Sunday, September 24, 2017

Water Water Everywhere Revelation 22:1-5

Glen Pease writes in an article titled the River of Heaven:

“Kipling's book, Kim, has been called the greatest story of a river that has ever been written. According to Buddhist tradition, Buddha shot an arrow into the air, and where it fell, a river sprang up. The river was sacred, and whoever bathed in it would be cleansed from all sin. Kipling's story is about an old lama who wonders through cities and rice fields, over hills and across plains, always asking the same question. "The River, the River of the Arrow; the River that can cleanse from sin; where is the River?"

The universal search of man has been to find a river that satisfies every thirst of the body and soul. The quest of Ponce de Leon for the fountain of youth is a quest that has gone on all through history. Most of history follows the paths of the great rivers of the world. Babylon is built on the Euphratus; Nineveh was built on the Tigris; Thebes was built on the Nile, and Rome was built on the Tiber. We could go on around the world showing how the great cities are built by great rivers. Rivers have been the streams of life for the cities of the world. Our own great Mississippi has played a major role in the history of our country. The name in Algonquin means, Great River.

One of the strange paradoxes is that Jerusalem was not built by a river. This was a drawback, and the Jews always hoped that one day that their holy city, like the great cities of the world, could have a river. The prophets and psalmists were forever dreaming and singing of the river. Ezekiel, in a vision, saw a board river rushing out of Jerusalem. Isaiah saw a future Jerusalem where he says in 33:21, "There the Lord will be our Mighty One. It will be like a place of broad rivers and streams." He got so disgusted with the disobedience of the people and God Himself lamented in 48:18, "O that you had harkened to my commandments! Then your peace would have been like a river..." Peace like a river, and the prosperity of a river have always been the rewards of a people blessed of God. To the Jewish mind, the ideal city must have a river. They believe that God Himself dwelt by a river in heaven. Psalm 46:4 we read, "There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High."

In John's vision of the heavenly Jerusalem, he shows us that all the hopes of a sacred city on a sacred river will be fulfilled, and we will have peace like a river forever. It is fascinating to study rivers, but here is the most fascinating river of all. Christianity was, in a sense, born on a river. John the Baptist began the New Testament ministry by baptizing in the Jordan River. Jesus was baptized in this famous river just before He began His public ministry. The Jordan is the most famous river of the Bible. Naaman didn't think it compared to the rivers of Syria, but when he obeyed God, the waters of Jordan became the waters of life for him, and they cleansed his leprosy.”[1]

Water is all around us and it has always been sacred.  Rivers and water represent life they provide the essentials for community to survive and life not only as a source of fresh water but also for trade and food.

According to the county website “Sonoma County is blessed with three rivers: the Russian River, which runs through a large portion of the county and is arguably the most well-known; the Gualala River, on the northern border separating Sonoma from Mendocino County; and the Petaluma River, which connects to San Pablo Bay and thence to the San Francisco Bay in the south.”[2]

But if you just google Sonoma county rivers right across the top of the page it starts listing rivers and creeks and sloghs and all together there are 63 from my count. The people who originally cared for this land settle all around always near water such as the Petaluma River, the Russian River and Tolay lake.

“Greg Sarris, Chairman of the Federated Indians of Graton Rancheria, is the author of several books including Grand Avenue, and holds the Graton Endowed Chair at Sonoma State University. His new book How a Mountain Was Made will be published by Heyday Press this fall.

Roughly seven miles east of Petaluma, Tolay is the southernmost and largest in a chain of lakes tucked within the Sonoma Mountain range. You might imagine it the pendant at the end of the chain. Standing on the ridges above the lake, you can see the emerald expanse of San Pablo Bay spreading before you, and like a sculpture rising from the water, San Francisco’s Financial District, and then four of the Bay’s major mountains: Mount Saint Helena, Mount Tamalpais, Mount Diablo, and Mount Burdell. All of the lakes in the chain were shallow, even more shallow than Tolay, hardly 20 feet in its deepest spot, but, like Tolay, all of the lakes contained water year-round, until after European contact, when the water table in the region dropped 20 to 30 feet in a relatively short period of time.”[3]

This past Monday many of us attended a talk at the library all about the Miwoks and their relationship to this land and especially its water

“Tolay Lake is in the heartland of the Alaguali Nation, whose principal village, Cholequibit, sat southeast of the lake, bordering San Pablo Bay. The Alaguali knew their homeland intimately; typical of Coast Miwok and Southern Pomo Nations, they practiced controlled burning, maintaining grasslands for elk and pronghorn. They cleared waterways for fishing and hunting waterfowl and cultivated sedge beds, growing long, straight roots for basket-making. From the San Pablo marshes, they fished sturgeon and bat rays. Each nation, it seemed, had something unique that was needed by others. A Southern Pomo Nation near Santa Rosa mined obsidian prized for arrow-making. Southern Pomo and Coast Miwok along the Laguna de Santa Rosa grew the finest sedge. The lagoon was full of perch and bass year-round. The Petaluma Nation’s vast plains contained the largest herds of elk and deer. The Alaguali had the lake.”[4]

