Pentecost
May 20, 2019
When the Holy Spirit Shows Up

For Jews, the big story is the deliverance out of bondage into freedom, the great Passover story from the book of Exodus that’s retold year after year after year. We know that story, too. It’s when God saves God’s people from slavery in Egypt, when the waters of the Red Sea part so the people can pass through it on dry ground, headed for a new life in a new land.

For Christians, the big story is a different story of deliverance from death to life, the great Easter story of Jesus’ death and rising that’s proclaimed year after year after year – and, actually, week after week after week! It too is a story of deliverance out of bondage into freedom. It’s the biggest story we Christians tell, but there are two other really big ones.

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Pentecost B           May 20, 2018

Acts 2:1-21 Pastor Susan Henry

Romans 8:22-27 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

John 15:26-27; 16:4b-15           Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. 

When the Holy Spirit Shows Up

For Jews, the big story is the deliverance out of bondage into freedom, the great Passover story from the book of Exodus that’s retold year after year after year.  We know that story, too.  It’s when God saves God’s people from slavery in Egypt, when the waters of the Red Sea part so the people can pass through it on dry ground, headed for a new life in a new land. 

For Christians, the big story is a different story of deliverance from death to life, the great Easter story of Jesus’ death and rising that’s proclaimed year after year after year – and, actually, week after week after week!  It too is a story of deliverance out of bondage into freedom.  It’s the biggest story we Christians tell, but there are two other really big ones.  One is the birth of Jesus, the Word made flesh — the Christmas story.  And the other is the gift of the Holy Spirit -- the Pentecost story.  In the life of the church, these are the three great mysteries:  Christmas, Easter, Pentecost.  Bethlehem to Jerusalem, then Jerusalem to . . . everywhere.  The stories that take us to Jerusalem are told by the author of Luke in his gospel, and those that lead us from Jerusalem are found in the book of Acts, written by the same author.  It’s a two-part story, and we’ve heard many of the Acts of the Apostles throughout the Easter season -- and today as well.

Jesus had told his friends and followers that the Holy Spirit would come upon them and that they would be his witnesses “in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  I wonder what they thought it would be like when the Holy Spirit showed up and they received power, as Jesus had promised.  What would happen?  How long would they have to wait?  And what would they do in the meantime?  That, at least, we know.  They hung out together, they invited Matthias to join them as one of “the twelve,” and they prayed.  A lot, it seems. 

And then . . . and then . . . the Holy Spirit showed up.  It roared in.  It filled the house.  It lit up the place.  It put words in the disciples’ mouths that they didn’t even know they could speak.

It certainly attracted attention.  The city was full of people from all over because they had come for the Jewish harvest festival of Pentecost.  Every year, fifty days after the barley harvest began, people flooded into Jerusalem to celebrate.  They came from Egypt, from Libya, from Crete, from Mesopotamia -- and from a lot of other places that are hard to pronounce.

They became aware that something was going on.  Something “bewildering.”  In the midst of all the noise and commotion around them, they were hearing about “God’s deeds of power” in words they could understand.  They heard in their own languages, even though the people who were speaking were highly unlikely proclaimers of those words.  A bunch of guys from the sticks, essentially, were speaking their language.  Luke says people were amazed and astonished, astounded and perplexed, asking each other, “What does this mean?”

That’s a really good question, isn’t it?  They don’t just want to know what is happening; they want to know what it means.  So Peter tells them.  There he is, making sense of this surprising, perplexing event right in the midst of it, off the top of his head – a head upon which the Spirit, like a flame, had rested.

What we draw upon to make sense of the present is the past, Peter says, looking back to the prophet Joel’s words about what God would someday do.  Peter recalls the promise that God will pour out God’s own Spirit on all God’s people – including the unlikely ones.  Old, young, slave, free, men, women, even fishermen from backwater towns in Galilee. 

Peter tells the crowd about Jesus, and he speaks so compellingly that they can see themselves in those whose actions had led to Jesus’ death.  They acknowledge their own complicity, and it goes right to their hearts.  “What should we do?” they ask Peter.  He says, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”  (Acts 2:38-39)   

That’s news as good as you could ask for, isn’t it?  Luke says that three thousand people that day thought so – that they were baptized and then stuck around to hear more from Peter and the others, to be in the company of other believers, to break bread, and to pray together.

