We now face the third Category 5 hurricane in one month. We also have already dealt with a category 4 with hurricane Harvey. There is still tropical storm Lee in the Mid-Atlantic to contend with. Harvey, Irma, Maria, and Jose will all Impact shorelines and coastal areas or have already done massive damage. If anybody tried to tell me there is no global warming or climate change I will bitch slap them stupid with a lead purse.
Let’s say you have a sick child. 97 out of 100 doctors tell you there is a serious problem and you need to go to the hospital. Three of the doctors out of the hundred say there’s nothing wrong, and it will pass. Who are you going to believe? 97 doctors or three? Our planet is sick. 97% of scientists say global warming and climate change is real. 3% say it’s a hoax. I will believe the 97%. The remaining 3% are employed by the fossil fuel corporations, and they are more concerned about profits over planet, and the politicians they own are more interested in the same.
We are melting Greenland ice sheet at an alarming rate and could raise water levels 20 feet from melting the Arctic alone. That will destroy New York and Boston. When will republicans wake up? How many must die first? Antarctica is also melting, with a section of the Ice shelf the size of Delaware about to break off. This is not trivial. The intensity of storms and their frequency and destructive power, the droughts and fires, the melting ice, all are a product of the Carbon dioxide humans have been pumping into the atmosphere for 200+ years. Add the fires around the world, and we ARE warming the planet to where it will be a global disaster of monumental scope, and where billions will die as a result of forced migrations, famine, war, lack of water, and lack of space, not to mention the heat itself.
The signs are all there, and have been for a long time. Just this year alone, for the first time in human knowledge, a ship sailed the Northwest Passage from the Atlantic to the Pacific without an ice breaker. It might should great, but it is not. it means the Northern Polar Ice is melting so much it can’t re-freeze enough in winter. Water retains heat. Ice reflects it. The seas are getting warmer and melting glaciers faster. With Hurricane Harvey, the waters of the Gulf was 90 degrees, while the Atlantic was 86 degrees…ideal breading grounds for hurricanes. The warmer the water, the more powerful the storm.
It will only get worse, even if we act NOW. But if we act NOW, as a planet, we might moderate the severity of the problem, and give humanity, and life, a fighting change for the future.
There has been some major debate, and a lot of anger, over the actions of this administration concerning minorities, especially the Transgender community as it relates to Military service, and now DACA, with the 800,000 people who were brought to the United States as minors by their parents illegally, and who, in good faith, applied for the program started by President Obama to give these people a chance.
Now, this administration is trying to bar all transgenders from serving in an all volunteer military, a military which the current president did his best to avoid serving in. He has, by his action, declared that transgenders are unworthy, and resigned them to a 3rd class status in the United States.
With DACA, he has repealed the Executive Order by President Obama, in large part for his own hatred for anything Obama did, and to also pander to roughly 30% of the American public while turning a deaf ear and blind eye to the over 70% who wish DACA to continue.
This Administration has repeatedly shown themselves to be devoid of morality, ethics, empathy (as displayed publicly regarding Houston and Hurricane Harvey), compassion, respect, or even the law. This Administration has lowered itself to a level never seen in this nation before, including going to low as to show sympathy and support for White Supremacists and Nazi’s in the United States, two groups the United States fought wars against, and won. The White Supremacists are associated with the Confederacy, traitors to the United States and the Constitution, whose actions cost the lives of over 500,000 Americans. The Nazi’s plunged Europe, and the world, into a six year war in which 6 million Jews were exterminated, and over 20 million people, mostly civilians, were killed. This president showed his support to two evil movements that have sponsored murder and genocide on a grand scale.
As a nation, and a people, we are poised on a very delicate balance. Morality is being sacrificed in exchange for greed and power. While we are not a Christian Nation, per sey, we still pride ourselves in the United States as living by the values expressed in the Bible. Even that has been trampled upon and soiled by those in power. They treat the Gospels teaching with contempt, and have violated the 10 Commandments with complete abandon, all the while demanding they be displayed outside of court houses across the country. Why? They are incapable of living by those laws in the first place, so why post them?
It is time that the silent majority of this nation stand up and cry out, “ENOUGH”, and do what we can to bring this country back to sanity, where people are respected and rules are followed, and common sense is common. It is time past for this country to find their Moral center, where everybody has value and their civil and human rights are respected.
During the Month of September, the United Church of Christ celebrates the seasons of creation, a theme based series on all aspects of our planet as seen through scripture. This September 3rd, I gave my sermon on the Earth as a whole. While I did adlib a bit, and that can be seen from the MCCUCCinthevalley.com web site link for our broadcast services, the text and the reading is below.
The Guilt of Humankind
18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. 19For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; 21for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. 22Claiming to be wise, they became fools; 23and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles.
September 3 2017 Sermon Seasons of Creation Earth Sunday Romans 1:18-23
There is no Planet B
Elon Musk and Richard Branson have been devoting a fortune and change to their projects to colonize Mars in our lifetime. Naturally, they see the economic potential to mine and exploit our planetary neighbor, even though the superficial altruistic reasons of human expansion are in the forefront of their reasons. In short, they believe human survival hinges upon leaving Earth for distant planets, moons and stars. Noble idea, but for what it is worth, Earth is our home.
