Care of the Earth: The Vital Imperative of the 21st Century

The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and TAKE CARE OF IT. (Genesis 2:15)

The earth has endured an increasing array of disasters over the past several years: floods, tsunamis, forest fires, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes – all in increasing numbers. The past three weeks have seen the most powerful and destructive hurricanes on record do devastating damage to large areas of the United States and the Caribbean. “Harvey” and “Irma” have wrought billions of dollars of damage to major cities and entire states and nations, much of which will take years to recover and rebuild – and it appears more is on the way to these same areas – “Maria”.

The reason or ‘blame’ for all this is argued by various factions of society: some say it is God’s wrath for our godless actions, some blame religions or minority groups – and all this finger-pointing only serves to further exacerbate the tribal divisions that are plaguing our society. The arguing also directs attention away from the clear causes ratified over and over by scientists and meteorologist: it is the rapid and dangerous effect of our changing climate and the plundering of the earth caused by a dramatic increase in the earth’s population and the resulting demands for more energy.

More people demand more fuel and for over 100 years, that demand has been answered by increased use of fossil fuels, oil, coal, and natural gas. As these burn, the carbon dioxide produced builds up in the earth’s atmosphere, acting as a ‘blanket’, holding in heat, and thus warming the temperature of the earth, i.e., ‘global warming’.

Other human actions also contribute to throwing our earth’s equilibrium off-balance: increasing destruction of forests, big commercial agriculture and construction, chemical pollution of our waters by industry, and rampant populate growth.

Unless we attend to this growing destruction of our planet NOW, consequences and costs will be much more severe. So, pointing fingers of blame to elements of societal prejudice really harms us all. The blame is on each one of us, and the responsibility for correcting the problem resides in each of us as well!

Here are some things we all can do right now:

  1. Get involved; contact your local, state and federal representatives and express your support of measures to decrease our carbon footprint. Encourage legislators to impose carbon taxes on those energy polluters.
  2. Be energy efficient; switch to efficient light bulbs and try to minimize your use of energy, particularly those that contribute to our carbon footprint
  3. Trim your waste; carbon dioxide and methane gas from landfills contributes to the increase in earth temperature, so try to use recyclable goods.
  4. Minimize driving; drive as little as possible. If you can’t use public transportation, look at energy-efficient automobiles (either hybrids or electric), or carpool.
  5. Green your community; work within your community to reduce the use of non-green energy, reduce waste and work with organizations that encourage/legislate for clean energy.
  6. Stay informed; belong to elists and organizations that are actively working to switch to clean energy and reduce our carbon footprint.

Moreover, perhaps it is time for all of us at Saint John’s to move together to promote these ideas and actions within our community and the world.

We pray for the healing of the earth, that present and future generations may enjoy the fruits of creation, and continue to glorify and praise you. Amen.
 
 
Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church of Worthington and Parts Adjacent, 18 September 2017

Charlottesville is OUR Fault

Systemic and corporate racism is something that the majority of Americans don’t want to acknowledge exists or they contribute to that racism. And we don’t want to admit that, no matter how inclusive we feel we are, we are all racists to some extent.

This article was written by a young man who had an epiphany after the events in Charlottesville that we are ALL responsible for the racism that exists in the United States. His language may be a little harsh for some of you, but it needs to be said. I hate to admit it, but I see myself in passive racism; I am pledging to no longer remain silent – and I hope you will not either.. – Deacon deniray+

 

I live in rural Northeast Georgia, and was raised in rural Upstate South Carolina. I grew up hearing the black kids called monkeys and the ‘n’ word at the playground in elementary school. I’ve heard members of my family say derogatory things about other races, including these racial slurs. I was even told in third grade that I couldn’t have a black girlfriend because, “people just don’t like that.”

I could make an argument that systemic racism is the cause of a vehicle plowing through a group of protesters in VA, but I know too many people who claim that “racism doesn’t exist.” So please, friends and family, hear me. I’m going to set aside the argument for systemic racism for a minute and look at the four types of racism that I see every day living here in the south.

I see this as a pyramid with the smallest population at the top and the largest at the bottom.

The four levels of the pyramid:

Active Racism: Active racists truly believe that one race is superior to another and they are willing to make their race have a higher standing than another. An example would be Hitler in Nazi Germany. Or, a more topical example, these idiots in Charlottesville.

Quiet Racism: Quiet racists also truly believe that they are superior to others, but they’re just not willing to say that in public. This is the scariest group of people on this list. Here’s a personal example: I once needed some work done on my vehicle and I took it to a shop. When I went inside, I was greeted with a heavily used dartboard with Obama’s face on it, followed by a conversation with the owner in which I heard the n word several times. This guy is not ramming cars into people or at a Neo-Nazi rally, but it’s easy to see how the people that are at these rallies are surrounded by folks like this guy. I’m a teacher, and on multiple occasions I’ve had students tell me about some of the things that their parents have said about people of other races. They justify police shootings followed by riots by explaining how “they are made that way” or have “genetics that make them criminals.” This is real, folks.

