Wednesday, October 28, 2015

From the Mountain

Isaiah 65:17–25 and Psalm 48:1–11
Chatfield UMC
October 25, 2015
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Season of Creation Mountain Sunday

What is it like to stand on a mountain? To see over the valleys far in the distance?
We have a unique experience here in Bluff Country. We can drive our roads and have that experience of being at the top of the world, looking out over creation. I love the drive between Fountain and Lanesboro. 

At that one section of road you can look out over the valleys and see the farm fields laid out like a beautiful patchwork quilt.
I have been spending a few Thursdays this fall at Good Earth Village for conferences. The camp is situated on the top but not the topmost part of the bluff so you get a sense of being high up but also being able to look out over higher bluffs. Watching the colors change this year from month to month has been a balm to my soul.

Doesn’t it take your breath away? To take in the grand sweep of the land? We truly do live in a beautiful part of the world. And as beautiful as it is, I often wonder what it would have been like to come up over a hill and see vast expanses of the big woods spread out below.
It is said that a squirrel could travel from treetop to treetop, from here to New York without ever having to come to the earth when the big woods were still intact.

Have you ever had a sense when you were looking out across bluff country of the presence of God? That you could sense the mystery of life?
That you were in a wild world where everything was good, just as it should be, just as it was when God created the scene before you?

Frequently in the Bible, God’s prophets had visions of an ideal future, a world where the turmoil of war would cease, a world where the dreams of the past would be realised, a world where God would create peace and harmony throughout creation.

We have been exploring that period when the prophets had these visions through these weeks of the season of creation. We started with Genesis chapter one, with the writers setting down the words of creation in such a way that their hearers felt the comfort of order coming out of the chaos of captivity.
We have walked with the Israelites as they returned to their land from exile and found a land suffering from generations of foreign domination.  Over the years, the land had been abused and exploited by alien peoples. And the city of Zion, the mountain where their God once dwelled in splendour, was a shambles. The prophets reminded them over and over and over again that in the midst of the chaos God was there willing to help them restore order and peace and a sense of place. God says through the prophets: A shoot will come out of the stump of Jesse; I will not let this desolation become complete; still it won’t be the end of the world.
As I have watched Hurricane Patricia as it approaches Mexico. On the radar it is a frightening looking storm. While I shudder to think the damage the storm will do. I also know that UMCOR, we, will be there to help the people restore their land. Through our gifts to UMCOR people in pathways of destruction will find order coming out of the chaos because of the world of God’s people. This is how we become co-creators of God. Restoring order from chaos in the name of God’s work.

The dreams of the prophets are not wishful thinking. There is a return from chaos, land can be fertile again.

It is so easy to become so disheartened at the dire warnings. And become unable to think straight or do anything. As we have reflected in our Seasons of Creation we have to keep looking at all the good that is being done for our environment and planet in order to keep our focus on the creative process and not the chaos.

The people of God coming home from exile needed the same assurances. This is why I love the context of the bible so very much. The people about whom the book is written are living their lives in a relationship with God in very, very similar circumstances as we are.

As we say: The names may be different but the story is the same.

Chaos is created, either human made or naturally and God’s people struggle with faith and beliefs and truth and purpose.
The Word of God reminds us: God is in the business of creating order, hope and restoration out of chaos.

These are our stories.
The opening lines our passages from Isaiah speak of God ‘creating new heavens and a new Earth’.  First, we need to realise that the verb for ‘create’ is the same here as in Genesis One. Creation continues in the present and the future.  God did not create the world a long time ago and then retire.  And also that this is a new heaven and earth with actual cities, villages, mountains and bluff lands and great old forests. Not some far off distant place in eternity. The new creation imagined is a transformation of this creation by removing the curses that plagued the people.

I was with a young clergywoman at the Good Earth Village retreat who spoke so passionately about her love of the book of Isaiah. This is a woman who is going through some pretty catastrophic life changes. She told me on our walk together that she almost missed the fall leaves. But she was walking one day with her head down and smelled the unmistakable smell of fallen leaves being crushed by her boots. And she was able to remember. She was able to remember to pay attention to the creation that is continually being created even while she is in the midst of chaos. No wonder she loves Isaiah. It’s rich poetry and beautiful language which promises over and over again: God is about creating a new place of habitation, a new way of being.
No matter what destructive forces bear down upon us.
Besides the beauty of the bluffs and the wonderful conversation with colleagues, something else happened at the conference last week. I realized that the presenter knew someone from my past. Now, this is a part of my past that was destructive and chaotic. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to recover from the chaos. I wasn’t sure I was ever going to be happy again.
Someone whom I respect even said to me: it is rare to recover from such a loss.