But Earth is also a home we have been doing some major damage to since the dawn of civilization, but in particular for the past 250 years and change. We have cut down forests, strip-mined the earth, overfished the seas, polluted the air and the water and the ground. We have covered the soil with concrete and asphalt and steel. We have deliberately and with malice, hunting animals either nearly to extinction, or totally to extinction. In the scope of human civilization, we have done more damage to our home, this planet, than any other species in the long history of the planet, and we have done it in record time.
Now we have billionaires who are making planets to leave and start over. But have we really learned our lessons well enough on Earth to be allowed to repeat our mistakes someplace else? The worst of it all, we think this is God’s vision for humanity. I seriously doubt God envisioned humanity to step off of the planet that has been our home, our mother, after we have totally trashed it, just to potentially do this to another world, and another, and so on.
There are two works of science fiction that have always struck me regarding what people are capable of doing to their home planet. In the Foundation Trilogy by Isaac Asimov, and Star Wars by George Lucas, they depict a home planet that is totally urbanized. The entire planet, in both stories, have been completely covered by ONE city. There is no longer any significant green space left, and the planets need to artificially generate oxygen, and obtain all of their basic needs of survival from off-world. Think about it. Is this what we want to see happen here?
Throughout our Christian upbringing, we are taught a simple, but very significant prayer. The words are different from translation to translation, and even from core religion to core religion, but the meaning remains, strong and powerful, if we only pay attention.
Our Abba, who is in Heaven, Hallowed by your name.
Your kindom come. Your will be done,
On EARTH, as it is in Heaven.
There is that term, that single, powerful passage. So many claim to be Christians, to follow Christ, but they have turned their backs on God, on Christ, and on humanity. They have turned instead to a different god, a golden god of greed, and have forgotten this is not our planet alone to do with as we please. Instead, we are charged with a solemn responsibility to “TEND” and care for this planet, to make it a Heaven on Earth. Such a responsibility is antithesis to strip mining, deforestation, poisoning rivers and streams, depleting groundwater, poisoning the air, dumping garbage into the oceans and seas, and paving over Paradise. We humans are one of the few animals that can and will deliberately foul our own nest to a point where it becomes uninhabitable.
And what about all that other life? What about the animals and plants we need to to survive? Some we eat, and others are necessary to either eat others, or with plants, to provide this planet with life giving oxygen? But it also not just about us? We are late comers to this existence. Granted, we have a larger brain (when we use it), but does that make us smarter or wizer? We have claimed superiority over other animals, and even over other people, just because we are more advanced in technology, or we use better tools, or have a different faith or culture, or even as it applies to the animal kingdom, language. But who is to say that animals do not talk, just because we don’t understand them? Who is to say they are not in total harmony with their environment, something we are not, and as such, are more civilized than we are, who constantly feel the need to destroy or alter God’s creation around us to suit our needs, rather than changing ourselves to suit God’s plan?
At the height of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th Century, we started pumping greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere at a rate unimaginable even today. The skies would darken from coal smoke and it was thought of as progress. The leaders of industry didn’t care what it was doing to the health of people, or even the planet, and gave the excuse of “what do I care? I’ll be dead long before it makes a difference anyway.” Well, we have run out of tomorrows. We have also run out of todays. “Claiming to be wise, they were fools, and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being…”
So, what happens now? What have we done to our home, and what are our limited options? Well, leaving for Mars is not really an option, since there is no way that planet is going to support 7.5 Billion people, plus the animals required to make our existence possible. So, what do we do here, and now? How do we honor God and God’s creation, our Mother Earth? In short, how do we save humanity?
The irony of it all is that the Earth will survive what we throw at it. The Earth Abides. It has survived the impact of a small planet that gave us our moon. It has survived being totally frozen. It has survived the Siberian eruption that created a great extinction. It survived the Chitzalu Impact 65 million years ago. The Earth can easily survive us. The question is, can WE survive us? Can we survive an altered atmosphere with an increase is carbon dioxide and methane, and a decrease in oxygen? Can we survive the famine that will happen as sea levels rise, destroying major population centers and coastal agricultural land? What will humanity do when the Earth gets even for what we have done? How will we explain that to God? I know if I trashed the house when I was younger, especially my parent’s bedroom, while they were away, the punishment would be rather severe. I guess that is why I never did it.
We are today trashing God’s house, God’s creation, God’s garden. We have lost sight of God’s plan and shown the wickedness and ungodliness in the human soul. Fortunately, that is not how it is with all humanity. In fact, that is not how it is even with most of humanity. As a species, we still try and do the right thing, mindful of our world, but we do make mistakes, and when we do, we go to great lengths to fix those mistakes. We show repentance for doing wrong, and God sees that. But there is still that minority who don’t care about the future of the planet, and this is where the real wickedness lies. These are the ones who suppress truth, foster lies, and all for greed.