“Soft” Racism: Soft racism is when people make racist comments or have a racial thoughts that they don’t realize are racist.  “Today I was on the road and I saw this black guy walking”… or, “I teach a lot of “urban’ students,” or, “I have black friends, so I can’t be racist” etc. This group also contains racial bias. Radiolab did a fanatic podcast about a father who had adopted a black daughter, but still found himself being cautious around a black man walking down the street. Even though he had just explained to his daughter that it’s not fair that people do this, he still found himself being a part of the problem. Why is this?

Every single person I know would say that they are not racist. And, again, we’re setting aside systemic racism for this argument. But I would argue a lot of people I know are soft racists. This is where I sat most of my life, and still find myself here on occasion. It is important that we not fear the prejudices that we are taught as kids (“people won’t like it if you date a black girl”), but to make ourselves aware of when these thoughts happen and to war against it, just like the man in the story above.

Passive Racism: For the most part, people I know aren’t any other these other three groups. Most people I know (including myself) fall into passive racism: they don’t speak up when others are racist, intentionally or unintentionally. I can’t tell you the number of times that I’ve heard a racist joke or even an off color statement where I haven’t had the guts to say, “hey, that’s not okay.”

This passivism is the root of the problem. Most people know racism when they see it (when people on the passive level see people on the soft level or higher), but just don’t say or do anything about it. But, what if this majority became active? What if we all agreed to, kindly, inform others that we’re not going to let people around us say or do racist things? What if, instead of blaming the president, or Nazis, or the alt-right, we took responsibility for our actions and the people in our own lives?

We must begin to speak up because by being passive and letting racist jokes and statements slide, we are literally building the foundation on which the KKK, Neo Nazi, and White Supremacist’s groups are built at the top of the pyramid. It doesn’t matter if it makes you uncomfortable or if it hurts your relationships, people are literally dying because the masses aren’t speaking up for those without a voice.

It is also easy to just cut off our friends and family who are soft and quiet racists. But, it is our job to stand up when racist ideas are brought up. As white people, we have an audience with our families and white circles that the black community will never have. If we do not start to have these conversations at the lower levels of the pyramid, who will?

So yes, Charlottesville was my fault, and your fault, and the fault of anyone who is not standing up to racism in our daily lives. Please, please, don’t be defensive, but take a moment to attempt to see that silence really is compliance.

I’m making a stand today to no longer sit by and let these things happen. I hope you’ll consider standing with me.
 
 
Josh Bryan, Sarondipity Universe, August 13, 2017
Charlottesville was my Fault

 
Written for Crossroads, Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, 20 August 2017

The Tragedy at Charlottesville

We saw the underbelly of American the last two days in Charlottesville, Virginia. People who now feel that they have ‘permission’, even support from people in the government, to spew their hatred and bigotry and racism openly and violently. We saw armed militias carrying Confederate flags marching in goosesteps, white supremacists shouting angry slogans, members of the KKK no longer hiding under bedsheets, but openly proclaiming their part in the election of the president and their right to return America to a white, Christian nation. Hatred consumes these people; something that is NOT a Christian value.

And most tragic of all, we saw a young person from Maumee, Ohio, deliberately drive his car into a group of peaceful counter-protestors, killing at least one innocent bystander just trying to cross the street, and injuring scores of others, some who may still succumb to their injuries. This kind of hatred and violence does not only happen ‘somewhere else’, but right here in our state and our communities. We need to stand against this.

But we also saw a group of people of faith joined together (Catholics, Protestants, Jews,  Muslims, Buddhists and others) singing This little light of mine in love and fellowship to counter the vitriolic chants of the ultra-conservative Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, KKK, nationalists, white supremacists, armed militia, and people angry because Charlottesville is going to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park called ‘Emancipation Park’.

Most of us cannot make any sense or see any justifiable reason for the actions of those who chose to create discord and spew bigotry and hatred and xenophobia. But, those people of faith chose to take the risk, get out there, arms joined together in solidarity, and do what was right.  They chose to get out of the boat! – to risk life and limb to present to the world what the love and teachings of Jesus really are.

They got out of the boat!

So where are you this morning?

Huddled in the boat with a life jacket and your seat belt on?

One leg in, one leg out?

Out of the boat, but fearful, still clinging to the edge?

Or looking with faith into the eyes of Jesus and walking on water?

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk with you wherever this life may take us. Help us to recognize whatever it is that:

Helps us to seek you,
Helps us to trust you,
Helps us to obey your teachings.

Help us to face our fears and trust whatever the storms of life may be, You are there, guiding and redeeming us. Be with those who have died and are injured physically and emotionally from this horrid incident in Charlottesville. Wrap your loving arms around them and the rest of the nation, reminding us that

The greatest of these is love  (1 Corinthians 13:13)

And give us the strength to get out of the boat.

Amen.
 

Excerpted from a sermon (‘If You Want to Walk on Water, You  Gotta Get Out of the Boat!’) delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church  of Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 13 August 2017

If You Want to Walk on Water, You Gotta Get Out of the Boat!

Matthew 14:22-33

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable to you and call us to action, our Creator and Sustainer.

