We need comfort. We certainly do today. We need comforting. Trauma everywhere, every day. From Buffalo to Uvalde, from Detroit to Houston, from San Bernadino to Newton Ct. We mourn lives lost, and we mourn that there are so many who are mourning today. Let us pray: O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations our all our hearts give wings to the faith in you which lies so deep within each of us here this morning, O God, my Strength, my Redeemer, and my Comforter. Amen.
I. The appointed text for Ascension Sunday is from the conclusion of Luke’s gospel–
Then Jesus led them out as far as Bethany, and, lifting up his hands, he blessed them. While he was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was carried up into heaven. And they worshiped him and returned to Jerusalem with great joy, and they were continually in the temple blessing God.
This report is a way of saying Jesus was not just a part of life, but ALL of life. Jesus’ material image had to be erased so that he could be seen in everything everywhere. The cosmic Christ is all in all. He arose from the dead to rise from the Earth into heaven, the heavens, the cosmos. Jesus’ ascension does not mean divinity deserted us on Earth. On the contrary, it says that God and nature are one. Earth is God’s body, and only an infinitesimal part of it.
This insight energized Christian thinkers from Hildegard of Bingen to Meister Eckhart to Thomas Merton. This insight energized Jewish philosophy from Spinoza to Martin Buber. This insight energized the scientists of the Muslim efflorescence of Umayyad Spain in 14th and 15th century Spain.
II. We need comfort. We certainly do. We need comforting. On Memorial Day we memorialize the war dead, but originally only the Union dead, then later on the United States casualties of foreign wars. But we should memorialize all the war dead because they are the victims of our hubris. We seem never to have learned the lesson that God is all in all, and humanity is a very small part of it. Somehow humanity got lost in our own importance. We mistakenly concluded that we were the apex of the natural ladder, the climax of Creation, the peak of evolution, the center of the cosmos. Even today, after the Copernican revolution, we behave as if the sun revolves around man. Because, at some point, we concluded that Nature was our plaything, our servant, an engine for our wealth.
That occurred with the rise of science–no, not until the rise of “scientism.” That is the belief that all nature’s secrets could be discovered and exploited, to master our fate. But scientism couldn't conquer death. It tried and instead became an engine of death–the atomic bomb. Hiroshima changed our relation to Nature permanently and irrevocably. At Hiroshima a bomb was dropped so powerful it killed 140,000 by splitting an atom. Three thousand people died on 9/11 at the World Trade Center–140,000 in one minute on August 6, 1945, at Hiroshima. The horrific antithesis of comfort, splitting the atom changed our relationship to nature forever, and we are paying for it now with weapons of mass destruction and the commercial degradation of the environment. Today’s climate crisis resulted from a war against the Earth that dates from the dropping of the atomic bomb. In sum, scientism is Christ denied.
III. We need comfort. We certainly do. We need comforting. On this last Sunday of Easter, Ascension Sunday when Christ withdraws from the periphery of the world into the invisible center, we can find comfort in the truth that God is all in all. There is comfort in Nature. I mean comfort, not the comforts of nature, not the comforts of sunsets or the fantasies of our screensavers. Inside nature, properly understood, nestles comfort. I mean the nature of which, at a molecular level, we are a part. Nature is not outside of us, but inside, even unto the molecular insides of us.
We seldom feel nature that deeply. Oh, we get down to nature at the level of our aches and pains, but that’s nothing, that’s not it, not what I mean. But it’s close. Pain is cellular dysfunction, so it’s a partial clue. However, it takes real imagination to get where I want you to go, to get to the comfort of nature.
Here’s an exercise that might help: drink a glass of water, slowly, all of it, as I am presently doing, and imagine while you’re drinking where it’s headed, where it goes, imagine how far it goes on its way, how deep into your thirst, when it reaches tissue and marrow and the atomic makeup of the cell. It brings health, vitality–and comfort–to us. So fragile and tender is life. You should realize that you can’t get any closer to Nature, or God, than you already are.
Besides the “sacrament” of drinking water I have just demonstrated, there are other ways, like, read more Emerson, more Dickinson, more Whitman, more Mary Oliver, more Annie Dillard. Breathe with the yogis. Bathe in the hot springs. Savor the food you eat. Move your body. Every day we can receive the comfort of nature.
