Sunday, July 20, 2014

Sermon: Abraham and Isaac, Guns and God

Sermon -- The Rev. Leah D.  Schade
July 20, 2014
Text:  Genesis 22:1-14:  “The Near-Sacrifice of Isaac”


We’re on our second story in our sermon series on mountains in the Bible.  Today we’re on Mt. Moriah with the near-sacrifice of Isaac by his father, Abraham.  This mountain’s location, unlike Mt. Ararat (Noah) where we were last week, is disputed by scholars.  There are different theories from Muslim, Jewish and Christian scholars alike as to its location.  But even though we don’t really know where the near-sacrifice of Isaac happened, what’s more important is what actually did take place on that mountain.

Today’s story has all the drama of a Hollywood movie.  
There is no greater cliff-hanger than the image of Abraham’s knife poised above Isaac, just as an angel flies down to stay his hand.  But it is also one of the more disturbing stories in Genesis for one simple reason.  Why would God want to test Abraham by telling him to sacrifice his own son?  What kind of a God is this?  Why would God do such a thing?  Not only that, but why would Abraham so willingly follow this command to kill his own son without questioning?

In order to answer these questions, we need to see that there are several layers to this story.  And in order to understand what this story means for us today, we need to peel away the layers to find the core that lies at the heart of the story.

Let’s begin with Abraham’s response to this strange and cruel command.  He follows God’s dictate without question.  This may seem odd, but remember the pattern of Abraham’s previous responses to God’s commands. The first command God gave to Abraham was for the 100-yr-old man to leave his home, the land of Ur, with his elderly wife, and make a perilous journey across the desert to the Promised Land.  He believed God’s promise of land, prosperity and children, so he did as God commanded without question.

But in this story, God’s demand seems downright cruel.  Abraham himself must sacrifice his own son.  Why?  Why would God issue such a violent and abhorrent edict? Well, in that day and age, child sacrifice was not unheard of.  It was not unusual for the peoples and cultures of that time to sacrifice their own children in order to appease an angry god, or to stay on the good side of capricious deities.  

While it must have broken Abraham’s heart to hear his God make such a demand, he knew from the cultures and religions around him that sometimes this is the price that must be paid in order to secure the favor of the god.

So Abraham and Isaac travel three days into the wilderness.  Upon seeing the mountain where he is to perform the deed, Abraham tells his young attendants, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship and then we will come back to you.”  This is a classic moment of irony and ambiguity.  Does Abraham really believe that he and Isaac will return?  Or does he only say this to keep them and his son from knowing the truth?  We’ll never know.  But we can be sure that there must have been a questioning look that passed between the attendants and Isaac.   What’s really going on here?  It feels like something ominous lies ahead.

Abraham and Isaac begin their final walk to the site of sacrifice.  Isaac’s mind must have been racing, the weight on his shoulders nothing compared to the weight in the pit of his stomach.   Finally he asks, “You know, Dad, I was just thinking.  We’ve got the fire; we’ve got the wood . . .where is the lamb?”

It’s a question that must have gone through the heart of Abraham like the dagger he carried in his hand.  It’s one of the most dramatic moments of irony in the Genesis story.  Abraham’s answer seems evasive, but it also reveals his faith:  “God himself will provide the lamb for a burnt offering, my son.”

The double meaning here is significant.  God has indeed provided the one whom Abraham is to sacrifice.  This is the son promised by God to the elderly man and his barren wife.  But these words, “God will provide,” (in Hebrew, YHWH  yir-eh)  are a real statement of faith based on Abraham’s previous experiences with God.   When Abraham set out on that journey to the Promised Land, God provided him the strength and endurance to survive the trip.  God provided land upon which to settle.  And God provided not just one son, but two – Isaac and Ishmael.  “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.”

I would imagine that those were the words Abraham kept repeating to himself over and over as he piled up the stones for the altar, as he lay down the wood for the sacrifice.  “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.” Perhaps even Isaac began repeating the words like a mantra as his father bound his hands, and he allowed himself to be laid upon the altar, the wood that was on his shoulders now laying under his back.  “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.”

With tears in his eyes, Abraham grabs the dagger.  He stands over his son, his tears dripping onto Isaac’s face, mingling with the tears of his beloved son.  And he raises his dagger.  One last time, “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.”

“Abraham -- STOP!  Do not hurt the boy.  I know that you trust me.  I know that you would do whatever your God asks of you -- even if it meant killing your own son.  But let this be a sign unto you -- I do not require child sacrifice.  God does not demand the blood of children.”