In today’s gospel of Matthew it was pointed out that the wind was very strong and the waves were very high, but Peter did not notice them at first. In his excitement at recognizing his Lord he stepped out of the boat and walked on the water. When he realized what he was actually doing and he instantly sank. Glub! Glub!

Did Peter sink because he didn’t have enough faith as Jesus accused him when he said

‘oh, ye of little faith’? (Matthew 14:31)

I don’t think so.

The first thing I think is important to clear up is that, at least to me, “faith” or “belief” doesn’t mean belief in an expected outcome, but rather trust in another person. Believing in Jesus does not mean believing that we’ll be “successful” (however we define that!) in whatever it is that Jesus is calling us to do. Nor does having faith IN Jesus imply blithely signing off on a list of statements ABOUT Jesus, His teachings, His examples, and His call to us. Having faith in Jesus means a willingness to follow Jesus. To have faith isn’t an activity of the brain so much as a feeling of the heart. In other words, faith is about doing. A faithful person eventually gets to the point where they can say to God, “I don’t know where you’re going, but I know that wherever it is, I’d rather be drowning with you than anywhere else.” In my own life, that kind of trust in Jesus comes from knowing Jesus. The kind of trust I have in Jesus has come as I’ve experienced Jesus’ generosity and mercy. That process of building confidence, of getting to know Jesus so deeply that I can trust Jesus, is part of what I call the “journey of faith”.

When I say that faith is ‘doing’, what I mean is that I believe faith begins with action, with taking a step, with taking a risk. The best intentions in the world don’t do much without action, but taking that step, even with mixed or unclear intentions, or sometimes great fear, just might give you the experience of meeting God on the road, in a dark valley, or at sea.

So, if you want to walk on water, you gotta get out of the boat!.

But there is a lot of risk in doing so.

Water Walkers Will Face Storms
When you are serving God, and trying to be obedient to Christ, you will have to face storms of trials and difficulties. Even as you sit here today, you may be going through a personal storm. And in almost every instance, it is hard to see God’s hand and love as you weather those storms. Maybe it’s financial problems, or problems in a relationship; you might be having family problems, or problems at your job or school. We all have storms in our lives. Anyone who tells you that leading a true Christian life is smooth sailing – that life is easy or your worries disappear – doesn’t understand what the Bible teaches about serving the Lord. 2 Timothy 3:12 says,

In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.

Remember, the disciples were in a storm because they were trying to be obedient to Jesus. Matthew 14:22 says

Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side.

And they did, or at least they tried to. And many hours later they hadn’t made much progress. So, remember, obedient water walkers will face storms.

Water Walkers Recognize God’s Presence
Jesus wanted to be alone to pray, so He sent the disciples ahead without him. To them it was no big deal – they used boats for fishing on a daily basis. But this huge storm blew in – bigger than most storms. Matthew says that the boat was battered by the waves (Matthew 14:24). The storm was so violent that the disciples could barely keep the boat upright.

I can imagine that they wished the sides of the boat were a little higher and the wood a little thicker. Deep in the night, the storm was getting really bad. I can imagine that at that point they weren’t worried about making it to the other side – they just wanted to stay alive. The disciples were in great fear and deep distress. It is about this time that Jesus decided to come toward them.

It’s interesting – Jesus wasn’t in a boat and the disciples didn’t recognize him. The disciples were convinced he was a ghost, so they were terrified and cried out in fear. But Matthew wanted us to know that sometimes it is only with the eyes of faith that we can fully recognize when Jesus is present.

Often, our own lives are tormented by waves of disappointment and doubt. And we are usually no better at recognizing His presence than the disciples were.

What was Jesus up to, walking around on the sea in the middle of a stormy night?

He saw the disciples straining at the oars because the wind was against them. Yet when Jesus came to the disciples on the water, he was not just doing a neat magic trick. He was revealing His divine presence and power.

It is interesting that the disciples took the boat out in the first place at Jesus’ command. They would have to learn, as we all do, that obedience is no guarantee of being spared adversity. But as the storm gained their full attention, Jesus decided that it was time for the disciples to get to know a little bit more about the one who was really piloting this storm.

Basically, Jesus wanted them to be able to also trust Him in the storms. The problem was “they just didn’t get it.

God was visiting them while walking on the water but they didn’t see it; for us, Jesus often comes when least expected – in the middle of a storm. I believe that extreme stress can be a frequent meeting place with God. These are those divinely-appointed defining moments that come into all of our lives. And, if you’re not looking for Him, if you cannot acknowledge that He can be there in the storm, you might just miss Him.

Twelve disciples sat in the boat; we don’t know how the other eleven responded to Jesus’ voice. Were they confused?

Did they respond with wonder?

Disbelief?

Or perhaps a little of each! But one of them, Peter, was about to become a water walker. He recognized that God was present – even in the most unlikely place, and he rushed to meet his Lord, oblivious to the risk – never questioning that Jesus was walking on water, only realizing that He was there.

