Monday, July 29, 2013

Sermon: Ezekiel Sees the River

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT; Sermon Series
The Rev. Leah D. Schade
July 21 - Ezekiel Sees the River
Ezekiel 47:1-12

[Video of the sermon can be found here:]
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lnspmqNALdA&list=UUueE_aDXmHikViqmhbAxucg
[Looking around] I don’t see the river today. It doesn’t look as if the river is flowing. What happened?  For the last three weeks, the river has been running through this congregation. It flowed over the pulpit and across the chancel where Baby Moses lay in his basket along the Nile River. It flowed through the aisle like the Sea of Reeds and you all crossed over when the waters were parted. And last week, you stood at the water’s edge, like the Israelites at the Jordan River, ready to cross over into the Promised Land.

But I don’t see the river today. What happened?

What’s happened is that we’ve come through time about 700 years. And we’re a long way from the river. We are in the book of Ezekiel today. Let me tell you what has happened since the Israelites crossed the River Jordan and came into the Promised Land. After conquering the territory and settling there, they established the monarchy with the kings Saul, David and Solomon. It was a glorious time for Israel. They built the Temple as the symbol of God’s throne on earth. When they went from wandering in the wilderness to settling into this new land, they built a house for the Ten Commandments, a glorious temple, which was to be the seat of God among them. And when they did this, the water of God’s blessing was flowing abundantly.

But after the death of Solomon, the kingdom became divided. The people of Israel separated into Northern and Southern kingdoms with different rulers, and a history of rebelling against God’s commands. They had long since forgotten the commitment they made to God back at the River Jordan so long ago. And as the saying goes, a house divided against itself will surely fall. First the Northern Kingdom of Samaria fell to foreign invaders. Then the Southern Kingdom of Jerusalem was attacked by the Babylonians. And in the year 587 BCE, the Temple was destroyed and the people were driven away from their homes and lived in captivity in Babylon.

This was utterly devastating for the Israelites. Remember that the Temple was the center of their universe. Everything revolved around the Temple. All life, all order, all worship, all justice came from the Temple.

But now the Temple is gone. And Ezekiel, a priest and prophet of Israel, is sitting beside his fellow Hebrews in a land that is far from home, enslaved once again by a foreign people. And, quite frankly, they’re depressed. Mostly because they knew they brought this on themselves. They had been warned by the prophets that if they didn’t change their ways and return to laws of God, the consequences would be awful. But they didn’t listen.

No, they were too caught up in protecting the “bottom line”, and they ignored what was really important. If you read through the books of the Minor Prophets - books like Amos, Joel, Habakkuk, Obadiah - you hear the critique of the way people were living - only concerned about getting rich and living the high life, ignoring the needs of the poor, destroying the earth for the sake of temporary profit.

And now they were paying the price. The first thirty-five chapters of Ezekiel recount the judgment against Israel. They worshiped other gods in the Temple, abused the power vested in them, squandered the blessings they had received. Had God abandoned them? No. They had driven God out with their own greed, arrogance, and violence. And now it seemed as if their river had dried up; all that remained were the stagnant waters of hopelessness.

Does any of this sound familiar? Do you see any parallels between the world of Ezekiel and our world today? Actually the resemblance between them is uncanny, especially as it relates to our current ecological crisis.

Like the Israelites in the two kingdoms, we are a house divided against ourselves. There seems to be two kingdoms in the fight over environmental issues. It’s always “us and them”: the polluting industries against communities; the logging companies and the tree-huggers; PETA vs. the chicken industries. Even here in the Upper Susquehanna Valley our own river is threatened by countless forms of pollution, and everyone is taking sides.  We have the shale gas industry on one side and the anti-fracking activists on the other; the tire burner company versus the citizens. Industries and politicians and land owners believe they are fighting for their rights to profit and free enterprise. Environmentalists and conservationists believe they are fighting for the rights of the land and water and air and animals. And neither side is completely free from sin.

