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.
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