“The world is not getting warmer. Just look at all the storms and the cold winters.” They think only in the moment, not in the long term. They ignore trends based on one winter. They reject the melting of the glaciers and ice caps, and say “it is just cycles of the planet” but refuse to see the time differences, and how fast things are happening. They do along as if nothing changes, and probably will remain in the dark even after the Netherlands flood, or Manhattan Island floods and can’t recover, or we lose New Orleans again, for good. What happens when the coastal plains of China, their rich rice regions are poisoned by salt water and can no longer grow rice? What will people say when Bangladesh and Venice disappear.
This earth is our responsibility to care for, to nurture, to protect, every bit as if it was our house, or even our own children. It is long past time for wisdom to rule over greed. It is long past time for compassion for all life becomes more important than a political party, or a bank account. You don’t go into a good friend’s home and trash the place, ruining the carpet and walls, breaking the furniture, destroying the plumbing and tearing apart the electrical, and expect a thank you. We don’t do that to the home of a friend, and we would not do that to our own home. At least, we shouldn’t.
So what do we do? As individuals, it is hard to see what kind of an impact we can make, what changes we can accomplish. Personally, I am only one in 7.5 billion humans on this planet, and that does not count the billions and trillions of other life. But it starts with one person at times, and that can spread to a small group and upwards. As a small group, we are saving water at this church with rain and water capture barrels. We are saving energy with solar panels, which cuts down on the consummation of coal or oil. We have torn up a lot of our back parking lot and turned it into a garden, which is not giving oxygen back to the atmosphere, and allowing water to soak back into the soil. We recycle. It might seem small, but we are not alone, and those numbers do build. We lead by example.
That happens by individuals, by churches, by companies and corporations. We only pray that before the damage goes too far, it can happen by enough governments to make the changes international and immediate. So, we lead by example, but we can also lead by applying pressure, expressing our fears and our desires. We make our voices count. God never meant people to be silence in the face of injustice or inequality. God never meant people to be silence when wrong is being done. We are commanded, in our scriptures and in our prayers, to stand up and defend that and those which cannot defend themselves. We are to protect the weak, the widows and orphans, and even the planet. We are to protect the animals from unreasonable harm. It is true that animals, and people, will take the life of an animal to eat, to survive, but we are also commanded not to murder, and that includes the wasteful slaughter of any life for sport. You don’t kill an elephant just to cut off the tail as a trophy, and especially claim to be a Christian, or a follower of God.
When we claim to know God, even though nobody can truly know God, we still honor God, or should. But to honor God means to honor what God has created, and that means to love that creation in all of its aspects. And when you love something, you protect it. You cannot claim to love a child with all your heart, and yet let them play on the freeway. You cannot claim to love your home, and yet allow it to become filled with garbage and all many of waste. When you love something or someone, when you love as God loves, you will do everything in your power to protect, to nurture, to defend. You will guard the garden you are given to care for with all of your strength and being. This is our charge. We are to make Heaven on Earth, not turn Earth into a wasteland.
If we fail in this task given us by God, if we destroy God’s gift to life, this beautiful planet filled with all the wonders there are still to behold, who’s to say God might not just replace us? Are we really God’s end design, or are we just another step in God’s evolution of life? It is our own arrogance that says we are the top of the pyramid. But are we? If we fail God, if we do not take care of this incredible planet, our Mother, or home, what’s next?
I, for one have a son, and nieces and nephews, and I wish they have children of their own in time, and each generation can enjoy the beauty of this planet I have when I was younger. I hope they can swim in crystal clear streams and rivers, and hike mountain trails unspoiled by logging or mining or graffiti. I want them to view skies so clear they are almost purple from a mountain top, and to spell air so clean it tingles your nose. I want them to enjoy nature as it is meant to be, not locked up in a zoo or museum because it can’t be seen anywhere else. That is what I know God wants us to preserve, to protect and to love. In spite of the visions of Branson and Musk, this is still the only planet we have, and frankly, I don’t want the next to inherit of our world to be a cockroach.
Water and Stone
In the natural world, conservatism is unnatural. It is a hindrance to the forces of nature. A mountain, or even a large stone, is a stationary force, a foundation, but it is a foundation that is always being changed by other forces acting upon it, but that stone does not act upon the other forces. Water, rain, snow and even wind will act upon the stone to change it, but all the stone can do is alter direction, for a time, or block for a time, but water and wind will always find a way around, over, under or through the stone. The stone will be forced to change, to surrender, to transmute into something else. The wind and the water will not change. They are the changing agents.
This is the nature of liberalism and conservatism. Conservatism will always block, to hinder, to retard just as the stone or mountain might block the river, but liberalism, like the water, will always win. It will always find a way to change the stone, to alter the landscape. It might appear at first to be change we do not want, but in the end, we discover the change is necessary. The mountain is majestic and imposing, but it is also a barrier to progress. But once acted upon by the liberal, changing forces of water and wind, that mountain becomes a fertile plain, rich in minerals, ready to bring forth crops necessary for life.
You might be able to dam up a river to serve conservative needs, to hold back the water, to restrict the flow, but in the end, it is the river that wins. The water will pile up behind the dam, exerting forces that will destroy the dam unless that water is allowed to flow. The water will find a way under, around, over or through that dam, and unless there is a means for the water to flow, the dam will fail and collapse.
