Miriam’s Story

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Have you ever had a dream that was so powerful that it took hold of your life and settled in your heart?  From the time I was a small girl I remember my parents prayers with a longing plea, “O Lord, Deliver us!”  The prayer took root in my heart and became its song.  That prayer may have been a part of why God chose me to be a prophet , and my call to help DELIVER my people. I AM a prophet!  My name is Miriam.

Called to help DELIVERER

One night, after prayers, my parents – Jochebed and Amram to you – told me that I would have another little brother. They were excited and afraid at the same time – I could tell.  But he was to be a secret.  And I asked them, “Is he the Deliverer?” They were shocked and surprised at my question – but my heart sang with joy because I KNEW.  I KNEW he was the Deliverer for whom my people had prayed for 300 years.

When he was born, the midwives kept the secret to save him and my mother hid him in the house.  He was a good baby – (eye roll) not rowdy like 3 year old Aaron. NO ONE could EVER hide him!  But this baby stayed quiet and we hid him for three months.  Then my mother was afraid that we couldn’t hid him anymore and so she made a little ark – a special basket woven tightly and lined with pitch to keep it waterproof and a tight-fitting lid to keep him inside when it moved.  She put the basket in the shallows with the reeds and told me to keep watch.  I watched – and prayed for my brother, the Deliverer– and sang to him so he wouldn’t cry, singing the song of my heart. Pharoah’s daughter came to her usual spot to bathe, and I prayed and sang – (Pause) and nudged.  She saw it, as I had hoped, and opened it up.  And she was charmed by my little brother and decided to keep him.  To save him. She was still figuring things out – that he was a Hebrew child and his life was at risk – and I ran up and offered to find her a woman to nurse him and care for him while he was young.  She smiled and said that she would pay the woman to care for him.  So I ran and got my mother, who came to get my brother, now named “Moses,” and take him home.  So our family was together and we were safe and had more money now.  And my parents taught little Moses about God and God’s promise to deliver us from slavery and take us to a new land. And the song in my heart was strong.

Called to help in the DELIVERANCE.

You probably know the next part of the story.  Moses went to live in the palace when he was old enough to have basic manners – and old enough to know who he was and where he came from.  He learned the customs of Egypt and how to lead.  But he never forgot who he was and when he saw an Egyptian mistreating a Hebrew slave, he killed him and buried his body in the sand.  That meant he had to flee from Egypt – and I wondered, how would God save us?  Moses was gone for 40 years – and while I prayed still every day for God to DELIVER US, I wasn’t so sure that Moses was the DELIVERER.  Maybe I was wrong…maybe it was pride that made me think he was the one, and that God would deliver us in my lifetime.  The song grew fainter in my heart, but it was still there.  And then Aaron got a message to meet Moses in the desert – that he was coming home. And the song in my heart grew strong again.  God was going to act for us and Moses was his instrument.

Moses returned and he and God battled Pharaoh over our freedom.  That was hard, but we could see God at work through Moses.  And after the Passover, the time came and we left. God was delivering us!  Imagine our fear when we realized that Pharaoh had changed his mind and was pursuing us with chariots and horses.  We were a large group, many hurt or old, with children.  We couldn’t possibly outrun an army.  And then the Reed Sea was in front of us.  I know you have heard it was the Red Sea – but that’s too far south and too large.  It gets confusing when ancient Hebrew writing doesn’t have vowels – people tend to make things up and the Red Sea is bigger and makes a better story, I guess.  But the location probably doesn’t matter to you – it’s what God did.  God told Moses to hold out his staff and we could walk through.  When we reached the other side, the waves washed the army of Egypt away.

I looked around at the faces of our people and saw ALL the emotions. Fear at what they had seen, anger that they had been afraid, grief at losing the land they had known, and perhaps the beginnings of hope.  I also saw the beginning of the protest.  I understand that now it is called a “back to Egypt committee.” There are always some folks who want things the way they once were – they remember the leeks and meat – but forget the whips and hard labor. Moses was tired.  He couldn’t deal with an ensuing rebellion.  So I grabbed my tambourine and began to sing and dance.  Everyone joined in the celebration – we needed a party right then!  And in my song I reminded them that GOD brought us here. GOD delivered us – and GOD would be leading us to a new home, caring for us on the way, protecting us from armies. Glory to God!  God is greater than the armies of Egypt! Glory to God! God is greater than the might of Pharaoh!  AND WE WERE DELIVERED by the HAND of the LORD!  The song burst out of my heart through my voice and my hands and my feet!  And the people all sang with me.

  • But not all of the days were like that. Deliverance isn’t as easy as you would think.  There was a lot of grumbling and complaining and my song wasn’t always the answer.  The desert burns a lot out of you – and there were moments when it was a toss-up on which was harder, desert wandering or slavery.  And I lost my song.

Without my song, without my focus on God – I stumbled. I was wrong. It was my pride that was the problem. I am a prophet, but Moses seemed to be the only one talking with God. It was hard to hear my song of deliverance when we seemed to be endlessly wandering.  I was wrong.  I hurt Moses with my rebellion.  (pause)

And God judged me. God called the three of us before the Shekinah —  the presence of the Lord – and afflicted me with leprosy for my failings. Moses and Aaron were shocked, and pleaded for God to heal me. And God is merciful and did heal me – but I was forced to live outside the camp for a week until someone, not Aaron or Moses, but another priest would say that I was free from leprosy. Everyone knew I had failed them – failed my brother Moses, and failed my people. Pride – it distracts us from what God is doing and focuses us on ourselves. And we make bad choices then.

I was a humbled prophet the rest of my days. Still one of the three leaders of the Deliverance: Moses, Aaron and Miriam, as mentioned by the prophet Micah. But never again would I challenge the leadership of Moses.  I held on to my song.  I sang it every day to myself and to the children. Because my song was also the song of the LORD. A song of deliverance not just for the Hebrews, but for all people.  It is a reminder that God is greater than governments and armies.  It is a reminder that God seeks justice for all people, and especially those who are abused or downtrodden.  It is a song of hope. And I will sing it all my days.  This is the song of God, the song of deliverance and freedom – for the people of God. 

Photo by Ben White on Unsplash
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Moses: The MOST Reluctant Prophet

biegun-wschodni-8636-unsplash.jpg“I am not Enough”

The actions of a hero are only understood within the context of the grand sweep of God’s story.  Heroes aren’t really heroes until they move out with God to serve God’s purposes.

