Archives for April 2013

An in-between place, 7 Easter (C) – 2013

May 12, 2013

Acts 16:16-34; Psalm 97; Revelation 22:12-14, 16-17, 20-21; John 17:20-26

The Seventh Sunday of Easter always seems to be a sort of in-between place; the Feast of the Ascension was celebrated just a few days ago, and Pentecost is still another week off. Like the disciples, we seem to stand metaphorically staring into the heavens, awaiting the next chapter of our story to unfold.

The lessons for the day appear to have run out of resurrection appearances, and instead we get a delightfully odd grouping of texts, ranging from the curious tales of Paul and Silas in Philippi involving a slave-girl “who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners a great deal of money by fortunetelling,” an earthquake, and prisoners who do not escape; to the Apocalyptic visions of St. John the Divine; with a prayer from Jesus for all disciples in all times everywhere.

The Bible’s apocalyptic literature always strikes modern and even post-modern ears as strange. Interpreted literally, it has been used as the foundation of strange, scary and even dangerous Christian cult and fringe groups, many of whom like the Millerites of the 19th century, predict when the world will end and the day of the Lord begin. So we tend to shy away from these rich metaphorical verses, divorcing ourselves from the comfort and assurance they mean to offer people who live in frightening and uncertain times.

And who among us would deny that the times have become all too often frightening and uncertain? Spontaneous and even planned disasters and tragedies of horrific proportions seem to mar the landscape of our common life with greater frequency and untold damage to our individual and collective psyche. I am reminded of standing in one of Israel’s ancient cities looking down on the ruins of a Dionysian temple that had been toppled like so many pick-up sticks, massive columns scattered all about, by an ancient earthquake, and wondering out loud what sort of impression that must have made on the ancient inhabitants; what must have seemed like a structure that should last for centuries was scattered in pieces in just a few moments of earth-shaking horror.

This is something like we see in our portion from the Acts of the Apostles today. The slave girl with powers of divination is announcing to all who will listen that Paul and Silas are “slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” We are told that this annoys Paul, despite the fact that this is exactly what they are in Philippi to do! Perhaps Paul feels he does not need the services of a public relations campaign. At any rate, he performs an exorcism that silences the girl and frees her from demonic possession. Her owners realize they are going to lose a sure source of income, and have Paul and Silas imprisoned. Leave it to people to look at the wrong end of a miracle every time. The woman is restored to wholeness, free to live a life of freedom from slavery to her owners and the demon, and all anyone cares about is money. With stories like this in the New Testament canon, one wonders how it is that Christian charlatans throughout the ages justify taking money for performing exorcisms under revival tents or on television.

Despite being jailed, Paul and Silas pray and sing hymns into the night, when all of a sudden an earthquake opens the prison doors. The jailer is about to take his own life, believing the prisoners must have all fled, when Paul stops him from harming himself, saying, “Look! We are all still here!” Suddenly the horror of the earthquake gives way to the miracle that these Christians are truly out to save him, and before you know it, the jailer and his family are added to the thousands recorded in the Book of Acts that turn to Jesus.

In John’s gospel today, Jesus is praying. It is Maundy Thursday, the night before his execution. He knows he has been betrayed. He knows he faces capital punishment at the hands of the Roman Empire. Yet, thinking not at all about what lies ahead of him, he takes time out to pray for his disciples. And not just his disciples, but as he says, “also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. … So that they may be one, as we are one.”

That is, he is looking far, far ahead. He is praying for us. He is praying for you and for me, and for all Christians everywhere.

Do we ever stop to consider just how disappointed he must be? We see his last act of devotion is directed to us so that we might be one, united with him, in him, with Jesus and the Father, as one people, one body, through one baptism. And here we are, nearly 2,000 years later, at a time in history when our profligate misuse of God’s creation is eliminating one species of creature daily, while at the same time we further splinter the body of Christ into more and more denominations and groups.

