On Tuesday, I had an amazing experience with a group of people from this church community. And I wasn’t even in the church. I was sitting at my computer on Zoom in the parsonage. Thirteen other people were sitting at their computers, too. Afterwards, here is how some of them independently described their feelings about our gathering:
“Revitalized. Connected. Reinforced. Grateful. Excited. Inspired. Encouraged. Enlightened. Enlivened. Thrilled. Amazed. Empowered. Two people said they felt Energized. Three said Activated. And four said Hopeful.”
It sounds like Pentecost to me.
At Pentecost we celebrate God’s spirit poured out on God’s people who are inspired and empowered to carry out God’s vision of love for the world.
Tuesday was a Pentecost day.
Let me tell you about it. I didn’t know what to expect for our church’s discussion of Cathedral on Fire, a book about how the church might respond to the climate crisis. But what happened was far more than a discussion. As we began, some people expressed feeling overwhelmed, paralyzed, and disempowered in relation to the climate crisis. Some expressed their concerns that we are going in the wrong direction. Others expressed their fears for the future, especially for their children and grandchildren.
Some said that they recognize that something needs to be done but often feel like their individual actions don’t make a difference. Many spoke of their deep love of God’s creation – the earth, plants, and animals.
What encouraged me was that every single person spoke from the heart. People expressed their devotion for our common earth home and of their passion to care for this precious gift we have been given. The Spirit was present. At some point in the conversation, it was clear that we had moved from gathering to discuss a book and were now inspired to take action – not merely as individuals, but as a community. We were catching fire.
Writing about Pentecost, John van de Laar says, “it is a moment which changes everything, in which our lives are equipped and marked for God’s reign, and in which our quest to follow Christ is made possible through the gift of the Spirit.”
From my vantage point, Tuesday was that kind of a moment.
Often Pentecost is called the “birthday of the church.” And so at Pentecost, it bears asking: what is the purpose for which the church was born? What is the purpose of our church at this moment in time?
In Genesis, we have the first hint of God’s call to humanity, God’s call to us: “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.”
Tragically, as historian Lynn White points out, Christians have long misunderstood this passage – enabling the excesses of the industrial revolution and all of the mistreatment of the earth and her creatures that has followed – leading to our climate crisis.
What if, instead, we understood that the God-given purpose of humanity is to care for the earth and all her inhabitants? How might this change our understanding of who we are called to be as church?
It’s worth noting that the name Adam means “creature of the earth.” Not over the earth, above the earth, or in opposition to the earth. OF the earth.
In every generation, the people of God have faced challenges to fully enjoying the blessings of this life- poverty, disease, oppression, war, and violence. What we are now seeing in cities across the country is an eruption of pain due to deep, systematic injustices that have made it difficult for folks who aren’t white to fully enjoy the blessings of this country. And, never before in human history has the essence of what makes human life even possible, the well-being of our planet, been threatened to the degree it now is.
Rev. Jim Antal, the recently retired Massachusetts Conference Minister for the United Church of Christ and author, suggests that in this generation saving the planet is THE reason for the church to exist. The beautiful garden that was God’s first gift to humanity is desperately in trouble and it’s up to us – partnering with God and each other – to do something about it. As Rev. Brooks Berndt writes, “Caring for God’s creation has never been just another issue or cause. It is a calling that is fundamental to our faith.”
One of the things that called me to the Village Church was something that I read when I was in the Search process last summer on the church website “We regard care for the Earth as a spiritual discipline.” The question is, how?
Jan Richardson writes, “Pentecost reminds us that the Spirit draws us together and gives us to one another so that we may hear and see and know with greater clarity. This day challenges us to open ourselves beyond the limits of our individual lives to the Spirit who sets us ablaze for the healing of the world.”
There are many places in the world that are in need of healing. This week we are again witnessing the heartbreak and pain of racism in our country. The Coronavirus has exposed grave shortcomings in our health care system, especially in our care for elders. The virus has also exposed the folly of spending $740 billion on defense and $2 billion on the Centers for Disease Control. And these are just a few of the challenges we face. It is overwhelming. And it is no wonder that we often feel paralyzed to even try to do anything about any of it.
But, our Lord does not give us the option of putting our heads in the sand. He gives us each other and the assurance of his own Spirit with and within us so that we can be the healers the world needs. To follow Jesus, the question becomes for each of us as individuals and as a community – what part of the healing of the world is mine and ours to do?
Those who gathered on Tuesday no longer felt alone or isolated in trying to do their part to address the climate crisis. We felt the power and hope that comes from being in a community gathered out of love of God and love of God’s first and most essential gift to us, the creation. It is a sign of the Spirit’s presence, that those who participated on Tuesday were immediately ignited to take next steps.
Beginning next Sunday all of you are invited to join us in this movement of the Spirit – by making a commitment to 21 Days of Prayer and Action for the Earth. Those who participate will be given a short prayer and spiritual practice for each day and a list that the Creation Care group is already working on of things you can do to care for the Earth. You will be encouraged to keep a daily journal with brief notes about what you have done that day. At the end of the 21 Days we will reflect together on what this experience has been like, what it has taught us, and how it is calling us as individuals and a church community to move forward.
Those of us who are blessed to live surrounded by beauty, as we do on Cape Ann, have a call not only to enjoy and appreciate what we’ve been given, but to distinguish ourselves by how we strive as the Body of Christ to care for and protect God’s creation, our earth. Is it possible that at this moment in history it is our unique mission as the Annisquam Village Church to be like the disciples at Pentecost, gathered in beloved community, compelled by the Spirit, so that we can be on fire to bring hope and healing to our world, to the earth?
Already, 2020 has been a year unlike any other. May the Spirit that ignited the first disciples, the Spirit that was present Tuesday afternoon – even on Zoom! – the Spirit that gives life, gives purpose, and gives hope, continue to animate us as a beloved community to be stewards of God’s first gift to us, the earth. Amen.