Water Walkers Know the Difference Between Faith and Foolishness
Peter blurted out to Jesus,

“if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” (Matthew 14:28)

Why doesn’t Peter just plunge into the water? This is not just a story about risk taking; it is also a story about obedience. That means we will have to determine an authentic call from God and what might simply be a foolish impulse on our part. Courage alone is not enough; it must be accompanied by wisdom and discernment. This is not a story about extreme actions; it’s about extreme discipleship! This means that before Peter gets out of the boat – he had better make sure Jesus thinks it’s a good idea. So, he asks for clarity,

“if it is you, command me…” (Matthew 14:28)

Peter had enough faith to believe that he too could share in the eternal mystery and power of the Savior of mankind. That if Jesus commanded him to do something, no matter how difficult or extreme, he could do it.

Water walkers will face storms; water walkers recognize God’s presence; water walkers acknowledge the difference between faith and foolishness.

Water Walkers MUST Get Out of the Boat
Put yourself in this story; picture in your mind how violent the storm must have been. It was strong enough to keep seasoned professional fishermen struggling just to avoid being capsized. Imagine the size of the waves, the strength of the wind, the darkness of this night. These were the conditions under which Peter was going to get out of the boat. It would be tough enough to try to walk on water when the water is calm, the sun is bright, and the air is still. Imagine trying to do it when the waves are crashing, the wind is at gale force, it’s pitch black and you are terrified!

Put yourself in Peter’s place for a moment. You have a sudden insight into what Jesus is doing. Jesus is inviting you to go on the adventure of your life. But at the same time, you’re scared to death. What would you choose – the water or the boat? The boat is safe, more secure, and certainly more comfortable. The water is rough and the waves are high, the wind is strong; there’s a storm out there. And if you get out of the boat – whatever your boat happens to be – there’s a good chance you might sink! But if you don’t get out of the boat there’s a guaranteed certainty that you will never walk on the water. If you want to walk on water – you gotta get out of the boat. I believe there is something – some voice inside us – that assures us there is more to life than sitting in the boat.

You and I were made for something more than merely avoiding failure. There’s something inside us that wants us to walk on the water – to leave the comfort of mere existence and abandon ourselves to the higher adventure of following God. So, let me ask you a very important question:

What is your boat?

  • your boat is whatever represents safety and security to you apart from God himself;
  • your boat is whatever you are tempted to cling to, especially when life gets a little stormy;
  • your boat is whatever keeps you so comfortable that you don’t want to give it up, even if it’s keeping you from joining Jesus in a miraculous and transforming journey;
  • your boat is whatever pulls you away from the high adventure of extreme discipleship.

Do you want to know what your boat is?  

Your fear will tell you. Just ask yourself this: what is it that most produces fear in me?

Fear of failure or loss of dignity?

Fear of judgment or making a mistake?

Fear or being seen as a fool or fanatic?

In what area(s) of your life are you shrinking back from fully and courageously trusting God? Fear will tell you what your boat is. Leaving it may be the hardest thing you will ever do. But if you want to walk on the water, you gotta get out of the boat!

Remember: Water walkers will face storms; water walkers recognize God’s presence; water walkers know the difference between faith and foolishness; water walkers get out of the boat.

Water Walkers Face Their Fears to Grow
So, Peter goes to the side of the boat. The other disciples are watching closely. They wonder how far he will take this thing. One can imagine he put one foot over the side, carefully gripping the edge of the boat. Then he put the other foot over the boat; he’s holding on for dear life.

For a while it’s as if Peter and Jesus are present on the water. Peter is beaming with delight. Jesus is thrilled with his student – like master, like disciple. Then it happens – Peter saw and felt the wind. Reality set in, and Peter surely asked himself, “what was I thinking?” He realized he was standing on the water in the middle of a storm with no boat beneath him – and he was terrified!

Nothing had really changed. The storm shouldn’t have been a surprise – it had been there all along. What really had taken place was that Peter’s focus had shifted from Jesus to the storm.

We are all the same. We start something filled with hope, then reality sets in. Setbacks. . . Opposition. . . . Unexpected obstacles. We see and feel the wind.

It should be expected. The world’s a pretty stormy place. But somehow trouble still has the power to catch us by surprise. Because of the wind.  some people decide to never leave the boat. If you get out of the boat, you will face the wind and the storms out there. But you should know there is no guarantee that life in the boat is going to be any safer, it is just more limited, finite, full of fear and doubt.

Peter faced a choice, as we all do. The choice to follow Jesus – the choice to grow –  the choice to overcome fear. You’ve gotta get out of the boat a little every day! Here’s a deep truth about water walking: the fear never goes away, it is always lurking there.

Why? Because each time you want to grow, it will involve going into new territory, taking on new challenges. And each time you do that, you will experience fear again. As you see in this story… you will always have choices…

risk vs. security

exhilaration vs. comfort.

Yet, every time you get out of the boat, you become a little more likely to get out the next time. It’s not that the fear goes away, but that you get used to dealing with fear. And each time fear loses its power to destroy you. On the other hand, every time you resist that voice, every time you choose to stay in the boat rather than heed its call, the voice gets a little quieter and further away.

Then, at last you may not hear its call at all.

