Holding space for gratitude and reconnection.

Sermon given at University Mennonite Church on Sunday, February 24, 2019 by Cricket Hunter

Confession and Assurance of Pardon
(from the UN Environmental Sabbath)

We have forgotten who we are.
We have alienated ourselves from the unfolding of the cosmos.
We have become estranged from the movements of the earth.
We have turned our backs on the cycles of life

We have forgotten who we are.
We have sought only our own security
We have exploited simply for our own ends
We have distorted our knowledge
We have abused our power.

We have forgotten who we are.
Now the land is barren
And the waters are poisoned
And the air is polluted.

We have forgotten who we are.
Now the forests are dying
And the creatures are disappearing
And humans are despairing.

We have forgotten who we are.
We ask forgiveness
We ask for the gift of remembering
We ask for the strength to change.

We have forgotten who we are.

Scripture readings: Genesis 1:29-2:2Matthew 13:31-34James 3:13-18

Sermon
Cricket Eccleston Hunter, Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light

Good morning.

We have forgotten who we are.
We have forgotten.
We do forget.
We are forgetting.

We are children of God.

Today I want to talk with you about our forgetting, but also about remembering.  About wisdom and practices that can lead us back, in hope and by hope, in faith and by faith, toward right relationship with ourselves, each other, and our world.  I want to talk with you about peacemaking, writ large.

The world, it seems, is not so interested in peacemaking. 

The world teaches us to value worldly power.  It values busy-ness —doing and producing.  The world teaches pride, and is full of hubris.  The world values independence, unruffled-ness, imperviousness.  The world seeks immediate results, large and visible impacts.   The world values the ability to get.

And the world tells us that without those qualities — without pride, independence, imperviousness— we must be insignificant: powerless, or naïve.  Yet if we hit pause, if we can stop the world’s messages for a moment, we all have experiences that point to something else undeniably real — experiences that show us the power not only in giving, but in receiving with grace and gratitude; the power in connection and interdependence; the power in patience, humility, and kindness.  As people of faith, we have those experiences.  So do others.  We are all given that wisdom.

But thank God for the ways that faith and religion can ground those experiences, and give them a toehold, and a community.  Thank God for the stories, and the wisdom-of-old that sings the chorus, the melody that can help our own verses, our own experiences rise into view.  Thank God for those not-worldly messages telling us that that quieter power is real and true and wise.  And thank God for the practices that help us return to it. 

It is not a new thing for the world to say one thing, and our hearts and souls and scriptures to say something else. 

We just heard James speak of selfish ambition in opposition to work done in a gentleness born of wisdom — first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy. 

Have you noticed, that those quieter, purer messages have never vanished?  While civilizations rise and fall, they weave an unbroken thread. In the midst of enormous changes fueled by discovery and invention they ripple by, whispering the same clear song.  They’re still around.  How powerful they must be.  How elemental.

Peace churches, I think, are in some ways more practiced in holding countercultural values and carrying them into the world.  They may hold a more readily-accessible library of stories about being in the world gently and powerfully choosing not to bow to all of the world’s ways. “A harvest of righteousness is sown in peace for those who make peace.”

But as we know, peacemaking is not simply not-warring.  Peacemaking is a creative and constant practice.  It is about being alert to hatred, injury and despair so that we might sow love, healing, and hope.  But the world will never put peacemaking on your to do list. 

And there is another challenge: there is so much pain in the world, and we are but a few people.  How can we be enough? 

How can we trust that we are mustard seeds, that we will land on fertile ground?  How can we trust that the rain will come – just enough—and the sun will shine, and somehow, our tiny, roll-ly seed selves can grow into a shrub!  A shrub with flowers to brighten the landscape! a place big enough for birds to rest, and nest, and sing — to hatch new birds that will themselves fledge and scatter hymns and songs past the next fields and beyond, farther than we will ever go? 

These are important stories.  These are powerful stories. And it is important that we keep sharing them with each other, drawing courage, and seeking wisdom.

Many of you know that my work —my day job—focuses on climate change as a great moral challenge of our time.  Climate change is a problem of the world, an enormous and knotty problem caused by humans being profligate, and prodigal, a mess that seems to fold in on itself and cause more of the same.  It is not a surprise that many people are responding in the ways the world knows how to respond: in fear and anger, with imperatives and invectives, and by simply refusing to see pain so that we don’t have to feel it. 

But this disruption, this messiness, this pain are also invitations to be part of great change.

We have forgotten who we are. 

We are children of God, and we are being invited to remember. 

We are a part of the integral ecology of the word: the world and all who inhabit it. When we live in ways that cause harm, we suffer. 

We suffer through disconnection in our human community.  We suffer because of the ways imbalance and poor-use ripple, shake, and rend the fabric of which we are a part, this bejeweled and beautiful web of Creation.  

Do you know, we’ve been doing this for so long, consuming the world, discarding people and places that wise people have created new words for a pain that is not as easy to point to as a broken leg, or a diseased lung.

Solostalgia is the word that a Dutch philosopher Glenn Albrecht created in 2003 to describe the  disconnection and pain that leaves us feeling homesick for our own places and spaces while we are in our own places and spaces.

image source

The author Toni Morrisson created the word rememory, which her character in the novel Beloved uses to talk about traumas that are just beyond our graspable memories, but still very much with us and with our places. 

I believe we also have another capacity of rememory.  A rememory that can heal.  I believe we have rememories of connectedness, that those fleeting moments of recognition, glimpses of vibrant and insistent Life and Love in places the world teaches us we should not see them – I think those, too, are rememory – recognition and recollection that begins just beyond our own selves.  Memory of who we are when we are whole.

Climate change is a symptom of our diseases of greed and inattention.  The antidote is connection, courageous attention, and and love.  We must turn toward our rememories of the whole.  We must remember who we are.

