Sermon delivered by Heather Entrekin, pastor of Prairie Baptist Church in Prairie Village, K.S., on Apr. 26 2009.
Acts 4: 32-35.
My husband, Peter, and I saved a baby bunny a couple of weeks ago. It took a lot of effort, two days of shooing the dogs away from the nest under the juniper, then fencing it off. Then, despite all that, after the bunny was delivered to our living room rug, there was googling to be done for bunny rescue directions, heating pad, soft towel and finally the assistance of Operation Wildlife on Shawnee Mission Drive. The bunny survived. Two others did not fare so well and the Operation Wildlife woman said there were probably another 2 – 5 in that nest, fate unknown.
It’s hard to love dogs and baby bunnies at the same time. And it’s funny how I will pour so much effort and energy into rescuing a sweet baby bunny but when it becomes a rabbit and comes back to eat every single flower and herb in the garden, I do not wish to share.
But if six billion of us on this planet pick and choose, save or destroy, help or ignore according to our own individual preferences, it doesn’t turn out well. The whole earth is our back yard today and we had better learn to share and care for all of it. Earth itself is telling us in global warming, in melting icecaps, in dead zones in our water bodies…and many other signs of environmental distress.
Earth is speaking and so is scripture. It should be no surprise that creation, spoken into existence by the word of God, and scripture, spoken into existence by the word of God, say the same thing. Share and take care of one another.
Today’s text introduces people committed to generous sharing, not grasping but holding in common, providing for others so that “there was not a needy person among them.” No impoverished person or place. How is that for a description of justice?
How did they do it? They were living under the influence of the resurrection. They had witnessed it or knew those who had. Further, they had experienced another kind of resurrection in the Pentecost miracle in which the holy spirit arrived and left no doubt that God was incarnate, present, Holy Spirit alive and breathing in and through all of creation. God “did not simply create and abandon the whole shebang. Our God … made an irrevocable pledge through Jesus Christ to incarnation.”(Elaine Prevallet).
So the early church was operating with a fairly simple mission statement: Love God, love people, follow Jesus. (Shane Claiborne)
It produced a kind of unity of heart and soul, a rare thing then or now. If it were not, nobody would have bothered to write it down. So what could they do but generously share their wealth with one another.
We, too, are living in the power of that resurrection, but we are often less than cooperative and generous. With cheap energy we have chosen endless sprawl. We rattle around in enormous houses and enormous suburbs, distant from one another in every way. I put signs in our yard supporting a school board candidate in the recent election and then I went up the street and got permission to plant signs in yards of the neighbors I know – a grand total of four across the street and two on our side. The signs were signs of the limits of our neighborliness.
The average American eats meals with friends, family or neighbors one half as often as we did 50 years ago. We won’t travel together as long as gas prices are low. But we want our food to travel. Many groceries in the local WalMart take a 2000 mile trip to get there. According to Bill McKibben, we are the first people in human history who have essentially no need of one another (“On Not Living Too Large: A Place That Makes Sense,” Christian Century, September 23, 2008, p. 25).
Our choices contribute to a world where we cannot say, “There was not a needy person among them.” Jim Wallis of Sojourner’s describes it: “One in every six American children still falls below the poverty line in America – and one in three children of color…. Even worse is the one billion people globally (all God’s children) who are forced to subsist on less than a dollar a day; and the three billion who live on less than two dollars per day…and thirty thousand children [who] die every day due to hunger and disease related to utterly preventable causes [like the lack of clean drinking water]. Those poverty ‘facts’ shouldn’t be tolerable to anyone across the political spectrum.” (David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor, Eds., Feasting on the Word: Year B., Vo. 2, p. 387).
Just as the early church treasured and took care of community, as a gift of God, we must care for community which is the whole wide world, a gift of God. Because all of it, human and otherwise, comes from God and matters to God and is inextricably interwoven. In October 2007 it was made clear when Atlanta suffered a terrible drought and the governor of Georgia sued the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to slow the flow of water from reservoirs into rivers. That made the governor of Florida mad because Georgia rivers flow into Florida rivers and slowing the flow would hurt the fishing industry.
When parents come dedicating children, they get this interconnectedness of creation in a powerful, fresh way. One mother said, “Before my daughter was born I knew recycling was important but now, when I see a Coke can on the counter, I can’t wait to get it into the recycle bin. It’s as if that one can will change the world.”
The word from the early church is, it will, with all of us sharing together. Luke uses all encompassing words to convey “community-ness” – whole group, no one, everything. And the community out of Pentecost which is all about different people coming together. Later, Barnabas, the outsider, is called an exemplary disciple.
The good news is, today people are living early church, resurrection generosity. The story of the Man Who Planted Trees is not a true story, but this one is. In Kenya, a woman named Wangarai Maathai, saw the land of her country turned into a wasteland, trees cut for lumber or cattle ranches, soil eroding, wind blowing, water drying up, people fighting, sick and dying. She decided to lead women in planting trees, little seedlings, thousands of them, hundreds of thousands and eventually millions. She believed that taking care of God’s earth would also take care of God’s people.
Those women were nobodies really, had no power, no education, just a will to share and care for the earth. They crossed a lot of people getting rich cutting forests who tried to stop them with soldiers and guns and beatings. But they kept coming back holding little seedlings for weapons and they kept planting trees. In addition to forests, they planted good government, self esteem, hope, justice, peace.
The vision of the Greenbelt Movement is to plant 1 billion trees around the world in the next 10 years.
This remarkable leader, Wangarai Maathai, won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004, the first African woman and first environmentalist to receive it. She holds a doctorate and many other honorary degrees and awards but she began her education with a degree in biological science right up the road from us at Mount St. Scholastica College in Atchison, Kansas.
Prairie is not exactly a member of the Greenbelt Movement, but yesterday we planted three lilac bushes by the parking lot. We thanked God for them and said words of blessing over them. May they be a sign of resurrection in us, a new unity of heart and soul among us, enough to join others to transform the world, at least a little, with leafy green justice.