Thursday, December 7, 2017

Finding Hope in WhatsApp and the Prime Minister of Canada

Mark 13:24-37

I thought made a tactical error this weekend. I waited until yesterday to start my sermon—my sermon for Hope Sunday, this first Sunday of Advent. Each of these next Sundays, the four Sundays leading up until Christmas have their own, preset themes in this season. Hope, Peace, Joy and Love. Hope Sunday marks the beginning of the wait—the anticipation of the arrival of the baby Jesus—the great hope that was promised to come to save the world, and after he was executed some thirty odd years later, was promised once again to the world of his return so that the righteous may be separated from the not-so-righteous and all would be made whole in God’s Kingdom. Anyway, it is somewhat expected that a preacher might preach on these specific, positive and hopeful themes, in the darkness that starts this season and then in the growing light of all that is good as it is represented in the recalling and celebrating the birth of the one who came not as a sword to conquer and vanquish the cruel and unjust leaders, but came instead as a vulnerable baby, needing protection and care until he was ready, until he, himself heard the voice of God calling him to a ministry like no other.

I am supposed to be preaching on hope today. I was supposed to prepare a sermon that speaks to the hope that is to come in the celebration of the Christ’s birth. But I made a mistake this weekend. I waited until Saturday morning to start writing. As I started my day yesterday, I heard the news that the American Senate passed the dastardly republican tax bill sometime after midnight on Friday. And, while I am not American, if half of what is being said about how this bill will impact everyday Americans, those going to college, those who rely on Obamacare, those who do not own planes or have massive estates to pass onto their children—if half of what they are saying is true, the world is about to witness a turning in the States like never before. This bill is the absolute epitome of the rich becoming richer and poor becoming poor. And many who have not consider themselves poor before now, may discover poverty in the coming years.

Hope felt thin yesterday morning. You might ask, why does it matter so much to me about what is happening in the States? They are not us and we are not them. That is true, but we cannot ignore what happens with the people who are our next door neighbours. If you ever doubt their socio-economic impact on Canada, just remember we are coming off a week of massive sales called Black Friday. Black Friday is a strictly American concept—it is tied to Thanksgiving, their most important holiday, which always takes place on a Thursday. The Friday after Thanksgiving has become the kick-off for Christmas shopping. It is called Black Friday and in the past it has meant nothing to Canadians other than maybe it was a good time to be the States for shopping. But, over the past few years there have begun to be more and more stores that have sales events based on Black Friday. So, the long and short of it is that I seem to have this chronic sense of despair of the losses the American people are experiencing with the presidency of Donald Trump and I am wary of similar sentiments that go him elected being revealed elsewhere in the world, particularly in Canada and here in Calgary. Some days hope is hard to find.

And, let’s face it, it’s not like the scripture reading really helped. The Lectionary this Advent is challenging. Here at Symons Valley, we don’t always follow the schedule of readings offered by the Lectionary but we chose to for Advent so that we could hear the familiar stories during this tradition-rich time. Except that I failed to take into account that today is the beginning of the church year that we read mostly from the Book of Mark. Although Mark is the second book of the Christian Scriptures, the New Testament, it was actually the first of the Gospels to be written and it is the most bare-bones. Matthew and Luke build upon Mark’s Gospel and fill out the life and ministry of Jesus for us. But Mark is pretty cut and dried. The Marconian community—the time and life out of which Mark was written, was living in an era of crisis after of crisis. Jesus had died, tensions had grown steadily between the Hebrew people, the new Christians and the Romans. The Temple was destroyed and all hell seemed to be breaking loose. Mark writes as if time was of the essence, there was no time for embellishments. Did you realized that Mark does not even have a birth story—the first chapter of Mark starts right with the baptism of Jesus. So, in this Lectionary year in which Mark is the Gospel of focus, the first few Sundays of Advent are spent reminding us of the power and strength that the baby Jesus will grow into—that the one who is coming will be named Son of Man, that he will be revealed as the Christ, that he will be more powerful than the baptizer John, that he will be the light of the world. We are being reminded that the one who came as a helpless infant, grew to be the One who best revealed God’s love on earth and who led, not with an armed force but led, instead, by offering healing through relationship—relationship with each and every person that is met along the way of life, relationship with God, the one who moves as Spirit encouraging us and helping us remember that we are not alone, we are never alone, and, finally, relationship with ourselves because all healing begins first with ourselves.

The hope from Mark is not about the upcoming birth because the birth is not there. Instead, the hope comes with the reminding of what Jesus was the first time he came. Hope in this Advent season is the promised second coming and, if Jesus was so powerful the first time around, can we possibly imaging how powerful he will be upon his return? But how will it be known that he has returned? It was pretty uncertain the first time he arrived. The Lectionary guides us by taking us right to a mini-apocalypse for the First of Advent. The sun will be darkened, the stars will fall from heaven and the powers will be shaken. No one know when the master of the house will come. In other Gospel versions of this ‘keep awake’ narrative, these stories are referring to the end of time however our scripture reading today does not talk about the end times, about the end of the world. The reading today speaks only of the coming of the Son Man. Remember, Jesus had not yet been crucified. It had been discussed amongst the disciples that Jesus might be the messiah, the Christ, but Jesus had not confirmed it. What is interesting is that the scripture reading today foreshadows the events of the last moments of Jesus’ life—the sky becomes dark just as it did before Jesus died, the cock crows just as it did signifying the denial of Peter and the dawn comes as it did with the women at the empty tomb. That’s why this scripture reading is referred to as the little apocalypse of Mark’s Gospel.

And that’s why I was struggling a bit with hope yesterday because it kinda does feel, some days, with the state of the world is a little apocalyptic right now. With increasing nationalism, the rise of protectionism, fear and distrust of the other being encouraged, individualism working against the common good—all of this feels a little like we need a messiah to come set us straight. I woke up yesterday and heard the news of passed tax bill in the States. I read our scripture reading looking for inspiration for what to say about hope. And then I did some housework. I scrolled around on Facebook a bit. I made a list or two—making lists helps my brain. And then my phone began pinging. I was surprised to see it wasn’t a phone call but a voice call on the app WhatsApp—the app that we made connections with new friends that we made on the youth trip to Zambia. Douglas, our driver, was calling me to chat. Douglas spent nearly the whole three weeks with us that we spent in Zambia in August as he was our driver. He has just finished his second of three years of theological training and is at home with his family in Lusaka. The internet sucks in Zambia so we couldn’t really chat. I could hear his five-year-old daughter laughing in the background but our voices were too delayed to talk. We ended up visiting by texting back and forth. He mentioned that he liked the book that I gave him and we discussed its merits. It was lovely to connect so directly with him after these few months. Not only to make the connection but to hear his voice. Things have sure changed since I first went to Zambia. For a Zambian to be able to make connections with the wider world with the use of a free app is remarkable.