Our world is a house divided against itself. And it is falling. Because no matter what side you’re on, there is no disputing the fact that the world is indeed more polluted, the number of illnesses caused by environmental factors is increasing, and the extinction of species is escalating. I would go so far to say that we are living in a state of exile -- exiled from the very planet that was once our Temple. That life-giving, life-sustaining throne of God among us is dying right in front of us. Has God abandoned us? No. We have driven God out with our own greed, arrogance and violence. And our rivers are, literally drying up, befouled by poison, turning into stagnant waters of hopelessness.

And it affects each of us either directly or indirectly on a very personal level.  Like the people of Israel, we are depressed. Have you noticed how many people seemed to be suffering from depression these days?  Just think for a minute – how many people do you know who are taking anti-depressants, yourself included?  I can think of five, just off the top of my head.  This high level of depression is not a coincidence; it is a sign of just how interconnected we all are. More and more people are taking in the suffering of the planet. We are literally bombarded with images and stories and headlines of suffering around the world, and it cannot help but affect us.

“The more highly developed our consciousness becomes, the more . . . that suffering weighs on us, till we risk being crushed by it. . .” (Walter Wink, Engaging the Powers, 304-5) And we are finding that we ourselves are becoming those stagnant waters. Think about a person you know who has suffered from depression. The waters of their spirit just stop flowing. The river is blocked up, its banks clogged with so much pain, so much frustration, so much stuff that needs to be dealt with.

There is a connection between the exiles of Israel and the exiles of the planet and the exiles their own bodies. Their story is our story. And what we need is what the people of Israel needed. We need a vision. We need a reminder that the future is in God’s hands and that all is not lost, that there is hope and that hope does indeed spring eternal. Ezekiel had that vision. Look behind you. [River cloth is dropped from the balcony, and pulled out over the aisle, stretching overhead.]

Ezekiel saw the river. The river flowed out from the Temple, and on either side were trees that never wilted and produced abundant fruit. And the waters were clean and clear and fresh, filled with healthy fish. And people gathered there to draw life from the river, because, as it says in verse 9, “everything will live where the river goes.”

It wasn’t a geographical river like the Nile or the Jordan or the Susquehanna. This was God’s river. And the message that Ezekiel’s vision held was this: “God’s river can bring new life.” That’s what I want you to remember this week. If you’ll recall, each sermon in this series has had a lesson. Last week’s lesson was that sometimes the river can bring you back to God. And this week, the lesson is: “God’s river can bring new life.”

The last thirteen chapters of Ezekiel contain this vision that came to him in the midst of the exile. In the year 573 BCE, after fourteen years of living in the Babylonian Captivity, he saw a vision of the restored Temple in Jerusalem. It is a hope-filled, glorious dream of what life will be like when they return God to the center of their lives, honoring the commandments, living out their faith, respecting the earth that God created.

But in order for the Temple to become the throne of God among them again, they will need to resanctify the land. They needed to, literally, clean up their act. They have to learn to live in harmony with ways of the earth, and with the laws of God, in order to fully experience the restoration and wholeness for which they sought.


You see, Ezekiel’s vision was not just a prophecy for the year 573. Ezekiel’s vision was one for the ages, and, I believe, one for this year, 2013. Nothing is outside the redemptive care and transforming love of God. What was polluted can be cleaned up. What was stagnant can become fresh. What was destroyed may be rebuilt. And what was divided may be reunited.

And it may not seem like it now, because we are still experiencing the exile.  But I can tell you that the river is, indeed, flowing in our midst. Actually, we should probably have stretched this cloth all the way outside the church and down to the street. Because, like Ezekiel’s vision, the river flows from the sanctuary out into the world. The water represents the cosmic river that flows from the Temple, from the earth, from the throne of God. The river is a vivid symbol of the life-giving powers of God.

