The video above includes the full service, except for the time for sharing.
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Order of Worship | Easter 3
We acknowledge we are gathering on land where Miami, Osage, Shawnee, and other Indigenous peoples have lived and labored, fought, and loved. We continue to work and pray for justice and conciliation.
Call to Worship
VT50 | Spirit, Working in Creation | Debra, Galen, Sarah, and Elizabeth Martin
Offertory | Chason Sans Paroles from Pensees lyriqes OP 40 | Tom Blosser, piano
Scripture | Luke 24:36-49, 1 John 3:1-3
Sermon | Thoughts for recovering Christians regarding Earth Day and resurrection (Manuscript below)
VT180 | This Is God’s Wondrous World | Debra, Galen, Sarah, and Elizabeth Martin
Sharing of Joys and Concerns
Extinguishing the Peace Candle
Congregational Discussion | Reparations | 11:00 am
Thanks to everyone who helped lead today’s service
Sermon: Joel Miller
Worship Leader: Carolyn May
Music coordination: Debra and Galen Martin
Children’s Time: Tim Stried
Peace Candle: Larry Less
Scripture Reading: Andrew Schottleutner (Riel)
Zoom Host: Gretchen Geyer
Sermon Manuscript | Thoughts for recovering Christians regarding Earth Day and resurrection
This sermon is especially for those who might consider themselves “Recovering Christians.” Those for whom the church has largely failed to provide a life-affirming spirituality or community. Or, for those not especially interested in the title of Christian anymore. Those who are perhaps just “Recovering.” And if you’re all good as just a Christian, I guess you can stick around too.
Thoughts for recovering Christians regarding Earth Day and resurrection.
There are no glaring connections between today’s readings and our celebration of Earth Day.
As Luke brings his gospel to a close, the baffled disciples find themselves in the presence of Jesus, crucified and dead, yet alive. He greets them with the words “Peace be with you,” and offers his wounded hands and feet for them to touch. “Touch me and see,” Jesus says.
Luke chooses provocative words to give us a sense of their reaction. Startled. Terrified. Frightened. Joy. Disbelieving. Still wondering. Into this charged atmosphere, pulsing with mystery, Jesus asks a most human of questions: “Have you anything here to eat?” The disciples, we are told, had thought they were seeing a ghost. But, as my study Bible notes, compelled to state the obvious: “ghosts, like angels, do not eat.” (1) The disciples hand
Jesus a piece of broiled fish, which he eats. So there you have it.
Jesus proceeds to open their minds to everything written - about him! - in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the Psalms. In other words, they are asked to read their scriptures with new eyes. Asked to read as if the whole text speaks of Divine solidary with suffering, and the triumph of life over death, the conquest of forgiveness over vengeance. To this message they will dedicate the rest of their lives, proclaiming it to all the nations.
In the reading from 1 John, John is assuring his readers of God’s love for them. A love so enduring he evokes language of the family. “See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and that is what we are. The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”
Not only does this passage show no obvious signs of being a candidate for a theme verse for Earth Day, but there are hints of why contemporary Christianity has largely failed to honor the earth. Much of the New Testament is primarily concerned about the relationship between humanity and God, or humanity with one another, without a lot of talk about our relationship with earth and air, plants and creatures. It is you and I, homo sapiens, who are children of God. But, to raise a question Sarah implied in last week’s sermon: What about the birds? What about those birds?
When John writes, “The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him (God),” we can easily slip into a dualism where the physical world is a realm apart from God, even against God, obstructing us from the deeper reality of the spirit.
And the fact that John refers to God as “him” and “the Father” signals the long history of the masculine aspects of the Divine given precedence over the feminine, in language, thought, and thus action. If the earth is conceived as feminine, our Mother, and identified with the world, which obstructs us from relating more deeply with God, the Father, then we have a problem which will show up pretty clearly in how we treat the earth. Not to mention how we treat female bodies overall.
Up to about, say, 10 years ago, I would have put a fair amount of energy into defending the Bible. Not in the sense of defending masculine language for God or a particular understanding of resurrection, but in the sense of trying to point out how the parts of the Bible we don’t like aren’t as bad as they seem, and that they actually say something much closer to what we would hope them to say – more loving, more inclusive, more just.
Somewhere along the way, I lost interest in this project of defending the Bible.
