Sunday, November 10, 2019

Joyce Peachey Lind: Welcoming the little ones

Regarding the little ones
Isaiah 11:6-9; Mark 9:33-37; 10:13-16

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Jesus and the disciples had been traveling together for weeks, walking through the countryside of Galilee. Jesus’ following was growing, and the disciples were in the middle of it, right next to the one making it all happen. A few days earlier, Jesus had told them, for a second time, that he was going to be killed. So we can maybe understand why the disciples were arguing as they walked, debating which of them was the greatest. It’s possible they were trying to figure out which of them would be the one to step in and take charge if there was trouble, who would be at the top of the hierarchy if quick decisions had to be made. After all, it is important to know whose voice to listen to when there is a crisis.

Perhaps the disciples were walking a little way behind Jesus, having this argument of theirs out of earshot; talking in hushed voices, that grew increasingly louder as they debated the question of who, among them, was the greatest.

They arrived at the house in Capernaum, and as they began to seat themselves around the table, Jesus casually asks, “So what were you arguing about on the way?” There is an awkward silence as the disciples look down at their feet and glance across the table at one another.

They don’t have to say anything, of course. Jesus knows. He speaks into the silence saying,” Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.” Then he calls to one of the children who has been playing nearby. As the child bursts into the room he invites the child into the circle, to come close to Jesus. “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name, welcomes me,” he says. “And whoever welcomes me, welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

Jesus uses the word “welcome” four times, did you notice? He shifts the conversation. It’s as if he is saying, “You’re arguing about the wrong thing. What I am doing, what we are doing, is not about power or greatness, it’s about welcome.”

Jesus’ invitation to the child is striking because in that culture children were at the bottom of the totem pole. Hospitality and welcome were offered first to the most important person in the room. In any social setting it was critical to know who had the highest status—who was the greatest--so that everyone knew who to pay the most attention to. Children were welcomed last, if they were welcomed at all. They were on par with the servants--always present, but like the wait staff who quietly bring the food and whisk away the plates, their role was to not be noticed.

Jesus was teaching the disciples a lesson about God’s kingdom. By bringing a child into the center of the room he presented a living picture of what God’s order looks like. But the illustration was lost on the disciples.

As Jesus sent the child back out to play, the disciples immediately changed the subject. In the passage that follows, they begin a new debate about who is authorized to heal in Jesus’ name, returning to their concerns about control, still stuck in their vision of greatness and hierarchy.

When Isaiah spoke the words of God’s vision of peace for the world, the Israelites were living in a time of deep distress and political turmoil. God’s people were awaiting a righteous king, but they were getting the sense that it wouldn’t happen in their lifetime and they had lost hope for the immediate future.

In the midst of their unsettled lives Isaiah prophesied to the people, telling them that the state of disaster they were in wasn’t permanent. Telling them that God has a vision for a different kind of world. It will be a place so safe that children can play securely and unafraid. A place where a child leads a lion around like a kitten, and the wolf and the lamb come running along behind.

A place where Creation is restored, and those within it are no longer combative, divided or competing for power and greatness.

It’s not easy to envision a place where children lead around giant beasts, and where wolves leave lambs alone instead of devouring them. When I hear this description of the peaceable kingdom, I have a hard time imagining a path to the radical transformation of our world that is so full of brokenness, injustice, and despair.

A few weeks ago one of my friends issued a challenge in honor of her birthday. Concerned about all of the plastic that is ending up in the oceans, she asked her friends to join her in a goal of trying to eliminate single use plastic in our homes. One week later she had become very discouraged, because she found this to be an impossible goal. Plastic is everywhere. We are surrounded by plastic and all kinds of other products that are harmful to the environment. It can seem like a futile effort to work at making a positive impact, and it’s pretty discouraging at times.

It’s not just environmental dilemmas that give us reason to be discouraged. We can rightly be concerned about many other things happening around us: ever increasing polarization between people, gun violence, violations of human rights, mistreatment of people in many places who have little power to effect change. There are endless examples of people and systems wielding power and taking advantage of those who are weaker.

And we are tempted by power, too, aren’t we? It’s easy to think that if we were the ones with the power, we would know how to make changes that would solve problems. If the world would just listen to me, to us, to my people . . . . But others have visions and ideas, too, that don’t agree with mine. And so we argue, Who is the greatest? Which voice is the most important one?

