By Rev. Heather Blais (View the sermon and worship here).
In today’s lesson from Exodus, we witness a frustrated, weary, and hungry congregation. They also seem a tad forgetful. Even though God:
….spared them from the plagues;
….guaranteed their freedom from Egypt;
… parted the Red Sea for their safe journey into the wilderness;
… and provided water to quench three days of thirst;
… the congregation was longing for the old, familiar guarantees of bondage.
Their forgetfulness and complaint is an uncomfortable reminder of just how much we dislike change and transition.
Yet God understands our forgetful nature, and she hears our cries. God responds to the Israelites by providing them with quail and manna. Manna in Hebrew literally means, “What is it?” We are told it is a fine, flaky substance; like frost on the ground. When the congregation sees the manna, they ask Moses, “What is it?” Moses tells them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.” For the next forty years, this miraculous substance nourished the hungry congregation.
Within the rabbinic tradition of midrash, it is suggested that the manna could literally taste like whatever someone expected it to taste like. For those who felt distrustful of the new substance, concerned it might taste like eating snails or frog legs...well, they got to taste snails or frog legs. For those who grew sick of the same meal day after day, like a child who is forced to eat peanut butter and jelly for lunch their entire childhood, well, it would taste like the food they were sick of eating. For those who looked at the manna as delicious, and imagined a perfectly ripe tomato, or freshly grown zucchini, or a piece of warm bread...well, they would taste the delicious food they imagined possible.The manna anticipated the perception of each individual. Was the manna poison or punishment, or was it a reflection of God’s grace and abundance?
This story is all about our struggle with perception. Will we view our own time in the wilderness as something to survive and endure? Or can we trust that even in the harshest moments of the wilderness, we will be able to find the good? If we expect the worst, we will surely find it. If we look for the good, we will surely find it.
The same may be said about our perception of the climate crisis. The earth is literally on fire, and we have to decide how we will perceive that news and how our perception will influence our actions.
This week alone, we have been reminded of…The wildfires burning along the west coast, even as the haze from the smoke can be seen on the east coast. Our southern shores prepared to be inundated by yet another hurricane. Global warming shattered part of the ice shelf in Greenland. Meanwhile, those of us in North America and Europe keep up our mantra to consume, consume, consume, and send our plastic waste to the global south where the poorest of the poor can try and sort through to see what few bits might be recyclable, as the rest waits 1,000 years to decompose. And this is a soft news week…
We can hear this news and complain to God,
“What can I possibly do about it?”
It was so much easier before we knew the earth was on fire…Before our faith, science, and climate activists asked us to take responsibility for our actions and embrace our calling as custodians of creation. We can perceive the climate crisis as something that is impossible to fix. We can be overwhelmed into doing nothing. Or we can try to perceive these headlines as an invitation into a journey of change, where we reflect on our behaviors and actions, find ways to shift practices in our own lives, and advocate for policy changes.
We are blessed to live in the Pioneer Valley, where affordable, local, healthy food surrounds us and is available to us year round. We are blessed to have programs that allow those on fixed incomes to more affordably access Community Supported Agriculture or shop at the Farmer’s Market. We have a community farm AND a community garden. We have several stores following cooperative business models, and we have a Compost Cooperative empowering those who were once in jail to find new and meaningful work. There are over 10,000 different ways we could easily shift our practices that would play a small role in helping to address the climate crisis. Pick the practices which make sense to you and your context. And if you are unsure where to begin, talk to a member of our Green Team.
One way that our actions can have a more profound impact, is if we take a bit of our energy and devote it to address public policy changes--whether that be for the climate crisis, racial reconciliation and healing, advocating for those with inadequate food, housing, health insurance and so on. It can sound daunting, but it doesn’t have to be.
The easiest thing I have ever done to effect policy change was to get involved with the Episcopal Public Policy Network. This organization is a “...grassroots network of Episcopalians across the country dedicated to carrying out the Baptismal Covenant call to "strive for justice and peace" through the active ministry of public policy advocacy.” Every three years representatives from across the Episcopal Church gather at our General Convention and make decisions around how our branch of the Jesus Movement will engage in worship, social justice, evangelism, and much more. This is the place where our theology becomes more expansive, and where we dig into the social justice work needed to transform our world from the nightmare it is to so many, into the dream God created it to be. This is where our elected delegates adopt resolutions, such as 2018-A020 where the Episcopal Church voted to divest from fossil fuels and reinvest in clean energy and to do the work of advocating for these kinds of policy changes. Whenever Congress has a law that might relate to this particular resolution, all subscribers of Episcopal Public Policy Network receive an ‘action alert’ email where we can fill our name and email and they will send a communication to our elected officials on our behalf. I cannot change public policy on my own, but as the Church we have a collective voice in influencing public policy together.