The conservative stone might temporarily hinder the liberal water, and it might even alter the course, for a time, but in the end, the liberal water will always win, cutting its own path, changing everything around it, no less than water has done to the Grand Canyon, or in creating the Mississippi Valley, or in the form of Ice, to cut stone to fit its own design through glaciers.
Conservatism can never win. It can only hinder for a time, but if it tries too hard, if it resists too much or too long, it will not merely give way, but be destroyed. Liberalism will always be the force of change, of progress, or evolution, to alter the world into something better than it was. Liberalism creates. Conservatism does not.
Hell, The Devil and Evil
Christianity has spent a great deal of energy, often to the detriment and demise of millions of human beings, with the ideals of Hell, the Devil and Evil. But where do they come from, and why? Is there a Hell, that place of eternal torment for bad people? Is there a Devil who rules over Hell? Where does Evil come from?
First of all, our modern image of Hell is a Middle Ages construct as a means for the early church to scare the crap out of people to keep them in line. They added the Devil, that red pajama wearing, horned and tailed image, to terrify simple minds and to put of face on evil. That leads us to the last point, evil. Where does evil come from? Evil comes from within humanity when they reject God’s love and God’s laws regarding love, and our relationships in community with others and with nature.
While Satan is mentioned in scripture, it is important to understand that Satan is not this great evil we associate with the Devil. Satan is God’s advocate, to test people’s devotion to God’s will. You see this in Genesis, in Job, and in the Gospels. In short, Satan might best be seen as God’s shyster lawyer. But is Satan Evil? No. Satan is neutral, doing God’s bidding. The Devil, on the other hand, is that Middle Ages invention, mostly attributed to Dante. The purpose of the Devil, and this image of a horrible place called Hell was to control the masses, to give them something to fear above all else, and a place where church authority could point to as where bad people who don’t adhere to the ultimate authority of the church go, especially on the say-so of the church itself.
The devil is not some being to fear on the outside, but the evil that resides within people who do evil. It is that force that rejects all that is good and works hard to serve only one master, themselves, to the detriment of everybody else.
Where this fails in biblical understanding is simple; God, according to Christ Jesus, is an all forgiving and all compassionate God. Why would such a God even conceive of a place like Dante’s hell, or a devil to rule it? But this also begs the question about evil, and what are the consequences for major sin. God didn’t create evil. People did.
If there is no hell, and no devil, what happens to those who live very evil lives after they die? Would God just forgive them of their deeds while living? Would we find souls such as Hitler’s and Nero’s and Caligula’s in Heaven today? Where they forgiven of the horrific sins against humanity and God that they have committed? It’s a good question, and also a question on where does evil come from.
There are consequences for our actions, but in the end, God does forgive, but in God’s own time, and to God, a second can be an eternity, and an eternity can be merely a second. But what would truly be hell to a spirit, a soul, but absence from God’s glory and love even if for a moment, or an eternity of moments, until their penance is done? To be deprived of God’s presence would truly be punishment until God forgave.
As for evil, it does not require some mythological devil to inspire or create evil. It is not something God created though. Evil, true evil, is created by human kind. Evil comes into a person, or group of people, when they reject God’s call to compassion and love, when they reject the commandments to love God above all else, and love our neighbor as ourselves. Evil comes from selfishness, greed, power for power’s sake, and a lack of compassion and mercy. Evil comes when people reject all that is good in the world, what is beautiful, and set about on a pathway to destroy what they can’t have, or even destroy what they do have all for the sake of personal wealthy and power. Evil comes when the plight of the less fortunate is ignored, or abused, when people are mistreated through ignorance and fear, and when hatred for the other is greater than compassion or love.
Evil is in the hearts of humankind when they reject God, but this becomes particularly evil when it is done by people who profess they are acting for God. When you have pastors and priests and ministers who become rich upon the labors of others, and in turn feed them the lies of hate for the sinner who is the other, and that enriching the minister will help in the fight against the other, or those who terrify their own congregations in fear with Fire and Brimstone damnation if they don’t give ’till it hurts, leaving the minister rich and the people poor, of those who do it for their own ego of power and control, you have the worse of evil. These people pervert the Word of God into words of hate, not love. These people twist impressionable or weak minds into believing anything they are told, including who to hate.
Evil is what leads people to war, killing and death. Evil is what leads to great wealth, and great poverty, side by side. Evil is what leads men in power to punish the less fortunate, just because they can, or because they don’t like the life style, religion, race or gender of somebody else. When you use power to take away rights, to deprive people of equality and justice, health and the chance for prosperity, that is evil.
We often ask, why did God allow Evil like this into the world? In a nutshell, God didn’t. People did. God gave humankind the power to think, to reason, and to have free will of our actions. Granted, there are consequences for our actions. Those consequences can be good or bad, depending. Good consequences can be uplifting another person who is suffering in some way, or helping others less fortunate in any number of ways, and in the process, feeling the warmth in your own heart for the action. But down the line, because of your own acts, recognized by others, that good turn may come your way in reward. But we don’t do good deeds to seek such rewards. We do good deeds just because they are good, and it fills our own hearts with goodness when others are benefited.