And I know that the people of this congregation, and the church itself is part of that vision. Before I ever got here, the congregation made the commitment to do away with Styrofoam and disposable dishes and flatware.  Just imagine how much landfill space has been saved by reusing our dishes and silverware each week. And look at the paper recycling cans, and the recycled items brought here for Hand-up Foundation to pick up.  Again, less trash, more reusing and recycling.  Look at the lighting upgrade and how much that has lowered our carbon footprint by using less electricity.  And think of how many people have signed letters about environmental issues, like saving Rock Run in Loyalsock, and opposing the tire burner proposed for White Deer Township. 

This may not seem like much, just a trickle of water.  But remember that the water in Ezekiel’s vision starts out only ankle deep. As it flows out into the world, it gets deeper and deeper. We are only ankle deep in those life-giving waters, my friends. But the water’s going to get deeper and sweeter as we go.

Next week we will come to the conclusion of our series on rivers in the Bible. And we will be in the last book of the Bible, the Book of Revelation. I want you to remember this vision from Ezekiel of the river and trees, because we will see it again. But this time it won’t just be for the Israelites. Next week we’ll see that God’s river is meant for the whole world.

And in meantime, this coming week, I want you to carry this message in your heart and on your lips that we learned today, “God’s river can bring new life.” If you are experiencing depression, one thing you can do is to get yourself to the river, connect with God's Creation around you.  When's the last time you took a walk along the river, put your hand in it, splashed your face with it?  Even if it is just a stream or just the rain falling - one of the best things we can do is to see God's presence infused in all of nature, because that can help to cleanse, nourish and replenish our souls. 

When you hear the news of violence and war, when you see evidence of pollution and disappearing wildlife, when your own soul feels like it’s being poisoned or attacked; and when you start to feel the waters drying up around you, when you feel the depression dragging you into those stagnant waters, I want you to see the vision in your mind and keep repeating these words to yourself, to others. “God’s river can bring new life.” Say it like a prayer. Say it like you mean it. And then watch the waters flow. Amen.



Saturday, July 20, 2013

Sermon: Moses at the Jordan River

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT
Sermon Series
The Rev. Leah D. Schade
Part 3 - Moses at the Jordan River
First Reading -- Deuteronomy 30:11 - 31:3a

(Opening/closing line from A River Runs Through It, while spreading blue cloth across the front pews.)
“Eventually all things merge into one. And a river runs through it. The river was cut from the world’s great flood and flows over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words. And some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

We began this sermon series last month with the story of Baby Moses in the Bulrushes, and we learned that rivers can sometimes bring out the worst in people, and sometimes bring out the best in people. Last time at the parting of the waters, we learned that sometimes the river can make you believe in God. And today, Moses is standing at a third river - the Jordan River. He is at the end of his life. He has brought his people through the wilderness during these last forty years. And today we will learn that sometimes the river can bring you back to God.

Let me fill you in on what’s been happening with the Israelites since they left the Egyptians at the waters’ edge and began their trek into the wilderness. Life has not been easy for them. In fact, sometimes it got so difficult that they grumbled that they wished they were back in Egypt living as slaves again.

Now you’d think they would have been grateful to God for being set free from bondage, and that they’d be eager to live in a way that would show their gratitude for everything God had done for them. But truthfully, these people had a bad attitude. They complained. They whined. They were impatient. Even Moses’ own siblings turned against him at one point. And the people committed the ultimate insult against God. Right after Moses received the Ten Commandments, they fashioned a golden calf to worship instead of God. And that’s just the beginning. If you read through the books of Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy you see over and over how the people revolt and sin and God has to punish them like rebellious children, and Moses has to intercede for them so that they don’t perish in the wilderness.

But God always came through for them. When they could find no water, God had Moses strike a rock and water came pouring out. When they had no food, God sent manna and doves to eat. And God gave them something even more essential for living together and surviving their journey. He gave them the Ten Commandments and a legal code by which they could order their interactions and dealings with each other.