But as Brian, the speaker, and I shared about our past experiences and he said to me: aren’t you glad to be rid of these negative influences in your life: I could say with truth and joy, “yes” God brought me out on the other side and created something new.
God restored to me my name, my identity, my passion and my ability to love again.
And brought me here to you where we have been able to create some wonderfully new things.
A ministry of Food that brings health and wellness to the people and especially the children in town who live in hidden poverty.
A place where those with abundance can share with those who have less.
A ministry of caring for the elderly and providing medical equipment to any who need it.
(This medical equipment loan is not just for the elderly. The woman who was in the car accident on Sept 1 is using some of the equipment from our loan closet.)
A community VBS that reaches many, many children and gives them a connection with the faith community.
A ministry of caring for one another through hospitality at funerals and sewing of quilts, bundles of love, and banners.
As we live on God’s holy mountain and see before us all that is being created in God’s holy name, can we envision a new heaven and a new earth?
Can we share with one another the ways God has used us for a creative purpose? Can we share with our own hearts the way God has brought us into a place of wholeness and healing out of our own chaos?
Can we testify to our own beliefs that because God has done new things among us that God will do new things in the land.
That God’s holy mountain, where the whole earth is filled with the glory of God and where no one will hurt or destroy, can be a reality in our lives.
If this seems too utopian, can we at least share with each other those places where we see God creating new places in our lives.

Notice those places where God asks us to pay attention, even it is just walking shuffling through the leaves.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

From Dystopia to Love: Sky Sunday

Jeremiah 4:23–28
October 18, 2015
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Sky Sunday

From our passage in Jeremiah: I looked at the earth, and it was without shape or form, at the heavens and there was no light.

It is an echo of the beginning of time: And the earth was without form and darkness was upon the face of the deep.
I think it is creepy.

I think this passage should send chills down our spines. It is like we are caught up in a space-time continuum in which time has reversed. We are flung backward to the beginning. When nothing existed. When nothing existed except chaos. It should scare us; that this sort of thing could happen.

Imagine the first blood moon. With no commentators and forecasters telling you what was going to happen at 9;45 pm. Imagine seeing it...for the very first time, in a veil of silence. I imagine when the first blood moon appeared in the sky, I imagine when the first new moon didn’t appear in the sky, humans thought, “this is it” We are doomed. The world is coming to an end.

Surely, we are doomed. But everyone woke up the next morning. Everything got back to normal. And so it happened year after year,  month after month. The moon waxed and waned. It always came back.
So we developed a rhythm. A hopeful rhythm. Everything was going to be all right. And as wonderful as that rhythm is, as reassuring as that rhythm is, it began to create in us apathy. An intense apathy.

There was always going to be a future. We were always going to be saved from destruction and our own lack of watchfulness. So we didn’t see, we didn’t perceive as world becomes more and more in the grip of greed and callousness, we didn’t see as neighbors sink further and further into poverty and despair, we didn’t see as cities are choked more and more by pollution and economic corruption. We didn’t see...until it was too late. Because the moon kept coming back every month so we were safe in our own little corner of our own little world.

And then one day we looked and there was no one left,; every bird in the sky had taken flight. We with the eyes of Jeremiah, looked and the fertile land was a desert; all its towns were in ruins.

I read novels that involve dystopian worlds, the opposite of utopia. Worlds that have fallen apart completely because of some kind of human made disaster.  The words of Jeremiah echo the landscape of these novels. I looked and the fertile land was a desert, all its towns were in ruins.
The Hunger Games, the Maze Runner, Ember from Ashes, Cinder. It is a popular genre right now.

Most of these books are written for a middle school or high school audience so the heroes and heroines are mostly young people. Almost all of the books speak of a disaster that comes to the world because of greed, lust, abuse of power, pride, anger...the so called seven deadly sins. The sins that keep a person from knowing and being a person of charity and love.

My very favorite and first was Madeline L’Engle’s A Winkle in Time. In this story Meg Meg Murry, a high-school-aged girl is transported on an adventure through time and space with her younger brother Charles Wallace and her friend Calvin O'Keefe to rescue her father, a gifted scientist, from the evil forces that hold him prisoner on another planet. Meg, Charles Wallace and Calvin encounter adversaries and evil as they try to find their way to Meg’s father.
Meg and her friends find Mr. Murray on a planet ruled by IT. A being that creates conformity and apathy. Even Meg’s super intelligent brother, Charles Wallace is seduced by IT and becomes catatonic and cruel.
It is up to Meg to rescue both her father and her brother and she must do it on her own.

