October 23, 2022 ~ 20th Sunday after Pentecost
Holy Ground ~ Rev. Beckie Sweet
In the spring of 1984, Cal Cramer, a man of immense spiritual stature, hired me for a summer job. Cal had been the director at Sky Lake for many years. Sky Lake is one of our UM Camp and Retreat Centers, which was at that time, in need of a summer Resource Person. The job description for that position is not as important as the many life lessons that I learned from Cal during staff training and throughout the summer’s ministry with some 1200 children, youth, and adults with special needs.
Something practical: If you want someone to remember something important, you need to repeat it four times. You see, most of us only retain 25% of what we hear. So, there is a good reason for repeating ourselves!
Something spiritual: It is never too late to pray about a situation that has one stumped. God will provide a way forward.
Something ecological: Always leave your campsite in better condition than it was in when you found it. Pick up and carry out your litter. Restore the firepit to a usable state. Rake the trails, and take care not to unnecessarily break off young trees and undergrowth. It sounds so logical, simple, and caring. But this act of preservation is so often ignored.
Thousands of years ago the prophet Isaiah foretold the destruction the disobedient humanity would wreak on the earth, as quoted just prior to our Opening Prayer. And despite it all playing out before our eyes, Christians are sometimes the loudest voices speaking out against protecting the planet. Caring for creation has become a partisan issue! In reality, we know that this isn’t about political parties or taking sides, this is the first, most basic instruction from God. And every time we ignore our covenant to provide care for the earth, we harm all of its inhabitants, including humanity. Are we capable of changing our practices in order to be better, more faithful stewards of our natural resources? And do we assume that Holy Responsibility as those who are obligated to do so, or those who Claim our Call to Tend the Earth with joyful generosity?
In 1977 I was elected to serve on the National Youth Ministry Organization Steering Committee (or NYMO, as the acronym claimed). Because of that election, I needed to stay in Oklahoma City three days past the end of our Convocation, and reschedule my flight home. As I was without housing for my final night there, a local family took me in…a Native American family. They had never met me before that evening, but welcomed me into their home. And upon entering their home, the mother nodded to their teenage daughter who went into her room and jewelry box and brought out this beautiful silver and turquoise bracelet as a gift for me. I was blown away. In my upbringing, we were taught that when we were welcomed into someone’s home, we gave them a gift, not the other way around. But in many Native American cultures, the host gives gifts as an extension of hospitality.
Robin Wall Kimmerer speaks of this in the Epilogue of her book, Braiding Sweetgrass. She speaks of a ceremony called minidewak, an old ceremony which is a frequent feature of powwows. She says, “In the outside world, people who are celebrating life events can look forward to receiving presents in their honor. In the Potawatomi way, this expectation is turned upside down. It is the honored one who gives the gifts…” Later she states that, “Generosity is simultaneously a moral and a material imperative, especially among people who live close to the land and know its waves of plenty and scarcity. Where the well-being of one is linked to the well-being of all. Wealth among traditional people is measured by having enough to give away. Hoarding the gift, we become constipated with wealth, bloated with possessions, too heavy to join the dance.” Knowing that sometimes we will be giving and other times receiving, Kimmerer calls this the Covenant of Reciprocity, a pact of mutual responsibility to sustain those who sustain us. It sounds like a Holy Responsibility: Claiming our Call to Tend the Earth.
In practicing our faith, are we Tending the Earth in ways that will heal the world? Jesus gives us a beautiful example of how to be the revelation all of Creation is waiting for. As he performs a miracle and creates enough food to feed the thousands of people who had come to hear him teaching, Jesus instructs the disciples to gather up the extra. The EXTRA. There was an enormous number of people there. The 5,000 that they counted only included the adult men. A good estimate of the total number, including women and children, would be at least 15,000. And they started the feast with five barley loaves and two fish, small enough for one young person to carry. And yet, there were leftovers! We don’t know exactly what they did with the leftovers, but we do know they were not wasted, as Jesus instructed that the leftovers be collected.
Even though it was evident that Jesus could produce as much food as was wanted or needed, there must have been need for more, in order to care for the physical wellbeing or healing of someone. Generosity does that!
Theologian Joseph Sittler says, “All of creation is waiting for the children of God to begin to act like they are.” (REPEAT) And Rev. Katie Dawson says, “The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus is the source of our hope. But the source of hope for this world is US.” The whole creation is waiting for us to let go of our selfish ways and begin acting like the children of God. It’s waiting for us to hold in our hearts a vision of an interconnected world and to remember that every part of this planet tells of God’s goodness. It is waiting for us to see the sacred worth of the elements, the flora, the fauna, to live gently as stewards and protectors.
I have always been fascinated by inscriptions on gravestones. The older ones especially are likely to contain a few words of scripture, descriptions of relationship, or words of the deceased’s virtues or legacy. I have given some considerable thought to what I hope will be a few short words to describe my life, as this gives me something to live up to. I will be delighted if someone proclaims that I have been a: “loving mother and friend, a joyful follower of Christ, and a faithful earth keeper.” What is your legacy??