How is it that we conspire to contribute to the body of evidence that prayer is utterly ineffective by spending so much time, energy and resources – yes, money – asserting that our puny little corner of Christianity is the “true church”? People must say to themselves, “Why can’t these Christians spend more time trying to live into their Lord’s prayer for unity with one another, themselves and with God?” To borrow from Joe Hickerson and Peter Seeger, “When will we ever learn, when will we ever learn?”

Which brings us to today’s reading from Revelation, the last book in the Bible. The final words of Holy Scripture are “Come, Lord Jesus!” The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let everyone who hears say, “Come.” And let everyone who is thirsty come. Let anyone who wishes take the water of life as a gift come. Come, Lord Jesus!

Are we among those who hear? Are we thirsty enough to come? Are we willing to let “anyone who wishes” to take the water of life as a gift? How long can we pretend to hold people – faithful, seeking people – at arm’s length with all sorts of conditions, rules, rituals and behaviors, from the waters of life? Are we to be gatekeepers or those people who open the floodgates of God’s unconditional love and mercy?

Are we really prepared to cry out with one voice, like John the Revelator, imploring Jesus to come?

The Seventh Sunday of Easter in Lectionary Year C poses some very serious questions to those of us who claim to be disciples of Jesus Christ. Is it any wonder that some congregations opt to celebrate the Ascension today rather than wrestle with all that today’s lessons have to challenge us with?

The Seventh Sunday of Easter offers us these odd stories in an attempt to shake us open, just as the earthquake opened the doors of the prison in Philippi, and loosed the chains on all those in the prison. The world is looking to us to live into our Lord’s most devout moment of prayer. The world looks to us to be unbound so that we might be those people who make the waters of life, the waters of God’s unconditional love and mercy, truly and honestly available to all persons.

Yet, we find it so hard to believe that we can do this.

It should be no wonder that the last words in the Bible are “Come, Lord Jesus!” If ever we need him to come into our lives, it is here and now, in this time and in this place.

The Good News is that he promises he is with us to the end of the age!

Amen. Come, Lord Jesus!

 

— The Rev. Kirk Alan Kubicek has served as rector and assistant in a broad variety of parishes over the past 28 years. He is currently chaplain and teaches at St. Timothy’s School for girls, the diocesan girls’ boarding school in the Diocese of Maryland, where he teaches World Religions and International Baccalaureate (IB) English. His sermons are archived at www.perechief.blogspot.com.

Opening our minds to the Ascension , Ascension Day (C) – 2013

May 9, 2013

Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47 or Psalm 93; Ephesians 1:15-23; Luke 24:44-53

The commemoration of the Ascension passes us by in this country. In places where the Eastern Church is prevalent it’s an important feast day, up there in importance with Christmas and Pentecost. In many places, it’s a work holiday. Always falling on a Thursday, the word “Ascension” passes through lips casually, but it is doubtful that those who speak it contemplate its meaning. In our church it is celebrated but on a minor key; we have to admit that the Ascension is a difficult image to create in our minds and it’s difficult to make sense of it. Coming 40 days after Easter Day, it is mostly ignored since it falls on a Thursday.

On feast days, it’s interesting to look at some of the remaining customs of ancient people, because even under the veneer of superstition and legend, a core of truth may be found. In many parts of Greece where the Orthodox observe the day with great joy, village people stay up on the night of Ascension staring at the skies. Legend tells us that those “who are pure in heart” see a light ascending to the heavens. For some reason, in Greek villages the day is associated with shepherds, so milk features greatly in the recipes set aside for just this day. And the water of the sea becomes symbolic also: This is the first day of the year when people enter the sea either to swim or to wade, and then to carry some of the water home to ward off evil.

The first custom, that of looking at the skies, reminds us of the unquenchable longing of the early Christians for the Lord’s return. There is a poignant scene in Lloyd Douglass’ book, “The Robe,” where Christians are pictured as always looking to the distance as if waiting for someone, longing for someone, so convinced were they of Jesus’ imminent return.

