Sermon: Wild

A Sermon for the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC
December 9, 2018
Audio Recording:


Our gospel passages for this morning share pieces of the story of John the Baptist.  His parents, Zechariah and Elizabeth, were righteous and faithful people.  In their old age, Zechariah was visited by an angel who told him not to be afraid, and told him to expect a child.  Zechariah questioned the angel, and for his doubt was silenced until John’s birth.  From the first chapter of Luke, listen to the testimony Zechariah offered after the naming of John:

Luke 1:68-79 – The Benedictus of Zechariah

‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favourably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty saviour for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

Luke 3:1-6 – The Proclamation of John the Baptist
The Proclamation of John the Baptist
In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness. He went into all the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins, as it is written in the book of the words of the prophet Isaiah,
‘The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’


Come Holy Spirit, our souls inspire and lighten us with your celestial fire for if you are with us then nothing else matters. And if you are not with us, then nothing else matters.  Be with us, we pray in the name your Beloved, Amen.  (A prayer often offered by Barbara Brown Taylor before her sermons)


Preachers love this Sunday of Advent, John the Baptist week.

John was WILD! It is impossible to go over the top when describing John! I mean, this guy wore garments of camel’s hair. And I know some of you have bespoke blazers made out of camel’s hair, but that’s not what I mean.  He hung out in the wilderness.  Not, like, hiking the White Mountains like we do in the summer, John really lived in the middle of nowhere. Like an Appalachian Trail Thru-hiker on his gap year. John ate unpasteurized local honey, and I am not talking about the kind we all eat to inoculate us against regional spring pollen.  But the wildest part of all was his message. He jumped up on a rock in the middle of a desert and people came to listen and he said, “Prepare the way of the Lord!”  Radical. Then he starts talking about what the world will be like: The valleys shall be filled and the mountains made low.  And the people’s part in it: Bear good fruit, worthy of what God has given to you, John said. Out of the box thinking. And then, in a stunning development, people started listening to John, and they asked him to make it plain. What shall we do? (this part’s technically a little further along in Luke.)   John had the audacity to tell them to share. I mean this guy was out of control! If you’ve got two coats, give one away, and if you have more food than you need, bring someone new to the table. And he looked right at the tax collectors who had come to him to be baptized and he. Said. to. Them. Only collect the amount you are supposed to collect. To the soldiers, oh, he had a word for them. Don’t rob people. This guy was wild, I tell you.

To every one of them, he preached repentance for the forgiveness of sins. He put before them a chance at redemption. He put before them a new and different future, a possibility of change, a vision of a fairer and more just world.

Woah. This guy, how in the world did he get away with these wild, out of control, radical ideas?

He didn’t, actually.  Herod killed him.

I met John the Baptist once.
In 2012,
During the presidency of Barack Obama,
In the time when Geoffrey Black was the head of the United Church of Christ,
In the time when Fred Krupp headed the Environmental Defense Fund,
And near the end of Thomas Menino’s last term as Mayor of Boston,
I met John the Baptist on the Boston City Hall Plaza just as a hurricane swept in.

I met him that Fall, at a Climate vigil.  He rode onto Boston City Hall Plaza on a bicycle, hauling a trailer made from salvaged parts. It had just enough room for him to slide into and sleep, out of the wind and rain. His hair was long and wild, and he had a lumberjack’s beard.  Henry David Thoreau quotes were glued to the sides of his trailer. He played music on a homemade guitar and he ate raw kale. He stood off to the side a lot, watching, with a little bit of a wry smile.

Hurricane Sandy was on track for Boston, and the vigil organizers who had intended to stay on the plaza 24/7 closed down the vigil a day early so that people could get to safety.

He stayed. He huddled in his trailer and his witness continued and he made it through safely. I wondered at his determination, this prophet in our midst.

[Sage – his name is actually Sage – has left the hurricanes behind and seems to be studying climate science these days, although I am sure his prophetic voice continues to speak.]


