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A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, November 27, 2016, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures: Isaiah 40:9-11 and Luke 1:67-79
Copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

I wonder what it is like for Cubans today. With Fidel Castro’s death on Friday, I wonder what sort of dreams and hopes, what sort of griefs and fears average Cubans are feeling. Fidel Castro took power in 1959. That means that 75% of the Cuban population has only known the Castro form of Communism and a Castro at the helm.[1] Are they feeling grief at Fidel’s death? Are they feeling like there is a power vacuum (even though Fidel handed power to his brother Raúl eight years ago)? Are they fearful that they may lose all they’ve known, or are they hopeful about changes that might be able to come? Or maybe they’re feeling a combination of these things.

I wonder what it is like for people in Syria and Iraq who live in the shadow of ISIS. Are their lives filled with fear or are they (at least some of them) somehow holding on to hopes and dreams?

And I wonder what it is like for the refugees – whose who fled Cuba generations ago and those who have fled ISIS in this generation. Is there hope in their fleeing or is it only desperation? Do they hope to return home or have they oriented their lives to the new land they how inhabit?

Brian McLaren points out, “Prophets in the Bible have a fascinating role as custodians of the best hopes, desires, and dreams of their society. They challenge people to act in ways consistent with those hopes, desires, and dreams. And when they see people behaving in harmful ways, they warn them by picturing the future to which that harmful behavior will lead.

“One of the most important prophetic compositions was the Book of Isaiah. Most scholars today agree that at least three people contributed to the book over a long period of time, but their combined work has traditionally be attributed to one author. The first thirty-nine chapters of Isaiah were situated in the southern Kingdom of Judah, just before the northern Kingdom of Israel was invaded and colonized by the Assyrians. The prophet saw deep spiritual corruption and complacency among his people and warned them that this kind of behavior would lead to decline and defeat.

“That defeat came in 587 BC at the hand of the Babylonians. After the invasion, many survivors were taken as exiles to Babylon. Chapters 40-55, often called Second Isaiah, addressed those Judean exiles, inspiring hope that they would someday return to their homeland and rebuild it. That soon happened, beginning in 538 BC under the leadership of Ezra and Nehemiah. That era of rebuilding was the setting for Third Isaiah, chapters 56-66.”[2]

Imagine with me for a moment what it was like for the people of Second Isaiah. Imagine what it was like for those who had been forcibly removed from their homes and taken into exile by the Babylonians. Yahweh, they believed, had promised them this land, but a foreign army had conquered them, removed them from their homes, and sent them into exile. Yahweh’s home was in Jerusalem, but they were forced to live in Babylon. Yahweh’s house, the Temple, had been destroyed. Where and how could they find hope?

Minidoka National Historic Site. The swimming hole

Minidoka National Historic Site. The swimming hole

Not that I was trying to mimic Isaiah, but my sabbatical can be divided into three parts. The first part was a great road trip that took me up the coast, across to Glacier National Park, south to Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons, and back home. It included, almost by accident, a stop at the Minidoka Internment Camp outside Twin Falls, Idaho. There is very little at the National Historical Park now: mostly open fields and gravel paths; a few concrete pads that were the foundations of garages and warehouses; a collapsing root cellar. The sentry tower and barbed wire fence are reconstructions. Only one of the original tarpaper barracks remains; the others were demolished or sold to farmers in the area, but only to white farmers. None of the internees were allowed to purchase any of the buildings or equipment that was deemed surplus after the war.

Minidoka National Historic Site. Family barracks

Minidoka National Historic Site. Family barracks

At its height, there were over 9,000 Japanese immigrants and Japanese-American citizens incarcerated in the camp, making Minidoka something like the fourth largest community in Idaho at the time. These thousands upon thousands of people of Japanese heritage are America’s 20th century exiles. Like the Babylonian army, the U.S. Army forced these people out of their homes and businesses and placed them in concentration camps.

According to the stories I read and heard at Minidoka, it was only through community that they were able to find hope. And, while the United States built the barracks, it was the people concentrated in the camp that built the community.

Of course, the internment of people of Japanese ancestry is not the only exile in United States history. The government’s treatment of the people who were here first, the Native Americans, was our original forced exile. I won’t rehearse the history; I can’t; I don’t know all of it. I know just enough of the Trail of Tears and the concentration on “Reservations” and the violations of treaties and the attempts to “kill the Indian” to save the child to know it was a story all too similar to that of the Judean exile in Babylon.

Aside from the elections, there was one news story that held my attention during my sabbatical: the story of the Standing Rock Sioux protesting the routing of the Dakota Access Pipeline through sacred lands and along and under important water sources for the Standing Rock and everyone downstream of them. Up until the past few weeks, the mainstream news media were pretty much ignoring the story. However, because the Dakota Access Pipeline is new fossil fuel infrastructure, organizations fighting climate change were paying attention, and that got my attention starting in August.

On one level, this story sounds like every other story of the Indian Exile: white people with their police and military and corporations and courts giving Indians the shaft. Again.

But something different is happening this time. The National Public Radio podcast, “Code Switch” notes that the history “of indigenous people fighting to protect not just their land, but the land, is centuries old.” But this time, “The scope of the resistance at Standing Rock exceeds just about every protest in Native American history.”[3] The big thing that’s different is that Native tribes and nations from across North America, in both what is now the United States and what is now Canada, are showing up in support of the Standing Rock Sioux. Not only that, but indigenous groups from around the world are offering their support.[4]

This gives me hope, this community and solidarity that is growing around the globe. And because of that solidary (at least in part), this is now about way more than a particular pipeline in a particular place. What’s happening along the Cannonball River is becoming a clash of ideas and systems that have been at odds on this continent for five centuries. The thing is, because the Standing Rock are grounding their movement in prayer, this clash has the real potential to work itself out in a way where we are all transformed and we are all winners. And that gives me hope.

“To be alive is to desire, to hope, and to dream,” Brian McLaren writes.[5] Unfortunately, throughout human history, “some of us desire power and kill, enslave, and oppress others. Enslaved and oppressed people hope for liberation. Wilderness wanderers desire a promised land where they can settle. Settled people dream of a promised time when they won’t be torn apart by internal factions, ruled by corrupt elites, or dominated by stronger nations nearby.”[6]

If we read the prophets and the gospels in the Bible, one thing will be clear: While God loves everyone, God takes the side of the enslaved and oppressed, the wilderness wanderers and exiles, the people yearning for justice and peace. We heard the words in today’s scripture lessons.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”

The Lord God … will feed his flock like a shepherd;
he will gather the lambs in his arms,
and carry them in his bosom,
and gently lead the mother sheep.