After Douglas and I finished chatting, it occurred to me that I was looking for hope in all the wrong places. I was trying to find hope in the negative. It would be easy to stand here and tell you why hope is lost but when I was in school we were taught that it short-changes the discussion to talk only about what you are against instead of talking about what you are for—about what you believe and what you support. Our scripture reading today gives us the foreshadow of the coming crucifixion but it is not speaking to some far-off time. It is speaking to the now and then. Remember, for the author of Mark, the Temple had just been destroyed, Jesus had been dead already for years, the second coming of the Son of Man was eagerly anticipated. But our reading does not speak of the end of Jesus—it speaks of his reentry into our lives. We begin this church year, this Advent season by looking ahead to the promise of the second coming but here, today, we are told we know not how or when Jesus will return—he will come in to our lives in many and varied ways. And maybe that is the message of this First of Advent. That there is no perfect time in which the Son of Man will make himself known. It is a reminder that this time of Advent is time to direct our gaze to this very present moment, imperfect yet beloved, fragile yet important, flawed yet beautiful, the very time and moment in which God chooses to meet, love and redeem us. Here.

So, with the phone call from Douglas, something that would have been impossible even 7 years ago when I was in Zambia last, I need to say what is good and right about our world. While the States is undergoing this monumental turning in it’s moral, political, social and economic systems, I need to say what is good and right in our world. Here in Canada. Right in the here and now. I need to say where I see the love of Jesus and the work of God is reentering our world. Right now. Not waiting for some far off time. So, I see good and right in the public act of what Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did on behalf of Canada this week. He spoke in the House of Commons, sending a message out to our country and to the entire world about who WE are as Canadians. Sending a message about what we believe in and how we want to be as citizens together. This is what he said in his apology to LGTBQ community (insert all other areas that we marginalize people after 'gender identity or expression...race, faith tradition, culture):
For all our differences, for all our diversity, we can find love and support in our common humanity. We’re Canadians and we want the very best for each other, regardless of our sexual orientation or our gender identity or expression. We will support one another in our fight for equality.
What I love best about this is the use of the word "very". Not, 'we want the best for each other' but 'we want the VERY best for each other'. That is what makes us Canadian. That we want the very best for each other. We are not them. We are we and we want the very best for one another. Not just ourselves. Not just our friends and family. But for all of us who live in this world together. For these words and the apology offered to the LGBTQ community by the Prime Minister, I see hope in the here and now. I see the love of Jesus and the work of God reentering our lives in the here and now. An for that, I give thanks. Thanks be to God.

Thursday, November 30, 2017

The Kingdom of God is Here

Genesis 28:10-16, Luke 13:20

Jesus asked, “To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened. What is the kingdom of God like? And to what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that someone took and sowed in the garden; it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” To what should I compare the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is like people of different faith traditions gathering without fear, on the same land, in the same sanctuary, on their separate holy days so that they may each worship the divine as they are called. The kingdom of God is like a room filled with people of all ages and abilities who are making one sandwich after another so all can be fed. The kingdom of God is like the time when you no longer can leave your residence but someone comes every month to offer God’s words of love and to play the most beautiful music for you. The kingdom of God is like laughing with the kitchen witches who are baking for Sunday’s fellowship and eating the most amazing chocolate chip cookie ever. The kingdom of God is like being wrapped in a quilt made by loving and caring hands and has been signed on the back with prayers of healing by so many who love you and even those who do not know you. The kingdom of God like receiving Christmas stockings and presents from a community of people simply because they want you to know that just because you are living with HIV that does not mean that you are not worthy of being recognized as a beloved child of God. The kingdom of God is being too sick to go to church but church comes to you in the form of a visit and a care package of jam, bread, soup and a Halloween candy or two. The kingdom of God is like being so broke that you can’t pay bankruptcy fees but a small, anonymous group of people pay the bill. To what should I compare the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is like the welcoming person who noticed the stranger in his hour of deepest need, who listened to his story, who wiped his tears and gave him a seat next to him in worship so that he would not feel alone.

God’s kingdom is not about individualism, not about personal gain, not about greed, power or fear. The kingdom of God is a time and a place in which people look out for each other, where the needs of the other are met, where each of us know our neighbour and know them to be as worthy of receiving compassion just as we, ourselves, are worthy. The kingdom of God is that time when know ourselves to be worthy of love just as our neighbour is worthy. It is that time when the hurt of each one of us is understood to be true and the healing from such hurt is essential for the healing of everyone else.

When Jesus speaks about what the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of God is like, he speaks of situations that involve moments of growth. Moments of healing. Moments of transformation. What ends the story is not what it was at the beginning. The tree began as a mustard seed. The light and fluffy loaf of bread began because of a small bit of yeast. Here, our community began as individuals and grew into a family. These teachings of Jesus begin with something small and unlikely and becomes more. Becomes bigger. Bigger than ever seemed possible. This growth, this transformation, it is not done alone. The yeast needs the dough. The mustard tree becomes the home to the birds of the air. Those in pain need a listening ear, a hug of many prayers. Those who are hungry need food made by loving hands—a sandwich, a cookie. It is this connection between people, it is this gathering together that allows for healing, growth and transformation to happen. It is these things together that make up the purpose of Jesus’ church.

The business of the church is not to sell religion. Religion is a set of doctrines, structures, systems and rules—these things develop because we are human and humans crave order. But that is all just what religion is—defined order containing what is really important—our faith and our beliefs. When churches try to sell religion instead of living into their purpose of growth and transformation, they become like a corporation. And the business of a corporation is to satisfy people, to get them to spend more, to buy more. We all know, Jesus was not about making people feel satisfied. In fact, most of his ministry was about denying so many the satisfaction of acknowledging whatever earthly power they had for Jesus knew, no one on earth had more power than God. Jesus pushed and pulled his followers to seek new ways of being, to seek new paths to peace and a full life which meant they had to buck the system. His followers needed to stand up against the power of the Jewish and Roman leaders.

