Updated: Jul 12
Many of you know I scooted west last September after our last service. Caught up with my brain-injured older sister, Muggs, where she was trailer camping in a horse pasture near Laramie, Wyoming. Friends were worried about her increasing isolation, mental vagueness and falls. We drove back to her hometown, Ridgecrest, California, where an MRI revealed a large low-grade brain tumor. Following surgery at Reagan-UCLA Medical Center, 20 days of in-patient rehab, and 4 months of recuperation with the support of two brothers and sisters in law in Colorado, I again retrieved our cowgirl sister Muggs in April and returned her to her Mojave Desert home. She’s living again, on her own, as stubborn and independent as ever. Walking two miles every morning. Dreaming of a trip to Scotland. Thanks be to God! And thanks for your prayers!
All told, I spent 4 months in and near the Sierra Mountains. Did lots of hiking, some on the Pacific Crest Trail. Fell in love again with the writings of John Muir, the father of our National Parks System. Thought about some of his words as I pulled off the Northway towards Keene Thursday night, as the heavy rain ceased, and the evening glow lit up the sky behind the first view of the High Peaks.
John Muir: “The tendency nowadays to wander in wildernesses is delightful to see. Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home, that wildness is a necessity, and that mountain parks and nature reservations are useful not only as fountains of timber and irrigating rivers but as fountains of life. Awakening from the stupefying effects of the vice of over-industry and the deadly apathy of luxury, they are trying as best they can to mix and enrich their own little ongoings with those of Nature and to get rid of rust and disease.
Lots of rust and disease to shed this July 4 morning. What a year we’ve had. We’re giving thanks this morning for the mountains and the wildness and the fountains of refreshment we find in this corner of the natural world. May the woods and the lake, the mountains and the breathable air long endure. And today, through the sacrament of baptism, we give thanks for new life in our midst, Grace Montgomery.
John Muir had a double purpose in mind when he wrote those words. He was inviting and exhorting citizens both to enjoy the natural world of waterfalls, wildflowers, glaciers and granite. He was also pleading with his brother and sister citizens to conserve, preserve and protect the natural world he saw being plundered by industrialization and consumerism.
I would argue that this July 4, Independence Day, also has a double purpose of celebration and aspiration - to give thanks for the shared freedoms and blessings we enjoy as a nation, but also to commit ourselves to spread freedom and extending blessings to those of our brothers and sisters whose freedoms have historically been limited. whose access to the blessings our country offers has been impaired. July 4 encourages us to celebrate our union, as a diverse nation of Black, White, yellow, brown, beautifully blended, liberal, conservative, liberal, multi-gendered, multicultural, multihued rainbow of humanity. “One nation, under God, with liberty and justice for all.” Amen! AND July 4 also beckons us to understand and to heal the cracks the stresses of the Covid year have made more obvious. Unavoidable.
Not a surprise to us as people of faith, this double purpose. We come together as followers of a crucified radical who died on a cross for opposing elitism, greed, and the abuse of power. We are brave enough to understand that we are part of the fallen humanity he came to set free. We are wise enough to recognize the same faults in ourselves that we are prone to despise in others. When we gather as a spiritual community we commonly confess our common human brokenness and our need for forgiveness and grace. “We have offended against thy holy law” to love one another as you have first loved us. “We have left undone those things which we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done.” As I thought about our habit of confession and forgiveness, I remembered some other words I learned recently. They came from the lips of a person I helped baptize in 1976.
Our daughter, Suli, works for a progressive theatre company in Philadelphia called the Wilma. The Wilma is one of many organizations that are acknowledging the harmful policies and practices and attitudes that have been baked into its day-to-day operations. Striving to do better. Working together with a social justice facilitator, Lauren E Turner, the Wilma has begun the process of crafting a Land Acknowledgement as a part of its overall commitment to anti-racism. Suli explained it to me like this,
“We acknowledge that we are doing this theatre work on stolen land. That we are doing this justice, healing work while benefitting from wealth produced through chattel slavery, that we are doing the work while being descendants of those who murdered and stole and enslaved, and descendants of those who survived attempted genocide and found ways and methods to survive and thrive. We are hearing a call to belong to a story that is greater than the one we have been told. We will only find healing though truth, never through denial. The hope in our history belongs to all of us, just as the pain in our history belongs to all of us.”