And there’s so much more in Isaiah.

They shall beat their swords into ploughshares,
and their spears into pruning-hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
neither shall they learn war any more. (Isaiah 2:4)

The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
their young shall lie down together;
and the lion shall eat straw like the ox. (Isaiah 11:6-7)

Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen, in whom my soul delights;
I have put my spirit upon him;
he will bring forth justice to the nations.
He will not cry or lift up his voice,
or make it heard in the street;
a bruised reed he will not break,
and a dimly burning wick he will not quench;
he will faithfully bring forth justice. (Isaiah 42:1-3)

Isaiah’s words and images inspire so much hope that Jesus and his followers quote this book more than any other writer.

“Many other prophets added their own colors to this beautiful vision of hope. In Ezekiel’s vision, people’s hearts of stone will be replaced with hearts of flesh. For Malachi, the hearts of parents would turn to their children, and children to their parents. Joel describes the Spirit of God being poured out on all humanity – young and old, men and women, Jew and Gentile. Amos paints the vivid scene of justice rolling down like a river, filling all the lowest places. And Daniel envisioned the world’s beastlike empires of violence being overcome by a simple unarmed human being, a new generation of humanity.

“In the centuries between the time of the prophets and the birth of Jesus, these prophetic dreams never completely died. But they were never completely fulfilled, either.… [So] their dream lived on. It remained alive in people like Elizabeth and Zechariah, Mary and Joseph, and Anna and Simeon, and even among humble shepherds who lived at the margins of society.

“To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to have a desire, a dream, a hope for the future.”[7] To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to believe that the promised time is coming and that the promised land will be received. It is what we pray for every time we say, “Thy kin-dom come on earth.” But that is only a wish and not true hope if it does not spur us to action. To be alive in the adventure of Jesus is to translate hope for the future into action in the present and to keep acting in light of it, no matter the disappointments, no matter the setbacks and delays.

Now, as we enter a time of quiet, I invite you to reflect on …
… anything for the sermon or scripture readings that caught you attention; or
… recall a time when you kept hope or lost hope; or
… the imagery from Isaiah (“He shall feed his flock …”), and how you would translate that imagery from the ancient Middle East into imagery from today’s world; or
… an image from today’s scripture readings – hold it in your heart, in God’s presence and let it inspire a simple prayer.

[1] “Cuba Age structure,” Index Mundi, http://www.indexmundi.com/cuba/age_structure.html (accessed 26 November 2016).

[2] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking [Kindle version], chapter 14, page 64. Retrieved from amazon.com.

[3] Leah Donnella, “The Standing Rock Resistance Is Unprecedented (It’s also Centuries Old),” Code Switch, http://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/11/22/502068751/the-standing-rock-resistance-is-unprecedented-it-s-also-centuries-old (posted 22 November 2016; accessed 26 November 2016).

[4] Just as an example, Maori have set up a Facebook page in solidarity (https://www.facebook.com/maorisolidarity/) and have sent people to pray and stand in solidarity to the protest camps.

[5] McLaren, page 63.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 65-66.

If you follow this blog, you know that I hoped Secretary Clinton would be elected President. More than that, I really didn’t want Mr. Trump to be elected President. That hope and wish were not fulfilled. Instead, a man who I have seen as misogynist, racist, and dangerous (his denial of climate change, his openness to using nuclear weapons) has won enough states that, assuming the electoral college votes as they are pledged, he will be the next President of the United States.

I’ve been told that in 1960, after John F. Kennedy narrowly defeated Richard Nixon, staunch Hollywood conservative John Wayne declared, “I didn’t vote for him, but he’s my president and I hope he does a good job.”

I’m having a hard time following John Wayne’s lead. Yes, I hope Mr. Trump does a good job, but based on his campaign and the signals coming from his transition team, I don’t think he will. I’ve read his plan for this first 100 days in office. If he follows through on his plan, he will wreak havoc on the economy, the environment, the Supreme Court’s protection of freedom, our public schools, the incomplete health insurance net that’s being stitched together through Obama Care, families that include at least one undocumented worker, and the national debt.

While the plan does not say anything overt about removing right of religious, ethnic, or sexual minorities, the rhetoric surrounding the Trump campaign and the people he has named to his transition team is frightening. Since election day, many people – especially women, minorities, immigrants, and members of the lgbt community – have felt vulnerable. Not surprising, since the Southern Poverty Law Center has noted as significant spike in acts of “hateful harassment and intimidation” since the election. And now, with the naming of white nationalist Steve Bannon to be “Chief Strategist to the President,” the pit in my stomach that had been slowly dissolving has re-solidified. White male privilege is, I fear, solidifying in our culture, right along side the pit in my stomach.

Bishop Dwayne Royster’s words in this blog post posted late on election day resonate with me – particularly when he rights about his anger that people who say they follow Christ voted for a person whose words during this campaign paint him as sexist, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, homophobic, and not someone to be trusted with nuclear weapons. And I like that he calls us to be “Prophets that will speak truth to power unequivocally and will speak truth to the people as well.”

Senator Bernie Sanders (the presidential candidate I supported in the primaries) issued this statement the day after the election. In four sentences he says where I want to be politically.

Donald Trump tapped into the anger of a declining middle class that is sick and tired of establishment economics, establishment politics and the establishment media.  People are tired of working longer hours for lower wages, of seeing decent paying jobs go to China and other low-wage countries, of billionaires not paying any federal income taxes and of not being able to afford a college education for their kids – all while the very rich become much richer.

To the degree that Mr. Trump is serious about pursuing policies that improve the lives of working families in this country, I and other progressives are prepared to work with him. To the degree that he pursues racist, sexist, xenophobic and anti-environment policies, we will vigorously oppose him.

And while I want to be ready to work with Mr. Trump where I can (and vigorously against him where his proposals and policies are harmful), I am worried about how we respond to people who are vulnerable now, as attacks continue. I turn to my Twitter feed as I write this, knowing that there are other people who have posted things that have inspired me or at least given me hope, but what I’m reading about are instances of people of color being threatened by whites, of people of Muslim faith afraid to express it. Trump has turned a populist anger into hatred for “the other” by turning economic resentment into racial, religious, and gender resentment.

