This is the first Sunday of Lent, and also, as you know by now, Fairview's celebration of Love Sunday. As you know, Lent has come very early this year, in fact, I learned, believed it or not, at Theology on Tap, that this is the earliest Lenten season possible. Of course you know that Easter is not always on the same date every year like our December 25th celebration of Christmas, or what is pretty much a secular American holiday: February 14th. However, most of us don't actually know how Easter is determined. So, hence our topic of discussion at Theology on Tap last Thursday. I dug a little deeper and this is what I learned: "Easter falls on the first Sunday following the first ecclesiastical full moon (not the astronomical full moon) that occurs on or after the day of the vernal equinox; this particularly ecclesiastical full moon is the 14th day of a tabular lunation (new moon); and the vernal equinox is fixed as March 21." So basically what that means is that Easter can never occur before March 22nd or after April 25th. The LA Times reported that the last time Ash Wednesday occurred this early was in 1913, and the next time it will come this early will not be until 2160. So, it isn't very often that our unique Fairview celebration of Love Sunday falls within the Lenten Season. But as I considered the challenge of combining these two observations, I thought what better way to begin the Lenten Season, than with love? So, actually, this might just be the perfect beginning for our Lenten Journey together.
The Bible is filled with messages of love, so it is not hard to highlight scripture that calls us to love. We often turn to Paul's soliloquy on love in the first letter to the Corinthians, or we hear the words of Jesus as he commanded us to Love God and Love our Neighbor as ourselves. Yet this Lent, we are doing something special. If you saw our new sign out front you read the words, "Go Green for Lent" -here at Fairview our Missions commission is urging us to participate in the "Green Lenten Project" and consider how we might think green, and act green during this intentional season of Lent. So with this in mind, I thought it might be best to consider God's love of humanity and every living creature. So, as we begin the Lenten Journey, let us go back to the beginning of our Bibles and read from the first book, the book of Genesis.
Gen. 9:8-17 "'I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you and with every living creature that was with you–the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you–every living creature on earth. I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be cut off by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.' And God said, 'This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life. Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.' So God said to Noah, 'This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.'"
You remember how the story goes: God created the world, and then got frustrated with it. The people had become corrupt, full of sin, and quite frankly God got fed up, and thought, "I should start over new." So, God picked the one good man left, Noah and told him to build an ark and take his family and two of every animal on earth on it and wait for the rains to flood the earth. They would be the remaining family of humans, animals and plants that would re-populate the earth. Noah and tow weathered forty days and forty nights of rain, and waited until the waters receded and set foot on the land again.
A rainbow arched across the sky and God made this covenant with Noah and his descendents, and all living creatures: "Never again will I cut off life like this, never will I flood the earth in this way. And so every time you see a rainbow remember my covenant with you and all living creatures of every kind on the earth." The rainbow was a sign of love, a sign of promise, a sign of the covenant.
What is a covenant? It is a promise, but its actually more than a promise. A covenant implies a relationship, and in this relationship there is a promise that goes two ways -an agreement, a compact even. We talk a lot about covenantal relationships when we talk church especially in the United Church of Christ, and in the American Baptist Churches as well, because as I said, covenant is about being in relationship. Because our denominations are denominations that believe that the individual church has autonomy, that is it has power and authority over itself, the larger denominations really don't have any power over us. But we do have a covenant. We have promised to be in relationship with each other, we've agreed to be a part of our denominations, to offer support, both financially and emotionally. Neither party is considered less than the other. Both are equal partners in covenant. So, within the church we talk about the covenant between the individual church, like us Fairview Community Church, and each of our denominations. Or we talk about the covenant between pastor and church –me and you. Each of us has a responsibility to the other. Our denominations promise to provide resources, to guide us, to network with us, to help us to do more together than each individual church can alone, and we promise to actively be a part of our denominations, to donate money, to volunteer, to provide strong lay and pastoral leadership to the denomination to strengthen our ties and again to help us do more together than we can alone. Similarly, pastors promise to lead the church, to shepherd, to preach, to love, to pray, to work for the church, and the lay people of the church promise in return to care for their pastor, to support, to work together, to be the church. We promise these things and more, when we enter into covenant together.
So, covenant implies a relationship. A covenant exists between a minimum of two parties. It implies an agreement that goes both ways. Each involved has an obligation to fulfill in order that the covenant be upheld.
So, then, as we return to the scripture we can fairly easily see what God's end of the bargain is: God promises to never again cut off life by flooding the earth. What then, is our end of the bargain? How do we human beings fulfill the covenant?
Perhaps the most obvious answer is to promise that we will never again live in sin and corruption. I suppose if that's our part, there's probably a pretty good argument that we aren't fulfilling our promise.
As I thought about this scripture and this covenant between God and all the living creatures of the earth, I began to wonder if we're not all in covenant with one another -that maybe its not just two parties involved here -God and earth. But maybe we're talking about a covenant between God, humans, plants, animals, skies, oceans, rivers, earth -maybe we're all in this together. So, if our covenant then, becomes not just a promise to God, but a promise to each other, a promise to care for all the animals, the way Noah took responsibility for seeing that the species didn't die out, maybe we have a responsibility to each other too. Maybe serving God, means we have to serve each other. Maybe, like the ark, we're literally all in the same boat.
