Sunday, April 26, 2009

Sermon: April 26

In the summer of 92, I led a youth backpacking trip in Michigan:

· weather was beautiful
· terrain was hilly and covered with trees
· the second day of the trip: we emerged from the forest, the trail went straight through a clear-cut or I should say disappeared into the clear-cut.

The trees that marked the path were gone. The ground had become overgrown with brambles and thorns and was uneven with the remnant of the tracks torn into ground to clear the forest. A terrible experience: · bruised and cut from the thorns and brambles · outdated maps to find our next campsite · three more clear-cuts · my co-leader broke her ankle in the last one. I remember thanking God at the end of the trip because there were no more clear-cuts to walk.

As I reflect on this experience now, I think of the scars on that piece of earth from the need to harvest all the trees and pave the way for Natural Gas. That dead forest was a sad area to walk through and it was not made for hiking. In those scars I walked through, I now see the print of the nails on Jesus hands and feet...

We might think that the environment and Jesus have nothing in common that Earth Day & Arbor Day, both events this week, have no connection to the Church. And yet we believe God came in the flesh, God came down to earth in Jesus. The same God who made us in God's image in the midst of creation, made us out of the dust of earth. Material things like the earth are connected to our own being.

In an early apocryphal gospel, the Gospel of Thomas, Jesus put it this way: "I am the light that is over all, I am the universe; the universe has gone out of me, and the universe has returned to me again. Split a piece of wood and I am there, lift up the stone and you will find me there." Hearing this, I think of John's Gospel that in the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things came into being through him. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us.

What this means to me about our relationship with nature, is that what we do to the earth, we do to Christ, in the same way what we do to others, we do to Christ. It is how we live in this world, on this fragile planet, our island home. As we move further and further from an agrarian society, I believe we are losing more and more of our connection to nature, to the environment. Too often we think of subduing the land and having dominion over the animals as if we were the owners of all this property rather than the tenants of a sacred bond.

Today, we live in a throw away society; once we get rid of it, its out of sight and its out of mind. We forget the landfills, the dumps that hold our garbage, our waste, all that we throw away. Often on a large scale we do not see the harm being done to different ecosystems by our constant need for wood, oil, coal, gas, chemicals, etc. Certainly no one thought of the consequences of the clear cuts that I hiked through. No seedlings, no trees were planted to replace all the trees that were cut down. The natural habitat that the animals, insects, and even us hikers lived in, was destroyed, replaced by something that provided only pain and discomfort. I see the hammers and the blood in that place, and wonder if anyone else hears the screams in that forest...

This is not to say that other places and companies are not practicing good stewardship of the land, good conservation methods, or that all the land must remain untouched. We are called to live lives of meaning, lives that are filled with the life of Christ but we cannot fully do so if we ravage our planet to fulfill our lavish needs. In the midst of this, resurrection happens. New life does begin. Earth Day, Arbor Day and Easter are connected. I've seen it.

We may not be like the original disciples, having come to believe in Jesus seeing him rise from the dead, but every day in the people we meet and in the environment we live in, Jesus is there waiting for us to notice, standing there in our midst, saying Peace. Look in the faces of family and neighbor, Jesus is there. Split the wood, lift up the rock, Jesus is there.

Walk through a clear-cut, help clean up sea animals caught in an oil slick, take a look at a toxic dump, see the scarred land from over development, and there you will find Jesus, and there you will find the wounds held out for us to see. The same selfishness, greed, indifference and violence that put Christ on the cross two thousand years ago still exists, it pollutes our land and it affects the environment, where we have lost our connection and we tend to ignore its effects. By ignoring it, we leave Christ on the cross, and the planet to suffer.

We can't wall ourselves off from the hurting environment or lock ourselves away from the nature of which we are a part. Jesus comes to us through locked doors to reveal his presence to us. And Jesus calls us out to live in his name, among the people God has created, on this our island home, all part of God’s creation. Its up to us to clean up this land, to take up our part, to give our voice to the hurting land, to speak out for something that has no voice of its own, to seek out a way to be good stewards of the gift that we have been given, so that our children and our children's children will have this land to live in and enjoy.

There should be no more burning rivers, no more toxins dumped into the environment, no more clear-cuts. This is not about profits or economic costs, this is about the cost to us, and our willingness to forget that how we live honors or dishonors the God who created us. We are an Easter people, we celebrate that Christ died for us and rose again and that through him, we have new life...

In this new life we are called to be good stewards of the animals and the land given into our care. Think about what can you do in your household, in this town, in the places you frequent. What do you have to say to our elected leaders? to companies? What do you have to say to the land? Today lets plant a few trees and seedlings, in clear-cuts, lets pick up the litter in this town, let's recycle our waste, and let's truly celebrate God's creation and celebrate the resurrection. Alleluia! Amen.

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