21 April 2013

Earth Day Sunday Sermon at Boulevard UMC

I'll go back and add my sermons from other events this year, but here is the manuscript of the sermon I preached this morning at Boulevard United Methodist Church in Richmond on the occasion of Earth Sunday.  I went a little "off book" so this isn't exactly what I delivered, but you get the jist.

A few months ago Rachel asked me if I would preach for Earth Sunday, either this week or next week. I was very excited about the possibility of worshipping with you and told her, even then, that today would be the best day for me, as I was already committed for next week.  Things got busy for me, and I remembered but didn’t really think about it until mid-March.  We both checked in with each other at the beginning of the month to confirm the details, and I had been thinking for a bit about needing to work on my sermon.  I again mentioned that today was the day I had reserved on my calendar for Boulevard, but as she freely admitted, some of that at least just went right past her, and she thought I was coming next week right up until our time on the porch on Thursday!  It’s ok - I forgive her.  Because I still didn’t even have my sermon written at that point.  And I’ll make my own confession now - I didn’t write this until last night.  

There are many reasons for this, but I do think divine providence plays into everything, even what seems like my own procrastination.  Earlier in the month when Rachel mentioned her plans for a sermon series, she said the focus for this week would be on the early disciples experiencing tragedy.  At the time I glanced over the scriptures, and began to form a picture in my head about what that would look like - weaving in the tragedy of the early disciples’ lives and the ministry of earth care I focus on.  I saw common threads and knew I could develop a picture from the scriptures that led to a conversation and understanding of earth care.  And then Monday happened.  And we experienced our own tragedy that I feel must be mentioned as well.

I am a runner.  I find that when I run, I am able to put all distractions aside, all worries and concerns are left at home, as I take to the road to knock out some miles.  I also feel like it is a time for me to connect with God - to simply be present in the moment and to sort out my thoughts.  I wasn’t always a runner, but I have developed a love not only for running, but for this amazing community of runners from across the country that I am now a part of.  I was blessed to run my first marathon in January this year with 9 of my new best running friends!  We didn’t know each other well before the start, but after 26.2 miles together, we had become family.  We struggled through miles, encouraged one another, fought the weather, and we crossed that finish line!  Now I will always be able to say, “I’m a marathoner” because of it.  Some of us aspired to BQ - run a qualifying time for Boston - before this year.  I had a taste of this last year when a colleague came in with her Boston shirt on.  I began thinking, “I could do that.”  But wasn’t really serious.  But the buzz among my friends over the last few weeks, leading up to Monday, was intoxicating.  One from our group lives in Boston and had gone to a special preview event last weekend at Marathon Sports there on Boylston to get his brand new Boston-themed shoes.  So Monday morning, once I got to the office, I stealthily tuned into the live feed on my computer, and listened and watched as elite runners from around the world competed to finish the last 10 miles of the marathon.  I watched the women’s race change dramatically in the last two miles, and three men battle it out through the last 800 meters.  The excitement was palpable.  But I had work to do, so I turned off the feed and went about my day.  Around 3, all of that changed.  The excitement so many of us felt early in the morning had turned to fear by then.  My running partner called me to check in, thinking I was actually in Boston based on comments I had made on Facebook earlier in the day.  My brother sent me a text making sure I was ok.  And I began to frantically search for information about my friends, and what exactly was happening.  Luckily everyone I knew was safe, those that had been spectating hours earlier, and those that had finished recently.  But that wasn’t true for others.  Three tragically lost their lives Monday, and 175 others were wounded, some more seriously than others.  I broke down - and I had a hard time all week focusing on what seemed petty in light of the tragedy.  We were struck with tragedy again on Thursday when the plant in West, Texas exploded, and again yesterday with an earthquake in China.  It has been quite a week - and one I knew we could not ignore.  So I was thankful I had not written a sermon yet, so I could properly reflect on the events of this week and try somehow to make connections between this week of tragedy and the stories of the disciples and the need to care for the earth.  

Tragedy, however, tends to make us stronger and brings us closer together.  It was something I saw this over and over again this week in the running community.  My hometown running store in Atlanta hosted a mile of silence run on Tuesday morning - what started as a small event grew into a gathering of almost 300 people at all 7 locations to stand in solidarity with Boston.  Things like this happened all week, evidence of the strength of the human spirit in the shadow of evil.  We know there is darkness in the world - but the great news of Easter morning is that light wins and darkness is defeated.  I am grateful that we have seen the darkness of this week defeated, with celebrations in the street on Friday night in Boston.  

The disciples also knew the battle of darkness and light.  Their ultimate experience of tragedy was on Good Friday, when their leader was brutally crucified.  At the death of Jesus, the disciples were scattered - Peter even denying his part in the community.  But on Easter morning, as the women went to the tomb and learned of the good news of Jesus‘ resurrection, the community was able to begin to come together again, and to flourish in the light.  

