding both our physical buildings and our social systems. While physical infrastructure gets a large slice of attention from resilience experts, social capital is shown to have a larger impact on a community’s ability to bounce forward from a disaster. Our churches are often hubs of social capital and centers of a community. As such, they play a crucial role in preparing for the disasters that are likely to come our way. How are we building social and physical structures that will deepen community connectedness and aid in response to the climate crisis? The climate crisis will continue to bring slow and fast disasters to our community. Rather than reacting to crisis and rebuilding, our churches should be proactive in building resilience that can support both the physical and spiritual needs of our communities.
"The Lord appeared to Abraham by the oaks of Mamre, as he sat at the entrance of his tent in the heat of the day. He looked up and saw three men standing near him. When he saw them, he ran from the tent entrance to meet them, and bowed down to the ground. He said, “My lord, if I find favor with you, do not pass by your servant. Let a little water be brought, and wash your feet, and rest yourselves under the tree. Let me bring a little bread, that you may refresh yourselves, and after that you may pass on—since you have come to your servant.” So they said, “Do as you have said.”" -Genesis 18:1-5
Our churches care deeply about hospitality. When we welcome the stranger or the migrant it is as if we are welcoming the Lord. The passage from Genesis 18:15 and Jesus’ admonition in Matthew 25 that just as we treat the least of these, we treat the Lord. God calls our churches and our homes not only to be places of hospitality for those we know and love, but also for our new neighbors, those who are forced to move or migrate due to reasons of persecution or disaster.
The climate crisis is driving migration around the world. As weather patterns become more erratic, bringing drought to some areas and flooding to others, people are forced from their land and community, and forced to find refuge elsewhere. These migrants, who are expected to number in the hundreds of millions in the next century, do not have the same protected status of refugees because their situation does not meet the definition of persecution. This makes it easier for countries to reject environmental migrants from the border. Historically, though, the Church has played a huge role in ensuring just policies and welcoming spaces for migrants. Now is the time to extend that same hospitality to climate migrants.
This is not merely an international problem. In the United States, the Biloxi-Chitimacha-Choctaw band of Indians of the Isle de Jean Charles in Louisiana is the first group of climate-displaced people in the United States. More internally-displaced people are expected to be forced out of their homes along the coasts or in wildfire-risk areas. They will largely settle across the midwest, far from their community and home. Our faith communities can be hubs of hospitality for these neighbors, welcoming them with love and generosity. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Genesis 6:14-16, 21
"Make yourself an ark of cypress wood; make rooms in the ark, and cover it inside and out with pitch. This is how you are to make it: the length of the ark three hundred cubits, its width fifty cubits, and its height thirty cubits. Make a roof for the ark, and finish it to a cubit above; and put the door of the ark in its side; make it with lower, second, and third decks...Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for [the animals]." - Genesis 6:14-16, 21
It seems a bit odd that, in a story with as epic proportions as Noah and the Ark, the writer of Genesis chooses to include God’s carpentry measurements. What does it matter to us that the Ark had to be constructed of cypress to very precise specifications? Perhaps what God is revealing here is that the way we build our structures and the materials we use to build them matter -- especially when a flood is coming.
In the face of an oncoming flood, Noah and his ark played the role of a shepherd, guiding God’s people and God’s Creation through a transformation into a new kind of community. In that transformation, the build of the Ark was not an afterthought; it was integral to the success of the mission. Without a structurally-sound ship with enough space and facilities for all the creatures, the kind of transformation that occurred through the Ark would have been impossible.
The climate crisis presents disasters that will challenge, threaten, endanger, and transform communities around the world. Yet, churches can be Arks of resilience in the face of these disasters, preparing our buildings like Noah prepared the ark. The physical structure of our buildings matter -- always, but especially now. The climate crisis invites to physically prepare for the oncoming storms, making small and large changes that will create a sanctuary for those directly affected by climate change
By changing how we build and operate our buildings, we can provide a physical refuge for those directly affected by climate change.