We are easily shaped by an underlying idea that in many ways our world is not a safe place to be. Humans have always been faced with danger and threat in the world. That isn’t new.

But it feels like the sense of danger and fear we are experiencing has become heightened.
This fear gets into our psyche, and we pass it on to our children.
The world is in turmoil and it can feel like it’s
Not safe for children to play outside
Not safe to eat for fear of being harmed by pesticides
Not safe to breathe the air, full of pollutants
Not safe to be in creation

The children are like the canary in the coal mine – they sense the anxiety in us and the seriousness of the situation, and it’s why they are speaking up.

It is right for us to be concerned about making the world a safer place and to be focused on the dangers of the physical environment
And we also have reason to be concerned about the emotional welfare of the little ones
To pay attention to the anxiety and fears – not only of children, but of all who are affected by what is happening in the world
How do we respond when someone has anxiety or is experiencing trauma?
Those who work with children know that children need to express their feelings and thoughts when they are insecure
They need someone to listen to what worries them.

They need to be noticed and to be held by loving arms.
They need to experience love that casts out all fear.

In the midst of emotional distress, especially when the problem cannot be quickly or easily fixed,
children need to see glimmers of hope and they need to experience joy,
to see the good in the world even as the chaos continues

I wonder if at times we get so focused on the big things of the world that we
overlook the little ones and their needs
and forget the smallest and the most vulnerable

And perhaps we have even lost hope in God’s vision, and God’s ability to bring about the peaceful kingdom

Where no one will hurt or destroy
in all of God’s holy mountain;
Where the whole earth will be full of the knowledge of God
that is as wide and as deep as the ocean.

The disciples certainly had difficulty understanding that vision. But Jesus kept showing it to them over and over again, by touching the unclean, healing the broken, eating with sinners, and welcoming the little ones of the world, including the children.

When mothers and fathers began bringing their children to see Jesus, the disciples were quick to intercept them and created a boundary to keep them from getting to Jesus.

But Jesus had strong words for the disciples, essentially telling them, “Get out of the way! Let the children come to me. For this is what God’s kingdom is all about.” And as he took the children in his arms and blessed them he said to the disciples.

“If you do not receive the kingdom of God like these children, you won’t enter it.”

They know how to follow, they know how to trust and to depend on the love of a parent; they know how to hold on to hope, and clamber toward the holy one with no inhibitions, ready to receive a blessing.

By opening his arms, Jesus showed how God welcomes all of us
All of us who are little in faith
All of us who are vulnerable
All of us who are hurting or afraid
All of us who are powerless to control the world and all of its frightening turmoil.

At the same time, Jesus showed that greatness comes from moving toward those who are not considered great by the world and becoming people who minister and serve and bless, joining God’s work of restoration.

Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas is a minister in the Episcopal church, who has wrestled with questions of how people of faith can offer hope and healing to others when faced with their own feelings of fear and despair. How can we find energy for ministry without panicking or giving up? What can sustain us so that we don’t lose heart?

She offers a model of cultivating three kinds of hearts – an awakened heart, a broken heart and a radiant heart.

A person with an awakened heart is attuned to God’s love, able to see themselves and others and all Creation with eyes of love. A person with an awakened heart sees the beauty and preciousness of the world, and responds with gratitude. This is a heart that can imagine new possibilities for the renewal of creation.

As a teacher, I spent a lot of time with children outside on the playground. Most every spring the Tent caterpillars would show up and take up residence in the trees, building their silky nests and overwhelming the trees with a single-minded goal of consuming their leaves, causing damage to the trees.

But the children loved those caterpillars! The caterpillars were part of God’s creation, why wouldn’t they be worthy of love? Many hours were spent building miniature caterpillar homes and playgrounds, feeding the caterpillars grass and leaves, and running outside at recess to check on the caterpillars to make sure they were ok.
Those children had awakened hearts.

The second is a broken heart. When our hearts have been awakened to God’s love, we feel suffering in the world. When you have a broken heart, you are willing to enter into someone else’s pain and suffering and sit with brokenness. To sit with it until it wraps around your heart and you have no choice but to respond.

Radiant love emerges out of a broken heart. A Radiant heart is fueled by hope that leads to action. Someone with a Radiant heart responds to brokenness by acting in love to plant small seeds, not always knowing when or how the seeds will grow but waiting and hoping for wholeness and new life.

