Good News for the Earth


Proclaiming Good News.  Not every church claims a Season of Creation.  Not every church wants or needs to be a Creation Justice church.  But it is an extraordinary gift that we choose to do so. We bring something a little different to the mix thanthe Sierra Club or the Surfrider Foundation.  We sometimes undertake practical jobs like lobbying or native gardening or installing solar panels.  We also do the spiritual work of naming the earth and all its life sacred and worthy of care.  We use spiritual tools of prayer and ritual that invite the transformation of hearts and minds.  We name and grieve the brokenness of human relationships with nature.  And we proclaim Good News where we see it.  

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Brea Congregational United Church of Christ

Good News for the Earth

Mark 11:12-25  On the following day, when they came from Bethany, he was hungry.  13Seeing in the distance a fig tree in leaf, he went to see whether perhaps he would find anything on it. When he came to it, he found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  14He said to it, “May no one ever eat fruit from you again.” And his disciples heard it. 
            15    Then they came to Jerusalem. And he entered the temple and began to drive out those who were selling and those who were buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves; 16and he would not allow anyone to carry anything through the temple.  17He was teaching and saying, “Is it not written,  
            ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer for all the nations’? 
                        But you have made it a den of robbers.” 
18And when the chief priests and the scribes heard it, they kept looking for a way to kill him; for they were afraid of him, because the whole crowd was spellbound by his teaching.  19And when evening came, Jesus and his disciples went out of the city. 
            20  In the morning as they passed by, they saw the fig tree withered away to its roots.  21Then Peter remembered and said to him, “Rabbi, look! The fig tree that you cursed has withered.”  22Jesus answered them, “Have faith in God.  23Truly I tell you, if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and if you do not doubt in your heart, but believe that what you say will come to pass, it will be done for you.  24So I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours. 
            25  “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.”

Proclaiming Good News in the face of all evidence to the contrary: this is our job as followers of Jesus, and the job of all people seeking a just and compassionate world.  Compassionate Communication creator Marshall Rosenberg learned one way of proclaiming good new from group of women who sought social change.  Marshall sat in at their organizing meeting.  Here’s how it began.   They recited celebrations and gratitudes for seemingly mundane things that each of the members had done, and went on at some length about each of those little actions. This took over thirty minutes.  Marshall tried to be patient, but finally he couldn’t take it any more, and he asked, “Why are you spending so much time on rehashing these things?  Don’t you want to move forward?”  One of the women explained, “Marshall, we’re working on a really difficult issue.  We know we’re not going to achieve our goal anytime soon.  We may not achieve it in our lifetime.  So we have to enjoy the journey. We’ve decided to celebrate every small step we take. We are fighting for our lives.  So we can’t wait till later to celebrate. Our lives are being lived now.” 

Proclaiming Good News.  Not every church claims a Season of Creation.  Not every church wants or needs to be a Creation Justice church.  But it is an extraordinary gift that we choose to do so. We bring something a little different to the mix than the Sierra Club or the Surfrider Foundation.  We sometimes undertake practical jobs like lobbying or native gardening or installing solar panels.  We also do the spiritual work of naming the earth and all its life sacred and worthy of care.  We use spiritual tools of prayer and ritual that invite the transformation of hearts and minds.  We name and grieve the brokenness of human relationships with nature.  And we proclaim Good News where we see it.  

We are bearers of the Good News of Jesus Christ: the presence and power and love of God that meets every trial and terror, that leads us to healing and abundant life. We witness Good News in the wonder of creation, in “All our Relations, ” our connection to the earth and the life on it.  In spite of ecological devastation, we do have Good News for the earth, both the ordinary kind of news and the extraordinary kind that flows from our faith.

Here is some of the ordinary kind of good news for the earth.  While U.S. national parks and wild lands are under threat from the current administration, worldwide, over 15% of the earth’s lands are now protected in some way.  Public-private partnerships and economic incentives are being crafted around the globe to help protect more land.

California met its renewable energy goals for 2020—in 2016!  Over 30 percent of our electricity comes from renewable sources. Solar is getting more efficient than ever.  In 2020, all new homes built in California will have solar panels.

Experienced political organizers who came to help organize Orange County were surprised to discover that almost everyone here, Republican and Democrat, is passionate about protecting our environment.  And in recent news, Governor-elect Gavin Newsom is talking about a fracking ban in California.  

A couple miles from my house, the Irvine Ranch Water District has a purification plant that includes the San Joachin Wildlife Sanctuary.  A series of square quaternary treatment ponds, framed with native plants, is an oasis for thousands of rare and migratory birds.  This facility creates drinkable recycled water, and is a model that people from across the country are copying.

My sermon blog got 150 page views last month.  My California native garden blog got 1800 views, despite the fact that I haven’t posted a new article in almost a year. Peoples’ connections to nature are real and life-giving.  

The “right kind of farming” can grow food for us, respect and the earth, and give farmers economic security. Wendell Berry is known for his writing about farming that is in harmony with the earth, and gives farmers dignity.  He has proposes a “farm bill” to accomplish this.  Something to lobby our new congress about? 

