Holy One, Open us. Open us to Love, Open us to Grace. Open us to shared understanding.
Open us.

A few Novembers ago, I was taking the garbage out. It was a dark and rainy night and I was headed to the basement to lock the garbage away in preparation for the next day’s pick up. I walked out the front door onto the deck and was surprised to see a bear, just a few feet from where I was standing. I went “oh” and he went “oh” and I went back inside and said, “honey, I’lltake the garbage out in the morning.” I don’t know what happened to the bear.

One of my work streams is with a group called The NeuroLeadership Institute. One of the interesting learnings I’ve had over my years there is the relationship between threat and reward that is the foundation of why our brains do what they do; they keep us alive. We move away from threat, we move toward reward.

So, going back to my bear story, I went into a threat state when I encountered the bear. And in threat state, I went into “react” mode, fight, flight or freeze, no longer “thinking”. My creativity plummeted, I was not looking at the bear and wondering, “isn’t it lovely how the rain is dappling off the fur?” And furthermore, my willingness to collaborate dropped, as the old joke
goes, “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!” Under threat mode we are no longer thinking, we are no longer creative, nor are we collaborative. And the opposite is also true, when we are feeling safer, when we feel loved,
when we think the world is ok around us, we are in a “reward” state. Our thinking improves, we are more creative and we are more collaborative. No wonder the angels keep saying to us, “fear not”! We are better people when we are not afraid.

My plan this Earth Day Sunday is to explore how we might balance our experience of threat and reward to reimagine our relationship in and with Creation. We’ll cover a fair amount of ground, so hang on to your hats as we wonder about trauma and our Gospel, grief and Hamlet and the level of threat we all live under given the climate crisis. And finally, we’ll explore what we as Christians might do and be in the midst of climate threat. Importantly, if there is anything that I say this morning that activates you, please be careful with yourself, do what you need to do. I’ll be downstairs at the eco-fair after the 10:30 service, and happy to chat.

OK, so lets have a look now at our Gospel reading. We have two people walking back from the horrors in the past few days in Jerusalem, likely to their home in Emmaus. They may not have been Apostles, but many scholars believe they were certainly part of the “posse” around Jesus. We can presume they were close to the terror the crucifixion. While we do not know the words of their conversation, theologian Serene Jones writes, “...their leader has just been tortured and executed and they are trying to make sense of it, trying to reorder their disordered thoughts.... these disoriented witnesses to a devastating event are trauma survivors.” (Jones p. 38-39) Their brains are actively in threat mode. Trauma is an “...experience where a person perceives oneself or another threatened with annihilation” (Jones p, 28).

Trauma is threat on steroids. And into this conversation Jesus appears. And being so internally focused trying to reorder their thoughts, trying to deal with the loss of hope, they don’t see that it’s Jesus. Recall, dampened thinking, dampened creativity, not willing to collaborate. These folks are not dim, they are in a threat state. Importantly, they do not have to look for God, Jesus appears in the midst of their threat/trauma. In a world full of violence and fear, we do not have to magically make God
appear, God is already here. Jesus then re-orders their experience, reminding them of the story of Israel, reminding them of the ongoing relationship between God and God’s people. Jesus gives them something familiar on which to hold, Jesus begins to dampen their threat state. And then as Dr. Jones writes, “Jesus is finally made known to them in an event of life-giving
communion. ... This is no escapist meal of commodified junk food, a gathering of surface pleasures; it is a meal that nourishes and strengthens, it is a meal that opens their eyes.” (Jones p. 40) It is a meal that lovingly says, we are in this together, and that regardless of the fear and violence of the world, ‘fear not, for you are loved.’

I want also to add into our thinking a bit about grief. I’ve just finished reading neuroscientist, Angus Fletcher’ fascinating book “Wonderworks”, Dr. Fletcher notes, in his chapter called Heal from Grief “...sometime after the summer of 1599,
three years past [his son] Hamnet’s death, Shakespeare [began] to write a grief soaked tragedy; Hamlet” (Fletcher p, 125). What makes Hamlet such a great character is that Hamlet does nothing. It is one of the most difficult characters to play, because there is no action for the character, except in the final moments of the play, when Hamlet kills the King. (sorry spoiler alert) The rest of the time he wanders around grieving. One of the reasons the play Hamlet has survived so long is because we see a deep and profound truth within it, a truth about grief.