Planting seeds looks different for everyone
It might be spending time with a child from the neighborhood during Kids’ Club,
Or helping out someone who has come upon hard times;
It might be visiting or providing care for someone who is hurting
Or being with someone who is lonely;
It might be getting out into the natural world and becoming reconnected with nature
setting up a bird feeder
Or cleaning up the waste in a stream so that small creatures can thrive.

It includes noticing and welcoming little ones
and being open to receiving something back in return.

Jesus calls us to shift our focus away from the centers of power and greatness and listen to the voices of the little ones.

We are called to open our hearts so that we can find renewed hope in God’s ability to create wholeness, justice and peace in our world

We are called to take action, to plant seeds and join in the work that God has already begun that will lead to a peaceful kingdom where children and caterpillars, lions, wolves, and lambs, are all safe and cared for in God’s beautiful home.

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Sunday, November 3, 2019

Phil Kniss: To live again

Death and Resurrection, All Saints Day
John 12:23-26; 1 Corinthians 15:35-38, 42-44a

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It wasn’t really intentional to have this worship series on creation
overlap with other special days in our church calendar,
but when we got to planning it,
and mapping out the themes,
it became obvious there was a seamless connection
between three other special Sundays
that circle around every fall,
and this sustained focus on Creation.

Partly, because Creation, as a theological theme,
is one of the most expansive, and central to understanding God.
There is very little we can talk about as people of faith,
that doesn’t, in some way, circle back to creation theology.
It makes sense,
because our very identity and vocation as human beings
was set out for us in the Creation narrative.

No surprise, for instance,
that we used World Communion Sunday,
the first Sunday in October,
to reflect on the role that the nations of the world play
in God’s relationship to the created earth and its peoples.

No surprise, either, that our annual fall focus on stewardship,
a few weeks from now,
will tie right in to Creation theology,
since God invited us, Genesis 2, to be stewards of the whole cosmos.

And no surprise that All Saints Sunday, today,
a beloved annual remembrance of those who have died,
will also be enriched by holding it
alongside our celebration of Creation . . . and . . .
that our celebration of Creation will be enriched,
by holding it alongside our remembrance of the dead.

As followers of Jesus,
and as worshippers of the Exalted and Risen Christ,
we all know that resurrection is a major theological theme.

But, resurrection is not something that’s easy and straightforward
to grab hold of,
or make perfect sense of,
or fit nicely into an airtight philosophical framework,
especially in our modern rationalistic and scientific age.

Theologians and Bible scholars have been arguing over the nuances
of resurrection,
since the beginning.
Even Jesus got into the argument,
with the different religious parties of his day.

It’s challenging.
But it will not do to dismiss it.
It is absolutely central to Christian theology,
and (I would argue) absolutely essential
to the practice of daily Christian discipleship,
of following Jesus.
We must do the work of finding a way to incorporate resurrection
into our own faith framework.
Without resurrection, it’s more than a stretch,
to identify ourselves as part of the Jesus movement.

but what, exactly, am I asking us to affirm?
And how does this connect with Creation?

I won’t stand here and tell you
exactly how to articulate a theology of resurrection
that qualifies you to call yourself Christian.
That’s between you and God.

But I will tell you what I think is
a sound, and fruitful, and biblical metaphor to use,
to begin to grasp the good news of resurrection, and embrace it.

That metaphor is in Creation.
Scriptures themselves turn to creation for help in this.
They don’t get all up in the air philosophical about it.
They get down in the dirt.

They talk about soil and seeds, about decay and renewal.
Jesus himself addressed the issue with this metaphor.

Leading up to chapter 12 in the Gospel of John
there was a growing unrest swirling around Jesus.
And apparently it centered on the resurrection of Lazarus,
Jesus’ friend who died, and who Jesus resurrected.
This event—whatever it happened to be—
catalyzed some strong reactions.
It strengthened the love and adoration of the crowds for Jesus.
And it intensified the resistance of the religious leaders
against Jesus.
So as the pressure was mounting,
and things were getting more dangerous for Jesus,
he started talking to his disciples more about his own death,
and resurrection.

He said, in the text we read this morning,
“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat
falls into the earth and dies,
it remains just a single grain;
but if it dies, it bears much fruit.
Those who love their life lose it,
and those who hate their life in this world
will keep it for eternal life.”

