It Was Good. (It Can Be So Again.)
Rev. Estelle Margarones
John 1:1-3, 14 Genesis 1:20-31
Today is Earth Day! I invite you to observe the day today, and always. The Bible says:
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. And God saw that it was good.
And it was all good. And the Bible says:
And God said, “Let the waters swarm with living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth So God created the great sea creatures and every living creature that moves, every bird. And God saw that it was good. And God blessed them, saying, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.”
Today, we've got fish full of mercury(1) as Marvin Gaye sang in the 1970's. So much so that pregnant women have been urged not to eat fish such as tuna or swordfish because the mercury could harm the fetus. The birds have not escaped our hand, either. DDT was a pesticide that killed bugs....and so much more. You see, birds ate those bugs and DDT caused egg shells to be so thin that the eggs crack during the incubation process, resulting in the death of the baby birds.
During the manufacturing process, tons of DDT was dumped to the Pacific Ocean...and it's still damaging the ecosystem today. That chemical stopped being dumped into the water in 1961...and they are still cleaning it up.
As recently as 3 years ago, the EPA was entertaining plans ranging up to 64 million dollars to put clean sand on the ocean floor so that by 2023, they would hopefully bring the water to acceptable standards and that by 2039—78 years after they stopped dumping the poison into the water, they would lower (but not eliminate) the concentrations of DDT in the sediment.
And the Bible says:
And God made the beasts of the earth and the livestock and everything that creeps on the ground. And God saw that it was good.
But the creeping animals are disappearing. According to National Geographic, the harlequin frog species are going extinct because of global warming. More frightening still is that two thirds of the 110 known species of harlequin frogs disappeared between the 1980's and the 1990's.(2) (Two thirds! In less than two decades!) And it's possible, some scientists speculate, that because amphibians are so sensitive to environmental changes, they may be the proverbial 'canaries in the coalmine'. In other words, they are most susceptible, so though we may not see or smell or taste anything yet, something is awry and the harlequin frogs may only be the first of many to go.
And the Bible says,
So God created man in his own image, And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and have stewardship over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” And it was so. And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good.
According to scientists, we are now in the midst of an extinction event...one that started about 50,000 years ago but is now increasing speed.(3) The most troubling thing about it is that we, who the Bible tells us were given stewardship of the earth and the waters and the creatures. We, created in God's likeness...stewards of the earth...are causing it.
We are consuming the earth's natural resources in a way that has never been done before. We are polluting the air and the water and the land with our factories, and our cars, and by dumping our old medications down the drain.
While that is regrettable news, there is good news. We can step up and take our place as the trusted caretakers. There are things that each one of us can do to right the wrongs and to keep from causing more damage. There are tons of things we can do to be 'greener', 'cleaner', and 'more efficient' everyday. Some are incredibly simple; others take a little bit more of an investment. But it is an investment...in the future.
This is an interdependent world and what affects of of us, does affect us all. Think beyond the here and now. We should each realize what an important task we have been given....stewardship of the earth to which we were entrusted by God. We need to see the present and be long range planners.
We've all heard about about global warming, but many do not even know what it means, why it's important, and what we can do about it.
I'll share with you the short version: The sun warms the earth. Some of the sun's heat is absorbed by "greenhouse gases" such as water vapor, carbon dioxide, and ozone which slows down how fast it escapes from the atmosphere. This is a good thing. Essentially, the greenhouse gasses trap the heat and insulate the earth. If we didn't have the greenhouse effect, our planet would be approximately 54 degrees—and that temperature wouldn't sustain our current ecosystem.
In large part, the issue with global warming comes from what humans have done to distort the natural greenhouse effect. We're adding too much into the atmosphere. There are things like farming practices and production in factories that add gasses to the air. Deforestation is an issue because trees take in the CO2 and release oxygen. While you might not be able to stop these practices, you can help to slow them down by thinking about your purchases. You can buy more food at the Braintree farmers market (open June 16-October 27) and you can use recycled products, and you can bring your own reusable bag when you go shopping.
We don't often think about it, but by heating our homes and driving our cars, we're burning natural resources like gas and oil and raising the level of carbon dioxide. The good news is that we now have more energy efficient ways to heat our homes and we have choices everyday about how we travel....public transportation is readily available, we can carpool, we can be mindful of the planet when planning our errands—saving things for a time when we'll be in the neighborhood for another reason. We can also avoid sitting in idling cars.