All this good news is ordinary, but also extraordinary.  Somebody bothered to love the land and found a way to preserve it.  A lot of people around here voted in the last election to help the planet. Somebody feels a call to plant a native garden.  The ordinary is extraordinary, because it’s all sacred. Creative transformation is at work in it, and in us.  

People are rediscovering the therapeutic value of nature.  Forest bathing is a term for meditative walking among trees. It is prescribed in Japan for its proven heath effects.  Having green plants outside your hospital window has proven health effects. 

Pilgrimages are becoming popular around the world: people walking for miles along traditional paths or newly made paths to visit sacred sites, to connect with God, the land, and themselves.  Santiago de Compostela in Spain is the most famous pilgrimage route, but routes are all over Europe.  Rupert Sheldrake, a biologist and a process thinker, didn’t know what to give his godson for his sixteenth birthday.  He didn’t want to buy him stuff.  So Sheldrake offered to take him on a one day pilgrimage, less than ten miles walk along footpaths to a cathedral, followed by going out for cream tea.  I think that’s English for dessert.  They never had so much quality time together.  They enjoyed it so much they’ve done it every year since.  We don’t have ancient cathedral in the U.S.  Sheldrake calls our national wildlands America’s cathedrals, so hiking is an American version of pilgrimage.  Bring your own dessert.

We are nearing the end of our year with the Gospel of Mark.  Today Jesus has publicly taken a stand for the Good News of God. This was not good news to the Powers that Be: the corrupt Temple establishment that put Roman rule and power and profit ahead of God and human compassion.  We expect compassion from Jesus; today we see confrontation.  He even kills an innocent fig tree, to make his point.  

The problem is that Good News isn’t good news to everybody.  State Attorneys General are investigating Exxon for fraud, for hiding their role in global warming for decades.  Cities are suing oil companies for damages due to sea level rise. Children are suing the US government to cap CO2 levels, so they can have a future.  Activists have been protesting fossil fuel pipelines by turning off their valves.  This strategy of nonviolent direct action looks to me a lot like overturning the money changers tables, and it is about as well received.  These activists are using a “necessity defense,” claiming that they must shut down pipelines to prevent immanent destruction of our planet.  Occasionally that defense work.  But some states are claiming that turning off pipelines is terrorism, and legislating massive jail terms.  And we saw what happened to water protectors at Standing Rock.  The Powers that Be do not want good news for the earth that gets in the way of their profits.

At the end of our gospel reading is a provocative verse that I have struggled with. Jesus speaks of our power to move mountains. He says, “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  This is not my experience.  So let’s take it in context.  Maybe he was trying to say this.  “You can’t see how this soul-crushing system can change.  But I can.  The first step is prayer: expressing your anguish and your hopes for the future.  And then you don’t know what is possible and what is impossible.  So live as if your prayer is possible.  Live into it.” 

Moving mountains?  We know that’s possible.  Coal companies do it all the time.  And we just did it in Orange County, getting more than three times the people to vote in this midterm election than the last one, and getting national representatives who will listen to our hopes and fears.  Thousands of us picked up our little shovels, and we moved that mountain. 

It will take a miracle to stem our global population.  But that miracle already exists.  Birth control is cheap and easy to use.  Women who have access to birth control, and the freedom to use it, and safe conditions for their children to survive to adulthood, do limit their family size.  Problem solved, in theory.  OK, we still have some digging, but that mountain can move.

It will take a miracle to wean us off our carbon addiction.  Fossil fuel companies will not let go without a fight, and there are technical barriers we don’t know how to overcome.  Yet we must plan and act as though it’s possible.  We can learn from our global neighbors to enjoy living simply. We can take pride in having shared households and multigenerational households (that save lots of resources compared to big suburban homes with one or two people in them).  We can buy less and waste less.  The transformation required is huge, and change is scary.  So we take baby steps in the right direction.  Pick up your shovel; we’ve got one big mountain to move.

It will take a miracle to prevent more fires like the Camp fire that hit the town of Paradise.  Let’s pray for that miracle.  Or any related miracle we can get.  Like the infrastructure for safe evacuation from firestorms.  Like effective relief and housing for these climate refugees, and for the next climate refugees.  Generosity to address human need, and effective governmental intervention: these are miracle worth praying for. And they are possible.  

We are not slaves set by God to toil on impossible tasks.  We are beloved children of God, called to live now as if justice and mercy and hope are real, as if the earth and all the life on it truly matter.  Called to celebrate, and called to care for one another, no matter what.  This is how we live as if the mountain is already being moved. This is our good news that goes beyond what the Sierra Club and the Surfrider Foundation can do.

In the last line of the reading, Jesus says, “Whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against anyone; so that your Father in heaven may also forgive you your trespasses.  He is inviting us to let go of the baggage that prevents us from working together to move those mountains, to let go of the baggage that prevents us from caring for each other well...  and he is inviting us to be humble.  None of us really knows how to move mountains, and some of our best ideas may backfire.  Dogmatism and scapegoating move nothing.  We need to be in relationship first, rather than being right.  We need to trust, and give grace.  We can move this mountain, with God’s help.  