And in that instant, Abraham’s eyes are opened, and he sees the ram caught in the thicket.  He unties his son and they embrace.  Then they use those ropes to bind the ram and tie it to the altar.  Now their tears of fear and sorrow are turned to tears of joy and laughter, “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.”  See?  I told you! We’ll even call this place “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.”

Sometimes we have to be taken right to the edge of death to realize the truth about God.  In this story, we are taken right to the edge of the knife so that the lesson of this story will be indelibly etched in our minds.  And the message is: 

Do not sacrifice your children.  Do not engage in deadly violence against your offspring.  Not now, not for all time.  This is not a God who demands us to put our children on the altars of idols and sacrifice them.  This is a God who seeks the preservation of our offspring.   The books of Exodus and Deuteronomy have explicit laws against child sacrifice.  

Now this may seem like such an obvious command to us, a no-brainer.  Of course we’re not going to kill our own children.  But in reality, this story needs to be retold again and again. Because it raises important questions for our modern society.  In what ways are we threatening the health and well-being of our children on the altars of sacrifice?  Might we, in some ways, be like Abraham, blindly assuming that certain sacrifices are necessary, without questioning the culture around us that has conditioned our behaviors?

In reality, child-sacrifice occurs daily on the altars of the gods of war, commerce, lust and greed.  We are seeing those child-sacrifices in the Holy Lands where teens are kidnapped by both Israelis and Palestinians and brutally murdered, not to mention the military action that will cause still more deaths of children.  We’re seeing children suffering by the thousands at the US southern border, caught between countries where their lives are threatened, and a country that does not welcome them into safety. 

Children are sacrificed on the altar of anger in abusive households.  And in many areas of the world children are valued no higher than chattel.  Kids are cheap – they are recruited for armies, sold into child slavery and brothels, and brainwashed to become the terrorists that carry bombs.  Over and over, children are used for immoral purposes and are treated as property and ammunition.

And our American society, while not so overtly barbaric, is not above the sacrifice of children.   Besides illness and accident, do you know what one of the top five causes of death is among children?  Gun violence.  According to the latest data from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, 3,042 children and teens died from gunfire in America in 2007 – one child or teen every three hours, eight every day, 58 every week.  What’s more 17,523 children and teens suffered non-fatal gun injuries and the often-lifelong emotional aftermath that follows.   (http://sbcoalition.org/2011/01/gun-violence-children/)

 A year after the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, a report was done on the deaths of 194 children ages 12 and under who died at the end of a gun barrel. From inner cities to tiny rural towns, 127 of the children died from gunshots in their own homes, while dozens more died in the homes of friends, neighbors, and relatives.
  • 72 of the young victims either pulled the trigger themselves or were shot dead by another child.
  • At least 52 deaths involved a child handling a gun left unsecured.
  • 60 children died at the hands of their own parents, 50 of them in homicides.
  • The average age of the victims was 6 years old.

I have held a gun.  I have fired it.  As a hunter I have used it to kill, to take the life of another being.  There is something about the gun that imbues the holder with a sense of power over another – the power to give and take life.  If I do not pull the trigger, I have spared your life.  If I pull it, I take your life instantly.  This is god-like power.  It may be argued that any weapon can give that sense of power.  But let’s face it – the only purpose of a gun is to kill or injure.  That is why it was invented, and that is its sole purpose.  Guns end lives.

And I say this as a former hunter who used to faithfully go into the woods every fall and spring to kill animals with a shotgun or rifle.  I do not begrudge hunters this right.  But as a parent, and as a citizen who has watched one too many sacrifices of our children at the altar of the gun, I have to ask: 

Are we worshiping the god of the gun?  Have we allowed ourselves to become convinced that the sacrifice of children is simply the price that must be paid to the gun-god? 
 

Our Confirmation students learned that “worship” may be defined as anything to which human beings devote their sacrifice, allegiance, finances, time and heart.  Are we devoted to the “gospel of the gun” that promises safety -- salvation, even? The gun-god declares that it is the only one who will provide protection.  The gun is the answer to all that threatens us or makes us angry.  Is the teenager’s music too loud?  Shoot him.  Is his wearing of a hoodie making you feel threatened?  Shoot him. Are girls not going out with you?  Shoot them.  Are you angry at the politician, at your classmates, at the driver who cut you off?  Are you angry at the ones who have mistreated you?  The world?  More and more people are turning to the gun-god for their solution.  And for thousands of people it is the final solution.  There is no going back once the trigger is pulled. 