The two big questions in this story are our questions, too:  “What does this mean?” and “What should we do?”  The Holy Spirit still shows up, though most of the time not so dramatically, and we ask, “What does this mean?”  What does it mean to the Miller family whose children Sam and Nora were baptized last Sunday?  What does it mean for them and for you and for me to remember our own baptism and to give thanks for the gift of the Holy Spirit we ourselves have received and for the cross of Christ that was marked on our foreheads forever?  What does this mean?  And, what should we do?

One answer to these questions comes in a story told by Kelly Fryer, the keynote speaker at Synod Assembly several years ago.  In a book she wrote, she told about being in a seminary class where she and the other students were bored by a lecture, passing notes, and perhaps conveying their indifference to what was being presented.  The professor finally slammed shut his notebook, drew on the blackboard a huge arrow pointing down, and said, “If you understand this, you understand all that you need to know to be a Christian who also happens to be a Lutheran.”  And out the door he stormed.  Kelly and the others stared at that arrow, and she said, “He thinks we’re all going to hell.”

The next day, he returned, pointed to that arrow, and said, “God always comes down.  There is never anything we can do to turn that arrow around and find our way up to God.  God always comes down.  In Jesus, in the bread and in the wine, in the waters of baptism, in the Word, in the fellowship of believers, God comes down.  God always comes down.”

At Synod Assembly, Kelly had said that numberless people have approached her over the years and told her how much that story has meant to them.  “Now I get it,” they would say; “Thank you so much.”  But, she said to us, there’s really another part to that story.  The Word does come down; grace does come to us; the Holy Spirit is sheer gift.  Our relationship with God depends on God, not on us.  That’s all just right.

And, she continued, a second arrow really belongs on that blackboard.  Not one that goes up to God, but one that moves us out to our neighbors.  Because God comes down to us, we are set free to love and serve our neighbors.  Someone else put it this way: “Now that there’s nothing we have to do, what are we going to do?  What do we get to do?”

Well, we get to live out our baptism.  We get to be bearers of God’s love and mercy and care and forgiveness and justice and presence to the beautiful and broken world we live in.  We’re called to do that.  We’ve been set free to do that.  Jesus says, “Love God more than anything, and love your neighbor as yourself.”

The Spirit will help us speak the language of those with whom we live, work, commute, study, and share the world’s resources.  The Spirit will nudge us and empower us to literally offer a hand or a seat or a meal or a yard clean-up.  The Spirit will urge us and support us as we speak the truth in love, as we are present with someone who’s suffering, as we work for a just resolution to an unjust situation, as we bear witness to the love of Jesus that sets us and others free.

In our life together here at House of Prayer, we may well find ourselves bewildered, amazed, perplexed, or astonished by where the Spirit wants to lead us in service to our neighbors.  That’s part of the joy and the challenge of living out our baptism, and so we who are baptized come around on Saturday afternoons or Sunday mornings to hear scripture and preaching, to be in the company of other believers, to break bread, and to pray together.

When we are together in worship, we get better at recognizing when the Spirit is drawing us to love and serve God and how the Spirit might be nudging us to love and serve our neighbors.  In Christian community, our ears and eyes and hearts become more attuned to the work of the Spirit in us and among us.  Returning to our baptism through confession and forgiveness, we live as people delivered out of bondage to sin and death.  Together, we remember that, “in Jesus, in the bread and in the wine, in the waters of baptism, in the Word, in the fellowship of believers, God comes down.  God always comes down.” 

We know what this means – now, what shall we do?   

Amen                            

   

         

Easter 7 B
May 13, 2018
Freer Than a Bird

My old friend Mr. Yahweh loves people, loves to do things with and for them, and loves their joy in what he creates – things like the kite he flew last summer out on the Common. He has a little workshop in his basement, and it’s always cluttered with projects that are works in progress. An invention here, a gadget there, some little artistic endeavor taking shape. Something unexpected, something to make life easier, or something to just make you smile.