So finally, after four decades of wandering, they finally arrive at the river, the Jordan River, the river that they will cross to enter into the promised land, the land flowing with milk and honey. But it is a bittersweet moment for Moses. Because the Lord has told him that he will not be able to cross into the new land. While he may be able to see this land from a distance, he will not be able to enter it himself. He will die on a mountaintop overlooking the promised land at the age of 120-years-old. His life began at the river’s edge. And it will end at the river’s edge.

But before he takes his leave, Moses gives them one heck of a long sermon. Almost the entire book of Deuteronomy is Moses’ last words to the Israelites, where he reiterates the commandments and the laws God has given them. We heard from Chapter 30 today where Moses passionately entreats them to follow these commands so that they might live and become numerous, and enjoy God’s blessings in the new land.

You see, sometimes the river can bring you back to God. And it is Moses’ fervent hope, that as they stand on the river’s edge, looking across into this new land of hope and promise, they will listen to him and renew their faith, reaffirm their commitment to God.

It’s a profound moment, and one that has relevance for our lives today. Because each of us comes to a point in life where we, too, stand at the water’s edge. Now depending on your stage of life, you may relate more to Moses, or you may relate more to the Israelites.

If you are a parent or grandparent, or anyone who has a relationship with young people, you may feel more of a connection to Moses. Because if you’re a conscientious person, you’ve probably asked yourself, “What kind of legacy am I leaving behind? What am I teaching my children by my words and by my example? What values am I passing on to them?” And I can imagine that you and Moses have the same worries and anxieties, “Are they going to listen to me? Is what I’m doing really going to make a difference? What’s going to happen to them when I’m gone?”

But, like Moses, like every teacher, every parent, every leader, there comes a time when you have to let go. You have say to the people, “Thus far have I brought you, but no further. You’ll have to go on from here without me.” It’s a bittersweet moment. And it takes a tremendous amount of faith in them and in God to finally release your hold and let them go.

That’s why these last words are so important for the Israelites. Because it’s a time of preparing for the future. A time of transition, moving from nomadic life to settled life. A time of change in leadership. A new generation going from wandering in the wilderness to coming home.

Today is the moment of decision, Moses tells them. If you follow the laws of God, God will bless you in this new land. But if your hearts turn away and you do not hear, you shall perish and you shall not live long in the new land. Choose life.

Pretty stark words. It sounds like he’s putting before them a life-or-death decision. It sounds so momentous, like there’s no turning back. Lutherans tend to shy away from this word, “decision.” Our evanglical cousins use it quite often in phrases like, “Make the decision for Christ.” That's not language Lutherans use because we know Christ has already made the decision for us.

And yet, every day is a day of decision. Every moment of crisis is an opportunity for decision. And even little moments of every day choices can have great impact on the future. Will you be ethical and act with moral integrity? Will you help those in need and work for justice? Or will you compromise the values you have been taught for personal gain, or because of self-centeredness, or simply out of laziness?

Maybe you’ve had a time in your life when you made a decision that went against one of the Ten Commandments, or had a period in your life when you were self-centered, or had a bad attitude, or were just plain old lazy. If that’s ever happened to you, then you can most likely relate to the Israelites. You can probably recall the consequences that happened as a result of your decisions. And you probably don’t feel too good about them.

We all have them. Those times in our lives when we rebelled for no good reason. Hurt a person we loved. Neglected our obligations. Fell away from the church. Or even committed a serious crime that affected a lot of people and exacted a terrible price.

Maybe you’re like the Israelites, standing at the river’s edge, realizing that you are not even worthy to cross the water into a new land of promise. You haven’t earned the right. You don’t deserve this privilege. You’re afraid to even look ahead to the future.

If you’re feeling more like one of those Israelites today, then I have some good news for you. It’s the same words that Moses had for his people. He said, “The Lord himself will cross over before you.” Do you know what that means? It means that the future is ultimately not determined by your mistakes or sins or bad decisions. The future is determined by God’s faithfulness, love, and power to forgive and restore.