Nature is the bosom of God. Our hope lies not in conquering nature but in following it. The body heals itself, if treated well–if we allow the body to find its homeostasis. Way back in the 1970s, Norman Cousins showed us the way with laughter and spirit. The title alone of one book confirms our celebration today–The Biology of Hope and the hope of biology lie inside us.
Tyger Tyger burning bright, In the forests of the night: What immortal hand or eye, Dare frame thy fearful symmetry? –William Blake, 1794
How is the church like the MFA? Ephesians 4:17-24
I celebrate the church, and I invite you to celebrate the church with me during this wonderful season at Eliot when our Stewardship Campaign ends, our candidate for Settled Pastor comes to preach, and we prepare for our Annual Meeting.
Let us pray. . . O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts give wings to the faith in you that lies so deep within each of us here this morning, O God, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.
Paul had the same problem in his day that we do now–keeping the church together. In his case, because they were so new, the churches experienced conflict on the inside and threats from the outside. In our case, it is the effects of Covid, the widening secularism of our era, and white Chrisitian nationalism infecting the faith. How to keep the church together indeed! Paul gave us one clue by stressing unity and not uniformity. Another clue came with his stress on the personal. Paul wanted for his young Christians to experience dynamic personal growth. He exhorted them to “put away your former way of life, your old self, corrupt and deluded by its lusts, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to clothe yourselves with the new self, created according to the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.” Put away your old self with its pursuit of blind alleys, and put on the new self truly freed to love and serve–that is the goal. If all of us here keep our eyes on this prize, the church will survive its divisions.
This goal distinguishes us from the Museum of Fine Arts. We are similar in being a nice place to visit and to pass through enriched. Like the MFA, we are a destination where something important happens, even if you can’t exactly put your finger on it.
But the church I celebrate and invite you to celebrate this morning offers our society its one, single live moment in the week, where you can hear music, hear the Word read and preached, and where you can sit still until God finds you! Where else is there a “live” hour to be found but here?
Yes, and isn’t it curious how people come together here to be alone with God. We unite in this gathering to say the same words and songs, but we each are here to make contact with our God, as individuals. What a paradox and something to celebrate and give ourselves up to. Unlike going to an art museum, Sunday morning presents us with a solitary experience enveloped in a community experience.
Another difference is that at church you feel something, or should. I still cry through some hymns, but as the “master of ceremonies” I have to contain it. But I’ve always felt that if you don’t cry in therapy and in church, you haven’t gotten your money’s worth! I never cried in an art gallery, but I do remember sitting transfixed on the bench in front of the Guernica at the Museum of Modern Art when it was still there–for thirty minutes.
And you know what else–church is a place where you can do something. People instinctively want to help. They come to church for the link to action and to take action. Despite Covid, when we had to give up the Fall Fair and the Thanksgiving Dinner, this church still found ways to be active. Here is a list I made last night–the Free Library project, lawn signs, the environmental campaign of Lent and of last two weeks, charitable gifts (MSJ), charitable projects (MSJ again), the improved acoustics of the Sanctuary, indoor Sanctuary worship (required making and installing those pew cords), outdoor summer worship (required installing a portable P/A system from the windows), and what will soon be a new and comprehensive pictorial directory that includes the full spectrum of Eliot “alumni.” What did we ever do at the MFA, although I remember an interactive exhibit several years ago.
I have celebrated church at every church I served. Like the Morningside United Church of Christ in south-central L.A. that I served in the 1980s–a church consisting 50-50 of both Black and white members, something that only happened because my predecessor twice-removed, Rev. John Flucke, devoted himself to knocking on doors during white flight and urging Black residents to save his church from being just a “club” by joining.
In conclusion, here is one definition of church that moves me profoundly–I believe the aim of church is a faith that is “as considerate of persons as the teachings of Jesus; as devoted to justice as the Old Testament prophets; as responsive to Truth as science; as beautiful as art; as intimate as the home; and as indispensable as the air we breathe.” That is church to me, and I celebrate it.