Luke is the only one of the evangelists who gives a particular image to this event, starting with the end of his gospel and continuing it in the Acts of the Apostles. Fascinated by his words, countless great artists and iconographers have painted their interpretation of Jesus’ Ascension. In these paintings, icons, and frescoes, Jesus is literally ascending, his feet no longer touching the earth, sometimes surrounded by angels, a cloud above ready to hide him from human eyes. And thus it is that many of us probably imagine the Ascension.

There is nothing specifically right or wrong in this image. We are visual thinkers. Words help us create images that we remember even though we have seen them only in art or in our own minds. This is not the place to inquire in what form Jesus returned to the Father. Some hints are given throughout the stories of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances: He enters a room suddenly, without using a door; he appears next to couple walking together on the road to Emmaus; he cooks breakfast for Peter and his friends by the shore. But he disappears just as suddenly as he appears. So the hints tell us that though the resurrected body is visible, the qualities it demonstrates are different from the body that was crucified. This is enough for us.

Two details are surprising in this final story in Luke’s gospel. One is found in verse 45: “Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures.” There is something liberating in this statement. Our minds must be open to understand, not closed. We see so much evidence today of minds that refuse to understand the truth of the scriptures, preferring to stay closed and limited by what they think they understand. Reading the Bible with open minds, open because Christ has done the opening, reveals something new each time we read a passage.

The other detail is that even though Jesus disappeared from their midst, the disciples “returned to Jerusalem with great joy.” These are the same people who, with great fear and grief, had hidden during the crucifixion and burial. Why are they joyful now? Their dearest friend has disappeared from their eyes. They will not see him again and this time apparently they know that he will not be making another post-resurrection appearance. Why are they joyful now? Is it that now, finally, they truly understand him and believe him?

The opening of their minds to understand the scriptures has much to do with this joy. “You are witnesses of these things,” he tells them. What a powerful word this is: “witnesses.” They have witnessed a new creation, and they know it. They have witnessed love in action. They are now witnesses to the resurrection.

The fear of death has been replaced by the joy of knowing life. They believe in his promises. The Paraclete, the Advocate shall come. They will stay in Jerusalem to await the coming of the Holy Spirit.

Above all, they have been given a job to do. Their life has a purpose and this fills them with joy. In our reading from Acts, Jesus tells his disciples: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

We are included in that last phrase, “the ends of the earth.” The disciples fulfilled their mission. They did the work. Now it’s up to us to continue it.

 

— Katerina Whitley is the author of “Around a Greek Table” (Lyons Press, 2012). She lives and writes in Louisville, Ky.

A home to long for, 6 Easter (C) – 2013

May 5, 2013

Acts 16:9-15; Psalm 67; Revelation 21:10, 22-22:5; John 14:23-29 or John 5:1-9

Today we come to what is, for practical purposes, the conclusion of the biblical story, the climax, the consummation, the finale. We hear from the last chapter of the last book of scripture, and what we hear is glorious.

Do you want to know something of heaven and why it is a home to long for? Then ponder the words of this passage found at the end of the Bible. Let its rich colors and images soak into your soul, enlighten your heart, renew your faith and hope and love.

John, the author of the Book of Revelation describes the city that has come down to be the center of the new heaven and the new earth. He extols the beauty and perfection of this city, challenging the capacities of human speech.

This new Jerusalem is a golden city, and crystal clear like a rare jewel. The wall surrounding this four-square city has a dozen gates, with three gates on each side, each a giant lustrous pearl, each one guarded by an angel. This is a stable city, resting not on a single foundation, but on twelve foundations, one atop another, each foundation made of a different precious stone.

Hearing of this new Jerusalem, as John describes it, can elevate and enliven the desires of our hearts for God and the consummation of God’s purposes. But what we learn of the new Jerusalem can function in another way as well.

It can help us recognize glimpses of heaven that intrude into our lives. For when we live by faith, heaven is not a far and alien country, but rather we find ourselves dwelling, some of the time at least, in the suburbs of the new Jerusalem; and moments come when we are granted sights of its golden crystalline splendor, often when we least expect this to happen.

