by Pastor Sara Olson-Smith
2006 M.Div graduate of LSTC
Job 38:1-11, 16-18
Luke 12: 13-21
Grace to you and peace, from God our Creator, and from Christ Jesus our Lord.
Over the past few months, I have been on leave from call. It has been a time of rest and renewal and a whole lot of solitude. Now the solitude was wonderful, but after awhile I started to talk to myself.
“Self,” I would say, “how about we spend the morning reading?” or “Self, how about a cup of tea?” or “Self, how about we listen to public radio for the next 14 straight hours?” It was on one of these news-filled days that I sort of panicked. I had listened to the news on public radio for an entire day.
It was right in the middle of the climate change talks in Copenhagen, and leaders of the world were talking and failing to take the courageous steps needed to take a global step in making change. In the midst of all these reports, they cited a poll that only about 50% of Americans believe that the world is warming – and only about 1/3 believed that climate change was caused by human activity, you know, our bigger and bigger houses and the like.
As I listened, alone, to all those reports, I started to talk to myself. “Self,” I said to myself, “it is just plain hopeless for this world of ours. Nobody gets it and you and I can't do a darn thing to change anything. Those veggie burgers and cfl's and the low temperature in our big house are not doing anything. Our little impact is pointless. There is no way I can save the world.” Immobilized and overwhelmed and sad, I sat with myself in a big chair, in my big house and ate and drank and felt sorry for myself and the world.
In the middle of all of this, my brother instant messaged me. He's an environmental geographer, he writes and reads and teaches about the environment and wilderness and climate change. I messaged back, asking him how he does it, living in the midst of these questions every day; how he keeps some sort of hope. First he wrote back, “Maybe you could cut back on all that public radio (smiley face).” And then, a few seconds later... “Well gotta go, Sara. Gotta take a bike ride.”
He signed off and I sat there disappointed. I had hoped that my big brother would impart some lovely good news statement to me, would make my questions the center of his day, would offer me some sort of hope in midst of all this. Instead he does what is typical for him, he took off to go play outside.
So I, in typical little sister style, decided to imitate him. I bundled up, and biked around our suburban landscape of New Jersey, down to the human-created “lake” in the middle of town. I pedaled around and around that lake. Talking to myself about how hopeless it was. And, as I turned around the corner, a big gorgeous heron swooped in among the flocks of geese and landed gracefully on the water. And there, near the shore, it stood, on its feeble legs, with its graceful long beak, with perfect stillness while the cars roared and the litter piled nearby. It stood seemingly unfazed by it all.
I stopped, stepped off my bike and watched. For the moment, I stopped fretting and worrying and just watched with wonder and amazement. I watched this strong bird – standing on skinny legs – with its utter persistence at living. And – likely thanks to Sunday school teachers and teachers who asked me to memorize scripture – I heard in my head a bit of Psalm 104: “Oh Lord how manifold are your works, in wisdom you made them all, the earth is full of your creatures.”
I looked out into this world and its utter beauty. No longer stuck in conversation with myself, I sang out to God and listened to the songs of creation. That heron – and the grace of the God who made it – pushed me right out of the center back into my place in the order of things. Back to being in utter awe and wonder, back to praise and joy and gratitude... and surprisingly, hope.
Hope not in my own abilities – or even the abilities of the United Nations and global talks – but hope in the power and grace of our God. Hope in our God who made all things, who continues to make life happen, even in the midst of all our destruction, even as we build and destroy and despair. God continues to make wonders. God continues to make all things new. With or without us humans, God will, indeed, make life persist. Wonder by wonder, bird by bird, cloud by cloud, God grows hope in us. Even in suburban New Jersey, even as the world refuses to believe and take action, even in the midst of our own despair.
Our readings today remind us of the ways that God pulls us out of the center of the universe where we like to place ourselves. Job – in his suffering and despair and loneliness - is called to gird up his loins and listens as God reminds Job that God is the one who made all things and will continue to make all things new. Like a whirlwind, God plucks up Job from the center and transplants him back into his place in the order of things, a beloved creature of God among all God's beloved creatures: A creature beloved by God who is the One who creates and is the One who deeply loves this created world.
The psalmist sings praise of creation's wonder. Wonder by wonder the psalmist sings of God's goodness and power and strength. Not at the center, the psalmist views the world as another one of God's blessed creations, in praise and honor to the One who made all things. The psalmist teaches us wonder and wonder creates in us hope. Wonder seduces us into lives which work for the goodness of all things. God grows our hope, inch by inch, wonder by wonder, until our songs of praise turn to words of protest and actions of transformation, refusing to stop even when it seems hopeless.
And that poor rich fool – who collects all his stuff and refuses to share. He is so at the center of things that he doesn't have anyone left to talk with except himself, and he talks about how he will live utterly for himself. Trusting that he has taken care of everything to save himself, he talks to himself. Silly, that guy, talking to himself. Silly, that guy, believing he, alone, can save himself and his world.
That someone who first questions Jesus … “tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me...” reminds us that our greed, our self-centeredness does nothing but pull us apart from those whom we are related to. Jesus challenges all of our self-centered ways of living, all of our questions of who will inherit the earth and its bounty. Jesus pulls us out of our big, lonely barns which we have built and re-creates us into relationship with each other. Jesus doesn't let us hear only our own voices, but opens us to hear the voice of creation – crying out like Job in its suffering. Plucked up by the whirlwind, the cacophony of voices crying in our ears – this de-centered place is not easy nor comfortable – but this cross-shaped place is where Jesus meets us, and where surprising hope lands to stand on its feeble legs.
By God's grace, through wonders and mysteries, God pulls us out of the center and into relationship with one another. We no longer have only ourselves to talk to, but God introduces us to our family: the overfed and the starving, furry and winged, eight-legged and finned, petaled and rooted. God pulls us from having to hold up the center and save the world and places us in the arms of the wind and the water, held by the One who has already saved each one of us all and all creation.
We are called to gird up our loins to do the hard stuff of making change for today – and for tomorrow. This great work of growing green congregations and challenging broken systems and planting hope and turning around this great big boat of global environmental catastrophe is not something any of us can do alone by talking to ourselves. We can only do it together – churches and corporations, developed and developing, poor and rich, leviathan and earthworm, cedars and crocus, human and heron together, stubbornly persisting toward life, each of us being made new each day by the gracious work of God.
God plucks us up from the center, and there we find word and water and wine and bread, signs of God's presence among us and in the wonder-filled, ordinary signs of God's reconciling power and God's stubborn persisting toward life for all. God pulls us out of the center, and places us next to all the saints and all the trees and all the creatures and all creation to sing praise of God's power and majesty and vulnerability and abundant life. And there, we open our hands and our ears and our hearts to hear and feel and taste the wonders of God's newness.
In these simple wonders, God grows in us hope. Hope that things can be different. Hope that life will persist. Hope that even in the midst of all this, God, the author and creator of all things, is at the center of our salvation – and the world's.
Thanks be to God.
Luke 12: 13-21