Of course, we know biology today
a little better than the writer of John’s Gospel.
We know a seed doesn’t literally die in order to sprout.
There is always life in that seed.
But that dormant life needs a specific set of conditions,
in order to enter into a new and modified form of life,
one that will start to expand, and push up through the soil,
and grow into a fruitful plant,
and produce more seeds like itself.

That was Jesus’ explanation of resurrection—
an ever-transforming, ever-changing and growing
and fruit-bearing kind of life.

And quite some years later,
the Apostle Paul, in the prime of his ministry journeys,
wrote a letter to the church at Corinth,
because they had sent him a letter asking him
about this mystery of the resurrection.
They didn’t know how it worked.
They said, in chap. 15, v. 35, “How are the dead raised?
With what kind of body?”
Sounds like the same sort of conversations
Christians have been having ever since.

So Paul wrote back, saying, essentially,
“Don’t be stupid!”
Actually, it was a little more harsh than that.
The NewRSV has him replying, “Fool!”
I think what he was saying is, “You’re asking the wrong question.”
Don’t worry about the “how” of it.
Just look to creation.
You will see it everywhere.
You will discover that life, and life eternal,
is woven by God into Creation itself.
Here’s what Paul said, words we heard a few minutes ago,
from 1 Corinthians 15—
“What you sow does not come to life unless it dies.
When you sow, you do not plant the body that will be,
but just a seed, perhaps of wheat or of something else.
But God gives it a body as God has determined,
and to each kind of seed God gives its own body.”

By design, creation has a built in cycle of death and life.
When we sow,
that is, when we take a risk and go all in with God,
life will come from death which ends a life
that came from death, which ended a life,
that came from death, and on and on.
The life that emerges after a death,
is a different sort of life.
Don’t expect endless continuation of the same.
Expect transformation.
Expect new creation.

So it will be, Paul says, with the resurrection of the dead.
Not the same, but something new.
A body that is sown is perishable.
But it is raised imperishable.
Two different things.
As different as a cold, hard, brown, lumpy, Iris tuber is,
from its slender and tender green Iris stalk,
and its delicate and breathlessly beautiful Iris flower.
Same life, different form.

Does that answer the whole mystery?
Of course not.
That is not our task—to explain away the mystery.
It is our task to embrace the life that is,
and the life that will yet be,
the life that is beyond our ability to imagine.

Those of us who live by this mystery,
lose no sleep over our inability to explain it.
Rather, we go back out and keep planting.
We trust God to be about bringing forth life.
Not always in the way we expect.
And even, not always in the way God wants to see life unfold.
Unjust death and premature death still happens,
and God laments that as much as we do.
But the trajectory of the God of Creation,
is always toward life,
always toward resurrection.

So we keep going out.
We keep digging holes in the earth,
We keep dropping in seeds and bulbs.
We keep covering them with dirt.
And we keep waiting, hoping,
that life will one day show up again.

And usually, it does.
And sometimes its beauty takes our breath away.

This is how Creation works.
This is how God works.

One of things we do at Park View, as we live with the mystery,
as we wait, is to remember.
We bring the names to mind of those who have died,
while associated with Park View Mennonite Church.

Those who have died since last All Saints Day,
are pictured here on the front table,
and their names will be read aloud.

All those who died, since our beginning as a congregation,
are listed in the bulletin insert, by year.

Some died too soon,
or under circumstances that cannot be considered just or right.
Some died beautifully, and in what seemed to be a good season.

No matter how, or when, the death came,
the trajectory of Creation,
the arc of God’s activity in history is the same.
It is toward life.
It is toward beauty.
It is toward wholeness.

—Phil Kniss, November 3, 2019

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Sunday, October 27, 2019

Phil Kniss, Cal Redekop, Eric Beck and Michaela Mast: When creation groans

The Good Earth in Peril
Isaiah 24:1-6; Luke 21:25-28

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After the Isaiah text was read a few minutes ago,
some of us might well have been tempted to pack up and go home,
lay down on the couch,
and binge-watch NetFlix for the next . . . oh . . . say . . .
25 or 50 years,
or whenever it all crashes down on us.

This may be the most undeniably hopeless text in the Bible.
“The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled.”
“The world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.”
“The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws . . .
broken the everlasting covenant . . .”