There are three points to remember about heaven that influence the glimpses of heaven that we have here on earth: Heaven is a community; heaven is a place of healing; and heaven is a place of vision.

First, heaven is a community. The story of humankind in the Bible takes us from a garden with only one couple to a vast city with a cosmopolitan population, this new Jerusalem.

Away then, with any small, narrow, cramped view of heaven or the salvation it represents! Away then, with any spirituality that distorts the intimate and the personal, turning them into merely the private and the individual.

There is intimate, personal encounter with God, with Christ, but properly it always leads us to a generous embrace of the world, which God created and for which Christ died.

Yes, the new Jerusalem described for us is a vast, cosmopolitan city with people of every kind, people from every nation. It is the capital of the God who delights in diversity.

If you want a foretaste of heaven, a little nibble to whet your appetite, go on a fine summer day to a city park where there are several big family picnics taking place. Catch the spirit there in the hubbub and the conviviality. Or go to a playground in that park where dozens of kids dash about in perpetual motion, each on a different trajectory. There before you on a fine summer day is a slice of what heaven will be like.

Second, heaven is a place of healing. John points to this when he describes what we may call the horticulture of heaven. Through the city runs the river, the beautiful river, the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, more splendid than your favorite waterway. On the banks of the river appear rows of magnificent trees, bearing fruit not once or twice a year, but a super tree astoundingly fruitful. Then John slips in the kicker that we miss if we do not pay attention. He tells us that “the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”

The healing of the nations! So heaven has medicine for the wounds that separate and scar nations on earth. The new Jerusalem is thus a place of reconciliation, where old and deep antagonisms no longer produce their poison, where traditional enemies enjoy peace with one another. It is not that these costly antagonisms, these wars and feuds and oppressions, are forgotten, repressed or ignored. What happens is that the wounds are healed. Brokenness gives way to wholeness. Hatred gives way to love. Nations once at odds now together bring their glory and honor into the new Jerusalem. Leaving behind anything false or foul, they freely offer their particular gifts. All this happens because of the healing leaves of the tree, and the tree bears the shape of a cross.

If the national wounds can be healed, so too can smaller but no less painful wounds: strife between tribes and clans and families and classes and groups and individuals. All these are healed in heaven at the price of the cross. Everyone leaves behind what is evil and makes a particular offering to God.

So if you want to see a bit of heaven on earth, go someplace where reconciliation is real, where wounds big and small are treated and healed. Or bring this heaven to earth yourself. Work for justice and peace. Or bring it still closer to home: forgive someone who does not deserve it, maybe even yourself. You’ll catch a bit of heaven’s glimmer; you’ll be in the near suburbs of the new Jerusalem.

Finally, heaven is a place of vision. Note the references to light in today’s passage from Revelation. We hear that the light of the new Jerusalem is God’s glory and its lamp is the Lamb. By this light the nations will walk. The gates will never be shut by day, and there will be no night there.

And what is the object of vision in this city of purity and light? John tells us in a few words: “the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.”

God’s servants will be marked as belonging to God, even as now the church marks the brows of newly baptized with the sign of the cross, the seal of the Spirit. It is the privilege of these servants not only to worship God, but to see God.

This, the sight of God, is what, above all else, makes heaven, heaven!

Here in our present life, worship remains indirect. We use sacraments and signs, images and words that suggest the divine reality to our hearts and minds. There, we shall see God face to face.

Here we encounter God amid the shadows and uncertainties of life. There we shall see God in the bright light of eternal day and in the delightful rest of eternal sabbath.

We shall have achieved the purpose of our existence and entered into abundant joy from which there will be no exit. In the celebrated words of St. Augustine, “We shall rest and we shall see; we shall see and we shall love; we shall love and we shall praise. Behold what shall be in the end and shall not end.”

We do not now live in that great city, but from time to time we find ourselves, perhaps to our surprise, in one of its near suburbs. And so, as John might put it, we catch a glimpse of its golden crystalline walls, its gates of stupendous pearl.