In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius,
the most powerful person in the Roman world,
the word did not come to the Emperor.
When Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea,
the Roman ruler in situ,
the authority and power in that region,
the word did not come to the governor.

When Herod was ruler of Galilee, tetrarch of an occupied quarter,
the word did not come to the tetrarch.

During the high-priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas,
Jewish ritual leaders controlling the temple,
controlled by the Romans,
the word did not come to the high priests.

The word of God in the wilderness,
The territory the people traveled when they made their Exodus,
And when they returned from exile in Babylon.

The word of God came to John, son of Zechariah and Elizabeth,
Wild and marginal son of a humble, righteous old couple.

This is the way Luke tells every tale: it is the humble who are lifted up, the outsiders who challenge the system. The last shall be first, starting from the first moment of Luke’s gospel.

It is the unknown who make known the good news for all the world. It is the nobodies who share salvation with all people.

John had no power but the power of the Spirit.
John had no power but the power of God’s message.
John had no power but the power of wilderness.
John had no power but the power to point to the one to come.
John had no power but the power to set aside power.
John had no power but the power of water washing away sinfulness.
John had no power but the power of his word, the power of God’s word to him to the people.
But John’s power threatened the Powers.


God’s prophets are an interesting kind of people. They are almost always outsiders, whether because they have always walked the margins or their message has pushed them outward. Their message is specific to a time and a place and a community, but it resonates universally.  They point to a source far greater than themselves. They call for change from the ways of the past and the present.  But most of them also preach hope and possibility for the future, aligned with that great source.  The prophets that have no vision of the future, who cannot see beyond the problems of the moment to a future redemption, who are not pointing up, actually get into trouble with the source of their message. When the prophet Jonah refused to acknowledge Nineveh’s repentance and reconcile with them – God had a word for Jonah.

John, though, has a vision of a hopeful future right in his opening words, drawn from Isaiah:

“Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.
Every valley shall be filled,
and every mountain and hill shall be made low,
and the crooked shall be made straight,
and the rough ways made smooth;
and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” ’

He may have eaten locusts and worn hair shirts and spoken a wild word that the powers and principalities could not tolerate – but he also preached a better future.

Now, we are not John the Baptist.  We are not called out into the wilderness to eat bugs and put our hands in bees’ nests, to stop showering and shaving for the sake of a prophetic word.  We are not even called to build our own bike trailer and sleep in it through a hurricane. Most of us are not even called to prophesy alone.[1] Building compassionate and inclusive and justice-oriented community and creating space for people to come when they have been in the wilderness is our communal call.

But we are called to the prophetic word.  In this particular time, in this specific place, we are called to prophesy welcome and inclusion, compassion and justice, creation care and neighbor care. We are called to envision and embody the kin-dom of God and to invite people into a community of hospitality and justice.  We are called to prophetic and hopeful honesty, called to prepare the way of the Lord, called to see the people in the valleys and lift them up, called to flatten the mountains of inequality, called make a pathway for our God, to proclaim as loudly and wildly as John, the kin-dom of God is near!

One preacher says it this way: “Just as the birth of John restored the voice of his father… this season of preparation [may] restore the prophetic voice of the church.  This is our work, to go out into the wilderness, to proclaim to a weary world that hunger, poverty, inequity as we know it will not have the final word….The valley of the shadow of death will be filled; it will be lifted up. The mountains of struggle, pain and poverty will be made low. God entrusts this message to the church and charges us to make it plain.”[2]

Zechariah looked down at his little baby boy and recognized that this tiny child had a role to play in the renewal of the world.

And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare God’s ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to God’s people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

And what more amazing calling could we possibly have, than to be modern day John the Baptists: to prepare the way of our God, to make room for this community, and this city, and this state, and this country, and this world to know salvation, forgiveness, and hope –  to wake one morning by the tender mercy of our God to the dawn from on high breaking upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.