I had us read only the first six verses this morning.
Because if we read the whole chapter,
by the end half of us would be on the floor in a fetal position,
This is horrible stuff!!
Let me read just a few more lines from Isaiah 24,
just a little—I’ll keep it PG-rated.
The wine dries up, the vine languishes,
all the merry-hearted sigh.
The city of chaos is broken down,
every house is shut up so that no one can enter.
All joy has reached its eventide;
the gladness of the earth is banished.
Desolation is left in the city,
the gates are battered into ruins.
Whoever flees at the sound of the terror
shall fall into the pit;
and whoever climbs out of the pit
shall be caught in the snare.
The earth is utterly broken . . .
the moon will be abashed,
and the sun ashamed.”

These are words of judgement
against the whole earth and its inhabitants—
a judgement issued by God,
for failure to obey the universal commands of God.

Those moral failures cover the gamut of God’s commands—
all of the Big Ten, and more.
But . . . what is the first recorded commandment of God,
a command to the whole human race,
in the persons of Adam and Eve?
It was to till and keep the garden.
Till and keep.
Words which, as I said last Sunday,
are not dominating words.
They do not mean to manipulate or own.
They mean to serve, guard, and preserve.

But humankind failed in this.
We did not serve the earth, and did not serve God the owner.
The diminishing of species,
the polluting of air, water and soil,
drought, flood, and fire,
the moral decline of anxious humans
who turn to violence for survival—
all of this was foreseen by the prophet,
as the predictable outcome of disobedience.

Now when we hear all this about God’s judgement,
we can easily make some bad moves, theologically.
We can blame the environmental crisis on God.
We can spiritualize climate change.
We aren’t causing it by our lifestyle or actions.
This is just another sign of the end times,
caused by God as punishment,
for our sin and spiritual failures.

That argument has been used by Christians to excuse inaction.
Everything is going to burn up anyway,
because that is God’s will, for disobedient people.

That’s a bad move because
we are taking a world view from ancient times
and applying it directly to our world today.

We can still take God’s judgement seriously,
and recognize that we generally bring it on ourselves,
through the destructive and evil consequences of our actions.
We can take full responsibility.
And recognize God’s presence even in the midst of it.

That’s why I wanted us to hear this awful text.
Terrible things have happened on the earth, and are still happening.
And they came about because, as the prophet says,
we have transgressed laws . . .
and broken the everlasting covenant.

But, just as God is present in the destruction.
God is also present in the redemption.
I’ll get to that in a few minutes.

Reflections from Cal Redekop, Eric Beck, and Michaela Mast

from Cal Redekop . . . 
Pastor Phil asked me to respond to the question-what is my fear and  foreboding  versus  signs of hope for our planet earth? —in 500 words!! 
Signs of hope . . . Locally at PVMC:1. Worship  series on environmental crisis (like this service),  panels on our roof,  Creation Care Committee and many other activities are giving a powerful message to our community;2. Members are increasingly using fossil free solar energy for homes and cars;3. Members are  active in community organizations that are  promoting sustaining and restoration of  mother earth, e.g. Community Action  Alliance of the Valley and4. Members are participating  in local and area political action for pro -environment candidates and policies. PVMC is an area leader.  Lets give each other a hand.Nationally  and globally:1. There is increasing “stating the facts” by  the scientific  and financial community on the critical  impending crisis. Last week,  International Monetary Fund  declared the absolute necessity for an immediate global  $75 tax per ton on Carbon;  2. There is increasingly honest and aggressive   reporting in the  national  and regional press on the MASSIVE ECOSYSTEMIC destruction happening right now; 3. Increasing agreement on national and political levels, of  the already approaching POINT  OF NO RETURN---2050? (full restoration of nature is impossible).  
Signs of  Fear and Foreboding . . . 1. Globally most effort and resources are still being spent on adapting to the consequences of the crisis  such as moving to higher ground, rather than  demolishing its causes- abolishing carbon and methane in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2016; 2. religions vary from outright rejection of  environmental concern such as American right wing Christianity to pro nature religions like  Buddhism; 3. Multinational corporations and business enterprises  are battling carbon taxes and other restrictions, mining and ravaging the earth,  mortgaging the future);4. The majority of humans prefer immediate  gratification to avoid the  longer  range planning, and cost involved for future benefits.  Even PVMC friends ask “what is the payback for solar?” I reply, “what is it for oil?” 5. Human  arrogance assumes it is impossible that humans could be destroying their own habitat (cf. Pastor Phil's last Sunday Sermon on Humans challenging God); 6. We continue to ignore the connection between the increasing production/consumerism/ human reproduction cycle which is destroying the balance of our finite  eco-system;  we  believe personal lifestyle is our business (remember  Greta Thunberg?) ;7. We fear change and desire  stability and predictability--- business as usual is the most comfortable life style; 8. Finally we deny we are the cause of the environmental crisis. Pope Francis recently stated “we humans are the problem.”   We reject scientific understandings of nature and cling to  traditional sacred texts which do not help our lack of knowing how to act responsibility for the well being of home--the planet earth.
Conclusion . . . We will lose the race between  global destruction and our actions to save it, unless we act immediately. Nature will survive but  with a vengeance, (tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, anyone?) not in the form  that will be good for our grand children.  I hope I am wrong.
from Eric Beck . . . 
“Think Global Act Local” – One of the primary experience in my life that impacted my concern for the environment was 2 summers as a canoe guide for a Mennonite Camp in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, some 20+ years ago. The themes of wildness, beauty, restoration, our need to understand, respect, and integrate with natural systems our traveling companions were evident, very real, and great points for prayer and action on our trips. The question for reflection this morning was my commitment to Creation through my work as a builder. While incorporating energy efficiency and alternative energy into building has given me drive and interest in what I do. I was struck by a list from Project Drawdown that ranks actions that we can take to lower the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and reduce global warming by 2050. The plight of those in between 10 degrees latitude on either side of the equator could be crassly termed the canaries of our earth. Tribalism, nationalism, religious conflict are all barely disguised efforts to control increasingly limited resources. Environment and justice now go hand in hand.