There are tons of things that homeowners can do to make a big difference—with everything from using double glazed windows to using energy efficient appliances. Renters, too, can make a difference.
Small things can make big differences. You can cover your pots when you cook. A lid on a pot locks in the heat, causing the food to cook faster, so you use less energy. You can put your heat a little lower in the winter and a little higher in the summer...even as little as 2 degrees either way, could save about 2,000 pounds of carbon dioxide a year. You can run your dishwasher and washing machine only when they're full. You can take a shower instead of a bath—it uses less water. You can recycle, plant a tree, clean up a beach. You can donate clothing and household items to Goodwill...and you can buy gently used things there. You can use compact florescent light bulbs. They use 60% less energy than a regular bulb so they'll last longer and can save about 300 lbs of carbon dioxide a year. They're a few more dollars more expensive, but worth it in the overall scheme of the world.
This is the 3rd Sunday of Easter and we honor and praise the risen Christ. There are a number of Biblical stories that put Jesus in the context of nature. A heavenly star heralded his birth. He was born in a stable, his bed a manger, borrowed from the animals. He gave us the parable of the sower. He walked on water. He calmed the wind. People waved palms as he rode in to town on a borrowed donkey. Jesus prayed in a garden. As we discussed a few weeks ago on Easter, he was laid to rest in a garden...in a borrowed tomb.
When Jesus walked this earth, he taught people about being in relationship. Not only are we in relationship with God and each other, we are very much in relationship with the natural world. Were Jesus physically among us today, I have no doubt that he would encourage us to reduce, reuse, and recycle.
In the beginning, God created the world and it was good. We have been entrusted with the stewardship of our home and if we're going to ensure that our world will be here for our children, their children, and beyond, we need to open our eyes to see past the immediate concerns of time or money or effort. So Let us celebrate the Earth on this 42nd Earth Day...and always!
And God will see everything, and behold, it will be very good. Blessed be and amen.
1. Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology Song), Marvin Gaye
The Glorious Garden
Rev. Estelle Margarones
Isaiah 25:6-9 John 19:41-20:18
Today, in the presence of these beautiful Easter lilies, I feel as though I'm in a very special garden. The lilies are white, symbolic of purity. White is also a color associated with God. The shape of the lilies is reminiscent of a trumpet, heralding the good news that Jesus Christ is risen! This is, indeed a glorious garden.
I was struck by the mention of the garden in the gospel reading. According to the Bible, Christ came here for our edification and for our redemption, to teach us and to save us. The Easter story as we know it is one of the crucifixion and the resurrection.
We know that Jesus died on the cross and was laid in a tomb. As we heard in the gospel reading this morning, when Mary went to the tomb to prepare the body for proper burial, she found to empty. She asked a man she took to be the gardener where she might find Jesus.
She expected to find a dead body, yet the Lord was standing in front of her. Not a dead body to be carried somewhere or laid somewhere, but a living being to stand tall, to recognize her and to speak with her. Only when he called her by name, were her eyes opened and did she recognize Jesus.
Jesus who was dead is now alive.
Why mention that the tomb was set in the midst of a garden? Why did she think Jesus was the gardener?
According to the Book of Genesis, humanity was banished from the Garden of Eden for transgressions against God. Yet, God still loves his people. God made covenantal relationships with Noah and Abraham and Sarah. We know that God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life. We understand a clear connection between Jesus and the new covenant.
On our behalf, Jesus was given up as a sacrificial lamb taking the place of humanity. In Biblical times, it was common practice to offer a sacrifice in order to obtain forgiveness or absolution for transgressions.
Could it be that the Easter story doesn't start 1600 pages into the Bible...in the Gospels in the New Testament; but instead, on page 2, in the very first book of the Old Testament?
This, from Genesis chapter two, verse eight, “And the lord God planted a garden in Eden in the east; and there he put the man who he had formed. Out of the ground the Lord God made to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and, also the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.” God told Adam and Eve that they could eat whatever they wanted, but “tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat for in the day that you eat of it, you shall die” (2:17).
In the paradise that was the Garden of Eden, the master gardener there was no less than God Himself. In the Garden of Eden, there was no sadness and no death. Adam and Eve ate that forbidden fruit and their eyes were opened to the pain and suffering of this world. God sent them away from the Garden, but even then, he loved them.