I think a lot about our interconnectedness, and I think perhaps now more than ever we, as human beings, are ever more aware of our relationship with the earth and our fellow inhabitants of the earth. It's beginning to dawn on us that our behavior, the choices we make about the foods we eat, the clothes we wear, and the cars we drive have effects on people all over the world, and even the waters, the skies, and the animals we share this planet with.
Last night I was asked to lead the invocation at the Farm workers dinner. I have always held farm-workers close to my heart, as it was pastors who walked alongside Cesar Chavez and farm workers that so inspired me to enter into the ministry. The plight of the farm-worker continues to be a dangerous one. While I have a heart for laborers in all job sectors, I think farm-workers are especially poignant when we consider our covenant with humans and the earth. They continue to be underpaid and overworked, and because of the high number of migrant workers, they often go over-looked because some of their illegal statuses. What is perhaps most upsetting when we hear the stories of farm workers is that we continue to hear stories of pesticide problems where important insects, animals, and human beings are injured, wiped out and killed.
We don't really know the effects of pesticides on our food, the fruits and vegetables we eat, but we can see the effects upon the workers who farm the lands – people whose bodies have been burned, even those who have lost their sight having been exposed to this poison. We're not only abusing people here -which is atrocious, but we're also abusing mother earth, by filling her with poisons and toxins.
As I listened to the well known activist, Delores Huerta last evening, the scripture rang in my head, and I kept asking myself -are we living up to our end of the covenant? God's not the one destroying the earth, God's not killing off the people, God's not breaking the promise – we are.
Sadly, we're the ones who are flooding the earth. We're all familiar with the fact that the polar ice caps are melting. We've seen the tsunamis and the hurricanes get worse and worse -and there's real scientific evidence that points the finger of culpability to humanity -not towards acts of God.
We're cutting down trees, rainforests by the hundreds and thousands of acres to serve our hunger for meat – how much does a delicious steak or a McDonald's hamburger have to cost – rare specie endangerment and loss of oxygen creating trees? Our addiction to oil will have to stop sometime -we just can't go on like this and expect an endless supply to fill our tanks forever.
We can't keep acting like human beings are expendable, a commodity needed to get the freshest, roundest fruit to our table.
Now the truth is, we don't think that way – but we are largely ignorant. It astounds us when we hear stories about the farm-workers (or any workers subjected to poor working conditions for that matter), but we often feel like our hands are tied. We know the system is flawed, but we don't know how to get out of it. We all recognize that our oil dependence is not going to benefit us in the long run, but we've got jobs to get to, and we need gas in our cars!
The more we begin to look around and realize the world's problems: famine, rising waters, global warming, human trafficking, worker injustice and abuse, extinction, loss of resources, you name it — we begin to make the connection that our lifestyle choices have an effect on the world -its inhabitants -all living creatures.
We are culpable, but its not God's that's going to punish us – we're doing a fine enough job of punishing ourselves. But the thing is, we've got a covenant to live up to. God made this promise, this covenant between all living creatures -because God loved us, and God continues to love us.
That's what it all comes down to -love. We're in a love covenant. So on this Love Sunday, this first Sunday of Lent, we cannot help but think about what it means to be in loving relationship with God and all living creatures. If we love God, we cannot help then to love God's creation. Therefore we cannot help but love one another. And as God promises never to choose destruction again, we too must make the same promises. We do this out of love. For it is out of love that we were made out of the earth, and it is with love that we are given back to the earth. We remind ourselves of this each Ash Wednesday and we cannot help but remember it as we listen to the words in Genesis today.
God loves creation and infuses the divine life-breath into creation again and again and again. Love is permeated throughout the earth, in the waters and skies, in babies and cornfields, in ghettos and factories even, in urban streets and the deserts of Iraq. God is loving us and calling us to make good on our promises.
We have a covenant to fulfill with the babies born to mother's whose breasts give way to milk infected by poisonous pesticide. We have a covenant to fulfill with the ocean whose depths are paved with plastic bags and trash from our excess packaging. We have a covenant to fulfill with the glaciers in artic that melt because of our negligent warming of the earth. We have a covenant to fulfill with our brothers and our sisters, for we are each made of the same God substance, the essence of love that created us and connects us to all living creatures.
This Lent, we're asking you to fall in love again. Like a marriage between two people who love each other, who make a promise for better or for worse, we're asking you to fulfill a promise rooted in love, a covenant made between our God and our world that we might love so deeply that we act not out of our own self-interest, but out of the love we have for each other. Fall in love again with God's creation. For we have a covenant based on love. So, FALL IN LOVE!
Go green for Lent! Become a part of the Green Lenten Project, and dedicate yourself to trying something new this Lent to care for creation and uphold your end of the covenant. The Missions Commission has some ideas, later in the Season we'll have a speaker talk to us about ethical consumption, the women's group shared ideas last month -there are lots of ways to begin greenifiying ourselves from trying out a different form of transportation to church one Sunday, to choosing products that are chemical free, to recycling, to choosing fairly traded products, or bringing your own bag to the grocery store! Its up to you how far you take it, but its up to all of us to fulfill love's covenant. So, for the sake of love, this day love, commit to falling in love again and let's do our part to help humanity fulfill our end of the bargain. Amen.