The “least of these” are most vulnerable. So, back to Project Drawdown, #1 on the list is refrigeration management, then wind turbines, reduced food waste, plant rich diets, tropical forests… Then I came to #6 & #7, which shocked me out of my “professional context” and made me smile, Educating Girls and Family Planning (defined as healthcare, meeting women’s expressed needs, empowerment, equality and well being) If combined, those 2 equal the single most important effort this world can take. A reminder that its not just hard science or technology that will stem the tide of climate change. Efforts and resources spent to further initiatives such as 6 and 7 do not have to be written off as touchy feely nicey nice kinds of fluff, but are hard work and ought to be held in the same esteem and importance as the technical initiatives. This gave me hope. 

I have felt sadness,anger, and guilt when reflecting on what parts of our shared Christian faith have done to contribute to climate change: dominion over the earth instead of caretakers of, bald faced or disguised patriarchy that gives cover for domination over or condemnation of anyone or thing not deemed masculine enough, mission initiatives that are more about colonialism than service of other cultures, teachings on salvation that place too much emphasis on the “here after” than the here and now, prosperity gospels that place vulnerability, shame, and blame on the poor.

I’m hopeful when I hear about education, micro loan programs, empowerment, and health initiatives in “developing worlds”, and in our own community. I’m encouraged when I hear of “missionary initiatives” that include what I just described as well as building resources such as sand dams that lessen the impact of drought, small solar initiatives that can extend learning and reading times in small communities. Large and small efforts to reduce energy needs, improve carbon sequestration, develop alternative energy give comfort. The large and small efforts to restore us to each other and creation bring confidence that we can make it through this global crisis. I have met so many creative and innovative people, in all places and stations. I think we hear the doom and gloom too often, but there are positive and fascinating inititatives happening that we need to hear about and raise awareness for.
from Michaela Mast . . . 
First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to share with you this morning. I will be sharing a piece of my heart – these are stories that I don’t tell lightly. They are thoughts that shape my world, guide my decisions, and weigh on my shoulders every single day. So thank you – for sitting with me in my anxieties, questions, sorrows, and dreams this morning.
The words climate change used to shut me down a little. I’d hear them and, inevitably, feel repelled. Consciously, or at least subconsciously, those words were associated with a sense of implication – of guilt. They were associated with feelings of isolation, paralysis, uncertainty, and tension. And often, I found, my body’s response was to put on a face of indifference. Shut it down, don’t even go there, said my brain. 
And even after an entire year of dedicating 8 hours a day to the topics of climate change, justice, and the church, I’m still met with uncertainty, sorrow, and fear. But I’m reminded that God can work with that. After all, God is a God of mystery and of restoration.
So this morning, you’ll start to see what it’s been like for me to lean into the realities of climate change. 
The first story I have for you comes from a man named Saulo Padilla. Saulo is cordial, kind, and centered, even over the phone. He immigrated from Guatemala as a youth, and now works as the Immigration Education Coordinator for MCC. Just last year, Saulo walked the Migrant Trail, which is a 75-mile path that thousands of migrants have taken on their way to the United States. The trail crosses the desert that lies just south of the US border. Saulo has walked this trail a couple times now, in honor of the 10,000 migrants who have died in that desert. He told us of the backpacks and empty water jugs that litter the trail. In recent years, he said, the journey across the desert has become even more dangerous. The wall along our southern border is being built in strategic areas in order to push people to the most treacherous parts of the desert. A “lethal deterrent,” the US is calling it. And it is lethal, said Saulo. But it’s not working as a deterrent. Already this year, in just the first 5 months of 2019, the number of people arriving at our southern border surpassed the average number we’ve seen every year in the past 2 decades. In May 2019 alone, 132,000 people arrived at the border seeking asylum. 11,000 of those were unaccompanied children. 84,000 more were members of family units. Saulo shared some of the messages he hears from those he meets at the border. “No hay lluvia,” say some. There is no rain. And it’s true. There is a segment of Central America known as the “dry corridor.” It’s a triangle of land that includes parts of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua that has been experiencing devastating drought for 10 years now. For most people living in those areas, sustenance farming is what sustains them. And so as the droughts worsen, two things happen. First off, there is conflict over the remaining resources. And second, people move, often to the cities. But the trouble with the cities is that they are not equipped for such an influx of people. And so with the population growth in the cities comes poverty and crime. Poverty and crime – the main push factors Saulo