In the Resurrection account we heard this morning, Mary is in the garden with the opened tomb. She is weeping, but her sadness comes to an end when she realizes that it is Jesus before her. Her eyes have been opened to hope and new life.
Jesus was crucified and rose on the third day. When he instructed Mary to share this good news, he said, “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God”.
He included humanity in that announcement. My Father and your Father. My God and your God. That inclusion assures us that we, too, will share in Jesus' triumphant victory over death. Through Christ's sacrifice, we have been granted eternal life. His act, done our our behalf, assures us that we too, will have the honor and the privilege of joining him in his kingdom.
I'll ask that you hold the Garden of Eden in mind as I define a few of the words so common to the accounts of the Resurrection. The resurrection is a story of redemption.
“Redemption” means “the act, process, or instance of redeeming.” “Redeem” means, “repair”, “restore”, and “to atone for.” It also means, “to free from what distresses or harms”, “to free from captivity by the payment of ransom”, and “to free from consequences of sin”.
Jesus did free us. His crucifixion was payment for harm, debts, mistakes, and errors of judgment...none of which he committed. Yet his sacrifice served to atone for the sins of the world.
The word “Resurrection” means the rising of Christ from the dead. It's root is the Latin word “sugere” which means “to go straight up or rise.” Re-surrection, then is “re” plus “sugere”.
“Re” is a prefix that means “again, anew, and back”. Through the Resurrection, Jesus was victorious over death. Through the Resurrection, Christ became alive again, he was transformed, and he went back to Heaven. Through the Resurrection, Jesus opened eternal life to all who believe.
Jesus is risen and new life conquers death. Could it be that Jesus, assumed to be a gardener, shows us through his redemptive work, we have been reconciled back to to the garden?
We know that when Jesus was on the cross and one of the criminals said “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”; Jesus replied that the criminal would be with him in Paradise. (Luke 23:42-43)
When you look up “Paradise” in the dictionary, you'll find, “the garden of Eden” and “Heaven”.
Christ is risen! We have been given the gift of eternal life. We give our praise. Let us remember also to give our thanks. Thank you, Jesus! Thank you God! Blessed be and Amen.
April 24, 2011
Scripture: John 18:1-18
The Easter Nudge
Rev. Leanne Walt preaching
Of all the places that Clare could have been last Easter Sunday, she found herself in Heathrow Airport. She was returning with some friends from two week’s vacation in Turkey. From Constantinople and Istanbul to Ephesus, Clare had been enmeshed in history and rich culture as she traveled through the country of Turkey. It had been the trip of a lifetime; she told me when she had returned home. But what she hadn’t anticipated was how difficult it would be to spend Holy Week in a predominately Muslim country – not because the people there were Muslim, not at all, but because she, personally, felt disconnected from the signs and symbols and stories of her faith.
This was the first Holy Week that Clare hadn’t joined her three-generation Polish American family in Connecticut to prepare Swienconka (Sh-veen-soon-kah). Good Friday would have be spent, from dawn until dusk, preparing hardboiled eggs, symbolizing life and resurrection, butter lamb, symbolizing Christ, babka (bob-kuh), a bread-like cake, symbolic of Jesus, ham, symbolic of joy and abundance, homemade horseradish, symbolic of the bitter sacrifice of Christ, salt, representing purification, kielbasa, cheese, and they would carefully place these items that they have created in a basket woven with boxwood and lined with crisp white, lace napkins. On Holy Saturday Clare’s family would join other Polish Americans in bringing these beautifully adorned baskets to church. Families place their swienconka that they have prepared on a long table in the center of the sanctuary and the priest presides over this table of sustenance and abundance and he blesses it and then with a small canister, he sprinkles holy water on each basket. Families return home on Holy Saturday with their Swienconka and it remains untouched until after Mass on Easter morning, when they come together around the table to celebrate the presence of the living Christ in their hearts and homes and lives.
As she sat in a café at Heathrow Airport waiting for her connecting flight, Clare thought of the Swienconka that her family had prepared back at home, she imagined the priest setting his hands over the basket and the blessed, sacred waters falling upon it. Then, an amazing thing happened, she told me as tears welled up in her eyes, she overheard the couple a few tables over from her speaking to one another in Polish. She got up and went over to the couple and said hello to them in Polish. They talked for a bit and exchanged an Easter greeting. That’s all it took, an ocean away from her roots and she felt connected to the resurrection spirit that Easter day.
