Monday, September 29, 2014

A River Runs Through It

Revelation 22:1–5
River Sunday
September 28, 2014
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Chatfield United Methodist Church

What image comes to mind when I say the phrase “A River Runs Through It”? A mountain river in the west? A mighty Mississippi flowing from Itasca to the gulf of Mexico?

What about the Root River running through our town? I think we often forget what an amazing thing we have right here in our back yard. And how very precious it is.

Before I ever dreamed of living in Chatfield, my friend Donna and I, put our canoe in at the Root River landing here in Chatfield. It was a cloudy, rainy day. But we were determined to fulfill our goal of canoeing some of the Root River. We had heard so much about it, the beauty, the clear water, the bluff country. So even though the river was running fast and high, we loaded our canoe with what we would need for a three night camping trip and off we went: destination Peterson.

It was wonderful. Even though it was during a pretty significant flood stage and we had to lay up for a while in one camp ground while we waited for the river to go down. And we had to collect rain water for drinking because the river was too muddy for our water filter. We are flexible like that.

Around each bend in the river there was something new to experience. A great blue heron that we kept flushing from his shoreline hiding spot. Cows that would look up as we floated, rather quickly, by. The trip took quite a bit less time than we expected because of the fast current.
We saw the cliff swallows and the barn swallows and the kingfishers. We saw the corn and bean fields, the restored prairie and the way farmers were caring for the shoreline of the river.
We saw eagles, and river otters, and deer.

It wasn’t the Boundary Waters but it was an unforgettable trip on a beautiful river.

The river that runs through our town starts as a drainage ditch in Mower County, then winds 81 miles from intensely farmed areas through more wooded, rolling terrain, and finally empties into the Mississippi River south of La Crosse, Wisconsin. Near Forestville State Park, the river literally disappears underground and resurfaces at the Mystery Cave near Preston.
The mileage of the river and its tributaries, if stretched out straight would go from California to South Carolina! And the watershed itself encompasses more than 1 million acres of land in 5 counties.
That is what a watershed is: all of the area of land where all of the water that drains off of it goes into the same place—in our case, the Root River and its tributaries.

1 million plus acres and 3, 670 miles of river, streams and tributaries….
That is a lot of river and land. That many of us take for granted.

The SWCD has given us some materials and shared their watershed map with us to help us appreciate the preciousness of this amazing resource that enticed two city girls to launch their canoe and spend a long weekend experiencing what the river has to offer.

The river that runs through our town is as precious as a river in Montana or the mighty Mississippi. or a lake in the BWCA.
It is also as vulnerable. And as a Christian living in the Root River Watershed district I believe it is my responsibility to care deeply for this river. To protect it and to revitalize it where needed.

That is why I show up when the Soil and Water Conservation District has meetings. That is why I take my grandchildren and Project Go students to Parsley Bridge to discover the critters that live in the watershed.
I want to encourage you to explore the area around Parsley Bridge. That is the bridge just south of town, where the larger canoe landing is. Wade out into the river, feel the current, look under the rocks and along the shore line for the critters that depend on a cool, clean river. Discover, like one of the project go students did two weeks ago, that ad she said: “if you stand still and really look and listen you see so many wonderful things.”

Experience the river so that you can understand how precious it is.

As Christians, rivers bracket our lives. Did you know that? Our story
begins at the intersection of 4 rivers: From Genesis: A river flows from Eden to water the garden, and from there it divides into four headwaters. 11 The Pishon. the Gihon the Tigris, and the the Euphrates.
These rivers symbolize the ways God’s living giving waters flow throughout the world, into the four directions. Giving live to all people of the world.

Then throughout the biblical story, this river of life giving waters continues to flow and weave itself into our lives.
From Noah and the flood, to the crossing of the Red Sea to the water that flowed from the rock, to the desert springing forth with life, to the birth of Jesus in the womb of Mary, to his baptism and the encounter with woman at the well. Where Jesus says: Believe in me and you shall have God’ life giving water springing from your being. You will never be thirsty again.

Did you get that? The River of Life that has been woven throughout the scriptures saving people, nurturing people, giving life to people, now becomes a part of us. Through the work of Jesus in our lives and the power of the holy spirit, the river of life flows in and weaves itself throughout our lives.

Each day we have within us the resources of a renewed life because God’s life giving water runs through us. Each day the thirst in our souls can be quenched by God’s holy water of life because God’s life giving river runs through us. Each day and every moment of our day we are saved from the damnation of our souls because God’s life giving water runs through us.

