"Creation Resurrected" Sermon from Sunday, April 26, 2020 by Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking
Message: "Creation Resurrected"
Scripture: John 20:19-31
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Fifty years ago this week, the first Earth Day was established. We’re honoring Earth Day this morning and celebrating this 50 year milestone with a special opening prayer, our hymns and meditations. Epworth’s newly established Climate Emergency Response Team has invited you to watch and respond to the documentary film the Human Element, the link is still available on our website: https://www.epworthberkeley.org/post/celebrate-the-50th-anniversary-of-earth-day A few months ago, a friend shared with me the new daily e-newsletter called HEATED, edited by a woman named Emily Atkin. Atkin quit her job as a writer for The New Republic to launch the newsletter and devote pretty much her every waking hour to combatting climate change, focusing on corporations, governments and greed. HEATED has quickly become one of the most go-to sources of climate related issues and Atkin herself is now being called one of the foremost climate journalists in the US. She’s regularly featured in print and broadcast news. On the six month anniversary of HEATED in early March, Atkin announced she was going to take a two week vacation, the first break she’d had since launching the newsletter. She said, “We launched HEATED in September...I said yes to every speaking event and media program I was invited to. I responded to every single email from every single reader. I’m physically unable to do that now, which [stinks], but is also great [because it shows how much people care]…I am pretty tired, though. So I’m taking a little break to clear my head and inbox. Just two weeks off the grid, and then I’ll be back.” She left the country and came back in mid March to a changed world when she returned. Most of the US was under shelter in place orders. And everything that had happened triggered a huge professional identity crisis for Atkin. She wrote, “Every week, I come to you with a clear and unwavering message: that solving the climate crisis requires laser-focus on the powerful. That we all have a responsibility to reduce our personal carbon emissions, but that our responsibility pales in comparison to the bosses, the billionaires, the politicians and corporate executives. These are the people who got us into this mess, and they should be the ones getting us out.” The truth is that Atkin doubted that individual responses could ever be enough to solve the climate crisis. I admit to some extent I was in the same camp. In 2014, just days before the United Nations climate summit that was to set climate policy for the next decades, I led a contingent from my organization to march in the People’s Climate March in New York City. It was considered the largest climate march in history, with sister actions across the globe. But, as we came up from the subway the morning of the march, I said to one of our staffers, “It’s important that we’re part of this, but it really rests on governments, politicians, and good policy to address greedy corporations and power hungry CEOs and policy enforcement.” The March was a powerful experience, but I doubted our individual actions could be enough. “People have changed their behavior about as much as their willing to do,” I said. In our scripture today from John, we encounter the disciple known as “doubting Thomas.” The resurrection has happened, but the disciples are huddled together in the locked Upper Room. And miraculously, Jesus comes to them and offers them peace. They recognize him and their grief turns to joy. The one they love is still among them! He gives them the gift of the Holy Spirit and tells them that just as he has been sent to creation, so are they sent out to heal and love. But the problem was Thomas had stepped out at that moment. He missed Jesus’ appearance. So when he returns and the other disciples tell him they’ve seen Jesus, he’s risen and is still among them, Thomas says, “Unless I see I see the mark of nails in his hands and side and put my finger in the bloody spot, I will not believe.” Poor Thomas. History will forever refer to him as Doubting Thomas, but actually doubt and faith are two sides of the same coin. This is why we pray that prayer, “Lord we believe, help our unbelief.” Doubt only happens when people are engaged in something that matters deeply to them, thinking and hoping. Thomas was a disciple, a follower of Jesus who was still part of the remaining 11. He didn’t leave or give up, he was struggling. Over and over in the Bible, we encounter faithful people who are struggling. Their story is their struggle and how they made it through. The struggle is what makes us human and makes us grow, sometimes as in the words of the poet Aeschylus, this growth is painful and comes “through the awful grace of God.” Because the struggle is also what connects us to Jesus, the one who came to us as one of us, who suffered and rejoiced as a common laborer, son, friend. The scripture from John tells us that about a week after Thomas proclaimed his doubt, Jesus returned to the Upper Room. He again stood among them and said “Peace be with you.” This time Thomas was