As a pastor, I wonder what my congregation can do. My greatest personal fear about the Trump presidency is that the little progress we’ve made as a nation to combat climate change will be reversed and the struggle to address this (the most important moral issue of our day) may be too late. Others have different primary fears as they try to imagine the coming Trump presidency – and with good reason; check out “Day 1 in Trump’s America.” The Rev. Michael Denton, Conference Minister of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the United Church of Christ, identified how the Trump presidency will make the lives of so many less safe and more traumatic – and some ideas for churches on his Facebook page:

For millions of people in our country and beyond, this world is suddenly and significantly less safe. Hate crimes had already increased in recent months and will even more, now. Many hard fought for laws that had protected the rights and lives of the queer community are in danger of being rolled back. Survivors of sexual assault will have to look into the eyes of someone who bragged about assaulting others every time they turn on the news. Those with disabilities will have to look into the eyes of someone who has mocked them. Migrants and refugees who found a home here are wondering if they’ll have to be migrants and refugees, again. People of color who already knew the life threatening daily reality of systemic racism are faced with one more blatant systemic expression of it. Those whose religious expression does not fall into a relatively narrow expression of Christianity can expect to be treated as suspect. Someone who has talked about his intention to use military force preemptively and often now has the ability to do so.

The idea of providing sanctuary is not a new one. It is the idea of opening up our churches and making them a safe space for people who are feeling threatened by the world. Over the coming hours, days, weeks, months and years more and more people are going to be asking for us to provide some sort of sanctuary; everything from providing a space for prayer and a listening ear to a place where they can find physical safety from a world that endangers them. We need to start that conversation of how to do that within and between our churches, now.

When it was becoming clear that Mr. Trump was going to win the electoral college, I honestly wondered if it was time to consider emigrating. I have a friend in New Zealand who said she will take me in while I look for a job if it’s ever needed. But then I read a tweet (I don’t remember who posted it) that called those of us who have privilege and care about justice not to abandon those who do not have privilege. Privilege comes in many forms in the USA. I have gender (I’m a cisgender male), race (I’m European-America of British descent), and economic (within the USA I’m probably upper-middle class) privilege, privileged enough to be able to seriously consider emigration. But I will stay and look for ways to justly use my privilege to protect those who are vulnerable and to dismantle the system that makes this privilege possible.

Those of us with privilege must not abandon those who do not have privilege. Those of us who follow Christ must serve, lift up, empower, and follow the vulnerable who are all the more vulnerable now.

Yesterday, I found myself needing to simply turn off Twitter. The news from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in North Dakota was too depressing.

Today, I am feeling angry, a righteous anger about how racism is continuing to play itself out in government policy and action. And I am wanting to “do something.” So I started by researching what I could do and now I share this incomplete list of things you and I can do, even though most of us are far away from the front lines.

Background

The Seattle Times published a pretty good (though overly simple) summary about the Dakota Access Pipeline (DAPL) and the water protectors (led by the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe) who are protesting the DAPL. You can read it here.

The summary fails to note some important things:

  • While the pipeline is probably safer than transporting the oil by rail (Bakkan oil is extremely volatile, making train transport very risky), that does not mean that the pipeline is safe. Spills (and explosions) are still probable at some point along the almost 1200-miles of the DAPL route. (Bullet point updated 11/29/16.)
  • For the Native Americans on the front lines, this is an act of prayer, a spiritual practice.
  • There is insufficient explanation why they call themselves “Protectors,” not “protesters.” See video below. #WaterIsLife
  • The article fails to speak about the dangers of extracting any (Bakkan or otherwise) carbon (in the form of fossil fuels) from the ground and putting it in the atmosphere. While the Standing Rock Tribe’s objections are about the dangers to the waters and the lands, the dangers of climate change are an important reason to oppose all fossil fuel infrastructure construction. As the hashtag says, when it comes to fossil fuels, we need to #KeepItInTheGround.
  • The conduct of police agencies has been questionable throughout this protest, including shooting at media and protester drones, strip searching people arrested for misdemeanors, and jamming cell phone service during mass arrests.
  • Gathering a full background picture would be incomplete without reading the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe’s two-page background paper. You can read it here.
  • The specifics of the Standing Rock Tribe’s legal claims can be found in this court filing.

Things You Can Do

Keep Learning 

  • Some news sources are covering the issue better than others. I’ve appreciated NPR’s coverage.
  • Bill McKibben wrote a great piece on the pipeline in the New York Times on 10/28/16. Read it here. (This link added 10/29/16.)
  • Social media are proving to be helpful, often providing more accurate and more up-to-the-minute coverage than classic news media. I’m following #NoDAPL (No Dakota Access Pipeline) and #IStandWithStandingRock on Twitter; they probably work on other social media, too.

Sign Petitions

  • Youth from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe have a petition you’re invited to sign.
  • There is a petition on the White House website calling for the cessation of construction of the DAPL.
  • There is a similar petition on the Care2 website.
  • The ACLU has a petition calling for a demilitarization of the police response.
  • CREDO action has a petition calling for North Dakota and the Department of Justice to respect journalists’ freedoms and a petition calling on the President to stope the DAPL.
  • Moveon.org has a petition, too. (This link added 10/29/16)

Contact Politicians directly

When leaving a message stating your thoughts about this subject please be professional.

  • Call North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200.
  • Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414
  • Call the Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division, (202) 514-4609, asking them to send observers to make sure the Protectors civil rights are not violated.
  • Tweet to these officials on a daily basis (or as close to that as you can manage): @NDGovDalrymple, @POTUS, @BarackObama, @DOJ, Attorney General @LorettaLynch
  • Call the Army Corps of Engineers and demand that they reverse the permit: (202) 761-5903

Call the Companies

Call, email, and/or write the executives of the companies that are building the pipeline:

  • Lee Hanse Executive Vice President Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 800 E Sonterra Blvd #400 San Antonio, Texas 78258 Telephone: (210) 403-6455 Lee.Hanse@energytransfer.com
  • Glenn Emery Vice President Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 800 E Sonterra Blvd #400 San Antonio, Texas 78258 Telephone: (210) 403-6762 Glenn.Emery@energytransfer.com
  • Michael (Cliff) Waters Lead Analyst Energy Transfer Partners, L.P. 1300 Main St. Houston, Texas 77002 Telephone: (713) 989-2404 Michael.Waters@energytransfer.com

Make a donation

Join an action

This is gleaned from https://nodaplsolidarity.org. Go there for more ideas and details.