Water Walkers Master Failure
As a result of seeing the wind and giving in to fear, Peter began to sink into the water. So here is the question: Did Peter fail? Before I offer you an answer, let me make an observation about failure.

Failure is not an event, but rather a judgment about an event. Failure is not something that happens to us, or a label we attach to things. It is a way we think about outcomes.

Did you know that:

  • Before Jonas Salk developed a vaccine for polio that finally worked, he tried 200 unsuccessful times.
  • When Thomas Edison was branded a failure in his attempts to create a light bulb he said “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
  • Before James Dyson invented the perfect vacuum cleaner he went through 5,127 prototypes.

So… did Peter fail? Probably.

He took his eyes off the Lord and sank. But I think there were eleven greater failures sitting in the boat. At least Peter got out of the boat and into the water and walked toward Jesus – and even for a short time he DID walk on the water.

Peter did not fail because he got out of the boat. The saddest failure is to never get out of the boat! Water walkers see failure as an opportunity to grow. As soon as Peter asks for help, Jesus was there.

“Lord… save me.” (Matthew 14:30)

Jesus helped him physically by pulling him out of the water. But he also helped Peter grow by identifying his problem:

“You of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31)

I don’t think Jesus was being harsh or critical here. Jesus made this comment to Peter while they were still out on the water alone. Jesus didn’t embarrass him in front of his fellow disciples. The problem was clear: whether Peter sank into or walked on the water depended on whether he focused on the storm or on Jesus. Whether he focused on his own limitations and doubts or believed that Jesus would help him overcome these limitation and doubts.

It was Peter’s willingness to risk failure that helped him to grow. Failure is an indispensable, irreplaceable part of learning and growth. Failure doesn’t shape you; the way you respond to failure shapes you.

Jesus is still looking for people who will get out of the boat.

So, why should you risk it?

  • it is the only way to real growth
  • it is the way true faith develops
  • it is part of discovering your reason for being and answering your own calling.

I believe that there are many good reasons to get out of the boat. But there is one that stands above them all. . .

the water is where Jesus is.

Jesus is not in the boat!

The water may be dark, wet, and dangerous. But remember, Jesus is not in the boat.

Peter’s request was,

“Lord, if it’s you, command me to come to you.” Then Peter got out of the boat and came toward Jesus. (Matthew 14:28)

Because Peter did this – got out of the boat – he came to a deeper understanding of His Master than ever before.

So, how about you? When was the last time you got out of the boat?

The call to get out of the boat involves discomfort, often disappointment, perhaps some failure, fear and sometimes suffering. It is always a call for a task too big for us. But there is no other way to grow closer to God!

We saw the underbelly of American the last two days in Charlottesville, Virginia. People who now feel that they have ‘permission’, even support from people in the government, to spew their hatred and bigotry and racism openly and violently. We saw armed militias carrying Confederate flags marching in goosesteps, white supremacists shouting angry slogans, members of the KKK no longer hiding under bedsheets, but openly proclaiming their part in the election of the president and their right to return America to a white, Christian nation. Hatred consumed these people; something that is NOT a Christian value.

And most tragic of all, we saw a young person from Maumee, Ohio, deliberately drove his car into a group of peaceful counter-protestors, killing at least one innocent bystander just trying to cross the street, and injuring scores of others, some who may still succumb to their injuries. This kind of hatred and violence does not only happen ‘somewhere else’, but right here in our state and our communities. We need to stand against this.

But we also saw a group of people of faith joined together (Christians, Catholics, Muslims, Buddhists and others) singing This little light of mine in love and fellowship to counter the vitriolic chants of the ultra-conservative Alt-Right, Neo-Nazis, KKK, nationalists, white supremacy, armed militia, and people angry because Charlottesville wants to remove a statue of Robert E Lee from a park called ‘Emancipation Park’.

Most of us cannot make any sense or see any justifiable reason for the actions of those who chose to create discord and spew bigotry and hatred and xenophobia. But, those people of faith chose to take the risk, get out there, arms joined together in solidarity, and do what was right.  They chose to get out of the boat! – to risk life and limb to present to the world what the love and teachings of Jesus really are.

They got out of the boat!

So where are you this morning?

  • Huddled in the boat with a life jacket and your seat belt on?
  • One leg in, one leg out?
  • Out of the boat, but fearful, still clinging to the edge?
  • Or looking with faith into the eyes of Jesus and walking on water?

Let us pray.

Lord Jesus, help us to walk with you wherever this life may take us. Help us to recognize whatever it is that:

Helps us to seek you,

Helps us to trust you,

Helps us to obey your teachings.

Help us to face our fears and trust whatever the storms of life may be, You are there, guiding and redeeming us. Be with those who have died and are injured physically and emotionally from this horrid incident in Charlottesville. Wrap your loving arms around them and the rest of the nation, reminding us that

The greatest of these is love (1 Corinthians 13:13)

And give us the strength to get out of the boat.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 13 August 2017

Listen to Your Mountaintop!