On the shelves over his workbench are baby food jars full of nuts and bolts, screws and tacks and nails. In a box or a drawer, you can find electrician’s tape, masking tape, duct tape, strapping tape, florists’ tape, double-sided tape, adhesive tape, packing tape – you name it, he’s got it. And he’s got just as many varieties of glue. He can mend anything, and he knows how to bind together what you never thought could be made whole again.

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Easter 7 B May 13, 2018

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26 Pastor Susan Henry

1 John 5:9-13 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

John 17:6-19 Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Freer Than a Bird

My old friend Mr. Yahweh loves people, loves to do things with and for them, and loves their joy in what he creates – things like the kite he flew last summer out on the Common.  He has a little workshop in his basement, and it’s always cluttered with projects that are works in progress.  An invention here, a gadget there, some little artistic endeavor taking shape.  Something unexpected, something to make life easier, or something to just make you smile.

On the shelves over his workbench are baby food jars full of nuts and bolts, screws and tacks and nails.  In a box or a drawer, you can find electrician’s tape, masking tape, duct tape, strapping tape, florists’ tape, double-sided tape, adhesive tape, packing tape – you name it, he’s got it.  And he’s got just as many varieties of glue.  He can mend anything, and he knows how to bind together what you never thought could be made whole again.

In his basement, there are old coffee cans filled with dowels of all diameters and lengths – although the really long ones lean up against each other in a tall cardboard box.  He’s got a collection of empty yogurt containers to mix paints in, and a box of wood scraps that are too little to be useful but too good to just throw away.  Mr. Yahweh is handy and helpful and creative and kind.  People just like to be with him – and to know him is to love him.

Last summer he took up kite-making.  He’d been watching an old Chinese man fly a dragon kite with probably a dozen separate segments to it, but he thought he’d start with something simpler.  He cut two pieces of a thin dowel, one long and one shorter, and he notched the ends.  When he fastened them together at the center, they made a cross.  He slipped string into the notches to make a kite shape, then covered it all with strong paper, folding over the edges and gluing them down to enclose the string.  It was a little too plain to suit him, so, to make it beautiful, he painted a rainbow on it.  He added a tail and a long, long kite string on a red plastic reel.

When he took the kite to the Common the first time, it flew just as he had hoped.  The wind was right for kites that day, and Mr. Yahweh attracted a little crowd of kids (and grownups) who admired his work and took delight in watching the kite fly high in the air above them.  It hung steady in the wind, and it was easy to imagine that the kite itself was enjoying its flight, warm in the sun, beautiful and bright.

Even the birds seemed charmed by it.  They kept it company, glided on the breeze alongside it -- except for one.  If there’s such a thing as a bird in a bad mood, this was it.  It flew close, sometimes too close.  It cast a shadow over the kite, darted away, then circled back around in an almost menacing way.  In truth, that bird taunted the kite:  “Well, here I am, free as a bird!  I think I’ll dip a little now.  Yep, that’s how I do it.  And maybe I’ll soar a little now.  Yep, that works, too.  Free as a bird, that’s me.  Now how about you?  You’re hanging out up here in bird territory, catching a breeze, but, oh, look – you’re not free as a bird.  You’re attached to that stupid string.  You’re not really free.”

Until that very moment, the kite had been perfectly content to fly just as it was meant to – attached quite nicely to that string Mr. Yahweh held securely down there on the Common.  But now -- goodbye happiness, hello restlessness.  Connection suddenly felt like restriction.  “Hey, this string is choking me,” the kite yelled down to the Common.  “Hey, I mean it – it’s rubbing me the wrong way.  I want to be free!” And then – I’m not quite sure how this happened – what part the bird played in it, I mean – suddenly that string snapped and the kite was free.  After one long, lovely moment of exhilaration, it began a nosedive, got caught by a passing breeze, soared again, dipped again, and got totaled in a way-too-close encounter with a tall thorn bush.

At some cost to himself, Mr. Yahweh worked to free the kite from the thorn bush.  His face and arms got scratched and scraped, and some blood got shed, but that’s what it took to pry loose that torn and tattered kite.  He carried it home and took it down to his workbench.  With the same kind of care and tenderness he’d shown when he crafted it, he patched and pasted, trimmed and taped, renewed and restored his creation.  After he added a new string, he returned to the Common to fly his kite again.