I remember in 2012 when 20 children and 6 of their teachers were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.  When my son, who was five years old at the time, heard the news that kids in an elementary school just like his were killed, he didn’t ask about gun regulations.  He didn’t ask about the sanity of the killer.  He didn’t ask about the 2nd Amendment.  He asked a question that reminded me of Isaac’s question about the lamb:  "Is someone going to come to my school and shoot kids?"  In other words, where is the lamb?  Am I next?  Am I the lamb to be sacrificed? 

I could only say to him words similar to Abraham’s, “I hope and pray that God will provide and save you and your classmates from this fate.”  “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide.”

Of course, there is no easy answer to the reality of gun violence.  And I recognize that people will disagree with me about the level to which guns have taken on god-like status and become an idol in our country.  But perhaps it is time for people of faith, people in churches, people like you and me to talk about it.  Perhaps there are people in this congregation who would like to engage in discussion about gun violence, and to talk about it in a way that is respectful, honest, and guided by the Holy Spirit. If so, I would invite you to let me know of your interest. 

Because in the midst of all the voices screaming and threatening and pushing their own agenda, it is time to listen to a different voice.  The time has come, and is past due, for us to hear the voice of the one, true God, who is reaching out to stay our hand and keep us from sacrificing our children.  God is trying to show us another way, directing our vision to an alternative we had not previously considered. 

We are standing on Mt. Moriah today.  We are at the altar.  Look around you.  Look at the culture surrounding you on all sides in the form of media and video games and movies and websites that promise power, safety and security through the violence. 
Is this what you want?  Is this what we want as Christians?  Or is God calling us to something more? 


I want to have faith like Abraham had.   But I want it to be faith in a God who does not demand the death of children as the price to pay for faithfulness.
 

Listen – God is calling.  “YHWH yir’eh, God will provide. God will provide.”  Amen.


Monday, July 14, 2014

Noah on Mt. Ararat - The Floods of Climate Change

Sermon Series:  Mountaintop Experiences
Part One:  Mt. Ararat and Noah
The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade
Texts:  Genesis 8:1-4, 6-12, 11-17; Matthew 24:36-44
July 13, 2014

Mountains in the Bible were extremely significant, as they were for all  ancient peoples:  Mountains are naturally assigned religious significance and symbolism for three main reasons: 1) their height
projecting above the surrounding area, 2) the feeling of grandiosity and awe one experiences upon viewing a mountain from a distance; and 3) the vista of the sky and the earth when standing on top of the mountain that is unmatched at lower levels.

In fact, the ancient peoples of Egypt, Babylon and in the Mayan culture of South America thought so highly of mountains that they attempted to create their own.  Man-made mountains can be seen in the form of pyramids, ziggarats, and massive temples.  It was felt that by ascending a holy mountain, one could encounter the great sky-god.  Heaven and earth appear to come closest on a mountain.  So it is no wonder that sacred peaks figure prominently in the biblical story.

This summer we’ll be touring these lofty heights - beginning today with  Noah on Mt. Ararat, onto Abraham and Isaac on Mt. Moriah, then Moses on  Mt. Sinai and Mt. Nebo.  And we’ll end with Jesus’ “mountain of prayer” – the Mount of Olives.

Our tour begins with Noah on Mt. Ararat. 
Ararat is the tallest peak in what is now modern-day Turkey.  It is a dormant volcano, and its last eruption was on June 2, 1840. At present the upper third of the mountain is covered with snow and ice throughout the year.  The mountain is unique, because it is a year-round snow-capped mountain in the middle of a dessert.

The fact that it is named as the resting site of the ark after the flood indicates that Mt. Ararat was regarded as the highest point of the world in that region.  And with a height of (16,946 feet) above sea level, it is definitely one of the highest points in that area of the world.

One of the things I appreciate about the Noah story is its abundance of archetypes, or symbols, that are common themes in nearly all the world’s religions and cultures.  There are six of these archetypes in this story:  the great flood; the humongous sea-going vessel on the water (representing the womb carrying life across the birth waters); the lone hero/survivor in the face of total destruction; the mountain top; the dove and olive branch symbolizing peace and hope; and, of course, the rainbow, which has as many interpretations as there are colors, but for the biblical story, it symbolizes God’s promise and covenant never to destroy the earth again.

What you may not know is that the Biblical references to a great flood and Noah’s ark have remarkable parallels in many other archaic myths found around the world. The story of Noah's ark, as it is told in the Old Testament, is actually a reworking of an earlier Babylonian myth recorded in the Gilgamesh Epic.  The stories are nearly identical, save for the names of the characters.

In Greek mythology, there is a story of a eerily similar cataclysmic event in which a hero builds a boat to survive a great flood.  In fact, more than 500 deluge legends are known around the world on nearly every continent.   Why are there so many flood stories?   With so much similarity, historians have concluded that there must have been some global cataclysmic event very early in human history, maybe as early as 9500 BCE.