No, the church of Jesus was not in the business of satisfying the people. Nor should it be today. Following Jesus today may not have the same life or death consequences that it did two thousand years ago, but there are serious outcomes to being Christian in today’s world. Mercy, generosity, compassion, kindness, honesty, love, vulnerability, these are not easy things to live out in our world which promotes distrust, fear, hate and greed. Being fair and just at the expense of profit and gain is looked upon with uneasy glances in a world where the individual is held up over the community. In a world that has forgotten the gains we make today are because we stand on the shoulders of those people who came before us or because of the hand up from those who travel alongside us. The people of the early Church knew they needed each other for encouragement, support, for wisdom and to remind one another that the teaching of Jesus’ ministry was a truth that could not be denied. They knew that the strength of community was needed so the individual could grow. Could heal. Could be transformed and be the change the world so desperately needed. The church of Jesus Christ was then and is now in the business of making space to create relationships with one another. To create a relationship with God. And to create a relationship with ourselves.
Creating relationships that matter, relationships that encourage transformation, relationships that allow for healing is done best when we see God present in the actions of others. When we can glimpse the divine in the eyes of others. Our experience of meeting God in others gives us courage and frees us to recognize the God who is present in ourselves at the very core of our being. Recognizing God’s presence is essential. Jacob’s experience shows us this. Jacob was running. His past was marked. His future uncertain. In a dream, he sees God and God tells him, “I am with you. I will keep you. I will not leave you.” God was with Jacob. God had been there all along. When he was a fugitive. When he was dishonest. When he argued with his brother. When he begged his father for a blessing that was not his to have. When his mother urged him to take that which was his brother’s. God was there even when Jacob was born, the second twin, holding desperately to the heel of this brother, trying to keep Esau back so that he, Jacob, would be the first-born son. And God was there, in Jacob’s flight from his past to his future. After this dream, you might recall, Jacob goes on to a life filled with responsibility, love and family. His most beloved son, Joseph went onto the fame of starring in Joseph and the Technicolor Dreamcoat and he saved a nation of people from starvation.

The story of Jacob’s dream, with angels ascending and descending from heaven and God appearing beside Jacob is referred to as Jacob’s ladder. There is a theological term for such revelations of God. The visible manifestation of God is called a the/off/any. This appearance to Jacob is one of the rare times that God is revealed to humanity. While the Hebrew people felt that God was quite active in their world, they did not actually see God very often. Jesus realized that, in his time, the people of God had stopped directly connecting with God. The Torah Laws and the use of priests, sacrifices and ritual cleansing inhibited people from seeing how God was moving in their lives. And so Jesus reminded them in his stories. He showed them that in their everyday actions—they did not have to wait for a ritual or wait to be cleansed—in the everyday, God was being revealed. He gave to his followers a way to recognize their the/off/anies, their own visible manifestations of God. For Jesus knew, only in the revelation of God to all people could the kingdom of heaven, the kingdom of peace, the kingdom of God become known across all of Creation. And so, we notice God in the mustard tree, in the loaf of bread, in the quilt, in a welcome, in a kitchen full of witches baking the best cookies ever.

To what should I compare the kingdom of God? The kingdom of God is like when the treasurer of a volunteer run, self-funded, faithful congregation goes to bed at night and wakes rested and energized as she knows the congregation’s bills will be paid because the offertory baskets and the PAR donations—are flowing as if they were the lands filled with milk and honey. There are many reasons to give money away to different organizations. You can get tax receipts for deductions and that’s always a good thing in April. Giving money makes you feel good. You feel like you are helping to find a cure, support an important cause, you aid in feeding or housing someone who is down on their luck, because we all know, or at least suspect, there by the grace of God we go, and it could just as easily be us who’s luck runs out next year, next month, or even next week.

There was a time in our household that we had more time than money. My kids now find it hard to believe but I know many of you here would understand when I say I can remember, quite clearly, of having to take items off the belt at the grocery store checkout because my budget did not allow for things like ice cream that week. Or even that month. In that time of our life, we gave what we could with our time and energy. And when things began to get more comfortable with our budget, when ice cream and going to the movies began to appear in our regular living, we started a concentrated effort to be intentional about not only the time we gave but also the money. Our goal is 10% of gross income. We’ve gotten up to 8%. We give to several hard-working charitable causes—all of which we have a personal connection with—an international orphanage, support for those living with HIV in Africa and another for those here in Calgary, a Canadian micro-lender in South Africa. We also give so that our souls may be fed by art and theatre here in Calgary. But the place that gets more than half of our givings each month is Symons Valley.

There have been times over the years in which we have had a bit extra come in, money that was not anticipated in our household budget. And when those times have come, we have a little ritual in our house. Before anything else is done with the money, I calculate what will be given away and I ask Christopher, where would you like to give it? To Stephen Lewis, to Child Haven, to the theatre? And each time I ask him this, he pauses for a moment and then he says, give it to the church. Each time he says this. I finally asked him—why SVUC and not the others? We know they do good work, why just the church? And this is what he said, “I want to give to the church because I see what good things are happening there. I see what impact our givings make on what the church is doing and what the church wants to do.” For Christopher, this is the living out of our offertory invite: remember that we do not give TO the church but we give THROUGH the church.

I think I would add, the reason why I want to give what we give each month to be used by this church is because I feel that God is in this place. Jacob says when he wakes from his dream, surely God is in this place and I did not know it. Surely God is in this place. The difference I think, for us in this community, is that we know God is in this place. We feel it. We experience it. In this place that we call holy ground, God is revealed each and every day. This community of faith has grown and shifted, it has moved homes and has evolved, this community of faith has a long history of following Jesus, it has been daring and strong, it has been careful and cautious, but always, always, God has been in this place. In this place, we are fed and we are loved so that we may travel the narrow path of Jesus, knowing we have companions in front of us and behind us, encouraging us to be the best we can be, to love the best that we can love, urging us to stand up for what is right and good, and comforting us when we fall down. For we know, the kingdom of God cannot happen without a community surrounding us, holding us, lifting us up and pushing us forward into growth, into healing, into transformations. That is why I give. Why do you?

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Fight at the Bar & John 3:16

John 3:16-17, Psalm 105:1, Isaiah 12:4

A couple of years ago Abigail and I were driving and a song from the Gospel of Keith Urban came on the radio. I don’t always listen to country music but I do when I’m in the car, I do. Maybe you’re familiar with the song—John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16. It is one of those many, many nostalgic American country songs that are being released lately. The kind that talks about how good things used to be—white picket fences, a mom who stayed home and baked apple pie, everyone going to church on Sundays kind of song—you know what I’m talking about. Anyway, the chorus goes like this: 

I'm a child of a backseat freedom, baptized by rock and roll
Marilyn Monroe and the Garden of Eden, never grow up, never grow old
Just another rebel in the great wide open, on the boulevard of broken dreams
And I learned everything I needed to know from John Cougar, John Deere, John 3:16
So, there we were, driving along together, singing at the top our lungs and it occurred to me that I didn’t know the reference John 3:16. John Cougar—yes, if you’re my age, you grew up hearing from John Cougar Mellencamp. Jack and Diane, Small Town, Pink Houses… Now that I think about it—his songs too were quite wistful about an America that seemed to be long in the past.  So, John Cougar and then John Deere—even a city girl like me knows this titan of farm equipment. But John 3:16—the clergy person was stumped. So, I said out loud, ‘I wonder what that scripture reading is—I should look it up.” Abigail, at eleven years old, answers from the backseat, ‘You mean John 3:16? It’s the one that goes, God so loved the world that he gave his only son.’