Our first hero is Moses –= an unlikely hero on many fronts. He was born the child of slaves, a disempowered and oppressed people with little control over their lives and destinies.  He was adopted into Pharaoh’s family, but likely understood himself as an outsider.  Other people might have seen him as a collaborator, even though he was adopted as an infant – again with no choice or control. He had a temper and murdered an Egyptian when he saw him abusing a slave.  He became a fugitive from the law and ran away to the hill country.  His second career was as a shepherd.  Anything in there say “hero” to you right off the bat?

  • A shepherd in the wilderness. Moses was fortunate in discovering the daughters of Jethro, the priest of Midian.  His character helped too, since he chased away the men who were bullying them and helped them water their flocks.  This earned him a dinner invitation, a job and a wife.  And for 40 years, approximately, he lived his second career in the wilderness.

Time in the wilderness changes people. Story after story in scripture, other literature and in religious history tells of the impact of the wilderness on the spirit of a person.  For forty years Moses was away from the splendor, power systems and social stratification of Egypt.  In the desert, ego is burned away.  From Prince of Egypt to nomadic shepherd. Artifice is burned away – there are no power dynamics herding sheep.  It is a game of survival, leading flocks all over to find scant bits of vegetation enough to keep the flocks, and their herders, alive.

And Moses is a husband and father.   He and Zipporah have two sons.  Moses has made a new life in the desert of Midian – until his life changes.

  • The Call. While minding his business, the sheep, Moses is distracted by the sight of a bush in flames without burning up.  While I could tell you that in scripture flames are a common image for God – Moses didn’t know that.  I burning bush that wasn’t burning up with be something to investigate, particularly in the dry climate of the desert. When he does to investigate, he is told to remove his sandals, for he is on holy ground. This is a call narrative – a story where God calls a prophet.  But it is also a theophany – an appearance of God.

What is at stake? Liberation is at stake. God’s promises to God’s children: freedom, land, well-being are at stake.  God is faithful to God’s people including aliens, immigrants and the oppressed. BAM. Mic drop.

“I have heard the cries of my people enslaved in Egypt, and you will go and bring them out of slavery to a land of their own.”

This isn’t just a matter of liberation as a one time event – it is God’s structure of relationship. Covenant with God is the alternative to Empire and oppression. God speaks a challenge to Egypt and Domination systems everywhere (Babylon, Persia, Rome….) It is a critique of those who want absolute power – a reminder that only God is God, and we are at our best in God’s service. Contrasts the Glory of God with the Glory of Pharaoh, who considered himself to be a god. There are three themes to this story: Liberation, Covenant, and Presence.

Back to Moses…  God is calling a prophet of liberation to go to Egypt and confront a world ruled by Pharaoh.

 Moses resists. Of course he resists.

— Never mind that there may still be a price on his head. He fled this country – was it already 40 years ago?

— Never mind that he is 80 years old (roughly) at this point.

— Moses is a different person now, and his identity and very life would be at risk in Egypt.

— He has every reason to fear rejection by his own people. We’ve read the Bible stories – we know that’s a real thing.

— Moses apparently stumbles over words too, not helpful when speaking with those in power. Not good for a person called to be a prophet.

But of course he resists.  All prophetic call narratives include resistance.

 It is a given when we experience the holiness of God that we would cry like Isaiah, “Woe is me! For I am a person of unclean lips and I dwell among a people of unclean lips.” God shows up, interrupting our lives with a new way to serve God and our first instincts are “Whoa.  I can’t do that. I’m not good enough, holy enough, talented enough to serve God.” It is a normal reaction. Moses’ struggle is real. He isn’t ambitious, power-hungry or egocentric.  He’s a shepherd.  “I can’t.   I’m not enough,” he says.

And God replies:  Of course you’re not.  I never said you were.  But I AM!  I will bring Israel out of Egypt – I need a human partner. I will be with you. I will be WITH you – you aren’t going alone. So GO!  (‘ehyeh ‘aser ‘ehyeh= I am who I am; I will be who I am; I will be who I will be) Either first or third person imperfect or future tense…..(footnote in NRSV)

But  there is another thing happening here. 

God spoke to an 80 year old shepherd and told him to get moving.  But not just ANY 80 year-old shepherd.  One who spoke Egyptian, and knew the culture and the ruling family – one with righteous indignation and a passion for justice.  Where our particular talents meet a point of need……a God opportunity, perhaps even a call.

“God’s usual way of working in the world to alleviate suffering, injustice, and pain is not to intervene miraculously, suspending the laws of nature, violating the principle of human freedom or sending angles to make things right.  No, God works through people…..”[i]

God CALLS US!

We don’t usually get a burning bush, or winged seraphim, or even a pillar of fire or cloud.  We get a burning desire to make a difference, an unexpected opportunity, a nudging in our spirit….

— GLOBAL MIGRATION: Special offering because…

— IMMIGRATION/DETENTION CRISIS

And that’s the story. God calls Moses away from the sheep on the hillside to trust him with an urgent task: to set free people in bondage and conditions of oppression. And Moses did – he partnered with God, which made him a hero. 

But there are still people who are oppressed.  God is still calling heroes to partner with God to set them free. Imagine!  God may seek us – call us – with this urgent task too.  In the middle of our everyday lives, despite our shortcomings, regardless of our inadequacy to do what God is asking of us – God calls us.  “Get moving!  I have heard the cries of my people, and seen their suffering, and I need a liberator again….”

[i] Adam Hamilton, “Moses,” p.59.
Photo by Biegun Wschodni on Unsplash

A New Day Dawning – Memorial Day weekend & Peace and Justice Sunday

josh-felise-2951-unsplash.jpgDeuteronomy 10: 12-13, 17-21 and John 14: 15-21

 There is an ancient Jewish story about the crossing of the Red Sea.  God and the angels were all watching the events with tension and excitement, perhaps as we watched the Cubs in the World Series.  The angels  were cheering and shouting for the Israelites to hurry and enter the water of the Red Sea, even while booing at Pharaoh with his horses and chariots and army who were chasing the children of Israel. When Israel had crossed the divided waters of Red Sea and the waters turned against Egypt and its armies and they were swept away, a loud cheer erupted among the angels and great rejoicing, as they congratulated each other and slapped each other on the back.  At some point they noticed that God was stunned and silently weeping. “God, why do you weep?  Your children the Israelites are safe on dry land!  This is a day to celebrate!”

“Ah yes,” God replied.  “But I cannot rejoice. For you see, while my children the Israelites are safe, my children the Egyptians are all drowned.”  (Pause)

  • There is a similar many-sidedness to our remembrances of Memorial Day. We want to honor those who gave their lives – their sacrifice should not be forgotten and they should be honored.  We acknowledge the VERY HUMAN LOSS of not only those who died, but also their families and friends.  But in our honoring, we grieve. And for some of us, we had family and friends killed who were fighting on the opposite side of the US. We remember them too. It’s complicated.

