Sunday, February 9, 2020

Justice for the environment, our common home (Micah 6:1-8)

Micah 6:1-8

*a note on Micah 6:5 from today’s scripture: The story of Balak and Balaam can be found in Numbers chapters 22-24. The story of the prominent events that happened at the beginning and end of the Israelites journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal can be found in Numbers chapter 25 and Joshua chapter 4. 

Listen to what the LORD is saying: “Stand up and state your case against me.

Let the mountains and hills be called to witness your complaints.

2And now, O mountains, listen to the LORD’s complaint! He has a case against his people. He will bring charges against Israel.

3“O my people, what have I done to you?

What have I done to make you tired of me? Answer me!

4For I brought you out of Egypt and redeemed you from slavery. I sent Moses, Aaron, and Miriam to help you.

5Don’t you remember, my people, how King Balak of Moab tried to have you cursed and how Balaam son of Beor blessed you instead? And remember your journey from Acacia Grove to Gilgal, when I, the LORD, did everything I could to teach you about my faithfulness.”

6What can we bring to the LORD? Should we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves?

7Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins?

 8No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to seek justice, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.

Let’s take a walk down Turkey Path.

It’s beautiful there.

From the overlook at Leonard Harrison State Park you can see for miles and miles!

Starting down the trail through the first couple of switchbacks we make our way through a mixed forest dominated by red oak, white pine, and Eastern hemlock.

A little farther down and we’re hiking parallel to Little Four-Mile Run and its several magnificent waterfalls.

People come from far and wide to see those waterfalls, with thousands of people visiting this trail each year from Spring through Fall.

As we pause to take in the beauty of the biggest waterfall, the one with the huge rock balanced on top of it, as we observe the steep hillside just below where we are standing there is even more beauty to behold; evergreen and marginal wood fern as well as maidenhair fern blanket the ground.

The waterfall and the ferns make for a beautiful landscape. But what’s that white thing lodged at the base of one of the ferns halfway between where we stand and the creek below, where a hillside seep keeps the ground damp all the year round?

It’s a plastic bag. But what’s that doing there? One of the hikers must have either dropped it or thrown it there.

For those who don’t know any better, it seems like no big deal. But for those who understand that plastic breaks down into microplastics which can be carried down Little Four-Mile Run into Pine Creek, into the mighty Susquehanna and eventually into the Chesapeake Bay, we know better.

We know that those plastics that make their way into the environment are more than an eye sore. They represent a blatant misuse and disregard for the goodness of a world that God loves. Microplastics in our waterways stand to threaten the vitality of life from the microscopic life that lives in mosses, soil, and sediment to creatures like the massive blue whale.

Now scientists are concerned that the microplastics we’ve allowed to go into our waterways in our negligence as a species may come back to harm us. Through the food that we eat microplastics can make its way into our own body tissues, and its not healthy.

In this way, the environment bears witness to our sins, to our failure to love the good earth that’s been entrusted into our care. 
As Psalm 8, Genesis 1, and Genesis 2 states; we are called to be caretakers of all that God has made.

Furthermore, the whole “following Jesus” thing is about partnering with God to create a better world. Jesus calls it the Kingdom of God.

Our connectedness with the land has shown that it is absolutely critical that we learn to care for the environment as a neighbor; with the same kind of love and care that we extend to someone staying at the homeless shelter or utilizing the ministry of the food pantry; with the same kind of love and concern that we extend to a fellow church member in time of need.

That is the kind of love with which all humanity needs to care for the environment, our common home. With neighbor love which is the mercy of Jesus, which looks like love, kindness, compassion, and care for the full diversity of life on planet earth.

In our care for the world that God loves, the Kingdom of God finds expression among us; with every reusable shopping bag that replaces hundreds if not thousands of single use bags that break down polluting our waterways with microscopic pieces of plastic that wreak havoc for all of life great and small.

The good earth within which we live is an expression of Divine creativity.

In Christian tradition, Jesus Christ is understood as the personal embodiment of the creative force that brought all things into being, and he is love.

In his life and death he shows us the fullness of love.

In his resurrection he shows us the power of love.

Through the presence of that same Divine Creative Force whom we know as God, living in each of us, Jesus empowers us to love our neighbors and to care for the environment which is our common home.

And so with the help of God we seek justice. We invest ourselves so that the poor receive good news, so those held captive by the chains of addiction, depression, hopelessness and despair may find new hope, so that the sick and injured my experience healing, so that those who have been excluded may find a space of belonging; and so that this good earth which has suffered from the effects of human ignorance, overuse, disregard, and selfishness may find release from the oppression which we have imposed upon our common home.