A river of life giving water runs through us.
But we are not the be all end all of this river.
This river continues to flow to all the corners of the earth. This river is gathered up at the culmination of history and is described as the river of life which flows from the throne of God and the Lamb.

I love the description: water as clear as crystal. You can almost feel it can’t you. A lot like the water that runs through our town, only much, much more life giving and clean. For the water flowing from the throne of God nurtures and sustains once again, the tree of life. The story has come full circle. Now the tree of life is not just for Adam and Eve, nor is the tree a cause for a curse. The tree is now the place from which all peoples are fed with fruit in season and are revived with healing.

Maybe this is why I am drawn to the clear, cold waters of the Root and the BWCA. Maybe this is why it is important to me that we do what we can to revitalize these waters. To protect them. Because they are a tangible reminder of the way God sustains and nurtures us with the water of life. Running through us and by us nurturing all around us with the love and grace of God.
A river runs through our town, a river runs through our lives, a living giving river of God’s grace and love. For us and for our neighbor.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Land Sunday

Land Sunday
September 14, 2014
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Psalm 139:7-12

Paul Gruchow in his book Grass Roots tells of his habit as a child of writing his name in his Big Chief tablets for school. Which for those of you who don’t know were pads of paper not something electronic.
Paul would write this:
Paul DeWayne Gruchow, Ed Will’s Farm, Section 8, Rosewood Township, Chippewa County, Minnesota, USA, North America, Western Hemisphere, Earth, Milky Way, Universe.
Arranging the words, he says, like lines of a poem.
for me these words held a terrible fascination. I felt about them as I did one Sunday morning when the preacher pronounced the words, ‘as far as the east is from the west,’ a phrase so magnificent and expansive, so unfathomable, that it caused me to shudder.

Paul, even as a young boy, knew his place on his land.

To him it wasn’t just property that his family farmed, or rented, or even lived on. It was much, much bigger than that. It was a holy place. A place that, even though small and humble, in a small and humble township in the middle of the state of Minnesota was his place. He and his family’s place. A holy place.

This is how land is seen in the scriptures, too. All of it. As holy.
Psalm 24 states very clearly The Earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.

Land is never simply real estate.
And as the Israelites were entering the Promised Land they were given this reminder:

Your land must not be sold on a permanent basis, because you do not own it; it belongs to God, and you are like foreigners who are allowed to make use of it. Lev. 25.

Even now in the 21st century, in a global economy, I think it does us good to remember: The earth is the Lord’s and everything in it.
For when we see earth as holy, the very soil that we till, the very land that we plant, the very lawn that we mow, as belonging first and foremost to God. Then I think we will connect in some deep way to the holiness of God.

In Genesis we are told that the human being is formed from the topsoil. In Hebrew it is adam who is created from the adamah, which is wonderfully preserved in English as human/humus.
We are birthed from the land. Native cultures understand this, new scientific discoveries affirm this; but often the Christian community ignores this beautiful truth. The Land is our Mother. Dirt is our Mother.
How often we act as if we were made out of something more mysterious and rare? In all of our talk of DNA, evolution, cell structure and heredity, we forget the very basic fact and greatest mystery of all: we are birthed from something precious and life giving. Top soil, the humus, the incredibly valuable part of the land that gives all things birth and in the end absorbs all of us back into the cycle of life.
The Land is our Mother. And as our Holy Mother, land is also our Sustainer.

We understand that more than most Americans. Even with my little garden plot I recognize the sustaining gift that comes from the earth. As I process my few jars of tomatoes, freeze my few bags of corn I remember the root cellars of my grandmothers. Hundreds, literally hundreds of jars of food put by to feed the family until next harvest.

And we all know that you can’t just keep taking from the soil and land on which we plant our gardens or our crops. Land has to be cared for in order for it to be sustainable. Here is something fascinating: Scripture even teaches this to the Israelites as they begin to farm and cultivate the Promised Land. In Lev 25-26, the new farmers are taught to rotate their crops, fallow their land, to respect the rhythms of the seasons. If they do this, if they care for their land with deep respect God promises: “If you live according to my laws and obey my commands, I will send you rain at the right time, so that the land will produce crops and the trees will bear fruit. Your crops will be so plentiful that you will still be harvesting grain when it is time to pick grapes, and you will still be picking grapes when it is time to plant grain. You will have all that you want to eat, and you can live in safety in your land.
Instead of seeing the land as something to be conquered we are taught by God, to live within the rhythms of the land, to care for the land, and then the land will be our holy sustainer.

