October 7, 2018
Twentieth Sunday after Pentecost
Last weekend I went on the Seekers Silent Retreat, at Dayspring. Dayspring is 210 acres in Germantown that the Church of the Saviour purchased in the 1950s, the very early days of the church, so that they could have a place to go for renewal and healing in nature. Dayspring has woods and meadows, lakes and streams, all lovingly maintained now by members of Dayspring Church.
Saturday was a perfect fall day, sunny and crisp. Shortly after sunrise I was walking down the path from the Lodge to the Inn for breakfast, and suddenly I saw, ahead and a little to my left, two enormous spiderwebs, one behind the other, each suspended between a pair of trees. The rising sun’s rays illuminated the webs in all their delicate detail, and the sight was amazing. I stopped, and breathed thanks — for the beauty, for the spiders, for the surpise of it, and for joy.
Today, Seekers Church is joining with more than 70 other D.C.-area congregations, of a variety of faith traditions, to pray and sing and preach about climate justice — about God’s great, interconnected ecosystem of air, water, and land; plants, wildlife, and domesticated animals — all the forms of life and energy that the whole Earth and all its inhabitants share — and about our role in repairing the Earth, for those who are suffering now from the effects of global warming, and for future generations.
A couple of days ago Liz and I were emailing about the music for today’s worship, and she said, in reference to this sermon topic, “I look forward to it, though I always feel terrible about climate.” I think Liz summed up how many of us feel about the pain and devastation caused by global warming. We feel overwhelmed, guilty, frightened, angry, and hopeless. We wonder, “Is it too late to turn this ship around?” and we ask ourselves, “What can I do, that will make any real difference?”
I don’t want us to feel terrible! I’m reminded of a quote that is often repeated in parenting classes at the Parent Encouragement Program, where I work. This is from Jane Nelsen, the author of a series of books on positive discipline. She says, “Where did we get the crazy idea that, in order to make children behave better, we first have to make them feel worse?”
I think that also applies to our feelings and behavior around climate change. I don’t want to make anyone feel worse today. And I want us to find hopeful answers to the hard questions. So I’m going to approach this from three points of reference:
- Lessons from the scriptures
- Our season of Recommitment
- What we may be called to do
First, the scriptures:
Today we heard the second of the two Creation stories, in which God creates Man, and then from the man’s rib fashions Woman and presents her to the man, who says, “Finally! A suitable helper for me. Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and embraces his wife. They become one flesh.”
In the Gospel reading from Mark, Jesus quotes this to the Pharisees, who as usual are giving him a hard time. Their question — “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” — challenges Jesus to either confirm or deny their system of family hierarchy and authority. Jesus does neither. Instead, he levels the system, telling them that God has authority over marriage for both partners. Then, he totally upends the domination system when he tells his disciples that the most important people among them are the children. “Throw out all your calculations of who has authority over whom,” he tells us, “and enter God’s kingdom with the simplicity of a child.”
In today’s reading from the letter to the Hebrews, the author describes Jesus’ relationship to God, to us, and to the world. Jesus is the force through which God created all things, sustains all things, and receives everything in the end. Jesus is the power over and through all creation. Jesus is God’s love, God’s power, and God’s humility made human and sent to live among us. This act is the core of the Christian story: God humbled Godself — God submitted — to become humanity, because only that act could fulfill God’s love for us and for the world. The author then develops a kind of hierarchy — a chain of command — leading from God, to Jesus, to the angels, to us, to the remainder of creation. We read that Jesus is superior over the angels, and that humans are a little lower than the angels, as the author quotes from Psalm 8:
8:4 Who are we that you should be mindful of us? We are mere mortals, yet you care for us!
8:5 You have made us a little lower than the angels, and crowned us with glory and honor.
8:6 You have put all things under our feet.
Often, this is interpreted as God granting humans power to dominate and subdue the rest of creation. We think this way because of the culture of our society — and the dominant theology of our time — that humans are the peak and the crowning jewel of creation.
What this really is, however, is an invitation to us to participate in a relationship with creation that is parallel to our relationship with Jesus. We are the subjects of Jesus. We are under his feet, a metaphor for subsmission. But Jesus overturns the dominant culture’s hierarchy, humbling himself to become the servant of all. The apostles are under Jesus’ feet, but he is the one who washes their feet.
Creation is not under our feet to be trampled. It is under our feet so we might walk more lightly and grow in love and understanding of our brothers and sisters in creation. The earth is under our feet that we might care for it, cultivate it, and heal it with our loving hands.
My second point of reference, our season of Recommitment:
For several weeks we have been preparing to commit ourselves to the next year of membership in Seekers Church. Two weeks from today, those who choose to do so will stand here together and read aloud the commitment statement, which contains several specific things we promise to do, including, “Care for the whole of creation, including the natural environment.” John Morris has pointed out that this promise is given in stronger terms in our children’s commitment statement, which says, “I promise to take care of the air, water, and earth, and to love the plants and trees, animals, birds, and fish in it.”
When we read the members’ commitment two weeks from now, perhaps in our hearts we can echo what the children have said.
And finally, my third point of reference: what each of us might be called to do, in our role as stewards of creation and our responsibility to care for our human and non-human neighbors in the same way that Jesus cares for us.
In a moment, I’m going to ask you to gather in small groups to consider this question: What is something you would like to give up, or what is a habit you would like to add to your life, to help you care for the earth, reduce waste, or foster justice?
For adding a positive habit, we can consider either actions that work directly to repair the world, such as planting trees or composting, or actions that put us in the way of falling in love, again, with nature. Louie Schwartzberg, a cinematographer known for developing the art of time-lapse photography to reveal the hidden beauty of nature, says that “we are hard-wired to protect what we love.” Here at Seekers, Kevin and Keith are exploring the call to a new Nature Mission Group, and they are inviting all of us to a conversation about this after worship on October 28th.
Finally, I want to call your attention to the insert in your bulletin that says at the top, “Praised be you …”
If you live in Maryland, something you can do today is fill out the bottom of this insert. D.C. folks, your version is on a table right outside, in the Skylight Room, and we also have Maryland inserts in Spanish. Those of you who live in Virginia, I’m sorry, but we don’t have an insert for you.
The Maryland insert is an opportunity to speak out in favor of strong, statewide energy policy. While our personal changes of habit are essential, we also need systemic changes. Several thousand of these inserts are being collected today in Maryland congregations, and when that many people of faith care about an issue, lawmakers get the message. You can fill out your insert and leave it in the Skylight Room, and I’ll be happy to try to answer any questions.
I want to close by reading part of a prayer that Joan, our retreat leader last week, shared during the final gathering of the retreat. This prayer was written by Sonya Dyer, one of the first leaders of Seekers Church.
We Are Grateful
Mother of our hearts,
creator, lover, sustainer,
holy timeless mystery,
we thank you
for this time and those things
that are yet possible and precious in it.
the opposites of promise and uncertainty
which give fresh shape and form
to our life,
and we seek to embrace them.
Jesus of Nazareth, our brother,
you sat with disciples and friends
helping them understand the truth of your good news.
Sit with us and show us
the paths to justice and compassion,
to new decisions about the future,
to hope and love.