Join us as we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day. Sacred Activism Pastor, Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer, as well as our Lead Clergy, Rev. Kent H. Little, and special guest youth Abby Morton lead us in worship. Music provided by our Musical Worship Team Mark Kurtz and Marie Meyers, and special soloist, Kimberly Pearce.
Posted by First United Methodist Church-Omaha on Sunday, April 19, 2020
First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Pastor: Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
Date: April 19, 2020
Wisdom Readings: 1 Peter 1:3, Lao Tzu
Message: “Sowing and Reaping”
Sometimes against all logic, and in a world where grief prevails, we must be reminded that in the years after Christ left, the same sentiment existed. Hear these words from
I PETER 1:3
Blessed be the Divine and Creator of our Lord Jesus Christ! By God’s great mercy a new birth is given to us into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.
Six hundred years before Christ, Lao Tzu (Lao Sue), Chinese philosopher from which Taoism came, wrote,
New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings
Message – Earth Day, Covid-19, “Sowing and Reaping”
Distortion—defined as a change that makes something appear different from the way it really is. That’s the word that best captures what I describe as this alt reality I find myself living in and somewhere inside I was hoping that Easter would restore some sense of normalcy. I remember the day I learned the word distortion, because it was the day I made that passage we all make from living in our childhood world into a realization that another reality exists…My parents watched the evening news every night, and until February of 1974 the images on the TV screen described some outer world that had nothing to do with me. But one night, coming from the TV, a young woman’s voice talking to her parents caught my attention. She said, “I am not being starved or beaten.” And for whatever reason, my seven-year-old self suddenly was captivated by the breaking news of the kidnapping of Patty Hearst, who used a word I never heard before, “distortion.”
This Sunday after Easter, we are aware of great pain and suffering in our world, in our community and subsequently, in our hearts. This morning, possibly an understanding of God and Faith linger like a storm cloud distorting a clear vision of Hope. I invite you to open your heart and mind to think upon what we can learn from Creation.
This Wednesday celebrates the 50-year anniversary of Earth Day, and I wonder if the Earth could speak English, what would the Earth say? I saw this political cartoon where the Earth expresses, “We’ve got less industrial pollution! Less noise pollution at airports! There’s less air pollution from cars! All it took was a global pandemic shutdown.” Maybe the better question is, if Americans could stop and listen to the Earth, what would we hear?
Our Earth is a great Teacher, speaking an Universal Language we all can understand with a clear message: In order to embrace a new reality, we must let go of the old one. Lao Tzu wrote the Tao Te Ching describing the Tao as the natural order of the Universe—the Tao, or Dao, is a Chinese word meaning “way” or “path.” I’ve been amazed in my studies of Taosim of the foreshadowing of the Tao of Jesus, but that is another sermon for another day.
To me, what the Earth, Lao Tzu, and Christ say about suffering, change and rebirth are very similar. When we are stuck in sadness and anger, we are operating from our ego. But calmness and compassion and joy emanate from our heart. Just a few months ago, many of us were stuck in our Starbucks and sports entertainment and rushing from here to there comfort zones. Then, Ash Wednesday invited us into the season of Lent, a time to search for meaning, possibly seeking change. And then Covid-19 entered into the global consciousness of Earth, and we received an invitation to participate in a new beginning, remembering that even after the worst of storms a rainbow emerges.
Last Sunday, kayakers and fisher folks found peace at the lake, echoing the journey of the disciples returning to some sense of normalcy after he was no longer physically in their presence. Thursday we were treated to a beautiful snow. What is the Earth saying to us? Are we listening? Are we letting go of the old and preparing for the new? Are we hearing the Universal Language of Resurrection? Some folks put up Christmas lights, and while that might not be liturgically correct, it sure is theologically profound!
Thursday, as the snow fell, I turned on cable, not local, news. Images showed lines of cars on a highway in Cypress, Texas. Countless body bags outside a nursing home. Protestors with their faces smashed against the Ohio statehouse glass entrance. I felt like I was watching an End Time Apocalypse based on the Book of Revelation. At least, that is what the pre-seminary me thought of the Book of Revelation, the most misunderstood book of the Bible. And then I was reminded of a book I read about ten years ago by Eckart Tolle entitled A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. The title borrows the phrase “A new Earth” found in Revelation 21:
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and God will dwell with them. They will be people of God, and God will be with them and be their God. For God will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death [b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
In many ways, the Book of Revelation is like the Coronavirus—we’ve been told to fear it and therefore forget that we DO have a choice in all of this—we can be manipulated into fear of this invisible virus, or we could start with the awareness that we can transform and see death ushers in a new beginning, like the Resurrection. “New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings.” Resurrection is not about going back to what was but moving forward into what will be. This church understood that during what was the most painful experience for this community of faith in recent memory, and I asked the pastor at that time, Don Bredthauer, to recount that time-he recounts:
“In the spring of 1999, we had survived the trauma of a massive exodus of members because of our inclusive vision to welcome all of God’s children but we were still on the edge. We wanted to find ways to celebrate our journey and lift the spirits of those who had faithfully stayed the course. The music director, Michael Beattie, and I had some conversations about doing something in worship that would be visual and memorable. Michael went to a North Omaha store that might have something of interest and he saw the rainbow kite which he thought would be perfect. When he inquired about cost and the store owner found out it was for First United Methodist, he was happy to donate the kite free of charge in gratitude for the witness that our church was making in the North Omaha community. We flew it on Easter Sunday and have flown it every Easter since as well as on a few other special occasions.”
