For the Beauty of Creation

For the Beauty of Creation

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 18, 2021

3rd Sunday of Easter

Psalm 8; Luke 24:36-43

 

When I was a child one of my favorite people to visit was my cousin, Lisa, who lived beside her grandparents’ dairy farm. The block milk house, the dairy cows eagerly entering the stalls, the rattle of the milk cans, the fizzing of the tubing being cleaned and attached just so—the whole process fascinated me. But even more so, I was enamored by the farm itself. Oh, the hours Lisa and I spent running and playing on the rolling hills just behind the house and catching minnows in the creek near the front yard. I can still see in my mind’s eye the creek covered by a small wooden bridge with tiger lilies and wildflowers growing on either side. The Fisher Dairy Farm was a magical place on God’s good earth. But the dairy has been closed for years; Lisa’s grandparents have long past; and Lisa’s home is there no more. It was razed to the ground to make way for a new highway. Thinking about it reminds me of Joni Mitchell’s song, “Big Yellow Taxi.” “Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone. They paved paradise and put up a parking lot.”

As we gather to worship our Creator God this beautiful morning, we also recognize Earth Day—an annual event that is celebrated worldwide on April 22nd to encourage efforts to protect the environment—to protect the wonders of God’s creation. Instead of a traditional sermon this morning, what I want us to do together is a series of guided meditations. First, we will remember a place, then we will remember a meal, and, finally, we will imagine the future.

So, I invite you to close your eyes (if this feels comfortable to you). Allow your mind to take you back to a place that spoke to you of God’s beauty. It may have been decades ago or just yesterday. What do you see around you? What sounds do you hear? What smells? Who, if anyone, is with you? Finally, what is it that makes this place so special?  (Silence)

In connection with our gospel reading, my mind takes me to the Sea of Galilee on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I recall the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, which, tradition stays, is built on the site where Jesus fed the 5000 with five loaves and two fish. Behind the church is a grassy field and nearby the seven springs that flow into the sea. My friend, Rachel Crumbly, and I make our way alongside the sea in search of the springs. It takes some navigating because of all the stones rising from the water’s edge, but our journey does not disappoint. Seeing the water rushing into the sea is quite an experience—but it hardly holds a candle to witnessing a group of young men playing in the waterfall, splashing and swimming. It is not a far stretch to imagine Jesus and his disciples doing something just like this—refreshing themselves in the water after a long, day of teaching, healing, and caring for crowds of people.

In the final chapter of Luke, following Jesus’ resurrection, he once again appears to his disciples and once again says, “Peace be with you.” Since they think he’s a ghost and are terrified, they need a word of peace. Then Jesus asks for something to eat—not because he’s hungry but because he wants to show them he is not a ghost. It’s all a bit ironic since Jesus has a reputation for loving to eat—and here he is, risen from the dead, and still eating.

Let’s take a moment to reflect on eating with people we love and the joy it can bring. Again, I invite you to close your eyes and remember—this time a particular meal that was gratifying to you. Who sits around the table? What dishes of food do you see? What makes this meal special? How is God present? (Silence)

From potluck lunches to receptions to communion at the Lord’s Table, food is integral to what we do as a community of believers. We eat together and our bodies are nourished as are our souls. But things have changed since the days Jesus walked upon the earth. In our increasingly global food system, our food comes with a heavy environmental footprint.  The pastoral images of well-loved farmland and animals roaming freely have given way to agricultural practices that damage the land, the animals, and, of course, eventually every living creature that lives upon the planet. Which begs the question, “How long will it be before dining around a table, eating healthy food we enjoy, becomes as challenging for us as it already is in many parts of the world?”

In 1992, long before Greta Thunberg became a household name, a young twelve-year-old girl from Canada made history when she attended the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. There, Severn Suzuki gave a speech that became known as “The Girl Who Silenced the World for 5 Minutes.” While I encourage you to go online and read the speech or watch the video in its entirety, I invite you to listen to a condensed portion of her powerful speech.