And in that moment, I felt two things. A little embarrassed that she could pull that out of her back pocket at eleven, and I, a trained minister, could not. But I was also impressed that church has obviously rubbed off on this daughter of mine. However, I couldn’t remember that the Sunday School studying this scripture passage, so I asked, ‘You just know that? How do you just know that?’ And she replied, ‘I learned it when we were at the bar and watched the Mayweather fight.’ Which, I have to admit, was the answer I least expected . It turns out that a few months earlier, we were at a nomination party for our local MP—we are good friends with the family and we were anxiously waiting to hear if he had been nominated. I just want to be clear—we were not at a bar that night, we were at a restaurant. The TV near the party was showing the Mayweather fight. The kids were all watching it. That there is some good parenting but I’m thinking that’s just what happens with kid number four. Anyway, I guess Mayweather had the words John 3:16 on the waistband of his shorts…and Abby and the MP’s daughter looked it up.

Signs with the scripture passage of John 3:16 have long been held up at various sporting events. A wingnut named Rollen Stewart—and I know I sound a bit judgmental here but let me tell you this guy is currently serving three life sentences in California because in 1992 he kidnapped a hotel maid and demanded that he have a press conference to warn people about the imminent rapture that was going to happen in six days—anyway this guy began appearing at different sporting events in the Seventies wearing a big rainbow-coloured wig. He even showed up at Prince Charles and Diana’s wedding. Anyway, watching sports games on the television was growing in popularity in the Seventies and Stewart had figured out how to position himself so that he would be on camera when a goal or a touchdown happened. He would show up with a sign with just the words John 3:16 written on it and try to make sure he was caught on camera. So he did this all through the Seventies and Eighties and began a tradition of spectators holding up these kind of signs. The tradition began to wane in the Nineties but there has been a resurgence of people bringing signs to games since football player, quarterback Tim Tebow, wrote John 3:16 on his black eye-patches in college in 2008/9. College football has since created a policy stating that nothing can be written on those patches but signs still appear in the stands.

For many Christians, John’s words, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” sums up the entirety of what they believe was Jesus’ ministry and God’s purpose in his life. God loves us, God gave up Jesus so that we might be saved and eternal life awaits all who believe in Jesus. Those who take literally the demand of Jesus to make disciples of all nations, will take this scripture with them when they go. When people come knocking on our doors asking if we know Jesus, it is John that they offer to you. When parents send their children to the mall to hand out tracts, it is John they are carrying with them. And, for them, this is the spreading of the Good News. They are evangelizing. They are sharing the Good News of what God did. Past tense. God gave his son. End of story. For many Christians, the Good News begins and ends only with themselves. THEY are saved. THEY will have eternal life. But, as per usual with the Bible, Jesus and with God, this scripture is bigger than just one person.

Let us take a moment or two to look these main sections. I’ll start with the giving up of Jesus. Many are taught that this piece of scripture means that Jesus has atoned for any and all sins of each of one us. As if by dying on the cross, our sins could be wiped away. If only we believed in him. And through him, believed in the one and only God. It would be easy to hear this passage of John’s and think that the giving of Jesus was if he was a gift from God. Handed over through the virgin birth and sacrificed upon the cross. As if a loving and compassionate God would do such a thing. 
But remember that Jesus was the Word made flesh. God gave Jesus to the world so that God could experience life within Creation. All of life. From birth to death. So that God could experience the joys and sorrows of being human. So that God could become part of the world, to be vulnerable to it and could partake of what the world and humanity had to offer. The giving of Jesus was not a transaction between God and humanity. It wasn’t a tit for tat. The story did not end with the giving but rather it continues unceasingly. The giving of Jesus is like the writing of a love poem that carries on still, to this day. Just as the love we have for our own beloveds, for our dearest friends, for our children, for our grandchildren, the love God made manifest through Jesus continues onward, forever into our now and into the future.  For it is through the stories, miracles and actions of this man Jesus that humanity has witnessed the very grace, mercy, compassion and love of God still offers to the world. And it is through the life of this man Jesus that we know God understands the trials and the celebrations of what it means to be human. 

Now onto God loving us and our belief in Jesus. What can be easily overlooked is that John says that God so loved the world that his gave his son. God came for all of Creation, not for one person over another, not for one community of people over another. God did not come for a few, God came for all. All that has been asked in return is to be believe. Not that long ago to believe was to belove. In our near history, our rational, scientific influences want belief to be connected to a truth that can be proven. Unless you’re Donald Trump of course, but I’m taking a self-imposed hiatus from talking about him. Before conservative literalism grew in the mid-19th Century, to believe in something meant to belove something—to yearn for that something, to pay attention specially to that something, to commit to that something, to be loyal to that something, to value that something above all else. God wants us to believe, to belove. What should we belove? If I say we are to believe in God, to belove God, what would that mean? Jesus taught us. To belove God is to yearn for peace, to pay attention to injustice, to commit to loving others as ourselves, to be loyal to God’s Creation, to value above all else compassion.

Once we belove, once we believe, we find ourselves being transformed by these things. We find trust where before there was skepticism, find connection with those who might only be passing through our day, we find the Divine in those it would be east to dismiss as less-than, not worthy , we seek justice for all people, not just those closest to us. People matter. Creation matters. When we believe, when we belove, our problems don’t disappear, the issues each of us struggle with, the hurt and pain of life, of living and of death, do not simply vanish. Being of faith doesn’t mean you are protected from brokenness. But when you open your heart, when you welcome in others, when you are willing to be vulnerable just as God was through Jesus, when you fully partake in the life that has been given you, you will see how God’s goodness moves in and through us. Amongst us the Holy Spirit moves, reminding us that love always overcomes hate, that choosing to be kind trumps choosing ridicule and scorn, that compassion always, always has a place in relationships, be they long and deep connections or fleeting.