So we celebrate the Good News that we see today, and we pray to open ourselves up to possibilities for transformation we do not yet see, to possibilities for healing the earth.  And we live as if all the earth is sacred, full of wonder and full of God’s spirit.  Because it is.  I finish with a prayer by Walter Brueggeman:  God of all life,
Sink your generosity deep into our lives
that your abundance may expose our false lack
that endlessly receiving we may endlessly give
so that the world may be made Easter new,
without greedy lack, but only wonder…
Finish your creation, in wonder, love and praise. Amen.”


The birth of the San Juaquin Wildlife Sanctuary: http://www.seaandsageaudubon.org/Chapter/PSwanSJWS.html

Wendell Berry’s Farm Bill:  https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/01/opinion/wendell-berry-agriculture-farm-bill.html  See also Allan Savory’s breakthrough grazing land management:  https://www.ted.com/talks/allan_savory_how_to_green_the_world_s_deserts_and_reverse_climate_changeAllan Savory has discovered, rediscovered actually, that grazing animals, properly managed, can heal grasslands, feed people with net positive environmental impact, and help sequester carbon.  His Institute is helping people around the world to learn holistic land management and to heal grazing lands that were turning into desert. His before and after photos are astonishing.  If you’re curious, ask Kris Percy’s sister Kate Potter.  She has used Savory’s methods. 




All My Relations


We are animals. Some Christians took Genesis too literally and believe that we did not evolve from other animals.  We did.  We are apes, apes with very little hair and oversized brains, who may be too clever for our own good.  We are among the mammals, mammals are the animals that nurse and nurture our young. Like other mammals, our brains are wired for empathy.  We can read the emotional signals of those we are in relationship with, so that we can care for each other well.  That is a survival skill that mammals share, and that has lately spawned a brisk business in cute Youtube animal videos.

Unlike other mammals, though, we can tell ourselves stories about who deserves our care and who does not.  We moderns have had the idea that the earth, the creatures on it, even some other people, are just things to be used, or problems to be solved, or even enemies.  This disconnected way of seeing the world has helped create ecological devastation, wars, injustice, and epidemic depression. This is the thinking of power over, of empire.  

Jesus invites us into a different kind of power: power with, and power for.  “All my relations” is not a quaint attribution of human personality to the natural world.  “All my relations” is a statement of deep truth that we ignore at our peril. Our well-being depends on the well-being of the earth and the lives on it.  We need to tell this part of the Christian story.

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Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
November 11, 2018

All My Relations

Matt. 6:25-33  “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?  26Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they?  27And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  28And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin,  29yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  30But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith?  31Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What will we eat?’ or ‘What will we drink?’ or ‘What will we wear?’  32For it is the Gentiles who strive for all these things; and indeed your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.  33But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.


Last month I was at Sevenoaks Retreat Center at the foot of the Shenandoah Mountains in Virginia.  Hunting season had just opened, but the deer had somehow figured out that on the grounds of the retreat center they were safe. So a lot of deer were wandering the grounds.  Everyone who walked before breakfast (not me) met deer along the trails.  These deer were not tame, but one of my fellow students figured out that if she sang to them, she could get very close; they would not run away. Other people started singing to the deer, and it worked!  Deer like to be sung to, who knew?  That is true for other animals too, including people.

There was also a bear in residence at Sevenoaks.  None of us saw it, but it was leaving “offerings” around the grounds.  Some of the students starting talking about the bear as a threat, an enemy.  This was ironic, since a major point of the retreat was to honor and learn from the power of nature.  I spoke up for the bear; I said that in my understanding, if you respect a bear (and keep your food and garbage secure) the bear will respect you.   That is true for other animals too, sometimes even including people.

Today we are borrowing from Native American people the phrase “All my relations.” This phrase honors the connection we have to the earth and the life on it.  We especially acknowledge pets, those creatures that live with us, that are part of our immediate families.  But we honor God, and we do justice, when we widen the circle to honor “all our relations”– the whole web of nature that surrounds us and sustains us.  

We are animals. Some Christians took Genesis too literally and believe that we did not evolve from other animals.  We did.  We are apes, apes with very little hair and oversized brains, who may be too clever for our own good.  We are among the mammals, mammals are the animals that nurse and nurture our young. Like other mammals, our brains are wired for empathy.  We can read the emotional signals of those we are in relationship with, so that we can care for each other well.  That is a survival skill that mammals share, and that has lately spawned a brisk business in cute Youtube animal videos.

Unlike other mammals, though, we can tell ourselves stories about who deserves our care and who does not.  We moderns have had the idea that the earth, the creatures on it, even some other people, are just things to be used, or problems to be solved, or even enemies.  This disconnected way of seeing the world has helped create ecological devastation, wars, injustice, and epidemic depression. This is the thinking of power over, of empire.  