The wind was perfect, the sun shone, and the kite once again hung steady in the breeze.  A crowd gathered, and the word went out among the birds.  The one who had earlier cast such a dark shadow returned to ridicule the kite.  “You again?  What are you up here for – same song, second verse, a little bit louder, a little bit worse?  You know, you’re not free!  See that string?  Don’t you get it?  You’re not free!”

This time, the kite replied, “Oh, yes, I am.  I’m freer than I ever was because I’m connected to the one who created me.”

A friend of mind recalls hearing a version of this story at a Methodist youth event thirty years ago.  I think he has remembered it all this time because there’s gospel truth in it.  It echoes a theme we find all through the scriptures.  Eve and Adam said, “Thanks, God, for everything, but we’d rather not need you.  We think we’ll like the taste of self-reliance.  Knowledge and freedom, here we come!”  Or so they thought.  But it was really goodbye happiness, hello loneliness.

God led God’s lonely, enslaved people out of bondage in Egypt into freedom.  On the way to the promised land, God gave the people the Ten Commandments and said, “Here are the ten best ways to live.”  And in fairly short order, God’s people said, “Couldn’t we just call them the Ten Suggestions – and maybe some of them could be different.  How about ‘You shall not leave your wet towels on the bathroom floor’ instead of ‘You shall not steal’?  Or how about ‘Remember the Sabbath day if you feel like it’ because that ‘keep-it-holy thing is messing with our plans”?

The prophet Isaiah told a tale about a vineyard:  “My beloved had a vineyard on a very fertile hill.  He dug it and cleared it of stones and planted it with choice vines; he built a watchtower in the midst of it and hewed out a wine vat in it; he expected it to yield grapes, but it yielded wild grapes.”  (Isaiah 5:1b-2)

God creates, God blesses, God sets people free.  God gives, God tends and nourishes, God loves.  We get ourselves in trouble, we listen to the wrong voices, we yield wild grapes.  We fall out of the sky and land in thorny, dangerous places.  God comes to us in Jesus, gently pries our wounded or broken lives loose from among the thorns and puts us back together again.  There’s blood shed over us.  It costs God something to restore us to life and to true freedom.

Our gospel readings from John these past few weeks have come from Jesus’ words of farewell to his friends on the night in which he would be betrayed, arrested, tried, and sentenced to death.  In this fraught time, he prays for them and he reminds them of their life in him and his life in them.  He tells them to stay connected to him. “I am the vine and you are the branches.  Abide in me as I abide in you . . . As my Father has loved me, so I have loved you.  Abide in my love.”

Abide.  Belong.  Remain connected.  When our culture preaches independence, self-reliance, and what passes for freedom, Jesus counter-culturally proclaims dependence on God, reliance on God’s promises, and the freedom that comes with abiding in God’s love.  This defies common sense, but St. Paul knows the truth of it.  “For freedom,” he says, “Christ has set us free.”  We’re free to live grace-filled, water-washed, and Spirit-born lives.  We’re free to love, free to serve.

“Abide in me,” Jesus says.  A vine and branches will do it.  Water and the Word will do it, as will bread and wine.  So will a kite string, in the right hands.

Amen

Easter 6 B God’s Work Our Hands
May 6, 2018

Command and Gift

During the fifty days of Easter, we might expect to hear post-resurrection stories about Jesus. In a way, we do hear them in readings from the book of Acts as the Jesus movement continues to grow and spread. Some of our Easter season gospel readings do highlight encounters with the risen Jesus, but other readings take us back to the time before Jesus’ death. In John’s gospel last week and this week, we hear Jesus’ care and concern for his disciples and his deepest desire for them. “Love one another as I have loved you,” he says during those precious hours with them before his arrest and trial and death.

Actually, he doesn’t “say” they are to love each other. It’s not a suggestion, not a request, not a wish, not an invitation. It’s a command. I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed how many times this forceful word shows up in this passage.

