Earth Care Fair – Putting our Faith in Action

Caring for Our Environment, Rational Thought, Reformed and Always Reforming

Join the Earth Stewardship Action Network at Lyndhurst Community Presbyterian Church for an Earth Care Fair on Saturday, May 12th from 9am-12pm!  All are invited to hear and see how we can faithfully and practically serve our world today through earth stewardship.  Attendees will be provided copies or links to helpful information about Earth stewardship, including presentations, guidelines and grant forms.

Here is the schedule:

  • 9:00
    • Introductory remarks from Rev. Carmen Denise Cox Harwell
    • Keynote Speaker Rev. Jim Butler
  • 9:30
    • Earth Stewardship Panel of Witnesses
      Our speakers will share their passion for earth care, the moral issues involved and their sense of urgency to take action.
  • 10:00
    • How to become an Earth Care Congregation, presented by David Neff from Forest Hill Church, Presbyterian
  • 10:15 – Earth Care Congregations Fair
    • Our churches who have already become Earth Care Congregations will share their stories and actions.
    • Meet Alycia Ashburn from Ohio Interfaith Power and Light
    • Application for Earth Stewardship Action Network grants
  • 10:45
    • Energy Efficiency Workshop, focusing on low cost energy saving opportunities and the Energy Stewards
    • Video presentation by Katherine Hayhoe, climate scientist & Christian, hosted by David Neff — to be followed by a Q&A Session
  • 12:00
    • Closing prayer

Light snacks and beverages will be offered.  No charge to attend – Please click here to RSVP

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Confronting Evil and Collateral Damage

Rational Thought, Seeking God Together, Worship Study Prayer

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Matthew 13:24-30

The Parable of the Weeds

     24Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of God is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared.

     27“The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’

     28“‘An enemy did this,’ he replied.

     “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’

     29“‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may uproot the wheat with them. 30Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.’”

Every time I come to this passage in the lectionary, I think it must be one of the most under-appreciated of all the parables of Jesus. It’s not one that’s usually taught to children in Sunday School, because it’s really a ‘grown-up’ kind of teaching from Jesus, with some very adult ramifications. That might be why so many church members don’t have much awareness of it. But it’s a shame we don’t pay much attention to this parable, because it has the potential to color the way we think about the world we live in today.

In older versions of the Bible, this parable was called “The Parable of the Tares.” That’s because the Greek word translated “weeds” actually refers to a specific type of plant, and the old word for that plant was ‘tares.’ Today, botanists call the plant “bearded darnel.” It’s a plant that looks like wheat when the plants are young, but then produces toxins as it matures. So in the story, these aren’t just some random weeds that get into the wheat field; instead, someone intentionally plants poison weeds among the grain.

And the landowner recognizes right away that this is an intentional act of evil, right? Remember what he says? “An enemy did this.”

So the first point of the parable seems to be a recognition that there is real evil in the world. Not just misguided people making mistakes, but actual evil being perpetrated by people who know perfectly well that what they’re doing is wrong. If we assume that the landowner in the parable represents God (which seems logical since Jesus starts the parable with “the Kingdom of God is like”), then the second point seems to be that God instantly recognizes evil in the world for what it is: the intentional work of his enemies.

(And whether you understand this to be the result of one literal ‘Satan’ getting people to do evil or of individuals doing evil for their own perverse purposes seems to me to make no difference. Evil is evil.)

But the “So what?” of this parable arises out of the conversation between the landowner and his servants. Apparently with all good intentions and in the interest of helping out their master, the servants offer to go into the field of grain and pull up the weeds. But the landowner says ‘no’ – he points out that they can’t destroy the weeds without killing some of the good wheat, too.

We have a phrase for this phenomenon, right? We call it “collateral damage.”

It seems to me this parable ought to spring to the minds of followers of Jesus with some regularity. We live in a world where there is genuine evil. Drug cartels that forcibly recruit people to smuggle drugs into the country. Corrupt politicians in Mexico who get gangs to murder busloads of college students and burn the bodies. African militias who grab little kids, fill them full of drugs and force them to do terrible things. To say nothing of deluded Muslim fanatics who actually think they’re serving God by beheading Christians. Or people who open fire on school children or concert-goers.

We see these things on the news, and we have the same reaction as the landowner in the parable. This is just evil. An enemy did this. And we want to do exactly what the landowner’s servants suggest – uproot the evil and destroy it.

But our experience proves the point Jesus is making here – that it’s inevitable that when we strike back at evil, there will be collateral damage. Good wheat gets destroyed along with the poison weeds. Terrorists hide in hospitals, and use innocent people as ‘human shields.’ The bombs that target militant masterminds sometimes get their family members, too – or whole wedding parties. And so on.

It seems to me this parable calls on those of us who follow Jesus to be voices for restraint when it comes to responding to evil in the world. Screaming for revenge feels good, and watching the video of smart bombs flying in the front door of a terrorist hideout might be the really satisfying. But in our calmer moments, we have to admit that our master almost certainly wouldn’t find smart bombs satisfying under any circumstances, no matter who is getting blasted. So maybe we should think of this parable when we think of how to respond to evil.