A religious matter–where are the men? Matthew 23:13-16
Last week I was struck by something with the force of a blow to my solar plexus. When I heard about the Supreme Court’s leaked opinion on abortion, I doubled over. The image immediately arose before me of a blood sacrifice. I saw in my mind Agamemnon’s ritual sacrifice of his own daughter Iphigenia to bring favorable winds that would take their warships to Troy—. It was blind, it was desperate, and death-dealing.
And for what? a war. Agamemnon launches his warships with the wind procured by his daughter’s life. A man throws away his daughter. There it is, the exact parable of the Supreme Court abortion opinion. They would sacrifice women’s lives, their self-determination to keep the male prerogative sacrosanct.
Don’t know the story of Iphigenia’s sacrifice? Here is a more recent parable for you, a novel published in 1925, where an ambitious young man with his sights on socialite hotties lets his working-class pregnant girlfriend drown in a boating accident. Rather than the abortion that the pair considers, this man takes an expedient of his own and sacrifices two lives for the sake of his next sexual exploit. This is so common a commonplace that we dismiss such behavior with cliches like boys will be boys. This boy will pay with his own life, ultimately executed for murder, another life sacrificed. Blood blood everywhere and nobody cries foul, despicable waste all in the name of the male prerogative to consume females with impunity. The name of the novel? An American Tragedy, by Theodore Dreiser. In it people saw our tragic society.
May I draw it out for you? The Court finds women dispensable. Women are apparently not people who have personal aspirations that deserve to be honored. Experts and the professional classes debate whether she has the right to take the life of the fetus, without considering that the fetus is taking the life of the woman. But rights are fine points I am not qualified to adjudicate. I appeal this morning not to rights but to facts that lead you directly to ask the religious, the ethical question–where are the men? Men just don’t want their precious lives encumbered either by women or wives or unintended pregnancies.
I submit to you three facts. Fact #1–sexual reproduction is overdetermined in nature. Fact #2–there is no foolproof contraception. Fact #3–all ethics are contextual including the ethics of abortion.
Fact #1–sexual reproduction is overdetermined in nature. That’s fine for turtles and oak trees and dandelions like the one on your bulletin cover page. But sexual temperance has always figured in civilization’s survival, either to avoid births without family support or to avoid births that threatened the survival of the family. There have been contraceptives and abortifacients and infanticide since before recorded history. It is right to ask, when is abortion justified? But fact #1 remains–sexual reproduction is overdetermined in nature, and humanity has always striven to control our fertility.
Fact #2–there is no foolproof contraception. Early on, family and social mores and religious restrictions applied the brakes to sexual activity–that was the original contraception. It didn’t always work, progressively weakening over time–the 1920s, the 1960s when sexual activity came to be viewed as part of a healthy life, married or not. More sex meant more danger of pregnancy, at least until the pill arrived, but the use of that was not uniform or foolproof. So, the ancient anxiety about unintended pregnancy has never been overcome. Very few people regard having a baby without family support as a good thing, although clearly lots of single moms have made a success of it. Economic conditions determine survival–poverty, health care, health insurance affect white and black women. And most importantly, the absence of the father directly impacts the survival and quality of life for the newborn. Fact #2, the original and the modern contraceptives are not foolproof, so unsustainable pregnancies do occur.
Fact #3–all ethics are contextual, including whether or not to keep a pregnancy. Because a baby can’t live on oxygen alone, the social and family reality surrounding each pregnancy matters, and has to be individually assessed. Everybody wants the baby to survive. If it is known that it can’t, then best not bring it to term. Some people want to call this homicide, pure and simple. Or, they deem it equivalent to the holocaust. They are wrong to think so, because the law puts every human act in its context, all acts deemed criminal are evaluated according to the situation and the intent, whether it’s car theft, embezzling or murder for that matter. People love to watch Perry Mason shows or Judge Judy and crime movies with trials, where part of the drama involves establishing the context. When it comes to homicide, there are five different categories, each defined by context, and each of those is even more finely worked through in the sentencing phase. Nevertheless, abortion is tragic because human life is inherently tragic. Fact #3–all ethics are contextual, and that applies to abortion.
