A Creation Justice Covenant

This summer we read Jim Antal’s, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change, at Greensboro United Church of Christ. We gathered for five weeks to discuss our planet and our responsibility to care for it. The experience was rich and sobering. We took account of the ways we have already accepted the task identified by Thomas Berry “. . .to be a more benign presence” on our planet. We also concluded that there was more for us to do. The statement below is a work in progress. If you have feedback that would make it more useful, please share. We came out of our summer study with a deep sense of urgency. Yes, we could have and should have done more sooner. We have not done many of those things. Therefore, what we want for this document to help us do is, in the words of Wendall Berry, to “make the world a better piece of ground?”
We are calling it a creation justice covenant. Creation, because we believe that life is God’s gift to us all. Justice, because we know harm done to our planet impacts the most those least able to cope with such harm. Covenant, because this crisis is serious enough for us to solemnly and intentionally promise to do something about it.

A working document
Greensboro United Church of Christ
Creation Justice Covenant

Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?  Ezekiel 34:18-19

Because creation is a gift from God entrusted to our care and we want to safeguard that gift for future generations,

Because we have begun to see the value of living and acting in ways that improve the health of our planet and are ready to exercise vision instead of convenience,

Because we know that the burden of a degraded planet falls heaviest on those who are least able to respond to such changes,

Because we know that we only have one planet on which to live,

And Because the UCC General Synod, Vermont Conference, and other faith communities have acknowledged the crisis of climate change,

We, the Greensboro United Church of Christ, recognizing that the world is in a moral and environmental crisis, commit ourselves to learning and discovering new ways to improve the health of our planet, acting with hopeful perseverance in order to stop the destruction and foster rejuvenation in our hearts and in our world. Acting as disciples of social justice, we commit to applying what we learn in the life we share together as a congregation. This commitment is both a testimony to our trust in God and a witness to how we hear God calling us to be together as a community of faith.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘See, the home of God is among mortals. Revelation 21:3

God is Still Speaking

After a wonderful week of camp with some amazing middle schoolers and totally committed camp staffers. . .

After news of tragic violence in El Paso, Dayton and other places. . .

After sharing bread and cup with a faith family that seeks to love others as Christ has loved us. . .

After coming to the realization that while mass shootings still sadden me, they no longer shock or surprise me. . .

After waking up on another Monday wondering what in the world we have become. . .

I open my worship plan to see what biblical text I choose weeks ago to be the focus of our worship this coming Sunday —BAM! — there it is, God is still speaking!

For those who have ears to ear and eyes to see. . .

Isaiah 1:1, 10-20

The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.

Hear the word of the Lord, you rulers of Sodom! Listen to the teaching of our God, you people of Gomorrah! What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? says the Lord; I have had enough of burnt offerings of rams and the fat of fed beasts; I do not delight in the blood of bulls, or of lambs, or of goats. When you come to appear before me, who asked this from your hand? Trample my courts no more; bringing offerings is futile; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath and calling of convocation— I cannot endure solemn assemblies with iniquity. Your new moons and your appointed festivals my soul hates; they have become a burden to me, I am weary of bearing them. When you stretch out your hands, I will hide my eyes from you; even though you make many prayers, I will not listen; your hands are full of blood.

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow. Come now, let us argue it out, says the Lord: though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be like snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool. If you are willing and obedient, you shall eat the good of the land; but if you refuse and rebel, you shall be devoured by the sword; for the mouth of the Lord has spoken.

If you are in the neighborhood, join us Sunday as we listen for God.

 

Leaving and Following (Continued)

Yesterday I mentioned Grace Episcopal Church in Lexington, VA changing its name from R.E. Lee Memorial Church as an example of Leaving and Following. They are not alone. From the first capital of the Confederate States of America, comes the news that members of St. John’s Episcopal Church will no longer honor Jefferson Davis with a plaque and pew in the church’s sanctuary. God is still speaking to and through the hearts of faithful followers.

Leaving and following may take some time and may be difficult for a variety of reasons, but it is never too late to follow Jesus.

Keep Micah in Christmas

December is here. That means Christmas is here. Of course, between now and Christmas, there is Advent. Advent may, at times, feel like what we do while we wait for Christmas, a sort of spiritual twiddling of the thumbs or a kind of contemplative doodling.

We need more from Advent than merely filling space or marking time. Like each of our days and all of our seasons, it is an opportunity for us to deepen our connection with God and what God is doing in the world. In that regard, this time before Christmas may be more important than our celebration of the day itself.

