Saturday, April 21, 2012

Resurrection and Recycling

Luke 24:36-48
Easter 3 / Earth Day
April 22, 2012
William G. Carter

While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, “Have you anything here to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence.

From the very first day, the church had to figure out the mystery of Easter. The disciples were sure that Jesus was dead. They watched him die from afar. They knew where his body had been buried. But then came the troubling reports that the tomb was open and his body was not there.

The women who went to embalm his body told about encountering some angels, but no Jesus. The church didn’t believe them. Simon Peter ran to the tomb to see for himself. Indeed it was open, but there were no angels for him. Later that day, two disciples walked a seven mile journey and were joined by a Bible-quoting stranger. It was Jesus. They didn’t recognize him until he broke the bread. As they reached out to embrace, he vanished.

And now this: he appears seven miles away, behind locked doors, to his beloved friends. He goes to that specific place, to those specific people, just as they are discussing these reports of resurrection. Jesus stands among them, right then, as if he knew exactly what they discussed and knew exactly where they were. One second he was out of sight, another minute he was right there.

The Easter Church has to figure this out. The Resurrection is a mystery. It’s a new way of life. The Lord is alive, but he is mostly out of sight. He knows what his church is talking about, and he comes and goes. And he keeps speaking. Luke says the Christ opens the scriptures, and opens the minds of his disciples to understand them. Easter means at least that much.

And today is Earth Day. Rooted in the big green “E” of the ecology movement, this is the day when people are invited to love the earth that is our home. Your church is working hard at this. The worship bulletin uses recycled paper. In the past two weeks, all the fluorescent lights in our building have been replaced with more efficient bulbs and ballasts. We have a task force working on practical ways that we can take better care of the earth, both as a church and as individuals. Today is the day when we affirm God’s goodness, as shown in the gift of the earth.

The question that I want to raise in the sermon is what the two events might have in common. Easter Day and Earth Day – what are the connections, if any? Is it as simple as saying what one of my friends said? When I mentioned what I was talking about, he broke into a sly smile and said, “Easter means Jesus was recycled.” Well, that sounds a little rough. Recycled means you send away the old stuff and re-create it as something new. That works with paper and plastic, but I’m not sure it works with people.

Last Saturday, my wife and I loaded up the back of the car with the carcasses of three dead computers, two old monitors, two boxes of electronic gadgets, keyboards, and cables, and a couple of retired cell phones. It was junk and it felt so good to haul that stuff to the recycler. We did not expect to get any of it back. It has lost its value. We dumped it off and said, “Take it away!” You don’t say any of that about a person you love. People do not get recycled.

Still, the more I reflected on the scripture text, a few connections came to mind. Let me try out a few ideas on all of you.

The first is this: it’s all about the body.

That first Easter night, his closest friends thought Jesus was a ghost. He entered the room without opening a door or crawling through the window. The disciples were spooked. You can imagine what some of them were thinking: “Maybe when he died, his soul split off from his body, and while his body decays, now his spirit is back to haunt us.”  

People report such experiences. In the Stuart Castle near Inverness, Scotland, there’s a room where they dare the tourists to spend the night. The legend is that a ghost by the name of Big Angus will come and haunt anybody who stays there. It’s the most expensive room in the castle and nobody has been known to stay there.

The Easter Church discovered pretty quickly that Jesus was no ghost. He had a body. He had skin and bones that took up space. “Take a good look at me,” he said. “Reach out and touch me.” And then he said something outrageous: “Do you have anything to eat?” They gave him a piece of broiled fish and he ate it.

The point is stuff matters. There is a physicality to resurrection as there is a physicality to God’s creation. We are flesh and bone, just as Jesus is flesh and bone, just as the earth is mountain, valley, desert and ocean. One of the dangers of religion is reducing truth to a vaporous idea, to equating “spiritual” with something that you cannot touch, to disconnecting the verities of faith from the works of our hands.

Jesus had a body. The Easter story suggests he still has a body. He did not evaporate after death.  When we stand to speak the Apostles’ Creed, we say, “I believe in the resurrection of the body.” If there is no body, it is not resurrection! So physical stuff matters. Matter matters. And we know this.