Let me tell you this story. A huge survey of Christian families done in the 1970s was conducted by the Methodist Church and found that kids of religious families were as sexually active as those of non-religious families. Here’s what I think. Evangelical Christians couldn’t control their children’s sexual activity, so they want to employ the government to do it. That is, Christian men couldn’t control their families, so they figure laws will put fences around people’s minds and their sexuality.
But people of the “Christian” Right have duped themselves and many other Americans with their Bible about every issue: race, sexuality, gay rights, marriage, guns, Putin, and also abortion and contraception—it’s been a thoroughgoing whitewash out of white male fear, excuse the play on words. Those Christians see the Bible as a blueprint for society, when in fact it is no such thing but rather a prescription for getting right with God. Over millennia, through revelation, consensus, legislation, custom and culture, the human condition has steadily realized what it means to be human. We are now watching the brakes being put on the hard-won humanization of humanity through this violent, arbitrary decision, blind to the facts.
Christ had nothing good to say about the scribes and Pharisees, calling them hypocrites, blind guides. The scribes and Pharisees were just examples–there are religious hypocrites everywhere. We are hypocrites to the extent that our behavior doesn’t line up with our profession of faith. Today we heard only two of the six woes Jesus laid on us, but it’s quite enough to understand his fierce complaint. “Shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.” “You make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” “Blind guides.” Another day we will put ourselves under Christ’s microscope, but today belongs to the Christian right–“you strain at a gnat and swallow a camel.”
The good news is that God always takes us back, even you and me, as we painfully learn from our errors and sins. The forgiveness of God is perpetual.
American Evangelicals have made of human life an absolute where that has never been done before. If that were done, to be consistent every newborn would be awarded a $100,000 bond, adjusted for inflation make that $500,000. Or at least guarantee the support of both parents. Why don’t Christians bring back the shotgun wedding? Because men’s freedom would be limited. And because our society has given up on holding men responsible, it will shift the burden entirely and solely to one person, where two were involved. There is the clearest rationale for permitting abortion–to even the playing field.
We want, the world should want, every mother to want to be a mother. If motherhood is forced on women when they can't afford it, or don't have the physical and moral support of the father, or face their own medical complications, and certainly if they are victims of rape or incest, no one should stand in the way of a pregnancy termination. I trust women to make this decision, and polls show that most Americans do too, even when they don't agree with the decision.
The Supreme Court will pull women and our whole society down with this mortal sacrifice. None of today’s formal public statements can remotely approach the tragic direness of this decision. Yes, if they go through with this, we have made our blood sacrifice of women. Maybe the bulletin image symbolizes the treatment of women by American society, tragically consigning them to drift in the breeze to live or die wherever they may fall.
It is right to ask, when are abortions justified? It is always right to answer: consider the context. It is a matter of religious integrity to ask, where in that context are the men?
Eliot Church of Newton Fourth Sunday of Easter May 8, 2022
The Rev. Dr. Jessica McArdle John 10:22-30 & Psalm 23
Psalm 23 23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.
23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
John 10:22-30 10:22 At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter,
10:23 and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon.
10:24 So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.”
10:25 Jesus answered, “I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me;
10:26 but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
10:27 My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.
10:28 I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.
10:29 What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand.
10:30 The Father and I are one.”
Opening Prayer – Under the canopy of the heavens above us, and earth and waters below, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of all our hearts, always be acceptable in your sight, O God, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
Introduction: Today, May 8, 2022, falls on the annual commemoration of Mother’s Day.
Yet if we were to go back seventy-four years ago, and only after one month after Martin Luther King’s assassination, we would have joined a massive Mother’s Day March held in Washington DC. So transformative was this march, that it would lay the foundation for the Poor People’s Campaign, currently led by the Rev. Dr. William Barber and the Rev. Liz Theoharis.
Tragically, Senator Robert Kennedy… whose wife Ethyl is standing behind Coretta Scott King in this photo, would be assassinated less than one month later. (pause)
Yet even now, as we grapple as a nation, a global community and planet in the wake of cataclysmic circumstances, dare we ask this question?
What if God Loves Things by Becoming Them?
In today’s reading from the Gospel of John….
….the setting is within the Temple of Jerusalem. It was winter, the Season of Hannukah. Jesus was in the Temple as well, strolling. But then a group of his adversaries encircled him, saying, “How long are you going to keep us guessing? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly!”