It is not just our indigenous people who knew how sacred water was

Rev Dr Bob Shore-Goss in one of his sermons reminds us that

“Jesus uses the image of water as indispensable to life, then he points to himself as the ‘living water’ through which he offers eternal life. Water is vital to human and all life, and in dry or desert climates, water becomes an oasis of life.  Baptismal waters give life to us.  In fact, water is a sacrament of life but also life with God, or to use Jesus words in John’s Gospel , “eternal life.”… That day Jesus, as he entered the flowing waters of the Jordan, understood the action that John performed upon himself, not as repentance for sin, but as entering into the waters of life.  Environmentally, his immersion under flowing waters of the Jordan River signified a new birth of consciousness. In his book, A Watered Garden, Benjamin Stewart details four eco-theological characteristics of water for baptism:  waters of life as a oasis, living water as pouring and flowing, pooled waters as mysterious depths, and a place that welcomes what might call the untamed or wild nature of water.   Stewart observes that pouring and flowing of waters express a rich mystery:

When new Christians are made in flowing baptismal, all of those associations –the overflowing blessings of God, the nourishing water over landscape, the always new quality of flowing water, and the life-giving power that flows to us from beyond our control—wash over the newly baptized and deepen our significance of baptism.

The baptism of Jesus, and our own baptism into God as Creator, Beloved Child, and Spirit as Sustainer of Life, communicates vividly the goodness and power of God in this world.”[5]

Through Baptism, through water poured or sprinkled, whether we are baptized by submersion in a church or in a river or in a pool, as a Christian church we proclaim one baptism and through the waters of baptism are we all connected. Through water each and every living being is connected.

I grew up in Michigan where one is never more than a mile from water in any direction and “There are also more than 11,000 inland lakes in Michigan and, according to the Michigan Historical Center, one is never more than six miles from an inland lake or more than 85 miles from one of the Great Lakes.”[6]

The problem with societies that grow up around water very rarely respect it, indigenous populations being the exception. I mean in Michigan one only has to look at the flint water crisis. An article just published in June states that “Five officials in Michigan, including the head of the state’s health department, were charged on Wednesday.(with involuntary Manslaughter) It is the closest investigators have come to directly blaming officials for the deaths and illnesses that occurred when a water contamination crisis enveloped this city.

The tainted water has been tied to lead poisoning in children and prompted officials to begin a costly, years long process of replacing pipes all over the city. Even now, officials recommend that only filtered tap water be consumed, and many residents say they can trust only bottled water, given false assurances they once received from state and local officials.”[7]

Flint is not unique “America’s crumbling water infrastructure and insufficient implementation of environmental laws have left millions of people drinking unsafe water, according to a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council. According to Threats on Tap, there were more than 12,000 health-based violations in 5,000 water systems that served over 27 million people across the United States.

The Safe Drinking Water Act, enacted by Congress in 1974, is supposed to keep drinking water clean by regulating 100 different contaminants, such as lead and arsenic. But lack of enforcement from the Environmental Protection Agency and state-level agencies, coupled with the deterioration of water infrastructure, has resulted in the standards of the SDWA not being met. “Flint was a wake-up call for Americans,” said Erik Olson, who directs the NRDC’s health program, “but it’s not the only place in the United States with tap water problems.”… According to the Centers for the Disease Control and Prevention, more than 19 million Americans get sick every year from drinking contaminated water. The problem is more pronounced in smaller and rural communities: Water systems that serve 500 people or less made up more than 50 percent of all health-based violations in 2015.”[8]

This is just down right unforgiveable. Even here in California “The state’s bad water is concentrated in the mostly Latino farmworker communities of the San Joaquin Valley, but nearly all of California’s 58 counties include small, rural communities with tainted water. Residents there are forced to take their chances or spend an inordinate amount of their usually small incomes on bottled water.

The biggest danger is arsenic, which like uranium, another contaminant, occurs naturally in the soil in some parts of the state. Drink enough arsenic-contaminated water and you may contract cancer or other grave diseases.

Farmers bear responsibility for nitrate, the second-biggest contamination source, which enters the water supply from agricultural runoff and manure. Nitrate can cause “blue baby syndrome,” a potentially fatal disorder in infants, and other serious ailments in pregnant women and children.

Racism plays a part in the contamination crisis, but so do poverty, patchwork water systems, and, until recently, an overestimation of the quantity of contaminants required to trigger illness.”[9]

As stated before it is the poorer communities that suffer more from pollutionmore than affluential communities and this is just a matter of public policy. “most public policy issues are inseparable from environmental policy. Unless we start thinking about this intersectionality, and developing strategies for tackling environmental and climate issues, we’re not going to be able to address pressing public health, inequality, and global hunger challenges.