One of the signs I love to see as I drive throughout the country side is the one that announces: this is a century farm.
A farm that has been in the same family for a century!!
or more.
I would imagine that a farm that could sustain a family for a century would be a well cared for farm. A well loved farm.

I, who spent too many years in the twin cities, know about farms that have been bought and sold for development. The first Methodist Church I served was in the Northwest Suburbs of Brooklyn Park and Osseo. The church was located in a small oasis of houses that was surrounded by potato, corn and bean fields.
In the ten years I served that church slowly but surely every one of those fields were sold, little by little, and turned into industrial corridors, shopping centers or a freeway. It was like watching a slow death by strangulation.

This is probably why a book I read recently has stuck with me. In Turn Here, Sweet Corn, Anita Diffley writes about the saga of her husband’s loss of land. Which was sold by the family to developers in Eagan.
She writes about watching the bulldozers as they slowly but powerfully destroy what was once a thriving organic farm.
Devil’s Hill, the wildest spot on the farm, has a fierce energy that sets it apart from all other land formations in the area— a mingling of uncontainable passion and independence, as if it is self-made, a land formation with self-determination.  
I see Devil’s Hill as invincible. When everything has been tamed and domesticated, when the bulldozing is complete, the houses built, and the lawns planted, this hill will still emit its fierce individuality. It will serve as a reminder of the time before the settlers, when the people living here had minimal impact on the landscape. It stands powerful, a barrier between the suburb and this fertile valley. We can visit, and we can play, but the hill makes the rules.  
All day we hear bulldozers working north of our house. In the evening, after they shut down, Martin and I walk back to check out what they did. We cut across the ripped-up Ball Field and through what was Christina’s. The bulldozers are parked on top of the chives. It takes us a while to see what is right in front of us. We only sense that the light is wrong. It is too bright. The trees on Devil’s Hill are gone. We stand in the pungent scent of crushed chives looking down the now-open slope. In the short span of a summer day, the east face of Devil’s Hill has been completely stripped. The trees and brush have been shoved into a pile. The rugged slope has been scoured into a slide of rock, silt, and sand; plant life is nonexistent. It looks like an oozing wound hanging above Louise’s Field and the valley below.  Atina Diffley (2012-04-16). Turn Here Sweet Corn (Kindle Locations 2531-2538). University Press of Minnesota. Kindle Edition.

When you drive to Minneapolis from Rochester on Hwy 63 you will cross Diffley Road. When you do, remember the end of 5 generations of farming.

In Exodus 20 after Moses had read out the Ten Commandments there is a little known 11th commandment “When you make an altar make it out of the earth, and sacrifice on it your offerings of well-being…if you make an altar from stone, do not build it of hewn stones; for if you use a chisel on it you profane it.” No work of human hands can improve on creation. Nature is enough as an appropriate setting for the worship of God.
Interesting isn’t that?
Is it no wonder then that we can often feel closest to God when we are standing with our feet firmly planted on God’s green earth? Is it any wonder then that people say they feel closer to God in a forest than in a church?
Not to say that we shouldn’t come to church, but to say that if our church disconnects us with the Land then there is something not right about the church.

What we do in church should move us to honor the Land that Sustains us as our Mother and that moves us to Honor the Creator who created us out of the topsoil of this very Land, our Home

Forest Sunday

Forest Sunday
September 14, 2014
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Psalm 148

I have walked among olive trees in the Holy Land. I have touched them. Sat under their branches while taking communion in the garden of Gethsemane. These trees were/are generations old. Old enough that it is probable that Jesus sat under some of these trees. It took my breath away to think of such a thing.

To be with a tree that Jesus himself may have experienced.

That of course, was one of those amazing moments that we have all had in life. Whether it be olive trees in the Holy Land, redwoods and sequoias here in American. Eucalyptus in Australia. Trees in the BWCA, or at your favorite vacation spot. Or even a tree that is precious to you on your property.

Before LoraLee Vrieze-Spencer died she came to visit the parsonage. She was very interested in the Lilac tree in the back yard. She shared that her parents, Jean and Allen planted that tree. She had photos of herself growing up as the tree grew up. Some of you probably remember LoraLee as a small girl playing behind the branches of that tree. She was delighted to see that it was still there and healthy.
I often remember her and her family when the tree blooms in the spring.

You maybe have stories of your own of special trees in your lives.