Bad consequences, on the other hand, have a tendency to materialize in a more palatable way, and often much sooner. Hitler’s actions against Europe and Russia, as well as his own people destroyed him. The hateful and evil actions of many of his people led to the destruction of their own country. Dictators who abuse power often find, in the end, themselves hated and destroyed. Somebody as simple as a neighbor who is impossible to live near, can find themselves outcast in their own neighborhood, shunned by all. Hateful actions and behaviors can isolate people from community, leaving them alone. A time might come when they need help for something serious, and help will not be there. There are always consequences.
But this does not come from some mythical devil, or demonic spirits as some charlatan religious leaders might tell their flock. This kind of evil comes from within. If you really want to know evil, just listen to people in power, at whatever level, who use their power for causing pain to others. The Bully, the Liar, the thief, the corporate executive who treats employees like slaves, the politician who uses their office to further their own fortunes and power while neglecting those who voted for them, all show what evil is within people.
The Bible is filled with examples of such evil, and the lessons to learn from it. Sodom and Gomorrah are destroyed because they reject the sacred rights of hospitality, turning their backs on the stranger seeking safety. The parable of the Rich man and the Beggar, Lazarus, shows what happens to those who mistreat or neglect the poor, while hording their own wealth. The warning to nations in Matthew 25 speaks strongly of what becomes of those who deny God’s children for their own sake. Even the Beatitudes tell of how we are to treat others, and why. We are, in truth, our brother’s keeper, and they are ours.
So why is evil so attractive when the consequences can be so dire? Greed is a powerful force. It is like a drug. The more a person has, the more they need, and like a drug addiction, they will stop at nothing to have more, no matter who gets hurt along the way. They crave more money, more power, more things, and they will lie, cheat and steal to achieve it. For others, their greed is also short sighted. It is the immediate that matters, not the long term. They will destroy everything for the riches now, because they won’t be around to pay the price for what they have done. For others, evil becomes a means to an end, so satisfy pleasures of a hurtful nature that are outside convention. They lack empathy or compassion. It is all about themselves and the moment. And then there are those driven by the simple desire to inflict pain for its own sake, to commit violence on others because they derive an immediate sense of power born of fear.
But this is not God’s plan, nor God’s will. This is not what the Bible demands of us, nor what the Qu’ran asks, or the philosophies of a score of other faiths across the planet. At their core, all of the major religion’s writings speak of love, giving for others, compassion and respect. They call for harmony with nature and all life. But as humans, we have failed this in our own selfish nature.
There is still hope though, with those little moments combined with the goodness of individuals who shine above the rest, showing us the way. There are people who help light the light of reason and wisdom through the arts, in writing, film, music and paintings. They reach out to show humanity what its better nature can achieve, in spite of the struggles we all face. They give hope of a better world, a better humanity. All it takes for this to happen is for ourselves to want it to happen. We can reject greed, and power for power’s sake. We can seek to heal wounds rather than inflict them. We can treat others with deference and respect, kindness and mercy. We can give back the bounty we ourselves have received in life, to uplift others. Most of all, we can show our care for the planet, and all life upon it, with the desire to pass forward everything positive for future generations. We are not to have dominion over the earth, or each other.Â We are caretakers of the planet, and we are to be in harmony with all life upon it, especially each other. Star Trek had a wonderful quote from James T. Kirk many decades ago, when he told another planetary race that “Yes, he was a barbarian, but he chose not to be a barbarian that day.”
We have free will. He can choose to be evil, or we can choose to be good. We can walk in the light, or in the darkness. We can love and respect others, or we can fill our hearts with hate and fear, surrounding ourselves in ignorance. There is no devil other than our own darker and baser nature. But we are also angels with the capacity to make a paradise on earth as God calls of us, where all of humanity lives in a just piece. What will be chose? Heaven or Hell? It is up to us, and us alone.
This is my sermon at Chatsworth UCC this past Sunday.
Reading: Matthew 13:44-52
The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which someone found and hid; then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant in search of fine pearls; on finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.
Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and caught fish of every kind; when it was full, they drew it ashore, sat down, and put the good into baskets but threw out the bad. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Have you understood all this? They answered, Yes. And he said to them, ˜Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like the master of a household who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.
Sermon: All you need is love
It can be difficult to take much in the Gospels, or even many things in the bible for that matter, strictly literal, when even Jesus didn’t do that much of the time. He either told a story or a parable or some other antidote, or couch it in metaphor, to create imagery and symbolism. Abraham Lincoln did many of the same things when he wanted to get his point across, but didn’t want to give a straight answer, or to be pinned down with any kind of literal statement. Again, it was always in a fashion to get his listeners to think about what was being said, rather than just hearing the words without thinking, and to often internalize the parable, to find meaning in their own life experiences and internalize it…making it their own in a way.
I have found this with so many of the parables of Jesus and have also found those parallels in my own life, bringing greater significance to the parable, making it personal if you will. I do believe this was much of what Jesus hoped to achieve by this process.