The Deuteronomist asks, “What does the Lord your God ask of you?” And then answers the question: to honor God by walking in God’s ways, loving God and serving the Lord your God with all your heart and being.

This advice, written down around 700 B.C.E. in Jerusalem, likely during the reforms of King Josiah by scribes of the Levite order, is staged with Moses and the Israelites in the wilderness. In Deuteronomy chapters 4-11, the events surrounded the giving of the Ten Commandments are shared with the people of Israel, and Moses instructs families and leaders on how to encourage everyone to keep the faith.  This morning’s reading is a part of a scribed construction of a sermon by Moses to the Israelites on what really matters  — what must be shared before they are separated and on their own in the promised land.

For those in King Josiah’s time (641-609 B.C.E.), recalling those earlier events likely reminded them of something that mattered.  Something so important that the stories came from the Northern Kingdom with the refugees after it fell to Assyria:  that YHWH was not only the most powerful divinity, but the only one and that worship and service of YHWH – translated “The Lord” was to be with all of our being. In the middle of the confusion of cultures mixing and an eight-year old king, this was something to hang onto.

In a sense, our honoring of those who died in service of our country is a similar recollection to that of the writers of Deuteronomy.  We weren’t there.  We didn’t experience what they did.  But we have parts of the stories. And more, there is something compelling in the act of remembering. It is more than simply the tragedy of lost life, although that is worth remembering.  As we remember, we connect with war’s devastating losses and perhaps provide some space for healing. This is especially important when we are so insulated from the tragedy of war. Today, we do not often hear the reports of those killed in service, and their bodies are brought home quietly with us unaware unless we happen to be on that plane flight.  We are insulated and perhaps even a bit numbed to the human cost of war. Perhaps by remembering we may also learn something of the importance of the moment. Of their moment – when there was something important at stake worth dying for. Perhaps even worth living for.

During the Vietnam War, Rev. Hayes Fletcher was doing draft counseling here at First United Methodist Church.  People disagreed and took sides.It split the church and the church struggled financially and with morale. Bob Burchill tells stories of mopping floors and cleaning bathrooms to get ready for worship because there was no money for a custodian. The church remaining hung together despite a range of opinions, and those who remained practiced tolerance – because they understood that views on the war were many and the answers were not cut and dried. Even the government understood it was complicated – and they are often the last to know – and exempted members of Peace Churches from combat.

It is said that in combat, soldiers can focus on their task only as long as they remember what they are fighting for.  They carry pictures of their families, sweethearts – one soldier from the very small town of Ferrisburgh, Vermont – population 2,467 at the time, was sent a picture of the entire population of that town gathered on the Fourth of July holding a sign saying, “We love you, Stuart. We are praying for you.” In combat, the rhetoric of political leaders doesn’t matter. Nor do arguments about right and wrong – there is one focus: doing what you must to save what you love.

This Memorial Day, let’s honor those who died by honoring the complexity of remembering.  We can avoid the too-quick solutions of grabbing either a flag or a cross and insisting on our opinions – for as Reinhold Niebuhr said in The Irony of American History, “…the evils against which we contend are frequently the fruits of illusions which are similar to our own.” [i]

And the very real cost of war and death is faced by families and communities. Novelist Wendell Berry describes the experience well as Jayber Crow reflects on the death of Forrest Junior in WWII.

I thought a good deal about Forrest Junior and wondered where he was buried, and if anybody even knew where.  I imagined that soldiers who are killed in war just disappear from the places where they are killed.  Their deaths may be remembered by the comrades who saw them die, if the comrades live to remember.  Their deaths will not be remembered where they happened. They will not be remembered in the halls of government. Where do dead soldiers die who are killed in battle?  They die at home – in Port William and thousands of other little darkened places, in thousands upon thousands of houses like Mis Gladdie’s where The News comes, and everything on the tables and shelves is all of a sudden a relic and a reminder forever.”[ii]
Yes, it’s complicated. Loss. Admiration. Remembrance. Honor.  Our many-sided view of Memorial Day.

  • What can we do with our troubled consciences? Our unclean hands? As people of faith we learn to live differently – out of our faith values – by the power of God’s Spirit living in us. 

It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to help us get over our self-interest and cultural expectations.  It takes the presence of the living God to move us past denial and excuses to confront our own participation in the machines of war. It requires divine intervention to move us to act differently.

Memorial day began. You may know that Memorial Day observances began with the decoration of graves of soldiers who died in the Civil War. In many southern towns, women began decorating the graves of soldiers from both north and south before the war even ended.  The practice spread after the war. On May of 1865 as more than 1,000 recently freed slaves along with members of the Massachusetts 54th Infantry and other soldiers from regiments of what was known as the “U.S. Colored Troops,” as well as a few while Charlestonians entered a former prisoner camp in Charleston, SC near the city’s Citadel. They sang hymns, prayed and shared readings over a mass grave behind a racetrack grandstand where more than 250 prisoners were buried, dead of exposure or disease. They also distributed flowers around the newly decorated cemetery, which they dedicated to the “Martyrs of the Race Course.”

Part of the original observance of Decoration Day, now Memorial Day, seems to always have been a recognition that the life of each individual, no matter where they died or what uniform they were wearing, has a kind of sacred worth.  Every human being is a child of God.  This thought challenges our desire to make those we perceive as our enemies out to be less than human, some kind of “other,” or even “animals.”  If we deny them their sacred worth we don’t have to feel so troubled in our consciences. END.This kind of reasoning leads on internment camps in time of war as with the Nisei in this country during WWII, or ethnic cleansing as practiced by the Nazis in Germany, or holding camps for children whose parents are citizens.  We deny that they are created in the image of God so we can justify whatever dehumanizing treatment we want to perpetuate on them. Dehumanizing for us.

What do we do when we recognize our participation in the evil?

Our hands are not clean. We people of faith have voted in leaders who consider personal profits above human lives.  We people of faith have ignored the practices of the military which target the poor and put them on the front lines. We act as if it doesn’t matter that lives are lost daily in places we cannot pronounce and change the channel when the reports become graphic.

— We step back from positions or verbalizations of power.

“Power,” Neibuhr  wrote, “always thinks it has a great soul and vast views beyond the comprehension of the weak; and that it is doing God’s service when it is violating all His laws. Our passions, ambitions, avarice, love and resentment, etc., possess so much metaphysical subtlety and so much overpowering eloquence that they insinuate themselves into the understanding and the conscience and convert both to their party.” 
― Reinhold NiebuhrThe Irony of American History

As people of faith, we do not dare turn away. As we honor those who DIED holding to some ideals of our nation, it is laid upon us – their benefactors – to LIVE according to those ideals.