And it seems to me that as followers of Jesus, we should be very circumspect about engaging in the rhetoric of “holy war” against our enemies. Especially since the God whose name we invoke in blessing strikes against our enemies has already commanded us to leave the vengeance to him. (And I’m actually not sure God recognizes any of our wars as “holy,” no matter how justified we feel in launching them.)

I suppose that’s why this parable doesn’t get taught much in the kids’ Sunday School classes. It requires an unflinching recognition that evil is still a destructive force in the world, which some people would rather avoid. And the ‘so what’ of this parable isn’t as cut-and-dried as we’d like it to be. Actually, it takes a whole lot of prayerful thought to figure out how to apply this parable to most of the situations where we recognize evil at work.

But I suppose that engaging in prayerful thought before acting is exactly what Jesus has in mind for us.

Let’s pray. Lord, we recognize that there really is evil in the world. Help us to have the wisdom to confront evil in all its faces, but to so that with the greatest care to protect the innocent. Let our hearts always hunger for justice when evil strikes, and never for revenge. Amen.

Have a great weekend, and worship joyfully in Sunday!
Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 84 and 148; Lamentations 4:1-22; and Revelation 6:12 – 7:4.)

Being Everything to Everyone

Non-Judgment, Rational Thought, Seeking God Together, Serving Those in Need

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I Corinthians 9:19-27

19 Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

Today’s listed reading from First Corinthians has at least two important ideas that are well worth our reflection.

The first of these ideas is what Paul writes here about ‘becoming all things to all people’ in his efforts to carry the gospel into the world. As we’re told in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul believed that a good part of the Hebrew religious tradition was not binding on gentiles who became followers of Jesus. In other words, that you didn’t need to become a Jew to become a follower of Jesus.

But Paul himself did continue to strictly follow those Hebrew traditions. And in this passage, he explains his reason for doing that: He says he strictly followed the Law of Moses so he could tell the story of Jesus to Jews without scandalizing them. But in his ministry to gentiles, Paul apparently made a point to set aside some of the Law so he could deal with them on an equal basis. He doesn’t specify what he means by that, but it might be that Paul was willing to eat and socialize with gentiles in ways that strictly observant Jews would not.

Paul says that he doesn’t regard himself as free to just do whatever he wanted, but that he is striving to live according to what he refers to as “Christ’s law.”

The main challenge this passage presents for contemporary followers of Jesus, it seems to me, is one of figuring out how far we can go in being all things to all people without somehow compromising our role as followers of Jesus. For example, some followers of Jesus have taken up ministries among motorcyclists, riding with them and getting to know them so they can share faith with them. That’s a valid ministry. But some biker subcultures abuse drugs and alcohol and get in brawls. Obviously not ideal behavior for a follower of Jesus. So when we set out to be all things to all people, the lines between acceptable and unacceptable levels of involvement can get blurry.

Obviously, bikers are just an example. You could probably find lots of other examples of segments of American culture where a follower of Jesus might find chances to share the love of Jesus, but also where sometimes the values being expressed would seem inconsistent with faith. Entrepreneurs. Sports fans. Hunters. Car buffs. In each case, lines could be crossed that could compromise our ability to ‘be Jesus’ in the world.

I’d love to be able to paint a bright line for you to divide what’s OK for followers of Jesus from what’s not OK. But I really can’t. I suppose the closest I could come would be to suggest that if you can’t imagine Jesus taking part in some kind of behavior, his followers shouldn’t be engaged in it, either.

But Paul’s point is that as followers of Jesus, we should be looking for ways to engage with people rather than trying to stay apart from them. Because it’s only when we really build relationships with others that they’ll be willing to listen when we tell them about what God has done in Jesus, and about what Jesus has done in our lives.

The second major idea in this passage likens the life of discipleship to physical training. Paul says that those of us who follow Jesus should regard ourselves as being in “strict training.”

This touches on a topic that, as it turns out, came up in our session meeting last night. We’ve been reading and talking about James K. A. Smith’s book You Are What You Love. And one of the points Smith makes in his book is that spiritual disciplines like worship have a formative influence on us. Worship isn’t just about us expressing our feelings about God. Rather, it’s a discipline in which what we believe about God, and in fact our relationship with God, are formed by what we do and say and think. Like exercise, the spiritual disciplines aren’t going to do much for you if you practice them once every couple of months. (Or twice a year on Christmas and Easter.) I suppose in fact that if you only exercise twice a year, it’s more dangerous than helpful.

But when we approach the spiritual disciplines – worship, but also prayer and study of scripture and service – with the same dedication an athlete brings to “strict training,” then the Holy Spirit can be at work in us, forming our faith like ‘spiritual muscle,’ so that our own relationship with God in Jesus is enriched, and we also become more useful to God in making his love known to those around us.

Let’s pray. Lord, we pray that your Spirit will empower us as we try to foster relationships with others that will allow us to make your love known to them, and that the Spirit will guide us in sharing those relationships without compromising the standards of behavior Jesus calls us to. And we pray also that you will move in our hearts to strengthen our commitment to the disciplines of faith, so we can know you better and serve you more faithfully. Amen.

Henry

(The other readings for today are Psalms 84 and 148; II Kings 19:1-20; and Matthew 8:1-17.)