This is why I am so excited about the Sabbath book study that some of you have begun.

Sabbath is bold and powerful. It holds space for the stories we need— the stories we crave — so that we can hear them above the ones amplified by money and consumptive culture. And it holds space for a spirit of Creation, where our rememories of wholeness may lead.

Do you suppose that God had the whole of Creation in mind at the start?  On the first day?  Before the first day?  I don’t know.  But we do know that God paused at the end of each day.  Each day!  and the story doesn’t suggest that it was just a quick pause, either, so God could throw in a load of laundry, or answer the phone.  No, in those pauses, God attended and appreciated the work of the day.  At the end of each and every day of big and generous creation, God stopped.  And God saw that it was good. 

Lagoon Nebula, image credit: NASA

You may have noticed that we didn’t read the whole Creation story.  We didn’t start with the dark and the void.  We didn’t read the whole story, because when we listen to the whole thing, we hear only the doing – and then God made this!  And that!  Then this!  And that and that and that!  Our ears are not attuned to all the rests, but they’re all there.  So today, we just read the sixth day, so we were less caught up in the doing, and we could hear the rest, listen to it.  God took 6 mini-sabbaths of attention and appreciation before the big one at the end.

And on the seventh day God rested.

I suspect  “rest” may not be so helpful a word these days.  A sabbath is not just a stoppage of work (though that is a rest). It is not a collapse (that, too, is a rest when we’ve been overdoing it).  A sabbath is not simply a time to pant our way through to breathing normally (though, if we’re being honest, many of us need a number of those pauses, too).

Yes, God set aside a day to delight in God’s own Creation, in the fullness thereof.

But God did not wait until the world was.  Each day, God saw that it was good.  Do you re-remember?

Can we do that, on a small scale?  Can we turn to Sabbaths big and small as a time to regard, with love? a time to attend? a time to look, and see and listen well, with open hearts. How glorious that could be.  How powerful.  How resonant. What a joyful discipline!

Let us remember: God created us in God’s own image.  Aren’t we, then, also creative beings, capable of awe and wonder, inspiration and appreciation? 

We have jobs and lists because people do need us, and we do need to do things.  That’s true (though probably not nearly as true as we think when we’re caught up in the middle of it all).   Sabbath invites us to step out of our worlds of task-y shoulds, out of doing-to-accomplish, doing-to-achieve, and into spaces where we can open ourselves to wisdom.  A Sabbath practice invites us to build those muscles so that we can do even our least-delightful tasks with our whole selves: with attention, and love, and openness.

We can make spaces to move out of human doing and into human being.

If you ever doubt that attention is a kind of prayer, think of the impact of a tiny kindness, a poetic notice, one time when something let you know that someone saw you, heard you. Those moments can be rare, but they are beautiful, and we carry them.  Attention and gratitude are like crystals that are not large, but can catch, reflect, and scatter the Light, painting rainbows in more places than we can find.

at the Omattiduium, Samuel Wilkinson and Beau Lotto, London

The words of the Bible often speak, as James did today of wisdom coming “down from above”  perhaps because daily life and its chores were already so connected to the land, and the vast sky offered a different vision, a different view.  In our time, though, so many of our lives skim over the surfaces, through the atmosphere at dizzying rates, pinging to and from satellites, that perhaps in our time we can seek God’s creative and creating voice, and find God’s fingerprints by looking down, listening inward, tapping into the other world wide web, the web of Creation, of which we are a part.  It remembers who we are.   

Did you know that if you plant a seed, no matter which way it lands, still the root grows down and the shoot grows up.  It remembers who it is.

It’s February on our hills.  Have the trees begun to blush with the redness of swelling buds?  Do you know?

If we make space, and give attention to those things that sometimes gift us with of rememories of wholeness, we till the ground.  If we nourish our souls not only with scripture, and song in community, but also by noticing with amazement and gratitude the ways that the world stubbornly continues to create, as it was taught by the Creator, then — perhaps then— we will hear whispered answers when we ask: and how can we be seeds?  How do we germinate, sprout, and grow? How do we host the birdsongs?

So, yes, please do reduce your food waste.  Use your dryer less.  Walk, bike, carpool.  Skip the single-use plastics.   Switch to renewable electricity.  Advocate for public policies that will help make bigger changes.  Those things are important, and they do matter.  Talk to people about the connections between climate change, our energy choices, and human displacement and migration, between climate disruption and war.  Those conversations are powerful.  But Sabbath, taken seriously, is revolutionary.  It says: we choose interconnection over destruction.  It says: the world is beautiful and amazing and enough. And we can see that it is good. 

Let us pay attention, each of us, and all of us, to the pulse of Gods beloveds, to the heartbeats of Gods world, and all who live in it.   Let us seek peace.

Amen.

photo credit: Larry Weber

Responding prayer
by Sophie Churchill (reprinted in Sam Hamilton-Poore’s Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation

(People)We believe in one God, 
(Leader): who gave birth to the cosmos and to us,
creating out of nothing but God’s own will
a world of rocks, plants, and human longing;
whose eyes will not fail 
to cry for it all.

We believe in one God, 
who redeems the waste of all things good, 
weaving, from the griefs of our freedom, 
new and unhoped-for things;
whose mercy will not fail to heal it all.

We believe in one God, 
who lives among all people in all places
calling us from our despair and sleep 
to live out Easter in our generation;
whose love will not fail
to hold us all.

Benediction adapted from the Church of Scotland by Sam Hamilton-Poore,  Earth Gospel: A Guide to Prayer for God’s Creation)

Go in the peace of God, 
in whom there is no darkness, 
but the night shines as the day. 
May God renew your heart with quietness, 
your body with untroubled sleep; 
and may God waken you to use the gift of life with faith and joy.