Hello, I’m Severn Suzuki speaking for The Environmental Children’s Organization. We are a group of twelve and thirteen-year-olds from Canada trying to make a difference… We raised all the money ourselves to come six thousand miles to tell you adults you must change your ways. Coming here today, I have no hidden agenda. I am fighting for my future. I am here to speak for all generations to come. I am here to speak on behalf of the starving children around the world whose cries go unheard. I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go. We cannot afford to be not heard. I am afraid to go out in the sun now because of the holes in the ozone. I am afraid to breathe the air because I don’t know what chemicals are in it. I used to go fishing in Vancouver with my dad until just a few years ago we found the fish full of cancers. In my life, I have dreamt of seeing the great herds of wild animals, jungles and rainforests full of birds and butterflies, but now I wonder if they will even exist for my children to see. Did you have to worry about these little things when you were my age? All this is happening before our eyes and yet we act as if we have all the time we want and all the solutions. I’m only a child and I don’t have all the solutions, but I want you to realize, neither do you! You don’t know how to fix the holes in our ozone layer. You don’t know how to bring salmon back up a dead stream. You don’t know how to bring back an animal now extinct. And you can’t bring back forests that once grew where there is now desert. If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it! I’m only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong, in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil. I’m only a child yet I know we are all in this together and should act as one single world towards one single goal.  I’m only a child yet I know if all the money spent on war was spent on ending poverty and finding environmental answers, what a wonderful place this earth would be! At school, even in kindergarten, you teach us to behave in the world. You teach us: not to fight with others, to work things out, to respect others, to clean up our mess, not to hurt other creatures, to share – not be greedy. Then why do you go out and do the things you tell us not to do? Parents should be able to comfort their children by saying “everything’s going to be alright,” “we’re doing the best we can” and “it’s not the end of the world.” But I don’t think you can say that to us anymore. My father always says, “You are what you do, not what you say.” Well, what you do makes me cry at night. You grown ups say you love us. I challenge you, please make your actions reflect your words. Thank you.”[i]

 

At this time, please join me in our final reflection. With eyes closed, take a moment to ponder one action you might take to better care for God’s good earth and its resources—and when might you start? (Silence)

In closing, I offer you a blessing written by John Philip Newell, a poet, scholar, and Church of Scotland minister, who is widely recognized for his work in Celtic spirituality:

May the deep blessings of earth be with us.

May the fathomless soundings of seas surge in our soul.

May boundless stretches of the universe echo in our depths

To open us to wonder

To strengthen us for love

To humble us with gratitude

That we may find ourselves in one another

That we may lose ourselves in gladness

That we may give ourselves to peace. Amen.

[i] https://creativesystemsthinking.wordpress.com/2014/04/21/a-12-year-old-fighting-for-our-planets-future/

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt, used by permission

 

Resurrection Life

Resurrection Life

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 11, 2021

2nd Sunday of Easter

Psalm 133; John 20:19-31

Last Sunday we gathered in person for the first time in over a year to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. For the next seven weeks, we will continue to celebrate the Season of Easter and to explore what it means to live an Easter life, a resurrection life.

 

Our reading from the Gospel of John occurs on the first day of the week. It is still Sunday. Earlier in the chapter, Mary Magdalene comes to the tomb to find the stone rolled away and the body of Jesus missing. She runs to tell Peter and John, who race to the tomb to find that she is telling the truth. They return to their homes while Mary stands at the tomb weeping. But when Jesus appears and speaks her name, she recognizes him and rushes to tell the disciples, “I have seen the Lord.”

 

That same evening the disciples are in the house together, still locked behind closed doors in fear. Then, Jesus comes among them. “Peace be with you,” he says. To prove his identity, he shows them his hands and side and then, “Peace be with you,” he says again. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” He breathes the Holy Spirit upon them, transforming them from disciples (those who follow) to apostles (those who are sent). Later, when they tell Thomas that they have seen the Lord, he refuses to believe them until Jesus appears again to offer words of peace and to offer himself to Thomas. “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.”

 

Jesus does not scold or ridicule Thomas for doubting. Instead, Jesus meets Thomas where he is, offering love and resurrection life. And how do Thomas and the disciples respond? It takes some time but eventually, these men who fell asleep when they should have prayed, who denied Jesus when they should have proclaimed him as Lord, who abandoned him when they should have clung to his side—these same men become so sure of resurrection life for all people, that most of them die as martyrs because of their faith in Christ as the Risen Savior. Because of their faithfulness, we have a story to tell.