Our story this morning comes from Acts, after the resurrection, and tells of the work of Peter, the foundation for the early church.  A group of new disciples in Joppa had just lost one of their saints, and were grieving over her death.  Knowing that Peter was in a neighboring town, they called him to come.  Peter was able to perform a miracle that day, raising Tabitha from the dead and illuminating the darkness surrounding her loss.  Because of this, “many people believed in the Lord.”  The message of the gospel was spreading throughout the region, and the darkness was fading as the light spread.  Though tragedy had befallen the disciples, they were able to lean on their faith to bring light to the darkness and to overcome their fear.  They came together as a community and were stronger after experiencing the tragedy.  

Tragedy, unfortunately, is part of our world.  In the work I do, tragedy may be too strong of a word, but there are days that the work I do is hard.  When black, thick oil sands tar creeps into the backyards of people in Arkansas, when homes are washed away in Far Rockaway, when mudslides and drought besiege our neighbors across the globe, I see tragedy.  When we experience code red air quality days, and the river running in our backyard warns us of fishing for risk of mercury contamination, I see tragedy.  When we consider a future for our children, where geography and landscape is vastly different from what we know today, I see tragedy.  There are times when this work - this calling to care for Creation - can seem daunting.  When thinking of the harm we have caused and the lack of compassion we have shown for humanity as well as nature, brings me to tears.  But I cannot wallow in that darkness, just as we cannot wallow in the darkness and fear of terror experienced in Boston.  

The greatest gift of being a Christian is hope.  On that first Easter morning, God restored our hope.  God’s light broke into the great darkness and showed us the reason for hope.  Christ came into this world to redeem the world.  The redemption Christ won for us on Easter is not just for humanity, but for all of Creation.  And as children of God, we all called to be a part of that redemption.  We are called to care for the widow, the orphan, and the poor.  And we are called to do that in a way that honors the gift of Creation that God has given to us.  For in caring for Creation, in creating a healthy and sustainable future, we are caring for the least of these.  

Earth Day isn’t just a one-day thing - a time for us to say, “hey, earth, thanks for being awesome and providing us with life-sustaining water, and food to eat.”  We need to have an Earth Day mentality 365 days a year.  As a friend of mine put it the other day, “In our hearts for 365 days, but in the spotlight for one.”  My job is to bring care for Creation into the spotlight every day of the year.  To help people of faith realize that the call to tend the garden is a moral imperative to be loving caretakers of all of Creation.  If we are truly made in the image of God, as the Genesis story tells us, we should see the world that God made the way God saw it, as good.  And not good to take advantage of, but good in and of itself.  We are called to be stewards of Creation.  And on this earth Sunday, where we consider the tragedies in life, we also consider the hope of light into darkness and our call to bring the light into dark places.  

When it comes to earth care, our light in the darkness is a way of understanding our interactions with the environment.  Many people talk of carbon footprints and the need to tread lightly on the earth.  This may be a hard pill for some to swallow, so maybe an easier way to think about it is to consider how we can live in harmony with those around us - both people and nature.  We all recall the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves - to treat others the way we would like to be treated.  To leave a world to enjoy and encounter the risen Lord. Additionally, there are simple things we can do in our own homes, like turn off the faucet when brushing our teeth, or getting -and setting - a programmable thermostat.  We can change our lightbulbs to CFLs and consider buying products with less packaging.  We can step it up, and buy a hybrid or all-electric vehicle, or even commit to a car-free lifestyle.  We can go all in and put solar panels on our roofs or a geothermal system in our gardens.  

We can consider making changes in our church too - recognizing that Boulevard spent $12,000 on fuel oil this past cold season and over $400 last month alone on the gas bill for the parish house, because efficiency in the system has been neglected. We can look at ways to seal up the parish house, adding storm windows and better insulation to reduce our energy needs.  Or we can make sure when scheduling time in the building that we aren’t spread out throughout the building or throughout the week, so we can use our energy resources more efficiently.  We can even change lightbulbs in the church!

We can also advocate to our local, state, and federal legislators for policies that help move us toward a more sustainable future.  No act is too small - everything we do adds up.  We can start small and build in our homes .  Or we can start in our church and move out into the community.  We can encourage bottom-up or top-down approaches to move us forward.  But the important thing about earth care is that we need to move forward.  Or more so, move away from the way things are now.  The saying is true: if you always do, what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you always got.  What we’ve gotten is hotter summers and more dramatic winters.  We’ve gotten tropical storms in New York and dust storms in Virginia.  We’ve gotten a world that is not the one that was given to us.  And we’ve got to consider if it is the world we wish to leave for our children.  

It’s hard to end on such a sobering, dark note.  Where is the light in this darkness?  I believe our reading from Revelation helps lead us to that light.  “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation…” Indeed we have come through great tribulation, whether the disciples, the people of Boston, or the people of earth fighting to be better stewards.  And at the end of this tribulation, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”  Later we are told “there will be no more death, or mourning or crying or pain.”  The story given to us in Revelation is a story of redemption for the children of God and for the Creation of God.  We will all gather - from east and west, from north and south, to worship our God at the Holy Mountain, on a renewed and revitalized earth.  We will be one in community, having come through tragedy, learning and growing and becoming stronger with each experience.  

Tragedy is a part of life - the disciples knew it, and we know it today in many forms. Our hope lies in the joy of that first Easter morning - that Christ is risen, come to redeem all of Creation and to make us partners in that redemption.  May it be so this earth day and every day.   

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