Sermon from October 21, 2018

Out of Your Anguish, You Shall See Light
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder

United Church of Strafford, Vermont
October 21, 2018
Twenty-second Sunday after Pentecost
Psalm 91; Isaiah 53:4-12; Mark 10:35-45

The title of this sermon is adapted from Isaiah.  I hope you will see beautiful and abundant light before I am done, but first we need the anguish.

Last week I talked about the twelve-year window that we now have.  We have the next twelve years to change our entire approach to living on this earth including ceasing all use of fossil fuels, according to a comprehensive new climate study.

There have been five major mass extinctions since life began four billion years ago.  Over 90% of all species went extinct at one point.  Life was stable for the past 13,000 years until the industrial revolution increased the burning of fossil fuels and destruction of natural ecosystems.  Species are now dying out at an estimated 1,000 times the natural rate.  We are in the midst of a new mass extinction, caused by the way humans treat the earth.

Humans could very well be one of the species that becomes extinct.  At the very least we are speeding toward a collapse of human civilization into a remnant struggling to survive as soon as twenty years from now.

And this month we have learned that we have only twelve years to prevent it.

Faced with this news, why would we not rise and do everything in our power?   Jesus came with a vision of the realm of God on earth.  Science tells us that the earth could be our stable home for another billion years or more.  We are imagining hell on earth because of what humans have set in motion, but can we step back for a moment as this last twelve-year period begins and imagine humans creating heaven on earth instead?

Imagine not a hundred years, not a thousand, not a million, but a billion years of truly wise homo sapiens living sustainably, peaceably and justly.  Imagine a world ruled by compassionate lovingkindness extended toward all people, all creatures and the earth itself.

Why would we not choose to expend all our resources and energy to create that way of life right now if the alternative is the loss of everything we know and love?  Our choice as a species today is to die driven by fear and greed or to live moved by love and compassion.

Isn’t it obvious what we must do?

Yet our political and economic system continues to drive us toward collapse and extinction.  The change is going to have to come from us—the people of towns and churches like ours joining together to proclaim that there is another way and vision, and to demand that our leaders take us there.

We are blessed to have a new neighbor who has just retired to Norwich from Massachusetts where he was the United Church of Christ Conference Minister.  The Rev. Jim Antal has been a heroic leader in the climate change struggle for many years and now is the lead spokesman on climate change for the national United Church of Christ.  He has just come out with a book entitled Climate Church, Climate World.  It is exactly what we need to help us organize ourselves rapidly into a movement to save and transform human civilization.  Out of our anguish, this is one light we can see.  I hope we will read and discuss this book together.

In the meantime, we need to need to get very clear about the way and vision that Christ calls us to fulfill.

The passage we heard from Isaiah is one of a series called “the songs of the suffering servant.”  Some scholars identify the suffering servant as the historic Jewish people, some people say the passages are prophecies about Jesus, but what matters more is that they are about the nature of God, how the force of love and life and light that created the universe works.

In the Suffering Servant archetype nonviolent and virtuous servants suffer the consequences of evil done by the violent and selfish.  They suffer, but they make God their refuge, they remain true to God’s way and they find meaning in their suffering.  Out of their anguish, they see light, they shine light and that light transforms the world around them.

A grandfather wrote a poem on the day that his young granddaughters visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.  It happened to be the same day that Yitzhak Rabin was buried.  Rabin was the Prime Minister of Israel who converted from being a ruthless warrior oppressing the Palestinians to a suffering servant willing to risk his life for nonviolence and peace.  A right wing extremist assassinated him a few days before Wendell Berry wrote this poem (from A Timbered Choir  p 192).

To my granddaughters who visited the Holocaust
Museum on the day of the burial of Yitzhak Rabin

Now you know the worst
we humans have to know
about ourselves, and I am sorry,

for I know that you will be afraid.
To those of our bodies given
without pity to be burned, I know

there is no answer
but loving one another,
even our enemies, and this is hard.

But remember:
when a man of war becomes a man of peace,
he gives a light, divine

though it is also human.
When a man of peace is killed
by a man of war, he gives a light.