We remember beyond the rhetoric. — They died to protect the rights of all people – so we may march in the streets or defend the rights of those in court who are being objectified whether through sexual assault or racially-biased violence.

They died to set free captives overseas being put to death because of their race and religion – so we may defend freedom of religion and freedom of speech in our time.

They died believing in an America that was the land of the free – so we can protest unjust sentencing that leaves us with the highest percentage of citizens behind bars in the world, disproportionately citizens of color.

They died – so we…have the chance to make this country, this world, a more safe and more just place for ALL people, all made in the image of God no matter where they come from or what they look like.

In the TV show M*A*S*H, Father Mulcahey comments that there were songs that encouraged soldiers in every war, except for the Korean War and decides to write one.

          No one’s singing war songs now, like people used to do

          No “Over There,” no, “Praise the Lord,” no “Glory Hallelu,”

          Perhaps at last we’ve asked ourselves what we should have asked before – With the
          pain and death this madness brings, what were we ever singing for?

— We need God’s help to stand up – and not just a simple prayer in which we give lip-service to God as the source of power and goodness!  No!  We need the opened up, roiling passion of the day of Pentecost blazing inside us to stand up to the world’s version of truth and speak God’s truth to it.

— That every human life has sacred worth.

— That all people, no matter who they are or where they come from, are precious children of God and our brothers and sisters.

— When the cost of war is touted up it cannot be simply profits for the military-industrial complex that are considered, but the poverty in our nation that is unaddressed while we wreak destruction on other nations.  And the families who mourn because their world is forever darkened by loss.

And then, maybe then, we can honor our dead in the way so many of them would wish – by stopping the violence. Challenging those who urge us towards war.

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”― att. Teresa of Ávila

We need to BE EMPOWERED by the Holy Spirit to live out God’s values.  Don’t just shake your head over those lives lost, perhaps shedding a tear or two. MOVE! Be a part of this NEW Day Dawning where God’s people raise their voices to pray and demand peace.  To live differently with our neighbors so that A New day of love and justice is dawning among us.  To allow the presence of God to be visible in us, imperfect us – until God’s Kindom comes among us. Amen.

[i]  Reinhold NiebuhrThe Irony of American History.
[ii] [ii] Wendell Berry, Jayber Crow
Photo by Josh Felise on Unsplash

Pentecost Power

ian-stauffer-578276-unsplash.jpg Ephesians 2: 11-14 and Acts 2: 1-14

The Walls Came Down in Jerusalem

Listen to this account – it was an extraordinary day!  People were again gathered in Jerusalem from many nations for a major Jewish festival. This time Shavuot (shoo-us), or Festival of Weeks, held 7 weeks after Passover as a celebration of First Fruits and also of the law given to Moses. And again, into the ordinary patterns of celebration, God intervenes.  This time the presence of God comes with the Holy Spirit to be poured out upon all of Jesus’ followers empowering them to speak in ways that all those gathered with many languages could hear.  And the walls that separated them by language, by nation, or by ethnicity came down in Jerusalem that day as they all heard the story of God’s mighty acts in Jesus.  The walls came down.

It must grieve God that even after Pentecost, the church has continued to build walls. We are silo-ed in our denominational houses over differences in belief and practice, even in a country where our congregation comes from many different denominations and faith traditions.  Jesus prayed that we would be one.  The Spirit came at Pentecost to tear down the walls between us.  And still….. (pause and shake head) …. It must grieve God that we focus so much energy on the things that divide us rather than living and loving as followers of Jesus together.

SEGREGATED HOUR. Sunday morning is still the most segregated hour of the week.  Dr. King confronted the church on that 50 years ago – and yet it is still true. Even in congregations like ours, which value our diversity, we find subtle barriers that separate us. Tribalism infects us with fear of those who appear different from ourselves. Race is a social construct – certainly not something that God thought should divide us or we wouldn’t have Ruth in Jesus’s genealogical line.   Jesus prayed that we would be one.  The Spirit came at Pentecost to tear down the walls between us.  And still….. (pause and shake head) …. It must grieve God that we instinctively focus on the 1% of genetic makeup that is different instead of the 99% of our genes that are common among all human beings.

UMC. In the United Methodist Church there are conversations right now over differences in belief about full inclusion that may lead to a division into different strands or different denominations within the Methodist Church in America. Seventeen Conferences in Africa just rejected an amendment to our denominational constitution that would value all persons regardless of gender and name them as created in the image of God. But so did the Annual Conference immediately South of us – The Illinois Great Rivers Conference, and quite a few conferences in the US. And the attitudes behind this division may split the church.  Even among Methodists, who a group founded by the Wesleys to bring more inclusivity and revival in the Church of England, we ignore or set aside Wesley’s words from his sermon, “Catholic (Universal) Spirit.”

But although a difference in opinions or modes of worship may prevent an entire external union, yet need it prevent our union in affection? Though we cannot think alike, may we not love alike? May we not be of one heart, though we are not of one opinion? Without all doubt, we may. Herein all the children of God may unite, notwithstanding these smaller differences. These remaining as they are, they may forward one another in love and in good works.[i]

Jesus prayed that we would be one.  The Spirit came at Pentecost to tear down the walls between us.  And still….. (pause and shake head) …. It must grieve God that we Methodists still seem so clueless about living as people of faith together in the world.

  • We seem to have forgotten that Day of Pentecost. Forgotten the power of God that blasted down walls that day.  Forgotten that barriers of language were overcome, barriers of national allegiances were overcome as fellowship was restored once the walls were torn down.

Even with reminders in many of our own lifetimes.

Berlin. Do you remember the tearing down of the Berlin wall? In 1989, the wall that had divided families, a city and a country came down.  It had stood since 1961, an ugly concrete scar across the city of Berlin.  And on November 9, 1989 the wall began to be torn down.

South Africa. In 1994, Apartheid, a harsh system of repression and separation by race, ended in South Africa.  Three years of negotiation led to a point where the barriers were removed, Nelson Mandela was released from prison, and in a democratic election, Nelson Mandela was elected the President of South Africa – their first black president.

That Pentecost Power set loose in Jerusalem about 2000 years ago is still running loose in the world, tearing down walls.