This glimpse may come as a strange warming of the heart. A refreshment of hope and courage. An assurance in time of hardship. A beauty that beguiles and delights.

The creator of all things, the lord of all time is versatile in giving us glimpses of that great city, reminders of our true home. We cannot dictate when these glimpses will happen, but we can leave ourselves open to recognize and welcome them when they occur.

We can learn and re-learn that heaven is a community, a place of healing, a place of vision. We can long for heaven in its fullness and also enjoy the glimpses that appear to us now in moments of vision and healing and community. Then, when we come to the new Jerusalem, it will not seem like a strange and alien city, but will feel a lot like home.

 

— The Rev. Charles Hoffacker is an Episcopal priest and writer. He is the author of “A Matter of Life and Death: Preaching at Funerals“ (Cowley Publications, 2003).

The repentance that leads to life, 5 Easter (C) – 2013

April 28, 2013

Acts 11:1-18; Psalm 148; Revelation 21:1-6; John 13:31-35

By now, our bold and joyful refrain of “Alleluia!” has surely lost a bit of its shiny newness.

The bright dawn of Easter Sunday has passed, and the news of our Lord’s triumphant resurrection has begun to settle into our hearts and minds.

But as was the case with the first Christians, the full magnitude of Easter takes more than a day or two to settle in.

Christians who follow the liturgical calendar observe the season of Easter for 50 days.

Fifty days to spread the Good News; 50 days to proclaim resurrection to the world; and 50 days to travel to far-away places with the message that God is doing a new thing in Jesus Christ.

It was during the first Easter season some 2,000 years ago that the disciples discovered that the rumors were true – that Jesus Christ had in fact been raised from the dead. And so, they wasted no time spreading the Good News.

The appropriately named Acts of the Apostles reports how the first Christians spread the Easter message to the world: by teaching and preaching, and by baptizing many into the faith.

But as modern-day Christians know all too well, growth cannot happen without at least a few growing pains.

As we heard tell in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles, Peter was no stranger to growing pains.

There was perhaps no more passionate a believer in the early church than Peter. He had been teaching and preaching about Jesus among the gentiles in Caesarea with great effect.

In Acts, it is reported that the Holy Spirit came into their midst and they began “extolling God.”

But even before the days of e-mail, Facebook and Twitter, rumors traveled fast.

Soon, the news of Peter’s work among the gentiles reached the religious leaders in Jerusalem.

They knew that Peter had been teaching and preaching, but now they had gotten wind that Peter was also eating with the gentiles.

They summoned Peter to defend his actions.

Teaching the gentiles? Fine.

Preaching to the gentiles? Fine.

But eating with the gentiles? Absolutely unacceptable!

For Jews – including Peter – the observance of strict dietary laws was not a matter of ritual piety or cultural observance; it was a matter of worship and identity.

In the midst of an empire that was not only non-Jewish, but also often hostile to the Jewish people, dietary observances served as a reminder to Jew and gentile alike of the distinction between those who were included in God’s covenant with Abraham and those who were not.

And so the religious leaders in Jerusalem received the news that Peter had been sharing meals with the gentiles with mix of anger and fear. For them, Peter was not only blurring the lines between those who were God’s people and those who were not God’s people, he was forsaking God’s laws.

But Peter didn’t see it that way – at least not anymore. He had been converted.

He tells the authorities in Jerusalem the same story he had told several times before. He had a vision in which all sorts of animals appeared before him. He heard God’s voice telling him, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” But as one would expect from an observant Jew, Peter replied, “By no means, Lord; for nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”

But then the voice of God spoke again and said, “What God has made clean, you must not call profane.”

As Peter went with some friends to a nearby house, he couldn’t help but think about what he had heard the voice say.

“Did I hear that correctly?” he must have wondered. “Surely God didn’t mean that the gentiles are to be treated the same as we are.”

But then he remembered the words of Christ, reminding the faithful that one day soon, they would be baptized, not with water, but with the Holy Spirit.