hears about from migrants. As the climate continues to change, more and more families are being uprooted, forced to leave their homes in fear of their own safety. So as we discuss climate change, we must remember the immigrant. Thinking of one without the other just doesn’t give us the full picture. I also interviewed a man named Kevin King. Kevin’s name may be familiar to you – he is the director of MDS – Mennonite Disaster Services. Kevin is very familiar with the devastation and trauma experienced with the loss of a home. He has been coordinating disaster relief in Canada and the US for over 15 years now. When he first began this position 15 years ago, Kevin was accustomed to responding to 3-4 major disasters in a year. That’s 3 or 4 major hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and the likes. Now, 15 years later, the number of major disasters MDS responds to has quadrupled. Kevin said that, instead of 3-4 disasters, he’s been seeing 15-20. Every year. And this is just in the US and Canada. And as you can imagine, when disaster strikes, it is those already on the margins of a community, those without resources, who have the hardest time adapting, and who suffer the most. So as we examine our role in climate change, we must not forget that we are talking about the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and the homeless.
Kevin and Saulo are certainly not the only ones noticing the troubling trends accompanying climate change. The United Nations University estimates that by 2050, 200 million people will be displaced from their homes due to changes in climate and the natural disasters, food insecurity, and water scarcity that follow. Take into account the violence stirred up when resources are lacking and the numbers get even bigger. Some sources predict the displacement of up to 1 billion people by 2050. So you see – climate change is not just some far-off abstraction. It’s about the security and health of people and their homes.  The last story comes from a friend of mine whom I will call Sam. Sam is a third grader at Smithland Elementary, the local city school I’m working at this year. And for Sam, home is a volatile, unstable place. When he comes to school, his mind is saturated with images and thoughts of stress. He carries recent memories of angry parents, of young siblings that land in his care. And he lives with the realities of food shortages and a persistent fear for his own safety. For Sam, a sense of belonging is hard to come by. And his body has become well-trained. His mind has adjusted, the pathways in his brain altered by repeated trauma to protect himself. And so, at the slightest sign of stress, Sam’s body enters survival mode. It might be a math problem, or slight provocation from another student, that sends him into a flurry of anger or fear or self-doubt or anxiety – all strong, debilitating emotions that have a way of warping his reality. And this is why relationships are hard for Sam. His self-preservation instincts tell him to keep his guard up, to protect himself from further instability and pain. 
Every day, I see the way that trauma alters the life of that one resilient child. The lack of physical and emotional security we see in Sam will be multiplied again and again in those 200 million people who will be displaced in the next 30 years by climate change. Think of the loss of lives, the violence within communities, the devastation of whole ecosystems, of the injustice, grief, and trauma that is sure to accompany those numbers. We must not take that lightly. 
But there must be hope somewhere, right? Well, I can tell you that this morning, I feel hope. This morning, I feel joy. And what brings me that joy? It is this. This. That a community of believers that believes in a life of abundance, that is willing to hold our brokenness and pain together – a community of believers that has a moral framework that cares for the marginalized and the poor, and views all living things as integral to our well-being – that we are here, this morning, even if it’s just the very beginning, to look the ugliness and despair of this world right in the face and say – no. We have a different way. That brings me joy. We will come together and ask hard questions. We will love all of our neighbors with a fervor that does not ignore the perils of this world. We will act upon our conviction that God is on a mission of peace, justice, and restoration, and that we are a part of it. What gives me hope is that we are sitting here, as a church community, with a handbook, a guide, to living with humility, and uplifting the voices of children and widows and the imprisoned and the oppressed – the undocumented and the displaced and the homeless. That’s what we’re about. 
In the words of Karenna Gore, a very wise woman I met during my travels, “If church communities go to the front lines of ecological devastation and wait for God in those locations, then there is going to be a miraculous result.” We have seen the way God can move in broken places, and so what brings me hope is that leaning into the realities of climate change could very well be an opportunity to breathe life into the church and its people.
More than ever, what I desire is to be in a community that is willing to feel unsettled together, to recognize the missteps we take every day together, and to be bold together in exploring what it means to live in loving relationship. As the world presses in, I’m convinced that the greatest strength is hope in the face of reality. A hope that takes note of the world and still decides to love. And I am grateful, this morning, to be doing that together.