Pastor and blogger, Jo Anne Taylor, candidly observes, [we have to appreciate that] when the crowds gather around Jesus insisting “Stop talking in riddles and parables,” they want clear answers. “Jesus, If you are Messiah, [the one who is going to liberate us from Roman occupation and oppression], just tell us!” And tell us plainly.
Taylor observes that this plea, “Just tell me plainly,” is just as evident in our own lives. She asks, “Have there been times when you prayed that prayer? C’on, Jesus, just tell me plainly what I need to know. Show me clearly the way I should do, so I can make the right decision. And above all, keep it simple, so even I can get it.”
So, there is a problem with today’s scripture, and it is one also mirrored in our world. And it is this: In this passage, Jesus emphatically claims that he has been speaking plainly. But when you and I are looking for direction, clarity as to which way to go – is it any wonder we may be asking, “Is this the right way to go? And better yet, is this God’s leading or something else? Some years ago, the United Church of Christ came up with the by-line, God is still speaking. The UCC put this by-line on just about everything: posters, calendars, stationary, lapel pins, devotionals, bumper stickers and large banners. If there was a place to put it, it was going there.
From the perspective of the United Church of Christ, this phrase, “God is still speaking,” speaks of God’s revelation. In the UCC, we affirm that God was revealed in the past, yes, but also God is being revealed to us in the present and will be in the future. (pause) The late poet, Mary Oliver, was one who paid close attention to the natural world. For Oliver, the sacred was revealed in the natural world.
In Oliver’s 2005 poem, “Lead,” she painfully recalls loons that come to her harbor but die one by one throughout the day and into the night. She writes, “A friend told me of one on the shore, that lifted its head and cried out in the long, sweet savoring of its life which, if you have heard it, you know is a sacred thing. And for which, if you haven’t heard it, you had better hurry to where the loons still sing.”
If God who loves things by becoming them – what are the implications of God loving AND becoming the very things we have commodified: the land and its waters, the air and creatures, mountains and rivers?
If this is true, imagine if God can be found amongst those clamoring for justice: indigenous people whose lands were taken from them, people of color whose voting rights are being absconded with? What if the voices of the young who must live with the mess we’ve passed on to them,….
….reveal that the God who is still speaking, has taken up their cause? What then?
Writes the Franciscan leader and author, Richard Rohr, “God is not just saving people; God is about saving all of creation. The Incarnate One of God, Jesus, who dared to say before a hostile crowd, “The Father and I are one,” stands for all creation.
The 23rd Psalm that was read earlier…
has been translated into countless number of languages, and is beloved throughout the world. A profoundly pastoral psalm and hymn, it is easy to forget that it was written – not to refute the necessity of action – but to make clear that the Good Shepherd walks with us in the midst of it.
Wrote the psalmist, Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff ‒ they comfort me.
On Sunday, May 12th, 1968 and some 54 years ago:
it only after one month after Martin Luther King’s assassination. But those protesting and laboring for justice did not walk alone, nor do they now.
For the Good News of the Gospel is this:
God loves things by becoming them. And in so doing, God is still speaking.
Eliot Church of Newton, U.C.C. Romans 8.18-27 May 1, 2022
It is a pretty safe bet that all of us here today know that we are in a climate crisis. We’ve been bombarded by facts and figures that confirm this sobering reality. This crisis calls for immediate action, and at next week’s service and forum we will consider how best to answer that call. But today let’s explore the effect the crisis is having on us emotionally and spiritually.
That said, we must face facts, so here are just a few that convey where we are today. Last year a Siberian town in the arctic circle reached a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit during a protracted heat wave. The latest report from the UN’s IPCC, (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says we have three years to take the action needed to prevent the worst consequences from climate change. According to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “it is now code red for humanity.” Personally, I like the way young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg puts it when she says, “Act like your house is on fire because it is.”
There is a new dilemma within this larger crisis. Recent polls show that most people in the U.S. and most of us in Massachusetts now feel less urgency about climate than they did a few years ago. As one participant put it, “With so many issues right in your face, climate just seems less urgent.” With a brutal war, a pandemic that feels endless, insurrection in our capital, and racial, religious, and economic divisions tearing apart our communities, we appear to be in an emotional and a spiritual crisis as well as a climate crisis. What to do?