Whoowee. That’s some confession to be living with in your workplace. “We are hearing a call to belong to a story that is greater than the one we have been told.” I love that. I’m struggling to comprehend it. Let alone to enact and to embody it. But I am living with it, day by day. As a person who grew up on and inherited land that was confiscated from Native Americans, it speaks to me. As a person who enjoys inherited wealth accumulated during the period of Jim Crow, it speaks to me. Any guilt I once felt about undeserved privilege is swept away by an invitation to use my privilege and power to help build a more perfect union! And I have to say it does remind me of Jesus who said, near the time of his death, Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you gave me no food. I was thirsty and you gave me no drink. I was naked and you gave me no clothes…”. “Lord, when did I see you hungry, thirsty, naked or in prison.” And he will answer, “Inasmuch as you did it not to one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you did it not unto me.” Inasmuch as these wrongs were done, and, inasmuch as I benefitted from them, directly or indirectly, I ask God’s forgiveness and commit to work for a better situation. Maybe you feel a similar movement in your soul. It won’t be exactly like mine. It might be very different. Maybe you feel a readiness to commit towards working on that more perfect union. Take time prayerfully to think on it during the baptismal promises today.
There is a double purpose of our celebration today. Give thanks for national unity and blessing, acknowledge the flaws and wrong turns in our national experience, recommit ourselves to do our part to heal, rebuild, and pursue a more perfect union. The scripture calls us to this more perfect union, “The homeland perceived from afar. The Kingdom of God. The Kindom of God. The place where God’s love is experienced by all, where the orphans and widows are honored. Where enemies come together as friends.” We haven’t been there yet, though we have seen glimpses. This last year, filled with woes, has also broadcast signs of God’s new homeland emerging. Black people and white people and all people marching together and honoring the fallen. Doctors and nurses and orderlies reusing masks, using garbage bags in place of protective hospital gowns. Low-wage child care and senior care workers showing up to take care of at-risk patients and putting themselves at risk. Healthy strangers wearing masks because, while healthy themselves, they knew viruses could spread from asymptomatic persons and that the chances of good outcomes for all were enhanced by everyone making the sacrifice. Self-giving love. A world that’s based on it. Laying down a life for a brother or sister. It’s been all around us. We know that it’s achievable, if we just lay down our selfish pride, shed our defensiveness, embrace our imperfection and acknowledge that everyone’s pain matters and we’re all in this together. God loves you, and I love you, and there ain’t nothin’ you can do about it.
And, to help us celebrate and to recommit, God has gifted us with a baby, named, of all things, Grace. A precious unique angel of God, conceived in love and hopefulness during a pandemic, born in the month the vaccine started being real. A child of hope. A child of promise.
Today, through the word and sacrament of baptism, we thank God for the grace of Grace, and we pledge her and ourselves to life-giving work advancing God’s realm of justice and peace. I became a parent not too long ago myself, well, 45 years ago, to be exact, but not long in the sight of God. I remember what becoming a parent does.
1. It prioritizes the future. 1 year, 10 years, 20. 30. 40 years, the life beyond your own
lifetime suddenly becomes very important in a way it never was.
2. Previously unnoticed hazards start cropping up. Guard rails and safety features are
3. Individual concerns and petty differences between spouses start to diminish in
importance and a new unity of purpose as parents to emerge.
As a society, we have let immediate gratification and short-term rewards eclipse the future. It’s time to start believing in tomorrow again and working to preserve it. (STOP GLOBAL WARMING!)
The guard rails and safety features of our democracy have fallen off. Time to replace them. (PROTECT VOTING RIGHTS! TONE DOWN DESTRUCTIVE RHETORIC). We need to stop fretting about our giant and supremely important differences of opinion and devote that energy instead to taking care of people who are hurting now. Buildings are falling. People are dying of the heat. Time to stop arguing and start acting. (PASS INFRASTRUCTURE INCLUDING CHILDCARE.)
Two big things to celebrate: Stubborn, independent Muggy, our cowgirl sister, is home where she wants to be and is calling the shots. Baby Grace is leading the rest of us home. With her, like Muir in the mountains, we are led, once again, to the baptismal waters, the fountains of life. May all of us, together, be refreshed, renewed, and reconnected to the tasks of redemption. AMEN?