Not that I don’t think the Bible is frequently misunderstood, with deep meanings lost in translation. For example, substituting “world order” or “the system” for what is usually translated as “the world” is likely closer to what John had in mind while writing this letter. To paraphrase the verse already read: “The reason the system does not know us, cannot claim us as its own, is that it does not honor the Creator.” That has a much different meaning than physical earth, world, versus spiritual God.
I have found it better to let the Bible, as a whole, be the strange, provocative, ancient text that it is, rather than trying to make it affirm all of our 21st century ideas, which aren’t necessarily more advanced than 1st century ideas.
The fact that we moderns are destroying the one planetary home we have, all in the name of progress and economic growth, is about as strong a sign I can imagine that something is dreadfully wrong - with us. “The system,” of which the biblical writers write, has grown out of control in ways the ancients could not even have imagined, setting itself against life itself. When the disciples handed the resurrected Jesus a piece of broiled fish to eat, at least they didn’t have to worry about arsenic levels.
As we confront these very difficult challenges of the earth as we have now made it, I do have some concerns about our need for a spiritual lineage that has the power and depth to hold us in its embrace. These are days for urgently reconsidering our relationship with the Earth, for listening for the harsh and exciting voice Mary Oliver describes as “announcing our place in the family of things” (2). And as we do undergo this collective reconsidering of our relationship with the earth, I can’t help but notice that we are also reconsidering our relationship with the Christian tradition and, of course, our scriptures.
I can’t help but wonder if the Christianity that justified settler colonialism, enforced White supremacy, affirmed straight male dominance, and severed the present world with its bodies of creatures and water from the future glorified world of spirit…I can’t help but wonder if this Christianity is something like an industrial brownfield or a toxic lake. Is there anything that can grow here anymore, or do we abandon the whole thing, seal it off from the rest of the landscape, and start over on better soil?
There’s a strong connection between detoxifying religion and spirituality, and detoxifying our planet. Which sounds like a much more interesting project than defending anything or trying to prove that something is actually less harmful than one has experienced it to be.
And if you’re tuning in to this worship service, I’m guessing you haven’t quite given up on the soil underneath your feet. The soil underneath our feet. We the children of the Christian faith, the children of the Bible, the children of Menno. Who perhaps, without yet quite naming the hope we have, still have hope that this ground has more resilience than we give it credit for. Able to sustain a far wider range of life than we previously imagined.
And so as we approach Earth Day and join in this global reconsideration of our relationship with the water and ground, let’s consider how our faith lineage can serve as its own kind of grounding and rooting and flowering, and all those organic metaphors that evoke life and health and flourishing.
If, as John enthusiastically proclaims, we are indeed children of God, what might that say about our relationship with the rest of creation? Rather than seeing the world just as a set of overwhelming problems to be solved, perhaps we could start by seeing it as a home full of our long lost siblings. Siblings we’ve lost touch with over time. Siblings we’ve forgotten to call or listen to. Siblings so long apart we’ve forgotten their names. Each one also a child of the Creator.
This is not even a particularly new idea. Francis of Assisi is a good guide for honoring, in his words, brother sun and sister moon, brother wind and sister water, brother fire, sister mother earth.
With us in the mix, God, it seems, has a rather a dysfunctional family. But perhaps they will receive back this prodigal child if we learn to find our place in the family of things.
And no matter what we believe or can’t quite bring ourselves to believe about resurrection, let’s claim a treasure it offers regarding our relationship with the earth, and with ourselves. At the center of our tradition, contained within these resurrection stories, is a resounding affirmation of the body. Not a spirit or ghost or idea and abstract possibility, but a body. A body that eats and drinks. A body that can be wounded, and be restored. A body that can be touched and seen. A body that brings the presence of peace. In celebrating the Divine life in Jesus, we celebrate the divine in all bodies – our own and all our siblings.
The disciples are never quite sure what to do with resurrection, which is a pretty good way to live: Startled and a bit terrified, somewhere between disbelief and ecstatic joy, pretty sure that whatever this is it will effect everything from here on out. If nothing else, letting the words “Peace be with you” detoxify all the harm we have internalize and inflicted.
(1) The Jewish Annotated New Testament, 2011, p. 150.
(2) “Wild Geese,” poem. Mary Oliver