 

Through God’s grace we have accepted the Easter message as true: Jesus has been raised from the dead and now life can be lived—not in fear—but in hope. Hear these words of hope taken from the Presbyterian Companion to the Book of Common Worship:

 

In the resurrection of Christ, God’s awesome purposes were on display, revealing a radically new world of peace and harmony and equality and mutuality… On Easter we glimpse a new landscape — the age to come — and experience a sense of holy awe at the significance of the resurrection for human life. The shape of the age to come reveals a new people of God, a new humanity. When Christ was crucified, humanity died with him on Calvary. But on Easter morning, a new world was born — raised up with the crucified and risen Christ. Bursting the bonds of death, the first human being of a new human race, Jesus Christ, appeared among those who crucified him. In the midst of the old sin-struck world, God gave the world a new beginning, a new humanity. By faith the old guilt-ridden humanity was born again into the new forgiven humanity of Jesus Christ. Ever since, here and there, clusters of the new people of God live according to the new social order of the new age.

 

After the Season of Lent, after living through a global pandemic, it is easy to welcome Easter with open arms. Resurrection is, after all, about new possibilities. But resurrection is about more than the joy we feel when the cold of winter bursts forth in spring flowers—more than providing hope for the time when our own lives come to an end. Resurrection is about the ways in which God can transform all that threatens to undo us; the ways in which God can transform all that wounds and scars; the ways in which God takes that which seems like the end and creates a new beginning. That is our resurrection hope made possible through the sacrifice of Jesus. Do we live with such hope coursing through our veins? Does our behavior demonstrate our belief that Jesus can make all things new? Or do we look at the state of the world and the state of the church and allow the language of death to creep in and push resurrection out the window?

 

In this Season of Easter, where might you begin to look for resurrection? Perhaps in your own personal struggles with disappointment, discouragement, fear, anxiety, addiction, or ill-health? Whatever your circumstance, what would resurrection mean for you? Are there changes that you might be called upon to make to be part of your own resurrection story? Do you long to see resurrection in the life of the church? What might that look like? How might you play a role in communicating the gospel in new, vibrant ways? Do you long to see resurrection in the world, where wars and rumors of wars continue, where the most vulnerable are routinely exploited for financial gain? Do you long to see resurrection in the death blows delivered to God’s creation—polluted waters, polluted soil, polluted air? What might resurrection look like for the plants and trees, rivers and oceans, all creatures great and small? What steps might you take to help bring healing to the hurting planet?

 

Through the waters of baptism, we are claimed as God’s children. We are followers of Jesus, and in our crazy mixed-up world, we are his representatives. Because of Christ, resurrection life is possible! Undeniably, there is much that threatens our peace, our well-being, our dreams for a better world for all God’s children. Yet, there is hope if we take up the mantle handed to us and continue to live in the ways of love—something Jesus modeled so well.

 

In large ways and small, we are invited to participate in God’s story of love for all people. And each new day brings with it opportunities to live into a resurrection life. Yes, Christ is risen! But he is not risen only on Easter morning. He is risen every day of our lives, every day for all of eternity. And we stand in a long line of saints who have proclaimed to the watching world: “Jesus has transformed my life; he can transform your life too! Thanks be to God! Amen!

*Cover Art, “Earthen Vessel” by Ira Thomas, Catholic World Tradition, used by permission

 

 

 

 

 

Radical Optimism

Radical Optimism

Rev. Dr. Glenda Hollingshead; April 4, 2021

Easter Sunday

1 Corinthians 15:1-11; Mark 16:1-8

 

Let us pause to savor this moment. For over a year, we have been the church from many dwelling places but this morning, by the grace of God, we are the church here in this beautiful sanctuary, as well as the church from many dwelling places. Let us relish this moment because this morning we gather—not for the funeral of Jesus—but for his resurrection. Because of Christ, hope abounds, and because of Christ, we have every reason for radical optimism. On this day, in a host of different languages, a greeting resounds around the world: Christ is risen! He is risen indeed!” Easter marks the beginning of Christianity. Without Easter, there would be no Gospel, no Good News to proclaim. Without Easter there would be no reason for us to be here in this church; there would be no church.

 

No doubt, all seems lost that first Easter morn, when Mary Magdalene and Mary the mother of James and Salome head out to tend to the body of their Lord. These same women, along with others, look on from a distance that Good Friday that seems anything but good. They watch while all their hopes and dreams of new life are nailed to a cross!  In 1st Century Palestine, it naturally fell to women to care for the bodies of the deceased. So, after the Sabbath, they rise with the sun, to perform the natural—only to be met with the supernatural. Imagine their distress, when they enter the tomb and are greeted by a young man, dressed in white, who says to them, “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.”