These three readings are similar with others, such as when Jesus talked about the corrupting nation in our more conservative world with the highly disruptive nature of the mustard seed growing into a tree, or of the yeast being added secretly into the flower. Both of these examples indicate how unconventional, radical and wild God,..and heaven can be.
Once again, in these readings, Jesus stays with the parables, and again sets examples of what the kindom of heaven is all about. Our very nature sets so high a store upon it, or at least should, that we will go to any lengths to achieve it. It is a treasure so great we are willing to part with all we have to obtain it….or we should be. But heaven does not seem to be for everybody, as the last parable indicated. Some make it, like the good fish pulled up in the nets. Some are not so good a fish, and are picked out of the catch and cast into the fire to burn. But does Jesus mean this literally? He’s comparing us all to fish mind you, and he has done this before when calling upon James, John and Peter to become fishers for humanity.
No. Like all his parables, metaphor is used to represent one thing for another. We are not fish, nor wheat of even weeds, but people, and it is not a real net that will be cast, but the word of God through Christ that will be heard and believed and accepted, or rejected and ignored.
But what is that word? What is so important in humanity that Jesus would be born, that God would walk amongst us through Jesus, to experience humanity, and finally give up earthly life to share in our own fate in total empathy and community? That word is Love. In fact, that has always been the word. As God so loved the world……and the Bible is full of such references, for God’s unconditional love of all creation, and the great efforts in scripture to get us all to understand this, and what’s more, to love each other as well.
Love is also that connection we have with others, in harmony and peace, fellowship and family. It is what creates community and relationships. But love can also be misplaced, where we can love others, but receive no love in return, even if we think we are. But even in such a case, as the second great commandment tells us, we are still to love, even those we find difficult to love. It is easy to love those who love us back, but a great challenge to love those who do not, to show respect when none is given, to give compassion where none is returned. It can be painful at times, and can even seem like a betrayal of sorts, especially if we believed those we loved have loved us back, only to discover they never did.
God may also feel this as well. In fact, the story of the Prodigal Child is a prime example of that rejection of all God is to us and for us, to demand our share and to turn our backs and walk away. But in the end, we find that what we had in God’s love is more important than we realized, but have so much pride we find it difficult to come back to God and beg forgiveness. So few it seems realize that God is always there, waiting with arms outstretched, hoping for our return. There is no condemnation or guilt trips…there is only love.
But what do we do about those who are so hard to love? How do we then love when we find those we love do not love us, or even fear or hate us? The answer is simple to say, and terribly hard to do, but we are called to do it anyway. We forgive. We forgive them, and we forgive ourselves. We forgive them just as the loving parent forgave the Prodigal child. We take the high ground, if you will. We can also be the good fish at the same time, those prized and saved, or that excellent pearl, or the buried treasure. We remain worthy of life, even when we are not loved by those who might find trouble even loving themselves.
This was a hard learned lesson for me, and one that took a lot of soul searching as well. I had always loved my family, from my parents and brother to my aunts, uncles and cousins. I would do anything for them, and all they had to do was ask. After all, that is what family was all about, or so I thought. But my family, my relatives, also knew my secret from an early age, since my father had told them, so I was also that skeleton in the closet, the one they didn’t really talk about, and secretly feared.
I never knew this. I did not know the festering sore that was deep in the family mind, that cancer they could never forgive, or forget. But for 30 years, life just continued on, until my ex and I separated, and suddenly, that skeleton in the closet was no longer in the closet. Old fears came to the surface, and they closed ranks, shutting me out. It was another 15 years before the truth all came out.
The sadness to this story is this…all those years that I was unaware, but they lived in this hate, fear and dread, it hurt nobody but them. I was untouched. When I was older, it still did more harm to them than me, since now I had options and opportunities well beyond the relatives to create family, which I did. I never really suffered for their hate. And yet, through it all, I still loved them all, and I think lived the happier life for it all.
We are given a choice in life. We can love, as God commands us to love, and in that love, find joy, happiness and peace. We can find fellowship, relationships and community that are giving and warm. I have that. But we can also reject love, or withhold it from others. We can hold grudges and anger and resentment, which often never really impacts the object of our ire, and in doing so make ourselves miserable inside, sullen, depressed and alone. We can find ourselves cut off from people who might otherwise strive to love us, in spite of ourselves. This I could not do. But family meant more to me than it did to them, but in the end, I was left with no family to love, only miserable individuals, so I had to walk away to find my own peace and joy.
I never stopped caring or worrying or loving, I just had to do it from a distance. They never stopped resenting or hating or fearing me, for whatever reasons they had manufactured, and there was nothing I could do to change that.
They had trouble understanding what God calls us to do. They could not set aside their own self interests for those of God. Still, I will never believe they are the weeds to be burned, or the bad fish to be destroyed. I still feel that God loves them even more than I could, and much more than they could love me. That is also what forgiveness is all about. To forgive our sins as we forgive the sins of others. We ask this of God every time we say the Lord’s Prayer.
