Over the past three weeks we have witnessed and learned of assaults on black and brown persons by police officers, and private assaults unreported by police officers. These nationally publicized acts caused an outpouring of grief and anger at the ongoing systemic assaults as well as systemic neglect of assaults by private parties on black and brown people. The anger and grief have been felt and experienced in our own faith community of LMUMC.
As a result, last Sunday, May 31, I opened a Zoom ‘LMUMC Townhall on Systemic Racism and its Effect on Black and Brown People.’ I asked our black and brown brothers and sisters to speak first. Those who joined the townhall expressed some raw feelings, and many also heard and experienced the grief, anger and dismay. Near the end of the gathering, we recognized that this was only the first of several necessary conversations that our community needs to have about the deep-rooted systemic racism that many have experienced their whole lives, as well as the subtle and not-so-subtle racism that many Caucasians either express, or stay silent in the face of hearing. These townhalls we believe need to occur to begin to remedy the brokenness of our system, the long-existing systemic inequality and the practices that individuals, especially Caucasians can and need to begin or continue to do.
We have decided to hold weekly LMUMC Townhalls on Sunday evenings, 6:30 pm. I recognize that the time between 5 pm and 8 pm is the dinner hour for most families. It was not possible to pick a particular hour that would not interfere with at least one family’s dinner. If this is your dinner hour, we hope you will make this townhall your dinner hour conversation.
I pray that each of you are leaning into the power and hope of the Holy Spirit during these times of Covid-19 pandemic and the reckoning of our country’s built-in racism and its effect on everyone of us, most especially on our black and brown brothers and sisters. I also pray that even if you feel talked out, listened out, heard or spoke enough about the long-existing issue, you will continue to lean in, listen to, speak to, and be open to transformation through the love of God, the compassion and justice of Jesus the Christ and the power and passion of the Holy Spirit.
I look forward to seeing on Sunday mornings for worship at 10:15 am and in the evenings at 6:30 pm for LMUMC Townhall on System Racism and Its Effect on Black and Brown People.
Please see our website for the Zoom links for both Sunday morning worship and Sunday evening townhall.
This sermon is the second reflecting on Earth Day, begun last week with Tom Huetteman (found here). On June 22, 1969, the Cuyahoga River on the southern shores of Lake Erie caught on fire as chemicals, oil, and other industrial materials that had oozed into the river somehow ignited. Just a few months before, on January 28, 1969, and oil rig leaked millions of gallons of oil off the coast of Santa Barbara (still the 3rd largest spill in the nation), the bald eagle, was rapidly declining as a species due to the chemical DDT, while around the world, whales were being hunted nearly to extinction. These and other incidents caught the attention of the national media and galvanized public awareness of the many environmental insults being hurled at the nation and the planet.
In response to the public outcry, Earth Day Founder Gaylord Nelson, who served as the Governor of Wisconsin and in the U.S. Senate, organized a nationwide “teach-in” about environmental issues to take place on April 22, 1970. More than 2,000 colleges and universities, 10,000 public schools, and 20 million citizens participated—nearly 10 percent of the U.S. population at that time.
This outpouring of grassroots environmental activism marked the first Earth Day—a recognition of the importance of caring for the environment and accepting stewardship responsibility for the nation’s resources. It also helped establish a political climate conducive to forming both the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on October 3, 1970.
Ever since April 22, 1970, people the world over take time to recognize the importance of protecting the Earth’s natural resources—be they oceanic, atmospheric, terrestrial, or biological—for future generations.
We speak and act today, in honor, remembrance and celebration of those horrifying and heroic acts that caused the humans to begin to mobilize to defend, restore and protect mother earth. Our text today reminds us that the God we love, adore and honor, is also the God of creation; they are creation’s God. The opening words of our Holy Scripture’s begin with “In the beginning God created Heaven and Earth – not humans – the heavens and earth. We are called to understand that God – Allah, Yaweh, Great Spirit, is also animals’ God, insects’ God, Creation’s God. Creation, animals, insects, all say, “We too are created by God. We too have value, meaning, importance, for the joy of God – beyond and above value, meaning and importance for humans.”
Created in God’s image calls us humans to a higher, fuller and richer knowledge that our role in this world is beyond self-serving or familially serving or nationally serving. To be created in God’s image is to experience in our breath, our blood, our sight, and our heartbeat all that God created has value because it is.
