Sermon Earth Sunday 4.22.18

Scripture Lesson: Acts 3:1-20a
Sermon: A Season of Refreshment
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

In the Harry Potter books, there are three unforgivable curses. One is the cruciatus curse. This involves inflicting extreme torture. A second one is the imperious curse. This curse controls the actions of another person. And the third unforgivable curse is avada kedavra, the killing curse. In the world of Harry Potter, these three curses cannot be forgiven.

When we think of the world of Christianity, what are the things that cannot be forgiven? Certainly real live people, in the actual world, do horrific things, cause unimaginable pain and death, and devise schemes of extreme evil. We humans are quite capable of torture, control and slavery, and, yes, death, even grand killing schemes responsible for the deaths of millions. Yet, in the world of Christianity, in the teachings of Jesus, in the tradition of the Bible, what is unforgivable?

Peter and John are part of the community of followers of Jesus staying in Jerusalem. After the crucifixion they remain in Jerusalem first afraid and then emboldened by their experiences of Jesus. They are confirmed in their conviction that Jesus is the Messiah. And as we heard today they are still devout Jews going to the Temple for services. They have not abandoned their religious tradition. They have not founded a new religion. They are functioning very much within Judaism trying to extend its influence and inviting others to experience the saving love of Jesus as they have.

So Peter and John go to the Temple and encounter a lame person who is put just outside the Temple gate each afternoon before services begin so that the worshippers will pass by and give him alms. Peter and John have no money for him, so instead they offer him healing. And the man gets up and not only walks, but leaps and dances, through the gate and into the Temple. His infirmity marked him as a sinner and so he was not permitted into the Temple precincts, but now, healed, he may enter the Temple, he is restored not only in body, but he is restored to full participation in the faith community.

And what accounts for this healing? Peter and John take no credit. It is not because of them. It is because of Jesus. It is the power of the name of Jesus that is responsible for the healing of this man. The power of Jesus’ love is so great it restores health, wholeness, and relationship. Jesus, the Just One, the Holy One, the Author of Life, Jesus is the one responsible for this healing.

In light of this extravagant display of the great power and love of Jesus, Peter reminds those present that they are responsible for the killing of Jesus. It’s almost like he is rubbing salt in the wound. Yeah, ya know, the guy you killed, he healed this man. Yeah, he’s that good. He’s that “of God.” And you killed him. Peter sees that some may have been party to Jesus’ death unknowingly. He acknowledges ignorance. But still, many of those to whom he speaks had a hand in the killing of Jesus; were perhaps part of the crowd that yelled, “Crucify him!” But Peter doesn’t stop with an accusation, with pointing the finger, with guilt. He goes on to offer forgiveness. Just as the lame man has been healed and restored to the community, forgiveness and restoration is offered to those who are responsible for the death of Jesus. The killing of Jesus, this worst thing imaginable, even this is forgivable. With God, in Divine Grace, nothing is unforgivable. There are no unforgivable sins. Not even one.

This Sunday is Earth Day. And yes, we all give thanks for the beauty of Creation. We know our dependence upon the Earth for life. We cherish nature. We marvel and awe at the ever expanding cosmos. We see the goodness and holiness of Creation ever before us. But this is also a Sunday to be reminded that we are in part responsible for the abuse, the degradation, and perhaps the collapse of the life-sustaining environment on Earth as we know it. Humans have known of their effect for good and ill on the environment and on the climate for centuries. Humans have known the negative impact of fossil fuels for decades. And if we may not feel personally responsible, we may at least acknowledge ignorance. We didn’t know. And we didn’t know what to do about it.

But now we do know much more about what is happening. And we do know much more about what to do about it. Fossil fuel usage contributed much to human advancement, but humanity has developed the capacity to progress even further using sustainable energy sources, and yet we are resisting the transition, the change, to this new future. We have been holding on to the past and now, yes, it is killing us.

I have a friend and colleague who is black and is rightly concerned about the killing of black people in America; the deaths attributable to racism from violence and poverty. It is unacceptable for unarmed black children to be shot dead especially by police who are committed to protect and to serve. I get that. It horrifies me as well.

But when I mention that even more black people are dying of toxins in the air, water, and land, that is dismissed as irrelevant. My friend sees environmentalism as a cushy concern of people like me with white privilege. I can worry about plastic straws and solar panels because my kids aren’t being killed. But restoring the environment is as least as important as other concerns because the first people suffering the negative effects of climate change and pollution are often, well, people of color. Usually poor and brown. In America, in the Middle East, in Africa, and in Asia. Climate change is contributing to conflicts around the world, including the civil war in Syria, and exacerbating the refugee crisis which is fueling the white supremacist movement worldwide which brings us right back to an unarmed black child being shot asking for directions about how to get to school right here in America.