Pollution is a public health problem. Globally, children who live near traffic are 89 percent more likely to have asthma and have stunted lung growth, with lungs that are 20 percent smaller than their peers. Annually, some 4.3 million premature deaths are caused by indoor air pollution among families who burn fuels in their homes to cook or for light. Reducing air pollution not only stems climate change, it is often synonymous with improving the lives of children and families who don’t have other options.

Pollution and climate change are also deeply connected to inequality—whether by income, race, or gender. Who do you think lives the closest to high traffic, smog prone areas like freeways and ports? In the US: poor communities of color. Much of the research on environmental pollution and health inequality reveals that it is low-income people of color who bear a disproportionate share of the health burden from exposure to environmental hazards.”[10]

In Exactly the same way  water and poverty are linked …

“Water and poverty are inextricably linked. Lack of safe water and poverty are mutually reinforcing; access to consistent sources of clean water is crucial to poverty reduction. Currently, 748 million people live without access to safe water and 2.5 billion live without adequate sanitation.

When we talk about poverty, we primarily refer to the economically disadvantaged groups of people across wide swaths of the globe, mainly in Africa and Asia, that survive on subsistence farming or incomes of less than $2 per day. There were 2.4 billion people living in this situation in 2010. The global rate of extreme poverty, defined as the percentage of those living on less than $1.25 per day, was halved between 1990 and 2010.

In that same twenty-year period, the global proportion of people living without access to clean water was halved as well, with 2.3 billion people gaining access to improved drinking water between 1990 and 2012. Safe water means consistent access to and adequate supply of clean water suitable for drinking, bathing, cooking, and cleaning. According to the World Health Organization, this means safe drinking water from a source less than 1 kilometer (.62 miles) away and at least 20 liters (5.28 gallons) per person per day. In some cases, safe water for irrigation or animals might be necessary to the extent that it affects individual human health and dignity.”  This article states also that “Water and poverty are linked in education; preventable, water-borne disease keep children out of school. An estimated 443 million school days are lost each year from water-related illness.[7] In many cases, children are too sick with diarrhea and other water-borne diseases like typhoid, cholera, or dysentery to go to school or must care for sick family members instead of going to class. Children also must help their families retrieve safe water from long distances if it is not available nearby. When the school does not have sanitation facilities, even a simple latrine, children must defecate in the open or miss class while they find someplace to go to the bathroom. This not only makes them miss class, it facilitates the further spread of disease.”[11]

Pollution is not the only issue when it comes to water

“Changing precipitation and melting snow and ice are already altering hydrological systems in many regions. Glaciers continue to shrink worldwide, affecting villages and towns downstream. The result, says the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change, is that the fraction of global population experiencing water scarcity is destined to increase throughout the 21st century. More and more, people and nations will have to compete for resources. An international dispute between Egypt and Ethiopia over the latter’s plans to damn the Nile has only recently been resolved. In the future, far more serious conflicts are likely to erupt as the planet dries up. Even in high latitudes, the one region on Earth where rainfall is likely to intensify in coming years, climate change will still reduce water quality and pose risks due to a number of factors: rising temperatures; increased levels of sediments, nutrients, and pollutants triggered by heavy rainfall; and disruption of treatment facilities during floods. The world faces a water crisis that will touch every part of the globe, a point that has been stressed by Jean Chr├ętien, former Canadian prime minister and co-chair of the InterAction Council. “The future political impact of water scarcity may be devastating,” he said. “Using water the way we have in the past simply will not sustain humanity in future.”[12]

we as Christians are called to be stewards of God’s creation that doesn’t mean just ourselves…Jesus didn’t say as long as your water is clean and your table is full you are fine. Jesus challenges us to reach out and care for the least of these, we are called to care for the marginalized and the oppressed and sometimes the best way we can do that is by asking for best practices to keep the air and water clean.  We are called to ensure that people have clean water near them that is accessible and accessible doesn’t mean that they have bottled water brought in by nestle corp.

so we need to look at and  watch what we do.  Reduce our use of water and look at alternative ways to conserve whether it be the 5-minute shower practice, or just turning off the faucet in between rinses of dishes.  Can we use grey water in our gardens?  Can we be sure we are not dumping toxic fluids down our storm drains.  We need to remember that all life depends on water and therefore just as life is sacred so is the water we depend upon. 

The next time you take a sip of water say a prayer of thanks and I encourage you to find ways in which we can be a resource for those without safe drinking water. As our neighbor in need theme states this year Protecting the sacred in a just world, clean water is Life!