Sometimes the river can bring you back to God. That’s what happened for the Israelites. After all they put God and Moses through, after all the rebellion and complaining and sinning, you know what God did for them? He parted the water for them one more time. They sent the ark of the covenant out in front of the people as a symbol of their renewed commitment to God, and as soon as the men carrying it stepped foot into the water, it parted. And they all crossed over on dry land. Sound familiar? What a moment of realization that must have been for them, seeing that God was still with them, reminding them of all God had done for them before and will do for them in the future.

You know, it is no coincidence that the very river where the Israelites crossed over will be the same river where Jesus is baptized. Baptism is like standing on the water’s edge, hearing those words of promise: “The Lord himself will cross over before you.”

Renewed dedication is required every day. Every morning you wake up, you’re standing at the river’s edge. Martin Luther said that as you wash your face in the morning, let that water remind you of your baptism, remind you of the person you were born to be, remind you that you are God’s child.

It is never too late to come to the water’s edge and let the river bring you back to God. Each day is a chance to begin again. Each Sunday is a chance to stand at the river’s edge and say, “I am baptized. I am God’s child. I choose life.” Amen.

 

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Sermon: Moses Parts the Waters

A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT: A Sermon Series
The Rev. Leah D. Schade
July 7, 2013
Text: Exodus 14


(Opening/closing line from A River Runs Through It, while spreading blue river cloth down the center aisle.)
“Eventually all things merge into one. And a river runs through it. The river was cut from the world’s great flood and flows over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words. And some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters.”

We are in week two of our 5-week series on rivers in the bible. Last week we looked at the story of baby Moses in the bulrushes along the Nile River. We saw that from a very young age Moses is inextricably tied to the river. And we learned last week that Moses’ name has more than one meaning. The name in Egyptian means “son”. The Hebrew word “Mosheh” means, “I drew him out of the water.” The word “Masheh” means “the one who draws out.” It is Moses who draws out the people of Israel, pulling them from slavery in the land of Egypt, and, in today’s story, drawing them through the Red Sea unharmed.

Now some of you are probably thinking, “Hey, the Red Sea isn’t a river.” That’s true, but the Red Sea is actually a bit of a misnomer. There is some dispute about the exact location where this parting of the waters took place. Some scholars believe it might actually be at a place called the “Sea of Reeds”, indicating a marshy area where a river empties into the sea.

In any case, a spectacular event took place at this body of water, so you’ll just need to permit me a bit artistic license, or preacher’s license. Because today we will learn that sometimes the river can make you believe in God.

Now in order to do this, we’re going to do a role play here. On this side (pulpit side), you are all Israelites. Let me paint a picture of what your life has been like. Everyone stand up. If you are an adult male, you have worked everyday of your life without a day off, and without pay. Your family is given just enough food to keep you alive. You work carrying huge stones for the Pharaoh’s pyramids. Your Egyptian slave-masters taunt you and mock you, trying to get you to strike back so that they have an excuse to beat you or kill you. You are worked until you collapse and die.

If you are a male under age 30, sit down, because you do not even exist. You were drowned by the Egyptians in the Nile River when you were born.

If you are an adult female, you, too are forced to work on the pyramids. No exception is made for you unless you are pregnant or nursing. Then you are given domestic work in the households of Egyptian women who boss you around and treat you like dirt. Your only children are girls.

If you are one of these girls under 18, you help your mother in whatever task she has. And you are beaten and abused by the Egyptians.

Everyone sit down.