“Christ is born,” is the Christmas acclamation. What difference does it make in my life, that Christ has been born is an Advent question. What impact does the birth of Christ have on my life, my community, in my world? Does that birth move my thoughts, actions, hopes and dreams closer to God’s vision for God’s creation?

Arriving at Christmas without asking some questions and examining our motivation leaves us open to sentimentalizing or worse, belittling Christmas. If we make no attempt or see no need to reconnect our lives to God’s vision for them, it is easy for us to conclude that Christmas is just about God loving us.

On the 4th Sunday of Advent, worshipers in many churches may hear Micah 5:1-5. Christians have long read this passage in anticipation of Christmas because we hear in its mention of Bethlehem and a woman giving birth, a reference to the birth of Christ. To get at the heart of what God wants for and from Christmas, we need to start reading a chapter earlier.

Micah 4:34 speaks of God’s purpose for Christmas and vision for God’s creation as well as any two verses of scripture. It reads “… they shall bent their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore; but they shall sit under their own vines and under their own Fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid.’

Jesus echoes the heart of Micah’s words when he speaks about the Kingdom of God. He is thinking of that time and place when God gets what God wants. He teaches his disciples to pray for God’s will to be done on earth as it is in heaven. With that prayer, he is teaching his disciples and us to live for, work for and pray for a life on earth where we all have a place to call home, enough to eat and no reason to be afraid

Through the centuries, many Christians have resigned such visions to the afterlife, thinking such a vision of life together impossible this side of heaven. Such a view leaves Christmas present sandwiched between a long ago birth and the future return of Christ. Understanding Christmas in this way allows us to celebrate a historical event and anticipate a future one without engaging the radical implications of Christ’s birth in our present day. It may leave us wondering if a child has been born at all.

Anyone who has children knows that the birth of a child changes everything. Nothing is ever the same after she is born. Yet, whether by our acquiescence, apathy or accommodation, we abide a system that allows a few to have more than they can use while too many do not have what they need, we are acting as if Christ has not been born. We surrender to a view of the world where there are too few fig trees and not enough vines for us all. That is neither the world God created nor the Christmas God wants for any of us.

Advent, at least in part, is a time to discover what it will look like for us to live together in a world where Christ has been born.

Good Morning, Vermont!

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The new pastor is here! Patti and I arrived in Greensboro full of excitement, anticipation and gratitude. Thanksgiving was a most appropriate season for us to move to Greensboro and to begin serving as pastor of Greensboro United Church of Christ. We are most grateful for those you of who worked so diligently to make the parsonage ready for our arrival. You did a wonderful job. For the many ways you have made us feel welcomed into this community and this church, we thank you.

As I listen to stories about the important work of reflection and self-examination that the congregation has done during the interim time, I am grateful for the ministry of Rev. Rona Kinsley.  Her time here in Greensboro will be a benefit to our congregation for many years to come.

We had our first small group meeting yesterday. We will have two more before this week is finished and there are more opportunities in the following week. The purpose of these meetings is to give me an opportunity to get to know you. If you have not signed up for one already, I hope you will do so in the fellowship hall this Sunday. I am grateful for your willingness to help me get to know you in these small group settings.

Already, we have celebrated the first Sunday of Advent. We are making our way to Bethlehem. In our lives, we are making room for the one for whom there was no room on that long-ago night. As the last few weeks have clearly demonstrated, we live busy and crowded lives. Making room is necessary work. We need to make room, space, time and silence.  There is a child on the way.  God is coming to us, Emmanuel.

Christmas will be here before you know it. While I don’t know all that you have to do to get ready for that day, I hope that you are getting ready to experience again the wonder of God’s presence with you and love for you.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity experience that love and that presence with you.

Joy & peace,

Ed

 

A Prayer of Thanksgiving: First Baptist Church of Phenix City

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Last Sunday, I preached for the final time as pastor of the First Baptist Church of Phenix City.  This week, as we transition to a new place of service, I have had time to reflect and to recall the many reasons for which I am thankful to have shared life and ministry with the people of First Baptist.

For an Alabama church willing to call a Tennessean to serve as pastor and decorate the tables at the welcome reception with orange and white,

For a church willing to welcome everyone,

For Country’s, Minnie’s, Chef Lee’s, Ed’s and El Vaquero,

For Bobby, Barbara, Julia, Daniel W, Ben and singers who always sing with heart, soul and voice.

For all the work that so many did to make the parsonage a wonderful place for Patti, Huck, Chloe and I to call home,

For faithful people who always seemed to be there when church was happening,

For merciful folks with loyalties to and love for Alabama, Auburn and Georgia who shared the pain of Tennessee football losses with me.