[1] Glen Pease, The River of Heaven, December 27, 2002, accessed September 23, 2017,
[2] Sonoma County Tourism, Sonoma County Rivers, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[3] Greeg Sarris, the Charms of Tolay Lake Region, June 28, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[4] Ibid.
[5] Robert Shore-Goss, e-mail message to Joseph Shore-Goss.
[6] NSTATE.LLC, Michigan, July 25, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[7] Scott Atkinson and Monica davey, 5 Charged With Involuntary Manslaughter, June 14, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[8] Nathalie Baptiste, Millions of Americans Are Drinking Contaminated Water—and Don’t Even Know It: Flint is not alone, May 3, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[9] Jacques Leslie, California's water crisis is dangerous, just like Flint's. Will the state clean it up once and for all?, May 4, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[10] HELFRICH JENNIFER, Race, Gender, and Poverty: Why the Environment Matters, April 24, 2017, accessed September 23, 2017,
[11] LifeWater International, Water and Poverty: How Access to Safe Water Reduces Poverty, December 26, 2014, accessed September 23, 2017,
[12] Robin McKie, Why fresh water shortages will cause the next great global crisis, March 7, 2015, accessed September 23, 2017,

Sunday, September 17, 2017

A walk into Wilder-Ness Mark1:9-13

Today is the third Sunday in the season of creation.  It is Wilderness Sunday. We have spoken of forest and the land but now we speak of wilderness. So how is that different?  Let’s break down the word for a moment.  Wilderness… wilder ness…to be of something wilder or more wild…. more wild than the lands we have tamed more wild than the forest trails we have hiked. It is old English actually breaks down as wild deor, Land inhabited by only wild animals.[1]

It is interesting because we often think of the deep forest and especially the rain forest as wild untamed thing that we need to protect from human kind and yet  “The first review of the global impact of humans on tropical forests in the ancient past shows that humans have been altering these environments for at least 45,000 years. This counters the view that tropical forests were pristine natural environments prior to modern agriculture and industrialization. The study, published today (August 3rd) in Nature Plants, found that humans have in fact been having a dramatic impact on such forest ecologies for tens of thousands of years, through techniques ranging from controlled burning of sections of forest to plant and animal management to clear-cutting. Although previous studies had looked at human impacts on specific tropical forest locations and ecosystems, this is the first to synthesize data from all over the world.”[2]

This indicates there may be no place that hasn’t been touched by man but there are still places of wilder-ness. In today’s Gospel reading; Rev. Craig Condon reflects that;

“Jesus went willingly into the wilderness, but the Spirit is pictured as moving him to battle Satan’s temptations. Jesus often went into the wilderness during his ministry. It is in the wilderness where we often meet God. We don’t choose to go to wilderness places such as times of trial, temptation and struggle. They happen to us. Even when the challenges are caused by our actions, we rarely seek out or even want such hardship. Even when we face life’s challenges, the Holy Spirit will make use of us.

All of us have wilderness experiences from time to time. These experiences often force us to confront the negative experiences of our lives. They force us to strip away our pride and worldly resources and come to God in faith.

Some people believe that if you follow God’s will, you will have a life of ease. Nothing could be further from the truth. The way of God often involves circumstances where we must trust in God and draw on his truth and strength. God tests us to help us grow, to show us that we have the faith and ability to stand up to the testing, that we will trust God in difficult times and to strengthen our faith and Christian character.

After all, Jesus’ faith was strengthened by his time in the wilderness.

We are often led into the wilderness just after moments of triumph in our lives, just like Jesus was led into the wilderness after his baptism. When we are in the wilderness, our character is also tested, especially when we are tempted. Do we let faith guide us, or do we give in to worldly pleasures? Do we draw on our faith? Do we let God speak to us?

When we are in the wilderness, we don’t know how long the journey will last or what is on the other side, but it is a time of preparation.”[3]

This concept of the wilderness as a place of trial or a place to meet God and be challenged is nothing new.  John was in the wilderness before he became a voice crying out in the desert prepare ye the way.  Johns appearance actual describes him as being as much of the wilderness itself as being from it.

In Mathew 3:4 it says “Now John himself wore clothing made of camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist. His food was locusts and wild honey” we often picture John with a scraggly beard mussed hair dirty after living in the desert for so long he is of the wilder-ness

Rev. Barbra Brown Taylor reminds us that;

“Only two of the four gospels give the long version of Jesus' temptation in the wilderness.  John leaves it out altogether and Mark's gospel covers the whole thing in two sentences: The Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness, he was there forty days, Satan tempted him, wild beasts kept him company, and angels waited on him.  That's it; that's all Mark knew--or that's all he thought we needed to know--about what happened between Jesus and Satan in the wilderness….

What I want to focus on instead is where the test took place--the wilderness--because I have an idea that every one of us has already been there.  Maybe it just looked like a hospital waiting room to you, or the sheets on a cheap motel bed after you got kicked out of your house, or maybe it looked like the parking lot where you couldn't find your car on the day you lost your job.  It may even have been a kind of desert in the middle of your own chest, where you begged for a word from God and heard nothing but the wheezing bellows of your own breath.

Wildernesses come in so many shapes and sizes that the only way you can really tell you are in one is to look around for what you normally count on to save your life and come up empty.  No food.  No earthly power.  No special protection--just a Bible-quoting devil and a whole bunch of sand.”[4]

Now let me put this forward the wilderness is a time of the unexpected, of the uncontrolled…something.  It is not always a trial.  It is not always something that needs to be controlled or worked through. It is not always a dry desert place, sometimes the wilderness is a mountain top.  What the wilderness always is, It is always spiritual.