At the end of the second year of the first term of the 45th president of the United States,
who is preaching to people in the wilderness, or the margins, at the border?
At the end of the first year of the first term of the first woman mayor of Newton,
Who is lifting up those in the valleys of Newton Corner?
As the ninth national leader of the UCC is nominated to a second term, who is building the kin-dom of God for the people of progressive faith?
In 2018, who is pointing to the Coming One and preparing the way?
I hope that we are.

Here is a piece of good news:
We are not lone voices in the wilderness. We are not alone.  We may be in the wilderness. We may be. Those who are also walking through the wilderness and those who are in the valleys need to hear our prophetic witness that holds both a call for change and a hope for a future marked by love, equality, equity and justice.

John had no power but the power of the Spirit.  But it was enough to get the message across.  And it’s enough for us, too.


[1]  I am indebted here to a preacher Will Green, on The Word Is Resistance podcast of December 7, 2018 for this insight: in 2018 we do not have to be solo peacemakers and justice seekers.

[2]  Liz Myer Boulton, Christian Century, December 1, 2009.

Covenant: Never Easy, Always Worth It

Covenant: Never Easy, Always Worth It

A Sermon for the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC

Rev. Reebee Girash, Associate Pastor

January 11, 2015




“A central theme of the Bible is covenant, the notion of making commitments and keeping them, of making promises and fulfilling them. God’s self-revelation showed a covenant-keeping God. That is who God is. That is how the Divine Self meets Israel and relates to the church. That is how God defines our world for us as a process of covenant-making and covenant-keeping. And that is the good news of the Gospel: that God is faithful to the covenant.” – Walter Brueggemann






The year that I turned six years old, two major events were marked by one symbolic re-naming. Like Abraham, I received a new name when I was welcomed into covenant. That was the year I was adopted, by grandparents who had been raising me for years but now it was official and forever. And that was the year I was baptized, in our church, kneeling at the Communion rail, and looking up at a very tall minister. On that day I received my middle name: Lois, which was also my mom’s name. My life was changed, and my name was changed, too.



Listen now, for the story of Abram and Sarai receiving their new names.


Listen now, for a piece of the Genesis story. To set it in context: in the first 10 chapters of Genesis we hear a cosmic history, and we hear promises made to all of creation. In the eleventh chapter, we move from the cosmic to the individual, from all of creation to one – seemingly random – man and woman and their children. Yet God’s call to Abram, and God’s covenant, are, we are told, will make them a blessing to all nations, and in them, “all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:3). The story lasts many chapters but our focus today – and the story our children are working through in Sunday school – is the covenant giving portion of Chapter 17.


So listen, for the word of blessing God has for us, in this scripture passage today.




Scripture: Genesis 17:1-7, 15-16

1 When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the Lord appeared to Abram, and said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless. 2 And I will make my covenant between me and you, and will make you exceedingly numerous.” 3 Then Abram fell on his face; and God said to him, 4 “As for me, this is my covenant with you: You shall be the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 5 No longer shall your name be Abram, but your name shall be Abraham; for I have made you the ancestor of a multitude of nations. 6 I will make you exceedingly fruitful; and I will make nations of you, and kings shall come from you. 7 I will establish my covenant between me and you, and your offspring after you throughout their generations, for an everlasting covenant, to be God to you and to your offspring after you.


15 God said to Abraham, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. 16 I will bless her, and moreover I will give you a son by her. I will bless her, and she shall give rise to nations; kings of peoples shall come from her.”





Now – the covenant that God made with Abraham was a bit more weighty than your average promise. This was a covenant that spanned generations, that extended across nations, a covenant.


But there was no new members’ class before this covenant was made.


Abraham and Sarah did not sit down for pre-covenantal counseling in the pastor’s office.


They did not memorize in advance the responses they would offer when they would kneel with a hand placed on their shoulder.


They did not sign and date the covenant book, nor set up stones to in a pillar to symbolize their part.


No – this was an overarching covenant, initiated by God and fulfilled by God, and done in God’s way.


