Foundry UMC

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The Way the World Is

April 30th, 2017

A sermon preached by Rev. Ginger E. Gaines-Cirelli at Foundry UMC, April 30, 2017, the second Sunday after Easter.

 

Texts: Psalm 19:1-6, Job 12:7-10

 

 

This past week, I traveled alongside other Foundry folks to Newark, New Jersey to stand witness at the Judicial Council’s public hearings on the case brought against the Western Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church regarding their election, consecration, and assignment of the Rev. Karen Oliveto as a bishop.  Bishop Oliveto, the UMC’s first openly gay bishop, is an accomplished pastor whose gifts, and graces for episcopal leadership are abundantly clear to everyone.  At issue for those bringing the complaint is nothing to do with her competence, loyalty to the UMC, or faithfulness to Jesus, but rather Bishop Oliveto’s sexual orientation and marriage.  On those grounds, the argument went, the actions of the Western Jurisdiction to elect, consecrate, and assign Bishop Oliveto should be found to be “null, void, and of no effect.”  And I thought to myself, “There’s no way any human, legal process can nullify or make ineffectual what Spirit is doing in and through Bishop Karen and the deeply discerned actions of our siblings in the West.”  The ruling that came out on Friday simply upheld what we already know to be unjust policy.  It changes nothing about Bishop Oliveto’s profound and powerful ministry; nor can it take away any of the grace that has flowed into the world through her or through countless other LGBTQ clergy who have served from the beginning.  Human laws can try, but will always fail to hinder God! (ref. Acts 10-11) Even so, human laws can be cruel. They can do harm. Our church’s laws continue to do harm.

 

But this is the way the world is.  The human family divides, rejects, litigates, belittles, and does harm in so many ways—and for all sorts of reasons that are simply unnecessary and so often driven by fear.

This weekend, our Sacred Resistance action was to participate in the People’s Climate March, a powerful witness of our commitment to faithful stewardship of and advocacy for clean air, water, land, healthy communities and a world at peace.  We know that there is a climate crisis, that ocean temperatures and levels are rising.  We know that human activities and industries are largely responsible for this, for the pollution of water, air, and land, and for the destabilization and destruction of entire ecosystems.  We know that there is a tragic intersection of injustice between the environmental crisis and the poor.  Over the course of the past several months, the much touted word “deregulation” has—at least in my mind—caused no shortage of anxiety.  Perhaps there are rules and regulations that do not, in fact, protect the creation as they were intended to do.  But I confess that when I hear the word “deregulation,” all I can think of is that businesses, industries, and manufacturers will be given free rein to do whatever they want as cheaply as they want with no thought of the environmental or communal consequences.  Some will do the right thing because their leadership and mission are guided by a strong moral compass.  Others—and my cynical side fears most others—will lack such discretion. 

 

But this is the way the world is.  The human family so often forgets our interdependence with each other and with all the creation.  We become short-sighted and seek what is most expedient and “cost effective” instead of what is most loving and mutually supportive. 

 

The way the world is can feel so heavy and leave us weary and hungry for something that nourishes our need for hope, for a sense of solid ground, for beauty, for tenderness.  What a gift it was to see the Pope’s TED talk[i] go viral this past week.  In the talk, Pope Francis speaks of our need for one another, of the need for a robust understanding and practice of solidarity, and for a “revolution of tenderness.”  What is the “tenderness” he is talking about?  “Tenderness is not weakness,” he says, “it is fortitude.”  “It is the love that comes close and becomes real. It is a movement that starts from our heart and reaches the eyes, the ears and the hands. Tenderness means to use our eyes to see the other, our ears to hear the other, to listen to the children, the poor, those who are afraid of the future. To listen also to the silent cry of our common home, of our sick and polluted earth. Tenderness means to use our hands and our heart to comfort the other, to take care of those in need.”[ii]

 

These words were “soul food” for me this week.  A powerful and timely reminder that even when it seems that the voices of rejection and division and fear and deregulation will prevail, the voice of love and Gospel pops up in unexpected places—I mean it’s the Pope giving a TED talk!  Life emerging in unexpected places always strikes me—for example, the sight of a tuft of grass or a single flower creeping up through a tiny crack in a sea of concrete pavement.  For me, that very small thing points to a very large truth:  the power of life, fueled by the love and presence of an endlessly creative God, is stubborn and determined.  Life and love will always, ultimately prevail.

