Earth Day, April 22, 2012
Easter III, Year B
1 John 3:1-7
We are witnesses of these things, in the name of the Creator, the Redeemer and the Sanctifier. Amen. Please be seated.
Today is Easter three and while egg dying kits are 90% off at CVS, and Cadbury eggs are getting harder and harder to find again, while the rest of the world –in the northern hemisphere anyway- is looking towards summer, it is easy to forget that we celebrate Eastertide for seven weeks! 50 days! It’s longer than Lent. We forget that the Resurrection is still new.
Luke’s Gospel passage today ends with this statement, You are witnesses of these things. The same call is echoed in Acts, in Peter’s proclamation to the Jews that they themselves are witnesses to the life and death of Jesus… and now these Christians, these new voices in the religious landscape, they stand as witness to the Resurrection of Jesus.
We – you, me, everyone here preparing for ministry, those of us already out there, engaging with others…we are witnesses of these things. Witnesses to the risen Christ! Witnesses to the power of the Divine in our lives, to the abundance of Creation, to the power of the Holy Spirit to bind us together, to infuse all around us with the sacred. We are the witnesses of God but we forget the Resurrection is still new.
That for these followers of Jesus in our Gospel this morning, for the Petrine and Pauline Christians of Acts, and even somewhat for the Johannine communities in 1st John, the Resurrection of Christ is a startling act –a new thing totally upending their concepts of reality, of God’s presence in their lives and of what true power, community and kingship of God might mean.
It’s terrifying, really. To witness such things…
Today is also Earth Day. Just over 40 years ago, this day of celebration and care for our earth was established and today, it is marked in nearly 200 countries around the planet. In 2009, the UN proclaimed April 22nd International Mother Earth Day –our global culture has been awakening to the need to care for –to honor the earth. But for some, Earth Day is tinged with fear, with sadness. There is often a veneer of panic and desperation in the eyes of environmentalists. A tragic kind of witness…
Because for those of us who can see it, who believe climate science and public health data, who get the connection between exploiting and poisoning the resources of the developing world and justice for the poor and oppressed –for those of us who grieve the loss of species and fear for the stripping of the rain forests, we know that this awakening to care for the earth is crucial for our survival, for our thriving.
Do you know about the Maldives? “The Island President” is a 2011 documentary about the President of the Maldives, an archipelago of 2000 islands in the Indian Ocean. There is no spot on any of the Maldives land that is taller than I am. Right now, me… nothing more above sea level than my head. 16 of these islands will need to be evacuated this year in order for their citizens to not be drowned. As waters rise, the very existence of this tiny country is in jeopardy. The Maldives are stunningly beautiful. And they may soon be wiped from existence.
It’s terrifying, really. To witness such things…
And so one of the dilemmas of looking at Creation, of the experiences of people of faith doing ecological work and with an environmental awareness is the fear, the grief, the despair that can be overwhelming. As Franciscan School of Theology professor Mary McGann says, “we are afraid to fall in love with the earth, for our hearts may be broken.” But sometimes, even more confusing and disorienting is our inability to articulate the connections between ecology and faith, the relationship between the Gospel and the Creation.
But you know, we often have the same questions about our ministry itself. Are our churches dying? Do we have anything relevant to say anymore? We all know good and faithful people who never go to church, who do not believe in God. If good people can exist without the guidance and fellowship of the church, then what are we doing with our lives? Is it even necessary or needful? How can we justify spending millions of dollars on institutional functioning while humanity suffers? Fix a stained glass window while homeless starve in our doorways? Can we still preach about Jesus knowing how much damage has been wrought in His name? When these fears bind our decisions, haunt our dreams and paralyze our prayer lives.
This can be a painful and often grief and despair filled place to live. But really. The first Christians at least had a good excuse for their grief, fear and shock. There were no instant communication devices proclaiming the Resurrection to the followers of Jesus, no shared messages of the risen Christ, at least not at first. It made sense to be afraid.
As theologian Nancy Blakley writes in Feasting on the Word,
Our fears hold us captive. It becomes difficult to give witness to the great joy that is ours—that the bonds of death could not hold Jesus. Jesus is alive. The power of the resurrection is the power to plant the seeds of transformation.
We know the story, we know that this fear and death is not the end. We live in the Resurrection of Jesus, we are the witnesses to the risen Christ.
Then He opened their minds to understand the scriptures.
God knows how real fear is, how hard it is to put our faith, our lives, our survival into this resurrection reality. And the response of Jesus to this fear, to the doubts of the Christians cowering behind locked doors is to open up scriptures and to share a meal, To proclaim peace and a new life for those abiding in Him.
The early Christian communities that produced our New Testament scriptures were still trying to work this out, what life in this resurrection reality might be like. But as the Johannine community reminds us in 1st John, What we will be has not yet been revealed. We could, I suppose, allow lawlessness and sinfulness to have the last word, without this Resurrection reality. But as Children of God, as members of the risen Christ, as those who do NOT act in ignorance but in full knowledge of our role in and for Creation, we can know –have faith- that something magnificent, something good is being made anew.
And so for us today, despite our fears, all of those very reasonable questions about effectiveness and purpose and mission, and the myriad other interruptions of rationale and logic, we proclaim a new reality.
As NT scholar & theologian NT Wright reminds us, “with Easter there has come to birth the new world, the redemption of Israel, the new creation.” For us as well, the Resurrection is still new. And in the Resurrection, we are shown that it is NOT the brokenness of the world that is normal. Life in God is rich and abundant. Creation is bursting with the presence of the Divine. And God heals, makes whole and reconciles.
We are witnesses of these things. And this witness is terrible in the ancient sense of the word, that is, Awesome. Not a frivolous awesome but a deep resonating awe that shakes the foundations of our worlds.
We are the witnesses of the Resurrection. And we can know the Resurrected Christ in Creation. We are invited to touch and see the Body of Christ not only in the faces of those we meet, in the words of our beloved communities, but also in the created world, in the streams feeding the rivers, and the rivers feeding the oceans, in the dust and earth and ground from which we were made. 1 john 3:3 says And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure. We are called to purify ourselves, our communities and yes- to purify the air, the water, the earth on which we depend. For this purity is a Christian practice, a discipline that guards us against lawlessness, of sinfulness, of our exploitation of God’s own Creation, in which is found the Divine.
We are the witnesses of the power of God the Creator to declare a good world into being, the power of God in Christ to transform the world, and the power of God in the Holy Spirit to infuse the world with the sacred.
The rest of the story behind the documentary “The Island President” is that this is also a film about transformation. It is a story of how the Maldvies’ president traveled to the most recent climate summit in Copenhagen and proclaimed the power of hope to bind us together, how the cooperative action between nations with resources and those in climate crisis can transform our planet. That the witness of this one man shifted the debate, changed the conversation.
And so today I proclaim this great awakening in our own Resurrection life as Christians, as Children of God. Because Jesus DID rise from the dead, He did break the bonds of death and sin, he DID proclaim Peace and bid us not be afraid. Jesus was present at the beginning of Creation. He walked on this earth and was made human. Fully human, a man we could touch and see, even after His resurrection. And Jesus comes again. And again. And again.
As witnesses, as the beloved community of Christ, it is our call, our joy, our vocation to work towards the healing of the earth, to end the lawlessness and sinfulness of our own lives and in our communities.
Jesus, present through and in all Creation, walks through locked doors, breaks through locked minds and speaks through our fears to say “Peace be with you. Be not afraid. You are the ones to proclaim repentance and forgiveness in my name to all nations.”
We are all witnesses of these things. Alleluia.
And Happy Earth Day.