In order for Meg to find the power she needs to overcome the seductive power of IT she must learn that her capacity for love is the one thing IT cannot control or overcome. Meg realizes that “If she could give love to IT perhaps it would shrivel up and die, for she was sure that IT could not withstand love.” But giving love to the thing that took her brother and her father is asking too much. How can she love something so cruel and so IT?
Until she realizes that love is the only way and that being able to love, even those who have capacity to love her back is her greatest gift.

Most of the dystopia novels revolve around this theme, this powerful theme of love overcoming the vast destruction of greed, lust, anger, abuse of power. Love that restores. That brings order back from chaos, light out of darkness.

These novels geared towards young people, tell the biblical story of what happens when have forgotten God and have therefore allowed themselves to be ruled by self-interest and desire rather than the virtues that arise out of relationship with God. They have forgotten to know or find ways of living with hearts of justice, community-mindedness, and compassion.

Creation suffers and bears witness to the consequences of humankind living only for self and forgetting their hope in God.

But God remembers. God remembers that God has made a covenant with us, with God’s people. We may hurt and destroy on God’s holy mountain, but God will not leave us in total destruction.

The Lord proclaims: the whole earth will become a desolation, but I will not destroy it completely.

Like Meg’s power of love, even more God’s power of love will not allow total destruction. We may take our planet to the very edge of chaos but God will help us snatch it back.
If we are willing to recognize the sins of greed, lust, anger and abuse of power that are destroying our world and speak out against the powers of darkness.
If we are willing to break the cycle of apathy and concern only for our own little corner of our own little world.
If we are willing to look to the skies and see the power and majesty of God and ask God to give us the will to love the world with the love of our Savior.

One of our favorite hymns declares: I, the Lord of sea and sky, I have heard my people cry, all who dwell in dark and sin, my hand will save. I who made the stars of night, I will make their darkness bright, Who will bear my light to them? Who shall I send?

And we rightly respond: Here I am Lord, I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.

Because we are people of the covenant of baptism where we have promised to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves, we are called by our baptism into helping God snatch our world back from the brink of chaos.
By our baptismal covenant we are called to treat our world with divine Love. With the love of a Creator. With the love of the one who came to save the world. With the love of a Savior.

We can show that Savior/Creator like love in something as mundane as the way we recycle our trash and as difficult as the kind of car we chose to drive. Something as mundane as the type of food we buy or as difficult as the way we plan our vacations.
We can show that Savior/Creator like love in something as mundane as the way we water our gardens or as self-sacrificing as giving generously to organizations that work to provide clean sustainable water to the poor.

In all of this, the mundane or the profound we are helping God snatch our world back from the brink of chaos, the brink of dystopia. We are helping God keep our world for the sake of our children. 

Monday, October 5, 2015

Seasons of Creation: The Liturgy of Creation

October 4, 2015
Earth Sunday
Chatfield UMC
Rev. Debra Jene Collum
Genesis 1

What if your home was suddenly in the middle of a war zone? What if your children and grandchildren’s schools had windows blown out from nearby artillery fire? What if the job you had for all of your adult life no longer existed because the shop was taken over by militants who expected you to follow their way of life, their rules?
And you couldn’t do that with a clear conscience.

What if all around you was chaos and war and strangeness and chaos...

What would you need?
What would be comforting?

I could be talking about the Sudanese or Liberians who fled their homes in a time of war or the Syrians who are fleeing as refuges today. Some have asked why don’t they just go back to where they came from. The slide on the screen answers that question.
I show this only to help you understand the type of chaos I am trying to get us to feel. People all around the world have experienced this chaos. I share these stark images this morning because the creation story that we read this morning from Genesis 1 was written to people who were exiles, refugees.
Who were living in chaos. Who needed to hear words of order and assurance that all was well. All was well in the world. Even if their world was upside down.

Genesis chapter 1 was written, not at the beginning of time, but at a time in history when the Babylonians devastated Jerusalem. Archeological and biblical evidence tells of an utter destruction and burning of the entire city of Jerusalem as well as the capture and deportation of at least 30,000 people.
It was written during a time of chaos. People displaced from their home, fleeing burning buildings, killed in the streets and taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar’s army.

Genesis chapter 1, the first words in the sacred scriptures was just what they needed to hear:
God would find order out of their chaos.
God would create order, illuminating the darkness and separating day from night, and land from water.

Here the Creator is described as sweeping over the chaos and disorder and setting everything in its place and its role.
There would be seasons, days, and years to mark the passing of time, and God would delight in all that had been created. Out of chaos.
In the midst of despair or hopelessness, when we feel that God is too absent or too far from our cries, this text of proclamation assures us that the Creator continues to create in the face of chaos, even in the face of the formless void.

