Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Lift High the Cross

Scripture for the 4th Sunday in Lent includes Numbers 21:4-9, Ephesians 2:1-10; John 3:14-21

The lilacs are budded. Tulips are up six inches in my south-exposed garden, where there’s a blaze of crocuses causing a stir-up of bees. It’s the Fourth Sunday in Lent, when custom calls for a lightening-up of Lenten discipline—even if the author of the Letter to the Ephesians keeps insisting that Christians be wary of “following the desires of flesh and senses.” It’s spring, for heaven’s sake, and we’d be dull clods if we didn’t smell it in the air and rejoice. That’s what this fourth Lenten Sunday has long been called: Laetare Sunday, from the Latin “laetare”, rejoice, the first word of the psalm in the old Roman rite.

Mothering Sunday is another of its nicknames. Tumble back to the 16th century, and you’d find people keeping this as one of their very few holidays. Domestic servants were given the day off to return to their mothers and, with them, attend worship in their “mother churches”, the hometown churches where they’d been baptized and raised.

“Refreshment Sunday” is yet another of this day’s names. Back when Lent meant forswearing meat and dairy products, people were ready by this Lenten midpoint to kick back and be bad… simnel cakes, bacon, and two eggs over easy, please. No accident, that today’s collect asks God to “evermore give us this bread”, even if what’s meant is metaphorical and spiritual, the true bread, Christ.

Real bread has been baked for us, this Lent. Diana Elvin and Elvy O’Brien have been our bakers, so far. I’m hoping there are more bread bakers among you who’d like to provide communion bread for future Sundays. While we may have grown attached to those wafers the nuns make for us, it’s a nice change to get our hands and our taste buds on real bread. Someone has said that the church demands no greater leap of faith than when she asks her people to believe that those wafers are bread.

Speaking of belief, what’s going on in the Book of Numbers with Moses ordering a bronze serpent to be held up on a pole? There was just never a dull day in those days of old. Don’t expect a neat answer to this one. And why even bother? Well, there’s Jesus in John’s Gospel telling us, “Just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”

Snakes do not make out well in the Bible, do they? Like dragons, they represent evil and the devil. It probably didn’t help their reputation in ancient Israel, that certain neighboring nations had a religion that worshiped snakes. Commentators say that what’s going on in today’s story is that Israel is co-opting that pagan religious image, showing their neighbors (while also showing any backsliders in Israel who might have been tempted to practice snake worship) showing everyone that Israel’s God was greater than the pagan snake-god.

So this was supposed to be a kind of wilderness evangelism. Because of the loyal love of Israel’s God, who faithfully kept the covenant promises made to the patriarchs and matriarchs, if any of those Israelites in the wilderness were bitten by snakes, they simply had to look to the pole in Moses’s hand and they would live.

As far as I can see, it’s open season for efforts at making sense of this story. The commentators don’t seem any too confident in their explanations. And the point in even trying is to catch what our patron St. John has in mind when he revives the image.

I figure that what Moses decided to do was to make it impossible for his people to deny that they had a problem, a problem that could unite them. He put a bronze snake on that pole because live snakes were nipping at their ankles, everybody’s ankles. He put on that pole a graphic image of their problem. I think he knew that this strategy could unite them at a time when something more vicious than snakes was feeding on them.

So far the only thing that was uniting them was their anger and their fear. Remember that these former slaves had taken the biggest gamble of their lives when they stepped off that river bank and followed Moses out of their status quo as mistreated slaves in Egypt, into freedom in a new land that God promised (through Moses) to be flowing with milk and honey. It didn’t take them long to discover that in a long wilderness march, you run out of food and water. Back home in Egypt, they at least had food and drink. The longer and the harder their journey, the more they complained bitterly (even when they were saved from hunger and thirst by the providence of God), sinking into the worst of human nature as “children of wrath”, to borrow a phrase from our second lesson.

How bad did this get? Every time God sent blessing, God’s people cursed. Water for their thirst? Moses found them a well by a rock—it wasn’t enough. Food for their hunger? Migrating quails literally fell on their camp, and a vegan option, manna, condensed on the foliage overnight—they found that menu boring and literally beneath them.

Finally, God is said to have taken a desperate measure to restore perspective: having opened to them all the native resources of the land, God wondered what it would do for their outlook if they noticed one more example of the abundance of God’s creation: the prodigious supply of snakes in that wilderness. It might also be said that God was indulging in a bit of heavenly retribution—but that would suggest that a grumbling people had reduced Yahweh to a grumbling God, and that should alarm us, that people should have such wrathful power.

