Sunday, November 24, 2019

Phil Kniss: Yet we hope

God's Good Earth: Hope and Healing
Psalm 85:7-13; Isaiah 58:6-7, 10-12; Romans 8:18-25; Luke 2:27-33

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We are called to hope.
Our primary Christian call is
to live in hope,
to proclaim hope,
to invite others to hope.

Wow! Wow.
In this world . . . in these days . . . that’s a big ask.
How can we hope, and still be honest?

Throughout this worship series we have tried our best to be honest.
We called it “God’s Good Earth” on purpose, because it is good.
It is beautiful.
It is diverse.
It has renewal and regeneration built into it.
It has so much going for it.
But we didn’t pull any punches describing the trouble we’re in.
We are unfortunately fighting against this good earth.
And often winning the fight.
Our destructive actions are incredibly powerful.
They are eliminating species, destroying ecosystems,
and changing climates.
The point of no return is right around the corner,
and we don’t seem to have the will to change.

And that’s just talking about the natural world.
What if we throw politics into the mix?
Entire societies are in a chaotic and violent meltdown,
and no one knows how to stop it.
Hong Kong, Syria, Bolivia, Israel-Palestine,
Afghanistan, and on and on.
Whole nations are blowing up.
And we might even wonder if ours is next in line.

So, let’s talk about our reasons for hope.
Let’s get happy, what do you say?

No, really. Let me repeat my opening lines.
We are called to hope.
Our primary Christian call is
to live in hope,
to proclaim hope,
to invite others to hope.

If we can’t do it now, then,
have we ever been able to do it?
Because this is not really the worst of times, historically.
In terms of loss of human life,
World War II was the worst conflict ever.
In a six-year period, nearly 80 million people died.
Can we even imagine that scale of loss of life today?
The Chinese famine of the late 1950s killed over 20 million.
If we want to feel overwhelmed,
there are endless lists of historic human catastrophes.
Look them up.
Boggle your mind.
They make our times look blissful in comparison.

But in all those situations we Christians
had something positive to say and do.
We people of faith and goodwill did not stop hoping then.
We made sacrifices, we got to work
to relieve human suffering
to rebuild lives and societies.
Some of those humanitarian projects live on today,
because our acts of hope flourished and grew.
And vibrant churches still exist in many of those places,
because some of our proclamations of hope resonated,
took root in those cultures, and bore lasting fruit.

But here we are today, again, in dire straits,
and feeling hopeless.
Have we forgotten our reason for hope?
Well . . . come to think of it . . . what is it?
Why should we hope?
On what basis can we hope?

And by hope, I don’t mean wish.
We all wish things were different.
No, hope.
A confident sense of grounding.
Trust in a good that is larger than ourselves.
A good that will triumph someday.

Let me head right into this topic that is a spiritual minefield.
We can so easily step onto something we shouldn’t.
Maybe it’s our fear of these spiritual mines
that keeps us from even trying sometimes.

What we don’t want is an excuse not to act.
What we don’t want is denial.
What we don’t want is spiritual escapism.
I get it.
We’ve all seen that, and we rightly reject it.

The topic of our relationship to creation
is that kind of spiritual minefield.
Some Christians expect the kind of heaven
that’s meant to get us off this evil physical planet earth,
and into some glorious other-world . . .
and they expect this heavenly rescue soon,
when Christ will come and whisk us away,
and the evil earth will burn up,
getting what it deserves for its sin.
So . . . there are some Christians who think that
caring about our planet is misdirected,
that it takes our attention away from heaven.

In the same way,
when we speak of hope in the midst of catastrophic human suffering,
we are tempted by escapist thinking.
The road to salvation must take us out of this place altogether,
to “the sweet by and by,”
“where all the saints of God are gathered home . . .”
because “this world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through”
“and I can’t feel at home in this world anymore.”

There is truth embedded in those words.
But . . . are these our only options?
Must we either
put our hope in a spiritual escape
orchestrated by a God who removes us from earth to heaven,
put our hope entirely in the human potential for goodness,
so that if we all try harder and change our behavior,
the world will be healed.

Is there another path toward hope and healing?

Yes, there is.
It is God and human beings acting in concert with each other.
It is divine and human collaboration . . . co-laboring . . .
working together.

Here is our theology of hope.
Let me first point it out in scripture.
Then spell it out for our times.

Isaiah the prophet assured God’s people
that their actions and God’s actions were intertwined.
We heard from Isaiah 58 today.
When we loose the bonds of injustice,
let the oppressed go free,
share our bread with the hungry,
bring the poor into our house,
and clothe the naked like we clothe ourselves . . .
then the light of God will shine,
Yahweh will make us like a well-watered garden,
and the ruins will be rebuilt.

