Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

Hope…Even for the Past

“Creation Waits with Eager Longing”

Earth Day

Sunday, April 22, 2007

 

 

Romans 18: 18-25

 

Rev. Dean Snyder

 

It has been a difficult week. I would like us to take a moment this morning to pray together “A Prayer for Virginia Tech.” It is a prayer written by the Rev. Joseph P. Monahan, pastor of Succasunna United Methodist Church in Succasunna, New Jersey. He graduated from Virginia Tech in 1997.

 

Whenever I pray the words “God of love,” your response is “heal us.”

God of love, heal us.

 

Lord, we don't have words for what we've seen. There are no words. There are only tears…

 

God of love, heal us.

 

… tears for young lives lost, for promising lives cut off, for loved ones whom we can hold no more.

 

God of love, heal us.

 

A place we cherish, a quiet place of study, a place filled with memories of friendships and laughter and learning has been torn apart by gunshots and screams.

 

God of love, heal us.

 

We heard, but we did not believe. We tried to comprehend, but we could not. And now we ache…

 

God of love, heal us.

 

… we ache with sorrow for eyes that witnessed what no human eye should ever witness, for dinner tables with empty chairs, for lives that took decades to grow but only seconds to extinguish.

 

God of love, heal us.

 

We ache with fear for our own children, for the knowledge that a decision to kill, a decision made in an instant, can never be taken back, can never be undone.

 

God of love, heal us.

 

And we ache with the emptiness that reverberates around the drillfield, through every corner of campus, because we hear the voices of our brothers and sisters no more.

 

God of love, heal us.

 

God of love, God of blessing, God of life eternal, God of life all-powerful, God of life beyond all words, beyond all hurts, beyond all pain…

 

…God of love, heal us. Amen.[i]

 

It has been a difficult week.

 

There is another prayer about Virginia Tech on the United Methodist Board of Discipleship website that touched me. It is written by Safiyah Fosua and entitled “Interrupted Lives.” It says:

 

Lord, I cannot help but wonder
what disrupted this young man's life
so much — that he would explode into the campus
to interrupt so many lives.

I cannot help but wonder
if we missed him when he cried out from pain;
if we missed an opportunity to touch his life
before he took theirs.

Almighty God,
open our eyes to ways to touch those around us,
and ways to stop the plague of violence that lurks among us.
Amen.[ii]

 

It has been a difficult week. The Virginia Tech tragedy can have two possible and different impacts on our lives. It can cause us to become more afraid of one another or it can move us to be more determined to reach out in caring ways to those who suffer from pain and despair. We decide.

 

It has been a difficult week. Last evening we held a memorial service here for a 40-year old Dupont Circle man who struggled his whole life with depression and who several weeks ago lost the battle. His funeral was held last week in his home town of Enid, Okalahoma. Six hundred people filled the First United Methodist church of Enid to grieve his death and to celebrate his life. Last evening our sanctuary was full.

 

Family and friends told stories and celebrated his life. I hadn’t known Jeff, although I have had the opportunity to spend some time with his partner Ran.

 

Our Scripture last evening, chosen by Jeff’s parents, was the later part of the 8th chapter of Romans which says that nothing can separate us from the love of God. What I talked about last evening was that depression can not separate us from the love of God. I talked about how sometimes the church has tried to separate some people from the love of God; nothing can separate us from the love of God. Even though we know depression is a disease, you couldn’t help but wonder if the churches’ attempt to separate Jeff and his friends from the love of God had separated him from a resource that could have helped him in the midst of his depression.

 

The prayer again:

“I cannot help but wonder
if we missed him when he cried out from pain;
if we missed an opportunity to touch his life...”

It has been a difficult week.

 

And today is Earth Day. Our theme for Eastertide – the 50 days of Easter – this year is hope. Anyone who has seen An Inconvenient Truth or paid attention to the growing scientific consensus that global warning may be doing potentially irreparable damage to our planet know that this is a difficult topic. Not a hopeful one. What hope is there for our planet? What hope for creation?

 

Someone asked the question this week, in a group I was meeting with, whether we thought God would interfere before we ruined the earth? Would God prevent us from destroying it or poisoning it beyond recovery?

 

I wouldn’t count on it, I said. Virginia Tech, not to mention the holocaust and all the horrors of human history, remind us that God appears to take human freedom very seriously. Apparently God has entrusted the care of God’s own beloved creation to us. It is ours to love and protect or to poison and destroy. We decide.

 

The Book of Romans, however, suggests that it is not quite this stark.  In Romans 8, the Apostle Paul asks the question about hope and creation a different way. He turns the tables. Instead of asking what hope we have for creation, he talks about the hope creation has for us.

 

He says, “The creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God…” (Romans 8: 19) He says the creation lives “in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of God.” (Romans 8:20)

 

The Apostle Paul says in Romans 8 that creation is not neutral…the universe is not neutral…it is hoping for us, it is pulling for us, the children of God, to establish a world of peace, inclusion, justice and love. The universe is rooting for us. It is on our side.