I boggle at this a bit. If I were picking people with whom to make such a covenant, I am not entirely sure I would have chosen Abram and Sarai. Abraham twice has Sarah pretend to be his sister in order to pull a fast one on a foreign ruler. Sarah co-opts a family slave into bearing Abraham’s child and then casts her and the child out. And neither one of them believes God when God first says: you will have descendents more numerous than the stars or the sand. To put it mildly, Abraham is flawed and Sarah is doubtful. And they are the people God chooses to represent this word of covenant.


God chose Abraham and Sarah, flawed people, to be on the receiving end of a covenant. That says something about God. It says, God can use anyone for good. Sometimes you’ll hear folks talk about the strong faith of Abraham, and he was faithful: but also flawed, and God chose him, anyway. Which is good news for me, at least, as another flawed human being – and maybe good news for you, too? God calls and chooses and covenants with people not based on their worthiness, but based on God’s love. Paul makes this point a few times in his letters.


“5 Not that we are competent of ourselves to claim anything as coming from us; our competence is from God, 6 who has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant…” (2 Corinthans 3:5-6a)


God iterates and reiterates covenant with people over and over and over again – that says something about God, too. God is faithful, steadfast, loving.

“All the paths of the Lord are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.” – Psalm 25:10.


It is not the first time God has spoken covenant to human beings and to creation, and it is not the last: Noah heard the rainbow covenant and Jeremiah spoke of God’s covenant to be written on people’s hearts. And after the covenant was written in the sky, and the covenant was shaped by their children, and the covenant was symbolized in the land of Canaan, and the covenant was made with kings, and the covenant was written on their hearts, Jesus said: here is a new way for you to experience the love of God. Here is my body, broken. Do you see God’s covenant in it?


This is good news for us, too, for from the first decades of God’s first covenant words, human beings have have had trouble living up to God’s invitation. But we get closer than we would on our own, for the same reason Abraham was able to be faithful: because God goes with us on the journey. God will not walk away from her children. God will keep on offering us covenant promises.


Now, it might seem that God does not speak covenants so clearly anymore. Maybe we’re not as tuned to hear it; or perhaps it is out turn, to live into and speak our side of our covenant.




It was 1995 and we called ourselves The Committee Of Ten. There were ten of us, and we met Often. The UCC church I had started attending was in the midst of a Situation (did you hear the capital S?) and wanted a Committee that would represent the full spectrum of the congregation. I was the only college student in history to say yes to serving on a church committee that met every Saturday at 8 am. We prayed. We surveyed. We prayed. We researched. We sought counsel. We prayed. Finally, we recommended. The congregation discerned, prayed, and yes voted. And came through, stronger. It was never easy – but we felt God’s presence and guidance in the middle of our early Saturday sessions.


What held us together, as a community, was covenant. And God, sitting in the center of that covenant, strengthened us. It was in that Committee Of Ten that I found, in my heart of hearts, I am UCC.


It is not that the UCC is unique in its emphasis on covenant – its just that we put more of our eggs in this basket than other churches. We do not rely upon hierarchy, nor do we have a system in which decisions are made externally. We do not rely on creed, in which only certain beliefs and practices are orthodox. Instead, we put Jesus in the center of our life together and we proclaim that covenant will hold us together, no matter how different we are. That sense of covenant binds us, within the congregation, and binds our congregation to the wider UCC. (For a great read on this: )


When Ann, Emma, and I joined this church, said we would ‘covenant to join this community in a spirit of tolerance and respect…we would find ways to share ourselves as an offering of God through the life of the church.’ And you said to us: ‘we welcome you into the common life of this church, we promise you our continuing friendship and prayers as we share the hopes and labors of the Church. By the power of the Holy Spirit, we would continue to grow together in God’s knowledge and love, and truly be witness to the power of God in the healing of our world.’ In covenant, we became entertwined, one with each other, and with all of you.