And then, Peter asked himself one final question: “Who am I that I can hinder God?”

The religious leaders who had summoned Peter didn’t respond with a long, carefully articulated theological treatise as to why Peter was in error. They didn’t rebuke Peter for his actions or label him a heretic. And they didn’t make a motion to enter executive session to discuss what they had just heard so they could render a verdict.

Instead, they fell silent for a moment in awe of what God was doing in their midst. And then they rejoiced, praising God for extending to the gentiles “the repentance that leads to life.”

Far too often, the church forgets that last part.

Far too often, the church forgets that, every now and then, the only worthy response to what God is doing in our midst comes, not in the form of a theological treatise, not in an official church-sanctioned rebuke, and not in deliberations or verdicts. Sometimes, the only worthy response is silence, coupled with awe and praise.

And so, now that Easter has settled into our own hearts and “Alleluias” can be found on our lips once more, perhaps our ongoing Easter mission is to keep watch for the places and people in our midst who have been labeled “unclean,” or “excluded,” or “outsiders.”

These are the people in urgent need of hearing the news that Easter has come. These are the people who desperately need to hear that there is a “repentance that leads to life.”

As the blessed Apostle reminds us, every time we exclude or label someone or something “unclean,” we run the risk of hindering God.

Peter gives us a glimpse of a world in which the news of the resurrection shatters earthly parameters of clean and unclean, accepted and excluded, or insider and outsider. Peter’s Easter witness is lived through preaching and teaching and baptizing and fellowship with all who yearn for the repentance that leads to life.

And if we will allow it, our own Easter witness can reach to the ends of the earth and to the ends of time, proclaiming the miraculous news that in Christ, God is making all things new!

 

— The Rev. Marshall A. Jolly is priest-in-charge of Grace Episcopal Church in Florence, Ky. He holds a BA in American Studies from Transylvania University and a Master’s of Divinity and Certificate in Anglican Studies from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology. He also serves on the steering committee for Reading Camp, an international ministry begun in the Diocese of Lexington that promotes the growth and development of struggling and at-risk children by providing non-traditional summertime educational opportunities.

Hearing the voice of the Good Shepherd on Earth Day, 4 Easter (C) – 2013

April 21, 2013

Acts 9:36-43; Psalm 23; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

In today’s readings we are presented several times with the familiar shepherd motif. The text from Revelation declares that the “lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd” and the gospel reading is about belonging to God, as sheep belong to a shepherd. Perhaps nowhere is this metaphor more poignantly presented than in beloved Psalm 23, which assures us that God the shepherd guides, leads and restores us, even in the darkest of times.

The Bible often refers to political and religious leaders as shepherds. In the Old Testament in particular, bad leaders are portrayed as bad shepherds, while God and the future Messiah are described as good shepherds. Furthermore, it is the voice of these shepherds that lets people know their trustworthiness. Jesus tells us that his sheep will listen to and know his voice, not that of the hired hand. Just before today’s reading in the book of John, Jesus explains to a group of Pharisees that, “the sheep follow him [the Good Shepherd] because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.”

Whose voice is so familiar that you trust it unconditionally? And what is that voice telling you?

Today it is perhaps harder than ever to distinguish between voices of the good and the bad shepherds, simply due to the large number of loud, public voices competing for our attention and our loyalty. And furthermore, these voices that attempt to shepherd us through confusing paths often contradict one another. It can indeed be quite challenging to discern the voice of a trusted guide out of a cacophony of facts, pseudo-facts, speculations, opinions and falsehoods that bombard our ears every day. Some voices employ the tried and true tactic of taking unpleasant or threatening truths and casting them into the realm of doubt or uncertainty. When the jury still seems to be out, we can go with business as usual rather than confronting harsh realities and enacting some changes.

But there is yet another voice to consider here. This voice is constantly speaking but seldom heard. It is the voice of the earth, and it is groaning. Romans 8:22 states that “all Creation is groaning” alongside ourselves.