 

We heard a few verses from one of Job’s speeches this morning.  In general, Job represents the voice of suffering when no “soul food” is available; Job knows full well the way the world is. And the book as a whole is a beautifully challenging meditation on the nature of virtue, suffering, reward and punishment, and the nature of the God-human relationship.  But today, the words of Job proclaim—in the midst of his suffering—a simple tenet of ancient wisdom:  the earth and its creatures “teach” and “declare” that God is the source and sustainer of life and breath.  Psalm 19 captures that wisdom this way:  “The heavens are telling the glory of God; and the firmament proclaims God’s handiwork.” (Ps 19:1)  Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins expands upon the Psalm in his poem, “God’s Grandeur.”  Some lines from that poem:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

 …

 And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

 And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell…

 

And for all this, nature is never spent;

 There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

 And though the last lights off the black West went

 Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

 World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.[iii]

 

Whenever I share a poem of any kind in public, I can’t help thinking of my daddy who loved to tell the story of his college English class in which his reaction to poetry—as an accounting major—was general frustration and aggravation.  “Why not just say what you mean?” he’d ask.  He may not have used any formal poetic way of speaking, but my dad did speak with the wisdom of Job and the Psalms.  In the face of my worry or stress, daddy regularly reminded me that “the sun comes up every morning and there’s nothing we can do to change that.”  This, just another way of saying, as Hopkins does, that for all our human smear and smudge, “nature is never spent” and “morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs” every day.  From my front window, I often watch the sun rise.  And it proclaims something powerful: it is a new day, a new start, a new life. I can begin again.  It is a regular reminder that “new every morning is God’s love…”

 

I don’t know about you, but one of the things that consistently helps me regain a sense of balance, hope, and general well-being in the face of anxiety and stress, is to be outside, to look at the trees, to listen to the birds, to walk barefoot on the grass, to feel the breeze against my skin, to smell the scent of flowers or wet earth.  It recalibrates my blood pressure to pet and play with the dog and cat who share our home.  Even if it’s with the aid of allergy medicine or a great picture window through which to take it in, my guess is that all of us can be fed and nourished by intentional engagement with earth, wind, fire, water, and all the plants and creatures and energies in this beautiful world.  The animals and plants speak…they teach us things about life and about God.  You never know when you will see or receive something that restores your hope, that calls you back to something more real than all the litigation and destruction so prevalent all around us.  Wendell Berry gives us this vision:

After the bitter nights

 and the gray, cold days

 comes a bright afternoon.

 I go into the creek valley

 and there are the horses, the black

 and the white, lying in the warm

 shine on a bed of dry hay.

 They lie side by side,

 identically posed as a painter

 might imagine them:

 heads up, ears and eyes

 alert. They are beautiful in the light

 and in the warmth happy. Such

 harmonies are rare. This is

 not the way the world

  1. It is a possibility

 nonetheless deeply seeded

 within the world. It is

 the way the world is sometimes.[iv]

 

As we continue through this Easter season and this “Soul Food” series, I encourage you to add to your diet some intentional time outside.  You never know when you’ll be given the gift of experiencing the way the world is sometimes.  You never know when you will catch a glimpse of harmony.  The world is that way sometimes; it could be that way even more; and ultimately, by God’s grace and in God’s mercy, it will be that way always…when, in the fullness of time, all things are reconciled and made new.

 

[i][i] https://www.ted.com/talks/pope_francis_why_the_only_future_worth_building_includes_everyone/transcript

[ii] Pope Francis, Ibid.

[iii] Gerard Manley Hopkins, “God’s Grandeur,” https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems-and-poets/poems/detail/44395

[iv] Wendell Berry, “2008: I,” This Day: Collected & New Sabbath Poems, Berkeley: Counterpoint, 2013, p. 315.

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