Luke 9:28-36

Even as a child, I loved to watch clouds – as they moved, changed shapes and colors – they fascinated me. If you follow my Facebook page, you know I am frequently posting hundreds or maybe even a thousand pictures of sunrises and sunsets and the formation of clouds that surround them. Some people have even accused me of being obsessed with clouds. When I was a little girl, my friends and I would lie in the grass and analyze cloud shapes – a horse? a boat? a dragon? a face? The interesting thing was that rarely did any two of us see the same thing – different experiences conjured up different impression in our minds.

As in so many passages in the Bible, we read about the Transfiguration of Jesus told in a language we can only accept as a metaphor.

In this modern world, we do not expect, or even look for, a literal appearance of God on mountaintops, . . . in clouds, . . . in mystical or supernatural appearances, . . . or actually talking to us today. But that is exactly what our gospel reading is about

While he was saying this, a cloud came and overshadowed them; and they were terrified as they entered the cloud. Then from the cloud came a voice that said, “This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him!” (Luke 9:35)

The ancient Biblical writers often used clouds when they depicted important occasions when God was dealing with his people. We can recall:

  • When the Israelites fled from Egypt, a pillar of cloud led them by day.
  • When Moses climbed up Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments from God, a cloud descended upon the mountain, obscuring it. The people looked up, and they could no longer see Moses.
  • When God instructed the Israelites to construct a portable tabernacle, God filled the tent with his Presence in the form of a cloud.
  • And, later, when Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem, once again a cloud filled the sanctuary.

So, in our Scripture reading, when the cloud descended over the mountaintop with Jesus, Peter, John and James…

we shouldn’t be surprised.

The scripture writers, once again, were depicting a time when the Presence of God was enveloping them, as the Presence of God has done time and time again to His faithful people.

It is this Biblical account of Jesus’ transfiguration occurring on a mountaintop – as well as the experience of Moses at Mount Sinai in the Hebrew Bible, that has given rise to the commonly used term ‘mountaintop experience’ – a moment of such intense joy and beauty in one’s life that we are somehow changed – and never forget it.

To depict God, appearing as a cloud, says something important about God. Clouds are not crystal clear, but rather dense and opaque. But, also within clouds is brilliant light, reflecting from and off the clouds. That is a great mystery; how can something opaque and dense put forth brilliant light.

So, perhaps then, it is fitting that clouds are used to remind us of the mystery of God – the lack of clarity and precision, the sense of wonder and transformation.

In our world we want to know things. We want Google at our fingertips to tell us everything about anything, and we want Facebook to instantly tell us everything else—like what our friends had for dinner, or how mom’s cruise is going. We humans have a hunger and thirst for knowledge; we have always been curious and wanted answers, the facts. And, as technology has advanced through the millennia, we want more and more knowledge, provable tangible facts within our grasp immediately and at all times.

And, as Christians, we are no different in our quest for answers about our relationship with God. We want to know specifics about God, and our relationship with him. Moreover, we want to know why we are here, what is the meaning of life, where is God, and where will we be after death  –  none of this ‘now we see through a glass darkly’, or in a cloud. We want to know how this story, or that proverb, or this anecdote applies to our life. What it really means. And, we want to know right now, on demand. We don’t want to wait!

So, what really did happen to Jesus and Peter and James and John on that mountaintop? How could we understand what this biblical story means for us? Can we be transfigured on a mountaintop? Or do life-changing moments of mystery and wonder not happen today? Does God no longer ‘speak’ to us?

Life is full of mountaintop experiences. They are the times when we find healing, or unexpected love, when we suddenly have an ‘aha’ moment and clearly know the answer to a problem or important life decision.

Sometimes mountaintop experiences are visions of the intense beauty of nature: the Grand Canyon, the Redwood forests, the Rocky Mountains, a field of sunflowers.

For many mountaintop experiences are inspired by music, art, poetry, . . .or perhaps gathered with others around a campfire, . . .or in an energized and inspiring worship service. Almost always, words cannot express or explain these moments – they are ‘of the spirit’ and involve deep feeling and an ‘inner-knowing’ that is, in fact, more real and true to us than anything we can find on Wikipedia.

It’s tempting to want our life’s journey to be made up of only mountaintop experiences. Then we might bypass the chaos, the challenges, and the struggles. In our mountaintop moments, something inside us cries out, “it is good for us to be here. Let’s just bask in the glory of this place.”

But it’s also true that life – especially if one is a Christian– continually calls us down from those breath-taking moments, down from the mountaintop, and out into the world. We inevitably must descend from our moments of profound glory, celebration, clarity and joy, into the valleys of this world where life is messy, confusing, challenging, and inhospitable.

To follow the teachings of Jesus in a relationship with the Creator isn’t easy. God isn’t composed of a series of facts; the Creator of life is a series of mysteries and questions we can’t easily or quickly understand. God’s Presence is enveloped in mystery. In fact, coming into God’s Presence is like entering a thick cloud where definition is not always precise, but it is there -where answers are not linear and logical, but they are there – and in that cloudy presence, that mountaintop experience we are transfigured – changed for the better, enlightened for a time, aware at the core of our being that there is Order, Reason, Mercy and Love at the heart of everything.