You see, love is that great pearl, to want to possess we will give up everything to have. Love is that great treasure in the field. Love is those good fish. No greater treasure is there than love. It is what brings us together, into community, relationships, friendships, marriage. It is what causes us to sacrifice something of ourselves for the sake of the others in our lives knowing they will to the same for us, or have done it, and will do it again, just because.
This is what the Gospels are all about as well. Gospel. God Speak. Good News. That is what it means. To hear the good news God speaks to us through Christ Jesus on how much God loves us as we are, how we are to live in harmony with God and all of creation, and how we are forgiven in that love.
But being forgiven has a price. This is also part of the third parable. There are always consequences for our actions, both here and beyond. The beggar Lazarus and the indifferent rich man is such an example of what could happen to those who turn a blind eye to the suffering of others around them. The story of the fish, or the wheat, is what happens when we also neglect our responsibility to others, to place selfish desires ahead of God. Matthew 25’s warning to all nations illustrates this. What we do the least of God’s children we also have done to God. After all, we are all God’s children, and as such, a bit of God is also within us, that spark of the divine.
It is not for us to speak as God, or to judge as God would judge though, for that is only for God. But we are to be merciful as God shows mercy, compassionate as God is compassionate, forgiving of others as God is forgiving of us. This is what the Gospels are all about. They are not about how God hates this group or that group, just because some human being says so. They do not know God if this is their claim, nor do they speak any kind of truth. To paraphrase the Bible, they would speak with the tongue of a viper.
Seek the Pearl and treasure it, for that Pearl is God’s love for us. Do everything you can to obtain that buried treasure, for that also is God’s love for us, and through that love we will know heaven. Be the good fish caught in the net, those who are willing and ready to hear the word, to live the word, to embrace the word so that all who see and hear you will understand your love. For the kingdom of heaven is, above all things, love.
|I couldn’t say it much better than Felix, so here his is report on our Conference for 2017. But personally, it was a joy to meet John Dorhauer and have the quality time to chat with him on Trans concerns and issues. He was a delight.
Sisters and Brothers.
For those of you, who attended Annual Gathering, thank you for your support! For those of you who didn’t, you missed an extraordinary event. Worship was out of this world! The Rev. Dave Sigmund and his team were awesome. The musicians and singers led us into “outside-the-box,” uplifting music as Dave invited us to open our hearts and ears to a different expression of worship.
The Rev. Dr. John Dorhauer, our General Minister and President provided challenging speeches and shared his dream for a more relevant United Church of Christ. Among the news he brought was the announcement of the UCCs full-communion conversations with the United Church of Britain and the United Church of Australia. We already have full communion with the United Church of Canada.
Our Moderator, the Rev, Matthew Redrich and our Vice-Moderator, the Rev. Chrissy Siva led the business section. Our delegates approved the following:
A discussion ensued about our budget. A point was raised about the need to delineate a more specific path towards a balanced budget. Our deficit continues to diminish and we celebrated the path that we spent a little over half of what we projected for 2016. At the same time we need to start delineating a more clear path as we move toward 2020. At our first Board meeting, right after Annual Gathering, I challenged our Board members to make this a priority for 2018.
We had various National and organizational guests that commented about the energy, enthusiasm, and vitality that exist in our Conference. In addition, they commented about our diversity in gender, age, ability, and race. There is much to be proud of and there is a lot of work that needs to be done. I would like to invite you to join in the excitement and support your Conference with your prayers, talents, and finances.
Finally, I would like to thank the large number of volunteers and our staff for making this Annual Gathering, what many have already called, “the best Annual Gathering, ever!” I look forward to next year. I hope to see you there.
Rev. Dr. Felix C. Villanueva, PCC
|UCC Southern Califonia Nevada Conference
2401 N Lake Avenue
Altadena, CA 91001
June 4 2017 Sermon Pentecost Sunday – Pride John 7:37-39
Jesus gives the living water which is the Spirit.
On the last day of the festival, the great day, Jesus stood up and proclaimed, “Let anyone who thirsts come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the scripture has said, ‘Out of that one’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.’” Now this he said about the Spirit, which those who believed in him were to receive; for as yet the Spirit had not been given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.
To be one in the Spirit
While this is Pentecost Sunday, it is a time when we can all celebrate who we are as individuals in God’s family, with pride, with self respect, and with the knowledge we are all loved. That’s the hard part.
All too often over the decades, evil people with evil intentions, often in positions of respect and authority, and even in clergy, have been telling people just the opposite. They don’t measure up to their ideal, they deviate form their plan or moral base, they upset their little world by their differences. Because of that, and their own inability to understand God’s love of diversity, they have used every means foul at their disposal to condemn, shun, marginalize, and even find excuses to kill.
It has been a long and hard struggle for the outsiders, but gradually, they are making some progress towards that inclusive love for all that Christ Jesus brought to this world. True, there are still a number of frightened people who still don’t get it, and placed around the world where being different still can get you jailed or killed, but it is changing.