I love to have those stories of the trees. To connect them with our own stories.
There is a holy mystery about these stories.
We find ourselves filled with awe and wonder in the midst of life.

This morning you will receive a small cross made from olive wood. The olive wood comes from the holy land. From pruned or fallen branches from century old trees. Some of which Jesus may have seen. Think of it.
Palestinian Christians make these crosses in a shop near Bethlehem, as a way to connect with other Christians around the world.

As you experience these crosses I invite you to reflect on the amazing gift of God’s creation in trees and forests.
As UM’s we are directed by our social principles to affirm that ‘All creation is the Lord’s and we are responsible for the ways in which we use and abuse it. Water, air, soil, minerals, energy resources, plants, animal life, and space are to be valued and conserved because they are God’s creation and not solely because they are useful to human beings.’

This attitude of reverence and concern for creation is not sentimentality. This is obedience to the commands and the cries of Scripture. According to a Jewish Midrash from the 6th century concerning the garden of of Eden:
'At the time that the Holy One, Blessed Be He, created the first man, The Holy One,  took him and had him pass before all the trees of the Garden of Eden, and said to him: See my works, how fine and excellent they are! Now all that I created was created for you. Think about this and do not harm or desolate the world: for if you harm it, there will be none to fix it after you.' (Midrash Koheleth Rabbah). Even in the 6th century, before they knew the importance of trees to the environment, the ancient ones knew that trees were vital.

Now we know that trees provide us with more than simply consumer products. We know that a healthy forest system provides homes for more than half the world’s known plant and animal species; We know that trees protect and enrich soils and sustain water quality and quantity; And we know that trees, by absorbing carbon dioxide and producing oxygen, give us healthy air to breathe.

Is it no wonder then that a healthy tree is a scriptural symbol of a person dedicated to the work of God in the world?
In Psalm 1we read: Happy are they who delight in the ways of the Lord. They shall be like a tree planted by springs of living water which bears its fruit at just the right time and whose leaves don’t fade. In all that they do they prosper.”

What a great image. God’s people as trees. Not just as something large and solid, but as something that provides shelter to those who need a home. As something that provides care and protection for those who need safety and nurture. As something that provides balance and health to the world.

If I were teaching preschool right now I would ask you all to image yourself as a tree. Roots firmly planted near a beautiful stream, roots reaching out to receive nourishment from the word of God.
That beautiful clear cool water entering you like the waters of your baptism, cleansing your cells, renewing your spirit, feeding your branches. Greening your leaves.

I would ask you to imagine those branches reaching up to the sun. Receiving warmth as if from the radiant love of God. Your leaves and fruit abundant and rich.
As the finest of apples, the juiciest of plums. Enough for all your needs and the needs of your neighbors.

And as you breath in and out, imagine yourself as a tree taking in the breath of God. God’s breath filling your cells with life, with love, with worth, with purpose. And as you exhale, you fill the world with all that life, love, worth, with purpose. Cleansing the air around you. Opening up the possibilities that others will experience the breath of God for themselves.

Wilderness Sunday

Wilderness Sunday
September 21, 2014
Chatfield United Methodist Church
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
HEBREW SCRIPTURE Deuteronomy 32:10-14
GOSPEL LESSON        Mark 1:9-12

Whenever I am in a state park or even a wayside rest, I say a prayer of thanks to the people who had the foresight to set aside a little bit of land for my enjoyment.
This Summer we took the Project Go kids to Chester Woods for a canoe outing. It was the first time some of the kids had been in a canoe.
As we paddled out the middle of the lake they were amazed at the partially submerged trees and somewhat freaked out by them.

It is a bit eerie to be in the middle of a constructed lake and see the things that are left behind beneath the water’s surface.

I took the opportunity to explain to the children that the lake was made for their recreational enjoyment. That it had once been farm land and that I even knew one of the people who used to farm the land.

But somewhere along the way someone had the vision to take that land out of production and create a near urban park. So that generations of children could have experiences of “Learning life-long lessons in natural places.” The vision statement of Chester Woods.

Or think of Oxbow Park, another park close to an urban setting. Think of what that land would be worth to upper end home owners in the ever expanding landscape of Rochester?
Yet, someone saw the potential in 1967 for a beautiful, free park, zoo, and nature center.  1967. Not so long ago.