Our tradition teaches that Creation, the Earth, the environment is holy and sacred. A gift to be revered and cherished – like Jesus. And we are killing it, as we did Jesus. But we, too, can be forgiven, restored, and given new life with the power to transform ourselves and the world to our intended health and wholeness. Just like those who are responsible for the death of Jesus, like the disciples who deserted Jesus, fled, and denied him, and were restored and forgiven, we too are offered new life with the boldness and courage to proclaim the sacredness of Earth and the entire cosmos.

Part of that transformation process is forgiveness. Forgiveness can relieve us of making excuses for the past. It can free us from defending past choices. Forgiveness can unburden us and allow grace to flow freely and infuse us with the power and energy for change. Humanity has the know-how and the resources to reverse climate change and to renew the natural world. What is needed is the will, the commitment, and the desire. Through repentance and forgiveness may we find new life in the name of the Just One, the Holy One, the Author of Life, the one who unjustly died a horrific death. Because in our reality, in the reality of the gospel of Jesus Christ, there are no unforgivable sins and the power of healing and new life is never dead to us. Amen.

A reasonable effort has been made to appropriately cite materials referenced in this sermon. For additional information, please contact Lakewood United Church of Christ.

After the sermon, there was a litany of confession:

VIDUI FOR THE TWENTY-FIRST CENTURY from the Jewish tradition

We confess our sins against the earth.
We commit ourselves to saving it.

We have assaulted our planet in countless ways
We have blamed others for the spiraling, deepening crisis
We have consumed thoughtlessly and irresponsibly
We have driven myriad species to the point of extinction
We have exhausted irreplaceable resources
We have failed to transcend borders and act unselfishly
We have given in to our many appetites and our gluttony
We have harmed beyond repair the habitats of living beings
We have ignored the signs of change in our climate and our seasons
We have jeopardized the well-being of future generations
We have known the problem but left problem-solving to others
We have lost sight of our role as God’s partners in creation
We have mocked, cynically, those who love creatures great and small
We have neglected the environment, most of all, in places of poverty
We had over-populated our cities and over-fished our oceans
We have polluted seashore and sky, fertile soil and freshwater springs
We have questioned and doubted solid evidence of danger
We have ravaged the old growth forests – ecosystems created over centuries
We have spewed poison into the bloodstream of our land: its rivers, lakes, and estuaries
We have transformed dazzling beauty into industrial ugliness
We have used shared resources for personal gain and corporate profit
We have violated the commandment “Do not destroy”
We have wasted precious treasures, our God-given gifts
We have exploited the weakest and most vulnerable in our midst

And yet we yearn to be better guardians of this earth and the fullness thereof
Let us be zealous now to care for this unique corner of the cosmos, this planet – our sacred home.

After the litany, the congregation was invited outside for a special Ritual of Healing.


Reflections on air.

You are invited to breathe in – breathe out. Take several deep breaths.

Let us be zealous now to care for this unique corner of the cosmos –
We commit ourselves to the healing of the air.

Reflections on water.

You are invited to come to the fountain and dip your hand in the water, feel the sensation, so natural and yet so unique. Life-giving. Life- sustaining. As the touch of water led to understanding for Helen Keller, may the touch of water help us to understand that we are water, we come from water, water is our life.

Let us be zealous now to care for this unique corner of the cosmos –
We commit ourselves to the healing of the waters.

Reflections on plants.

You are invited to raise your arms and spread them, wave them, like the limbs of a great tree. May our upraised arms remind us to branch out in faith and service!

Let us be zealous now to care for this unique corner of the cosmos –
We commit ourselves to the healing of forests, trees, and plants.

Reflections on animals.

You are invited to look for an animal, a sign of animal life – right here, right now. And be reminded that we have been entrusted with the care orc each and every creature.

Let us be zealous now to care for this unique corner of the cosmos –
We commit ourselves to the healing and restoration of animal life.

Reflections on earth, soil.

You are invited to touch the ground, the earth. Maybe take your shoes off and feel the ground under your feet.

Let us be zealous now to care for this unique corner of the cosmos,
We commit ourselves to the healing of earth.

Reflections on humanity.

You are invited to touch someone, someone near you, in a way that is mutually agreeable. Notice the person you are touching. Feel the hand of the person who is touching you, the sensation on your flesh. The laying on of hands has long been a powerful symbol of healing and authority. As we touch each other, we claim our authority as healers of humanity and of creation.

Let us be zealous now to care for this unique corner of the cosmos,
We commit ourselves to the healing of humanity.

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