  • Take action in your own community. Target the Army Corp of Engineers, banks, pipeline companies, corporations and elected officials behind the pipeline. Taking action includes lock-downs at offices, sit-ins, taking up space, rallies, call-in days, divesting from banks, mass mailings, and interruptions. Register at NoDAPLSolidarity.org to join the network of Global Solidarity.
  • Organize yourself and/or large groups of people from your community to come to Standing Rock. Contact them at Organizing@NoDAPLSolidarity.org to discuss details and schedule a time frame.

Before the 1980 election, Ronald Reagan asked voters (and encouraged votes to ask themselves), “Am I better off now than I was four years ago?”

In this presidential election year, my answer is, “Yes. Yes, I’m better off than I was four years ago and eight years ago. And that’s the wrong question to ask.”

Or maybe it’s only one of may questions we should be asking.

How about my neighbor (whom I’m supposed to love as myself)? Is my neighbor better off them she was four or eight years ago? And not just my next door neighbor. I should be asking this about all my neighbors in my city and state and country. And I should be asking this about my neighbors in other countries.

But let’s not stop there. We should be asking it about other species and the environment as a whole.

And lest you think this is just about the current presidential election, it’s not. Let’s consider the TPP – the Trans-Pacific Partnership – under consideration by Congress right now. The TPP is a complex trade agreement between 12 Pacific Rim countries (including the United States). And when I say, “complex,” I mean complex. It took ten years to develop and has over 30 chapters.

I have yet to hear any politician speak to the particulars. In this election year, the TPP is really not much more than a symbol, a symbol that is being spun primarily to represent global trade that threatens American jobs. “A Trump Administration will end [the war on the American worker] by getting a fair deal for the American people. The era of economic surrender will finally be over,” is how Trump is spinning the symbol.

The Clinton campaign isn’t much different. “I will do everything in my power to defend American jobs and American workers. Any trade deal must meet three tests to earn my support: it must create good American jobs, raise wages, and advance our national security.”

Both candidates are only asking if the TPP will make us better off in four years than we are now. What about asking how it impacts our international neighbors? What about asking how it impacts the environment? What about asking how it circumvents legal system in the partner countries, perverting justice? What about asking how it protects (or fails to protect) the environment?

The TPP aims to cut 18,000 different tariffs, all in the name of “free trade” across international borders. If the only thing I have to trade is my labor and I can’t freely transport it across international borders, is it really a “free trade deal”?

Given the complexity of international trade – including national differences in resources, worker skills, labor supply, labor laws and protects, markets, and political and social conditions – the terms of mutually beneficial trade can’t be reduced to a bumper sticker or a 30-second sound bite in the spin room.

I oppose the TPP and will until my questions are satisfactorily answered. But that’s really not the point of this post. The real point is that we need to move beyond our shortsighted, self-centered questions and think about our local and international neighbors (and not just our human neighbors) when it comes to trade deals and elections and really any policy decision we make.

One year ago, in the fall 2015 edition of EARTHletter, the newsletter of the Earth Ministry in Seattle Washington, Dr. Kevin O’Brien published this article titled,”Finding Hope Outside.” It is too good a column to not share, so I do so without express permission. The Feast of St. Francis seems an especially appropriate day to share it.

We are only beginning to understand all that Pope Francis was signaling when he chose to name himself after a medieval friar. This name, never used by a previous Pope, suggests that he is pulling the church outside – outside of the merely-human world into God’s whole creation, outside of its gilded image to the poor within its midst, and outside of any barriers that separate human beings from one another.

St. Francis is most famous today because of his love for the natural world. One story tells of the cricket that kept him awake one night by singing outside his room. Francis opened his window and sang along rather than sleep that night. Another story tells us that when Francis took a 40-day retreat on Mount Alverno, a falcon came to visit him every morning at exactly the same time so he could maintain his rigorous monastic prayer schedule. Francis called every creature “sister” or “brother,” and had a deep sense of his connection to all: brother sun, sister moon, brother bear, sister wolf, sister ant, even brother mosquito. He prayed for and with every creature.

This love for nature changed the way the Saint worshiped. As a teenager, while praying alone in a dilapidated Assisi Church, he heard a voice say, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” He immediately began to gather stones and build up the church around him, and that church still stands in Assisi today.

But, as time went by, St. Francis begin to wonder if the “ruined” house of God was not a physical structure, but the Christian community itself: a community that focused more on itself than service to others, more on ornate structures than feeding the poor or praising God with all creatures. He spent his life not constructing church buildings but going outside them with a wandering religious community. They lived outside, along with God’s sun and moon and ants and mosquitoes. Francis synthesize the spiritual and the natural; his love of nature and his love of God were two notes in perfect harmony.

Many of us draw hope from St. Francis for our world: if a holy man one thousand years ago could learn to love God’s world so deeply, then perhaps more of us can learn to love it, too. Perhaps we can use that love to save it from the ravages of climate change, of extinction, of pollution. If he could build a new kind of faith outside the walls of churches, perhaps we can build a new kind of life that celebrates God’s creation rather than degrading it.

We live in troubled times, and it often seems like human beings are waging war on the rest of the planet. Francis offers the hope that we can step outside of that conflict by meeting God’s other creatures and recognizing our kinship with them.

The hope Francis found outside church walls was not just about the natural world, though. By bringing his friars outside the walls of traditional monastic life, he brought them into conversation with the people who were living there without choosing it: the homeless, the sick, the marginalized. Francis’ connection to nature was inherently also a connection to the poor. And, just as he did with the natural world, he found hope and love in his connection to them.

This may be the deepest lesson that Pope Francis’ Laudato Si asks us to learn from St. Francis: to love the earth is to love the poor, and to love the poor is to love the earth. As the encyclical puts it, “a true ecological approach always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment” (§49).

It can be easy to live our lives within our own social class. Those who are economically comfortable all too often create enclaves where we never encounter the less fortunate. The saint and the pope both remind us that if we love God and love God’s earth we must move outside, encountering God’s people who are poor, learning from them, and empowering them.