Grief is overwhelming, grief shuts us down. Grief, in that sense is like a threat, we do not act from within grief, we merely react, like Hamlet accidentally killing Polonius in Act 3. And what Shakespeare’s genius gives us is an acknowledgement that “...there is nothing wrong or weak about being overwhelmed with sorrow.” (Fletcher p, 130) Ok, so, we’ve covered a fair amount of ground; bears, threat and reward, trauma and the Gospel, grief and Hamlet. What on earth does all of this have to do with Earth Day and a new way of thinking about Creation? I have no idea. OK, I do have an idea. You see, I believe that when we think about Creation, when we think about Climate crisis, in addition to all the other threats and terrors around us, it feels like we are under constant threat. We may even be overwhelmed by threats to our existence, and may be experiencing trauma? And/or we are grieving like Hamlet? How many of us, in our quiet moments grieve the pain we are leaving our children and grandchildren. How many of our children and grandchildren are already experiencing depression, anxiety, fear on a constant basis?

All of us are at least a little afraid. I’m afraid. The person sitting next to you is at least a little afraid. The person you have never seen before here, is at least a little afraid. Because of this fear, we’re not at our best, we don’t always think clearly, we’re not always creative, we don’t always play well with others, we don’t see the miracles that are happening around us, we quite naturally sit in our grief, and we wonder, like Hamlet, and like the couple on the road to Emmaus, is it all worth it?
And we are here today, on a small blue planet in the corner of a minor galaxy; in a universe lovingly created, and continuously loved. It is such a gift that you and I are here today, together. You and we are loved. God knows about fear. God knows about you. God loves you. And that my beloved friends is where we can start.

First, we can relish the communion we are about to celebrate and receive. This is an ancient meal, a meal that connects us not only with Christians around the world, it is a meal that connects us with our Jewish siblings and the Passover, recalling catastrophe and enslavement, and the beginnings of the journey to the Promised Land. It is a meal of forgiveness and love. It
is Jesus appearing in the midst of our threatened existence and opening our eyes to possibility. After this meal, we can go out into the places where God has given us responsibility, remembering the peace and love we have celebrated.

Secondly, have courage, and hold on to what is good, return no one evil for evil. We’re all at least a little afraid, so cut each other some slack. We can stand firm in our courage because there is always light. In the words of theologian Nadia Bolz-Weber, “... [T]he Christian faith is one that does not pretend things aren’t bad. ...This is not a faith that produces optimism; it is a faith that produces a defiant hope that God is still writing the story and that despite darkness, a light shines and that God can redeem our crap and that beauty matters and that despite every disappointing thing we have ever done or that we have ever endured, that there is no hell from which resurrection is impossible. The Christian faith is one that kicks at the darkness until it bleeds daylight.” 

And thirdly, honour all life. God is manifest in all of creation. Everything God made is a subject, nothing created by God is an ‘object’. For example, it appears that plants and trees move towards ‘reward’ light and water, and away from ‘threat’ darkness for example. They also appear to communicate with each other. They are, in short ‘beings’, subjects, not objects. In her wonderful book, Braiding Sweetgrass  Dr. Robin Wall Kimmerer, taught me about saying hello to plants and trees. You might be surprised by how it changes your view of your neighbourhood if the trees and plants are your neighbours too.

And so, even in the face of the fears we have about the climate crisis; go to the places where God has given you responsibility, remember the peace and love we have shared. Do not fail to show to all creation the new life that is already among us. Have courage, hold on to what is good, return no one evil for evil, strengthen those who fail, support the weak and honour all life. And in doing so, we will find ourselves thinking that much more clearly, being that much more creative and that much more collaborative, and our children and grandchildren will inherit a much safer world for their children.