The front cover of our bulletins is a Native American Proverb: “We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children.”
We know that our earth is ill. At this moment in history, it matters little who or what caused it to be so ill. What matters most is that we care for her, as we would a sick grandmother, or grandchild. Recriminations can come later, or not at all. It is like the covid-19. We know that it was human action using that which God created for human’s self-service, that created this virus and we know that it was and is human neglect that has caused it to make so many of God’s children ill, some mortally so. Yet now, we are experiencing some joys from the simple actions that humans are taking to save ourselves. We can and are called by Creation’s God to continue to do all we can to care for the sick, to comfort the dying and work hard to create a solution.
Do so for our mother earth. When you go out walking, with your mask and hopefully gloves or sanitizer, take a sack with you and pick up the trash you see. I know that some of us will find this a very difficult task. Imagine however, that you are pulling out the leaves or gum, or fuzz balls from a child’s hair – who simply cannot do it for themself, combing your grandmother’s hair who is no longer able to do it for herself.
Treat her with the love and honor as you would your grandfather, if his sweater had a hole in it. Fix it, sew it – learn to do and be different to improve the life and image of your grandfather – our mother earth.
Even when you leave to go to the store, take an extra bag to put trash in that you see. Yes, some will think you odd. They are strangers to you and their image of you is as consequential as the stranger driving by you on the street. And, who knows, you may effect change in their way of living and being. Afterall, Jesus called us to be transformers for the kingdom of God.
I want to close today with a poem by Joseph Bruchac title, “Bigfoot’s Grampa.”
The old man
must have stopped our car
two dozen times to climb out
and gather into his hands
the small toads blinded
by our lights and leaping,
live drops of rain.
The rain was falling,
a mist about his white hair
and I kept saying
you can’t save them all,
accept it, get back in
we’ve got places to go.
But, leathery hands full
of wet brown life,
knee deep in the summer
he just smiled and said
they have places go to
A sermon by Tom Huetteman, lay member of Lake Merritt UMC (4/19/20) The famous Astronomer, Galileo, some 400 years ago said that “mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.” And I think it is true that one of the ways God communicates with us is through the language of math. Today, I think you might say we are seeing God’s alarm going off. The alarm I’m thinking of is the exponential growth curve, that line graph that at first starts slowly rising and then suddenly shoots straight up. God’s alarm – Wake up! Pay attention! Act! It’s all over the news – the horrifying numbers associated with COVID-19 growing exponentially.
There is another place where we see this same graph shape, a line shooting straight up. It’s the exponential growth of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions into the world’s atmosphere, only this has been going on for quite some time, shooting sharply up for the past few decades and no flattening of the curve is in sight. God’s alarm is going off again! Wake up! Pay attention! Act!
It’s Earth Day this week – the 50th anniversary is this Wednesday, April 22nd. It began as a movement to care for the earth. That same year the US Environmental Protection Agency was formed and I later spent 33 years working for EPA in public service for environmental protection.
As Christians, we shouldn’t need an Earth Day celebration to remind us of the precious gift that is this creation we are blessed to be part of. Our faith tells us that God’s glory and goodness is revealed through creations. The Bible’s beginning in Genesis is a celebration of creation that continues throughout the Bible. Through creation God’s presence and glory are revealed to us. In the New Testament, like our reading today, we are told that Christ is also revealed through creation – everything came into being through Christ. And it is not just God’s glory revealed to us in creation, but God’s love. Indeed, God’s love is revealed and made manifest in all of creation. And so how should we respond?
Our human neglect and abuse of the environment should make us very concerned, I have to say, even terrified. The impacts of a changing climate and resulting environmental degradation are unfolding all around us: massive scale wildfires, extremes in patterns of drought, enormous loss of biodiversity and threats of growing extinctions, disruptions in water and food supplies. And not surprising, the poor are the most vulnerable to these impacts and will suffer greatest. Our growing degradation of the environment is an enormous social justice issue. The human caused greenhouse gases in our atmosphere today are the accumulated result of the last 100 years of human activity and the United States is responsible for about half of these emissions, yet the whole world will suffer the consequences.
So how should we act as Christians? Many will act from a place of fear or even anger and blame, but this is not the attitude we need. I believe that now, perhaps more than any other time in our history, people of all faiths need to show the way. To paraphrase one modern day Christian leader, ours is a path centered in generosity and compassion, that moves gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion. A path that sees the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale, where the divine and the human meet in the seamless garment of God’s creation.