Jesus invites us into a different kind of power: power with, and power for.  “All my relations” is not a quaint attribution of human personality to the natural world.  “All my relations” is a statement of deep truth that we ignore at our peril. Our well-being depends on the well-being of the earth and the lives on it.  We need to tell this part of the Christian story.

In the creation stories of Genesis and in Psalm 8, God sets humans to rule over nature.  Humans do have a special ability among the animals to plan, and to build, and to transform our environment.  We also have the ability to choose and to consider the effects of our actions.  So among the animals we have a special responsibility to account for our care of the earth and its creatures. 

Animals have their own special abilities, some of which science is still discovering.  Most traditional cultures, including ancient Israel and Egypt and Greece, told proverbs and parables about animals and nature, to teach wisdom.  We still have a few of these teachings in the bible: especially in the book of Proverbs, and in today’s gospel reading. 

In this passage Jesus is reminding us that worry is not how God means us to live; that faith and trust serve us better.  He invites us to take our part in the dance of life, without taking on problems that are not ours to fix.  Other living beings just show up and do what they do best: birds fly and forage, flowers bloom.  We are the only creatures who try to control the future, a job that none of us can accomplish.  Jesus uses our relations to remind us to join the dance of life, not to be paralyzed by worry.

Many traditional cultures also have animal totems:  they understand that by befriending a certain animal a person can learn the gifts and skills of that animal.  Buffalo teaches strength and self-giving.  Wolf teaches loyalty.  Turtle makes a secure home.  Owl teaches wisdom and insight.  Coyote teaches humor and play.  Whatever trait you are in need of, there is an animal who has what you need, and is happy to teach you, ifyou will offer it your respect and companionship.  Are you drawn to any particular animal?

In befriending our pets we often discover love and affection and companionship, so freely given, that I feel safe to say our pets show God’s love for us.  They challenge us to love them well.  To love is to be vulnerable to loss.  Most of us have by now outlived a pet we have loved.  And so they also teach us about loss, and letting go, cherishing memories, and moving on.  

In traditional thinking, “all our relations” go beyond the animal world.  In response to indigenous peoples’ lobbying, four rivers were given the legal status of persons in 2017: the Whanganui River in New Zealand, the Ganges and Yamuna Rivers in India, and the Rio Atrato, in Colombia.  Nobody knows what this means yet in a court of law, but it seems at least as valid to make rivers persons as it is to make corporations persons. Hopefully someday soon watersheds and mountains will be plaintiffs on lawsuits against oil companies to preserve their existence. 

We alone, among all our relations, have moral choices to make. So how will we do right by our animal relations?  Just to bring up the question is to begin to heal our relationships with the non-human world, to attend to “all our relations,” instead of treating nature like a thing, a tool to be used.  

I think it’s pretty obvious how to do right by domestic animals: simply to give them humane treatment.  Wild animals invite us to witness power and grace outside our human realm.  I am humbled when I watch the hummingbird in my garden go about her business, defying gravity, making beauty.  I am awed when the eye of the heron catches mine, as he stands still and regal on the fence behind my house.  God has whole lives and purposes that are not human, that we do not control.  In witnessing them, we can be transformed.

How do we do right by wild animals?  Give them life and a home.  The situation is dire.  Habitats are under threat in so many ways.  By giving wild animals what they need to live, we will give ourselves what we need.  By saving them we help save ourselves.  They do not need to belong to us to bless us.  

The tradition of Christian blessing of animals is said to start with Francis of Assisi in the eleventh century.  We are told that Francis frequently preached to the birds.  What could he tell them about their lives and their service to God that they didn’t already know?  I suspect he just enjoyed their company; and apparently they enjoyed his too.  The stories say that wild animals and birds came up to Francis without fear.  Maybe he sang to them.  Maybe they could tell he recognized them as his relations.  

We bless our pets because they bless us.  And blessing them reminds us of our duty and our joy, to honor all our relations.  Amen.


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What happens to animals after they die?  I do not know, but I trust that they are beloved by God. Some scholars have claimed that animals do not have souls.  Strange, since the Latin word for soul is anima. I think what these scholars mean is that animals do not face the judgment after death that our faith has taught that humans face.  We humans are accountable to God for the lives we have led, because we are conscious of the choices we make.  We are responsible– responsible for doing right; for living God’s way.  Animals don’t have this same awareness and responsibility (as far as we know.)  Animals just do what they do, and they do it well.  In their own unique ways they serve God, without having to try, without worrying about doing it right.  

The Cry of the Earth

Brown Pelican, photo by Lisa Zobian.
Welcome to the Anthropocene.(2) Millions of years from now, evidence of the earth’s sixth great extinction that is unfolding around us will be compressed into a little layer of radioactive debris.  In the meantime, we mourn what is already lost, as we struggle to find the personal and political leverage to limit further loss.  Limiting this loss feels like trying to stop a runaway semi truck with the soles of our sneakers.

