Shuck and Jive

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Earthy Christians--A Sermon

Earthy Christians
John Shuck

First Presbyterian Church
Elizabethton, Tennessee

April 19, 2009
Earth Day Sunday

The other night I caught the end of the PBS program, NOW. The episode was entitled, “On Thin Ice.” It examined the state of glaciers in our world. The part I caught featured Glacier National Park in Montana. This is a park in my home state that I have visited a number of times.

Glacier National Park received its name from the glaciers that formed its majestic and craggy mountains seven thousand years ago. If you want to see any glaciers in Glacier National Park, you better plan your trip soon.

Like the Wicked Witch of the West, they are melting and could be gone within 12 years. Plan your vacation by 2020. According to the official website for Glacier National Park, in 1850 there were 150 glaciers. Today there are 26. The park’s estimate is a little longer for the life of these remaining glaciers. According to its website:
If the current warming trend continues in Glacier National Park, there will be no glaciers left here in the year 2030.
Either way, by 2020 or 2030, there will be no more glaciers in Montana. According to the program, there is little we can do about Montana’s glaciers, but perhaps their demise could direct our attention to the changes in Earth’s climate.

In the weekend edition of the Wall Street Journal: (April 18)
The Obama administration declared Friday that carbon dioxide and five other industrial emissions threaten the planet….The Environmental Protection Agency finding that the emissions endanger “the health and welfare of current and future generations” is “the first formal recognition by the U.S. government of the threats posed by climate change,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson wrote in a memo to her staff.
The Johnson City Press included a graphic showing the United States as the leader in per capita carbon emissions of any country on Earth. In an accompanying article, this past Friday marked
the first time that the federal government has said it is ready to use the Clean Air Act to require power plants, cars and trucks to curtail their release of climate-changing pollution, especially carbon dioxide from the burning of fossil fuels.
I am preaching to the choir, I know. But this is good news.

A couple of weeks ago, Amy Goodman, the host of the NPR program, DemocracyNow! that airs on our local affiliate, WETS, was in Johnson City. In her speech she talked about the president. One thing she said stuck with me. She told a story in which the president was asked to support some cause, I can’t remember what it was now. But it was something he was likely to favor.

His response was, “Make me.”

What that meant was that it isn’t enough to ask the president to do something, even if he is in favor of it. The political forces are powerful and it requires the sustained persistent will of the people to force the president as well as all of our leaders to make positive change.

That reminded me of a parable of Jesus:
In a certain city there was a judge who neither feared God nor had respect for people. In that city there was a widow who kept coming to him and saying, “Grant me justice against my opponent.” For a while he refused; but later he said to himself, “Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming.” (Luke 18:2-5)
That is one of my favorite parables that I quote often.

The persistent widow is our icon for one of the four paths of Creation Spirituality. She shows the “way of justice making.” For Earthy Christians, activism is spiritual. We need like the widow to continually present our case so that we eventually wear them out.

Of course, if that is the only spiritual path we take, we will likely wear out first. The burned out activist is no fun at any party and not effective.

Another spiritual path is the “way of letting go.” This includes letting go of our attachments. These attachments can be to a style of living to which we are accustomed and sometimes think we are entitled. We need to let go of beliefs and ideologies that may have been successful in an earlier time but are no longer so. Yesterday’s icon can turn into today’s idol.

It also includes recognizing the grief of loss. It is a recognition that the world is impermanent. As much as we desire for things to remain the same, they do not. That includes glaciers. The way of letting go is the spiritual practice of being able to be free enough to engage life as it is. It isn’t enough just to get angry, or even to get angry and fight, it also includes recognizing our own anger, frustration, and sadness so that it doesn’t cling to us. Letting go is the way of cleaning house of our own emotions and thoughts.

The icon is this woman from one of Jesus’ parables:
Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, “Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.” (Luke 15:8-10)
Lighting a lamp and sweeping the house are metaphors for letting go. The promise in letting go is that one will find.

A third path is the way of creativity. As we let go, we open ourselves to creativity. Creativity is experienced not as something we manufacture but as something that is revealed. The impediment to creativity is ideology, no matter what the ideology. The nature of creativity is that it is unexpected. It comes from unlikely places and flows out of us.

The creation of Earth Day is the fruit of this path. Today’s Johnson City Press reported on the activities of people, young and old, coming together to clean and beautify our area. Here is how the article begins:
Instead of sleeping in Saturday morning, three Science Hill High School freshmen spent their morning outside picking up trash around the school grounds. Katie Edwards, Leah Owens and Lara Byerley were part of a large group who participated in the Great American Cleanup, a nationwide effort from Keep America Beautiful. “It’s kind of nice to be outside on a Saturday morning instead of sleeping,” Edwards said.
She probably wasn’t aware of how profoundly spiritual that observation was. Creativity wakes us up from our sleep. Imagine the creativity that will emerge and is emerging as we wake up and realize that not only must we change our way of living—which is a way of dying—but that we can. The way of the Universe itself is creative adaptation to change.

Our icon for this path, the way of creativity is found in Jesus’ parable of the sower:
‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. 6And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. 7Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. 8Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.’ 9And he said, ‘Let anyone with ears to hear listen!’ (Mark 4:3-9)
Creativity is throwing out the seed trusting that some will land in good soil.

The fourth path is perhaps the path that sustains them all. None is more important than the other. The paths are not linear, or step by step. Yet at certain times some paths that may have been neglected need to be traveled. This path is the “way of awe.”

Earthy Christians fall in love with Earth. It is the way of falling in love with the Universe, with life, with ourselves, with one another.

Marcus Borg in his book, The Heart of Christianity, gave an illustration about this. You know you need this path when you go to the grocery store and you look around while you are waiting in line and everyone looks ugly. When that happens to us it is a sign that we are in a funk and we need new eyes. We need to fall in love again.

Awe is jaw dropping wonder at the crazy, extravagant beauty of life. We take it for granted. We sleep. Awe awakens us and puts goosebumps on our skin. In awe we see the sacredness of all things.

Now is a good season to fall in love with Earth and with life. Whether you take a hike with us today after church up to Laurel Falls, go to Montana and hike a glacier, sit on your deck and watch the rabbits, or delight in the quirkiness of our own species, the way of awe is to notice that G-d is in it all.

Perhaps an icon for this path is Jesus himself.
Jesus said, "I am the light that is over all things. I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained. Split a piece of wood; I am there. Lift up the stone, and you will find me there." (Thomas 77)
Today I am celebrating an Earthy Christianity.

It is blooming all around us.

Earthy Christians make justice, let go, allow for creativity, and fall in love.

Blessed Be.