Our encounter with God in mountaintop moments changes our lives. Changes how we look at the world by making us very more aware of how we are to live and what God is calling us to do in the world. It is in these mountaintop experiences that we learn the most, are often brought to uncontrollable tears, inexplicably changed even though there is no way we can explain it to anyone. And in most cases, we don’t totally understand it ourselves.

Encountering God, whether on the mountaintop OR at your kitchen table, leaves you with a sense of awe and joy – often something that you can’t even explain. But you know you have somehow been changed. And you will never the be same ever again. That you have a feeling of being surrounded with love and joy. For at least a time, you suddenly understand what is not understandable.

Moses came down from that clouded mountain with a radiant face—forever changed. Jesus was changed on that mountain – enveloped in the love and light of God, given the highest blessing anyone could ever receive from His Father.

Peter, James, and John were changed on that mountain—forever. And, not because they learned lots of facts. In reality, they probably descended with more questions than answers. But they saw Jesus changed and heard God’s voice. They didn’t know why, but they knew that they would never be the same again.

For like Moses, they met the Presence of the Living God. And, that’s what changed them and what changes us. That’s what alters the course of our lives. And, as Christians, that’s what we’re all about: seeking God’s Presence, experiencing an epiphany, an enlightenment, an awakening.

We try to move too fast in the world today. We want what we want, when we want it. Right now! We want it handed to us on a silver platter, all wrapped up in an explanation. We want no uncertainty; no fogginess; nothing that we have to think about.

But meeting God doesn’t work that way. It is in the time and way of the eternal Creator that we learn and find answers. Our task – our challenge – is to stay open to experiencing the mountaintops, to hearing the voice, to receiving the answers, to following the directions.

It isn’t an accident that Mathew, Mark, and Luke, the three gospel-writers who mention the Transfiguration, infuse the story with foreshadowing of Jesus’ death. In our scripture reading for this morning we are told that Moses and Elijah were speaking to Jesus about “his departure”, which he was about to accomplish in Jerusalem. “Departure” here is another word for death. We are meant to understand that the distance between the mountaintop and the cross is not so great, and that Jesus’ followers should never lose sight of either one of them. In our mountaintop moments we must recognize the sacrifices that we are called to make, just as Jesus did. In our lowly moments of despair we are to remember God’s sovereignty reigns over all things – that indeed “all will be well”, despite the pain and loss and struggle. The mountaintop cannot be separated from the cross. In the struggles also lies the glory.

In the end, the test of any mountaintop experience is what happens back at ground level. Whatever mountaintop experiences we have individually, or as a member of the Body of Christ, what we do with these experiences here on earth in our daily lives is really what matters. Our transfigurations must

change us for the better in the way we live and the work we do. . .

enlighten and sustain us . . .

and motivate us to follow Jesus in every aspect of our lives.

As transfigured children of God, we must heed God’s voice

This is my Son, my Chosen; listen to him! (Luke 9:35)

So, in my obsession with clouds, maybe that is my mountaintop experience – seeing and hearing God in the opaqueness and light of those clouds over Columbus.

What and where are your mountaintop experiences?

I only know that we must stay open – through prayer, meditation and calm reflection through shared study and service – to be willing to walk into the cloudy mist and seek the Presence of God. And then go forth to work for the transfiguration of the world into a world of beauty and holiness, of joy, and of love.

Amen.

 

Delivered at Saint John’s Episcopal Church in Worthington and Parts Adjacent, Worthington, OH; 6 August 2017

 

And It Was Good . . . But Not So Much Any More!

God created the heavens and the earth and everything on it – and it was good (Genesis 1:1-25).

And then God created man and woman (Genesis 1:27) – to either “work it and keep it” (Genesis 2:15) or “have dominion over all” (Genesis 1:28).

But, we, the people God created as part of His creation, have made a big mess of it. As world populations have grown, we have not been good stewards of our planet. We have polluted the air, dirtied the water, raped the earth, and removed essential elements without concern for replacement and renewal.

The American Indians and many other people remind us that the earth does not belong to us; we are to preserve it (Genesis 2:15) and pass it on to our children. We have a responsibility to preserve both the Earth and everything in it.

However, we have treated the earth like it belongs only to us; many animals are becoming extinct and whole areas of the earth are no longer suited to grow that food needed to feed the people of the earth. There are millions of people in the world who lack clean drinking water, others are starving to death due to constant war and living habits that strip the earth of its nutrients suitable for growing food. Major corporations are appropriating clean water to bottle and sell at exorbitant prices. Global warming, basically caused by human activity, is destroying the world’s eco-balance and eliminating thousands of miles of shoreline.

We are in the midst of a crisis of our own making. But not is all lost yet! Creation is a process that is still happening. We can choose to repair creation or destroy all that is being created anew.