We are going in the wrong direction and we don’t know how to stop.  Christians have a name for this problem: we call it sin.  Empire tricked us into believing that sin was a personal problem, and that our good behavior could stop it.  We bought the fast food with the plastic packaging.  We forgot to turn off the lights.  Ecological sin is much more than personal.  It is systemic and societal.  Our society functions on burning fossil fuel.  We’ve cut down a little, by outsourcing heavy industry to China. Our economic system is a pyramid scheme that depends on unsustainable growth.  Our laws and our culture value profit over people or the earth.  Understanding the structural nature of our self-destruction, we realize the limits of our power, and the depths of our loss.

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Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
November 4, 2018
The Cry of the Earth

A reading based on Luke 15:11-21: The Prodigal Species 
 (Adapted from a script by Chris Sunderland, in A Heart for Creation by Chris Polhill.)
There was a man who had two sons. 
There was a God who, over millions and billions of years, danced a great creation into being, with a whole host of species upon an earth.  And there came a time when one of those species came to understand themselves to be special in the eyes of God. 
And the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance that is due to me.’  And he divided his living between them. 
And the humans said to God, ’Give us our inheritance,’ and they plundered the earth with mines and drills and rigs, sucking out the black treasure, consuming it in their machines and spewing the waste gas into the sky. 
Not many days later the younger son gathered all that he had and went on a journey to a far country, and there he squandered his inheritance in loose living. 
A great economic system arose, fuelled by ingenuity and greed, based on limitless consumption, and relying on the black treasure.  The people travelled everywhere and nowhere. Forests were destroyed.  It was party time.  The air was filled with laughter ...  But the clouds were gathering. 
And when it had all gone, a great famine arose in the land and he began to be in want.  So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed the pigs.  And he would gladly have eaten from the pigs’ trough, but no one gave him anything. 
It was the climate, you see.  They hadn’t thought of that.  And once they had, it was too late.  The animals and plants began just to disappear.  The desert spread.  The wells we dug deeper and deeper.  Water ... Anxious people ... Angry people ... Violent people.  The rich built castles.  The poor made battering rams. 
And then he realized; he said, ‘Why even my father’s hired servants have bread enough to spare but I perish here with hunger.  I will arise and go to my father and say, “Father I have done wrong against heaven and against you.  I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ 
And a few began to dream of a home: they saw a vision of God surrounded by the creatures of the earth; they dreamt of living at peace with God and creation, and they set out to make that vision real. 
And he arose and set out for his father. And when he was far off his father saw him and had compassion and ran and embraced him. 
And I will leave you to fill in the rest of the story. 

This is week two of our Season of Creation. By creation we mean God’s ongoing relationship with the world, in harmony with evolution.  This week we listen to the cry of the earth.  And I need your help.  In your bulletin you will find sheets of paper.  On them please write a few of those creatures or things on our earth that have been lost, or are endangered.  We will collect them, and we will pray for them together.

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Listen to the cry of the earth.  Since this summer, I have been listening to the reality of climate change.  I have been following authors like Naomi Klein and Elizabeth Kolbert and Jem Bendell. It is hard emotional work. Forgive me if this journey I share disturbs you.  I feel bound to share, because the climate crisis is, among other things, a spiritual crisis.

Humans have been shaping the natural world, changing the face of our planet, for thousands of years.  Our ancestors hunted big game to extinction, cleared forests for grazing and agriculture.  Humans are clever.  We keep learning how to do it better.  The last century or two, with mechanization and fossil fuel, has left us with more of earth shaped by humans than remains wild, little earth left to exploit, and little signs of that stopping.  Among countless markers of our effects on the earth, the most ominous is that carbon dioxide in the air on Mauna Kea continues to rise 2 to 3 parts per million each year, and the current value, averaged for seasonal fluctuations, is 408 parts per million. (1)

Welcome to the Anthropocene.(2) Millions of years from now, evidence of the earth’s sixth great extinction that is unfolding around us will be compressed into a little layer of radioactive debris.  In the meantime, we mourn what is already lost, as we struggle to find the personal and political leverage to limit further loss.  Limiting this loss feels like trying to stop a runaway semi truck with the soles of our sneakers.

We are going in the wrong direction and we don’t know how to stop.  Christians have a name for this problem: we call it sin.  Empire tricked us into believing that sin was a personal problem, and that our good behavior could stop it.  We bought the fast food with the plastic packaging.  We forgot to turn off the lights.  Ecological sin is much more than personal.  It is systemic and societal.  Our society functions on burning fossil fuel.  We’ve cut down a little, by outsourcing heavy industry to China. Our economic system is a pyramid scheme that depends on unsustainable growth.  Our laws and our culture value profit over people or the earth.  Understanding the structural nature of our self-destruction, we realize the limits of our power, and the depths of our loss.   

The proper response to this loss is not a quick fix or a glib theology.  The proper response to loss is to mourn.  How do we mourn a loss as big as the planet?  Just like any other.  Grief does not have a scale.  Grief just is.  

Our culture is not comfortable with grief. We don’t make space for mourning. If this worship service is not the time and place this you want to mourn, I apologize.  And do find another time and place.  Please make space to mourn.  If we do not mourn, we will live in either denial or bitterness.  