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Easter 6 B God’s Work Our Hands May 6, 2018

Acts 10:44-48 Pastor Susan Henry

1 John 5:1-6 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

John 15:9-17 Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Command and Gift

During the fifty days of Easter, we might expect to hear post-resurrection stories about Jesus.  In a way, we do hear them in readings from the book of Acts as the Jesus movement continues to grow and spread.  Some of our Easter season gospel readings do highlight encounters with the risen Jesus, but other readings take us back to the time before Jesus’ death.  In John’s gospel last week and this week, we hear Jesus’ care and concern for his disciples and his deepest desire for them.  “Love one another as I have loved you,” he says during those precious hours with them before his arrest and trial and death.

Actually, he doesn’t “say” they are to love each other.  It’s not a suggestion, not a request, not a wish, not an invitation.  It’s a command.  I’m not sure I’ve ever noticed how many times this forceful word shows up in this passage.  “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commandments and abide in his love.”  “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.”  “I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.”  This is pretty sturdy language about love and about abiding in love. 

Maybe that’s because Jesus knows love can be a lot of work.  What he is talking about goes way beyond how his disciples happen to feel or what they’re in the mood for.  It has little to do with feelings and much to do with actions.  It’s love that’s grounded in Jesus’ love for them and in his Father’s love for him.  Deeply-rooted love, abiding love, runs-through-your-veins love, empowering love, lay-down-your-life love.  It’s love commanded by Jesus so that his friends may love one another.

Command and gift – that’s what Jesus gave.  He gave his friends a life together in community.  They would scatter later that night when he was arrested, but they would gather together again a few days later, huddled in a locked room in fear of the religious leaders.  Confused and cowering, they were abiding together in fear, not in love.  But then they experienced Jesus’ abiding presence with them, speaking peace, revealing his wounds, breathing the Spirit upon them, loving them into becoming the community he had commanded them to be. 

Gift and command – that’s what Jesus still gives.  He gives us a life together in community, too.  We don’t get scattered in exactly the same way the disciples once did, and we don’t really experience any great cost in following Jesus as John’s community of believers did, but Jesus is still loving us into the community he has commanded us to be.  As we have been loved, so we are called to love – and not to love in the abstract but to love one another through our actions.  We might discover that we don’t know each other well enough to express our love in right actions – or we might know one another all too well and find it challenging to act out of the love we receive and abide in.  Love in action can be hard work!

Life in Christian community at its best prepares us for life together in our wider communities and in the world.  Practicing love in action here among ourselves just might ask something of us, might require a little self-sacrifice of ego or even of a long-held grudge -- or a simple sacrifice of time.  Love in action can look like the Shepherds Committee sending homemade cookies to our college students and folks in the military, sending them tasty reminders of how we are connected in Christ’s own love.

If we take to heart Jesus’ command to abide in his love and to love one another, we will find ourselves putting love into action not only here among ourselves, but also in our homes, our workplaces, our schools, the places we volunteer, the communities we live in, the creation we are called to tend and to protect.  For example, it will take a little self-sacrifice on some people’s parts to do spring yard cleanup for some of our Hingham seniors today when some of our own yards could probably use those few hours’ worth of tidying up.  Others of us might sacrifice a little time to bring some joy to other neighbors in our community.  People who receive Meals on Wheels will get the bee houses, cards, and nature journals we’ll create for them after worship.  Our Sunday School kids will pack birthday bags of cake mix, frosting, candles, paper goods and more for Wellspring clients eager to celebrate a child’s birthday.  In people’s yards or here at church, we’ll love one another and love our neighbors – even our bee neighbors -- abiding together in the kind of loving community Jesus both commands and creates.

God’s work.  Our hands.  As friends of Jesus, sustained by God’s abiding in us and our abiding in God, we’ll put our love into action.  Today, love takes the shape of hearts and hands, rakes and trash bags, recycled water bottles and bamboo, cake mixes and candles, cards and care, being neighbors and friends of Jesus. 

As we share a meal at Jesus’ table in worship, so we’ll share a meal when our work of love is finished.  Maybe we’ll even wonder where deepening our practices of loving and abiding and giving of ourselves might take us next.           Amen

Easter 5 B
May 3, 2018

A couple weeks ago in worship, I invited you to practice a little witnessing – first, about something you just like to talk about – sports, cooking, gardening, whatever – and second, about where you see God at work in the world. And I suggested that we could keep practicing at council, committee meetings, and so on, because witnessing doesn’t come easy to us Lutherans. We’re shy. But we have a theology of grace and a willingness to live with paradox and ambiguity that the world needs, so how can we share that? How can we bear witness and “bear much fruit”?