There are many things that we can do to stop earth decimation:

1. Look at your carbon footprint

  • Use less fuel – walk instead of drive
  • Open the windows instead of turning air conditioning on
  • Choose less gas-guzzler automobiles
  • Support the development of clear alternative fuel sources

2. Go “green”

  • Use renewable/reusable products
  • Participate in your local recycling program
  • Boycott genetically-modified foodstuffs
  • Use cloth shopping bags (or paper, but not plastic)
  • Use locally-grown fruits and vegetables

We are stewards of this world we live in, and it is time for us to take this responsibility seriously. God gave us this earth and we must care it for so that we can pass on to future generations the beauty and bounty that was given to us. It is no longer someone else’s responsibility –

it is ours! and

the time is now!
 
 

Written for Connections, Diocese of Southern Ohio, 1 April 2017

Are We the Wheat . . . or the Weeds?

Today’s Gospel is from Matthew 13:24-30. In it, Jesus tells another parable, one of his many stories that has special meaning. It says:

God’s kingdom is like a farmer who planted good seed in his field. That night, while his hired men were asleep, his enemy sowed thistles all through the wheat and slipped away before dawn. When the first green shoots appeared and the grain began to form, the thistles showed up, too. The farmhands came to the farmer and said, ‘Master, that was clean seed you planted, wasn’t it? Where did these thistles come from?’ He answered, ‘Some enemy did this.’ The farmhands asked, ‘Should we weed out the thistles?’ He said, ‘No, if you weed the weeds, you’ll pull up the wheat, too. Let them grow together until harvest time. Then I’ll instruct the harvesters to pull up the weeds and tie them in bundles for the fire, then gather the wheat and put it in the barn.’ (Matthew 13:24-30)

Now, I come from a long line of Illinois farmers and I know the parable of the wheat and tares (or weeds) very well. Often the bags of wheat seed you buy to plant your wheat crop contain seeds from a type of rye grass, which when it sprouts looks exactly like wheat. In the days before weed killer that could target only weeds, we nieces and nephews were ‘hired’ to pull out the weeds in the wheat fields. Unfortunately, unless you waited until the plants were mature, you often also pulled up the wheat instead of the weeds, which, needless to say, did not make my uncles very happy.

This parable of Jesus’ is also about letting things sprout and grow until they show their true nature before you decide what to keep and let grow, and what to remove.

The farmer in this parable planted good seed; that is certainly what he intended when he bought the seed and carefully prepared the field and planted it. But something went wrong. Weeds suddenly appeared among the wheat stalks – robbing the wheat of rain and sun and nourishment. But the farmer was not surprised – anyone who buys and plants seeds knows that there are all kinds of other things in the seed bag. He also knew what to do to ensure that he had a good harvest.

Jesus’ disciples were troubled by the parable, and asked Jesus to explain it. Jesus told them – and us – that He, himself, was the one who was planting the good seed, and that the field where the seed was being planted was the world — the whole world. The wheat is those of us who follow Jesus’ teachings and try to live decent lives of love, services and justice. Jesus told the disciples that an enemy of goodness – or in reality – evil actions and thoughts that occur in our lives separate us from God. These evil things always get mixed in with the good seed. Jesus advised his followers to wait until the harvest to pull the weeds. That then, God would separate the good from the bad – the wheat from weeds – and the good wheat would be saved for the Kingdom.

Today you and I live in a world where good seed and bad seed co-exist. This world of ours is a great field, a field just waiting for good seed. But just as good seed is sown, so is bad.

When we try to eliminate every weed, we forget that we have weeds within us. Not only do the weeds and the wheat grow together in the same field; they grow together in our own lives.

There are no purely good people or totally bad people. As much as we love the old-time westerns where there were good guys and bad guys, and they were easy to tell apart by their black or white hats, the world just isn’t that way. We often judge others and their shortcomings, but we do not see our own quite so clearly.

We often make judgments about our community and those around us

  • this person is a liar;
  • this person is going to cause trouble;
  • that person is manipulative or bossy.

Sadly, it is human nature to judge and compare, but try to remember that the judgment of people should be left to God. This is what the parable is saying.

Don’t judge too hastily, don’t harm others in your zeal to rip out the weeds; wait until the harvest.

So, how does this parable tell us to live now?

The parable says to let the weeds and the wheat grow together until the harvest. Let them grow; wait until they mature. With the weeds, if you let them grow long enough, they show themselves for what they are. The early sprouts of a weed can look like the beginning sprouts of a wheat plant. It’s only with time that we are able to distinguish one from the other.

In this parable, weeds and wheat are not plants but people. And the good part of that is that as children of God, the weeds can change their nature. Someone who is viewed as a ‘weed’ can repent of those things that make them a weed to society and become a positive member of the Kingdom. It isn’t easy, but it can be done.

There are times when we are all wheat – and then weeds. We change and grow.

Are you following the good parts of yourself or are you settling for the “weeds’ in you?

Don’t pull out the weeds.

Don’t judge others around you.

Instead, build up the community. Make sure you are not becoming a weed yourself! Be alert.

So, what are you?

Are you a

stalk of wheat. . .

or a weed?

As I look around you all, I see only a beautiful field wheat – you are all beautiful children of God.

Amen.
 

Delivered at In The Garden, Trinity Episcopal Church On Capitol Square, Columbus, OH 23 July 2017