We can give voice to our feelings and offer support to one other. Please join me at our forum immediately after worship, as we begin to do that. But now, let’s look for signs of hope Then we will ask, “where is God in all of this?”
Rev. Steve Blackmer of Church of the Woods in New Hampshire reminds us that “Hope comes in small packages with small beginnings, hiding in small places. But hope comes.” One of those small packages is the recovery of the monarch butterfly, helped by individuals who have built small, and in some cases large breeding habitats. IF we continue to nurture that recovery it will become a big deal.
We can also find hope in this very congregation! Eliot Church embarked on a “Caring for Creation” initiative in 2003. The net result is that since then we have lowered our carbon dioxide emissions by 61%! The most visible signs of that are our solar panels, which generate more electricity than we need, allowing us to donate some of our Eversource credits to the Brighton-Allston Congregational Church. But even before the panels went up in 2016, Eliot had obtained an EPA Energy Star for Congregations rating of 91%. That means that we were more energy efficient than 91% of the houses of worship in the country. Massachusetts has more Energy Star congregations than any state except Michigan, and more houses of worship with solar than any state except California.
Eliot’s commitment to climate justice extends beyond the improvements to our building. With leadership from Rev. Reebee Girash we passed a resolution committing ourselves to reduce our investments in companies which extract and sell fossil fuels. Between 2014 and 2020 Rev. Girash and other Eliot members advocated for, and testified in support of legislation requiring Massachusetts to provide more offshore wind and to put a price on carbon.
Every year we participate in volunteer cleanups along the Charles River and at other green spaces. We have participated in many marches and made our building available without cost to climate advocacy groups. The Needham-Newton Chamber of Commerce, the Southern New England Conference of the UCC, Green Newton and MassIPL have all recognized that work. We can celebrate our progress, while at the same time acknowledging that there is much more to do.
On behalf of the congregation, I would like to offer thanks to some current and past members, who have contributed to this success, namely: Mary Anne Schoonover, Betsy Harper, Ginny Robinson, Doug Stuart, Nadia Young, Rev. Rick Chrisman, Beverly Craig, the Reverends Reebee Girash and Tony Kill and the many others whose efforts are unknown to me. And I’d like to personally thank each of you for Eliot’s financial support for MassIPL; and to thank Mary Anne for her years of volunteer service before MassIPL was able to pay her.
Hope may be found in many other places. Massachusetts is one of eight states including the District of Columbia that has passed legislation committing themselves to become net-zero carbon by 2050. Now there are laws (which are essentially binding promises), and then there are actual results. Of the seventeen states (including DC), who have committed to carbon dioxide reductions of at least 80% by either law or executive order, Massachusetts’ actual carbon dioxide emissions exceed those of the next best state, 10%, which I will only identify because that state is New York. On the corporate side, 313 major corporations, like Colgate Palmolive, Microsoft and Verizon have committed to become net-zero carbon by 2040, ten years earlier than most of the above states.
The Keystone XL pipeline which would have carried carbon intensive tar-sands oil from Alberta to a port on the Gulf of Mexico for export, has been abandoned. Keystone was known as a “fossil fuel zombie” because it survived years of grassroots protests and three presidential administrations. A smaller, natural gas pipeline that would have gone through northern Massachusetts was also abandoned a few years ago after intense grassroots opposition. And there are similar campaigns around the country.
The infrastructure bill signed by President Biden last November includes $240 billion for environmental justice projects, the largest such investment in U.S. history. Although the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow were a disappointment, former MA Senator John Kerry brokered a joint resolution providing that the US and China, “would work together to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
But how about the emotional and spiritual realms? It is there that most motivation originates. As Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas of the Episcopal Diocese of Western MA says, “God is giving God’s self to us as the sun and the moon, the stars, the wind, the air, the trees, the birds, and the pets we love. We live in a sacred world of interdependence and interrelationship.” 1 But do we feel that? If not, can we take the time to begin to feel it?