We must also learn to overcome other boundaries we put up between one another, the other walls that separate humanity. St. Francis model this during the 5th Crusade, deciding he was needed when he heard that Christians were battling Muslims in Egypt. He walked across enemy lines and requested a meeting with Sultan al-Malik al-Kamil, and spoke honestly with the Sultan about his faith. This is the first time we know of in the history of the Crusades that a Christian and a Muslim leader sat down together to talk about their faith in God. Francis was allowed to go in peace and given an escort to visit Jerusalem as a Christian pilgrim. While other forces kept the war raging, Francis offered a model of stepping outside one’s narrow allegiances to recognize common ground.

Earth Ministry offered another example of stepping outside narrow allegiances during the effort to move Washington State beyond coal a few years ago. By working not only with environmentalists but also with workers and management at the states’ only coal plant, Earth Ministry helped to shepherd a plan agreed to by both the industry and the environmental community in 2011, a plan that will end the industrial burning of coal in our state by 2025. Because Earth Ministry talked to all sides and kept communication open, the deal serves as another model for people coming together and talking rather than fighting across from familiar battle lines.

Pope Francis also crossed boundaries in Laudato Si, insisting that he writes not only for Catholics but for all people of good will. The encyclical tells us that the only way to solve the problems of war, poverty, and climate change are for human beings to come together in universal solidarity, to understand that all people – all creatures – are sisters and brothers in God’s family, sharing one world and one future.

The assertion that moved me more than any other comes near the encyclical’s conclusion: “The universe unfolds in God, who fills it completely. Hence, there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face” (§233). Here Pope Francis expresses his faith – the universe is unfolding in God and calls people to make faith real by finding beauty and meaning in the creation … a leaf, a trail, a dewdrop – in our neighbors – in the faces of the poor.

The Pope’s message resonates with the Saint’s, and both promise that we will find hope in our world when  we move outside the structures we have built into the natural world. We will find hope when remove outside the limits we have placed on ourselves and into the full family of humanity.

Hope is right outside.

Dr. Kevin J. O’Brien is the treasurer of Earth Ministry’s Board of Directors and the co-author of An Introduction to Christian Environmentalism: Ecology, Virtue, and Ethics.

“The International Geological Conference suggested last month that in about 1950 the earth entered a new epoch, the Anthropocene epoch, marked by a human impact on the earth so profound that humans are not likely to survive it. The previous epoch, the Holocene, with 12,000 years of stable climate since the last iceage, was the period when human civilization developed. Among the first marks of this new epoch were the radioactive elements from nuclear bomb tests that were blown into the stratosphere before settling down into the earth. Another sign is the emission of carbon gases that are causing global warming, the rise of sea levels, and the extinction of some plant and animal life.”

From the 28 Sept. 2016 edition of Christian Century, page 9, citing the 29 August edition of the Guardian.

Agnotology is the word Stanford University science historian Robert Proctor coined to describe the deliberate dissemination and misinformation, often to try to sell a product. The tobacco industry developed a strategy to cast doubt on scientific studies showing that smoking causes cancer. In politics, the campaign to cast doubts on President Obama’s national origins was an example of agnotology. Climate deniers use a similar strategy. The news media often perpetuate agnotology in the interest of offering a balanced perspective, and the Internet provides a platform for people to pose as experts while engaging in agnotology. ‘We live in a world of radical ignorance, and the marvel is that any kind of truth cuts through the noise,’ says Proctor.”

Quoted from the 16 March 2016 edition of Christian Century, page 9. The cite the BBC, January 6, as their source.

If you haven’t seen the documentary (or read the book) Merchants of Doubt, I highly recommend it. It’s all about how agnotology is used by corporations to increase profits. Right now, Standing Rock Sioux are protesting the building of an oil pipeline, the Dakota Access Pipeline. To counter this protest, it appears that pro-pipeline organization (read: Big Oil) has directly or indirectly created fake Twitter accounts to make it look like there is public support for the pipeline.

Read more about the Standing Rock protests at http://www.democracynow.org/topics/dakota_access (where there are old stories and up-to-date stories listed.

A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, August 14, 2016, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures:  Revelation 22:1-5 and Psalm 126
Copyright © 2016 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

zaatari-refugee-ca_3397466k

An aerial view shows the Zaatari refugee camp on July 18, 2013. From “The Telegraph.”

I’ve been wondering this week, if I were a Syrian refugee living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, where would I find hope?

If I were a Palestinian, raised by parents in a refugee camp, now raising my children in the same refugee camp, where would I find hope?

If I were a Native American living on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation who, like the generations before me, was trapped in a cycle of poverty,[1] where would I find hope?

If I was a member of parliament in the Solomon Islands who has watched several small islands disappear because of erosion and rising sea levels, who has watched villages literally washed to sea as tropical storms increase in strength because of climate change[2] – where would I find hope?

If I were an African-American bus driver in St. Louis who sees how my nation has created a new Jim Crow by building a cradle to prison pipeline[3] that siphons black children, especially black boys, out of the schools and into the prisons, labeling them as “convicts” so they can’t get a job when they’re released, so the end up trying to get by only to be arrested again – where would I find hope?

If I were a Christian living in Rome during the reigns of Emperors Nero or Domitian, emperors who had essentially made me illegal by demanding I worship them as gods, something that would violate the very core of my being and faith – where would I find hope?

I can imagine those early followers of Jesus thinking something like this:  “Jesus has been gone now for decades.  The world doesn’t seem to be getting better.  If anything, with a mad dictator in Rome, it’s getting worse.  Maybe Jesus was wrong … maybe it’s time for us to forget about this ‘[…] love your enemies’ business.  Maybe we need to take matters into our own hands and strap on a sword to fight for our future.  Or maybe we should just eat, drink, make a buck, and be merry, because tomorrow we might all be dead.”[4]

This is the context in which Revelation was written.  I know there are plenty of Christians who think Revelation is some sort of coded book that, if properly decoded, will reveal exactly how God will bring the world and history to an end.  But it’s not.  Yes, it is sort of in code, but it’s not about the end of history or the world.  Revelation was written to bring the Spirit of Hope to an oppressed but faithful people.  “It addressed the crisis at hand.  Even if the emperor is mad, Revelation claimed, it’s not the end of the world.  Even if wars rage, it’s not the end of the world.  Even if peace-loving disciples face martyrdom, it’s not the end of the world.…  Whatever happens, God will be faithful and the way of Christ – a way of love, nonviolence, compassion, and sustained fervency – will triumph.”[5]

While Revelation is typically classified as apocalyptic literature (which literally means writing that unveils or reveals), I see Revelation primarily as an example of literature of the oppressed.  Sometime literature of the oppressed needs to be coded.  To remain silent to the present injustice would be an act of complicity, of cooperation with the injustice.  But to speak up in some situations can get you killed (or at least disappeared).