Bitterness is the fruit of resentment or fear our guilt or despair.  Never an attractive look.  So let us be careful to look in the mirror and make sure to remove that bitterness when we find it on ourselves.  Bitterness happens when you get hurt and you let your hurt harden, when you define yourself by your loss and then assign blame for it.  Bitterness is running much of our politics these days, have you noticed? And it serves no one.

Denial is handy.  Denial is disconnection, tuning out.  Injustice requires our denial, because it hurts too much to witness another’s pain and just do nothing.  And denial is a normal human response to overwhelm.  You can take a break to go into denial, but don’t live there.

Mourning is honesty.  Mourning is connection.  It is acknowledgement of our love and our loss.  And it hurts.  But the tears cleanse.  They wash away fear and guilt and shame and pain, well at least some of those things. Mourning is a sacred practice that connects us to our own hearts, and to common humanity.  Mourning is remembering what we value, when we cannot protect those things the way we want to protect them.  

Mourning is near the center of the Christian faith. God mourned our broken relationships, and sent Jesus to heal us.  Jesus does not heal us by waving a magic wand.  Instead he let himself be broken by the systems of his day, not so different from the systems of our day that are breaking our planet.  Jesus entered into our pain, and our mourning.  He went to hell and back, so the old story says, to show us that we are never alone.  And then he rose to show us that nothing can separate us from the love of God, not our ugliest sin or our deepest sorrow, not even death.  We only need to turn from denial or bitterness, and bring our broken hearts to God, and God will always receive us, and begin our healing.  

For those of us used to feeling in control, mourning is hard work, because it acknowledges we are not in control.  So we are humbled, and that too is at the center of our faith.  Each of us is a precious child of God, with an invitation from God to take our part in the dance of relationship; to care for one another and the earth imperfectly, with great love.    

So today we offer our broken hearts as we take up the cry of the earth.  We listen to that cry, and we respond.  We do not know what is possible, but we know we need to change.  We reach out to the God of all creation, knowing that we are heard, and loved, and held in the power of transformation.  Listen to the cry of the earth with me.  Bear witness.  Mourn.  And let our hearts break open with love.  We are not alone.  God is with us always.  Amen.


(2) The term Anthropocene was coined to describe our current epoch where humans have reshaped the world. www.anthropocene.info.

Prayers for the Earth

Now we will collect the prayers we have written and read them responsively.
For…                   Response: God, in your mercy, hear our sorrow and heal our world.

Original Blessing



Enjoying the wonders of nature does not require traveling to a remote wilderness.  I had my mini-redwood grove, then I had windowsill gardens, and now I have a backyard native garden.  Annie Dillard wrote the wonderful nature study Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  This book sounds like she lived in a wilderness.  She didn’t.  She lived a suburb.  From her magical descriptions of nature she omitted a husband teaching college, rows of brick houses, and cars zipping by Tinker Creek.  Dillard was consciously emulating Henry David Thoreau.  Walden Pond sounds like a splendid wilderness for a hermit, but it was a short walk to the town of Concord, and rumor has it that Thoreau took his laundry from his cabin on Walden Pond to his mother’s house each week to get it cleaned.  This is not fraud.  This is paying attention to the blessings that persist in the face of our mowing and our paving.  Thoreau said, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”  All we have to do is pay attention.

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Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
October 28, 2018

Original Blessing

Psa. 148:           Praise the LORD! 
            Praise the LORD from the heavens; praise him in the heights! 
            Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his host!
            Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shining stars! 
            Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!
            Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created. 
            He established them forever and ever; 
                        he fixed their bounds, which cannot be passed.
            Praise the LORD from the earth, you sea monsters and all deeps, 
                        fire and hail, snow and frost, stormy wind fulfilling his command!
            Mountains and all hills, fruit trees and all cedars! 
            Wild animals and all cattle, creeping things and flying birds!
            Kings of the earth and all peoples, princes and all rulers of the earth! 
            Young men and women alike, old and young together!
            Let them praise the name of the LORD, for his name alone is exalted; 
                        his glory is above earth and heaven. 
            He has raised up a horn for his people, praise for all his faithful, 
            for the people of Israel who are close to him. Praise the LORD!


You’ve probably heard of Original Sin.  The doctrine of Original Sin was an invention of Augustine in the fourth century; it’s not in the Bible, of which Augustine apparently had a bad Latin translation.  In the bible is Original Blessing: the blessing of an awe-inspiring universe, and a precious blue orb we call Earth, and a myriad of plants and animals on it so varied and complex we have yet to describe them all.  Christian teachings have often neglected this blessing that is our natural world.  Some Christian teachings even made the world, and our bodies, dangerous and sinful.  We don’t take our creation stories as literal history or science, how the world came to be.  They are our why, giving us meaning and purpose.  Genesis 1 says that in the beginning, order came out of chaos, and complexity built up step by step, and at each step God saw that it was good.   