Now on this side of the waters is the Egyptian army. Everyone stand up. If you are an Egyptian, you are especially alarmed about a man named Moses and his brother Aaron who have risen to power among the Hebrew slaves and seem intent on inciting them to riot and overturn the social order. And then, over the past several weeks, a series of natural disasters has befallen your country. The water in the Nile has turned to blood. Frogs infested the land. Gnats and flies attacked in swarms. Disease and boils have afflicted your livestock and everyone’s skin. Terrible thunder and hailstorms caused countless amounts of property damage. Locusts have destroyed the crops. Darkness covered the land for three days. All this, they say, is because this Moses fellow has brought the wrath of the Hebrews God among you. Ridiculous, your friends say. It’s just those slaves trying to scare us into letting them go free. We’re Egyptians, the most powerful nation on the earth! We can withstand this.

But just last night, a terrible epidemic swept through the land which took the lives of every person who was the first-born in their household. So if you are the oldest child in your family, sit down. You’d all be dead. Even Pharaoh’s first born child is dead.

Now, if you’re an Egyptian, you really are scared. Because none of the Hebrew’s first-borns were killed. So you’re convinced, now, that there’s something to this Moses and the Hebrew God. You’ve heard that the Pharaoh has told the Hebrews to leave Egypt, and you agree with him. Enough is enough. They are more trouble than they’re worth.

But then a few days go by. All is quiet. No more plagues. But - nothing is happening in Egypt. No one’s pulling stone up the pyramid. No one’s cleaning your houses. No one’s making your clothes. No one’s cooking or serving your meals. The entire economy has shut down! What are you going to do?

I’ll tell you what we’re going to do, says the Pharaoh. We’re going after them! So he marshals his forces and charges out into the wilderness. And let me tell you, you’ve got the most powerful army with the latest technology. You’ve got chariots! One person drives the horse, one holds the shield for protection, and one hurls the spear. It’s like the ancient version of tanks! And you’re all riding right within sight of this vast stretch of water. And there are the Hebrews. Oh, you’ve got ‘em now - they’re trapped!

[To the Israelites] You’re trapped! Everyone stand up. You’ve got this massive body of water in front of you. You’ve got this massive army behind you. You’ll either be drowned or slaughtered. What are you going to do?  I’ll tell you what you’re going to do, says Moses. “Do not be afraid. Stand firm! Watch what God will do.  Believe in God!”

(fold up the river cloth, reciting Exodus 14:21: “Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea. The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.”)

Now if you’re an Israelite on this side, when I say, “Cross,” I want you to cross the aisle, if you are physically able. Take everything with you. Stay standing when you get there.

And if you are an Egyptian on this side, when I say, “Cross”, you too, cross the aisle if you’re able. Take everything with you. Stay standing when you get there.

Everyone ready? “Cross.” Remember to stay standing. [Congregation crosses.]

Now, again, if you’re an Israelite male under the age of 30, sit down.

And if you’re an Egyptian male between the ages of 18 and 50, sit down. Because you are all in the army, and you have all drowned in the waters.

Israel, whose sons had been marked for death by drowning in the Nile River, were now safe on dry land; while Pharaoh and his army, the sons of Egypt, are swallowed up by the water.  Everyone have a seat.


Sometimes the river can make you believe in God.  You know, the Egyptians finally came to believe in God.  But it happened too late.  They started out across the dry sea thinking, Hey, isn’t this great! We’ll cross right over, too, and get those Israelites once and for all! But little did they know what God had in store for them! You’ve heard of the old 1-2 punch? Well this is a 1-2-3.

First, God looked down on the Egyptians and threw them into a panic. Second, God clogged their chariot wheels. Here they were, this great and powerful army with all the modern technology, the marvel of all the world, literally stuck in the mud.

And third - [Pull water-cloth back down aisle] Moses stretched his hand back over the waters, and that was it. God tossed the army into the sea. Remember I said that the river can sometimes make you believe in God? Well, it happened at that moment for the Egyptians. They finally got it. After all those locusts and frogs and flies and boils and the angel of death, they finally say, “Let us flee, for the Lord is fighting for the Israelites against us!”  The Egyptians finally believed in God. But by then it was too late! By the time the morning sun rises, the Israelites see only the bodies of the Egyptians floating on the shore.