Revelation is this type of literature.  “Instead of saying ‘The Emperor is a fraud and his violent regime cannot stand,’ which would get them arrested, Revelation tells a strange story about a monster who comes out of the sea and is defeated.  Instead of saying, ‘The religious establishment is corrupt,’ it tells a story about a whore.  Instead of naming today’s Roman empire as being doomed, they talk about a past empire – Babylon – that collapsed in failure.”[6]

Brian McLaren points out, “People who read Revelation without understanding the context tend to miss some telling details.  For example, when Jesus rides in on the white horse, his robes are bloodstained and he carries a sword.  Many have interpreted this scene as a repudiation of Jesus’ nonviolence in the gospels.  But they miss the fact that he carries the sword in his mouth, not his hand.  Instead of predicting the return of a killer Messiah in the future, Revelation recalls the day in the past when Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey.  His … words of peace, love, and justice will, Revelation promises, prove more powerful than the bloody swords of violent emperors.  In addition, we notice his robe is blood-stained before the battle begins, suggesting that the blood on his robe is not the blood of his enemies, but is his own, shed in self-giving love.  In that light, Revelation reinforces rather than overturns the picture we have of Jesus in Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.”[7]

Revelation is a source of hope, a vehicle for the Spirit of Hope to come upon these oppressed, first century Christians.  This understanding of Revelation is what got me wondering where I would find hope if I were a Syrian refugee, or a Palestinian parent, or an Oglala Lakota, or a Solomon Island parliamentarian, or an African-American bus driver.  I know I wouldn’t find hope in a rifle or a rocket launcher or a riot.  So where would I find hope?

Maybe in the faces of some children playing soccer.  Maybe I would find hope in the news that Christian denominations in the United States were standing up for my human rights.[8]  Maybe I would find hope in watching my children learn our history and culture and keep our language alive.  Maybe I would find hope in accounts of people around the globe taking to the streets to demand climate action.  Or maybe I would find hope in something as simple and beautiful as poetry.

Last Sunday, I asked by Facebook friends to tell me, “What gives you hope in times of distress?”  Before I share some of their responses, maybe you’d like to think about your answer.  What gives you hope in times of distress?

Here are some of the responses from a few of my Facebook friends:

  • Stories of people who have survived worse and become happy. My having survived worse.  Being loved just the way I am no matter what.  Belief that love will outlast and best all the worsts.  Seeing and creating something beautiful helps too,…  Being able to laugh, be heard, and get the tears out also help.
  • Remembering friends who turned terrible circumstances into growth.… Seeing the refugee team at the Olympics, knowing the adversity they faced as they left the circumstances in their homelands and found life in new countries.  Experiencing the presence of God in my life, in me and in others when I least expect it.  Knowing I am loved and I can love with abandon.
  • Trusting that even in the midst of crises of any kind, we are all carried by a loving God, even if we don’t know it at the time.…
  • Watching toddlers as they learn new things and get excited.
  • Helping others, recognizing that I have the power to improve people’s situations, even if it’s just about feeling good for a brief moment.
  • I remind myself that other people have survived worse things. I sing to myself.  I practice a positive message and say it aloud as often as I can.  I call my best friend and moan, secure in the knowledge that it will go no further.  I pray for help.
  • [Remembering that] God IS good, even when I can’t see it – and eventually, love (always) wins.
  • Looking out at the stars and remembering that both God and the universe are bigger than our folly.
  • The love of my cat.
  • Seeing my grandsons … be kind to other kids.
  • Instances where people have offered kindness and assistance to others when they themselves have little to give.
  • I have a few people who I can rely on for support. I don’t always expect answers or solutions.  Sometimes just saying something out loud helps me work things out.
  • Perspective also helps.

Today’s scripture reading comes from “a beautiful visionary scene at the end of the Book of Revelation that is as relevant today as it was in the first century.…  It pictures a new Jerusalem descending from heaven to Earth.  This new city doesn’t need a temple because God’s presence is felt everywhere.  It doesn’t need sun or moon because the light of Christ illuminates it from within.  Its gates are never shut, and it welcomes people from around the world to receive the treasures if offers and bring the treasures they can offer.  From the center of the city, from God’s own throne, a river flows – a river of life or aliveness.  Along its banks grows the Tree of Life.  All of this, of course, evokes God’s own words in Revelation:  ‘Behold! I’m making all things new!’”[9]

Central to this image is this idea:  “God’s work in history has never been about escaping Earth and going up to heaven.  It has always been about God descending to dwell among us.  Faithfulness wasn’t [and isn’t] waiting passively for a future that had already been determined.  Faithfulness meant [and means] participating with God in God’s unfolding story.…  God [is] descending among us here and now, making the tree of true aliveness available for all.

“What was true for Revelation’s original audience is true for us today.  Whatever madman is in power, whatever chaos is breaking out, whatever danger threatens, the river of life is flowing now.  The Tree of Life is bearing fruit now.  True aliveness is available now.”[10]  The Spirit of Hope is among us here and now.

As we move into our time of quiet reflection, I invite you to reflect on …

… anything in the sermon or scripture that caught your attention; or

… a time when an invitation changed your life; or

… how you are (or aren’t) listening to contemporary examples of “literature of the oppressed;” or

… the image of creation inviting God, and God inviting creation, through the powerful word, “Hope.”

[1] “Pine Ridge Indian Reservation,” Re-Member, http://www.re-member.org/pine-ridge-reservation.aspx (accessed 13 August 2016).

[2] Reuters, “Five Pacific islands lost to rising seas as climate change hits,” The Guardian, https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/10/five-pacific-islands-lost-rising-seas-climate-change (posted 10 May 2016; accessed 13 August 2016).  See also, Tierney Smith, “Solomon Islans town first in Pacific to relocate because of climate change,” tck tck tck, http://tcktcktck.org/2014/08/solomon-islands-town-first-pacific-relocate-climate-change/ (posted 19 August 2014; accessed 13 August 2016).