There are different theories as to what caused this global catastrophe.   Some geologists think there may have been a huge shift in those tectonic plates I mentioned earlier, causing devastating flooding.  Others posit that a comet or some other cosmic object impacted the earth resulting in earthquakes, volcanic activity and abrupt climate change.   But whatever the reason, there is little doubt that the earth was covered by a deluge that wiped out civilizations around the world, leaving only a remnant of humanity behind to survive, rebuild, and repopulate the earth.

 If any of you have been in our children’s nursery downstairs, you can see the painting on the wall of Noah’s Ark.  It is one of the most popular stories of the Old Testament.  Kids love the story because of all the animals floating together in a big sea-going zoo.  The ark theme is  popular for children’s bedrooms.  I remember shopping for baby stuff for my children and seeing an abundance of cute renditions of the ark with adorable animals poking their heads out of the windows and smiling from the deck.
But the story is really quite a tragedy, as the movie Noah starring Russell Crowe, has portrayed. But regardless of the film, if you actually ponder the logistics of getting all those species on a single seafaring vessel, it really seems quite absurd and impossible.  Just think about how many living creatures Noah would have had to collect and fit on that ark.  Here’s a list:

“7000 species of worms
50,000 species of arachnids
900,000 species of insects
2500 species of amphibians
6000 species of reptiles
8600 species of birds
and 3500 species of mammals
plus food for one and all.”   (Walker, Symbols, p. 85)

How big would that boat have to be?  Here’s the thing:  “The only vessel truly capable of holding all these is Spaceship Earth,” (Walker, Symbols, p. 85).  And this is where we begin to climb the mountain ourselves and get a different perspective on this sacred legend.  The story of Noah’s ark, while based on a true episode from ancient history, actually has significance for our planet today, especially in light of the current environmental crises facing our world.

In fact, it’s not just the environmental crisis.  It is a convergence of global crises swirling into a perfect storm on the horizon.  The cost of our primary source of energy - fossil fuels - is draining the world economy as it is simultaneously coming to an end.  The explosion of the human population is about to reach unsustainable levels.  Financial crises have swept across our human society.  And, yes, ecological issues regarding water supplies, global warming, garbage and pollution are threatening the health of the planet itself. 

Add to this the accompanying threats of terrorism and war as a result of these basic conflicts over land and resources, and you can see that we are, once again, facing a flood of catastrophic proportions.  
A flood of people, a flood of poverty, a flood of violence, and yes, the actual flooding of the coastlands and river beds around the world. But this time the flood is not coming from God.  It’s coming from humankind.  As Jesus alluded to in our Gospel reading, we may, indeed, be on the verge of the end of an age.

What does this mean for us?  And what does this mean for the church in the decades ahead.  We’re going to see our lifestyles radically altered in the coming years.  There will be drastic changes in how we live, what we can afford, and what we do to survive.  And for many people, it will be a matter of survival.  In fact, for a large portion of the world’s people, it already is a question of basic survival.

The Church, then, must serve as an ark, not just for humanity, but for all Creation.  All species of plants and animals should be able to find refuge through the holy ark of the Church.  And this is already happening.  More and more, we are seeing religious communities “going green,” as they come to view ecological issues as justice issues for the poor, and for the voiceless among God’s creatures. 

In terms of more immediate danger, there is also the urgency among religious communities to be prepared for disasters when they happen.  In fact, Lutherans have an entire division devoted to this called Lutheran Disaster Response.  What’s great about LDR is that not only do they arrive on the scene when disasters hit, but they stay with communities long after the media spotlight has moved on.  They remain committed to the people and neighborhoods in need of help until they have restored their lives and communities. Also, our own church has a local disaster fund to help people in need right here in our community.  

When God warned Noah about the impending disaster, we’re not told how many other people God tried to warn, but who did not heed the call to prepare.  Even Noah’s urgent pleas to his neighbors to prepare were laughed off as the crazy doomsday scare tactics of a lunatic.  In the same way, the warnings of climate scientists today are often dismissed, ridiculed, mocked and silenced.  People of faith must add their voices to the calls for immediate changes in our energy policies, carbon-burning lifestyles and industries, and financialization of our local, national and global economies that is causing the waters of injustice and poverty to rise at unprecedented rates.

And when there are catastrophes, the ark of the Church must be there to assist people, restore some sense of sanity, provide aid and relief, and help to rebuild.  We’ve seen that happen over and over again, whether they are tsunami victims in southeast Asia, AIDS orphans in Africa, flood victims in New Orleans and along the Mississipi, or victims of the hurricane that struck our area 3 years ago.  The ark of the Church is there for them, sending forth the dove of peace, and pointing to the rainbow overhead promising God’s ever-present care.

