As God Sent Me, So I Send You
Rev. Thomas Cary Kinder
United Church of Strafford, Vermont
April 19, 2020 Second Sunday of Easter,
50th Anniversary of Earth Day
Psalm 16; John 20:19-31
[You can watch a video recording of this sermon and the hymn at the end of this text.]
My church sent us out on April 22, 1970 to do something we had never done before. It sent us out to love and care for the earth as God would. Some of us planted trees, some worked in gardens, I walked along a river and picked up trash that had accumulated on its banks over the years. It felt good to do, and it felt even better when we learned that twenty million Americans felt sent in the same way. It feels even better now when Earth Day is celebrated in 192 countries by over a billion people each year.
And yet right this minute as we celebrate this 50th Anniversary of Earth Day I feel just about the worst I have ever felt, because despite the actions of those billion people, and despite the growing awareness that humans are driving a mass extinction of species and threatening our own survival, and despite the global scientific consensus that we must stop the burning of fossil fuels immediately to prevent even more and worse pandemics, wildfires, superstorms, floods, droughts, famines and tens of millions more refugees and economic and social collapse, right now—in the midst of this pandemic—our federal government is encouraging increased planet-killing pollution by giving billions of dollars of bailouts and by rapidly removing environmental regulations.
As the bumper sticker says, “If you are not outraged, you are not paying attention.”
People are part of nature, and just as we are destroying the fragile planet on which all life depends we are also destroying the hopes, livelihoods and lives of the vulnerable and oppressed people of our society. The extreme economic inequity today is obscene in its naked greed and injustice. And yet our federal government is using the pandemic and economic crisis right now to make that injustice worse.
The vast majority of people want a healthy, safe, sustainable environment, the vast majority of people do not want to let selfishness and greed do their worst. But greed has undermined democracy and corrupted governments to the point where even in the United States of America people are blatantly shut out of the political process and elections rigged to keep allowing what the majority of us know is wrong.
And yet the good news is that we do know that it is wrong, and our children are rising up and demanding that we do something to put out the fire that is consuming our world. The Pope, the Archbishop of the Eastern Orthodox Church, leaders of almost all spiritual traditions have risen up to condemn the selfishness and greed that are destroying the earth and oppressing billions of people. The Parliament of World Religions has agreed on a global ethic, thousands of leaders and institutions have endorsed an Earth Charter, people around the world share the same vision of what a golden civilization would look like and what we have to do in order to live sustainably, justly and as one on earth. We know what we have to do, and we are ready to do it.
So we are exactly where those disciples were on Easter night. We are surrounded by darkness, confounded by fear, but we also have the wild hope, the flame of light that shines in the darkness that the darkness cannot overcome, the hope that humanity will at last follow the universal, timeless wisdom of compassion, love of neighbor and the Golden Rule, that we will pull our world out of the fire and save it before it is too late.
Easter tells us that the force of love and life and light that we call God is the most powerful force in the universe, and that it wants to work through us to heal the planet and lift the oppressed. The story of Easter night is archetypal, it is a universal experience of how that force works in human lives throughout history, and it is exactly the hopeful message we need to hear right now, so let’s look at it again.
The disciples were hiding in a safehouse behind securely locked doors because they were afraid that they would be arrested and crucified as Jesus was, for the same reason, because they were part of his movement trying to establish the laws of love and the Golden Rule, trying to transform Caesar’s and Herod’s realm into the realm of God on earth. They had seen their beloved leader executed in the most painful and humiliating way possible. Besides fear they felt guilt and shame because collectively they had betrayed, denied and abandoned him.
They were still in shock from all that and now came the even greater shock that he could have risen from the dead. Imagine the agitation in their hearts and the turmoil stirred up among them as they debated whether it really could be true and grasped at what it might mean.
Then Jesus came through the locked doors and stood among them. Imagine that.
He did not just stand there like a ghost, he did three things.
First, he said, “Peace be with you.”
Second, he said, “As God has sent me, so I send you.”
And third he breathed the Holy Spirit into them, the same Spirit that drove his ministry, that guided and empowered him to serve as he did.
The passage goes on to stress how important it is that we believe that Christ’s work on earth continues through us. It is absolutely essential that we open ourselves to what that means for our lives.
Peace. As God sent me, so I send you. Receive the Holy Spirit. Believe in this.
What do these mean for us now in the midst of pandemic and social and economic upheaval on a planet that is rapidly losing the stability and health needed to sustain life?
Jesus says, “Peace be with you.” St. Seraphim of Sarov, one of the wisest spiritual teachers of all time, said, “Have peace in yourself and thousands will find salvation around you.” This is crucial for us to understand. We need to find peace in the midst of all the upheaval and turmoil and deeply upsetting things going on around us, because inner peace is an essential part of the spiritual power that can transform the world into the realm of God.
This does not mean we need to be eternally cheerful Christians. Jesus wept, Jesus overturned temple tables, Jesus agitated for justice to the point that he was crucified as a revolutionary. He is talking about a different kind of peace, a peace based not on the establishment of outer tranquility but on our ability to find a place within us where peace exists even as chaos swirls around us.
This place of peace is where we find the Holy Spirit. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit, but there are things we can do to cultivate it. The first is that we need to be able to pass through our own locked doors of fear and agitation to reach that place of peace. We need to learn how to pass into our innermost heart when it is shut tight and guarded, and we need to practice going there daily so that when things get as out of control as they are now we can still find that place of peace.
Prayer is the best path to peace, especially contemplative prayer, especially the two practices we focus on most in our Heartfulness Contemplative Training Circle, Centering Prayer and the Welcoming Practice. But any daily spiritual practice will work that involves more listening than speaking, more opening than clinging, more being than doing.
Peace does not mean avoidance or denial. Jesus says, “As God sent me, so I send you,” and then he fills us with the same Spirit that was the source of his gifts and mission.
This is the core of what it means to be a follower of Jesus. This calling to serve as Jesus did is what he asks us to believe. The creator of life sends us, the universe sends us, we did not come here of our own doing, we were sent on a mission to serve life by healing and teaching and laying down our lives for those who are vulnerable or suffering, a mission of creating the realm of God on earth each in our own small way.
Mary Annaïse Heglar wrote recently in Wired Magazine about how we all are being sent now to save the earth from the climate crisis. She wrote, “This isn’t just about science or facts. This is about power. And it’s going to take an army. That’s where you come in….
“Do what you’re good at. And do your best.
“If you’re good at making noise, make all the noise you can…. If you’re good at taking care of people, take care of [them]. If you’re a good cook, cook.”
“Join something bigger than yourself because this is so much bigger than any of us alone. It’s about all of us, together.”
The Apostle Paul said that we each are a different member of the one body of Christ, we each have needed gifts.
God is sending us to be part of the body of Christ right now. The Rev. William Barber put it this way in a New Yorker interview last week, “If you knew you had only forty-eight hours of breath left, what kind of world would you use that breath to fight for? What kind of world, what kind of nation?”
The Spirit has given you gifts, it will give you guidance and strength and help you serve from a place of inner peace. God has sent you here to do what you are good at, and do your best. Now is the time. What will you use your remaining breath to do?
Let us pray in silence and let the Spirit suggest the answer to our heart…
(You can hear the sermon hymn on the video at the end of this post.)