[3] The “Cradle to Prison Pipeline” is a term coined by the Children’s Defense Fund to describe the fact that “1 in 3 Black and 1 in 6 Latino boys born in 2001 are at risk of imprisonment during their lifetime.”  Learn more about this problem and ways you can be involved in addressing it at http://www.childrensdefense.org/campaigns/cradle-to-prison-pipeline/

[4] Brian McLaren, We Make the Road by Walking [Kindle version], chapter 51, page 255. Retrieved from amazon.com.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, 256, emphasis added.

[8] “Disinvestment from Israel,” Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disinvestment_from_Israel (accessed 13 August 2016).

[9] McLaren, op.cit., 257.

[10] Ibid.

Exxon knew.

“Here’s the story so far. We have the chief legal representatives of the eighth and 16th largest economies on Earth (California and New York) probing the biggest fossil fuel company on Earth (ExxonMobil), while both Democratic presidential candidates are demanding that the federal Department of Justice join the investigation of what may prove to be one of the biggest corporate scandals in American history. And that’s just the beginning. As bad as Exxon has been in the past, what it’s doing now — entirely legally — is helping push the planet over the edge and into the biggest crisis in the entire span of the human story.”

That’s how Bill McKibben starts a lengthy, comprehensive, and very important essay on the fact that Exxon knew all about climate change and the role burning fossil fuels plays in causing it back in 1977, that they spent money lying to the public about climate change, and they are now being investigates for fraud. I encourage you to read it.

Then I hope you will take action. If you live outside the United States, please ask the appropriate governmental agency to investigate Exxon. If you live in the United States, please sign this petition to the U.S. Department of Justice calling for an investigation of Exxon, then contact your State’s attorney general to call for an investigation in your state.  And if you live in New York or California, contact your state’s Treasurer to point out the fact that maybe your state should divest from a company that it is criminally investigating.

A sermon preached at Niles Discovery Church, Fremont, California,
on Sunday, January 11, 2015, by the Rev. Jeffrey Spencer.
Scriptures: Exodus 33:18-23 and Genesis 1:1-5
Copyright © 2015 by Jeffrey S. Spencer

Today’s passage from Exodus is about the nature of God. When God called Moses at the burning bush, you may remember that Moses asked God what God’s name is. God’s answer was the cryptic, “I am who (or what) I am.” Well, what does that mean?

By the time we get to the point in the story that we heard today, Moses has been communicating quite frequently with God. Moses has spent plenty of time up in the dark cloud on the mountain that I spoke about last week. He has had conferences with God in the “Tent of Meeting.” Moses and God are pretty tight, or so it would seem.

Today’s passage takes place in the midst of one of those conferences. After working out some details about how they are going to move forward, Moses asks God, almost pleads with God, that he be allowed to behold God’s “presence.” This seems almost comical to me. Moses and God have been having these confabs on a regular basis, yet Moses doesn’t feel like he has really experienced the presence of God. So Moses pleads for this experience. It’s as if Moses has been asking these past 30 chapter one over-arching question: “Who are you, God?”

“I am who I am.” “I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious.” These are not satisfying answers. Similarly, when Moses asks to see God’s face, the answer he receives is, “You may only see my back.” We’re told God does this to protect Moses. To see God face-to-face would be so overwhelming it would be fatal. So God protects Moses in the cleft of the rock and Moses only sees God’s back.

There is a metaphor in here that I think is powerful. Moses only sees God after the fact, after God has passed by. More often than not, we, too, become aware of God when we become aware of God’s graciousness. And like Moses, this usually happens after God passes by. “Were not our hearts burning within us,” the two on the Emmaus Road ask themselves after their experience of walking and breaking bread with the resurrected Christ.

Could it be that recognizing the presence of God in the moment would be so overwhelming that there is nothing left but awe? I don’t want people driving cars to suddenly behold the presence of God and forget that they are driving two tons of aluminum and steel down the highway. Just as someone failing to lower their beams on a dark country road can cause confusion, discomfort, even danger, we can be overwhelmed by too much light.

And there it is, my sermon in a sentence: we can be overwhelmed by too much light. I know when some of you read the printed sermon title, “Overwhelmed by Brilliance,” you figured I’d be talking about the how being intelligent can slow you down. But that’s not the brilliance I had in mind. This is about light and the importance of darkness.

When I lived in rural western Washington, wind storms or the occasional wet snow storm would often knock out the power. The longest I went without power was a week, but I lived in a subdivision, so I didn’t suffer the way my more rural neighbors did. I was on a public water system and I had hot water because that was gas. I just didn’t have heat because that was electric. I learned to put in contact lenses by candlelight and to shower in the dark that week.

One on the shorter power outages occurred early in the evening as I was watching TV. “Well,” I thought, “I can’t watch TV or go on the computer, and reading by candlelight is too difficult, so what should I do? I know! My vacuum cleaner has a headlight, so I can vacuum in the dark. Oh, that’s right. The electricity is out.” Like I said, this sermon is not about being overwhelmed by intelligence.

I live in a world where I assume that if I turn on the tap, clean water will come out, and if I flick the switch, the lights will come on. So when the power goes out, I’m often at a loss for what to do. Often, the only thing to do is go to bed. It turns out that this is a really good idea.

“Darkness turns out to be as essential to our physical well-being as light. We not only need plenty of darkness to sleep well; we also need it to be well. The circadian rhythm of waking and sleeping matches the natural cycle of day and night, which affects everything from our body chemistry to our relationships. When we tinker with it, we tinker with the well-being of ever creature whose pupils shrink when we turn on the lights.”[1]

According to Barbara Brown Taylor, “Every time we turn on the lights after dark, receptors in our eyes and skin send messages to our adrenal, pituitary, and pineal glands to stop what they are doing and get ready for the new day. Fluorescent lights and computer screens both flicker on and off at about 60-120 cycles a second, which is enough to fool your brain into thinking that the sun I coming up, but even the light from a cell phone charger or a glow-in-the-dark clock can cue your body that morning is underway. When that happens, your adrenal gland starts pumping more adrenaline into your bloodstream to handle the stress of an ordinary day. This tells your pituitary gland to back off on the human growth hormone your body uses to repair your muscles and bones at night. It also signals your pineal gland to stop making melatonin, the hormone that regulates your sleep, which it can only do in the dark. … Turning on your bedside lamp may help you get safely to the bathroom and back, but it will also upset your chemistry.”[2]

We know all this. And still, we light up the night. We work so hard to shrink the dark. And we do it not only to the detriment of our well-being, but also to the well-being of other species.