As we have seen so eloquently by these three speakers,
despair and hopelessness is not the way forward
for us people of faith.
Others may well despair.
But we have a larger view of our place in the universe,
and the relationship of the Creator to this universe.

We believe that God owns this place,
and has not forgotten about it.
We believe that God is still at work
for the healing of the nations,
and the healing of creation itself.
We believe that all of creation is waiting,
and groaning with a deep longing,
for the redemption that is coming.
And we believe, that as God’s collaborators,
we are part and parcel of what God is up to.

As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8,
all creation is groaning, as in childbirth,
and we are groaning inwardly,
as we, and all creation, await redemption.

Redemption is coming.
As the prophet Isaiah himself said, in the next chapter, 
after the most hopeless text in the Bible,
is perhaps the most sublime treatise on redemption in the Bible.
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines . . . 
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples . . . 
The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people 
he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.”

And as Jesus told his disciples in Luke 12,
after listing all the signs of foreboding,
“Now when these things begin to take place,
stand up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near.”

Again, if we do not take care,
we can make a bad theological move.
We can look to our coming redemption,
the “Son of Man coming in the clouds,”
and see an excuse for inaction.

No, no!
That is never what Jesus intended.
The reason for all these biblical warnings,
these signs of foreboding,
is so that we can stay awake, and alert,
and fully cognizant of God’s presence in our midst.
It is an antidote to despair.

God’s coming redemption of the heavens and the earth,
is not something being done to us by a God “up there”,
to whisk us away from this evil physical world.

No, we participate in God’s saving and redeeming action now.
Redemption is not a panacea.
It is not an escape.
It is never an excuse not to act or not to make sacrifices.

The promise of redemption is simply this—
confidence about where all this is eventually heading.
The historical arc of God’s action in history
is always toward shalom, toward wholeness, toward life.
We cannot know how that will all unfold, and when.
But our vocation is to be God’s active partners in redemption.

We must care, and care deeply.
We must act, and act boldly.
We must love, and love sacrificially.

I thank God for these three who shared their stories,
and are on this journey with the rest of us.
And I am deeply concerned
about what is happening to God’s Good Earth.
But it is still “God’s Good Earth.”
And I am full of hope in God, the Redeeming One.

With the hymn writer, Thomas Troeger, I confess that,
By Christ we are connected to every shining star,
to every atom spinning, to all the things that are,
and to your very being, around, below, above,
suffusing each dimension with light and life and love.

Let us sing together the hymn printed in our bulletin.

—Phil Kniss, October 27, 2019

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