I think Moses put that snake on his pole because it was the very best and most accurate image he could find to represent not God’s anger, but theirs, his people’s. Were they so angry, so blinded by their complaining, that they didn’t watch where they were stepping, didn’t watch out for one another, didn’t even pay attention to a far worse danger than having to eat leftovers? “Remember the snakes, people!” his rod and staff said, loud and clear. “And remember the power of your own attitude to adversity. It will either carry you through this time of great danger, or it will lay you low. Poisonous attitudes pose a greater risk than poisonous snakes. Try gratitude.”

Does anything carry over from this treatment of Moses’ story to John’s revival of it?

The “lifting up” that must happen to the Son of Man refers to what the church calls the Passion of Christ—his life, his death, his resurrection. His life, his public ministry, lifted up out of obscurity the outcast people of Palestine, in fact the marginalized and ill-treated “little ones” of all times and cultures, lifting them up while casting down the mighty, rendering all people equal in God’s sight. This radical movement he initiated set him on a collision course with the dominant powers of his world, this world, and he freely chose to ride out that collision as he was lifted high upon the cross, punished and executed by the collaborating powers of both state and religion. That neither, nor both, could silence his Word and terminate his power and defeat his love is shown in his being lifted up, raised, from death. And beyond, the fellowship he created constantly lifts him up in Word and sacrament, in servanthood and the practice of his kind of love. All of this lifting up is best symbolized by the cross, which (however partially) unites Christian people unlike anything else.

What was a shameful instrument of death has become a potent sign of the enduring power of loyal love. Like the curative sight of Moses’ pole, the cross of Jesus invites us to stop grumbling about our own little piles of thorns—or our big ones-- and gain perspective.

The cross that has Jesus’s body nailed on it urges us to watch where and how we walk, that we not add to the breaking of Mary’s heart, or the wounding of the Body of Christ, but bind ourselves to God by an attitude of reverence for all life.

The cross that has on it Jesus’s transformed body freed by resurrection, robed as a priest and crowned as a king, draws us to measure the riches of his grace that saves us for good works through God’s church and in God’s world.

And the cross that has no body on it shows no less where loyal love has gone and wants to go still, all-embracing by its cross-beam and joining earth to heaven by its pole.

Like the pole of Moses’ making, the cross of Jesus makes it obvious to us, and undeniable, that we have a problem. We live in a world that resorts to violence, a world where death appears to have the last word. The cross displays what the grace of God can make of violence and death. Like Moses laying claim to a symbol of worldly power and redeeming it for higher purpose in the service of God, Mother Church lays hold of the cross, converting it from representing brutal capital punishment and brazen death, freeing it to stand for the greatest love that calls us to look to it and live.

To look up to the cross of Jesus is to let our attitudes be reshaped to a gratitude that is itself the antidote to venoms that inflame human hearts. It is the sign of the cross that restores in us the divine likeness in which we are made, by which our world is remade in God’s new creation.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Power of Loyal Love

Scripture for the 3rd Sunday in Lent includes Exodus 20:1-17; I Corinthians 1:18-25; and John 2:13-22

The story of Jesus overturning the tables of the money-changers and sellers of livestock in the temple precincts—here’s a Gospel event I’ve never seen as the subject of a stained glass window. Have you?

Imagine it. All those coins falling to the pavement. Tables tumbling at odd angles. Terror in the eyes of the animals. Shocked faces, as peoples mouths are left gaping.

I wonder if we know what to make of this one, how to display it in our gallery of Jesus moments.

Matthew, Mark, and Luke locate this spectacular temple protest near the end of our Lord’s public ministry. We’re accustomed to imagining that this strategic disruption of the status quo uniquely fueled the fires that would consume Jesus.

But John places this event right near the start of Jesus’s ministry. What a way for Jesus to make his mark! Unlikely he would have lasted as long as he did, says one commentator, if this is how he starts his itinerant preaching. Likelier, John moves the story up front because it serves his purpose as evangelist and theologian. What has immediately preceded this story is the transformation of water to wine at the wedding feast in Cana. Revealed there was the grace and glory and abundant new life on offer in Jesus Christ. What follows in today’s portion is the challenge and threat to the existing order posed by that new life. These two stories, back to back, create a kind of Gospel in miniature: God’s self-revealing in Jesus erupts at a wedding feast in Galilee. It is with humanity that God delights to dwell. Not so much the temple, not the ecclesiastical-industrial complex, not the hierarchy-bound ritual-blindered blood-soaked sanctuary made with hands. No, God is more the open-country village-life type who identifies with the kind of loyal love that is at the heart of a wedding feast.