Yes, today we are on Mt. Ararat to take in the view, to remember the story, and to be reminded that God does indeed care for us.  It’s the mountaintop experiences of faith that help to sustain us in the dark valleys of fear; in the emergency rooms waiting for medical care; in the deserts of poverty waiting for relief; and in the hot, crowded ark praying for ourselves and all the creatures hoping to survive along with us.

Whatever flood you are facing in your life right now - keep your eyes on the mountains in the distance.  Keep your eyes on the sky.  And be on the lookout for rainbows, even as the rains of the flood begin to fall.  Because God has promised to be with us, no matter what we face.  And that promise is refracted by millions upon millions of tiny prism droplets in the sky, forming the colors of the rainbow that fill us with hope once again.  Amen.






Sources:

Walker, Barbara G., The Woman’s Dictionary of Symbols and Sacred
Objects, HarperSanFrancisco, 1988

Walker, Barbara G., The Woman’s Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets,
HarperSanFrancisco, 1983

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Black Raspberries: A Poem

Leah Delight Schade
July 6, 2014
 
I’m sorry I did not answer the phone when you called.
I was picking black raspberries
along the hedgerow.
Little clusters of
dark
purple
fruit
peeked out
from behind jagged green leaves
and thorns that stung like tiny bees
and scratched my skin
like mischievous kitten claws.
A small pain to pay for
bursts
of juice in my mouth.

I’m sorry I did not answer the phone.
As I picked the berries,
a moth displayed his splayed Designer wings,
pointing the way to another cluster of berries
just over the rise.
Fingers marked with the color of the sunset

gingerly reaching
lifting
plucking
                              popping
the handfuls into my jacket pocket
that looked like I had bled into the fabric.
Sharing is worth the stains.

I’m sorry I did not answer.
The fireflies silently blinked their light-chorus,
a symphony of soundless phosphorescence.
The Conductor unseen.
My eyes had to listen.

I am not sorry.  I did not answer you.

I answered another Call. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

“But how can I protect the world if I can’t kill anybody?”

Conversation with a 7-year-old boy about the myth of redemptive violence

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade

Last night our family watched The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, a film with the brilliant young actor Asa Butterfield who plays the 8-year-old son of a Nazi commandant assigned as the director of a German concentration camp.  

He moves his wife, daughter and son with him to a heavily guarded house in the woods beyond the camp.  The son, Bruno, sees the camp from his window and thinks that it’s a farm, wondering why the farmers all wear striped pajamas.  Bored without any playmates, Bruno sneaks out of the guarded compound to explore the woods.  He comes to the far side of the camp, surrounded by electrified barbed wire, and sees a boy wearing striped pajamas crouching behind a pile of rubbish.  The boy is Schmuel, and the two strike up a conversation and form a friendship through the wire.

Bruno hears his father, mother, sister and tutor repeat the “party line” about the evil of “the Jew,” the crimes Jews commit, how they are less than human, and are responsible for the ruination of the German people.  He cannot reconcile this propaganda with the Jewish man he comes to know who works in their kitchen and heals his injured knee after a fall.  His confusion is further compounded by the friendship he has with Schmuel. 

“But not all Jews are bad are they?” Bruno asks his tutor.  “Well, if you should find a good Jew, I should think you are the greatest explorer in the world,” the tutor winks.

Without spoiling the ending of the movie, I will say that, given the foul smoke that floats over the compound periodically, it is not surprising that the movie ends with death.  Who dies and how it occurs are particularly gut-wrenching and heartbreaking.  My children melted in tears at the end of the movie.  My son, especially, had incredible difficulty accepting not only the ending of the movie, but the fact that it was a “true story,” in that the Holocaust did indeed happen, and that approximately 6 million Jews and other “undesireables” were murdered.

It was the conversation with my son at bedtime that was most disconcerting, however.  Benjamin is seven, and an avid lover of superheroes.  I try ardently to limit his screen time, boundary his “fighting games” on the computer to one day a week, and ban all toy guns from the house.  But he insists that he must learn to fight so he can “kill the bad guys and protect the good guys.”

Here is an excerpt of our dialogue after the movie:

Ben: See that’s why I have to be a superhero so I can kill the bad guys like the Nazis.

Mom: But how will you know who is really a bad guy?  Remember in the movie they kept telling Bruno that Jews were the bad guys . . . but were they really?

Ben: No.  But that’s why I will have my Spidey-sense so I can tell who the bad guys are.