Do you remember as a child, being out in nature and experiencing a sense of awe, of wonder, maybe even a sense of the sacred? I wonder where you were.  I was in a redwood grove; Big Basin State Park in the Santa Cruz Mountains. The ground was soft with a cushion of needles just a little paler than the reddish-brown earth.  The sky peeked out far, far above, through a high ceiling of lacy arching branches. Crumbling trunks of fallen giants lay at intervals, silent witnesses to ancient times. I would sit inside a fairy ring where one of those giants had once stood, and I would be surrounded by its daughters, narrow and breathtakingly tall.  Crested blue jays flashed by and staked out their territory with startling cries.  The air was full of sweet earth and evergreen perfume.  That redwood grove was my first cathedral.

I also found a little grove of evergreens in a park a mile from my house in suburban Sunnyvale, California.  I would go and sit in that grove, and feel a part of something larger than myself; something that fed my soul.  As a young adult I went back to that grove, and I was amused to discover how tiny it was; about fifteen feet on a side, surrounded by playgrounds and basketball courts.  Maybe it was fractal: one piece of nature evokes the whole, at least to a child’s eyes.

This is our Season of Creation.  By creation we mean God’s ongoing relationship with the world, in harmony with evolution.  I’ve never been at a church with a Season of Creation before.  Thank you!  We have this Season of Creation to remind us that reverence and care for the natural world is an important part of our faith.  Our well-being, our very survival, depends on our care for nature.  If you are paying attention, you can get very anxious about the fate of our world.  But let’s not go there today.  Instead, as followers of Jesus, let’s reclaim a sense of wonder at the glory of nature, and respect for our interconnection with the natural world, and joy for the all blessings this world gives to us.

Ecology is doxology.  Ecology is the recognition of the interconnection of the natural world. And doxology is a song of praise to God. Ecology is doxology.  We don’t find much ecology in the New Testament. Praise for the wonders of nature was already in the psalms, and psalms were part of the daily life of Jesus and his first followers.  Thanksgiving for the blessings of nature was part of Jewish prayers over meals, and Sabbath prayers and prayers for the marking of the seasons.  Jesus took for granted an understanding of the rhythms of the natural world: he told parables of planting seeds and harvesting, scrambling over hills to watch over sheep, and the blessing of a spring of water bubbling life out of dry ground.

But then Christians got preoccupied with sin and salvation, heaven and hell, and many of them seem to have forgotten Original Blessing entirely. So we who feel the sacred calling to us through nature have often had to look elsewhere to put words to our feeling. Indigenous cultures around the world remind us that all life is sacred.  In this part of the world we turn to Native American traditions to find words and images that honor the sacred in nature.  Science tells us of the interconnectedness of all life, even subatomic particles. Old science told us the world was made of billiard balls bumping against each other; new science knows better.  Process Theology gives us a way to understand how God can be in and through every creature and every rock and every star, everything, calling each moment forward in a dance of co-creation.

And we are invited to join this dance of co-creation, to enjoy and celebrate our connection with all that is.  This does not sit well with a Protestant work ethic.  It is not “productive” to meditate in a redwood grove, or to contemplate the patterns of clouds, or to cuddle a baby’s toes.  Or is it?  Our attending to the natural world can produce peace, awe, respect, a sense of belonging, and other fruits of the Spirit.  Our reverence for nature will not produce money, or prestige, or the power that keeps empire afloat.  To capitalism, nature is one more commodity to be bulldozed, packaged, sold, and discarded. But those who honor Original Blessing discover the power with, instead of power over.  The power of connection.  Creativity. Joy.  And perhaps the wisdom and courage we will need to preserve the earth and its creatures, including ourselves.

Enjoying the wonders of nature does not require traveling to a remote wilderness.  I had my mini-redwood grove, then I had windowsill gardens, and now I have a backyard native garden.  Annie Dillard wrote the wonderful nature study Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  This book sounds like she lived in a wilderness.  She didn’t.  She lived a suburb.[i]  From her magical descriptions of nature she omitted a husband teaching college, rows of brick houses, and cars zipping by Tinker Creek.  Dillard was consciously emulating Henry David Thoreau.  Walden Pond sounds like a splendid wilderness for a hermit, but it was a short walk to the town of Concord, and rumor has it that Thoreau took his laundry from his cabin on Walden Pond to his mother’s house each week to get it cleaned.  This is not fraud.  This is paying attention to the blessings that persist in the face of our mowing and our paving.  Thoreau said, “Heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads.”  All we have to do is pay attention.

I like to pay attention in the farmer’s market, Yesterday I celebrated the arrival of persimmons, beets with their tops, and Asian vegetables I can’t name.  My reverence continues when I lay out veggies for a stew.  I savor the onion, and the zucchinis, and the shiny eggplants, and the pungent bay leaf, blessing my kitchen, and my senses, and my family’s bodies. Words are not required, just the awareness that these gifts of the earth are God’s blessings for us.