This is a moment for transformation. And that is what we at Lake Merritt United Methodist Church are called to do, be disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, inclusive of God’s creation. To care for each other and all of creation, centered in God’s love.
I think the present day pandemic crisis also offers us a glimpse of the transformation we are being called to. A crisis is an opportunity for transformation and the Bible is full of such stories. God is calling us, and in the despair around us, it is a call for hope and faith. We are being called to center in God, called to be in community, centered in love and compassion on a global scale.
How will we respond now and in the future? You see the tensions between an old way of living and a call to a new way of being. How will we be in community together as neighbors, as a country and as the whole of humanity? How will we respond to the needs of the most vulnerable among us? What will we do when the pandemic now and over time climate change strikes hard the poorest of countries in the world? When the pandemic ends, will our economy just go back to business as usual or will this be an opening to a new way of living that can help to transform humanity for the future? We as people of faith need to lead the response.
Now you are probably hoping for some tips on what you should do to help the environment – here are three: First, eat more of a plant-based diet and avoid food waste; second, drive a lot less, walk or bike more; third, live simpler lives, purchasing fewer material goods, finding pleasure in engaging the world around us, resisting our consumer culture. I recommend visiting the website Drawdown.org and take the time to really learn and continue to act to make a difference. And most importantly, over and over continue to fall in love with this great gift of creation we have been so blessed with. Pay attention to the flowers blooming, the birds singing, the changing sky, the people you encounter. Be awake to the joys and to the sorrows around us and act from a place of love.
Real transformation is challenging work and this is the work we as a faith community really need to focus on. I hope we will join together on this journey. We are an Easter people called to live out the resurrection. To live today in hope and love, to restore, regenerate, renew, in deep communion with God, with each other, and with all creation. Amen
A Prayer for Our Earth
by Pope Francis
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love, that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor, help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth, so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives, that we may protect the world and not prey on it, that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts of those who look only for gain at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing, to be filled with awe and contemplation, to recognize that we are profoundly united with every creature as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day. Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle for justice, love and peace.
I’ve been thinking lately about what feels like a ‘new’ normal, even if it’s not all that ‘new.’ It is this concept that everyone is ‘so busy.’ A couple of ways I hear this mantra is, “You’re so busy, I hate to ask….” and “I know we’re all busy….” I wonder if we’ve always been ‘so’ busy and we are now voicing it out loud, or is this a relatively new thing in the last 10 or 15 years?
I wonder what value to our lives, our communities, our relationships, it is to be ‘so’ busy. Are we really vastly improving ourselves and our relationships, or job opportunities to be so busy? We might be. If that is the case I wonder if there is a cost, e.g. something negative, or some impairment in other parts of our lives?How does it impact our interactions with each other, being at a resting state by ourselves or with others, and getting our souls fed?
Mostly, I wonder if we’re happy being ‘so’ busy? Are we consciously choosing to be ‘so’ busy? I wonder what it would look and sound like if we stopped using the phrase ‘so busy’ and began saying, “No, I’m not available. No, I can’t do that for you. Not, this week, but maybe next…..No, I have other priorities. Did you ask….”, and so on.
I’m hoping we’re only as busy as folks were 50 or 100 years ago, just doing different things than they did. I’m hoping that if, in fact we’re ‘so’ busy that it is a choice and, if not a conscious choice, we have the wherewithal to say, “No, thank you. I’m staying home tonight; I’m hanging out with …. No, thank you. I’m going to go help….”
We can choose to stop saying I’m ‘so’ busy and if in fact we are ‘too’ busy and don’t like it, we can choose to stop. The world will not ‘go to hell in a handbasket’ (a phrase I heard from adults when I was little). Maybe some things won’t get done or done as grandly. Maybe some projects will wait for another day, or be done by someone else.
Jesus’ life was pretty full. There is no doubt he was a busy person. I don’t imagine he ever said, “I’m so busy.” We do know that he rested, a lot. There a story in Mark’s Gospel about that very thing. It’s not the only one, but it is insightful. “Many people were coming and going, so there was no time to eat. (Jesus) said to the apostles, ‘Come by yourselves to a secluded place and rest for a while’.” Mark 6:31 (CEB)