When we feel these moments of the Holy Spirit moving, when God enters in and touches our heart, when the meaning of the words Jesus speaks suddenly rises before us, guiding us, urging us to move, to use our power for good, how can we help but want to share the good news? How can we help but want to run down the road to our friends to tell like Mary did when she discovered the truth of the tomb—not only was it empty but Jesus was right there, he had never left. How can we not tell others like we would tell them about other awesome things in our lives? Like you would when your kid receives an acceptance letter from a university? Like when you find a restaurant that has the best French Onion soup ever?  Or how about when you discover a TV show on Netflix that deserves every award ever made. We have no problem exclaiming these things, do we? I don’t. I’ve been telling everyone lately—and here I am doing it again—if you haven’t seen This is Us on TV yet, you need to get yourself sorted and watch the first season. Don’t watch it alone—or at least set yourself up a discussion group because this show has so much going on, lots of feelings, lots of crying, lots of amazing acting, lots of love between a complicated family that experiences hurt and pain in very real ways, you will need to talk about it. It really is an awesome show. I can talk about this show with anyone, a friend, a person I don’t know in line at Tim’s, my doctor, but I’m pretty sure I would never follow up my synopsis with the show with a story of how God has recently pushed me, pulled me, cajoled me to be better. To do better. To be the hands and feet of Christ. I wouldn’t do that. I might be afraid that the message would be heard as me trying to convert them. Trying to convince them that their way of life is wrong, while I am on the true path. That I am saved and they are not. We bear the weight of those who have gone door to door, who hand you tracts at the shopping mall.

So, what does evangelism mean to us, in this United Church of ours? We are not a converting church. We do not require doctrine or dogma to be declared as truth before we help. In Zambia I was asked if the United Church of Zambia was not prepared to agree that LGBTQ people have rights and freedoms in their country, would we hold back funding and assistance? No, absolutely not, I replied. Because we are not a converting church. However, we didn’t back down from sharing our understanding that God’s love is for all people. That God has made all people in God’s image—white, black, brown, male, female, trans, gay, straight, bi, short, tall, narrow or wide. God’s grace and compassion is never-ending for all who walk the face of this earth. We spoke our truth for the whole of our trip and once in awhile found ourselves in a bit of debate over what God’s thoughts really were. It was never a comfortable discussion and we never told the other they were on the wrong side of loving one’s neighbour as ourselves, but we also didn’t shy away when asked about our beliefs. This is how we evangelize. We talk about what love and connection we experience here together, in this community of faith of ours. We share what good this congregation is doing for the wider community. We talk about how we care about the homeless. The forgotten. The hungry. And we go serve those who live at the margins.  We show how God has moved in our lives through our loving and caring actions. We talk about the need to remain open, we act justly even when the law doesn’t require us to, we speak against racist, bigoted, misogynistic comments and behaviour. We speak of God’s grace as we speak our truth, we show God’s compassion in how we treat others—those we hardly know, our friends and even our enemies and we declare God’s love when through our own willingness to be vulnerable and open, we allow others to be open and vulnerable with us. We do not convert. We do, we show and we speak. And then we let go. We let go and let God. For God is good. All the time.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Abundance of Loaves, Fishes & God's Love

Matthew 14:13-21, James 2:14-18

This story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is one of the most famous of all the miracles that Jesus performed during his ministry. It is action packed narrative that takes place in the midst of other exciting stories. At the beginning of our scripture reading today, Jesus has tried to withdraw to a solitary place because he is mourning the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. John had recently been jailed by Herod because John was not shy in telling Herod that he was behaving badly. There’s a story of sex and intrigue there but let’s save that for another Sunday.

Anyway, John was arrested and, upon the whim of some privileged, arrogant young slip of a thing, Herod agreed to behead John. Naturally Jesus was distraught when he was told the news and so he retreated from the crowds so that he could grieve the death of his dear cousin and could pray to God. But the people would not let him be. He ends up preaching and healing to the crowd that has gathered. When the day’s end arrives, it occurs to everyone that they are too far from town and they ask, ‘what will we eat?’ Feed them, Jesus tells them. We have only five loaves and two fish. Bring what you have he tells them. He gives thanks to God and breaks up the loaves. And in his thanksgiving, the food multiplied.  Or as one of the youth said in Zambia in regard to this miracle story—mathematics happened. The food multiplied so much so that there were twelve baskets of leftovers when everyone’s hunger was satisfied.

There are people of faith who, at this point and with any miracle story of the Gospel, know the story to be absolute truth and think no further. There was a small, tiny amount of food, Jesus asked for God’s blessing and there was a great deal of food. More than could be eaten by the people gathered. And then, there are those people of faith who want to examine the miracle—maybe it wasn’t so much a miraculous and magical multiplying of food so much as it was people being generous. People digging down to the bottom of their bags and pulling out everything they had. And when I say ‘people’ let’s face it, it was the women. It would have been the women who thought to themselves, hmmm…we’re going out to see if we can find this Jesus fellow and hear what he has to say, I’d better bring food cause who knows where we’ll end up. After all, what mom doesn’t have a granola bar, or fish crackers or cut up grapes in the diaper bag?

But there is another way to receive this Gospel miracle. We don’t need to examine it too closely, we don’t need to know the logistics of it. We don’t need to have unquestioning faith in its veracity. Because, this story is not about facts. This story is about what is truth and what that truth means. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is that in a world where food was grown on land that was not owned by the farmer, where food was used to pay taxes, where generosity of government was limited to Romans, in a land where being a Jew was tantamount to being a second-class citizen with very little extra of anything in their lives, the Hebrew people were accustomed to living in scarcity. They were used to living in uncertainty and fear. The next meal was not guaranteed. Safety and livelihoods were not taken for granted. And yet, there is this massive group of people, who are without substance. Without food. Without their daily bread. And they are fed. They are fed so much so that there are leftovers. The food was abundant. What this story is telling anyone who has the ears to hear, what truth of this story is that there is enough for each one of us. There is enough love. The love that Jesus lived out, God’s love made manifest in the world, is so very abundant that there will be love left over. God’s love is not pumpkin pie. Because you and you and you each have piece of it, doesn’t mean I receive any less. This is the theology of abundance—there is no need to hoard or hide away your love and keep your generosity tied up tightly and as small as the Grinch’s heart for God’s love is so great that there will always be love leftover for the next person in line.

On its website, the Food Bank states that for every dollar donated, five dollars of food is distributed. This type of mathematics we understand. They take the dollar donations and buy in bulk what you and me bought at the grocery store likely at a much higher cost.  The money is multiplied but, let’s face it, it’s not as much fun. We humans are experiential learners. Children, in particular, learn by being hands on with activities. We can lecture about the value of a donated dollar all we want, but there is something so much more powerful when the giving is tangible. We have seen this played out here in Alberta with fires displacing thousands of people—quilts, food, household items are given.

