Text Version of Earth Sunday Zoom Reflection

I’d like to share with you a quote from John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, who lived in the 1700’s:

“I believe in my heart that faith in Jesus Christ can and will lead us beyond an exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings to the broader concern for the well-being of the birds in our backyards, the fish in our rivers, and every living creature on the face of the earth.”

I would love to believe what Wesley says. I would love for the millions of Christians the world
over to have compassion not only for other people but also for the natural world which supports the life of our species. But sadly, Wesley’s hopes have not been realized.

It seems we are still stuck on the first part of Wesley’s statement – that faith in Jesus Christ
would lead us to have concern for each other and for our species.

While there seems to be concern for a person who has fallen on hard times, there seems to be less concern for humanity as a whole and for the economic systems and social arrangements and biased thinking that cause much of the suffering experienced by individual people in our world today. As Dom Helder Camara, a bishop in Brazil, put it, “When I give food to the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a communist.”

Christianity seems to have fostered concern for individual people on a case by case basis but not so much for humanity as a species.

The climate crisis is a case in point. Humanity as a species needs nature to support our lives; to make it possible for us to flourish and thrive, to breathe, and to eat. Harming the ecosystem of the planet means harming our species. Hurting Earth hurts people. So, if we had true concern for humanity as a whole, we would have more concern for the planet. We don’t even seem to have that “exclusive concern for the well-being of other human beings” that Wesley mentions.

So, Wesley’s aspirations don’t seem to be coming true. Faith in Jesus Christ does not seem to be leading us from concern for humanity to concern for nature.

St. Francis of Assisi had a different approach than Wesley. He lived well before Wesley from
1181-1226. He said, “If you have men who will exclude any of God’s creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who will deal likewise with their fellow men.”

That seems to be closer to our actual experience. Little concern for the environment
accompanied by little concern for humanity.

I saw this post on NextDoor recently: “This past March we had zero school shootings. The first time since 2002, I hear. Stay safe everyone.” No school shootings. Well, the schools were closed. How sad is that? We have to close the schools to stop the shootings? Clearly, there is not enough regard for the value of life, human or otherwise, in our culture, despite all the churches.

So here is my hope for this Earth Day Week. It’s a twist on Wesley with an eye to St. Francis. My hope is that our growing reverence for the natural world will help us increase our sense of reverence for human life. That our love for the Earth and for nature will increase our love for our very own species. That’s my aspiration this 50th anniversary of Earth Day. Amen.

Corona Sabbath 6 Earth Day Reflection Text

unnamedGreetings and welcome to Corona Sabbath. This is one of the ways the church is endeavoring to offer spiritual support during these challenging days of COVID-19. We will continue to post these weekly until we are able to meet again in person for worship. We appreciate your feedback and suggestions. This week we are remembering the 50th anniversary of Earth Day.

We’ll start by listening to the poem The Creation by James Weldon Johnson.

In the book of Genesis, there is a bit more to the story. We listen to Genesis 1:31-2: 3

God looked at all of this creation, and proclaimed that this was good – very good. Evening came, and morning followed – the sixth day.

Thus the heavens and the earth and all their array were completed. On the seventh day God had finished all the work of creation, and so, on the seventh day, God rested. God blessed the seventh day and called it sacred because on it God rested from all the work of creation.

Pause.

REFLECTION

It is from this last day of the story of creation that we are given the concept of Sabbath. A day of rest. A day of renewal. A day of appreciation and wonder.

Some of us may remember when things were different on Sundays. Yes, you couldn’t buy alcohol. But you also couldn’t buy much of anything. Stores were closed. Yes, closed. No going to the grocery store on Sunday. Or the clothes store. Or the hardware store. There were no ATMs and banks were closed. Gas stations were closed except on the interstate.

What did people do on Sundays? Some rested. There were family meals and gatherings. People went to the lake and went swimming. Or they went to the beach. They went on hikes. They went to an art museum. They took Sunday drives out into the country. They had a cookout. They went on bike rides. And they went to church. Sometimes for most of the day.

Sunday was not just another Saturday as it is now. Saturday was for shopping and errands. Saturday was for getting supplies and materials and food. Saturday was market day. That was the day for commerce but not Sunday.

