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The Land Mourns with Us


Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
April 17, 2016

It has been four weeks since we celebrated the joy of Easter! We celebrated joy and were encouraged to make it a choice, a value, a part of our daily lives going forward. Then, the week that followed, we encountered Thomas with his doubts as recorded in John’s Gospel and his mystical teachings found in the Gospel of Thomas. We explored the rich gifts to be received in meditation, mystery and questions. Finally, last week we pondered Paul’s conversion with its wild implications for our faith and the suggestion that our journey as people of faith is always toward wholeness.

Now we are brought up short by reality! Earth Day has been celebrated since 1970 on April 22. It began as an opportunity to remind us of the sacred value of our planet and its urgent need for care. Now, some 46 years later, the urgency has grown exponentially and celebration must be balanced by grief for all that we have so far failed to do. The words attributed to Chief Seattle in response to our government’s demand to buy their land in 1854 are deeply poignant for us today:
“Every part of the earth is sacred to my people. Every shining pine needle, every sandy shore, every mist in the dark woods, every meadow, every humming insect. All are holy in the memory and experience of my people. We know the sap which courses through the trees as we know the blood that courses through our veins. We are part of the earth and it is part of us. The perfumed flowers are our sisters. The bear, the deer, the great eagle, these are our brothers. The rocky crests, the dew in the meadow, the body heat of the pony, and man all belong to the same family. Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together, all things connect.”

And the prophet Hosea, writing some 700 years before Christ, seems to envision the world as we now know it!
… the land mourns, and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals and the birds of the air,
    even the fish of the sea are perishing.

Today I want to speak to you of grief. It is not the opposite of joy! It is not a shadow to be avoided or condemned. It is a deeper aspect of our capacity for compassion.

When we run from grief, when we deny it, avoid it, replace it with a multitude of addictions to work, to busy-ness, to substances, to consumerism, we grow toxic within ourselves. Our defenses grow larger. We destroy with unconsciousness the precious beauty that is within us and around us.

Hosea links personal evil with the mourning of the land. He may not have realized how exactly right he was! Our addictions to speed, to stuff, to avoiding our own pain have had much to do with the devastation our planet is experiencing! He may have thought that all we needed to do was become kinder, more religious people and God would do the rest. But now we know that God has put our sacred beautiful world into our hands. The Christ spirit poured out on all flesh and all creation looks to us to work together, to acknowledge our failings, to heal our world as one human family, as part of the web of life.

Trinitarian theology, central to our Christian understanding, teaches us that Jesus Christ, as a full human being, was one part of the Triune God. Humanity and all of the natural world is linked to the sacred through this understanding. As Sister Hia Delio says so well, “Christian life is a commitment to love, to give birth to God in one’s own life and to become midwives of divinity in this evolving cosmos. We are to be wholemakers of love in a world of change.” The teachings in Genesis that God’s creation is “good,” and we are “created in the image and likeness of God,” also affirm this understanding.

Thomas Merton suggested that the greatest sin of humanity was idolatry. What we give most of our time and attention to is our God. He said, we worship “power, machines, possessions, medicine, sports, clothes, etc., all kept going by greed for money and power…And behind it all are the principalities and powers whom man serves in his idolatry….this idolatry will prove itself to be humanity’s destruction.”

If we cannot face our grief, or our despair and losses, the very reality that we will die, that people we love, animals we cared for, will die or have died…if we do not make time to weep for Mother Earth, we are bound to keep moving faster and faster, to forget as much as we can, and leave a wasteland to our children.

To worship God is to see the sacred in every molecule of being. It means we must slow down to acknowledge the sacred in each moment. We need to be thankful for each breath. We need to acknowledge our sorrow, our losses, our needs. But what are our real needs?

As Americans who make up 5% of the world’s population we continue to use something like 25% of the worlds resources. We need to ask ourselves this question again and again: Do we really need it? (That new car? That sweater, a new coat? Etc.) Are we aware of where the materials come from that created our new cellphone?   

Some of us are doing powerful scientific work to create more efficient uses of energy, but scientific technology alone cannot solve this climate crisis. Compassion for our children and our children’s children requires that we must simplify our lives to use less of the planet’s resources. We must learn compassion for all of creation’s children. We must grieve what we have already lost.

A few years back I did an Earth Day Sermon that angered some visitors because I claimed that Climate change was real, because I asked us all to take responsibility for the world we will leave to our children, because I refused to allow a “New Heaven and New Earth” fundamentalist theology to co-opt our responsibility to do something now! We must face, as I believe most of us now do, the “Inconvenient Truth” (as Vice President Al Gore explained in his movie of the same name) that some of the changes are inevitable. Waters will continue to rise. Temperatures will continue to climb. We must act now to reduce carbon emissions. Blind eyed deniers in Washington endanger us all, and we aren’t sure we can stop them.

“First You Cry!” was a poignant memoir about surviving breast cancer. It set the tone for a story of transformation. It named an essential step on the road to any transformation: First You Grieve!

It brings us back to the honesty of the First Step: “I am powerless,” where we need to admit it matters, that we know we want to change.

We need to grieve for our planet and the consequences of our mindless choices on her behalf. If we can weep and repent, we can transform. We can discover within ourselves the power to slow down, smell the roses, discover the sacred, live in the joy of responsible stewardship for our planet, our home, our children’s future, and our own.

It is fitting that the 23rd Psalm is also a part of our liturgy today. We cannot take for granted the still waters that comfort us. We know we may be walking now in the valley of the shadow of death. But these words so often shared in memorial services can also be a comfort to us now. For God is with us and in us as we walk through this together.