I was standing with my young sons on the edge of a cornfield. It was late-December and snowing. We let the dog off her leash and watched as she ran across the field. Then she turned and leapt her way back toward us, jumping rows of downed cornstalks two-at-a-time. Bits of unfrozen soil flew through the air. I bent down so my face was even with that of my youngest son. We watched together. The falling snow thickened and the wind picked up. We could hardly see the opposite side of the field. “It’s very pretty,” he said. There was nothing really special about the place—a farm field that abutted a soccer pitch and a schoolyard. But my son was right; it was very pretty. As I dug the dog’s leash out of my pocket, the snowflakes grew heavy, like airborne slush. By the time we got home and I returned to sermon-writing, it was raining. Weeks later we learned that 2020 tied 2016 as the warmest year on record.
There is much at stake in the ecological crisis unfurling around us: places we love, crops we grow and eat, ecosystems we depend on in more ways than we know, even the character of the world our children will inherit. Despite all this, our collective response is falling far short. Too much of our action, including that of the church, is merely individual or half-hearted. What is the way forward? What would meaningfully address the crisis of climate change? Seth Klein’s new book, A Good War: Mobilizing Canada for the Climate Emergency aims to answer this question.
It was an improbable scene. The extended family and close friends of Cornelius had gathered in the courtyard of his large house. This was in Caesarea, a port city along the Mediterranean coast. They were there to listen to a speaker that Cornelius had invited from Joppa, a town further south on that same coast. When the speaker arrived, the second thing he said was, “You know it’s illegal for me to be here.”
There’s a story about a theologian from Texas who was invited to give a lecture on the campus of Harvard University. The theologian wanted to get some work done before giving his lecture, so he set out to find the library. Looking for some help, he asked a passing graduate student, “Excuse me, where’s the library at?” The graduate student replied, “Sir, at Harvard we don’t end a sentence with a preposition.” The theologian rephrased, “Okay, where’s the library at, jackass?”
I like this story because it reminds us that sometimes in our urge to be presentable we miss what’s important. I also like it because it reminds me that there are worse things than ending a sentence with a preposition.
Over these past few weeks we have been thinking about what it means to be an Easter community. Today the question I would like to put before us is more personal: What does it mean to be an Easter person?
It’s spring here in eastern Ontario. The low-lying spots where we went skating just a few weeks ago are now stopover sites for migrating ducks. The fencerows and backyard shrubs host the birds that booked the earliest flights out of the south. While the birds were away and while the snow and ice accumulated, I spent time considering the natural world from a different perspective.
God, inspired by the psalmist, we ask for the gift of unity. In a world where scapegoats are made and the vulnerable are exploited, grant us the gift of solidarity, even as the cross expresses your solidarity with us.
Today our central reading is from the book of Acts. We’re going to stay in this book for a few weeks. As you probably know, the book of Acts is a continuation of the story Luke began in the gospel that bears his name. Both books are written to someone named Theophilus, a name that means “loved by God.” So the Gospel of Luke tells the story of Jesus, and the book of Acts begins the story of Jesus’ impact upon the world.
What we’re diving into, then, is an account of what Easter meant to the first Christians. Without the resurrection, the life of Jesus would have meant something quite different. Now, before we begin thinking about the story Luke tells in Acts, I want to put a question in front of us. It’s this: What do we hope people remember about our community of faith from this moment in time?
Status Update: Still a pastor; also, I have received a first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.
I’m not usually excited to share personal medical info, but I’m happy to share this good news. I know some of us are feeling a little wary of these vaccines. While I don’t want to offer any medical advice, I will say that I’m feeling fine and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to get a vaccine. I can’t get back to the visitation schedule just yet, but this is a definitely step in the right direction. One more thing . . .
Despite the pastel palette, despite the chocolate, despite the fake grass, Easter is jarring. Easter is the unexpected bump at the bottom of the slide that throws you into the air. Despite smiles and joy, Easter is not a neat landing. Easter is a surprise. It is a jolt. Easter is an illogical conclusion.
People often used to ask me to name my favorite Bible verse. I don’t have one. I’ve never had one. So when asked, I would usually say I liked the whole Bible or I would name whatever verse I had read most recently. Or if I was feeling snarky I’d name the verse where Jesus rebukes the religious leaders for over-valuing the Scriptures. Actually, there was a time when I would piously mention Deut. 23:13 as my favorite verse. I gave myself extra points if I could keep a straight face.
In December of 1874, the naturalist and writer, John Muir explored the forests of the Yuba River watershed in central California. Muir was a tall, thin man, usually pictured with a bushy beard and a button-up coat. Now, it’s important for us to recognize that, although Muir’s thinking on wilderness preservation and nature was far ahead of his time, his attitudes toward Black and Indigenous people were not. He was retrograde in that way. But Muir’s writing on nature is luminous.
Muir was staying with a friend during his Yuba River excursion. One day a great windstorm swept into the area. Muir tells us that there is always something exciting about the sound of a strong wind in a forest. It flows like water through the trees. It brings scents and ephemera from far off places. The windstorm of 1874’s December was, Muir said, one of the most “beautiful and exhilarating storms I ever enjoyed.” And enjoy it he did. Muir left his friend’s house and began to wonder through the forest watching the effect of the wind in the trees. He saw how they bent, how the great stems pulled at their roots.