The second easiest way I have ever affected policy change was by voting in every single election--no matter how little or small. We just have to show up. And this year, if that doesn’t feel safe, call your Town Clerk and request an absentee ballot be mailed to you. The people we elect to our local select-boards and city councils, let alone Massachusetts representatives or national leaders, make decisions about every aspect of our lives. These are the leaders making decisions that will affect the future of this fragile earth, our island home.
This creation season, I want to invite each of us to examine our perceptions around the climate crisis and our role in implementing change. God has provided us with the manna to engage in this work. How will we perceive the manna that we’ve been given? Amen.
By Rev. Dr. Molly Scherm. (View the sermon and worship here).
Peter came and said to Jesus, “Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, how often should I forgive? As many as seven times?” Jesus said to him, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.
I’ll bet Peter thought that he had really gotten the message, that Jesus would be proud of him for understanding the importance of forgiveness. I’ll also bet that he felt rather crushed by Jesus’ reply, which amounts to saying that Peter ALWAYS had to forgive, and that he would never have forgiven “enough”.
Jesus followed his answer to Peter with a distinctly disturbing parable.
It’s about a king who shows mercy to slave who has accumulated massive debt by entirely forgiving the debt.
The parable goes on following the slave who has been forgiven, who in turn runs across a fellow slave who owes HIM money. The one who has been shown mercy, when his opportunity comes, has no mercy at all, and arranges for his debtor to be thrown into prison.
When the king learns of the first slave’s hard-heartedness, he turns him over to be tortured.
Jesus tells the story with a frequent and familiar introduction: “The Kingdom of Heaven is like this”, and it’s not hard to understand the point, especially if we pay attention to the figures involved in the two slaves’ debts:
This parable-of-the-Kingdom reminds Peter – and us - how extravagantly we are forgiven by God:
Our failings are numerous, beyond measure, and yet we are loved and accepted by God beyond our deserving or our comprehension.
The parable asks us - how, then, can we refuse to extend compassion and generosity to one another?
A good sentiment, but I’m sure we all know what a huge ask this can be.
Some of the wrongs we are called to overlook – a phone call not returned, a thoughtless remark, are small potatoes, and forgiving them doesn’t cost much and even allows us to feel good about ourselves.
Other debts can cause us so much pain that they feel utterly unforgiveable. Some of the wrongs done us cause true, ongoing hurt every time we think about them and seem like they’ll never go away. Wrongs can be hardest to forgive when the other person won’t acknowledge or take responsibility for their wrongdoing, let alone apologize.
Holding onto unforgiven hurts can ultimately do more damage to the one who cannot forgive than it does to the wrongdoer, however. Nurturing resentment, hurt, and anger can become its own prison, leading us into bitterness and self-pity that separate us from others. Forgiveness frees us.
You may be familiar with a story that was much-publicized back in October of 2006; it’s worth remembering again.
A man in Lancaster County PA was unable to get over his grief over his daughter’s death, nine years previously, and was unable to forgive God. He entered a one-room schoolhouse in a nearby Amish community and shot ten young schoolgirls to death.
It’s a horrible story, and one can barely imagine what it may have felt like to the peace-loving Amish community. But their response was equally unimaginable. Here’s an excerpt from a report at the time:
In the midst of their grief over this shocking loss, the Amish community didn’t cast blame, they didn’t point fingers, they didn’t hold a press conference with attorneys at their sides. Instead, they reached out with grace and compassion toward the killer’s family.
The afternoon of the shooting an Amish grandfather of one of the girls who was killed expressed forgiveness toward the killer, Charles Roberts. That same day Amish neighbors visited the Roberts family to comfort them in their sorrow and pain.
Later that week the Roberts family was invited to the funeral of one of the Amish girls who had been killed. And Amish mourners outnumbered the non-Amish at Charles Roberts’ funeral.
Perhaps Martin Luther King had it right: “Forgiveness is not an occasional act,” he said; “it is a constant attitude.”
Jesus calls on us to live out of a spirit of generosity, just as God shows immeasurable generosity to us – not keeping a record of wrongs done us and what we are owed in compensation - but of compassion for the many ways in which we all stumble and fail, a spirit of readiness to extend new chances to others, to let them get it right.
Having said all of this, I also believe that accountability is important, and that “get out of jail free” cards are not always called for, and not always what is best for us.
Considering this passage this year, in a time when we need and are trying to come to terms with the deep and persistent wrongs done by white America to our citizens of color, I also see it as dangerous to hold up limitless human-to-human forgiveness as an ideal.
I don’t have easy answers, but I do feel that there are some principles that are consistent with the Gospel that we need to hold in tension with the mandate to forgive.
Again, no easy answers, but I think there are some principles we might apply when looking at the question of forgiving wrongdoings:
So, hearing this gospel, let us strive to live into and extend to others the inexhaustible grace that has been extended to us. And let us do it with judiciousness and wisdom.
Let us extend compassion to one another in ways that help us all to take responsibility for our acts and to live, more and more, into the Kingdom of God.
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