“Jesus performed much of his ministry in urban settings, yet many of his most transformative moments occurred in outdoor settings—bodies of water, mountaintops, and wilderness. The wilderness of the Bible is a liminal space—an in-between place where ordinary life is suspended, identity shifts, and new possibilities emerge. Through the experiences of the Israelites in exile, we learn that while the Biblical wilderness is a place of danger, temptation and chaos, it is also a place for solitude, nourishment, and revelation from God. These themes emerge again in Jesus’ journey into the wilderness, tying his identity to that of his Hebrew ancestors.”[5]

Our saint of our wilder places John Muir, though “he would devote much of his life to the challenge of interpreting the wild to the men and women of civil society.  Though few have done it so well, he found it a discouraging task. For one thing, interpreting nature took attention away from truly important work of “gaping” at the wilderness.”[6]  He would write

“instead of narrowing my attention to bookmarking out of material I have already eaten and drunken, I would rather stand in what the world would call an idle manner, literally gaping with all mouths of soul and body, demanding nothing, fearing nothing, but hoping and enjoying enormously. So, called sentimental, transcendental dreaming seems the only sensible and substantial business that one can engage in.”[7]

John is teaching us a spiritual and physical lesson about the wilder-ness. The true wilderness is a place to stop “Gaping with all mouths of soul and body”[8] and breathe in what is a round you.  Physically or spiritually the wilderness is a place of awe and demands pause.  This is why Jesus so often went out to the wilderness.  This is why John the Baptiser was in the wilderness and of the wilderness.  This is why Moses went up to a mountain top place where no-one ever dared to tread before and what did he find once he got there? A place where he was so awestruck he fell to his knees and Listened and heard the voice of God.

If we look around us and pay attention there are places of wilderness around us though man has tried to “manage” it. Usually in one way or another mother nature will burst force and show her wilder side.

One place I can think of is the desert.  I lived in Palm springs and I loved going up to Joshua tree.  I was amazed by its dry vastness.  I loved the Joshua trees and the ocotillo that grew there.  They always appeared quite tame…from a distance but up close they all had their sharp edges. 

Many people believe the desert to be dry and hot and the heat is its danger but I have seen Habib’s, a wall of wind and dust come down and fill everything with dust and sand.  I have seen rainstorms that send torrents of water down hillsides where it is dry and not raining.  This is the wilderness…this is the unmanageable part of nature.

We have seen the effects of Global warming by the warming of the oceans waters thus resulting larger more powerful storms. As a result of human nature, the wilder-ness of nature steps forward.  If we do not take time for and pay attention to what we do to our environment.  Better yet if we refuse to take steps to make our planet healthy again I am afraid we will see more evidence of wilder-ness.  We as a species may not survive, but the planet will.

Now I am sure I do not need to tell you what that means for us here.  I have said it before this area we live in, most of us are the ones who do our part.  We keep the thermostats low.  We try to use appliances later in the day when the demand for electricity is low.  Those of us who can, use alternative energy.

I was really happy to know that I had a choice where my energy came from here. I signed up for evergreen which means 100% of the electricity we use at home “is made up of 100% geothermal energy.  And best of all, geothermal is a baseload resource, which means it produces clean energy 24/7 – so it is truly renewable both day and night!”[9]

as I was researching Wilderness and our spiritual connection to the wilder places I discovered John Lionberger who works on;

“going into the wilderness to experience the presence of God. John Lionberger is a former atheist who had a profound religious experience on a wilderness trip. Now an ordained United Church of Christ minister, Lionberger leads others looking for their own experience of the holy. Lionberger is the author of “Renewal in the Wilderness.” He lives in Evanston, Illinois.” When asked what happens to people when he takes them to the wilderness Rev. John says; “What they encounter in the wilderness is getting away from all of the things in society that we call “trappings” that are meant to be good things, but that keep them away from a more authentic and deeper relationship with God…. I think what happens for them is they get to the transcendent through the physical—the act of canoeing, the act of setting up camp. I like to say it strips them of the barnacles that they accrue throughout their lives and society, and they begin to realize how little they need to be profoundly happy. They are able to simplify, and in that simplification they get a sense of something holy about what surrounds them, a sense of wellbeing and a sense of being cared for and a sense of profound peace, and it’s kind of a hackneyed phrase—“Be in the moment”—but there is something so powerful about it, because that is the moment, in the very present is when God comes to us. It is much easier, I think, for God to get through our defenses when we’re in a wilderness.”[10]

In this interview John was asked “to recall the conversion experience he had when he was alone on skis on a frozen lake in winter.”[11]

Rev. John recalls; “It was getting dark, and the trees were etched against the skyline in kind of blackness while the skyline was turning purple. I just looked up at the sky and put my arms out like this, with the poles dangling from my wrists, and arched my back, and at that moment I felt like I was in the midst of a warm stream of water that felt so pure and so refreshing and so cleansing and so friendly and so loving, and then it kept coming into my mind, slowly at first, and very dimly at first, but it said, “It’s God.”[12]

Sometimes there are those wonderful explosive moments of experiencing God, but most of the time it’s very, very subtle. It’s just the small things that people ignore that being out in an environment like that brings them to an awareness of. It reminds us of who we are, who we are not, and who God is.”[13]

John goes on to suggest Just  what I have been saying all along, get out in your local park or wilder-ness area and “have an open heart and a willingness to be surprised, and they do it very consciously. It is part of being here now. It’s part of what the wilderness teaches you.”[14]

It is funny that during this interview John was asked has any one ever come back saying they experienced Nothing?

