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No Time for Doubting Thomas!

Rev. Kristi Denham
Congregational Church of Belmont
April 23, 2017

The first Sunday after Easter is usually a time to talk about dear old Doubting Thomas, the archetype of scientific inquiry. I usually spend this Sunday assuring you that doubt is a good thing; that Jesus welcomed Thomas’ need to touch the wounds, to see for himself that Jesus was indeed resurrected. It is this need to question, explore, and test hypotheses that makes science such a powerful tool in the expansion of knowledge. But when results are verified, confirmed by clear evidence, there comes a time to stop doubting and start working with the facts as they are.

This is true in the realm of the spirit, and even more so in the realm of material knowledge. We cannot prove resurrection stories but we can live them. We can study the real world and come to real conclusions about the needs of our one holy planet Earth, and then act on them.

Today we celebrate our Mother Earth. Yesterday was Earth Day, a day set aside to remember and honor the needs of our Earth since 1970’s first Earth Day Celebration. This year it was marked by a huge March on Washington by scientists and all those who support protecting our environment, and saving our planet. There were over 150 events around the world. There has never been a more crucial time for us to stand for the survival of our planet and its species.

Our Scripture Lessons remind us that prophets have long spoken on behalf of our natural world and our responsibility to care for it.

Isaiah 24:4-6 gives a harsh vision of a future that too closely resembles our present time:
The earth dries up and withers,
   the world languishes and withers; 
the heavens languish together with the earth.
The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;

And Ezekiel 34:2-3 speaks to the Son of Humanity as if foreshadowing Jesus’ own call to change:
Son of Humanity, prophesy against the shepherds of the people: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.

We usually hear the words of Genesis 1:28 on this day:
God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
and we wonder if we will ever change from thinking “subdue” and “dominion” and begin to think of “caring for” and “responsibility for” every living thing.

It is easy to feel overwhelmed by the challenges we are facing as a species:
We spend more time fighting with one another than working together to solve our real problems. It is easy to be drawn toward despair even as we know anger and depression only lead to enuie and inertia, at a time when the luxury of doing nothing no longer exits.

I am grateful for all those who are taking action by marching and speaking out, by doing scientific study to improve our environment, by teaching our young the importance of caring for our world, by recycling and using fewer resources day by day, by eating less meat that requires so much more grain to produce protein that could otherwise benefit more life on this planet.

There is so much work to be done that we can feel overwhelmed. But God calls us to remember we do not work alone. We work with people around our world who care. We work with the help of the Spirit of the Sacred that lives in each one of us and in every created thing. Remembering the Resurrection Spirit that reminds us that we are eternal, that we can manifest love through how we live, that prayerful attention to our relationships with life matter, we move forward. Words are not so important as where is your heart? What choices are you making?

Last week I shared with you a long list of good news about our         relationship with our planet:
         * The Giant Panda and the Manatee are off the endangered                         species list and Tigers are finally making a come-back!
         * China is ending the ivory trade! And has banned coal mining!
         * An Ocean Cleanup Project to reduce ocean plastics by 40% is in the         works.
         * Canada has protected 85% of the Great Bear Rainforest!
         * India planted 50 million trees in 24 hours with 800,000                            volunteers!
It helps to be reminded good things are possible as we continue to struggle to do our part!

I took a six week class at Stanford Continuing Studies on Buddhism in February and March. We learned about the history of the many different strands of this tradition. We also learned some specific practices beyond simple mindfulness meditation that is the most common form practiced in the West.

Tibetan Buddhism has a practice called Tonglen that is a form of prayer I want to share with you today because it has allowed me to more fully be with the suffering of others, of myself, and even of our Mother Earth.

Tonglen is a way of breathing that focuses on being with suffering rather than running from it. We breathe in the pain we see in others, or in ourselves, feeling the constriction, the claustrophobic feeling of it, the dark, sulfurous, cloudy sense of it. And we breathe out with an intention of fully releasing it, imagining it flowing into an ocean or a clear sky of freedom.

I have been practicing this prayerful breathing when I sit at the bedside of Betty Pex who is in constant pain and has not been about to get up for months now. There is nothing I can do but be present with her suffering. I breathe it in and prayerfully release it into God’s care.

When I hear sad or difficult news from my children that I can do nothing about I stay with their suffering and my own for them, and I release it into God’s care.

When I experience my own helplessness in the face of the world’s pain, I breathe it in and release it as best I can.

I am starting small because it can be overwhelming, but with practice I can remember my suffering connects me to the suffering of Christ and to the suffering of every mother, every caring human being, everything that lives and breathes, grows, faces challenges and dies, everything that forgets it is eternal, that it can transform, that it is always changing, that miracles of renewal can and are always happening. And by releasing that suffering into the ocean of God’s abundant love and presence, I can stop trying to be super-human and reconnect with the sacred power of God. I take the burden off my own shoulders and remember Christ’s promise “Come unto me all you who are heavy burdened and I will give you rest, my load is easy and my burden is light!”

Let us pray: Loving God, you speak to us today through these words of the Ute people:
         Earth, teach me stillness as the grasses are stilled with light.
Earth, teach me suffering as old stones suffer with memory.
Earth, teach me humility as blossoms are humble with beginning.
Earth, teach me caring as the mother who secures her young.
Earth, teach me courage as the tree that stands all alone.
Earth, teach me limitation as the ant that crawls on the ground.
Earth, teach me freedom as the eagle that soars in the sky.
Earth, teach me resignation as the leaves that die in the fall.
Earth, teach me regeneration as the seed that rises in the spring.
Earth, teach me to forget myself as melted snow forgets its life.
Earth, teach me to remember kindness as dry fields weep for rain.

And in these words of the Celts you speak to us:
Creator, make me malleable,like your earth.
Savior, make me humble, like your earth.
Spirit, make me receptive, like your earth.

May all that we do serve the love you have for Mother Earth and all created things. Amen