For the backpacks of food that are packed and delivered each week to help 35 students at Phenix City Elementary have a little extra,

For all the hours of effort and being together to make “The Holy Smoke Barbeque” happen,

For kids, chaperones and weeks spent at PassportKids,

For the sounds and sights that Bryan, Daniel B., Chris and Jeremy brought to us,

For Advent, Christmas Eve, Ash Wednesday, Lent, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and other special times of worship,

For gifts of food, plants and Diet Coke,

For the times of sharing communion around the Lord’s table and all the other times that the table spoke to us through creative and thoughtful displays,

For baby dedications and baptisms,

For time with Bubba and the youth from Panama City to the Smoky Mountains and lots of cool places in between,

For those who prepared and those who shared breakfast before Sunday School,

For Wednesday mornings at Jack Hughston,

For ministry to families experiencing a housing crisis through partnership with Valley Interfaith Promise,

For special occasions that caused people to mysteriously start singing “Rocky Top.”

For all the times of being witness to amazing outcomes when individuals who were willing to offer what they were able to do in service to God and others,

For being included in family birthday and holiday celebrations,

For church members who became friends,

For every time we gathered in worship to profess our faith in a God who loves us dearly and who always will,

For the future of First Baptist and the promise that it holds,

For these and many other reasons, I am grateful to have served alongside the people of First Baptist to tell the story of a God who loves us all. Amen.

Stop the Hate

Thank you to Ethicsdaily and to the Knoxville News-Sentinel for sharing the love I tried to write about in Using God to Bully.

“At some thoughts one stands perplexed, above all at the sight of human sin, and wonders whether to combat it by force or by humble love. Always decide ‘I will combat it by humble love.’ If you resolve on that once and for all, you can conquer the whole world. Loving humility is a terrible force: it is the strongest of all things, and there is nothing else like it.”

– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, from
The Brothers Karamazov

Sadly, so many today see love not as a strong force for transformation, but as a weakness. Dostoyesky’s words are a helpful reminder that love is more powerful than we realize.

Using God to Bully

Did you know that in the State of Tennessee there is a law against bullying in schools?  It allows local school districts to develop policies to ensure that students are protected from physical harm, threats of physical harm, and actions that would create a hostile educational environment.

Current attempts to change this law are concerned about the rights of students to express religious opinions.  In other words, some people want to change this law so that it will be permissible for students to express their religious opinions even if expressing those religious opinions creates a hostile educational environment for the student to whom they are being expressed.  For example, Muslim students, who pray five times daily, would be free to criticize Christian students about their lack of devotion to God because they do not pray with as much frequency.  Unitarian students could constantly pester Trinitarian students about their inability to adequately explain the Trinity.  Mormon students could demean Protestant students for their unwillingness to be baptized for their dead ancestors. In short, as long as what a student says to or about another student would be permitted as long as it was based on the speaker’s religious beliefs.

Of course, those seeking to amend the law are not primarily, if at all, concerned about the rights of Muslim, Unitarian or Mormon students.  What they are really concerned about is that no law would prohibit a good Christian student from telling and informing a student that is homosexual or perceived to be homosexual of his or her eternal destination or how God really feels about him or her.

The fact that the effort to change this law to allow students to use their religious beliefs to bully others is being led by a group, the Family Action Council of Tennessee that purports to hold up biblical values, makes the endeavor even more ironic.  If a group of Christians were going to get something from the Bible written into the laws of a state, why not something like, “…do unto others as you would have them do unto you…” or “…love one another as I have loved you?”  Why not something that reflects the core of Jesus’ teachings?

This effort to use religion to justify bullying is an example of a group trying to use their religion to maintain their perceived notion of society rather than allowing their religion to inform and shape how they impact their culture.  There is quite enough hatred and intolerance in our world.  Seeing adults trying to pass that hatred on to our children is a sad sight, no matter how sophisticated and sanitized their effort might be.

I am reminded of the Anne Lamont quote, “You can safely assume that you’ve created God in your own image when it turns out that God hates all the same people you do.”  The God of the New Testament is not one of hate, not one that desires to be used to bully students into feeling left out, isolated, and alone.  The God of the New Testament is one who took on flesh and came to dwell among us so that we would know that we are loved. That same God promised to never leave us alone, but to always be with us.  That God calls us into the world to love with the same radical love with which we ourselves have been loved.

When we find ourselves loving someone we never thought we could, then we may find ourselves approaching the love that Christ has for us.  When we discover ourselves loving someone we never had any reasons to notice, then we may be getting close to the love Christ has for us.  Christ’s love for us is unconditional, unwarranted, unearned, yet freely given.  We are called not just to receive it, but to share it.