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Healing the Earth

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Matthew 8:18-27

Now when Jesus saw great crowds around him, he gave orders to go over to the other side.  A scribe then approached and said, “Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.” And Jesus said to him, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Another of his disciples said to him, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” But Jesus said to him, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.”

And when he got into the boat, his disciples followed him. A windstorm arose on the sea, so great that the boat was being swamped by the waves; but he was asleep. And they went and woke him up, saying, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!” And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, you of little faith?” Then he got up and rebuked the winds and the sea; and there was a dead calm. They were amazed, saying, “What sort of man is this, that even the winds and the sea obey him?”

I didn’t expect this worship series to be challenging.  I expected it to be comforting, healing, encouraging, maybe thought-provoking.  I didn’t expect it to be challenging.  But it has been challenging to me, and to my theology, because every single week we have focused on one of Jesus’ miracles.  Of course we would—it’s a series about healing our broken places, so naturally we have focused on Jesus’ healing miracles.  But preaching the past few weeks has reminded me that I’m more comfortable with the teachings of Jesus and the law-breaking actions of Jesus, than I am with the miracles of Jesus.  I don’t think I’m alone.  I think many progressive Christians feel a little flummoxed by the miracles.  Our rational, logical minds tell us that the winds and waves are not voice-activated, nor do they have the ability to decide to “obey.”  We’re not sure what to do with the miracles so we ignore them or maybe we just accept them without one eye closed and fingers crossed behind our back.  Or we try to explain them, or explain them away.  We may even be a little embarrassed by them, but mostly I think we’re jealous that we don’t get them.  My usual approach is to emphasize the metaphorical value, and that works for me most weeks, and I hope it works for you.

But this week I want the miracle.  In fact, I have a whole long list of miracles I want—some personal, some communal, some global.  In case anybody is taking note, here are some of the items on my miracle request sheet.

  • World peace. (Might as well start big.)
  • No more fights with my son over screen time. (Trust me, that’s big.)
  • Healing for my mom.
  • A permanent loosening of these knots in my shoulders.
  • Cooling of earth’s oceans and refreezing of the icecap.
  • Protection for endangered species.
  • The elimination of food insecurity.
  • Well-paying jobs for everyone.
  • The end of violence.

And then I look at our prayer list, and I have so many more items to add to my miracle request sheet.  I want your illness vanished, your problems solved, your pain relieved.  I want your relationships fixed and your children healthy and your parents aging gently.  I want all the storms in your lives to be stilled, instantly.  I’d like a miracle, please—just a few dozen miracles, please.  And suddenly I’m with the disciples in the boat, and it feels like Jesus is asleep, and I cry out, “Lord, save us! We are perishing!”

But the storms rage on.  I think they rage on because so many of our world’s storms are caused by broken relationships. Consider the relationship between us and the earth.  When the earth was new we walked it in bare feet, feeling it change and grow under our toes, feeling the rhythm of its births and deaths and rebirths.  We were sheltered by its trees and refreshed by its waters.  The birds taught us to sing and we breathed in one with all creation.

We live in a beautiful place and can experience so much of nature that others don’t get on a daily basis.  But still we are distant from it compared to how we as a people used to be, and that separation has cost us, and it has cost the earth.  Maybe when we stopped physically pulling the water out of the ground, we stopped realizing its worth.  Maybe when we started setting out our garbage for someone to take away, we stopped thinking about where it went.  For the healing of the earth to occur, we must be in relationship with it . . . and by that, I mean healthy relationship, not a relationship of domination and control, but of love and respect.

For the healing of our relationship with the land, we also need to consider our relationships with the people of the land.  At the beginning of this service I acknowledged that we worship on the ancestral lands of the Wabanaki people.  It was not a full Land Acknowledgement Statement because I haven’t done the work or led us in doing the work necessary for a true acknowledgment of who originally called this land “home.”  The Bertha Crosley Ball Center for Compassion at USM has this statement: The BCB Center for Compassion is located in Portland, Maine, which was settled on the traditional territory of the Wabanaki Confederacy. 

 We recognize and honor the current Tribes who comprise the Wabanaki Confederacy—the Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Maliseet, and Micmac peoples—who have stewarded this land throughout the generations.  We respect the traditional values of these Tribes and affirm their inherent sovereignty in this territory.  We support their efforts for land and water protection and restoration, and for cultural healing and recovery. 

We pause in remembrance of the Tribes of the Wabanaki Confederacy whose lives and land were taken through genocidal strategies of colonial settlement of this land.

 We pay respect to elders both past and present, and we commit to the ongoing work of decolonization in Maine and beyond.

That is not a statement you write without serious consideration and is not one I can make for us, so I stopped with acknowledging the people of the Wabanaki Confederacy.  It’s not enough, nor is it enough to make a statement and then not live by it.  We need healing of the land and among the people of the land.

We need a healing of relationships between our political parties.  I don’t want to get down in the weeds of this one, so I’ll just say that sometimes I fear it really will take a miracle to get our two primary parties to work together.

But it also starts with our relationships with one another across party lines.  How many earnest, sincere, heartfelt conversations have you had in the past year with someone who believed differently than you?  First, I’m guessing more of us didn’t than did.  But even if you did, did you really listen, or did you just wait for them to stop talking so you could tell them how right you are?  I’m not pointing fingers. I haven’t done much of it either!  But these storms are going to keep on raging until we do the work.

And I think I have finally written and preached my way to my answer.  Maybe Jesus could calm the storm with a command.  We can’t.  But that doesn’t mean we don’t try.

If we are going to heal our land, it will take all of us, working together, doing the things we know we need to do.  If we are going to heal relationships with people of different ethnicities and races, it will take the hard work of education and the harder work of self-examination and the hardest work of all—repentance and reparation.  If we are going to heal relationships with people who think differently than we do, we need to first stop adding to the storm.

The storms that rage between us and one another, between us and ourselves—how lovely it would be if we could just rebuke those storms.  We don’t have that power to do that instantly; it takes times.  The question is whether we have the will.



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