Tomorrow, April 22, is Earth Day – the 43rd Earth Day since its beginning in 1970. On this day we honor creation and recognize its groaning. In one sense it is strange that we devote just a single day per year to reflect upon our home – the tapestry of life that allows us to breathe, eat and function. One day only to praise and marvel at the unfathomable complexity and splendor of life on this earth, and one day only to mourn and repent what we now recognize as the large-scale deterioration of every single system that supports life on this earth, while the other 364 days of the year we condone business as usual in un-creating these complex life systems that God has placed on this earth. We do indeed walk through a valley in the shadow of death.

In a 2010 Pew survey, Americans were asked whether religion influenced their thinking on tougher laws and regulations to protect the environment. Around 5 percent said yes.

What a lamentable shortcoming of our churches and faith leaders. The created world is a revelation of God’s power and gracious presence, a table that God has prepared before us. It is green pastures and still waters, but is also a finely tuned atmosphere and complex network of biodiversity; it is interrelated earth systems that allow life to flourish. This sacred quality of creation demands sharing and moderation, antidotes for our excessive consumption and waste that end up harming the poor most of all. Rich people and countries contribute most to changes in Earth’s climate, resulting in catastrophic events like droughts and superstorms, whose victims are the poorest and most vulnerable, largely in Africa and parts of Asia.

Serving as a good steward of creation means accepting these painful truths, hearing the groaning voices. In the gospel reading today, Jesus says, “I have told you and you do not believe.” Perhaps he was exasperated as he said this, much as today’s many climate scientists, scholars, community and faith leaders are with us. “I have told you – and you do not believe.”

We are called, not just to believe, not just to honor creation and hear its groaning, but to act in response. A humorous headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion reads, “‘How Bad for the Environment Can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?’ 30 Million People Wonder.” This tongue-in-cheek jab draws attention to a sentiment that surely many of us feel: I am only one person – what difference can I make? But the truth is that we are never just one, we are never alone. And we must act, alongside our brothers and sisters and church community, because God calls us to be engaged, fruitful humans on this earth.

Where do we begin to act in the face of a seemingly insurmountable crisis? Can we see ourselves in the position of those in Revelation, who will hear the elders explaining that “these are the ones who have come out of the great ordeal”?

The reading from Acts offers guidance. In this reading, Peter is summoned to a seemingly insurmountable crisis situation: In the town of Joppa, Tabatha, a devoted discipline, has just died. In what unfolds next, we find meaningful direction on taking action, whether we identify as Peter or as Tabatha. First Peter knelt down and prayed. Fruitful, grounded action begins with prayer. Next, Peter told Tabatha to “get up.” Some of us are equipped to extract others from a state of stupor, a proverbial deathbed and get going. Others need to have ears to hear the voice of Peter and “open our eyes.”

Then Peter “gave her his hand and helped her up.” Both giving and accepting encouragement are crucial in a long and difficult process or reawakening and enacting change.

Finally, Peter “showed her to be alive,” demonstrating to all who were gathered there the good work that had occurred.

And so, as we reflect this day on God’s creation around us and the work that lies before us, we know that in this task we are not alone. We know that God walks with us, that the incarnate Christ joins the earth in groaning, and that there is a way out of this dark valley if we can allow ourselves to be led by the trustworthy voice of the Good Shepherd.

May we be equipped to distinguish and heed this voice, one that guides, cajoles, urges us to follow the paths of goodness and mercy. May we recognize the goodness of the earth’s complex, beautiful systems and feel mercy for those who suffer disproportionately from the effects of environmental degradation.

And may we have ears to hear the voice of the earth, one that has been speaking all along and desperately needs our attention.

 

— Frederica Helmiere teaches eco-theology at Seattle University, and environmental writing at the University of Washington. She holds a Master’s of Arts in Religion from Yale Divinity School and a Master’s of Environmental Science from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Freddie and her husband serve a new church start in South Seattle called Valley & Mountain, a spiritual community rooted in deep listening, radical hospitality and creative liberation. Find out more at www.valleyandmountain.org.