The psalm writer exults in Psalm 85,
that “steadfast love and faithfulness will meet;
righteousness and peace will kiss each other.”
This sounds like God and humanity reconciling,
in a cosmic divine-human kiss.
It says, “Faithfulness will spring up from the ground,
and righteousness will look down from the sky.”
This is the image of divine and human collaboration.

Yes, and according to Paul and to writer of the Gospel of Luke,
it is perfectly good and right to look to the future for our hope.
Looking to the future for hope does not avoid the present.
It does not lead to inaction.
It is a simple trust in God and God’s work.
It is confidence that as we do our part, God will do God’s.
It is to anticipate, with expectation,
the psalmist’s vision of the divine-human kiss,
when reconciliation happens,
when our brokenness is redeemed,
when, as apostle Paul wrote in Romans 8,
creation itself is freed from its bondage to decay,
when it no longer groans in unfulfilled longing.

In the Gospel of Luke today we saw old man Simeon find true hope.
He found it in a future he knew he would never see.
As he held the 8-day-old infant Jesus in his arms,
he was filled with the hope he had longed for.
He said to God, “I can die in peace now.
For you have let me see your salvation.”
Yes, it was in seed form.
It was a helpless human infant,
soon to be a refugee to Egypt.
But in that baby Simeon saw God’s salvation.
And he could die in peace,
knowing this divine-human kiss would happen.

So let’s bring it to our day now.
With the earth on fire, metaphorically, and in some places, literally.
With creation and human society in a deeply broken state,
where is our hope?

Well, again, here is our foundational theological assumption.
Believe it . . . or not.
This is our confession as God’s people.

Things are badly broken in creation
because we abused our power and broke things.
The fall of humanity brought us here.

And God’s primary purpose is to
repair, redeem, reconcile, and restore the shalom
that God intended all along at creation.
And God’s purpose is ultimately unstoppable.

And despite our failures,
we humans are still God’s first choice as partners in healing.
It is a partnership that is happening now,
poking up here and there,
surprising us like an early spring crocus.
It’s not fully there yet,
but it will ultimately culminate in the divine-human reunion,
a cosmic kiss of reconciliation.
So we live in hope for that day,
and practice for it now.

Yes, we have another option.
It seems kind of anemic in comparison.
Since things are going badly as a result of humans behaving badly,
we can put our hope in better behavior by human persons
and having the economic and political systems of the world
repent and turn toward virtue.
So we appeal to our innate human goodness as our salvation.
If that doesn’t work, well, then, we’re doomed. And creation, too.

And it doesn’t seem to be working.
Despite the best of intentions,
and the best expectations of each other,
we don’t seem to be moving toward our own salvation.

So . . . where is our hope?
It is in the future God already created,
where human beings and God collaborate in mutual love—
We look forward to God’s ultimate salvation and restoration,
and we practice for it now.
We do not put our hope in escaping from God’s good earth.
Nor do we hope in the potential of humanity to heal itself.

We hope in God,
who is at work now to save and redeem the broken creation,
and who created us to collaborate in this work.

That is our theological frame of mind
as today we issue a call to praise and Thanksgiving
for God’s abundance in the harvest,
and as we issue a call to stewardship,
as we prepare to offer the first-fruits of our harvest.

Every year on this Sunday,
we do a collective act of thanksgiving and hope.
We bring our regular offerings and offer them in worship to God.
And we bring our First-Fruit Faith Promises,
a statement of trust in God’s provisions,
and a statement of hope in God’s future.

You know,
our annual congregational spending plan is not just some
institutional exercise of financial management and budgeting.
Sure, call it that if you want. That’s not untrue.
But theologically speaking, it is much more than that.
It is placing our hope in God’s future.
It is being strategic about collaborating with God.
Part of God’s healing work, as we heard in Isaiah,
is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked,
bringing the homeless into our house for shelter,
and giving freedom to the oppressed.

We actually plan for these acts of collaboration in our budget.
Each of our gifts is a way to join together and join with God.
And that is not just putting a spin on it, to make it sound good.
Look carefully at our spending plan.
Ask questions about it.
Not just the parts of it we send away,
and we send a lot away in mission, locally and globally.
But ask questions about our spending on this building.
How are we using this building?
Is it really for ourselves?
Or in service of our divine-human collaboration?
Who is coming in and going out of it, and why?
In the course of a season,
you will see many in our community
being blessed by this building,
thanks be to God.
And ask questions about our grants for education
and faith formation,
and find out whose lives are being impacted, and how.
And ask questions about our spending on staff.
Find out how your three pastors and office staff
and other staff,
are touching the lives of our neighbors,
and those living on the margins,
or our own members who struggle with life.