But this God has a message for the ecclesiastical-industrial complex, and Jesus the messenger delivers it, exposing himself to the fiery backdraft.

It is not his message that simple abuses to the temple sacrificial system must stop. Perhaps that theme is there in Matthew, Mark, and Luke when they report Jesus railing against how the temple has become a den of robbers. But no, John’s Jesus says that the temple system has become a marketplace ruled by business-as-usual, a Charles Schwab investment office at each entrance. John has Jesus deliver a penetrating bunker-busting message: the entire temple sacrificial system must end.

And it is only John who reports Jesus’s words about destroying the temple. While he means the temple of his own body, his figure of speech has a double edge. John, last of the four Gospel-writers, has woven into his Gospel prescient words of Jesus that help the church make sense of the devastating obliteration of the temple by Roman armed forces, late in the first century.

When the temple is gone, something will take its place. That will be the Spirit-infused risen Body of Christ that has passed through the obliteration on Calvary, then burst the boundaries of Roman force, leaving an empty tomb to testify that no stone edifice can contain the divine.

When the temple is gone, something will take its place. That will be the Spirit-infused risen Body of Christ, the church, the community of people unified by loyal love, both his and theirs: united by the loyal love of Jesus Christ crucified and revealed by Easter light to be the power of God and the wisdom of God, and bound together by the loyal love of disciples, apostles, and countless ordinary people made extraordinary by having hitched their wagons to the star of God’s foolishness that is wiser than human wisdom, God’s weakness that is stronger than human strength.

Across this nation now, a large and growing number of congregations have to face the foundation-shaking challenges of merger and closure, requiring them to discover what will take its place, when the temple is gone. We don’t have far to look, to see our sister churches on the front lines of transformation, wondering what they are becoming. Are their water-barrels half empty or half full? Are they called to hold their own, or is God calling them to pour themselves out and so become fine wine?

Churches that are closer to these issues of life and death have much to teach congregations that seem insulated and secure. All churches need to hear the stories of congregations facing the loss of sanctuaries made with hands, while finding their security not in temples of stone and wood, but in the loyal love of Jesus Christ crucified and risen, showing itself in their experience of spiritual community and flesh-and-blood outreach.

The cleansing of the temple. That’s how today’s Gospel event is remembered by name. But, as we have seen, that emphasis comes more from the other three evangelists, whose message was more along the lines of summoning the religious community to clean up its act.

John’s Jesus has gone for the jugular. Rearranging the deck chairs will do nothing to change the course of our temples, which need more than cleansing. They need the power and wisdom of God; and, if I may add to St. Paul’s words, our temples need the pleasure of God—that is, we need to care, to know, and to commit our resources to what pleases God.

What that is hovers above us and within us in the radiant vision of the prophet Micah, whose timeless questions and answers must have been ringing in John’s mind as he wrote the words we heard today.

“’With what shall I come before the LORD, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, with calves a year old? Will the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams, with ten thousands of rivers of oil? Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?’ He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” (Micah 6:6-8)

Not the cleansing of the temple. The recovery of the temple’s primary purpose. The turning upside-down of the temple’s agenda, to serve the world and not the ecclesiastical-industrial complex, to convert a hierarchical system into a servant community that lifts up the lowly and puts the mighty to the task of washing feet and feeding the hungry. The tables are turned, announces Jesus at the start of his brief public ministry in John’s Gospel. And the water barrels are no longer for keeping: they are to pour out the rich wine of God’s new creation.

“The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing…” Well, aren’t we all? “…but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”

Not the power of magical intervention, demanded by people needing signs and wonders to reveal God; not the power of holding the right philosophy or getting it right theologically, expected by people who believe they can think their way to God.

The message about the cross is the lasting durability of loyal love, foolish and weak from the standpoint of imperial powers, but the very cornerstone of the kingdom of God and the compass of the church.

(Gail O’Day’s commentary on John’s Gospel, Volume IX of “The New Interpreter’s Bible”, was helpful in preparing this sermon.)