We are called to take God’s covenant into our heart and live faithful lives expressed in love and justice. ( ) It is a mystery, and a wonder, that this works, that covenant really does glue us together. But it does, when you trust God. Amy Bently Lamborn puts it this way: “Covenantal signs abound all around us. Whenever love persists, in spite of all those powers and principalities that would otherwise destroy it, whenever words of blessing and acts of courage triumph over loss and sorrow and fear, there is the living promise of a power larger than life, and stronger than death.” (Living Pulpit, July-September 2005, page 23)




The call came, as it does these days, not by burning bush but by email: will you give him a ride to church? And, even new to this community, they said yes.


The call came, as it does these days, not by thunderous voice, not by three angels appearing at the door, but over email. It was just after the decision not to indict the officer responsible for Eric Garner’s death on Staten Island. “I need the Eliot family to respond…” the email read. And because we are a community in covenant with each other, we heard the call from one of our sisters and began to act.


The call came, as it does these days, not in a whirlwind, but by website: join the CROP Hunger Walk – and we did, 50 of us from several different churches, we walked joyfully together.


The call came, as it does these days, not by trumpet but very very last minute: will you teach Sunday School. And the memory came of the baptisms and the covenant of membership and the joy in learning with those young people, and you said yes.


The call came, by phone: we have missed you. You are one of us.


The call came, to celebrate with this family.


The call came, to wrestle with conflict.


And in covenant, came the faithful response.


We are a covenant community, bound together, strengthened by God, greater than the sum of our parts.


God is in the center of our covenant community, calling us to notice, when one of us is in need, calling us to celebrate, calling us to discern, calling us to live justice, calling us to faithfulness, calling us to do more than we can alone. “It is very different to be God’s people as brothers and sisters in Christ, than to be members of a club.” (Parish Life and Leadership, 2005)


I was six years old. Two people covenanted with me to be my family. A church covenanted with me to be my community. I received a new name. The strength of those sacred covenants was greater than human beings could make it – and the strength of those covenants gave me strength.


This is what I want our children, at Eliot, to know:


God’s steadfast love endures forever.

And our covenant community is strong enough to love them, always.


This is what I want you to know:


God’s steadfast love endures forever.

And our covenant community is strong enough to love you, always.



























Covenant: A Common Thread

Covenant  – A Reflection for Eliot Church 

January 2015

What do these things have in common:

  • baptism
  • Sunday School this winter
  • the United Church of Christ
  • congregational meetings
  • marriage
  • the stories of God & Abraham and Sarah, Hannah and Samuel?

That’s right: they are all connected together with the idea of Covenant.


When we baptized D. in December, we made covenant promises to him, as a community, and we recited God’s covenant promises to him. This winter, our kids will learn about the great Biblical covenants. But covenant making and covenant keeping is not just a Biblical idea – it grounds the structure of our entire United Church of Christ, and grounds the way the Eliot Church of Newton, UCC functions as a community. As a congregation we are not hierarchical, we are covenantal. That is – we make decisions together, prayerfully – and we promise to live together in peace. As a denomination, the UCC is not hierarchical, it is covenantal. Every local church makes autonomous decisions but has a sacred commitment to the whole denomination. And in return, every congregation contributes to and benefits from the strength of the whole UCC.


Sidney Fowler says it like this: “What is it that holds people together even in the midst of all kinds of differences? When folk in the United Church of Christ talk about how they relate-to God, to each other, other churches, other religions, even creation-they often use the word “covenant.” It’s God’s good glue that keeps us together. Covenant is a holy promise of devotion that is shared. When that glue sticks, God forms a bond of unity that is pliable and dynamic, not rigid or unresponsive. Unity is a result of a covenantal way of life and an amazing gift of God.” (from What Matters to You Matters to Us: Engaging Six Vital Themes of Our Faith)   Now, this really matters: it means we at Eliot are independent – but bound together with other UCC churches. And that means that even while we are autonomous we are deeply strengthened by being in the UCC. We can do more together than we could ever do apart – and we have a commitment to the welfare of all our members and of our denomination. Even more: we have a commitment to fulfilling our covenant promises to God as we worship, learn, serve our neighbors and protect creation.