You have probably noticed that there are still walls. We keep finding them blocking our way. Even with the power of the Spirit, Sophia in the original Greek, doing her utmost to destroy those walls – there are still walls. And part of our calling is to TEAR them down. KNOCK them down. And we can’t do it without the Spirit.

If we had read the next part of the 2nd Chapter of Acts we would have heard Peter preaching. Remember Peter? The guy who promised to never desert Jesus by denied him three times because he was afraid of the accusation of a maid that he had been with Jesus.  THAT Peter is now standing up in front of God and everybody telling the story of Jesus and defending the acts of the Spirit that they had just experienced.  THAT Peter has changed – is empowered and unafraid because of the presence of the Spirit within him.

FOR US. The presence of the Spirit alive and at work in us can give us the courage to follow the path of Jesus in the challenging moments – the courage of a Peter or Andrew, of Chris Gueffroy – the last person killed trying to cross the wall, of Ronald Reagan who challenged Mikhail Gorbachev.

“Secretary General Gorbachev, if you seek peace–if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe–if you seek liberalization: come here, to this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate. Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall.”[ii] Or of Nelson Mandela who never gave up on ending apartheid saying famously, “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”  We can have that kind of moral courage – the presence of the Holy Spirit helps!

If we read the rest of the book of Acts, we find a deeper truth.  The power of the Spirit is multiplied when we work together to break down the walls. The early church had people who did things individually, but  together they changed Rome.  Together Christianity was tolerated and later became the official religion of the Roman Empire. Together they spread across the world.

And together, we can tear down walls. That’s what love does, especially when we work together.

HYMN. “In Christ there is no East or West, in him no south or north – but one great fellowship of love throughout the whole wide earth.”

Together we can create a diverse community where all people, all languages, all cultures are celebrated. Diversity makes us healthy.  It’s proven in biology.  It’s proven for communities. Diversity makes us healthier as a community. The churches that are vital in their communities are almost all churches that are diverse in many ways.

Actually, this Pentecost Power is about relationships.  Relationship with God as we are brought closer to the holy as the Holy Spirit dwells in us.  And it is about relationships with others as the presence of the Holy tears down walls that divide, and gives us the wisdom and strength to continue that work in our lives.This is our church – with the Holy Spirit in the middle of the family circle – in the middle of us all.

Our prayer, “Come, Holy Spirit,” which we will share in as many languages as are among us at this moment, is a prayer for the Spirit to come to empower us as individuals to speak out against injustices and tear down walls.  It is a prayer to let God fill us so we can push past our own prejudices – a prayer to change US. It is a prayer for power as community to respect and protect others—a prayer to change the world..

Veni Sancte Spiritus. (Latin)
Viens, Saint-Esprit.  (French)
Komm heiliger Geist.  (German)
Ven, espíritu santo.  (Spanish)

[i]  https://www.umcmission.org/Find-Resources/John-Wesley-Sermons/Sermon-39-Catholic-Spirit
[ii] https://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/reagan-challenges-gorbachev-to-tear-down-the-berlin-wall
Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

Blessings Upon Blessings

michael-heuss-424841-unsplash2 Corinthians 3: 13-5:1 and Mark 3: 20-24, 30-35

Who is Jesus?

Jesus, as presented in the Gospel of Mark, doesn’t make many explicit claims about who he is.  Mark was the earliest gospel written and is more focused on the actions of Jesus than theological speculation.  Most of the time, Jesus let’s those around him decide who they think he is, and then while they are considering the options, Jesus just keeps healing with power, preaching with authority, and caring for every person who comes to him.  Sometimes they figure out who he is by his actions and words – sometimes they still misunderstand and Jesus has to help them out a bit more.  In the Mark passage for this morning, there are two wrong ideas about Jesus and then Jesus tries to help the folks out – pointing back to his hearers then and now with a challenge about family.

What do you do with a problem like Jesus?

The passage starts by telling us that Jesus was acting outside of normal expectations.  People just didn’t know what to do with him.  His family didn’t know what to do with him.  They go after him – maybe because they are embarrassed, maybe because they are worried about him. They seem to think that Jesus has lost touch with reality and they are concerned.

Jesus, in simple terms, didn’t talk about God in the ways that people expected in his time.  He spoke about God as up close and personal, caring about people – ALL people – in an immediate way.  And he acted differently than was expected too – he attracted folks that most people wouldn’t give the time of day and persisted in teaching them, healing them, caring for them.  He wasn’t popular with the leadership of the synagogues or temple in Jerusalem because he challenged some of their traditional ways of interpreting scripture and doing ritual acts. For example, he would tell people that they were forgiven, which was a prerogative of the Temple and threatened their place in people’s lives. And he cast out demons – which made authorities suspicious about that kind of power. He thinks differently. He does things differently.  That is threatening to the status quo, if anyone pays attention to him.

In  Jesus Christ, Superstar, the temple authorities sing, “He is dangerous,” while the “blockheads in the street” are singing: “Hosanna Superstar,. Jesus Christ, Superstar…”

Caiaphas
Ah gentlemen, you know why we are here
With not much time, and quite a problem here

Crowd Outside
Hosanna! Superstar!

Annas
Listen to that howling mob
Of blockheads in the street
A trick or two with lepers
And the whole town’s on its feet

All
He is dangerous! He is dangerous!

Crowd
Jesus Christ, Superstar
Tell us that you are who they say you are

Priests
He is dangerous, dangerous
That man is in town right now
To whip up some support
A rabble rousing mission
That I think we must abort
He is dangerous

Crowd
Jesus Christ, Superstar

Priests
He is dangerous![i]

We all know people who didn’t fit the normal expectations.  Sometimes, if we know and love them, we call them free spirits, independent thinkers, or say they march to the beat of a different drummer.  If we don’t know and love them, we might say they are off beat, off center, or an odd duck.

The verb used in verse 21 literally means “to stand outside of” or “to be beside oneself,” meaning that they thought Jesus was out of his mind.  He was indeed off center – if that means having a different center. His center was to do God’s will, which is not the center for most of us, then or now. And because he was different, spoke differently, valued people in ways different than the customs of his time – he was perceived as a threat and accused of being in league with Satan.

Jesus didn’t fit the mold. He challenged expectations, and had a different center. He was perceived as a threat to the community, and dangerous.

It is easy to fall into the trap of condemning or accusing Jesus family and the religious leaders of his time. We see Jesus as Savior and Lord and wonder why they can’t see it themselves. But we do it too.