It does not take a full-blown tragedy in order for people to find themselves struggling, to find themselves hurting, to be feeling a bit broken, to find themselves hungry in mind, body and spirit. We have heard in recent days, ‘you’re in my thoughts and prayers’ but James reminds us that if there are others who are without, without food, without peace, without love, we must act. In the knowing that we are partners with God in God’s great Creation and in hearing the truth that God’s love is abundant, the Book of James reminds us that it through our works that best we show our faith. I encourage you to give money—give whatever percentage of your income that you are able—but I also encourage you to take these words of James to heart and find some good works to become involved with. Jesus did not teach or lead from the comfortable places in his life. He led from alongside the very people who were the have-nots, he taught amongst the marginalized, he listened for the voices of those who spent their lives unheard, he loved those society taught were unlovable. The people of his time and we, his followers today, know Jesus not just by the love he spoke but by the love he displayed.

If you are looking for a way to get involved, the congregation of SVUC has many different opportunities for your to share your time, energy and money:

IFTC - Inn From the Cold - an organization that serves children and their families. Not adults and their children but CHILDREN and their families. Each month a small crew heads downtown to serve supper and make up the lunches that will be needed the next day. 

Sharp Foundation - a group of hospices for people living with HIV. The clients of the hospices are those people who have been homeless or otherwise disadvantaged in life and need a place to call home as they manage their medical needs. No one is ever turned away. All are lovingly cared for.

Drop-In Centre - SVUC serves breakfast once month before church and every Sunday we celebrate communion we make 450 sandwiches that are delivered to the Centre. 

Next Sunday, Jordan Hamilton, from the DI will be speaking during the worship service. If you own a Kindness, Empathy, Love or Respect shirt from the DI, please wear your shirt on Sunday. If you do not have a shirt, Jordan will have shirts available for $25. There's a new shirt - Dignity.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Spirit Immediately Drove Jesus into...Westworld?

Mark 1:9-13, Romans 8:18-27   

Christopher and I recently watched the first season of Westworld—the science fiction western thriller novel written by Michael Crichton and made into a TV show for HBO. Christopher first watched the show when it was released in the spring and he re-watched it while I was in Zambia. Christopher loves Westworld. It is a complicated, deeply layered and intricate story with big, big questions about life. What does it mean to be the creator? What authority and control does the creator has over the so-called that has been created? How do the emotions of love, pain, hate and joy drive us? And does the motivation and life purpose of one supersede the motivation and life purpose of another? As I watched this show for the first time and he for the third time, Christopher would pause it every occasionally—particularly after a revelatory moment that just took place—and he walk me through how his understanding of what just happened evolved over his multiple viewings and point out whatever he newly noticed this third time around.

Watching a movie or TV show or reading a book again and again allows us to catch subtleties that we might have missed before. We experience the story from a slightly different point of view due to recent occurrences in our lives—such the death or birth of a loved one, the loss or gaining of a job, or the end or beginning of a significant relationship. These events in our lives shift our focus and we see the world through a different set of lenses. A shift such as this is what the Church asks of God’s people during its different seasons. Advent is time to consider the arrival of the baby who was sent to heal the world. Lent is the time to reflect on the ministry of that baby who became an adult and challenged the systematic evils of empire—so much so that he was executed. And the Season of Easter is time for us to celebrate and experience the power of resurrection in our lives. And during this current season, the Season of Creation, the Church encourages people of faith to re-read a book they should already know fairly well. Many churches have a schedule for reading the holy scriptures over time and when they come to the end, they begin reading them again. As we move through the Season of Creation, we are encouraged to read the scriptures with an understanding that God created and loves ALL of creation—not just humanity. And in the giving of creation for us to keep and to till, God wished for the health of each and every aspect of God’s great creation. We are reminded in this Creation Time that the planet’s along with its plants and animals well-being are interconnected with the well-being of humanity. Last week we re-visited the creation story of how the first humans were formed from the very soil that fed and nourished the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden. It is from the earth we were created and it is to the earth that we will all return. In the words of Yanomami Shaman Davi Kopenawa, “The environment is not separate from ourselves. We are inside it and it is inside us.”

This Sunday is Wilderness Sunday. We often associate wilderness with realms that are unfamiliar, inhospitable or threating to us. Merriam-Webster defines wilderness as a region that is uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings—an empty or pathless area. Of course, empty in this context means empty of humanity because we know that wilderness, in any area of the world, has plenty of life whether or not it’s readily apparent. What is wilderness to humanity is home to many other aspects of God’s creation. The value to our world of wilderness is really just beginning to be understood. The prevailing thought used to be that the demise and extinction of one type of creature or plant did not, could not really affect humanity. But we have discovered the hard way, over time, that when the natural order of life on this planet is disrupted, there are consequences. When the wolves were hunted out of Yellowstone National Park to protect the non-predator animals living there, the conditions of the Park began to change drastically. The elk herds were no longer being culled by their natural predator and so they began to flourish, which in turn affected the plant life as the elk were numerous and needed much more to eat. Which then led to park rangers killing elk. Once the powers that be realized that mother nature had it all figured out in the first place, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. The Park has since seen a remarkable and exciting shift in various animal and plant populations as a result. I am reminded of a quote that I have seen recently from Michel de Montaigne, a French philosopher from the 16th Century, “Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do.”

Humanity has long tried to conquer the wild—to live in places that seem to be most unwelcoming to a people that have no fur to keep us warm or natural protection from the heat of the sun. As much as I always feel cold between September and June, I do not understand why people think they can live in Arizona—particularly in the summer months. When we drove through what seemed to be a barren part of Arizona a few summers ago, I figured we might as well have been at the ends of the earth. I fretted the entire drive that our vehicle would break down along the desert highway and we would all perish because of the heat. But, with no great surprise, it is in the very distance from the security of town and neighbour, in which we also find beauty and peace. It is said that “The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.” The wilderness is a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced society. It provides us places where we can seek relief from the noise, haste and crowds that too often confine us. Wilderness areas can truly be places where we can hear the small still voice of God, speaking quietly to our hearts. Where we can look upwards and see the incredibleness of the Milky Way in all of its grandeur and where we can imagine the God who created those heavens of the sky along with the Creation of the earth.