As society has developed, we were told to think that having stores open on Sunday would help people. It would make things more convenient for people, especially people who worked on Saturday. And people who were working in sectors like healthcare which involved working on Saturday and Sunday. We were told that shopping on Sunday would make life easier especially for those for whom life was hard. So things started to be open on Sunday afternoons. And then Sunday all day. And sports events and school events and other events began to be scheduled on Sunday mornings. And now Sunday is just another Saturday. And who benefits most from this? Not the people at the bottom. But the people at the top. There is another day of the week for people to be out spending their money and making someone else rich.

And where is our day of rest? Where is the day to recover and reflect? Where is the time to be out in nature because you can’t be in the mall or the market? Where is the day to devote to leisure and family and friends? Where is the time to soothe the soul? Where is the respect for the rhythms of life?

We may have gained something with our seven day a week open market economy, but we have lost something, too. Something that is embedded into the health and well-being of creation. Sabbath. Rest. Time spent not working. For job. Or home. Time invested in renewal, relationships, and refreshment. Re-creation.

The creation story tells of God resting; spending time glorying in all that was made. Taking delight in the flourishing of life. Not working on a project. Not dreaming up another universe. Not planning for the next eon. In the Genesis story, God sets an example for humanity. Surely if God can take a day off, so can we. Our strivings cannot be more important than God’s. The intent of Sabbath is to convey the need for building down time into our weekly routine for our well-being and the wellbeing of creation. In the Bible, the obligation to observe the Sabbath is reinforced again and again. To be in right relationship with God, with the Earth, with ourselves, and with others, we need Sabbath.

The need for this kind of time set aside for renewal and refreshment is built into nature – darkness and light, circadian rhythms, the seasons – the long cold months of dormancy, fields fallow to rest and rejuvenate before replanting. It seems that only humans have abandoned attention to our need for these rhythms which keep us healthy, our relationships healthy, and the earth healthy.

Interestingly, this corona time of safer-at-home and shelter-in-place, has helped us to become aware of what we were lacking and how needed and renewing it is for us as human beings and for the planet. People are getting needed rest. They are spending more time outside. We see more people walking on our street than we have seen in the past 30 years. And who knew there were so many dogs! We are told that the earth itself is renewing due to diminished human activity. We have a son who lives in Los Angeles and he says he can’t believe how clean the air is. Earth is getting healthier and animals are thriving with humans on lockdown.

This Corona time is helping us to see what a better balance could look like in our lives and for the life of the planet. We are seeing that what we need is not to go back to business as usual, not to reopen for business. But to create new arrangements based on different values and expectations. Yup, that means, that, well, things might not be open all the time for our supposed convenience. It means that people will be expected to take time off. Rest is needed as is vacation and relaxation. We can learn to place value upon spending time in nature and encouraging each other to do that. We can reclaim a sense of awe and wonder in the face of the spectacular manifestations of the natural world. Did you see the Venus this week? It was so bright. It made me think of the star over the stable in the story of Jesus’ birth!

With more reverence for ourselves, each other, our world, and our God, however we may conceive of God, may we find a new re-set in this corona time. May we cherish Sabbath time. May this experience continue to be healing for us and for the earth. Amen.

[Pause]

As you listen to the music video from Hilton which follows, you are invited to pay attention to the thoughts and feelings and reflections that arise for you. The music video features photos of nature taken by members of the Lakewood Church family offered in honor of Earth Day.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 5 (1st Sunday after Easter) Reflection Text

Corona Sabbath 5 (First Sunday after Easter)

Date: April 19, 2020
Scripture: John 20:19-31
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Rest in peace. This phrase is on many gravestones. It is a saying that we offer as comfort in the face of death. Because we need peace when confronted with death.

In the story we heard from the gospel of John we see just that. Death. And peace. The reality of death is underscored in the exchange involving Thomas. Unless I see the wounds, I won’t believe it. The death of Jesus is real. This is not some sham death. Something staged. A trick. Jesus was really killed. Dead. To this precious mortal life.