Before we are too hard on Jesus’ family or accusers, we need to understand the very human dynamic here.  When we get comfortable, we resent anyone who challenges our comfort.  We all tend to be defensive of our traditions.  Even somewhat moldy Christmas ornaments or one-eyed snowmen make their way onto the Christmas tree year after year if the memories they represent are strong enough, right?  In the same way, we get comfortable with religious practices that may have lost their meaning and we hold on to the forms for dear life rather like those one-eyed snowmen.  (No, don’t argue with me – we have them at our house too.)

We get comfortable with tradition to the extent that we turn a jaundiced eye towards the new things that God might be doing.  We feel threatened by new ideas or things that rock the status quo.  Even the brightest and best of us can fall into this trap.

Mack. At the time of the Bombing of Bagdad which began the First Gulf War, Mack was the Lay Leader of his church.  He took that responsibility seriously.  He was there almost any time the building was open.  He supported his pastors, whomever was sent.  He was involved in the community and had invited many people to worship over his lifetime in that community.  And after the bombing of Bagdad, he invited his pastor for lunch to beg her NOT to say anything about the start of the war in the service that week.  He knew that every leading denomination except the Southern Baptists, Assemblies of God and Missouri Synod Lutherans had already spoken out against the war.  But Mack was afraid that a statement on the war would cause conflict in the church – and so he asked his pastor not to say anything about it.  He was afraid – and that prevented him in that moment from saying or doing something that he believed in.

Even the best of us can get comfortable with tradition – afraid of change – and fall in the human dynamic of accusation of anyone that we perceive is rocking our comfortable boat.

  • Family, says Jesus, are those who do God’s will. Not those who are blood relations, but those who understand us and are united with us in living as persons seeking the kindom of God.  Those blood relationships that define our first family are not as significant as those real relationships that grow out of our shared life of faith together.

We understand this on an intuitive level.  I would guess that all of us have collected people along the way who aren’t on our family tree and claimed them as family.  Brothers, sisters, a few extra grandparents along the way….that’s what we are talking about.  And when those other relationships are rooted in a shared living relationship of Jesus and struggling together in the life of faith, they are closer than the brothers and sisters we grew up with. “Faith family.”

Many of you know that this past week I was on a trip to Washington, DC with some of the congregation from Neighborhood United Methodist Church in Maywood.  Their hospitality was very gracious and the trip was valuable beyond my ability to explain as we seek to build the relationships among the Methodist churches in our cluster.  One of the learnings on the trip had to do with family.  I was introduced to a woman named Christine Hedgley – she introduced herself to me as Christine. But everyone else from the church who was a part of the group called her, “Mother,” or “Mother Hedgley.”  Her daughter just called her, “Mom,” but everyone else shared stories when I asked of the many ways that she had taught them in the faith, or modeled for them what it means to be a person of faith and conscience in a largely secular and unbelieving world.  Story after story of people who claimed her as their “mother in faith.”

Mark 3: 31 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.”

33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked.

34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

NOT that being a family of faith makes for a perfect family.  We have disagreements and clashes of personality just like any other family.  But Jesus reminds us, perhaps with an eye roll at the accusation that he, who cast out demons could not be in league with them.  He reminds us that a house divided against itself cannot stand – a family divided cannot offer the loving shelter that is needed to all of its members.  In fact, a family divided into groups that fight each other will fall apart. And St. Paul would add a few words of encouragement here – that we have the spirit of faith, and so we do not lost heart.  We do not let momentary troubles distract us from the Glory of God.  We fix our eyes on what is unseen, what is eternal – an eternal house not built by human hands.

Jesus invites us in this text from Mark to increase our understanding of family.  We can claim kinship with those who live in the presence of God. Doing the will of God together will help us connect with our true and deepest selves.  Doing the will of God together puts us in a kinship relationship with Jesus, and gives us the opportunity to keep expanding our kinship circle with others who are doing the will of God. We can move beyond the people we lived with in our formative years to those we grow with in faith. Then we find the blessings – blessings of family who understand and love us – blessings upon blessings.

ANNAS, one of the Temple priests, poses the question:

What then to do about Jesus of Nazareth?
Miracle wonderman, hero of fools.

Perhaps we have found the answer:

Stop fighting him or denying him for who he is…. Instead Love him. Follow him. Find family – kin – through him. While things aren’t perfect and hard times come, there are blessings upon blessings.

[i] http://www.lyricsdepot.com/jesus-christ-superstar/this-jesus-must-die.html.
Photo by Michael Heuss on Unsplash

 

 

Becoming a New Creation – “Living Out Loud”

val-vesa-624638-unsplash

I Samuel 17: 1, 4-11, 17-24, 32-37 and 2 Corinthians 6: 1-10

In  Driving Miss Daisy, Miss Daisy has to adjust to a good many things as she is aging and the world keeps changing.  In one scene, she and Boolie, her son, are talking about a dinner in the area where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is to speak.  She is eager to go, but when she asks Boolie to go with her, he explains that he’d like to – but doesn’t think he can. He is afraid of what other businessmen would think, perhaps take their business elsewhere.  But Boolie’s fear won’t prevent his mother from going.  But then, in the car, she asks Hoke if he wanted to go with her….and discovers with surprise that inviting him to attend the dinner with her didn’t occur to her until Boolie said something, and then when they are on the way.  Through the 25 years of the movie, Miss Daisy keeps unfolding layers of who she is to discover both her boldness as she lives towards her dying and her sometimes still foolish limitations.

[i]IN VAIN – Empty (kenos)

 Since we work together with him, we are also begging you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 

From time to time, we all feel like our faith is non-existent.  We feel hollowed-out inside – empty of any faith we once had.  There are other times, when we may not feel empty, but we seem to be missing the mark.  Those who nurture us in faith are concerned when we hit an “Empty time.”

At the start of the morning reading from Corinthians, Paul expresses his concern that the church at Corinth seems to be lacking something in how they are living out their faith.  He is afraid that they are receiving the grace of God IN VAIN.  The Greek is kenos =  empty.  Their faith is empty. They aren’t living out the gospel.

In other parts of the letter, Paul explains that they are not demonstrating love and compassion or each other. That’s a HUGE problem for anyone identified as part of the church of Jesus Christ.  (LOVE)

After all, Jesus showed love rather universally.  He loved broken-down invalids and cast-away sinners, the followers who continually disappointed him and even those who sought his death.  For those who follow Jesus, the church which is called “the body of Christ,” love is a pretty good baseline.  We even sing it, “They’ll Know We are Christians by our Love.”   A church that isn’t identified with LOVE isn’t living out the gospel. Their faith is pretty empty.

Trusting in God. Paul also accuses them of not trusting in God enough to let God work in their lives. He fully expects that God’s transforming (that means changing) grace would be VISIBLE in their lives if they are living out the gospel.