The importance of keeping the wilderness wild has been acknowledged by nations for hundreds of years. While in and around 400 BCE Plato stated he had nothing to learn from landscapes and trees it was as early as 250 BCE that King Ashoka of India created the first laws to protect nature and established wildlife reserves during his rule. Indigenous and aboriginal people from all corners of the earth live in close physical and spiritual connection with the land—they have been strong advocates for the whole of Creation. The first three National Parks in the world were opened later in the 19th Century. Yellowstone in 1982, Royal National Park near Sydney Australia in 1879 and Banff National Park in 1885. The arctic tundra, the Amazon rainforest, the Australian outback and the Sahara Desert are some of the most remote wilderness areas on Earth today. We would like to think that these areas have been untouched by humanity’s relentless progress but we know that the impact of God’s people is felt, even in the most remote places on earth. Smog, acid rain, ice shelves collapsing…clearcutting, nuclear testing sites. Why keep wilderness  :
  • To protect the ancestral lands and cultures of indigenous people
  • To preserve species of plants and animals that would otherwise become extinct due to human development
  • So that we can observe the night sky, star/planets, Milky Way
  • To provide humans with a way to reconnect with nature and escape the hectic rush of the modern world
  • Wilderness filters and cleans the air we breathe and the water we drink
  • Leave a legacy of untouched wild lands for future generations of all species to enjoy

Near Mount Sinai, Egypt, 2012
It is critical that we keep the wilderness as wild as possible. For the health of the world and for our own spiritual and emotional well-being. For personal growth and transformation. We are told in today’s scripture reading that upon his baptism, Jesus was immediately driven out to the wilderness. I’m sure each of us have imagery of what the wilderness might have entailed—I know that I think that it must have been dry, hot, shelter, water and food hard to come by—pretty much the Arizona desert all over again. I am thinking that Jesus might not have had to go very far because we told just before this reading that John the Baptizer was already far away from any close civilization. He was in the wilderness himself, searching for God away from Jerusalem, the Temple and the false security of the city. This testing of Jesus by sending him further into the wilderness is reminiscent of Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden out into the unknown land where they had to toil and labour like never before. And it is reminiscent of when the slaves of Egypt finally escaped but they did not enter directly into the Promised Land—first they wandered forty years through the desert. And, having visited the Sahara desert and having climbed Mount Sinai myself, let me tell you that it is very much an inhospitable place. In biblical tradition, God again and again calls God’s people to the wilderness to be formed and reformed.

Linn David Edward
In the spread of so-called civilization across the globe, the wilderness is no longer something scary for us to conquer. And yet, individually, we likely each have good reason to be nervous and to feel uncertain in different types of wilderness, such as I did in Arizona. What we know better ourselves in today’s world is that the wildernesses that we endure are not physical places for everyone. The TV show Westworld I spoke about earlier, is about people removing themselves from their civilized lives and entering into a live-action game that takes place, interestingly enough, in the old-time Wild West. Whether for fun or for a time of introspection, people choose to take themselves to a time and area that is hard, dirty, violent and difficult. The characters we meet are each struggling with some aspect of their life. Their true wilderness is internal. The pain, hurt and brokenness they feel cannot be escaped by simply taking themselves out to the desert of the Wild West. Their healing cannot simply be washed away—self-reflection, honesty about themselves and a willingness to they discover, is bound up in the lives of others—even if those others are not fully human.

Each of us experience moments of wilderness in our own lives. A medical diagnoses that forever alters how you will be in the world. A relationship severed beyond repair. Depression, anxiety. Hurt and pain. Bearing grudges and having grudges borne against you. Being in the wilderness—whether it is the real thing—deep into woods that are so large you’re not sure if you ever will find the edge, out on the northern tundra, in the middle of a desert—or if the wilderness is metaphorical—you are feeling locked in, locked out, abandoned, not worthy—being in the wilderness  reminds us that we are vulnerable, that our individualism will only get us so far. We need one another. We are to rely on one another. We need the plants and animals to sustain us. We need our fellow humans to encourage and love us. The stories of our God and of the one we call Christ remind us that the wilderness is not some scary place to be avoided at all cost. It is necessary for growth, for being reformed and renewed. Transformation is possible in the wild. Adam and Eve learned the skills to further humanity, despite a rough start in the world. The Hebrew people made it to the Promised Land having grown in their faith and trust in the one true God. Jesus understood that his ministry was to show that love, trust and compassion is stronger and will always win over hate, fear and power. The wilderness may not need us but we certainly need it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Yelling Out the Window in Order to Save the World

Genesis 2:4-7, 3:17-19

So, in recent years—really, just over the last two or three—I have come to realize there is a hard, real truth to my life that cannot be avoided, no matter how much I ignore it or avoid it, pray for it not be or how much that I’ve asked God to delay it just a little longer. The fact of the matter is…turning forty years old is truly, undeniably the gateway into middle-age. Now that I am in mid-forties, I am finding to my horror—my horror!!—that your eyesight REALLY does change after you hit the big 4-0. I always secretly thought, my eyes haven’t changed since I was a teenager, they won’t change like everyone says. They won’t. But I know right now I’m going to need progressives after my next eye exam. Now that I look back, I can see there were warning signs that middle-age was slowly beginning to seep into my life—it began slowly and I could brush it off at first. Like when I began complaining that it seemed like the kids get a LOT of days off of school—I couldn’t remember having SO MANY days off of school when I was a kid. I thought that kind of complaint was more about being a parent and not wanting children at home squabbling over the video games. It was rally more about parenting rather than being middle-aged.

I had a feeling the change might be coming. But, you see, the coming of middle-age plants itself quietly and firmly without you even really noticing—and then suddenly you say or do something that makes it clear—there is no going backwards. Like when the teenagers started this thing about heading out the door wearing sneakers for shoes and no coat on snowy days I would yell after them, when I was a kid, I had to wear snow pants, a winter jacket, a toque and a big long scarf wrapped around my head!! I might as well have told them that I had to walk to school—uphill both ways. Middle age had arrived. Or that moment when I found some items in the garbage that was clearly recyclable. I called the kids upstairs and exclaimed to them that it was going to be THEIR GENERATION that was going to save the planet and shouldn’t they be the ones policing the recycling in the house, not me?! I actually used those words—YOUR GENERATION. No only did I accept that divide between us versus them but it as if I was saying it was up to them to create the future because we adults have not managed to figure out. It was on their shoulders as if we, the people of MY generation have abdicated any further responsibility to fix the mess we’re in. I might well have, in that frustrated moment, when looking at the recycling in the garbage just given my head a little shake like my elderly grandma would do once her hearing got to the point that she didn’t catch most of what we were saying and she gave up trying to understand and just shake her head when she decided it wasn’t worth figuring out.