Everything comes alive with God’s very word and continues to burst forth with life.

Think of it this way: while all around you chaos seems to reign, when all that humans have created is burning to the ground; hope is still arising.
Creation is still coming into being.
Through God’s hands, light is still being separated from darkness,
the void is still producing new life,
the seas are still teaming with creatures great and small.
The land still holds within its rich soil the seeds of new life.
And God’s hands are still forming, crafting, molding, coaxing out of the chaos, a new creation.
Coaxing out of the chaos, a new creation. 

Absolutely amazing. This text which begins the Bible, is an invitation to reverence. It is an invitation to a center for our very being. In the midst of the most devastating moments of chaos, God is present, creating something new.

These first words of the sacred scriptures are a call to begin our understanding of God’s story as one filled with God’s ongoing presence.
God speaks the first word in what will be an ongoing dialogue throughout history. And God’s word will continue to speak; God’s hands will continue to create.

Isn’t that beautiful? Isn’t this just what we need in the midst of our own chaos? This is what this creation story assures us. We can get lost in the debate about creation or evolution, length of days or eons, which came first the chicken or the egg. But truly, it is out of this chaos of our misunderstandings, our inability to understand, our failings as human beings to understand each other, even our blindness to the grace of God, that God can create something new. Will create something new. There is no chaos too impenetrable for the creating hand of God.

I want us to hear this scripture again listening and responding to this gift which begins our story rooted deeply in the love and grace of a powerful Creator.

When you hear the words: Isn’t that good. You may respond: Absolutely amazing.

Sheila: In the beginning: darkness. A formless void.
Then Creator’s breath danced over the waters, and Creator said, “Let’s have light.” And so it was.
There was swirling dark- ness and light until they were separated and each made distinct. Creator gave a name to the light: “Day.” And a name to the darkness: “Night.”
Creator God looked and smiled, and said, “Isn’t that good.”
Absolutely amazing.

Steve: God breathed in and out. The evening settled in, until the morning came again; the first day. And Creator said, “Let’s have a space, an expanse between the waters below and the waters above.”
And so it was. Waters surged up and waters rolled down and a blue dome of sky appeared in between.
God looked at creation, smiled, and said, “Isn’t that good.”
Absolutely amazing.

Teresa: God breathed in and out. The evening settled in, until the morning came again; the second day.
Creator said, “Let’s gather the waters under the sky over here, and have dry land over there.”
And so it was. The waters gurgled and pulled back to make space for sand and soil and dust. Creator gave a name to the dry land: Earth. And a name to the gathered waters: Oceans.
And Creator said. “Now let’s have growing things coming up from the earth. Seeds that explode into plants and trees, with fruit full of seeds. Every kind imaginable.”
And so it was. Greens and browns and every color of blossom rose up out of the soil.
God looked at creation and smiled, “Isn’t that good.”
Absolutely amazing.

Pastor Debra: God breathed in and out. The evening settled in, until the morning came again; the third day.
Creator said, “Let’s have lights in the sky. How about one great light for the day, and another one for the night. They will shape the days and the years and the seasons.” And so it was. The Creator gave a name to the light of the day: Sun.
And a name to the light of the night: Moon. Then Creator added more lights for extra beauty, and named them: Stars.
God looked at creation and smiled, “Isn’t that good.”
Absolutely amazing.

Steve: God breathed in and out. The evening settled in, until the morning came again; the fourth day.
And Creator said, “Let’s have living creatures swimming in the waters and flying in the sky. Let’s have wings and fins and feathers and gills.” And so it was. Tiny fish and great sea monsters and songbirds and soaring creatures filled the waters and air. The Creator blessed them:
“Swim for joy and fly for pure delight.
Fill the sky and the seas.
Be as abundant and ongoing
As the love I have poured into you.”
God looked at creation and smiled, “Isn’t that good.”
Absolutely amazing.

Sheila: God breathed in and out. The evening settled in, until the morning came again; the fifth day.
And Creator said, “Let’s have all kinds of living creatures. Some that run and others that creep, some with four legs or many legs or none at all. Let them be wild and many.” And it was so. The land was vibrating with creatures of all shapes and sizes, every colour and texture and temperament. The earth was wild and alive. God looked at creation and smiled, “Isn’t that good.”
Absolutely amazing.

Pastor Debra: The earth was wild and alive. This is what God can do with chaos. Isn’t that good.
Absolutely amazing.

Reading from Genesis 1 from Seasons of the Spirit