With the help of God we Love mercy. We give ourselves to treat our fellow human beings as a neighbor. We give ourselves to treat forests, fields, rivers, and wetlands as a neighbor too. And we give ourselves to treat the global environment as a neighbor. In his parable of the Good Samaritan Jesus defines a neighbor as those to whom we choose to extend love, kindness, compassion, and care.

Seek justice. Love mercy. These are good things. But we cannot do them alone. We cannot effectively live this way without the help of God. In order for Jesus vision of a better world to become our present reality, where we all treat each other as a neighbor, where we take special care to include those who have been excluded, and where we work together to care for the environment which is our common home, we cannot succeed without the help of God.

The world needs Jesus. Each and every one of us needs Jesus.

The ancient Israelite community struggled with the sin of idolatry. Of worshiping things other than the one true God, the Divine Creative Force behind all that is who, through the incarnation took on flesh in the most deeply personal way.

Instead of worshiping the God who brings the dead back to life and makes new things out of nothing they worshiped a golden calf. Time and again Israel’s kings were led astray worshiping the gods that were called baal and asherah.

Worship is about declaring our full devotion towards something. Of giving our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength to something.

Worship of baal, asherah, and the golden calf led to destruction.

Worship of the one true God led to the fullness of life in love with God and neighbor.

Walk humbly with your God.

Each of us in every generation, and even at the start of every new day, should ask ourselves, “Who is my God?”

Whatever we worship. That is our God.

Who is my God?

A habit or an addiction?
How about  the Status quo?
How about Tradition?

How about the one who is the personal embodiment of Divine creativity and who calls us and empowers us to love our neighbors as ourselves and to care for the world that God God’s self has made, and in so doing give our hands to being his hands, our feet his feet, our hearts his heart, our loving care for the environment and all of our neighbors an expression of his love.

That’s the God I want to worship. How about you?

When we walk humbly with our God, we are empowered to seek justice and love mercy with the help of God.

As the prophet Micah says, “Seek Justice. Love Mercy. Walk Humbly With God.”

In our United Methodist Tradition our General Rules resonate strongly with these words of the prophet Micah.

Can you remember what they are?

Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.

When we seek justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God…when we give of ourselves, opening our hearts once more to welcome Jesus in, by the presence of the Holy Spirit and the power of God’s creative love, Jesus shines through us in a way that makes this world a far better place!

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Bright and Salty (Matthew 5:13-16)

Matthew 5:13-16

“You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless.

14“You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. 15No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. 16In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father.


Unsalted crackers. Just plain unsalted crackers. No toppings. Nothing to drink to wash it down. Just plain unsalted crackers.

A nice juicy steak cooked to perfection over glowing embers. The brightness of the fire that cooks it to perfection. The salt that seasons it deliciously.

You’ve got a menu.

2 options. 

Plain unsalted crackers.

A nice juicy steak cooked to perfection over glowing embers lightly seasoned with a pinch of salt.

Which sounds more pleasing? Which do you choose?

I think most of us would go with the steak, or for my vegetarian friends let’s make the vegetarian steak equivalent grilled tofu lightly salted and glazed with teriyaki seasoning.

In chapter five of Matthew, Jesus speaks of Peace, love and blessing!
It’s all because of him that there is love, peace, and blessing in the world. It’s all because of him that the peace and love of God abounds in our hearts!
Trusting in him, welcoming the empowering Spirit of Jesus we are equipped and upheld to shine the light of peace by working for justice for the poor, marginalized and oppressed. We are sent to season the world with neighbor love. 

That’s what it means to make the world bright and salty as a student of Jesus.

For fellow church members.

For our neighbors in Wellsboro, the Northern Tier, and all around the world.

For the environment which is our common home, and all of our wild neighbors.

But too often in our walk with God and in community life we settle for the spiritual equivalent of plan unsalted crackers when a nice juicy steak cooked to perfection over glowing embers lightly seasoned with a pinch of salt is on the menu and readily available as well.

There’s nothing wrong with crackers.

But we settle for crackers when faith becomes “personal” and has no bearing on our outward actions.

We settle for crackers when God fills our hearts with a longing for justice and peace and we leave it at “someone else will do it.”

Don’t settle for crackers. 

Make the world bright and salty by allowing the peace and love which Jesus has given us to overflow in our working for justice and sharing God’s love.