It makes sense that the next generation will be the ones to sort out these struggles that we have in keeping and tilling God’s creation. The next generation always seems to have more passion and knowledge that we older folks have. They are not yet spoiled by cynicism or frustrated by history repeating itself. It would be lovely if we old folks could simply hand our young people a seed for the future as the Lorax does with the young child at the end of the tale, that will be the saving grace for a world without truffula trees and the brown bar-ba-loots who live amongst them. It would be lovely to hand over that responsibility. But then you find recyclables in your garbage or worse yet! You are driving in your neighbourhood three days ago and see a youngster—maybe 9 or 10 years old—drop his garbage on the ground. He just dropped it and kept walking. And you think, arg, have we learned NOTHING?! As I was driving onwards I chided myself for not rolling down my window and yelling at him to pick it up (after-all, I’m middle-aged, I could get away with it) but I justified not doing so by telling myself, ‘it wasn’t really safe, I was in a playground zone, I needed to be focused’. And then the word UNLESS popped into my head. From the end of the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

So, here’s a fun fact. Despite all the achievements humankind has made over the years because of our big brains and our opposable thumbs, our lives and all of God’s creation depend upon to a six-inch layer of topsoil. Anyone who has read or watched the movie, The Martian, knows our existence depends upon a land that is full of minerals, nutrients and microscopic organisms. It is this healthy land such as this that God created in the Garden of Eden and it from this rich and fertile land that God planted the plants and trees so they could grow and it this same land that God used to form the first human. You see the children’s toy, the Cabbage Patch Kids could have been an excellent environmental message. If the soil is not healthy, the Cabbage Patch might not be able to produce more Kids. In this Season of Creation, we turn our eyes and our ears to what the Bible and God tells us about the rest of creation. We take this time to suppress our natural tendency to think that everything, all the time is about us, God’s humanity, and we look outward of ourselves to remember that God’s creation is so much bigger than human beings. And we are reminded that some very fundamental aspects of creation are necessary for all life. And another fun fact—we, humanity, is not one of those foundations upon which all life on earth relies for health and growth. Soil, rain, trees, the tides of the ocean, fire and ice matter more to our existence than any war, political party or religious institution. 

As this Sunday we call Land Sunday was approaching, I started paying more attention to the land that surrounds me each day. I was driving to church for choir practice the other day and I realized that some of my drive is parallel to the dump up by Beacon Hill. This is another middle-age-type comment that I’ve been making lately, “I can remember the days…I can remember the days in which you had to go out of your way to get near the dump—actually we call it a landfill now—but back then, it was out in the country, north of Calgary but Calgary has grown so much that now I drive right alongside it. But you wouldn’t know it. From Stoney Trail there is no indication that just over the big berm to the north is the landfill. The surrounding area is very neat and tidy. In Canada we have the privilege of space. Space means that we can put our industry, mining and landfills far away from the general public. We also have the privilege of paying taxes.  And I do paying taxes is a privilege because it is through our tax system we have infrastructure that creates a system for garbage removal. There is no municipal garbage collection where we stay in Zambia and so every once in a while we would drive by big areas alongside the road strewn with garage, kids picking through the piles or the garbage burning. What was experienced here in Calgary this summer as air pollution from the BC fires was experienced by us travelers every day in Kitwe due to garbage burning.

Open Pit Copper Mine in Chingola, Zambia
In Canada what harm we may doing to our environment is not often right on doorstep. Not many of us Albertans have much occasion to be in proximity to the oil sands, it can be out of sight, out of mind. There are many reasons to be mining in northern Alberta that way, I’m not arguing here whether or not to mine but only to lift up that most of Albertans and Canadians are not close enough to the oil sands to keep an eye on the corporations and ensure that regulations protecting the environment are being adhered to. We need to rely on reports, the government and environmental groups to speak on behalf of God’s creation in that part of our country. In Zambia, however, the mines are not a distant, far off entity. They are right at the edge of town. They are right in the back yard of their neighbours. During our trip there last month, our group was invited to tour an open-pit copper mine in the town down the road from Kitwe. Once we arrived, we did not have to leave the town to access the mine—it was that close. The only way I can think to describe to you what this mine looked like was to compare it to the Grand Canyon. The ground was flat for kilometers surrounding the pit but then the ground fell away sharply, in ever deeper concentric circles. Machinery that was ginormous—I know because we got to climb up and onto one of the Canadian shovels they use—looked like little Tonka trucks from our lookout because the pit was so vast and deep. It was oddly beautiful in how you could see the different layers of the earth in the walls of the pit. But I could not see this sight without having in mind what I saw in the Mine’s model room that we visited first. Describe the photos. There was a machine that, with the help of light and revolving panes of glass, the viewer could see the area of land that the open pit mine covered before and after the pit was dug. What struck me was that when I first saw the 'before' photo, I saw flat land and scrub. When one of our Zambian hosts watched it with me, he immediately pointed out where the villages had been. Being of the area and knowing what to look for, he saw right away what I did not--how many villages were removed from the landscape because of the open pit.

In the scripture reading today we are told we are made of the earth. Not only are we are dust but it is to dust that we shall return. In last week’s scripture reading we were reminded that God entrusted humanity to keep creation and to till it—in other words, we are to serve the earth, caring for its health and well-being as we would any other dependent in our care. And, in doing so, we care for ourselves, we serve the human race, our families and future generations. I have spoken about Ubuntu theology but only in regards to humans, particularly concerning social justice issues. Ubuntu theology became developed primarily in South Africa—Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote quite a bit on the topic. There can be many different ways of expressing the essence of Ubuntu but what I feel that best sums it up is this, the world is not whole until I am whole, I am not whole until the world is whole. The United Church Zambia University faculty would speak in our discussions about Ubuntu, they would say, I am because you are and you are because I am. The foundation of humanity’s health and well-being reside in our ability to help one another heal and be whole. In this Season of Creation, we are reminded that Ubuntu extends beyond humanity. It involves all of creation. For if the soil is not healthy, we cannot be healthy. If the trees cannot do their God-given work, we cannot breathe. And as Texas, Florida and the Caribbean have recently experienced, if the power of wind and water are not respected, we cannot live.

The progress of humanity does not come free of cost. For every action there is a reaction. The National Council of Churches in the United States put out a Theological Statement on the Environment addressed to the people, corporations and industries of their nation. It is pages long and it’s worth reading. This line caught my eye and would not let me go as the Season of Creation asks us to tune our ears and turn our eyes to God’s call for justice for all aspects of creation. The line is this: “The whole Earth is groaning, crying out for healing–let us awaken the “ears of our souls” to hear it, before it’s too late.” I like to think we are making a difference in the world and our environment. The sight of that boy dropping his garbage was upsetting but I also know that the City of Calgary has worked diligently to deal with garbage, recyclables and compost with respect to Creation and to our surrounding environment. I know this well because my spouse’s sister was the engineer who headed up the composting plant in south Calgary and is managing the compost pick up from each of our homes. This project has been years in the making and we are finally able to minimize the rubbish we add to the landfill on a weekly basis. But let us not get complacent. Let us remember that progress happens when we encourage one another to be better. To do better. Let us remember we are to keep and till the very land from which we were created and to which we will return. Let remember that our personal healing is tied up in healing of the world.

“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.” Wendell Berry—The Body and the Earth