You do not have to walk in darkness.
If you will have the courage for love,
you may walk in light.  It will be

the light of those who have suffered
for peace.  It will be
your light.

I want to say the same to you. “Now you know the worst we humans have to know about ourselves, and I am sorry, for I know that you will be afraid.”  I am sorry about the anguish that I am asking us all to face about climate change, but we need to feel it or else we will not see the light that shines through the anguish that is our only hope of saving the world as quickly as we must.

I am asking that we choose to be suffering servants.  We need to suffer our fear and grief at the thought of all we may lose and all that those we love will have to endure.  We need to suffer outrage at the corporate and government leaders who have known for thirty years that they were allowing climate change to worsen.  We need to suffer the changes to the way we live that we must undertake in order to save the world.

I am so sorry, but by facing our anguish together in this loving community and turning to God, we can find the light that shines in the darkness.  We can find the power of light that our entire religion is based on, the light of resurrection.  We will not only see that light, we will shine it.  “If you will have the courage for love, you may walk in light.  It will be the light of those who have suffered for peace.  It will be your light.”

Jesus said we have to lose life to gain life.  The life we need to lose is our selfish, ambitious ego.  We can feel fear and grief at the thought of losing the ego’s control of our life, but out of that courageous anguish we discover a light that our ego would not let us see.

Today’s gospel passage illustrates this.  James and John want what every ego wants, security and esteem, power and control, pleasure and success.  The other disciples catch wind that James and John are trying to grab seats near the throne of Jesus and their egos start competing for the same ambitions.

Selfishness is a natural path, but Jesus could see the harmful consequences of it in the court of King Herod and the temple priests and Pharisees.  Today that same path has led to climate change.

We need to face the truth of what our selfish egos have done.  We need to feel the fear and grief of giving up our old self-interested ways, because only out of that anguish can we see the light Jesus is shining.

Jesus taught us the way, he gave us the vision of how we need to live in order to sustain life on this planet without destroying ourselves.  Jesus says we need a whole new consciousness that sees we are one, and sees that our right relationship to the world is humble love, compassionate service and self-sacrifice so that all may have fullness of life.

Follow the path of a society ruled by the laws of Christ-like love and you reach not the world we are in now, but the realm of God on earth where all ecosystems are healthy because they are valued and sacred.  Racism, poverty, economic inequity, war, refugees, social and political polarization, undemocratic forms of government—the root cause of all these civilization-threatening problems has been removed because now all people feel respected and one with all others.  The measure of success is how we sacrifice and serve and give.  The measure of a society is the wellbeing of the people and places that today are treated the worst.

This is the path to sustainable and flourishing life on earth.  At its core is the self-giving love we saw in Jesus. We have the map and resources we need for this hero’s journey to save the world, and we are the people who must lead it.

The good news is that we do not have to do it by our own power.  The beauty of Christ’s way is that when we empty ourselves of the ego’s self-interest, the higher power of love and light that created the universe comes up from our depths like a spring of living water.

That power flowing through us can enable us to do far more than we can imagine.  We need to convince as much of the world as we can that only love can lead through this most dangerous time to the establishment of the realm of God’s compassionate, just ways on earth.

If we truly commit to the way of Christ with the conviction that love is the answer, then at the least we will create God’s realm here in this congregation and town, but right now many other churches are gaining the resolve to do the same, and together we can do far more.  We need to keep remembering Margaret Mead’s profound wisdom: “Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”

Christ gives us a way and vision:
Love all earth that we may live.
Heal our damage, our division,
Sacrifice and serve and give.

Love the enemy and stranger,
Love all creatures of the earth,
Christ-like love leads through our danger,
Brings God’s realm at last to birth.

Christ has given us this vision
How to change the way we live:
Guide each life, each world decision
By the wisdom love will give.

Once it seemed we had forever,
Harm we did, in time, would mend,
But earth’s hope is now or never,
If we love, life need not end.

Christ gives us a way and vision:
Love will rule. God’s earth will live.
Now our moment of decision:
Let us rise: love, serve and give!

2018 Thomas Cary Kinder

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