 

This is very hard for me to talk about because I am very much a child of modernity which has tended to see the universe as raw material. We have tended to see creation as stuff that we needed to figure out how best to use.

 

It is not good science. Science has always understood the universe as more than mere stuff. But it has been a good ideology to drive the industrial revolution and capitalism.

 

The Apostle Paul suggests that the universe is more than raw material, more than stuff, that it has an integrity of its own, that is has hopes and dreams of its own, that it is rooting for us, that it is our partner and God’s partner in birthing the realm of God. 

 

I am a child of modernity, and it is hard not to see the earth as merely functional. But modernity is passing away. And people are beginning to be able to see the world in more connected ways than someone like me can.

 

They can see that everything is interrelated – that nature has its own identity and integrity; that the universe has its own life and is not merely a stage for humans to live on. Sometimes they can catch a glimpse of Gaia, the mother who fills all creation and who like the Creator is full of love.

 

All of this is much closer to the Apostle Paul’s vision of a creation that longs and hopes for its fulfillment in a world of peace, inclusion, justice and love…a universe that longs for us to figure out how to live in harmony with God, itself and one another.

 

I am not particularly good at this, but in the midst of a difficult week even I – if my eyes are open – can catch glimpses of it.

 

This morning, walking across the Capitol grounds on my way to church, the dogwoods were blooming, and someone had planted tulips. There were a few yellow tulips but most of them were red and orange. Red and orange are the Virginia Tech colors. A coincidence? I don’t know.

 

And the Capitol grounds this morning were full of robins. Lots and lots of red and orange breasted robins. One started hopping towards me. I stopped and talked to it, and then noticed that its real object of attention was not me but another robin at the base of a tree that it was flirting with.

 

And this reminded me of yesterday morning at the Dupont Circle Starbucks. I was in line waiting to get a cup of tea. There was a girl in front of me in line…I guess I should say a young woman. She was dressed for spring in a sort of frilly outfit that I don’t know how to describe really except that it was very springy and fresh.

 

The clerk at the counter was a boy...a young man, I mean, just past, you know, the acne stage. In terms of our society’s standards, he would not be considered handsome.

 

When the young woman in front of me got to the register and order her drink, he looked at her card and asked her where Jefferson bank was, and they exchanged a couple of sentences of conversation. And the whole time we waited on me, getting me my cup of tea, there was a smile on his face as broad as Dupont Circle, and I could tell it was because he had worked up the nerve to exchange a few sentences of conversation with a pretty girl in a frilly dress.

 

There is an energy, a life force, a longing, a hope in creation that connects the tulips and the robins and the boy behind the register of Starbucks and the students of Virginia Tech and those who filled our sanctuary last night to give thanks for the life of Jeff Shewey.

 

This is our source of hope. Creation is not neutral. It is on the side of life. It is on the side of peace, inclusion, justice and love.

 

I first came across the poetry of Nikki Giovanni 30 years ago or more when I was reading everything I could get my hands on by the gay African-American writer James Baldwin. I got interested in James Baldwin because he had grown up in a Pentecostal Church in Harlem and had been a boy preacher and was trying to reconcile his identity with his spirituality. James Baldwin and Nikki Giovanni did a book together in 1973.

 

So I have read Nikki Giovanni’s poetry off and on for more than 30 years. I had no idea until this week that she taught at Virginia Tech.

 

Nikki Giovanni read a poem she had written the night before at the convocation held at Virginia Tech this past Tuesday. The poem ended with thousands of students chanting the Hokie cheer.

 

She did two things in her poem. She connected the suffering of the Virginia Tech students with the suffering of others in the world…even with the suffering of nature.

 

She said:

 

“We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.”[iii]

 

She connected the suffering of Virginia Tech with the suffering of creation, so that no one was alone in their suffering.

 

The other thing she did was to invoke the life force that exists within all creation and within the human breast.

 

She ended her poem by saying:

“We are Virginia Tech …

“We are strong, and brave, and innocent, and unafraid. We are better than we think and not quite what we want to be. We are alive to the imaginations and the possibilities. We will continue to invent the future through our blood and tears and through all our sadness.

“We are the Hokies.

“We will prevail.

“We will prevail.

“We will prevail.

“We are Virginia Tech.”

It has been a difficult week. Lots of pain. Lots of grief. Lots of despair.

 

But in the midst of it, again and again, there has also been a spirit of life and of hope and of love.

 

I am grateful for the work of our Green Mission. I am grateful that we will begin recycling. I am grateful that we are renewing our commitment to care for the universe.

 

Creation is on our side. Creation hopes in us. The universe waits with eager longing for you and me and the realm of peace, inclusion and justice and love which longs to be born through us.

 

 

 

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[i] http://www.gbod.org/worship/default.asp?act=reader&item_id=31906.

[ii] http://www.gbod.org/worship/default.asp?act=reader&item_id=31655.

[iii] http://www.vt.edu/tragedy/giovanni_transcript.php.