 “In the eight years I’ve been doing this, and maybe the 400 people that I’ve taken to the wilderness, I only know of one man who was not really touched by his experience in some way, who said at the end, “I had a good time, but I got no spiritual insight, no spiritual awakenings, nothing like that.” And that is not a bad batting average, one out of 400. I’ll take that.”[15]

So in the end I would challenge each of us to take time to find our wilder areas and step into the wilder-ness listen for the voice of God and in return offer to find ways to be better stewards of God’s creation and especially the wilder places. Amen.

[1] google?,, accessed September 16, 2017,
[2] Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, Humans have been altering tropical forests for at least 45,000 years, August 3, 2017, accessed September 16, 2017,
[3] Craig Condon, Life int he Widlerness, February 21, 2015, accessed September 16, 2017,
[4] Rev Barbara Brown Taylor, The wilderness exam, February 21, 2010, accessed September 16, 2017,
[5] Jenny Phillips, Jesus and Wilderness, 2017, accessed September 16, 2017,
[6] Richard Cartwright Austin, Environmental Theology (Originally published as Atlanta, Ga..J. Knox Press, Abingdon, Va: Creekside Press, 1987–c1990), 44.
[7] Linnie Marsh Wolfe, ed., John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979 c1938).
[8] Craig Condon, Life in the Widlerness, February 21, 2015, accessed September 16, 2017,
[9] Sonoma Clean Power Authority, Evergreen, 2017, accessed September 16, 2017,
[10] Bob Abernanthy, “Wilderness Spirituality,” Relifgion and ethics newsweekly, December 10, 2009, accessed September 16, 2017,
[11] Ibid.
[12] Ibid.
[13] Ibid.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Ibid.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

This Land is My Land Matthew 12:38-40

Opening reflection
We remember the dry land that rose from waters in the beginning, the plants that emerged from the soil to cover the land with vegetation, and the rich diversity of animal life. We remember the gardens and the fields of our childhood, the places where we played in the sand, when we felt close to the round, to magic flowers, and to baby animals.
Jesus Christ, once buried in Earth, hear our cry: We regret that we have become alienated from Earth, and treated this garden planet as a beast to be tamed, as a domain to be dominated, and as a place to be ruled for our gain.
We remember and confess how we have violated and polluted the lands of our garden planet. We are sorry. We have killed living soils with chemicals, we have turned fertile fields into lifeless plains, we have cleared rich lands of wildlife. We are sorry. We are sorry.
Let Us Pray;
God, our Creator, whose glory fills all things, help us to discern your presence among us and our kin in creation, especially in the soil, in the fields, and on the land. Help us to empathize with your creatures who are suffering and to serve you as agents for healing the land. In the name of Christ, who reconciles and restores all things in creation. Amen.