there. Jesus invited Thomas to put his hand on his wounds. To touch his pain. To touch his humanity. To me this wasn’t so much Jesus offering proof of his existence and resurrection but letting Thomas know that he struggles with us. Thomas recognizes that this is indeed the Jesus he had known, and exclaims, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus responds simply, “Blessed are those who have not seen but still come to believe.” Doubt is a manifestation of an inability to see all possibilities. So often when we face something and struggle, especially when the struggle is over something we long for deeply, we see only a few paths to get what we need or arrive at the hoped for place. But God doesn’t. The number of possibilities to get to good, for God, are infinite. I’ve always thought that one of the definitions of grace is that no matter what we do, even if we believe we’ve messed up and made some irrevocable mistake, God reorders things on such an inconceivable level that there’s always a new path to the best possible outcome. There’s always a way to the kin-dom of God. This is the meaning of resurrection. When we look at the climate crisis, too often our answers have been binary—it’s either the action of individuals that will make the difference, or it’s the action of governments and CEOs. And sometimes we’ve said it’s both. But really what we’ve learned, especially now in this current covid crisis, is that even these answers are too small, too limited. The path toward climate resurrection is way beyond our imaginings. God is present and working among us, making a way out of no way, using all of our action for change and even our blunders to bring us into new life. Who would have ever thought that we as a global community could face something that would force us to act collectively to such a degree that people in northern India and Pakistan can now see the snowcaps on the Himalayas for the first time in more than a generation? Or that the canals in Venice would be so clear you could see the fish? Or that the air in Los Angeles would be clear on a consistent basis? Now please don’t misunderstand me, I am in no way saying that God orchestrated coronavirus to help the environment. What we know about the origins of the virus at this point is that human action, inaction, market economies, the failures of government and misfortune combined to create a pandemic. But the point is that we have shown that we can, in order to protect each other, change how we live in drastic ways, ways that we said before really weren’t possible. Now that is not to deny that the shifts we’ve made haven’t had other negative impacts. We know these immediate changes without planning have left many who were already vulnerable even more so and some who were not vulnerable newly in need. We must face those impacts with the same courage that the climate crisis calls from us. In marveling at the ways humans have rallied to protect each other, Emily Atkin said, “The hardest thing in the world is to have courage—to work toward a goal despite pain, or grief, or really crappy odds. But that’s what solving the climate crisis will require. That’s why I don’t think pessimism itself (and I would translate that as doubt) is the problem. Because we’re not going to find the resolve to mobilize if we’re all falsely hoping that everyone is going to be OK.” In any real struggle for a greater good, there are periods of doubt. To bring about change in one’s self or in a transformed world is a huge task. Am I doing any good, we wonder? Is this even possible, we say? Rather than being signs of lack of faith, these questions show we are, as Brené Brown and Theodore Roosevelt would say, “in the arena” and this is the place of life. All of our actions matter, all of our hope, our wondering, our doubting, our stumbling, our embarrassing moments and missteps, especially when we are in the struggle toward a greater good. God comes to us in the struggle, most especially in our doubt and despair and says, I am with you. Sometimes God’s voice comes to us through the testimony of our comrades in the struggle, our friends in faith, like the other disciples who bore witness to Thomas. And sometimes God’s presence is right in front of us, an unavoidable assurance. The resurrection of Jesus and his appearance to Mary and the disciples was a miracle, something they never thought possible, even though he told them it was going to happen! In our faith and in our doubt, may we know that resurrection will continue to happen. The paths and possibilities toward miracle are often beyond our seeing. But as we keep struggling, and keep looking for God, we co-create with God a creation resurrected. Amen.
Special thanks to... Preacher: Rev. Kristin Stoneking Contributors: Rev. Brian Adkins, Rick Beeman, Merrie Bunt, Diane Downs, Akesa Fakava, Orion Lacey, Gus, Nell & Sophie Schafer Children's Message: Susan Jardin “The View from My Window” compilation by Sally Nasman Special Music: Rev. Jerry Asheim, Annette Cayot, Jonah Arreola-Burl, Caroline & Aeri Lee (Be Thou My Vision), Meilin & Mikko Jokela (You’re Not Alone by Owl City) Video producer: Jacob Wilbur Podcast producer: Ethan Lindsey Livestream producer: Merrie Bunt All those who participated by watching from home!