The butterfly represents change, hope and resurrection. In Tolle’s book, he explores the passage from Rev 21—the New Heaven isn’t a physical place, it is a new consciousness arising. Heaven is a metaphor for the inner world, and a New Earth is the external manifestation of the transformed consciousness. Reading Tolle’s book, I opened my mind to a deeper understanding of Scripture, a more metaphysical understanding which has helped me during this Covid-19 experience.
Yes, the uncertainty of the future weighs on our hearts, but what of the New Earth? When we make the shift from the inner (mind, heart) then the outer human structures will be changed. Then we awaken to the realization that we have a choice over our understanding of reality:
The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but your thoughts about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral, which always is as it is.
We all have a choice in how we think about life as we know it now. The Buddhist perspective believes we all have choice—we can use our minds to overcome fear and uncertainty, panic, greed, which has gripped the Environmental Protection Agency as it weakens controls on mercury flaring (mercury is released in the air from the burning of fossil fuels and waste) even though data reveals that long term exposure to air pollution makes the virus more deadly!
The Dalai Lama has a wonderful response to our current global suffering—we all have universal responsibility to be compassionate, and we all must take responsibility where we can. In the most recent edition of Time magazine, he says in an article titled Prayer Is Not Enough.’ The Dalai Lama on Why We Need to Fight Coronavirus with Compassion that:
“In this time of great fear…we must also remember that nobody is free of suffering, and extend our hands to others who lack homes, resources or family to protect them. This crisis shows us that we are not separate from one another—even when we are living apart… As a Buddhist, I believe in the principle of impermanence. Eventually, this virus will pass, as I have seen wars and other terrible threats pass in my lifetime, and we will have the opportunity to rebuild our global community as we have done many times before.”
The principle of impermanence is the Universal Language of the Earth and the metaphysical understanding of how Jesus talked about sowing and reaping.
Once you make the choice to enter into a new heaven, you awaken, and a new consciousness arises. Then it is time to LET GO and be transformed, resurrected. Like a butterfly.
That’s why a community of faith is vital, even if we are connected virtually. If you’ve never stepped foot in this sanctuary, that’s OK because a community can support one another near and far. Trees breathe in carbon dioxide and breathe out oxygen and they are home to birds and other wildlife. Mature trees can absorb roughly 48 pounds of CO2 each year. You are invited to join our Ecology Team to take action. You can look on our website or Facebook about Operation Sheltering in Place: Plant a Tree. On May 10 at 2 p.m. we will all join together in spirit as families plant their trees at home AND the Eco Team will be planting a tree here on church property as a sign of hope for the future.
We always have hope. Even when the Indigenous people’s struggle against the Dakota Access pipeline ended, activist White Eagle reminded us that we are all in this together because everything is interconnected. That is why I thought the movie, Avatar, was so powerful—for it echoes the Universal Language of the Earth—all life breathes together, and we need each other. The Coronavirus has shaken the world, will we listen? If there were any time to embrace a perspective of Sacred Activism, the power of wisdom and love in action uniting, it is now.
Easter reminds us that we can make the choice to embrace a new consciousness where we are free from the illusion of a distorted reality that keeps us stuck in our comfort zones. In 2001, I was working on a counseling degree in New York City. We met every Monday and I’d ride the Metro North Hudson River line from Garrison to Grand Central Station. After the unthinkable events on 9/11, that Monday things were different. People were talking to one another and I struck up a conversation with another woman awaiting the train. She seemed somehow familiar. She said, “Things sure feel distorted.” Life is interesting. For eleven years I lived a few miles from Patty Hearst Shaw, whose life journey reminds me of how we treat the Earth—with disrespect. That’s the way the Earth works, the Universal Language of Sowing and Reaping. Something awakens us to a new reality, we feel distorted, but if we let go, we grow. New beginnings are often disguised as painful endings. AMEN.