Mathew 12:38-40

Tehra Cox shares her experience  of the land in the secret language of earth speak ; “When I moved from the noisy concrete and steel canyons of New York City to a small Hudson Valley village with its serenely-forested highlands, I was stunned by the radical change of scenery. As late summer turned into fall, my favorite season, nature’s magic began its work on me. From one of my first autumn walks along the wooded mountain path behind the old Victorian house that was my new home, I was introduced to the uncanny voices of the natural world.
My first encounter with what I call “Earth-Speak” was nothing less than phenomenal for its impact on my life and sensibility. As I came around a bend at the top of the mountain, the lush goldenness of maples along the trail nearly took my breath away. They colored the very air around them. As I stood transfixed, it seemed that all the flora of the woods began to sway toward me. The dramatic red-orange-gold hues in all shapes and sizes were pulsating with light, sounds and scents so intoxicating that I wasn’t sure if I was breathing or drinking. Suddenly, I “heard” a whispering of words that I will never forget: “Ah yes, the very things you humans love about us – our different colors and shapes and smells and languages – are the things you often hate about each other. Alas, you have lost touch with your beauties because you have lost touch with us.”
Having just moved out of a city teeming with the tensions that densely-populated diversities of culture, creed, economy – and yes, race – too often provoke, this message was stunning and timely for me. During that first year of “life in the country,” I became unusually acquainted with this sentient world. In my daily walks with pen and paper, the presences of nature enfolded me in their lushness while I chronicled their wisdom-teachings. As these “inner tuitions” invited me to consider some of life’s most paradoxical mysteries, they required only one thing of me – to be utterly present and receptive. I didn’t know to call it that at the time – I was only aware that I felt light and free, as if all the space around the trees and the flowers and blades of grass was also around, and even inside, me.”[1]
In today’s Gospel Jesus speaks of Going to the heart of the earth.  One may say the very soul of the land. As we sit here on this land I know of some of its History.  I know there was a great Oak out here at one time. I Know a gentleman who recalled spreading blankets out here on this land to watch the fourth of July Fireworks. I know that annually there has been an outdoor service here but for how long can any one say?
The heart of the earth the heart of this land, this area around us is rich and diverse. “Sonoma County encompasses more than 1 million acres of land and water, rich in scenic beauty, and with an array of parks, recreational facilities, campsites and lakes. Open space and agricultural land accounts for a great majority of Sonoma County acreage. The county has approximately 123,070 acres of surface water area, of which 8,580 are bay waters.”[2] So Much happens on this land, this land for which we can see for miles, this land called Sonoma county alone the land is rich and diverse.  We have wine trails and cheese trails and farm trails.  The land is gently cultivated, probably much more so now than last century.  Many of our farms and dairies are organic and people care for the land knowing the land cares for them.
Right here we preserve land and set it aside because we know the value of our environment and it needs to be preserved.  If one would ask what is the heart of the earth, what is the heart of this land where we are now I wonder if it isn’t our parks.
Regional Parks
Number of Parks 52
Developed Acreage 777
Undeveloped Acreage 57,203
Trails (Miles) 175
Park Users (Annual) 5,603,743
Vet/Community Buildings 8
Events (Annual) 4,788
Attendance 312,570[3]

There is something almost mystical about being in a park sharing community space in a peaceful area all connected to the land.
There is a spirituality that just naturally accompanies the land.  I would encourage anyone come up here for a picnic day or night sit on this hill, listen and see you will get that spiritual connection to the land.
One of our most famous naturalist, John Muir, spoke spiritually of the land and nature around him.  He saw God in nature and connected the respect that our planet deserved to that for instance
One bright October night in 1871, John Muir camped the Yosemite high country by Lake Nevada and watched the reflection of the trees and mountains in the still water. He Jotted notes about how the reflection showed every line, “every shadow in fine neutral tint, clear, intensely pure” in the “rayless, beamless light.” Moonlit Yosemite domes shown on the surface of the lake.[4]
The Glacier-polish of rounded brows [is] brighter than any mirror, like windows of a house shining with light from the throne of God-to the very top a pure vision in terrestrial beauty…. It is as if lake, mountain, trees had souls, formed one soul, which had died and gone before the throne of god, the great first Soul, and by direct creative act of God had all earthly purity deepened, refined, brightness brightened, spirituality spiritualized, countenance, gestures made wholly Godful! . . . I spring to my Feet crying:  Heavens and earth! Rock is not light, not heavy, not transparent, not opaque, but every pore gushes, glows like a thought with immortal life.[5]
To see such majesty in the land and be awestruck it is not unique to John Muir heck it is not unique to Yosemite.  I am amazed and bless for every morning I pull out of my complex and I look to the Mountains and am amazed.  When we travel this area I never take or rarely take the freeway because the back roads and side roads have so much to offer us. So many her in northern California get just how precious our land is.  We often forget our own history of our abuses of the land and it is easy to shelter ourselves form the abuses that go on to this day.
But lets talk about the Gold rush “Some 80,000 immigrants poured into California during 1849. They came overland on the California Trail and by ship around Cape Horn or through the Panama shortcut. The majority of them came in one immense wave during mid-summer, as covered wagons reached the end of the California trail. At the same time, sailing ships were docking in San Francisco, only to be deserted by sailors as well as passengers. Competition for the gold grew fierce. New methods were invented to wash more pay dirt in less time. At the same time, merchants raised the prices of mining tools, clothing, and food to astronomical levels. A miner had to find an ounce of gold a day just to break even.”[6]  It was a cruel and harsh time.  But the outcomes seems hardly worth the rush.
Many miners grew tired of the work and the luck.  But they liked California and sent for their families which eventually led to the agriculture boom.
“For others, however, the gold rush was a catastrophe. The peaceful indigenous people were decimated. They perished in great numbers from starvation, disease, abuse, and massacre. Their society, habitat, infrastructure and culture were utterly destroyed. Other minorities suffered severe discrimination as well.
As miners continued to invent faster, more destructive methods of finding gold, the land was ravaged. Hillsides were washed away in torrents of water, and towns downstream were inundated by immense floods of mud. Water supplies were poisoned with mercury, arsenic, cyanide, and other toxins. Grand forests of oak and pine were leveled for mining timbers.”[7]  
As Humans, first we dug out and washed away the heart of the earth pulling out Gold, silver, copper, coal, oil salt even.  The heart of the earth where Jesus said he was to go for three days.  If Jesus was in the heart of the earth then that earth is sacred and yet we violate the sacred with no thought or concern. So we have violated the earth by drilling, digging, washing away, using dynamite to blow the top off of mountains and we are not done yet.
Just as we seem to not to be able to harm the land any more we inject poisons into her. “Fracking fluid is a toxic brew that consists of multiple chemicals. Industry can pick from a menu of up to 600 different kinds. Typically, 5 to 10 chemicals are used in a single frack job, but a well can be fracked multiple times, and each gas play consists of tens to hundreds of thousands of wells - driving up the number of chemicals ultimately used. Many fracking chemicals are protected from disclosure under trade secret exemptions. Studies of fracking waste have identified formaldehyde, acetic acids, and boric acids, among hundreds of others.
For each frack, 80-300 tons of chemicals may be used, selected from a menu of up to 600 *different* chemicals. Though the composition of most fracking chemicals remains protected from disclosure through various "trade secret" exemptions under state or federal law, scientists analyzing fracked fluid have identified volatile organic compounds (VOCs) such as benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene and xylene - all of which pose significant dangers to human health and welfare.
Industry experts say it's misleading to suggest 600+ chemicals are used in a fracking operation since only a small percentage of this number of chemicals is used per well. But this "one-well" model is the biggest misrepresentation of all: fracking operations in a gas play typically consist of thousands of wells. Cumulative impacts are what matter.”[8]
where is this fracking and land abuse occurring?  Well you can bet it is not in most of our back yards.
“An analysis by the nonprofit FracTracker Alliance conducted for In These Times found that the 5 million California residents who live within a mile of an oil or gas well have a poverty rate 32.5 percent higher than that of the general population. Overall, FracTracker found that almost 20 percent of Californians who live below the poverty line—more than 700,000 people—also live within a mile of a well.
A related FracTracker analysis for an October report by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that of the Californians who live within a mile of a well, 69 percent are people of color. In addition, almost 2 million people who live within a mile of a well are classified as among the “most vulnerable” to the effects of pollution by CalEnviroScreen, a tool developed by the California EPA. That means that they not only reside in some of the most polluted areas of the state, close to industrial facilities, transportation corridors, hazardous waste facilities and toxic cleanup sites, but are especially sensitive to pollution because of factors like poverty, asthma, youth or old age. Nearly 92 percent of these most vulnerable 2 million are people of color.”[9]
Woodie Guthrie wrote that great song this land is your land this land is my land and yet white privileged culture says this land is my land and the rest can lump it.  Even Woodie asked the question in his song;
In the shadow of the steeple I saw my people,
By the relief office I seen my people;
As they stood there hungry, I stood there asking
Is this land made for you and me?[10]