In the November 2008 issue of National Geographic Magazine, there is an article about light pollution. One of the pictures[3] accompanying the article is of a sheet surrounded by school children. The sheet is covered with the carcasses of birds collected over just three months in Toronto. During those three months, over 1,000 birds from 89 species died because of nighttime collisions with skyscrapers that had their lights on. Turning the lights off would not only save money on the electric bill, it would save birds’ lives.

Another picture in the article is of an endangered leatherback sea turtle shuffling toward the waves after laying and burying her eggs. Before electricity, the natural glow of the night sky off the water guided the turtles back to the sea. Now, beachfront development often leads them and their hatchlings off course, where they can be hit by cars or gobbled up by predators.

In her book that inspired this sermon series, Taylor tells of taking a daytime hike with her husband through the dunes of one of the barrier islands along the south Georgia coast.[4] They were surprised to come upon a huge loggerhead turtle. She had come ashore in the night to lay her eggs and instead of turning back to the ocean, she turned toward lights on the mainland.

“Judging from her tracks,” Taylor writes, “she had dragged herself through the sand until her flippers were buried and she could go no farther. We found her where she had given up, half cooked by the sun but still able to turn one eye up to look at us where we bent over her.”

They fetched a ranger who returned with a jeep and a chain. They flipped the turtle over, chained her up, and dragged her on her shell, back to the ocean. Flipping her right-side up, they waited for the waves to revive her. As she swam away, they hoped she would survive the ordeal and return next year to lay more eggs – and hopefully not be confused by the artificial lights at night.

So why do we do it? Why do we overwhelm ourselves with all this light? I think the answer is a four-letter “F” word: Fear. We think that the night would be a far more dangerous place without artificial light, if not in the country, certainly in the city. Except that doesn’t seem to be the case.

In her book, Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light, Jane Brox points out that lights do not deter crime as much as their proponents hoped they would. “In the 1990s, Chicago’s Department of Streets and Sanitation decided to increase the lighting in the city’s alleyways from 90 to 250 watts. When researchers measured the results a few months later, they found violent crime had increased by 14 percent, property crimes by 20 percent, and substance abuse violations by 51 percent. Of course there was more than one way to read those statistics. Were crimes really increasing, or did the lighting simply make it possible for more people to see and report them? Or were more people going out at night, lulled into a false sense of security by the new lights and therefore exercising less caution?”[5] Or did the criminals feel safer with the additional light, so they behaved more brazenly? Brox leaves us wondering if we are “hampered more by brilliance than our ancestors were by the dark.”[6]

Light is great, but if it chases away all the darkness, it is bad for us. And I don’t just mean physical light and physical darkness. Take a look at your bulletin cover. When our world glows in the dark like the first picture, we are unable to see the wonder of creation that is shown in the second picture. The problem is so bad that there is an international movement to open “Dark Sky Parks,” places where people can get away from the light pollution and see the beauty and wonder of the second picture.[7]

Psalm 8 is my favorite Psalm and it is a Psalm where the blessing of physical darkness and the blessing of spiritual darkness intersect. The Psalm writer was someone who clearly knew how to walk in the dark. “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that your care for them?” Think for a moment about this songwriter. This person knew nothing about the big bang or the vastness of the universe. This person knew nothing about the existence of galaxies or that our earth is one, small, blue marble circling an average star out toward the edge of one of those galaxies. Yet this songwriter captures the awe I feel when I contemplate how small and insignificant I am in the vastness of this universe and the amazing reality that God cares about me nonetheless.

Like Moses, I’m in the dark when I try to explain who God is. And that’s a good thing, that’s a blessing. For if I know that I can’t know all who God is, if I know that I can’t behold the full presence of God, I am simply called to awe. I stand before God (or maybe it’s behind God) and wonder.

And when I think about grief – which I’ve been doing lately for a number of reasons – I see a blessing in the darkness. I’ve come to realize that there is no way around grief; we can only go through it. And it is by embracing that darkness that we find healing. Grief is hard in part because it requires walking in the dark. The unknown is hard because it requires walking in the dark. Yet it is only in the darkness that we can find our way. The brilliance of the light would overwhelm us.

Stumbling around the internet as I prepared for this sermon series, I came upon this poem by Steve Garnaas-Holmes. Perhaps more appropriate for last Sunday when we remembered the Magi finding the infant Jesus, its imagery seems appropriate for today’s sermon, too. “To find the child”[8]

To find the child
one must see the star.
To see the star one must go into the darkness,
the pain, the fear, the emptiness,
the hidden weeping,
the heart’s dark wounds.
Only in the darkness
can the stars be seen.

To find the child
one must hear the angels.
To hear the angels
one must listen in silence and solitude,
in perfect speechlessness,
in attentive adoration to the Mystery.
Only in such stillness
are the angels heard.

To find the child
one must enter the stable.
To enter the stable
one must stoop,
decline all palaces, all safety,
all familiarity or fortification,
and settle into poverty.
Only in such humility
is the stable entered.

To find the child
one must see the birth.
To see the birth
one must be awakened
to the heart of all things
beating in one’s soul,
the light of God shining in one’s hands.
One must be willing to speak
alone with one’s eyes.
Only in awakening
will the birth be seen.

To find the child,
seek in the darkness,
lay your heart open,
and discover therein
light unconquered.

Amen.

[1] Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark (New York: HarperCollins, 2014), 61.

[2] Ibid, 69.

[3] See the picture gallery that accompanies “Light Pollution,” National Geographic, http://ngm.nationalgeographic.com/2008/11/light-pollution/richardson-photography (posted November 2008; accessed 10 January 2015).

[4] Taylor, op. cit., 66-68.

[5] Ibid, 70.

[6] Ibid, 71.

[7] See, for instance, Jeff Kart, “New International Dark Sky Park opens in Michigan,” Treehugger, http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/new-international-dark-sky-park-opens-in-michigan-only-nine-others-in-the-world.html (posted 16 May 2011; accessed 10 January 2015).

[8] Steve Garnaas-Holmes, “To find the child,” Unfolding light, http://unfoldinglight.net/?p=2713 (15 December 2014, accessed 29 December 2014).  I am unable in the blog to give the poem its proper layout.  Please see Steve’s blog to see it’s proper layout.

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