Mom:  But remember, Spiderman is fiction.  The Holocaust really happened.  There weren’t any superheroes in this movie were there?

Ben:  No.

Mom:  Well, actually, you know who the superhero was?  Bruno.  He helped Schmuel by bringing him food and being his friend.  That’s what Jesus tells us to do – help those who are in need. 

Ben:  But the Nazis killed all those people!  I have to be a superhero so I can kill the bad people.

Mom:  But remember what Jesus said.  Those who live by the sword die by the sword.  Killing people is not what we’re supposed to do.

Ben:  But how am I supposed to protect the world if I can’t kill people?

Mom:  Here’s what Jesus taught us.  As soon as you kill the bad person, you know what happens?  The badness comes into you.  Killing the bad person makes you a bad person too.  Remember what happened to Jesus – he was killed by the bad guys.  But did he kill them back?

Ben:  No.

Mom:  We have to work on helping people, not killing people.

Ben:  But, Mom, you don’t understand.  I’m going to be like Peter Parker.  I’m going to kill the bad guys at night and during the day I’m going to help people.

Mom:  *Sigh* 

What do you think, dear reader?  With all my reading of Walter Wink and Martin Luther King, Jr., John Howard Yoder and William Stringfellow, it all comes down to a 7-year-old wanting to protect the world and seeing the best option as using the very violence that threatens to consume him with its lures and lies.  Pax Romana.  Pax Benjamin?  Peace through violence.  How to help an elementary-aged concrete thinker growing up in a patriarchal culture awash in the myth of redemptive violence understand the nuances of peace through creative, subversive nonviolence? I invite your suggestions.

Lutherans Call for Repeal of “Fracking Loopholes” - Press Release

UPPER SUSQUEHANNA SYNOD, ELCA
NEWS RELEASE


Contact:       Chad W. Hershberger, Director of Communications
                    Phone:  (570) 713-5826               E-Mail: news@uss-elca.org

The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, Task Force Member
Phone:  (610) 420-6861 (cell)      E-Mail:  jimleah@aol.com


For Immediate Release:  June 26, 2014


Lutherans Call for Repeal of “Fracking Loopholes”

SELINSGROVE— On the recommendation of a bipartisan task group, the Upper Susquehanna Synod Assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) voted on June 20, 2014, to call for all environmental and public health exemptions on shale gas and oil drilling and its related processes, known as the “Halliburton loopholes,” to be repealed and all processes related to shale gas and oil extraction and processing to be subject to the Safe Drinking Water Act (1974), the Clean Air Act (1990) and Clean Water Act (1972). 

The task force was created as a result of action taken at the Synod’s 2012 assembly directing the group to undertake a comprehensive assessment of the justice issues surrounding the natural gas industry.  The resolution came as a result of two years’ worth of research, field work, and discussion by a diverse group of individuals, appointed by The Rev. Bishop Robert L. Driesen, representing opposing viewpoints on the issue of hydro-fracking.

“Our task force was made up of scientists, professors, pastors, teachers, and lay leaders in the church, as well as individuals who actually work in the shale gas industry or are supportive of it.  Some of us would like to see a total ban on fracking.  Others think it can be done safely with proper regulation.  The fact that we were able to come to the table and engage in civil, bipartisan moral deliberation about this issue and offer a recommendation for the larger church is very important,” said The Rev. Dr. Leah Schade, member of the task force.  “At the very least we could agree that the loopholes created for the industry exempting it from the established laws protecting our water, air and public health are unjust and need to be repealed,” Schade said.

Schade noted that this task force provides a model to other religious bodies as well as civil society for bringing people together across ideological lines to engage in robust ethical debate about controversial issues and arrive at some consensus for the common good.

The task force also provided a report that offered guidelines for approaching shale gas and oil drilling based on biblical and Lutheran theological values, as well as materials and resources to help people understand and interpret the abundance of information about the shale gas and oil industry, pro and con, that continues to grow and change almost daily.  Those resources can be found at http://www.uss-elca.org/for-congregations/fracking-resources.

A copy of the task force’s final report and resolutions will be sent to the Secretary of the US Department of Energy and the Director of the US Environmental Protection Agency, the PA Department of Environmental Protection, local elected officials, Governor Corbett, and other ELCA Synods within the Marcellus and Utica Shale region.