Instead:

  • the church is arguing over differences in beliefs, with people attempting to persuade, bully or browbeat others into their point of view.
  • divisions in the leadership, jealousy over positions and authority – as if power politics works with a leader who hung on a cross.
  • disagreements over worship with different thoughts over proper worship or what most honors God.

A church that has a spirit of criticism and division, that can’t seem to trust God enough to be working inside of them, isn’t going to be identified with living out the Gospel.  Paul’s concerns about the church in Corinth are rooted in their inability to BE the church where they are.  They aren’t BOLD enough. They are too rooted in expectations or their own preferences to let God work in their corporate life. Their faith isn’t vibrant with love and possibility. They look pretty empty.  Paul is afraid that God’s grace is IN VAIN.

SURPRISE! Paul wants all Christians to live boldly!  Paul, ambassador and missionary to as much of the world as he could reach, doesn’t want anyone to be held back by fear.  He wants the churches he began and those that he nurtured, to live as boldly NEW people – citizens of God’s in-breaking NEW AGE.

Paul would tell us that “Life is uncertain.” And advise that we make plans that matter. After all, tomorrow is never guaranteed. He might, if it hadn’t been before his time, quote Robert Herrick’s poem to “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,”[ii] or give something like Mr. Keating’s carpe diem lecture “Seize the day.” “We are food for worms….everyone of us will die.” [iii] So we can’t wait for tomorrow – there may not be one for us. We have to live out our values TODAY!

“Poor, but enriching many,” Paul said of himself. Service to others matters, not the accumulation of wealth.

God is at work. “God is at work in the world. Be a part of it,” Paul would say. “The new life we experience in Jesus is available to all,” Paul would say.  While all too often we try to figure out how to exclude people from counting, Paul keeps drawing new circles to include everyone, or blurring boundaries that we thought were firm.  “Stop worrying about God’s business,” Paul would say.  “Your business is to show the love of God to ALL people,” Paul would say.

Not that this kind of living is trouble-free.  There are no guarantees that living faithfully, following Jesus and serving God makes for a happy-go-lucky or easy existence.  St. Paul has been referred to as the “prophet of disaster.”  Shipwrecks, arrests, beatings, imprisonment, attempted mob violence, escaping over walls from those who sought to kill him, and years of incarceration…. None of us would call that an easy life.  Certainly not a trouble-free one.

And yet this follower of Jesus would write,

18 I am sure that what we are suffering now cannot compare with the glory that will be shown to us. 

31 What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us?  33 Who will bring any charge against God’s children? It is God who justifies. 34 Who is to condemn? It is Christ Jesus, who died, yes, who was raised, who is at the right hand of God, who indeed intercedes for us.[w] 35 Who will separate us from the love of Christ? Will hardship, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? 36 As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all day long;
    we are accounted as sheep to be slaughtered.”

37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.   Romans 8: 18, 31, 33-39

Live for God today!  Live with a focus on what matters – service to others, sharing the good news of God’s amazing love. Carpe diem – for we are more than conquerors and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of Jesus Christ our Lord!

We have a strange paradox before us. The paradox of a life following Jesus, a Christian life, is that we are living by dying.  We find our lives when we are bold enough to, if not lose them in a temporal sense, at least decide that keeping them isn’t the most important thing. When we live out loud for God, we have a kind of strength that may otherwise elude us.

David’s story helps us uncover what this means.  David was just a kid in this story – a shepherd running errands to take food to the front.  And maybe, as teenagers tend to be, he was a bit arrogant and overconfident.  Perhaps he even thought he was immortal, as our teens used to be able to do. But he also took a deep breath and looked at the Philistine warrior and perhaps shrugged his shoulders and said, like the great warrior Crazy Horse before the Battle of Little Bighorn, “Hokahey, today’s a good day to die.”  Perhaps he said to himself as mythic raiders did before a battle, “Die Bravely.”  He just strode into battle with what he had, his weapons of choice, to do what he could.

This isn’t a sermon about David – he’ll get his own sermon this summer when we talk about Heroes.  But David gives us a model for LIVING BOLDLY – to do what is before us with all the honor we have.

And what is before us?  St. Paul already told us that.  We are becoming God’s new creation — by the power of God at work in us.  And so the work of God should show in our lives.  Love. Openness to God’s transformation.  Love for others that opens up new possibilities for them too.  Grow.  Opening hearts. Love. Live as witnesses of new creation. Love now.  There is nothing BOLDER than LOVE. Nothing better to show God’s work in us than LOVE.

We can’t be empty, friends.  No grace offered in vain for us. Instead, let us be DARING and BOLD in showing God’s love through our love for all people.  Now – seize the day for it is the one we have.  Carpe diem – for we are more than conquerors and nothing will be able to separate us from the love of Jesus Christ our Lord! “Live boldly – today’s a good day to die.  And a better one to live out loud!” 


[i] Driving Miss Daisy,  1989. Play 1987.
[ii] https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/virgins-make-much-time. Robert Herrick. 1591-1674.
[iii] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E5t3ZzZv8_U
Photo by Val Vesa on Unsplash

Earth Sunday – The World God Made

thomas-scott-515840-unsplashGenesis 1: 27-31; 2:1-15 and Colossians 1: 9-11, 15-20a

In A Hopeful Earth, Bishop Sally Dyck tells this parable:

A man spent years building a beautiful and structurally sound home.  “The roof and walls protected the house from the elements, and the foundation was solid, even against an earthquake.

Inside the home, he put a lot of care into choosing the floor coverings, curtains, appliances, furniture and art.  Everything was to be functional as well as beautiful.  Simplicity was the standard of beauty. Windows let in a lot of light.  The house was powered by solar energy.

The man put as much care into the surrounding gardens as he did into the house.  There were gardens of flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees – everything good to eat.  He even installed a swimming pool for the enjoyment of those who came to visit him.

When the house was finished, the man decided to ask his son to watch over it while he went away for a while.  He encouraged his son to use it fully, enjoying himself and offering it as a gift to others.  He told his son to ear from the gardens, swim in the pool and “make yourself at home because it is yours for as long as you’d like.”

The son enjoyed the house and all it offered him.  He invited his friends over and they enjoyed it too, but they weren’t very careful about the way they treated the gardens, the swimming pool, and even the house itself.  They left food and papers around, and the garage began to pile up, smelling and looking terrible.  There were holes in the walls, the results of punches thrown by people who had gotten into fights.  All the furnishings were filthy, torn, or smelly because the son didn’t take care of them and his friends kept misusing them.