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Easter 5 B / God’s Work. Our Hands May 3, 2018

John 15:1-8 Pastor Susan Henry

House of Prayer Lutheran Church Hingham MA

Grace to you and peace from our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.

God’s Work.  Our Hands.

A couple weeks ago in worship, I invited you to practice a little witnessing – first, about something you just like to talk about – sports, cooking, gardening, whatever – and second, about where you see God at work in the world.  And I suggested that we could keep practicing at council, committee meetings, and so on, because witnessing doesn’t come easy to us Lutherans.  We’re shy.  But we have a theology of grace and a willingness to live with paradox and ambiguity that the world needs, so how can we share that?  How can we bear witness and “bear much fruit”?

At council this past week, we practiced a little more low-key witnessing.  “Where do you see God at work in the world or in your life?” I asked; “Where is there more love or more life than you would expect to find?”  Stories and anecdotes lifted up ways that God was bringing delight or healing or new life, and the conversation got lively when Janet Waters spoke about Alex and Leo and the vast number of people whose lives have been enriched, transformed, or connected because of Alex and Leo.  Caring for Leo as he recovers from surgery after surgery in a place far from home, Alex sees what he is doing as answering God’s call.  Alex says he looks at Leo and sees the face of God.  I’m not sure I’ve ever experienced such a humble, powerful witness to how God’s healing work is being done through human hands.  God’s work.  Alex’s hands -- and many other hands, too.

It’s easy to see how God is at work there, doing what God does:  healing, sustaining, encouraging, comforting, loving, bringing joy, creating community.  But sometimes it’s not as easy to see how God is at work in the world – or to see how human hands serve as a channel or expression of God’s work.  Bill Diehl, a Lutheran writer from Pennsylvania, tells of a conversation he once had with an accountant.  Diehl is talking about vocation, about our sense of God’s calling.  The accountant is perplexed, so Diehl asks, “Well, what are you doing and what is God doing on Sunday morning?”  The man replies that he is at church worshiping, and God is there being worshiped.  Diehl continues, “What are you doing and what is God doing on Tuesday morning?”  The man, baffled, says that he is working as an accountant on Tuesday morning but he has absolutely no idea what God is doing then.  Diehl replies, “God is making a more orderly world.”  God’s work.  An accountant’s hands.

I read that story years ago, and it stuck with me because “doing God’s work” can sound so lofty and vague, or so certain and arrogant, that we may hesitate to describe what our hands can do as “God’s work.”  What is God’s work?  Creating, redeeming, sustaining.  Making things new, healing, guiding.  Playing, making whole, empowering.  Loving, loving, loving.  Some of God’s work is God’s alone, but God also enlists our hands and heads and hearts.

A couple weeks ago, as someone signed up for this work day, I overheard them say, “I ought to be doing this in my own yard!”  No question but that God can make a more orderly world there, too, but as seven teams from House of Prayer go out to do some spring clean-up for some of the seniors in town and others prepare May baskets here, God will not only be making a more orderly world, God will also be letting people know they matter.  God will be easing some folks’ burdens and bringing them joy.  And God will be forming deeper community in Christ among us.  God, it seems, will be quite busy today.  God’s Work.  Our hands.

Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber tells how, at Thanksgiving, the members of House for All Sinners and Saints pack turkey sandwiches, cranberry muffins, and more, and then take this little bit of Thanksgiving to people who have to work that day.  They drop by hole-in-the-wall grocery stores and adult bookstores and whatever else is open, and they deliver these brown bag lunches.  One woman, she says, surprised by this totally unexpected gesture, got tears in her eyes and said, “Your church brought me dinner?”  The people of House were delivering lunches on Thanksgiving, “bearing much fruit” literally and metaphorically.  What was God doing?  God was feeding all kinds of hungers.  God was making God’s loving presence known.  God was loving anybody who didn’t feel very lovable that day.  God was delivering grace upon grace.