Thursday, March 8, 2012

The Power of Faith

Scripture for the 2nd Sunday in Lent includes Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16; Romans 4:13-25; Mark 8:31-38

Nothing is simple in the Book of Genesis. For one thing, whenever a pivotal story is told, it is told twice, and with noticeable differences between the two tellings. In our Lenten series today, Diana Elvin will help us explore the two creation stories that are told, back to back, consistent in their central message that God made and loves the created order, but inconsistent as to how it all happened.

Perhaps we just shouldn’t be surprised that the foundational book of the Hebrew Bible regales us with two versions of watershed events. Consider it basic training for Christianity that presents its anointed holy one Jesus Christ not in one Gospel, but in four.

In today’s portion from Genesis, we hear the second of two stories about the covenant God made with Abraham. If you found something missing in today’s version, namely all that real estate in Canaan that Israel was promised by God, you’ll find that’s in the earlier version, a chapter or two earlier. And the other big difference is that in the first version, it looked as if Sarah’s maidservant’s son Ishmael was going to be the heir apparent to God’s covenant promises, but by the time of this second version (13 years have passed), Ishmael no longer has such hopes pinned on him. Maybe he had become such a difficult teenager that he’d burned his bridges—we just aren’t told. So the drama intensifies as God promises to Abram and Sarai (as they are still called) a son of their own who will bear the family standard. As part of the deal, they’re given new names—not major changes, but subtle ones. Abram becomes Abraham and Sarai becomes Sarah… but don’t expect me to tell you what the differences mean. The language experts say they don’t know, except that the newer names sound less Semitic and more Aramaic, and the point (probably) is that this elderly couple is expected to live up to their new names—which (probably) mean “exalted father” (Abraham) and “princess” (Sarah). And, by the way, the fact that Sarah gets renamed means that God—this time—is including her in this new version of the covenant. Given the tenuous place of women in patriarchal societies, this is a big difference between the two versions. Maybe it’s proof of evolution, and evidence that behind every patriarchal society stands the matriarchal presence that knows how to get things done.

What’s worth keeping from all this? How about a lively sense of what old age is for? If it isn’t dramatic enough, getting called out at age 86 (first version) to play a key role in helping God form a new nation that will bless all other nations, imagine it happening again at age 99 (second version)! There’s a lot of laughter in the background of both stories. In an age when there were (probably) no little pills to help things along, a lot was being asked of Abraham—and Sarah. As St. Paul reflects on their stories several hundred years later, he observes that the God in whom Abraham and Sarah believed “gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. Hoping against hope, Abraham believed that he would become ‘the father of many nations,’… (so) He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead… or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised.”

Well, then. Let’s hear it for the power of faith and the virtue of glorifying God! But lest we get lost in fantasy about old age, virility, and fertility, let’s take home the message that becoming elderly in no way disqualifies—and may in fact uniquely qualify—a person when it comes to helping God bless other people. It’s common to say that elderly people have in their toolkits wisdom, perspective, a certain regard for the little things that manifest caring, and the ability to see the forest for the trees.

But the Abraham and Sarah stories show that something more is required, for old age (and any age) to connect with the missionary drive of God. St. Paul teases it out when he observes, “it all depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all… descendants.”

Packed into that rich statement are several insights. The whole enterprise of life, from God’s primeval creation of this biosphere to God’s new creation of a new heaven and a new earth through the self-offering of Jesus Christ, all rests on grace. For that reason, the primary way that we human beings may contribute to the enterprise of life is by the exercise of faith, trust. And the beneficiaries of our contributions to life are not to be limited to our own tribe, family, denomination, party, or persuasion. All of these insights Paul harvests from the stories of Abraham and Sarah, which makes me think that a deep trust in the grace of God is the most useful tool in the toolkit of old age (or any age).

There’s one more thing to take away from the Abraham and Sarah saga, and what St. Paul makes of it. This is especially pertinent in a season when the Anglican Communion has called her members worldwide to recognize that we and our planet are in crisis, requiring us to rediscover a proper stewardship of our environment.

Paul casts the story of this elderly couple as an example of God bringing about a new creation. He says that the God Abraham and Sarah believed in is the God “who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.” This is God’s generative nature, not confined to the start of our universe, but woven into the web of being is this leaning into new life that allows God to be known as the one who says, “Behold, I make all things new.”

But, to do that, God requires old people-- and young people, and middle-aged people-- who are willing to unsettle their lives as radically as Abraham and Sarah, who moved at a great age not into assisted living, but into unmapped territory as they left their ancestral home in what is now Turkey and migrated west towards the Mediterranean coast of Canaan. God requires people willing to be stirred out of retirement, out of comfort zones, out of age-old assumptions and entitlements, to become stirrers of a new creation, a new society, new ways of being in the world.