Everywhere I look around PVMC,
I see us practicing now,
for God’s ultimate healing and reconciling work.
And I thank God for that.

If giving to the work and ministry of Park View Mennonite
is not an investment in this divine-human collaboration,
then I have no idea what is.

I hope that we all together can
live in hope,
proclaim hope,
and invite others to hope.
Just as God has called us to do.

Phil Kniss, November 24, 2019

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Sunday, November 17, 2019

Moriah Hurst: This is going to hurt us

From exploitation to stewardship
Job 24:1-4, 13, 18-20; James 5:1-6; Luke 6:20-26

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When I step off a plane in Australia one of the first things I do is breathe deeply. The smell of heat and sand, of gum trees and blossoms normally hangs thick in the summer air. If I would have stepped off a plane this week in Sydney, where my parents live, and breathed deeply, I would have started coughing and choking. The air is full of smoke. 140 fires stretching over two states and two million, five hundred thousand acres of burning land. Maps showing the rating of fire danger have created new categories above extreme fire danger, now listing some areas as under catastrophic danger. Fires are not uncommon in Australia, but these fires are massive. How did this happen? 3 very dry years, poor prevention and a lack of Governmental recognition that climate change is happening and thus resistance to acting in ways to counter these effects.
            Stories like this are all too familiar. We know about droughts, heatwaves, flooding, extreme storms, sea level rise, and the loss of species. No longer do we have stable season and predictable weather patterns. We have altered the composition of the atmosphere. I’m drawn to the language of the Prophet Isaiah who talks about the land being utterly broken, torn, violently shaken, it staggers like a drunkard, sways and it falls never to rise again. Is this where things are at with our earth?
When we were just starting to think about moving everything out of the church building a year and a half ago for the renovations, I had an epiphany moment during staff morning prayers. The country we prayed for that morning was an island in the Pacific that needs to relocate its entire population because with rising sea levels. They need to evacuate their whole island. This gave me a bit of a reality check, as I was freaking out about moving out of every room of the church, a whole country was thinking about moving their entire population because the land they lived on was being taken by the rising sea.
In our sermon series this fall we are not politely shying away from these realities. Even though speaking of these things can make us distressed and anxious. “Katharine Hayhoe, a climate scientist at Texas Tech University, says, ‘The most important thing you can do about climate change is talk about it.” Leader p. 30. We know there is need to change our attitudes and lifestyles. We need to figure out how to respect the fragile balance of life on earth. So we remember that the earth belongs to God yet we are called to care for it and not destroy it.
We need communal spaces to talk about our collective grief, and express our honest lamentation before God. We have gratitude for what God has created, knowing that God hears the cries of creation and responds to our wounded world. We confess our part in bringing the earth towards the brink of catastrophe – sometimes through our willful ignorance. And we name that we follow a God who longs to reanimate our actions with hope. So in following that God we need to not allow ourselves to get stuck here in thinking we can’t do anything.
When I lived in Melbourne, Australia I shared a house with my friend Jess. One evening I made a dip to take to a party and instead of transferring it into a plastic container, I left it in the ceramic mixing bowl I’d made it in and covered it. I placed the bowl with my chips in a cloth bag and had them sitting on my lap as I rode on public transport to the party. When I stood up to get off the tram I thought I had the bag strap over my shoulder so I was not holding the bottom of the bag. It slipped off my lap and the bowl loudly shattered as the dip started seeping through the bag. I was upset at myself for making a stupid mistake, annoyed at the waste of food but more then that I was terrified to tell Jess because it was her bowl. It was an antique, not a family heirloom but a match to another bowl that I knew Jess loved. I felt sick knowing that I needed to tell her right away and that she would be upset and possibly angry with me. I messaged her expressing my regret and telling her how sorry I was but I was never able to find another bowl to replace it.
Do we come to God with this kind of repentance? Holding out the earth saying “We have broken this”. Are we willing to admit it and take responsibility? What are we doing to restore both what is broken and our relationship with God?
God is in all and through all of creation. Hubert Reeves a Canadian-French astrophysicist says (and please excuse the sexist language) “Man is the most insane species. He worships an invisible God and destroys a visible Nature. Unaware that this Nature he’s destroying is this God he’s worshiping.”
This past February while I was at a conference at the Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary I listened to lectures and conversations around racism. As we wrestled with what kind of change we needed to bring in our congregations and communities, one of the speakers challenged us. If we really deal with this it will hurt us, we need to feel the hurt so that it pushes us to change. The speaker went on to say that unless it hurts us some, unless we are giving up some of our privilege, then we are not really doing the change we need to.