The first Passion of the Christ in Ixtapalapa, Mexico was in 1843, in the midst of a cholera outbreak. The story goes that after the reenactment of the Passion in the streets of the impoverished city, cholera deaths began to decline and within a few months the epidemic had ended. Whether fact or fiction, the Easter tradition of acting out Jesus’ final days on earth in this area of Mexico City has continued ever since. Each year in Ixtapalapa, or what’s commonly referred to as a “barrio muy popular”, which is really a euphemism for a poor and unsafe neighborhood, hundreds of people come together to reenact the Sermon on the Mount, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, the feeding of the five thousand, and the last supper.
For this week, the people of Ixtapalapa set aside and step outside of their normal lives as students, laborers, or housewives and they come together to offer God their love and enthusiasm and to stand within the hope.
Leticia Vizcaino, who holds a day job as a manager in a restaurant, played Mary in this year’s Passion procession in Ixtapalapa. In character, Leticia kneels at the foot of the cross on a hill overlooking Mexico City and she cries out with tears streaming down her face. Leticia prays that her role as Mary will, “show the people how Mary is suffering right now over the difficulties of her community.”
I imagine that as she made her way to the tomb on that first Easter morning, before the sun had risen, Mary Magdalene must have been very angry for what they had done to Jesus. She must have been very afraid for her own life. So, when she arrived at the tomb and discovered the stone rolled away it is no wonder that she ran as fast as she could, in the opposite direction to go get the others. She went to get help from Simon Peter and the other beloved disciple, “They have taken my Lord and I do not know where they have laid him,” and the three of them quickly ran back to the tomb and indeed Jesus’ body was not there. Peter and the other disciple turned around and they went back home, but Mary, she stayed. She stood, weeping outside of the open, empty tomb. In utter grief and despair and it was in that moment that Jesus came to her, “Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you looking for?”
“Sir,” she said, “If you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him.”
And with the simple whisper of her name, “Mary”, Jesus told her everything she needed to know in order to understand. “Fear not...for I have called you by name, (Mary) you are mine” (Isa 43:1-2).
Mary understands and Jesus says to her, “Do not hold on to me. Go to my brothers and sisters and share with them what you have experienced, this news of resurrection.”
It is easy to get stuck in our own heads, trapped in our own minds when thinking about the resurrection. We have a tendency to try to intellectualize the resurrection as an actual event. In what ways can we quantify or qualify the events of that first Easter morning?
Yet, the scene on resurrection morning between Jesus and Mary at the tomb is deeply emotional and personal; it is not intellectual, but experiential and visceral. Mary weeps and waits in the emptiness of his grave until Jesus calls her by her name, “Mary.” And then, she understands and she goes, to be with the others.
There is a certain enchantment about Easter that nudges us here to this particular place on on this particular day. Easter nudges us toward a deeper relationship with God, one in which we are searched and known intimately, our deepest hopes, fears, losses, dreams exposed and nudging us onward, to a new hope, to a new faith; there is something about Easter that nudges us toward one another, to be with family and in community. As we experience Jesus whispering our name, we are nudged toward hope that transcends intellectualism and reason.
On that first Easter morning, Mary crossed a border she didn’t even realize she was crossing. She crossed over from the world that nailed her Lord to a tree, a world in which hope was a constant danger, where peace had little chance, where the rich got richer, where physical and material strength always won out, where oppression was the norm to a world of life and hope.
Easter nudges us onward into such a world. Easter nudges us toward visceral, physical signs of hope and life and community. Easter nudges us toward lilies in memory of those who have received eternal peace with God, grace upon grace, and in celebration of those who are with us to share in this life here and now.
What do you expect from an Easter world? In your relationships, your family, your neighborhood, your nation, your world? Beyond the intellectualism of this day, how does the resurrection rest upon your heart? How does it draw you out toward others? Where will there be unforeseen joy and good news in your life?
The resurrected Christ is an experience, and we are experiencing it together right here, right now, this morning. The resurrected Christ comes to us through the senses. In Easter lilies; in baskets of eggs and kielbasa; in parades of people in first century costumes marching on through the streets of a barrio muy popular, in the simple utterance of our name, Easter nudges us onward to a new hope.