And there is peace in the story. Three times Jesus declares: Peace be with you. The disciples are afraid, distraught, in shock. And they are given what they need most – peace. In the face of the horrific death of their dearly beloved friend they receive peace.

One of the important dimensions of our faith is that it offers us peace in the face of the stark reality of death. This is a key function of religion in general: Helping human beings deal with death.

The stories of Jesus appearing alive after the crucifixion were a way for people of that day and time to find peace in the aftermath of Jesus’ death. In a context where life after death was associated with important cultural figures, Jesus’ followers found peace in associating this pattern with Jesus. It gave his friends and followers peace to conceive of Jesus alive in a new way, his presence continuing. The stories of the resurrected Jesus show us how his friends experienced the peace which passes all understanding even after his death.

The follow up, that this eternal life was offered to everyone after death, was also a source of peace and comfort. The concept of Jesus coming back from the dead in a new way and inviting people to live eternally with him after death is a way of offering peace in the face of death.

Death is a natural, inevitable part of life. So it is important that we find ways to make peace with death. This is one of the things that our faith gives us: A way to experience peace around death.

The stories of the resurrection of Jesus and eternal life with him in a heavenly realm are a way of making peace with death; of experiencing peace and comfort around death. We may look forward to seeing our loved ones who have gone before us. That is beautiful. There can be great relief and comfort in that image. And we are grateful that our faith offers that vision of peace around death.

For some people, the concept of life after death, some kind of ongoing life does not offer comfort. It can seem too magical, unbelievable, or unscientific. If it gives you more peace to believe that when you die your individual physical life is over and you go on in the memories of those who have known you, that’s ok. If it gives you peace to think you will be cremated, buried, and become soil and return to the earth, and that is the completion of your life, then that is beautiful.

If you are at peace with not knowing what, if anything, happens after the last breath is exhaled and the body dies, that is fine, too.

If people find peace in the idea of returning to this life in another form, some kind of reincarnation, then that is wonderful. What is important is making peace with death.

I recently saw an interview with the people who made the movie “Fantastic Fungi.” The movie is about the importance of mushrooms and fungi to the health of the planet and to the health of people. In one segment, a man shares how he was told that his cancer was spreading. He was very anxious and afraid. The doctor gave him a pamphlet about a program that involved taking the drug psilocybin, obtained from mushrooms, in a controlled setting, to help cultivate spiritual peace. The man followed up and arranged for an appointment. He tells of experiencing a higher power. It gave him peace and comfort and assurance that he never could have dreamed of. And he now has peace around death, even his own impending death. He is not afraid. Again, what is important is the idea of knowing peace in the face of death.

We also know that the condition of our relationships has a lot to do with our experiencing peace in the face of death. Notice that in the story from John, Jesus challenges his followers to forgive. Forgiveness is part of creating peace in our lives and in our relationships. And this contributes to our experiencing peace around death. Our faith teaches us to live with honesty, authenticity, and humility, freely giving and receiving forgiveness. This kind of life helps to foster peace with death. So whatever our thoughts about what happens after we take our last breath, to cultivate peace around death involves how we live and the condition of our relationships while we are still breathing in this life.

Our faith involves turning “our mourning into dancing” as we are told in the Psalms. It is about experiencing transcendent peace in this life when confronted with the reality of death. We believe in a God that can never be fully known, a God of infinite love. We do not want to limit how people may experience peace around death. That peace may come in many different ways.

What is important, I think, is that we are trusting Divine Love to offer us peace when we are facing the deepest sense of sorrow and loss imaginable. Peace in the face of death. And the stories of Easter and the resurrection show us how that happened for those first century friends of Jesus. These stories show us a God of endless creativity and eternal love.

In this time of COVID-19 and the tremendous suffering, grief, and death that we are seeing, it is important for us to think about how we are associating peace and death. This disease is disrupting how people are used to finding peace in the face of death. We are used to being with our loved ones when they die. We find support in communal gatherings in the aftermath of death. We rely on traditional rituals to process our loss and grief. With the necessity of physical distancing, it is particularly difficult to find peace around death at this time.