We are blessed ot have this land that we sit upon today.  We are blessed that we live in a good educated area where people do what they can to preserve this land, top treat it fairly and, many of us do the best we can to share it fairly and equally but there is still work to be done.
We have to work to stop coal mining, fracking and reduce our dependency on fossil fuels.  Fossil fuels a nice way of saying we are burning dead creatures to survive. In 2013 the united Church of Christ announced a resolution to divest from fossil fuels and in 2014 “On the anniversary of the United Church of Christ's historic vote to take action to lessen the impact of fossil fuels on climate change, United Church Funds announced the launch date of a new fossil-fuel-free investment fund. The Beyond Fossil Fuels Fund is a domestic core equity fund that will be free of investments in U.S. companies extracting or producing fossil fuels”[11]
I believe the challenge to each of us is too look at our investments and how we use our energy and the land.  How do we honor the earth that housed our lord in her heart and truly find ways to make this land your land and my land or in other words our land in equity and equality. amen

[1] Terah Cox, The Secret language of Earth-Speak, April 22, 2016, accessed September 7, 2017,
[2] County of Sonoma, Land Use, 2017, accessed September 7, 2017,
[3] County of Sonoma, Land Use, 2017, accessed September 7, 2017,
[4] Richard Cartwright Austin, Environmental Theology: (Originally published as Atlanta, Ga..J. Knox Press, Abingdon, Va: Creekside Press, 1987–c1990), 23.
[5] Linnie Marsh Wolfe, ed., John of the Mountains: The Unpublished Journals of John Muir (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1979 c1938).
[6] Coloma, “The California Goldrush of 1849,” Coloma, 2015-2017, accessed September 7, 2017, .”
[7] Coloma, “The California Goldrush of 1849,” Coloma, 2015-2017, accessed September 7, 2017, .”
[8] Gasland the movie, “Fracking FAQ's,” Gasland the Movie, 2010, accessed September 7, 0217,
[9] Hannah Guzik, “Fracking the Poor,” inthesetimes, November 9, 2014, accessed September 7, 2017,
[10] woody Guthrie, “This land is your Land,” woody Guthrie Publications inc., 2001, accessed 09/070/17,
[11] Emily Schappacher, “United Church Funds announces fossil-fuel-free investment fund,” United Church of Christ, July 2, 2014, accessed 0907/2017,