God required of Jesus of Nazareth a degree of commitment unique among human beings, but not inherently different from what God needs from us all, the faith and trust we’ve seen in Abraham and Sarah, the kind that will commit the whole of life into the hands of God.

As Jesus displayed and expressed this deep trust, willing to embrace the worst that human nature and human society could dish out, his own disciple Peter took him aside and scolded him for exaggerating the risk, over-stating the challenge, and frightening the weak. This was no longer a private conversation, for we’re told that Jesus turned and saw his disciples nearby, near enough that he knew that loud Peter had been heard, anxious Peter seen. Whereupon Jesus rebuked Peter for being short-sighted, self-absorbed, and timid.

However we understand the plight of our planet, however we would advocate going about repairing the damage, addressing the plundering, and protecting the endangered, our scriptures put before us today the sharply opposite examples of Abraham and Sarah at their best, on the one hand, and of Peter, on the other, at his worst.

What story will be told of us? What does God require of us now? Among the choices we have, how will we recognize and make the very best ones we can?

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Tree-Hugging Dirt Worshipers

Scripture for the 1st Sunday in Lent include Genesis 9:8-17; I Peter 3:18-22; Mark 1:9-15

Last Sunday, we sang a wonderful spiritual with the refrain, “Leaning, leaning, safe and secure from all alarms; leaning, leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms.” I’m not sure if it was Monday or Tuesday before I stopped humming and hearing that heart-song.

Today’s portion of Genesis can be described as the foundation for that hymn. On the surface of things, the Bible presents this first covenant as the font from which later divine covenants flowed, including God’s promises to Abraham upon which Israel sees itself as chosen by God from among the nations to bless the nations. And, given how the Hebrew Bible has shaped the Christian faith, the case can be made that the new covenant of reconciliation in Jesus Christ has this first covenant with Noah as its cornerstone.

It’s no surprise that we 21st-century Christians may not be willing to stay on the surface of scripture, as we consider such a Bible text as this one. It is by now the standard approach to understand the Book of Genesis as a kind of archeological dig, recognizing layers of ancient stories organized and edited by later writers. While the stories speak of primordial times, they have been shaped and re-presented by writers who pressed a strategic purpose, much later than the primeval voice we’re hearing on the surface of the story.

Today’s portion of Genesis is thought by many commentators to show the signs of having been written—by which is meant the ancient stories, told over countless centuries, re-crafted by a skilled author—between 600 and 500 years before Christ, making this apparently oldest (because first) of the Hebrew scriptures actually younger than the famous books of the great prophets that we trace to some 700 years before Christ.

And what might the strategic purpose have been that midwifed the birth, the genesis, of such a story as this one about the covenant with Noah? What had happened between 600 and 500 years before Christ? The pivotal experience of the Babylonian Exile, a calamity for God’s chosen people when, in the year 587, the brightest and best of Israel’s citizens were deported to the homeland of their arch-enemy. For some 50 years, by the waters of Babylon Israel sat down and wept, until, starting in the year 538, following the miraculous edict of King Cyrus of Persia who freed Israel, those who had gone out, carrying the seed, returned again with joy, shouldering their sheaves.

Oh boy, I hear someone saying. We are expected to care about this? This is somehow relevant to us? Well, yes, it is. The writer’s strategic purpose is to assure the hearers that God has not withdrawn from the created order. As devastating as current events appear, God has not left us comfortless or alone. That message was urgently needed during the time of Israel’s exile, and was intensely celebrated upon Israel’s return. Hearing this story about the primeval commitment of God to Israel’s ancestors, her then-current exiles would have taken heart. And we, millennia later, can hear the heart-song encourage us in a time of our own (and our planet’s) urgent need. Increasingly, the human race is exiled from intimate loving regard for the earth and its myriad creatures. It will help us restore that healing relationship if we allow this covenant with Noah to show us that God is at work now, within the created order, to reconcile us to a stewardship, a cherishing, a respecting that is not so much a commitment we have to invent, but an apprenticeship we have to serve in faithful teamwork with God who is already committed, to us and to the earth.