We too are to “bear much fruit,” Jesus says.  And he reminds us that he is the vine and we are the branches.  His own life feeds us so that we can share that life with others.  God’s work -- for us and in us and through us.  Our hands -- serving our neighbors, bearing witness and “much fruit, and glorifying God.

God’s work.  Our hands.

Amen   

Earth Day
April 22, 2018

In Partnership with God

Now and then, Earth Day falls on a Sunday, providing a perfect opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for God’s creation and to reflect on our partnership with God in tending and caring for the earth. “The earth” is a pretty big topic, so let’s narrow our focus today. Seventy-one percent of the earth is covered by water, and almost all of that water is sea water, saltwater. Of the 4% that isn’t, half is ice and the other half – a mere 2%! – is freshwater, much of which is underground. The water that’s readily available for drinking or washing or farming – the water in rivers and lakes, in streams and ponds – is a miniscule 0.3% of the earth’s water. Imagine how little of that is part of our local watershed – the area that water naturally moves in as it flows to the Fore River, the Back River, and the Weir River!

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Earth Day April 22, 2018

Genesis 2:4b-24 Pastor Susan Henry

Revelation 21:10, 22:1-5 House of Prayer Lutheran Church

Mark 1:9-11 Hingham Ma

Grace to you and peace from God who creates, redeems, and makes all things new.

In Partnership with God

Now and then, Earth Day falls on a Sunday, providing a perfect opportunity to celebrate and give thanks for God’s creation and to reflect on our partnership with God in tending and caring for the earth.  “The earth” is a pretty big topic, so let’s narrow our focus today.  Seventy-one percent of the earth is covered by water, and almost all of that water is sea water, saltwater.  Of the 4% that isn’t, half is ice and the other half – a mere 2%! – is freshwater, much of which is underground.  The water that’s readily available for drinking or washing or farming – the water in rivers and lakes, in streams and ponds – is a miniscule 0.3% of the earth’s water1.  Imagine how little of that is part of our local watershed – the area that water naturally moves in as it flows to the Fore River, the Back River, and the Weir River!  You can see those rivers on the map on the back of your bulletin.

Our readings from scripture today include rivers that are named or described.  In the creation story, the four corners of the known earth are fed by the four rivers.  In the gospel, Jesus is baptized in the Jordan, a river that flows into the Sea of Galilee.  And in John of Patmos’ vision of God’s future, “the river of the water of life” flows from the throne of God right through the center of the new Jerusalem.  Tigris, Euphrates, Jordan; river of the water of life; Fore River, Back River, Weir River.  All belong to God’s creation, and all are storied waters. 

The Tigris and Euphrates shaped civilizations and still flow through modern-day Iraq.  The Israelites once crossed the Jordan to enter the land God had promised to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants.  You might have a story about the watershed we’re part of.  Maybe you’ve filled jugs at the spring in Wompatuck.  Or maybe you’ve gotten stuck in the mud flats when the tide in Hingham Harbor went out faster than you expected.  Or maybe you know which pond to find tadpoles in nearby or where the fishing’s good.  We’re shaped by water stories from throughout history and today, in the bible, at the baptismal font, and in our ordinary, everyday lives. 

Although you might not have thought about this before, it makes a difference whether we experience water as part of nature or part of creation.  When our relationship with water flows out of our relationship with God, our story includes partnership with God in caring for all of creation.  Our story from Genesis today is the second of two creation traditions in the bible, and, perhaps just as four gospels give us four portraits of Jesus, two creation stories reveal two portraits of our Creator. 

In the more familiar story where creation happens over seven days, God’s word brings everything into being.  God’s word does what it says.  In this creation story, God is more literally “in touch” with creation.  God forms humankind – adam in Hebrew – out of the earth – adamah.  God plants.  God puts adam in the garden God creates.  And from the beginning, God and humankind are partners:  “The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.”  To work it and take care of it.  To tend it and watch over it.  To cultivate it and to be a good steward of it.  It’s “God’s Work/Our Hands” from the very beginning, isn’t it?