 

The women flee from the tomb in terror and amazement, and they say nothing to anyone. Nothing at all. What a strange way to end a gospel that has throughout reminded those impacted by it to “Tell no one.” Now, the instruction is crystal clear: Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him. But their response is just as clear: Out of fear, they tell no one!

 

Wait a minute! Surely there’s more to the story. Surely Mark does not mean to leave us hanging with a resurrection scene minus Jesus, minus the disciples, minus Peter. If we look carefully at our Bibles, we notice that two additional endings are provided. No doubt, it is a strange ending—so strange that it likely causes one monk, and then, later, another to add a little something to explain what happens next. The women do tell someone—otherwise how would we know what happens next—and something does, indeed, happen next! Though the topic has been long debated, verse 8 is widely accepted as the original ending: “So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone for they were afraid.” Maybe, if we allow this conclusion to stand on its own, we will find that instead of an incomplete ending, it provides the perfect beginning.

 

In her commentary on Mark, Kimberly Clayton Richter points out two major themes woven throughout this gospel.[i]  First is the person of Jesus who is the Christ, the Son of God. Jesus preaches, teaches, heals, and loves people. He embodies the authority and power of his Abba Father. Jesus embodies that which the powers of the world will stop at nothing to silence! God’s love is a dangerous love in the eyes of the world!

 

The second theme concerns the disciples. As Richter notes:

At first, they act like models of faithfulness, dropping everything to follow Jesus. But repeatedly, they’re portrayed as fellows who just don’t get it. They misunderstand; they doubt; they are filled with fear. And even though Jesus speaks of suffering and of being last and least, they want to know which of them is the greatest, and who will sit on his right and his left in glory. They fall asleep when he needs them most. By the end of the gospel, one of them has betrayed Jesus, one has denied him, and all have fallen away.

 

Surprisingly, in Mark’s telling, it’s the women who are portrayed as “getting it” more times than not. Yet, it’s the women who witness the empty tomb only to run away in fear and tell no one! How out of character. So why this strange turn of events? Why the cliffhanger? Personally, I attribute it to the genius of the writer of Mark’s gospel. For now, the dilemma is this: Who will go and who will tell? Only the reader is left! Thus, Mark’s ending sends us back to the beginning of Mark to re-read Jesus’ words, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.”[ii] WE are left to share the good news and continue the mission of Christ in the world. Along the way, like the disciples, we may doubt. We may fear taking up our cross and following Jesus. Too often, we may prefer glory to suffering. Instead of watching and praying, we may fall asleep. Nevertheless, it falls upon our shoulders to receive and believe Jesus’ resurrection promise: “He is going ahead of us. We will see him.”[iii]

 

During Lent we have explored “Isms” that threaten to undo us—Isms such as Individualism, Ageism, Domestic Terrorism, Consumerism, Christian Nationalism, and Racism. While there is much going on in the world that is cause for concern, as Christians we do not lose heart because there is every reason for optimism—even radical optimism. Why? Because of the radical nature of God’s love. That’s what the salvation story is all about, after all. God so loved the world that God entered the world as Emmanuel, God with us. In the person of Jesus, God’s love heals the sick and gives sight to the blind. God’s love turns tax collectors into generous disciples. God’s love feeds the hungry and embraces the outsider. Unable to accept God’s love, the powers of evil join forces to kill Love. They bind Love, they beat Love, they humiliate Love, and then, when that is not enough, they hang Love on a cross and kill Love. But God’s Love is too strong. So, in three days, God’s Love bursts forth from the tomb! And God’s Love is still on the loose!

 

As we continue the mission of taking Christ’s love into the world, there is no need to fear and there is every reason to be hopeful, to be optimistic. Because no matter where we go and no matter what is going on in the world, Jesus is already there—in Galilee, in Philippi, in Egypt, in Rome, in America, in Tennessee, in Georgia. Christ has gone ahead of us and he is here! Bread of heaven, Light of the world, Hallelujah! God’s Resurrected Love is risen! He is risen, indeed!

 

[i] Commentary for Mark, The Life with God Bible, NRSV, Kimberly Clayton Richter, 62-63.

[ii] Mark 1:15

[iii] Ibid, Richter.

*Cover Art by Rara Schlitt; used by permission