Our lives are full of blessings.  And other things.  If we overlook the blessings, we will probably become dry and bitter and lonely.  If we open our eyes to the wonders all around us, then we can join God’s dance of co-creation.  As we become aware of our connection to the earth that sustains us, we will never be alone, and we can become willing to engage in the struggle to preserve the life that helped dance us into existence on this blue jewel we call home. Amen.


 

Come to the Table


Come, assured that you have a place at the table.  Whoever you are and wherever you’re from and whatever you believe, you are welcome at this table.  Whatever you have done or haven’t done, you are welcome at this table.  You don’t have to earn your place at the table.  It is a gift.  At this table you have nothing to prove, no price to pay.  You have only to receive what God has to give to you.

****
Brea Congregational United Church of Christ
October 7, 2018

Come to the Table

Eph. 4:1-6, 11-16   I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called,  2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love,  3making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling,  5one Lord, one faith, one baptism,  6one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. 
            The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,  12to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ,  13until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. 14We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.  15But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,  16from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.


On this World Communion Sunday it is fun to remember that as the earth rotates in its cycle, Christian communities around the world are awakened to a new Sunday morning, a new Lord’s Day, and they gather all over the world to take this communion meal.  It is our common bond.  

Communion is one of two sacraments we claim in the United Church of Christ, along with baptism.  A sacrament is an outward and visible sign of an inward or invisible gift from God.  This gift is too big to be described in words.  But you might want to choose a few words that fit for you today.  Here are some traditional words that hint at the meaning of communion.  Remembrance. Thanksgiving.  Connection.  Life. Salvation.  Spiritual nurture.  Forgiveness.  New covenant. New life.  Transformation.  Reconciliation.  Community. Foretaste of the heavenly banquet.

So come, assured that you have a place at the table.  Whoever you are and wherever you’re from and whatever you believe, you are welcome at this table.  Whatever you have done or haven’t done, you are welcome at this table.  You don’t have to earn your place at the table.  It is a gift.  At this table you have nothing to prove, no price to pay.  You have only to receive what God has to give to you.

Come to the table knowing that many others are invited too.  Some of those people you know and love.  Some are easy to feel close to.  Some are separated by culture, or distance, or hurt, or mistrust.  Let this table open your heart to the work of reconciliation. Trusting that you are loved, and forgiven, and safe, you can reach out to a neighbor, to help build the beloved community.

Come to the table knowing that your presence here matters.  You are precious, and unique, irreplaceable, and if you do not come to this table, God mourns your absence. 

Come to the table to share your longings and your hopes, your loves and your celebrations.  Come to share your griefs and your guilts and your shames and your, your fears and your anger.  God is big enough to take all of it.  Come to be known, and understood, and cherished.  Come to be changed.  Come to discover what God has in store for you.

Come to the table this morning, knowing that you don’t have to understand this gift to receive it.  Let communion work in you, God’s power in you, calling forth God’s future with you.

Come to the table Jesus Christ has set for you, and for all who seek him.  Amen.

World Communion Sunday Invitation
Dear friends, Come to the table of justice and joy!
Let praise go up to God our Life! 
From every creature on God’s good earth!

Wepraise you, gracious God, for in the beginning,
when the world was fresh from your hand,
you made us neighbors — one people though many kinds —
and lavished on us pleasures too many to name!

For you we were a sheer delight.
For each other, helpers and friends.

And so you entrusted to us your justice and your joy.

But we kept your gifts for a few and denied them to many,
creating worlds of poverty and pain.
And so we broke each other’s hearts.

But you did not reject us.

In the fullness of time you gave us Jesus,
full of grace and truth.

By his ministry of mercy,
you restore us to each other and to you.
Mending our hearts and repairing the world.

And by his Spirit you invite us even now to be for each other what he is for us — pardon and peace, blessing and delight.

For all your gifts, O God, we thank you!
And with everything that lives under, on, and above the world,
we give you glory, and we praise your name!

And now, O God, we remember Jesus.

[A brief silence ]

We remember that he forgave our sins.

He breathed on us the peace of God.

We remember that he called us friends.

He taught us to love each other as he loved us.

We remember that he feasted with the poor and rich,
with strangers and friends.

To eat with him was to taste how good you are.

Words of Institution

And we remember that on the night he was handed over, he ate supper with his friends, and he gave us a pledge of love that transcends death.

He took bread, gave thanks, broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying:
Take and eat, all of you: This is my body, given for you.

Holy Spirit, bless this bread that the earth has given and human hands have made.
May it be for all the Bread of Life!

When supper was over, Jesus took the cup, gave thanks,
and shared it with his friends, saying:

Take and drink, all of you: This is the seal of a new covenant, my life poured out for you.

Bless this cup, fruit of the vine and work of human hands. 
May it be for all of us the Cup of Blessing!
**

Thank you, God, for life in the Spirit of Jesus: for gladness in this bread and cup, for love that cannot die, for peace the world cannot give, for joy in the company of friends, for the glory of creation, and for the mission of justice you have made our own.

Guide us to fully receive the gifts of this holy communion: oneness of heart, love for neighbors, forgiveness of enemies, the will to serve you every day, and life that is ever new.  In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.