Easter reminds us to trust that the healing will come. There is peace in the face of death. The story from John reminds us of the completely unexpected ways that the disciples experienced peace around the death of Jesus. There will be ways for us to find peace in the face of death even during this Corona time. We can trust the infinite creativity of Divine Love. Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 3 (Palm Sunday) Reflection Text

Date: April 5, 2020 Palm Sunday
Scripture: Matthew 21:1-11
Reflection: Rev. Kim P. Wells

Last weekend, I heard an interview with an EMT on National Public Radio. The man has been in the profession for over twenty years. He has dealt with many difficult situations. Part of his job is telling people when their loved one has died. He is familiar with being the one to break the news to the spouse or the parent that their beloved has died. That is part of his job and that is part of why he went into that work. He wanted to be the one to serve people in such times and to offer the tenderness and consolation that is so important in those tragic situations.

And now this EMT is in the midst of responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in New York where there are many deaths. He talked about having to tell a family that their loved one had died of the virus. From 6 feet away. Without a hand on their arm. Without offering his shoulder to absorb their sobs. Only able to give words across what felt like an abyss without physical human touch. He said after delivering the news they all turned to go. He went back to the ambulance. Got inside. And cried. For the first time in his career. Not being able to offer physical touch as human consolation was his undoing. He said it is the hardest thing he has done in his entire professional life.

We have a health care professional in our church family who is on the front lives of COVID-19 working as a nurse in the pulmonary unit at an area hospital. One way to look at this is, How awful. Poor thing. Facing such demanding, scary circumstances! Literally putting her life on the line.

Another way to look at this is that she is doing what she has been called to do. She was called to serve in the healthcare profession, to help take care of people who are sick, to offer treatment and solace to those who are suffering. And here she is able to do just that. She has been given the opportunity to do what she was called to do, to fulfill her life’s mission, to offer the service that she is meant to give. And when it is desperately needed. How beautiful that she is able to do that.

Today we remember Palm Sunday and the story of Jesus entering Jerusalem riding on a donkey in a procession of sorts with onlookers waving palm branches. He knew that his life was in danger. He knew the religious leaders wanted to have him killed. He could have snuck into the city for the obligatory Passover observance. He could have gone on the down low; used some kind of disguise that would have hidden his identity from the random public and from those seeking to kill him. Instead, we are told of a procession. A public event. Making a scene. The people know exactly who he is. They shout, “This is the prophet Jesus, from Nazareth in Galilee!” Jesus does not retreat from being a conduit of Divine Love. He doesn’t look for the easy way out. He doesn’t play it safe. He does what he is here to do. He does what he is called to do. He lives God’s dream.

I think it is timely that the corona virus pandemic has erupted in the season of Lent. This is an introspective season. A time to reflect and reconsider. A time to be still and know. As we said on Ash Wednesday, a time to re-turn our lives to God. This pandemic is creating an opportunity for us to think about our lives, our society, our government, our economy, our values, our spirituality, our family, our faith community, and our relationships, in new ways. It is giving us time to think and process instead of being lost in our obsessive work and busy-ness. This is a time to explore and examine our inner terrain – as individuals and as a society.

It is a time to consider how we need to put the common good, the welfare of others, the health of everyone and the planet itself above self protection and personal gain. This is why Jesus went to Jerusalem. He was not going to stopped.

We are hearing a lot these days about mitigation. Mitigation is the act of reducing the severity, seriousness, or painfulness of something. So, yes, we are talking about the mitigation of COVID-19; reducing the spread and severity of the impact of the of the virus. And we should be mitigating COVID-19.

But usually the concept of mitigation is applied in a different way. We want to mitigate the sacrifice we will have to make. We want to mitigate what it will cost us to get something done. We want to mitigate the inconvenience or the effort we will need to expend. We want to mitigate our personal sacrifice. Mitigate is often about reducing the seriousness or severity of the impact to our bank account or personal comfort or individual choice.

Jesus did not mitigate the personal cost to himself, the price he would have to pay, for expressing ultimate love that would threaten the current power arrangements of his day (and ours). Nurses and healthcare workers and EMTs don’t mitigate their personal discomfort when it comes to helping others.