Do you realize how amazing this is? In the midst of a housing boom, over 450 acres of land was set aside for a park.
This is what gives me hope for the human race. Particularly in America. Our country was founded on the principle of expansion at any cost. The initial push westward, the industrial revolution, the silicon explosion. We are not a country to let acres of land lay fallow. What a waste. Yet, we require that communities plan green space into housing developments, restore wetlands that get drained, and visit national parks at ever increasing numbers.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the wilderness act. I wonder how many of you heard the MPR report about the impact of this legislation on the town of Ely? It is hard to fathom now, but the wilderness act that protected more than 100 million acres of wilderness in the US, was not very popular in Ely 50 years ago.
According the reports on MPR, Sig Olson, a proponent of the Wilderness Act feared for his life because of his views.

It is hard to imagine that now. 50 years later, what would our life be like with out the 100 million acres of protected wilderness we enjoy in the US?

Wilderness areas allow ecological forces like forest succession and natural disturbances like fire to continue without being manipulated by humankind. Wilderness allows even the stuff of evolution itself to continue undisturbed. But wilderness also provides a special sanctuary for the human spirit, where we can re-discover the wonder and humility and restraint so often lacking in our frenzied “civilized” lives. Kevin Proescholdt

Even if you don’t like being out of doors. Even if bugs are your worst nightmare. Even if your idea of camping is a room in a super 8. Wilderness areas, even if only a visit to Chester Woods, Oxbow Park or Paisley Bridge provide a spiritual moment in our lives that we can’t get anywhere else. Even if all you do is sit in your car and look at them or even watch specials about them on TV. I believe that just knowing that there are wild un managed places, places so out of the ordinary of our civilized lives, so untamed that we might be a little fearful about encountering them, just knowing that these places are in the world can be enough for our spirits.

Of course, I also believe that encountering these places can be life changing. Because it is in these unmanaged places that we find our potential to be more than we ever thought we could be.
It is in these places that God can come and feed our spirit and souls in ways beyond what we experience anywhere else.

I will never forget the ways young people’s lives changed when they encountered both the challenge and joy of a BWCA trip. One young girl with muscular dystrophy went on a BWCA trip with me. Later in her senior year of high school she had a devastating stroke. During her recovery she reminded us that she had been able to ‘do the Boundary Waters’, so surely she will be able to recover from her stroke. And she did.
Or the young lady who had never been in a canoe and was ready to jump out because she couldn’t get the art of paddling. We went in circles for the better part of an hour before she was able to figure out the j and c stroke.
The next time I encountered her was at an outfitting store selling canoes and recommending adventures to others.
Wilderness experiences can be challenging, even scary but they can also point us toward that person that God is creating us to be.

I love the description of the Hebrew people’s encounter with God in the passage today. God ‘found’ Israel in the wilderness. It gives the impression that God was walking around the wilderness one day and stumbled on this people, discovered them in the howling desert. Ragged, worn from their travels, desperate, hungry, thirsty. And God fed them, took care of them.

Like an eagle protecting her nest, God gathered Israel under her wings.

Isn’t that wonderful?

Or in the case of Jesus who was driven into the wilderness after his baptism. There God ministered to him and fed him by divine messengers. Even Jesus needed a wilderness experience at the beginning of his ministry. He needed to feel what it was like to depend entirely on God.

You see this is why we need wilderness places in our lives. Maybe not literal wilderness places maybe just those places that seem unmanageable, untamed, uncivilized.

Like a time when nothing is going right. When the carefully scripted life plan you developed gets shredded. When you feel as if you are wandering hopelessly lost without proper direction. When you are hungry for encouraging words. Thirsty for good news.
The joy and surprise and delight is that God finds us in the howling places. In the deserts, in those wilderness places and treats us in the same way an eagle cares for her young.

There is a song that is often sung at funerals that I don’t think I will ever tire of.
And while I think it is very good to sing this hymn at a funeral I believe the living have more need of it and more to relate to it.

The song comes from a verse of scripture in Exodus. God is speaking to Moses and reminds him that God rescued the people from the land of Egypt: You saw what I did to the Egyptians, and how I lifted you up on eagles’ wings and brought you to me.

And the words of the hymn: You who dwell in the shelter of the Lord, who abide in his shadow for life, say to the Lord: "My refuge, my rock in whom I trust!"
And God will raise you up on eagle's wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun, and hold you in the palm of his hand.

In all the wilderness places of our lives, God is magnificently revealed as the one who inhabits the wild places. Who gives the howling places their beauty and mystery. And God is the one who walks along side providing aid and strength. And  who even more, allows those who venture into the challenging wild places of life to soar. As if on Eagle’s Wings.