Here are a few times when I have felt it. Our son, our first and only child was born in Nebraska. He woke me up before sunrise the first night after he was home from the hospital. As I held him in my arms the sun rose over the corn fields, turning the entire sky into the deepest and most brilliant red that I have ever seen in the sky. Things had seemed dark during the more than ten years we had tried to have a child. That brilliant red sky over the golden corn, felt like the love God has for creation was being reflected in the love I had for my son.
I was born and grew up in New York City. After college I hiked into the Grand Canyon with two buddies. As we descended the switchbacks through the multi-colored layers of rock shaped over the eons into an endless array of shapes, we eventually saw the mighty Colorado River, appearing as swirling ribbons below. I was awestruck by its power. The power of the Colorado River reminded me of God’s power and the immensity Grand Canyon reminded me of the wideness of God’s mercy.
Our late pet cat, Calli, was a source of comfort, as is the companionship or our chocolate lab Zoey, who implores me with soulful eyes to take her for a walk, and who every night comes to my side of the bed to say good night before she goes to her bed. Yes, our family is both cat friendly and dog friendly.
Francis of Assisi “was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and the outcast. In his Canticle of Creation, he called his fellow creatures, no matter how small, by the name of “brother” or “sister.” Francis reminds us that “the Earth, our common home is like a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us or like a sister with whom we share our life. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom:8:22)2”as this morning’s scripture tells us.
Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are gifts of God’s love for humanity. Jesus reconciled God to humanity, but God also promises us the renewal of all creation. Just as “the love of God has been poured into our hearts (5:5), so also its full realization is not yet fully manifest. This morning’s scripture says, that “suffering is not eliminated by the resurrection life, but it is sustained by the Spirit (8.17-22). And since the Spirit is at work in the world to bring about a radical renewal of all creation, there is genuine hope for the future (8:22-25).
According to theologian Jurgen Moltmann, “the evolutions and the catastrophes of the universe are also the movements and experiences of the Spirit of Creation. That is why Paul says that the divine Spirit ‘sighs’ in all created things under the power of futility.” “Through the spirit we are bound together with the natural environment. We might describe this as a spiritual ecosystem; for human societies live in and from the recurring cycles of earth and sun, air and water, day and night, summer, and winter. So human beings are participants in subsystems of the cosmic life system, and of the divine Spirit that lives in it.”3
The Hebrew bible uses wind, or breath or fire as images for the Ruah, or spirit of God. The gospels speak of the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove. These are all dynamic images involving air. We cannot see it, but we know it is always with us, within us and around us. For me, the Holy Spirit is God’s presence above, below, within and betweenall of God’s creatures.
Might the Spirit be operating when humans restore the habitat of the Monarch butterfly? Or when diverse members of a congregation join as one to make their sanctuary sustainable and to advocate for change? Was the fire of the spirit there when activists killed Keystone XL? Is the breath of the spirit shared when both states and corporations strive to become carbon neutral, and when our president commits funds for climate justice? Did a dove of peace descend to help John Kerry establish a personal relationship with his Chinese counterpart that enabled them to find agreement?
On a lighter note, I recall a moment when I testified before a Massachusetts legislative committee. Although these words were not in my prepared remarks, I was somehow moved to say, “If Jews, Catholics, and Protestants can agree that this law is good for Massachusetts I hope that the House, the Senate, and the governor can agree.” I got a big laugh, but judging from the results, the Holy Spirit must have been somewhere else.
Today, we are in a great existential crisis. So now, after we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, during this season when the birds are chirping and the tulips, the azaleas, and the cherry trees are blooming, spend some time with Mother Earth, sister sun, the hills and vales and the plants and the animals who are our brothers and sisters. Spend time with them. Observe them. Listen to them. Feel what you feel. Begin to create a loving relationship with them.
If you are yet to feel God’s love in creation, take a first step from anger, fear, or sadness by opening your heart to the awareness of God’s love and the Spirit’s presence in this beautiful, abundant, complex, and suffering gift of creation that God has given us.
And in this moment, let us pray,
Here and now the Spirit waits to break into our experience: to change our hearts to change our lives, to change our ways. to make us see the world and the whole of life in a new light. to fill us with joy and hope for the future. This is the place, as are all places. this is the time, as are all times.