A half century ago, just being transgendered openly would have been putting your life at great risk, and yet here I am, living my life openly, with respect and dignity. People change, and so do the times. Love is what causes this change in how people react to others around them. When we love, we are open to the living water, the Holy Spirit, and feel compelled in that love to love others, no matter who they are. We want to have for them what we feel in ourselves. We do not want to suffer from want, to feel pain or loneliness, and therefore, we do not want others to endure that either.
That is the power of the Holy Spirit within us. That is the living water that lets us thirst no more. What we had been thirsty for was God’s love, and the hope that love brings. We live with the innate knowledge of something better after this life of suffering, where our spirit again comes before God in love. We come to understand that our physical life is only temporary but our soul is eternal.
In that knowledge, we find that in life, we can do great things. We can move mountains, even if that is a metaphor, by surmounting great odds to enact changes in our world. As I said before, 50 years ago, being openly trans was nearly unthinkable. But a few brave souls dared the odds, braved the insults and ignorance of others, and took a stand. Gradually, others followed, until I am able to be who I am today, to stand here and be what I am, with pride in who I am. Even today, an open transwoman sits as a superior court judge in the Bay area of California. We’ve come a long way baby.
For the gay and lesbian community, heroes also arose, taking up the battle and winning hearts and minds and breaking down barriers. From Harvey Milk to Barney Frank, and a host of others, gays have entered politics, elected because of who they are, not what they were. But because of what they are, changes have happened. In California, transgender children can now openly attend school, with the law to protect them. That is pride. That is also the Holy Spirit at work within the hearts and minds of people who believe love is stronger than hate, compassion greater than indifference, and that doing what is right for others pays dividends many times over.
What is Pentecost though, exactly, and why is this significant to us now? The Book of Acts describes the day, when the disciples were all assembled in Jerusalem, and a mighty wind came upon them, and as it passed through, each of those assembled had received the Holy Spirit within them, and the knowledge and gifts needed to continue Jesus’ mission. This was symbolized by tongues of heavenly flames above the heads of each disciple, showing they had received the gift of the Holy Spirit. In addition, they were enabled to be understood in any language, and when they emerged to a gathering crowd, when each disciple spoke, all those around them heard those words in their own language. At first they thought the disciples were drunk, but Peter assured them they were not, but only filled with the glory of God’s gift. It is from this day that the Pentecostal church derives their origins, and the ability of members, filled with the spirit, to speak in “tongues”.
It also marks the real beginnings of the Christian ministry, even though many of the disciples still struggled with the conflicts of being also Jewish. Pentecost, which comes 50 days after Passover, coincides also with Shavout, which was originally a festival for expressing thankfulness to the Lord for the blessing of the harvest, and has its own roots with Moses. Both of these special days in the Christian and Jewish church calendars, celebrate a form of thanksgiving to God; one for the Harvest, and the other for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
It somehow seems fitting then that the modern celebration of Pride should come at this time also. To celebrate Shavout, the harvest, was a recognition of continued survival for any agrarian society, since everything depended on that harvest for food and physical life of the society and people. For the early Christians, Pentecost becomes that celebration of spiritual awakening through the Holy Spirit given to all those who welcomed it. It was a recognition of our connection in the spirit with God. Pride now is that social awareness and awakening of the “self”, in who we are as people, and as children of God, freed from the oppressions of others and a coming out of the real person within. It matters little really if you are gay or lesbian, or transgendered, or even a straight person who is seeking recognition of their own individuality and uniqueness in society. It is a time to take Pride in who we are as Children of God.
Such Pride can also speak of any element of our own heritage also, from our ethnic origins and cultural customs, to language. In short, it is a time, a festival if you will, when we should all celebrate what God has given us through that infinite love and open acceptance.
For this is in essence what Pentecost is for Christians. It is that recognition of our place with God through Christ. It is that third element of the triune deity we all accept today with God, Christ and the Holy Spirit. It is God entering us, touching and connecting with our own spirit in an undying union. This gift is not just limited to those disciples either. It is given to all of humanity equally in love.
As much as some groups, and even churches, might like to deny this gift to some, especially those they personally disagree with, it is not their place to say who God graces or not. God gives to us all that same grace, that same spirit, and that same love in equality. You see, God really doesn’t care what you look like on the outside, or what you wear. God looks beyond the superficial and deep into our soul, and that is what God touches. That is also where we are measured from, by our actions and behaviors towards others. That is the essence of the Holy Spirit at work within us towards all of creation.
Celebrate this day then, for all of its many significances, both in the gift of the harvest for our physical sustenance, to Pentecost for our spiritual union with God, and now, Pride, for our emotional and cultural emergence. Revel in God’s love, for who and what you are, that gift of the Holy Spirit, and show your own pride in that gift, with compassion for everybody you meet.
I am currently one of several Pastors serving our UCC church in Chatsworth, CA. I am also still Clergy on Staff at MCCUCC in the Valley in North Hollywood, but as we are now in a transition with a new pastor, my activities will change. What I hope to start doing though in future blogs is to post readings and sermons several times a month, including those I do for Chatsworth UCC. This is to share with others since I won’t be on the Ustream broadcast for the foreseeable future.
Please bare with me while I get this in play. In the mean time, God bless.
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