The son let the garden get overgrown with weeds because tending it was inconvenient. He never cleaned out the pool and algae grew all over it, so no one wated to swim in it anymore.

The son hadn’t invested in its upkeep.  The utilities were shut off and the bills were in the hundreds and thousands of dollars.  How would he ever be able to catch up on the expenses of repairing and restoring the house when he couldn’t afford to care for it in its current condition?

Then the father came home – and saw his beautiful house totally ruined.

We are living this parable as we live on earth today.”[i]

We bear the responsibility for the world in which we live. That is part of what Genesis creation stories are about. GOD made the world and everything in it: the skies and seas, the land with growing plants and trees, the animals that walk the ground and the birds that soar in the air. GOD created all things including human beings – and then entrusted it to the human ones to care for.

The word ecology  comes from the Greek oikos,  which means “house.”  The planet Earth, on which we live, is our house– entrusted to us by God. It is our responsibility. It’s odd that caring for the planet has seemingly become a political issue.  Earth Day began in 1970 with genuine concern about what was happening to the environment – by President Nixon. But now, concern for the environment has become a political cause that takes a backseat to concerns for multiplication of wealth, convenience and the well-being of the fossil- fuel companies.

All of the ecological systems of our planet are exploited for profit to great detriment of us all.

  • Famine is caused by soil erosion due to deforestation.
  • Floods are caused by deforestation.
  • Air quality deterioration is caused by the expansion of fossil fuels and deregulation of air quality controls in favor of industry
  • Water safety. We saw in Flint how the city’s officials knowingly put public health behind profit and endangered the health of their constituents
  • Renewable energy doesn’t get as much support or press as it did in the 1970s because some of our leading officials have their fortunes tied to oil companies
  • Native peoples are forced off their greatly diminished lands for huge oil pipelines that contaminate both land and water
  • And the people most affected by the highest levels of toxins in the environment are the poor

We are not in right relationship with God because we are not in right relationship with God’s creation.  We have turned our back on our responsibilities and the world suffers.  Our house, entrusted to us by God, is dying.

 It would be odd if your attention weren’t wandering right now. We don’t want to hear this. We don’t want to talk about it because we are guilty. We know that we human beings are the ones who have damaged creation.  And whatever minor damage was done over the centuries of human existence has been multiplied in our own time.  Plus, we know that we Americans are to blame more than any other nation. With less than 5% (4.4%) of the world’s population according to Politifact,[ii] we use over a quarter of the world’s fossil fuels,[iii]  and generate more waste than any other nation in the world, 80% of which goes into landfills.[iv]  Creation itself accuses us.

Dr. Ellen Davis, a professor of Hebrew scripture, said. “One day in the fullness of time, all creation will be given its voice and we will be called to sit down and table and listen, really listen, and hear the pain we have caused.”[v]

One of her students recalled Imagining hearing “the ocean weeping as it was clogged with billions, literally billions of pounds of trash that I have helped dump into it; the air choked with pollution I have pumped out; I would hear the pain of trees being clear-cut and mountains being reduced to sludge; I would hear icebergs melting, ground water rotting and I would have to hear the cries of animals being eaten into extinction.  I would hear the hunger of mothers and fathers and the thirst of small children, 5000 of whom dies everyday for want of clean water while I let the tap run just so the water I drink will be colder…”[vi]

  1. issues of the environment are complicated by our awareness of our own sin and guilt against God and God’s creation. That makes us uncomfortable – so we too often ignore it.  This is one where we do not want to repent – because that would mean change that would cost us: convenience, money, time, work. So we avoid the issue most of the time.
  2. Principles, after all, are inconvenient more often than not. And so we buy water in plastic bottles when we are out because we don’t want to carry water and we’re thirsty, and then throw away our plastic bottles because we don’t want to carry them home to recycle. If confronted, we might say, “They really should recycle at this _____ fill in the blank,” ignoring the fact that we wouldn’t throw away a coffee mug after we used it at a restaurant. We violate God’s creation for our own purposes.  We harm creation with microagressions daily to enrich ourselves, or for our indulgence, or convenience –without counting the cost.

We are guilty. We have sinned.  When we are honest – we know this.

The answer to our environmental problems may be a spiritual solution. There can be freedom in accepting responsibility instead of denying, avoiding or trying to shift blame.  We are responsible. So let’s be responsible.

The Colossians passage that we heard this morning has an interesting formula for living differently – for living as a part of God’s new creation.

It starts with prayer – which leads to knowledge of God’s will.

Knowledge of God’s will leads to living differently – in a matter worthy and pleasing to God.

Living to please God leads to good works, bearing fruit so others will see God’s work in us, as well as growing in knowledge of God –

And growing in knowledge of God leads to endurance, patience and joy.

To summarize:  If we grow in our knowledge of God’s will and our desire to do it, we will choose to do right and live more ethically.

This isn’t rocket science, and there is no suspense here.  This is a bit more like Stephen Covey’s idea to “Begin with the end in mind.”  IF we want to grow in knowledge and love of God, we will be looking for ways to live lives pleasing to God – which includes living in right relationship with creation, the world God made.

P.S. And prayer is the beginning, because we truly can’t live lives worthy of God WITHOUT God’s power at work within us.

Not that this is easy. It takes a paradigm shift – a shift in the way we look at things.  Not for our convenience – but for what is right. So we carry our recyclables around on vacation a bit more and we remember to say, “No straw, please,” at restaurants. But we also take shorter showers and turn off the tap and the lights a bit more.  And then we can consider what we really need – and not buy plastic junk because that NEVER ends well for the environment.

We need God’s help to put things right again – not the “prayer fixes everything” abdication of responsibility – but knowing we need God at work within us so we can get over ourselves and our immediate desires in order to do the right thing.

Part of being responsible for something is owning up to our failure to care for it.  And then deciding to repair the damages – to creation and to our relationship with God. Let’s begin with the end in mind – and then seek God’s will so we can choose to live in a right relationship with God and the world God made.


[i] Sally K Dyck and Sarah Ehrman, A Hopeful Earth, 41-42
[ii] http://www.politifact.com/virginia/statements/2014/dec/15/jim-webb/webb-says-us-has-5-percent-worlds-population-25-pe/
[iii] http://www.worldwatch.org/node/810
[iv] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_in_the_United_States
[v]  Where does the trash go? https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2012/06/26-trillion-pounds-of-garbage-where-does-the-worlds-trash-go/258234/ https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Waste_in_the_United_States
[vi] Earth Day sermon. http://www.trinityepiscopalchurch.org/Sermons/Vinnie_s_Sermons/Earth_Day_Sermon/
Photo by thomas scott on Unsplash