Earth Day is a good day to not only give thanks for creation, especially for water, but to ask ourselves how we’re doing in our partnership with God.  How are we attentive to the well-being of creation, to our common garden, our common water, the common good?  Some Hingham residents will be out today at the Bathing Beach and some other sites doing cleanup for a “Cleaner Greener Hingham.”  On May 6, some of us will be doing spring yard cleanup for some of the seniors in this community, and others of us will care for creation as we make eco-friendly gifts for people who receive Meals on Wheels.

Each summer, we’ve sponsored a community garden through the ELCA’s Good Gifts program as we’ve donated money for the organic vegetables Rae Hall grows and brings to church.  Tim Badger’s life work and his sense of call from God is to help provide affordable, clean, safe water in a world where 1 out of 4 people drinks from a contaminated water supply.  Churchwide, ELCA members have raised over a million dollars for World Hunger water-related projects.  We write letters and send drawings to our elected officials whose votes can help protect our water and assure the just use of this precious resource.  These are surely the “saint” side of being “saints and sinners at the same time” – but we are both.

We enjoy and we exploit.  We are grateful and we are greedy.  We stand in awe and we are arrogant.  Our single-serving plastic water bottles end up in landfills and foul our oceans.  The people of Flint, Michigan suffered great harm when their water was contaminated with lead because officials violated the trust the community had placed in them.  We waste ridiculous amounts of water while women and children in sub-Saharan Africa walk the equivalent of a 5K every day to fetch water for their families.  Our wish to live near the water leads to more and more risky construction where floodwaters can wreak havoc, especially as sea levels rise.  No doubt you can add to this list of the ways we humans reveal the “sinner” side of being “saints and sinners at the same time.”

Compassion, community, and deep-down knowing that we are called to be partners with God all draw us to care for creation.   Mere convenience, sheer carelessness and human selfishness all work against our caring for what God has created and what God desires with us.  How might we take more to heart God’s call to tend and take care of creation?  How can we act as faithful partners with God, knowing that some things are God’s alone to bring about and others are influenced by our actions?

In Bertholt Brecht’s play “The Good Woman of Setzuan,” one of the gods and the peasant Wong have a conversation.  Wong says, “Everyone knows the province of Kwan is always having floods.”  The god replies, “Really?  How’s that?”  Wong answers, “Why, because they’re so irreligious.”  The god responds, “Rubbish.  It’s because they neglected the dam.”  This brings us back again to God’s work and our hands, to the partnership begun at creation.

Perhaps it will help if we keep before us not only the beginning of God’s story with us but also an image of the future God envisions.  In our reading from Revelation today, we get a glimpse of it.  God’s future isn’t portrayed as endless harp-playing while we walk around on clouds, but as heaven coming to earth.  There, the river of the water of life is “bright as crystal,” flowing down the center of the city.  The tree of life bears nourishing fruit, numerous kinds throughout the seasons.  The leaves of that tree are for healing, for bringing about an end to conflict and separation. 

God’s future is all about renewal and refreshment and restoration.  At creation, trusting what was not worthy of trust led to eating a forbidden fruit in Eden and damaging humankind’s relationship with God.  Out of mercy, God had made clothing out of leaves to cover those who had disobeyed and then felt shame.  But in God’s future, fruit is freely given and leaves are for healing.  Creator and creation live as God intended, redeemed and restored.  All things are made new.

That is the future that God is drawing us toward.  We glimpse it in the waters of baptism, in the fruit of creation that becomes holy communion, and in our partnership with God in caring for creation.  Let me suggest just one concrete way we might live out our baptism, be the body of Christ in the world, and faithfully “till and keep” God’s good creation.  For a week or a month, you and I could drink only tap water.  We could give the money we would have spent on bottled water, coffee, soda and other beverages to the ELCA World Hunger ‘Walk for Water’ Project2.  It won’t be easy to do this, and our resistance to it might tell us something about that “saint and sinner at the same time” thing.  Whether we go for it or adapt it, it could be an offering, an expression of our commitment to care for the safe water we get to drink and for all the water in God’s good creation.  Perhaps it would become a sign of our gratitude to a Creator who values us as partners in God’s creative work.

Amen

  Notes:

1. Diana Butler Bass, “Grounded,” Harper Collins, New York, 2015, p. 70.

2. ELCA, The Water Crisis, Ideas, elca.org