It’s all there in the covenant with Noah. We know about covenants. We are united to Jesus Christ in the covenant of baptism, where God’s commitment to us is made crystal clear and, in turn, we embrace certain commitments to God and our fellow human beings. While our baptismal covenant makes no direct mention of protecting our environment, we certainly hear it in the Iona Community Creed where caring for the earth is raised to creedal status. I’d vote for making it more explicit in a revised baptismal covenant some day, to save our children and grandchildren from having to hunt for it. It’s there-- in the call to resist evil (renouncing the evil powers of this world which corrupt and destroy the creatures of God)-- and it’s there in striving for justice, peace, and dignity, which surely requires embracing a strongly green passion for safeguarding our environment.

I am grateful for all tree-hugging dirt-worshippers. I noticed that identity announced on a parishioner’s bumper sticker recently. Guess what? God—the God of the Bible—is one, too. God establishes this covenant not only with humankind, not only with every living creature, but with the earth itself. The rainbow in the clouds will remind God, God says, “of the covenant between me and the earth.”

Here is a wake-up call to return to basics. The everlasting arms we lean on are embracing not just human beings, but also the enormous range of non-human life forms, the biosphere itself, including the dirt. All of life, and all that supports life, is within the heart of God, is of strategic worth to God, is important to the mission and purpose of God in Jesus Christ, the incarnate God who has made the world of matter… matter.

Though Christian theology has yet to make enough of this emphasis, it has not been entirely missing. Thomas Traherne, Anglican priest in Hereford along the Welsh border, now recognized as one of the great poets of the 17th century, left us this rhapsody to reveal to us the ground of our being:

“Suppose a river or a drop of water, an apple or a (grain of) sand, an ear of corn or an herb. God knoweth infinite excellencies in it more than we. He seeth how it relateth to angels and to men, how it proceedeth from the most perfect lover to the most perfectly beloved, how it representeth all his attributes, how it conduceth in its place, by the best of means to the best of ends. And for this cause it cannot be beloved too much. God the author and God the end is to be beloved for all their sakes. O what a treasure is every (grain of) sand when truly understood! Who can love anything that God made too much? His infinite goodness and wisdom and power and glory are in it. What a world would this be, were every thing beloved as it ought to be!”

In the beloving expressed in God’s covenant with Noah, God takes on the unconditional obligation, the ongoing indelible commitment to the entire web of life. Remembering this covenant is God’s responsibility, and God chooses the rainbow to remind not us but God of this divine responsibility. “The covenant will be as good as God is,” observes a commentator on Genesis. And as ecumenical, interfaith, and universal as God is: for this covenant with Noah is not just with any one community of people. It is with all people. Since the story starts in Israel’s court, it is for Israel to keep this ball in play; and it is for Christians, shaped by Judaism, to spread the word that we have a very green God who has made everlasting promises to non-humans as well as humans, and humans have a responsibility to follow the divine lead.

Buddhists do an admirable job inviting this responsibility through mindfulness training. This Wednesday will be a Day of Mindfulness at Williams, as the College’s Meditation Society and the Chaplains’ office sponsor public events that will include opportunities to walk a labyrinth at the Faculty House, to enjoy a catered vegetarian lunch that will teach mindful eating, to participate in a mindfulness through movement workshop in Upper Goodrich Dance Studio, and a guided meditation sitting at Thompson Chapel, culminating in an evening talk entitled “Heart of Mindfulness” by Rebecca Bradshaw, dharma teacher. We are all invited to any and all of these events. I’m looking forward to attending several.

And Anglicans worldwide are called, this Lent, to develop a mindful approach to the environment, shaped by the mind of Christ. We launch today the first of five gatherings following the ten o’clock service to hear scripture as we enjoy homemade soup and bread, then enter conversation, facilitated by a team of parishioners, John Ladd our leader today. There has been no sign-up for this experience: simply come downstairs after worship, where coffee will be ready and, closer to 11:30, the meal will start (and there’s plenty of food). Augmenting this Lenten series, we’re encouraging participation in this year’s ecumenical Lenten carbon fast, described in today’s leaflet, a practical way to make each Lenten day count.

Two thousand years have shown us what a theology based on the centrality and superiority of the human race can do to exile humanity from its God-given capacity to hug trees, treasure species, steward resources, and confirm the worth of dirt—and of the entire biosphere of which we all are part. Do you think it’s time to recognize that, in the covenant with Noah, God has entered covenant with the earth… and wants to teach us the heart-song?

(Thomas Traherne’s meditation appears in “Glorious Companions: Five Centuries of Anglican Spirituality”, edited by Richard H. Schmidt, Eerdmans, 2002. The commentator on Genesis mentioned here is Terence E. Fretheim, in “The New Interpreter’s Bible”, volume 1.)