I saw this on Twitter this week:

“My mom is a 69 year old nurse and her hospital is deploying her to the front lines next week
She called me to tell me where important documents are, if ‘something happens because this virus kills and kills quick’
Now I know how it feels to have a loved one to war”
Roland Scahill 3/28/20

“And to be clear, this isn’t a criticism of her hospital, but to point out that nurses don’t stop. Ever.
They have no fear.
They save lives.”

So, in these corona days as Lent draws to a close and we remember Jesus’ triumphant procession into Jerusalem on a donkey to meet his meet his death, we can think about how we are joyfully, wholeheartedly, sacrificially expending our lives to relieve suffering, to contribute to the common good, and to live out our life’s purpose – to love. Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)

Corona Sabbath 2 Reflection Text

Corona Sabbath 2

Date: March 29, 2020
Scripture: John 11:1-45
Pastor: Rev. Kim P. Wells

There’s another story in the Bible involving Mary and Martha. In that story, Mary sits at Jesus’ feet listening to him. And Martha is busy with much serving – making dinner, setting the table, etc. And she wants help from Mary. But Jesus reprimands her and affirms Mary as the one who has chosen the better portion. All of you who know me know I tend to be in the Martha camp and I don’t think she deserves the put down attributed to Jesus. But in this story, Martha shines. When Mary encounters Jesus, she manages, ‘If you had been here, Lazarus never would have died.’ But when Martha gets to Jesus, after her brother has been in the grave four days, she tells him, ‘If you had been here, my brother would never have died! Yet even now, I am sure that God will give you whatever you ask.’ Martha goes above and beyond. She expects something more. Her faith, hope, and trust lead her to look past what would normally be expected. She sees a new reality.

This past week, the President has informed us that he wants things back to normal by Easter. He wants people back to work by then and the pews full on Easter Sunday. That’s about two weeks from now. In that time, the President wants the disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic to be over. He wants us all freed from life on lock down. Roll away the stone. Come out of the tomb and get back to business as usual. He seems to have forgotten that he does not control this situation.

Business as usual. That is not what Martha wants. She knows her brother is dead. But she knows that there is more. There is something more than normal. She puts her faith to work expecting a new reality. And she gets it.

What if what we want in the face of this pandemic is not to go back to ‘normal’ but to expect something more. To see this as an opportunity for creating a new reality. Beyond usual expectations and business as usual?

Yes, thousands have died in this pandemic so far and thousands more will die. They will not get their physical health back.
But what if this pandemic means the death of limited access to healthcare in this country?
What if this crisis means the death of misspent resources?
What if it puts some greed and lust for gain in the grave?
What if this pandemic awakens our concern for children, elders, and those who are vulnerable? What if it resurrects our commitment to the common good over selfish individualism?
What if this coronavirus calls forth compassion for other people and other life forms?
What if it brings out patience?
What if COVID-19 calls to life solidarity in grief? What if it summons a reverence for nature?
What if this pandemic wakes us up to the value of reflection, rest, relationship, and play?
What if it renews our appreciation and respect for those who work in the healthcare sector?

What if we don’t go back to normal, but awaken to a new reality that is better than the one we knew?

Did you notice in the story of Lazarus that for the new reality to emerge Jesus practices social distancing! Think about it. The way the story is told, Jesus is informed that Lazarus is sick. Lazarus is Jesus’ dearly beloved friend. Surely Jesus’ first impulse is to go to his friend, to be with him, to heal him. That is what’s normal. But Jesus waits. Two whole days – which can seem like forever when someone is sick. By the time Jesus goes to Bethany, Lazarus has been dead for four days. Imagine the self discipline and the restraint that Jesus employs. He doesn’t go to his friend, he holds off, for a greater good. As usual, Jesus is our example!

Maybe the President wants things back to normal in two weeks. But our faith invites us to expect something more than “normal” to emerge from this pandemic. And it may require much more of us in terms of sacrifice and self discipline and restraint.

May our faith, hope, and trust persist and spread exponentially so that we may all see the power of Divine Love creating a new reality before our very eyes! Amen.

(Click HERE if you wish to see the post containing the video of this text.)