This is true with our earth and climate change as well. We can put a Band-Aid over the pain. We can turn off the news, turn away from the devastation. But really we should be owning that we are not the victims in this but claiming our part as the perpetrators. Job, James and Luke were all yelling at us today. Pointing out our wealth and how we may be holding it for ourselves and thus inflicting pain on our world and others. Have we mistreated the poor of the earth so much that we are rotten enough that worms find us sweet? Are we doing slow violence against our world and our international brothers and sisters? Pastor Doug Kaufman writes that “the poor who experience the most impacts (of climate change) often have the lowest emissions” Leader p.11. And Mark Bigland-Pritchard writes in agreement saying “Global justice demands even tougher targets for wealthy industrialized countries, which have benefited most from the fossil economy and generated most of the emissions” Leader p.4.
            While other writers go even further saying “The extent of human-created damage to the planet is stupendous – an ecological violence of World War scale. Let’s say that we humans are at war with (the rest of) nature.” Leader p.17 Randoloh Haluza-DeLay.
            Hearing the blessings and woes read from Luke’s gospel I have to wonder are those woes intended for us? Do we shrug off the poor thinking that eventually they will be blessed? Looking at the state of our world it is not a matter of pulling the poor and impoverished of the world up to where we are. I had a friend who joked that he hadn’t realized that becoming Christian meant becoming middle class, but that was what he was being pressured to do. Our world cannot sustain our level of consumption. We must use less. And for those of us who are consuming much more then other regions of the world that change needs to look drastic.
Katherine Jameson Pitts writes “Changing climate intersects with many things we care about – anti-racism, immigration, poverty, health care, and the welfare of future generations.” Leader p. 30. The attack on our earth and its atmosphere is at the root of many systems we pray for every week.  For instance “The conflict in Syria has been convincingly linked to a record period of drought, which caused both food shortages and mass migration into the cities.” Leader Mag. P 4.
This is not a new thing for us to be hearing but what do we need to hear for this to motivate us to action?
Because we get stuck here. Our guilt and anxiety pinning us to the floor. Yet we also have to name our privilege, power and wealth. The other week someone ran out of the service just before we finished and counted the number of cars in our parking lot. How many of us live in walking distance and drive to church? I’m guilty of that! Our privilege shows up even in the ways we approach climate change, we have the wealth to put solar panels on our houses and buy electric cars.
How do we not get stuck? We don’t just want to rush to activism that leads to burnout and energy that fizzles. What are sustainable steps towards sustainability? On a personal level I was challenged to take away plastics from my house one room at a time – when something runs out don’t replace it with plastic. I have learned from those who teach mindfulness that the best practice for you is the one that you do. I appreciate this perspective from the Dalai Lama “The planet does not need more ‘successful people’. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.”
This morning we are called back to the commission God gave us to till and keep the land. We need to convert our actions from pushing the earth to produce for us to embracing our call to serve and preserve the land. We are well placed as the church, and particularly as a peace church, to do this work. When I work with young adults to discern where they are going in their lives we often look at their gifts and what they are passionate about. I will often use the phrase, “use your superpower for good”. What are the gifts we have as a church that are exactly what our world needs right now? For one, we are not disconnected, we are not just individuals trying to act alone but a group having this conversation. We need to move from an idea of stewardship to caring for creation and then expand it to making peace with all of creation. We are neighbors to the rest of creation. What would it look like for us to seek the dignity and well being of all creation.
Beyond our solar panels what is our next step as a congregation? How are we empowered to action together? Is it to push for city planning so that we make spaces for bikes and move towards not being so reliant on cars? Should we return to the concept of enough. How much do we really need? Embrace Sabbath practices of rest, gratitude and Jubilee redistribution. In listening to the Shifting Climates Podcast I’ve heard many things that have stuck with me. One speaker took and quote I know well and expanded it. She said if you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. But with climate change there is a need for us to go fast together.
            We need to go forth and talk. Can we embrace a prophetic voice so that we don’t just talk to each other but to the larger world.  How are we proactively generating ideas to honor God’s earth and the people whom God created. We are called from passivity and domination to engagement and action. Creative and diligent action. Derrick Jensen writes “It is long past time for us to be the miracle we’ve been waiting for.”
            And as we speak and act, we remember. The universe began and will end with God’s word. We are not alone in this. Will we commit to seeking God’s inspiration and guidance for our actions and our world. Commit to the deep pray of consulting with the creator and true owner of the world – of listening to God and waiting on the inspiration of the holy spirit. May God grow in us a prayer-infused hope.
This morning what would it mean for us to repent, be transformed by the love of God and deny ourselves, pick up our cross and follow Jesus.
We trust that God is with us in this work and we hold onto that trust as the choir comes forward to lead us.

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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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Welcoming the Little Ones
Isaiah 11:6-9
Mark 9:33-37 and 10:13-16

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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