The Upper Susquehanna Synod, headquartered in Lewisburg, PA, is one of 65 synods of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.  The synod is made up of 130 congregations in Clinton, Columbia, Juniata, Lycoming, Mifflin, Montour, Northumberland, Snyder, Tioga and Union Counties.  For more information on the synod and its congregations, visit www.uss-elca.org

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Sermon: La Lengua de Dios (The Language of God)

Pentecost Sunday
United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, PhD
Text:  Acts 2

When is the last time you encountered someone who spoke a different language from you?  It happened to me just this past week.  It was my turn to work the concession stand at my son’s baseball game.  Two other people were there.  One was Nick who was working the grill.  The other was Maria, who spoke with a Hispanic accent.  The two of them had worked together before and had a teasing rapport between them.  He would pronounce her name with an exaggerated accent, or sing her name with the notes of West Side Story’s “Maria.”  And she would laugh and tease him right back.  At one point she called him loco, which means “crazy.”  He said, “I’m just a little crazy.  How do you say that in Spanish.”  I offered:  “Locito?”  Maria turned and looked at me with wide eyes.  “Hablas Espanol?”  Do you speak Spanish?  I said, “Un poco, un poco.”  Just a little.  I had taken Spanish in high school and college and remembered just a little from those days.
 
The rest of the evening we tossed around different words, Spanish and English.  Nick would ask, “How do you say French Fries in Spanish?”  I said “Fritas?”  Maria corrected me:  papas fritas.  Fried potatoes.  I learned that Maria was from the Dominican Republic and how she came to be in our country with her three boys.  Even though my son and hers were on different teams, we cheered for them. Whether they hit the ball, struck out, caught the pop fly or missed the ball, they heard us cheering for them in English and Spanish. 

I can just imagine how it must have felt for the pilgrims gathered in Jerusalem for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, commemorating the giving of the Law on Sinai to the people of Israel, each of them speaking their own foreign language and coming into the city hearing this cacophony of languages.  It must have been very disconcerting for them, the way it must have been for Maria and her family when they first came to America.  Coming through the airport hearing not just English, but so many other languages, not knowing where to go or what to do, until they found someone who spoke un poco, just a little Spanish to help them find their way.

Imagine being one of those pilgrims coming to Jerusalem where the official language would have been Hebrew or Aramaic, and with all those foreigners, it would have been very confusing.  But then they saw a gathering of people with tongues of fire over their heads, and a wind blowing all around them.  They couldn’t figure out what is going on until they heard one of those men speaking their language and their ears perked up.  And they listened to the disciple talk about Jesus, Jesus, Jesu Criste, and the love of God.  What a wonderful feeling it must have been to go from being discombobulated in this foreign land to hearing someone who spoke their language. 
 
I had an interesting discussion with a friend of mine this week about the ongoing debate in this country on whether immigrants wanting citizenship should be required to know the English language.  There are good arguments on both sides of the issue.  Some say we should respect the culture and language of the immigrant and let them speak their own language.  Others say that because English is the official language, they should be required to demonstrate a basic level of proficiency before being granted citizenship so that they can function as citizens in this country.  I don’t claim to have proficiency in that area of government policy, nor do I have an answer to that ongoing debate.  But here is what I do know:  in God’s neighborhood there is no language requirement.  The miracle of Pentecost is not that the Holy Spirit enabled everyone to speak one official language, but that the disciples were given the ability to speak in a language other than their own.  They were able to make a connection with someone with whom they would never have made a connection otherwise. 

We have so many different languages in our world today.  There are approximately 6900 languages—nearly 7000 ways to proclaim God’s love in this world!  These are all ways that we can be proclaiming God’s love for people in a language other than our own.  And where did all these languages come from?  Remember the story of the Tower of Babel in Genesis Chapter 11, how humanity had become so proud and arrogant that they tried to build a tower up to the heavens.  And they all spoke one language.  Apparently there is something about having one language that leads a nation to feel superior, to lose their sense of humility before God, so much so that God confused the language of that civilization and scattered them across the face of the earth.
 
Isn’t it interesting that apparently God thinks it’s a good thing that there are different languages among human beings?

Have you ever tried to learn another language, taken a course in school or online?  It is quite a humbling experience.  You feel awkward and silly when you try to say these words that feel so different on your tongue.  If you’ve ever encountered someone who speaks a language other than your own and you make the effort to try to communicate with them, it takes a certain level of humility and humbleness to put your security in your language aside and say, I want to try to talk to you and listen to you on your terms.  I want to learn how they say things, how they put their thoughts together, how they experience the world and how they express themselves.  When you learn how another person speaks, you start to learn how they think; you open your mind to another way of viewing the world.  It takes a lot of effort, but when you humble yourself and try to learn un poco, just a little of another language, it tells the other person, I honor who you are.  I honor who you are as a Child of God.  And I honor God by trying to learn un poco, just a little of your language. 