 The  Israelites finally believed, too. They rightly feared this God who could command the waters and destroy the most powerful army in the land. It must have been a humbling moment realizing for the first time they could, indeed, believe in God.

This is one of the most powerful stories of the Bible, because it marks the first time that God stands up for the losers. It is the story that has inspired whole communities of people suffering oppression throughout the centuries. This happened most notably in our own country, where the slave population drew strength and hope for deliverance from this story of the Exodus.

And it’s a story that has inspired individuals as well. You know how there are times in your life when you are caught between a rock and a hard place. Or in this case, between an army and a wet place. And it can send you into a panic, crying out like the Israelites, “What am I going to do? What am I going to do? Why is this happening to me? I’m trapped! I have no choices left! I’m doomed no matter what happens!” And you’re stuck in that “fight or flight” mode, knowing that either alternative will lead to disaster.

We’ve all been there. Those times in life when you feel like nothing you do will save you. You’ve gotten yourself into a real mess, or someone else has gotten you into a real mess, and you’re doubting yourself, other people, and especially God. You’re standing at the water’s edge feeling like all hope is gone.

If that ever happens in your life, then this is a story for you. Because there are some lessons to be learned here about what to do when you are facing a hopeless situation. The key is to remember Moses’ words, “1) Do not be afraid. Stand firm!” There is something to be said for simply staying put when you’re being attacked on all sides. Notice, Moses doesn’t say, “Run for your lives!” And he doesn’t say, “Prepare yourselves for battle.” He says only to stand firm and to watch what God will do for them.

The second lesson “2) Watch what God will do.” Remember that sometimes God is working in your life even when you don’t realize it. One of the most interesting things about this miracle that people rarely notice is that it happened at night. Remember, verse 21 tells us that the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and turned the sea into dry land.

It must have been extremely frightening being told to go forward in the darkness of night. This is what we might call a leap of faith, taking a deep breath and taking that first step, expecting to feel cold water swirling around your feet and legs, but instead - it’s dry. You take another step. Still dry. On and on you walk, your mouth hanging open, wondering what’s going on here? And before you know it, the entire population of the Israelites has crossed over on dry land and is standing on the other side.

So the third lesson is - 3) “Believe in God!” Watch for what God may be doing in your life to open up a way you had never even dreamed possible. Remember, God is always thinking outside the box, so to speak. And a solution may be blowing your way like a strong east wind.

So when you are in that place where there seems to be no options, no way out, and no hope, I want you to remember these words that Moses spoke to the Hebrews and the lessons they teach us: “1) Do not be afraid! Stand firm! 2) Watch what God will do. 3) Believe in God!”

Sometimes the river can make you believe in God. You have only to stand firm, trust God, and then take those steps on dry land.

Amen. 

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Reflections of a Lutheran Ecotheologian

Lutherans Restoring Creation http://www.lutheransrestoringcreation.org/ is a grassroots organization incorporating care for creation into the life and mission of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. As a contributor to LRC's liturgical off-shoot, Let All Creation Praise (http://www.letallcreationpraise.org)  I was asked to write a reflection of what has inspired my work in connecting ecological concerns with theology.  

The woods of my childhood were the cathedrals of my youth.  I spent countless hours in the patch of woods near my house climbing trees, building forts, living a secret life of adventure away from grown-up eyes.  This was my hide-out from mean kids, my sanctuary from a chaotic home life, and the sacred space where my friends and I would meet for days of unstructured, imaginative play.
  
Then one day the bulldozers appeared.  Yellow tape cordoned off the trees silently awaiting their execution.  My friends and I watched in horror as the wooden sentries of our youth were ripped up from their roots.  In less than a day our childhood had been razed to a flat, brown expanse. 