Anne Lamott tells of how she learned to eat as a thirty-three-year-old woman. Threatened by anorexia and bulimia, terrified at what her eating disorders were doing to her body, she finally sought help. She was blessed to find a counselor who taught her that the most important thing was to feel her hunger and respond to it with care. “Find something delicious,” said the counselor, “and eat it slowly enough to enjoy it.” Anne tried that, and called it a small miracle. “It is wonderful to taste and love what slips down my throat, padding me, filling me up.” Eating was not “an idea.” It was a physical practice.

In the same way, taking care of the earth is not “a concept.” It’s something we do, as a physical and spiritual practice.

The second connection between resurrection and recycling is this: it’s all about repenting of real wounds. The Easter Christ comes in a body, and the body is wounded. He comes back fully alive and says, “Look at my hands. See the nail prints in my feet.”

A lot of us would expect Jesus to be “fixed up,” to be repaired and healed when he is raised up. But none of the Easter stories say that. Most of them report that Jesus stays wounded even when he is raised. Now, I know this is a really weird detail. It also strikes me as profound. Easter does not fix us. It calls us to move away from all the acts of destruction, and move toward the healing.

My friend Susan Andrews tells of preparing to preach on the 25th anniversary of Earth Day, but it turned out that the celebration was eclipsed by the news of the Oklahama City bombing. It happened the same week. You may recall how a couple of tormented men blew up a federal building. They parked a Ryder truck full of explosives in a drop-off zone of a day care center. Hundreds of people were killed, many more wounded.

Susan agonized over what to say. How do you preach the saving of the earth when you have a couple of domestic terrorists blowing up a piece of it? The Bible text for the day was one of these stories of Jesus appearing to the disciples after his death, and showing his wounds. That’s it, she said. That’s how the hope of the earth and the tragedy of destructive hold together – in a wounded resurrection.

We can say all we want about saving the earth, and that’s a good thing. The earth is God’s good gift to us. It is our home. Everything we need for sustaining life is provided. Yet we pierce the air with mine shafts, foul the air, and pollute the water. We’ve known this for decades, have ignored the truth, fudged the statistics, and denied the destruction. That’s the wound. And we have to decide that we are not going to live by it.

A National Geographic photographer showed us the picture of a family in Nigeria. They fish for a living. As they sit and pose on a brilliant day, an oil refinery is on fire behind them. In front of them is a fishing stream with three dead fish and a blue oil streak in the water. You can tell it’s not going to be a good day for fishing.

Many people say that the best way to take care of the earth is stewardship. Stewardship is a good word, an important word. It’s a word about taking care of what you have received. It’s a word about responsibility, a word about generosity.

But when it comes to earth care, we need something more than stewardship. We need repentance. The Risen Christ says, “Let repentance and forgiveness be preached in all nations.” Repentance is turning around, changing our ways. To repent is to return to God, to forsake all the destructive urges and habits, and to enjoy once again what God provides for the whole human family.

That leads us to the third connection between resurrection and recycling. Not only is there a connection about physical stuff, not only are there real wounds inflicted out of destruction, but there is a new life, a new beginning, a deeper joy in the power of resurrection and in the practice of caring for God's planet.

Easter is the amazing news that God begins again. What was dead shall live once more. What was wounded shall be thoroughly alive. And the benefit is for all people, for all creatures, for all the interlocking systems of life on this planet. God wants to bring the whole planet alive, and if we can begin with some specific act, we participate in God’s redemption of the earth. And it’s good for us.

            I think that how we have to handle Earth Day and Easter. Not by wagging our fingers, not by chastising one another for what we are not doing, not by passing oppressive legislation, and neither by giving a blank check to those who pillage the planet, but by taking enjoyment in the places we treasure. By welcoming the birds who sing us awake. By getting our hands dirty as we make something beautiful.

Working too hard? Turn off the computer and get outside. A little thick around the middle? Go for a walk. Troubled by your kids? Get a flat of marigolds and put them in the ground. Are you agonizing about the high cost of living? Explore how you might cut back on your energy costs or how you might use less water. Concerned about the high cost of gasoline? Share your car or share a ride. These are little practices with great potential for life.

And that’s what God creates: life, abundant life. And that’s what brings Jesus back from the dead: God’s creative power for life. And that’s what we claim today – not damage, not destruction, not waste, but God’s amazing gift of life. Beautiful, interconnected, joyful, flourishing life.

(c) William G. Carter. All rights reserved.

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