When Peter talks to that crowd of 3000 gathered on the day of Pentecost, he quotes the prophet Joel in saying, “Your young people will see visions and your elders will dream dreams,” as an indication that the Holy Spirit has come upon the people.  This week I posed the question on Facebook if anyone has had any dreams or visions for our church.   Kathy Guffey shared with me a dream she had a few weeks ago.  She was in our church on a Sunday morning, and the sanctuary was packed with people.  The pews were so full that people had to stand in the aisles.  In her dream, it wasn’t a special occasion like a funeral or a wedding or a holiday.  It was just a normal Sunday morning.  But she said she looked around with her jaw dropped, just amazed that so many people were at church. 

As a pastor, I got very excited that maybe the day is coming when this dream becomes reality.  But as I was reading this text from Acts, it reminded me that if God were to bless our church with that kind of Pentecost moment, it would mean that there would be people in this sanctuary who look different than us, have a different skin color, speak a different language. When that time comes in our church, it will mean that things are changing and I will have to converse with someone who comes from a different family than I do, or a different country than I do.  I began to ask myself, are we as a church ready for that vision to become a reality in this congregation?

I’d like you to ask yourself that same question this coming week:  Are we ready for the Holy Spirit to come into our church and ask us to be welcoming in a new way?  I’ve often thought that if churches really want to grow, they should determine what is the language—other than English—that is most commonly spoken in the community.  And then offer classes for their members to learn that language, so that they can, like the disciples at Pentecost, be able to speak in la lengua de Dios, the language of God. 
 
There is something about la lengua de Dios that translates into all other languages.  Don’t be surprised if, in the coming weeks and months, you start to encounter people who want to know God, who are seeking Jesus, who want to encounter the Holy Spirit, and come to you, perhaps completely by surprise, and ask, in essence, Hables la lengua de Dios?  Do you speak the language of God?  And if that happens, you’ll be able to say un poco, just a little.
 

That’s all it takes – a little flame, a little courage, a little spark of welcomeness, a little bit of humility, a little breath of the Holy Spirit, and a little heart open to the greatness of God who has a vision of God’s entire neighborhood filling our churches in love to speak la lengua de Dios.  Amen.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Rainbow Garden - A Blessing of Promise and Promise of Blessing

I am a huge fan of Richard Louv's book Last Child in the Woods.  He argues that in order to save our children from "nature-deficit disorder" we need to get them unplugged from electronics and outside to play, get dirty, explore, and fall in love with the natural world.  The end of the book includes a list of 100 creative and simple suggestions for getting children engaged with nature.  One of them includes having them plant a garden. 
 
So when my 10-year-old daughter Rachel announced that she wanted to "redecorate" the weed-patch around the front of our house, I was thrilled.  She has been planning for weeks to create a "rainbow garden" around the steps of our front stoop.  Her 7-year-old brother Benjamin also wanted to be included in the work. Today we went to the local country store and bought flowers in all colors of the rainbow.  And they discovered the wonderful aroma of cocoa shell mulch!  "Smells like chocolate!" they exclaimed when they sniffed the bag.  They couldn't wait to get started.

I warned them that it would be hard work - all the digging, pulling weeds and mulching.  They assured me they were up to the challenge.   So we brought out the spade, trowel and diggers.  We spent an hour on just a 6-cubic-foot area taking turns pulling up the stubborn weeds, turning over the clumps of dirt, and smoothing the loosened soil.  We discovered a world of grubs, earth worms and ants amid the labyrinth of roots and rocks.  Eventually the ground was ready to receive the new plants.  Rachel placed them in appropriate spacing, carefully thinking through size and color.  I taught her how to dig a hole just the right size, how to turn over the potted flower, gently tap and squeeze it from the bottom, loosen the roots and set it in the ground.  We nested the plants in their new home.  Finally it was time for the spreading of the cocoa mulch.  They were tempted to chew on a few pieces, it smelled so chocolatey!
 
They were thrilled with how they had transformed the weedy area into a place of beauty that stimulated all the senses.  Just as we were finishing up, a light rain began to fall.  As we took the tools back to the garage, I remembered how just a few weeks ago we had taken these very items to church for Creation Care Sunday.  We placed them on the altar and the congregation blessed them, along with seeds, soil, and water.  Now these same recipients of blessing had returned the favor!


As I walked back out of the garage, I saw a rainbow appear in the distance, my son pointing excitedly. 

There was the arc of water and light refracted into the very colors we had just planted in our rainbow garden.  Coincidence?  If so, a blessed one.

Tags:  children, gardening, nature-deficit disorder, rainbow, creation-care