As a young person, I mourned these nature-losses in isolation.  Adults’ total disregard for the “feelings” of the trees and animals had caused me much pain and sobbing sadness as a na├»ve child.  I instinctively felt an intimate connection between the natural sacred places and my own small self, a connection that felt deeply violated whenever I helplessly witnessed the destruction of these wild landscapes.  I was angered and frustrated to tears that I could do nothing to anticipate or speak out against the planned decimation of my favorite wooded places, much less prevent their deaths. 

 When I would try to talk to the adults in my life about my concerns, it was gently explained to me that the needs of those who owned the land superseded the needs of the land itself, not to mention the needs of a little tomboy seeking solace.  No argument I could make for the “rights” of the land and its nonhuman occupants withstood the argument which ended all discussion:  money.  End of conversation.

Coinciding with this arc of strengthening ecological awareness was another arc intersecting and intertwining along the way.  It was the arc of my theological awareness and sense of call to ministry.  After becoming an ordained minister I found ways to integrate my Earth-concerns with my ministry through preaching, teaching adults, youth and Confirmation students, and through my initiation and implementation of an Eco-ministry committee within the church.  It was a natural move, then, to formally join these two arcs into one as I began doctoral studies at The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia.
  
I am convinced that it is now time for the speechless little girl standing at the edge of the forest facing the bulldozers to speak, indeed, to preach, to offer her voice to speak for and with the trees, the wildlife, and Earth herself.   And more, to educate others in the art of conversing with the natural world and engaging in theological reflection within that context, so that a Word may be preached which proclaims God’s liberation for human and non-human alike.  It is with this conviction - that preaching can help give new life to God’s Earth, and that God’s Earth can give new life to preaching, that I undertake my work. 
See the post here:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Tire Burners, Shale Gas, You and Me: We’re All Connected

The Rev. Leah Schade

This op-ed appeared in the Milton Standard Journal on July 2, 2013, and in the Sunbury Daily Item on July 6, 2013.  It was written in response to the proposed tire incinerator planned for National Gypsum by En-Tire Logistics in White Deer Township, Union County, Pa.  

Something is fundamentally wrong with our democracy when businesses are de facto given more voice, clout, protection and ultimately more power under the law than citizens and communities seeking to protect themselves from harm. 
With the tire incinerator proposed by En-Tire Logistics for National Gypsum, regardless of the threat this business poses to the health of their local community, the White Deer Township Supervisors’ hands are tied by the law that requires them to approve a conditional use permit as long as it complies with the provisions of local ordinances.  This raises an important question as our nation celebrates Independence Day this coming week.  How did the law – which has evolved in this country over more than two centuries – devolve to this point where capitalistic interests supersede human interests of safety?  Could the founders of this nation have intended this when they risked their lives to commit to the cause of freedom and democracy?  Certainly not.  And yet the steady, insidious (some would say demonic) hand of Mammon has chipped away at our humanity and quietly shaped the law for so long, and largely without significant challenge, that we have locked ourselves into a system of our own making and allowance. 
               As a nation we see how distorted and corrupt the system has become when the highest court in the land actually grants personhood status to economic entities and corporate interests (Citizens United, 2010).  On the state level we see how Act 13, which grants favored status to the shale gas industry under the law, has paved the way for the violation of citizen and community rights across Pennsylvania.  
And right in our backyard with this proposed tire incinerator, we are faced with the confounding conundrum of how to prevent a clear threat to our area’s beauty and public health when every governmental and democratic avenue appears to be closed to us. 
               Yet these challenges have caused neither dismay nor acquiescence among the citizens I have been privileged to work alongside in groups such as Organizations United for the Environment, Shale Justice and the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition.  I have witnessed the coming together of some of the most incredible minds and committed citizens I have ever met.  We are all bringing our varied talents and skills to the table for the cause of protecting our land, water and communities, while advocating for an economically just system fueled by clean energy and supported by a system of true democracy.  Of this, I believe our country’s founders would swell with pride.  

Rev. Schade is the pastor of United in Christ Lutheran Church in Lewisburg, a PhD Candidate at the Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, and founder of the Interfaith Sacred Earth Coalition.