Why this long word on covenant, at this moment? Because January and February bring a wonderful confluence of events in worship and Sunday School that all relate to covenant – and we are asking you, as part of your covenant with Eliot Church and the UCC – to be part of these events. In Sunday School, kids will learn Biblical stories of covenant, and then during our service projects in January and February they will be giving back to their covenant community by hosting a Fellowship Hour, and making Valentines for elders. On January 25 we have the honor of hearing the Rev. Jim Antal, Massachusetts Conference Minister for the UCC, preach in worship and join us for conversation afterward. Rev. Antal will tell us about the goings on in the wider church here in Massachusetts and nationwide – and he will bring his perspective on climate change, and what the wider UCC and other local churches are doing to address climate change. In particular, he will tell us of the movement toward Divestment from fossil fuel companies. The national setting of the UCC has passed a resolution to divest and the national setting has now asked us (asked, not told – remember the covenant model!) to consider divestment on the local church level. Jim Antal has been in these conversations from the beginning and can give us his perspective. On February 8, I will be Installed in worship as your Associate Pastor, and we will have the honor of hearing Associate Conference Minister Rev. Wendy Vander Hart preach. An installation is the moment when the association, at the request of the local church, confirms and celebrates the covenant between pastor and congregation – and the local church reaffirms its covenant ties to the wider church.


It is a season of covenant at the Eliot Church. It is a season to remember what God has promised us and what God has called us to. It is a season to remember the strength we know through this covenant community and our wider church connections.

Your Light Shall Break Forth Like the Dawn – A Sermon for the Wilton Congregational Church, UCC

Your Light Shall Break Forth Like the Dawn

A Sermon for the Wilton Congregational Church, UCCWilton UCC

February 9, 2014

Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash, Guest Preacher


 Scripture Readings


Isaiah 58:1-12

Matthew 5:13-20



What extraordinary parallels in imagery between the Matthew and Isaiah text today. Your light shall break forth like the dawn – and you are the light of the world. More than light links these passages, they are connected by the imperative to act justly, with attention to the wider world, for the sake of the glory of God, and the sake of building the world God wants. Look to the needs of the world if you are to be a city on a hill; look to the needs of the world if you wish practice the fast that God chooses.


Don’t hide your light under a bushel. Our fast is not for our own self-interest but to loose the bonds of injustice and minister to our neighbors.


I was particularly struck by a phrase at the end of the Isaiah text: if the people seek justice and serve the needs of the afflicted, “you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”


Like a watered garden, you shall be.


The same Hebrew word for garden, gan, is used in Isaiah and in Genesis. This is no coincidence but a poetic connection to the people’s deepest roots. A civilization has risen and fallen and is starting to rebuild. God is telling the people, if you act justly you will once again touch a piece of that holy and fertile soil.1


The prophet in Isaiah 58 wants the people to know that if they act with justice and serve their neighbors, a piece of the Garden will be restored.


If we do justice for our neighbors, here and around the world, like a watered garden, we shall be.


But, you asked me here to talk about climate change. What does this have to do with climate change?


Bill McKibben, who is a bit of a modern day prophet on climate change and has spent many hours teaching Sunday School, says that burning fossil fuels, which radically shifts the earth’s climate, is like human beings running Genesis backward.2


So the question is: do we move toward the restoration of the garden, or continue the reversal of creation?




When I’m prepping a sermon, I first study scripture and then I look at local media and see what going on locally around climate change. This is my version of what Karl Barth and Jim Forbes suggest all preachers do – write with the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other.


In Connecticut there’s one word that leaps off the page: Sandy. We cannot say with certainty that any one storm is a direct result of climate change, but we can look at the increased frequency of extreme weather events and link that to climate change. Superstorms are becoming normal storms. Sandy has shown all of us in the Northeast what it means when climate change hits our coast and affects our neighbors. Six people died in Sandy in Connecticut, 600,000 lost power and as of the one year anniversary some people in Milford were still out of their homes.3 Back in 2009 your own state department of environmental protection issued a report that said “Future climate change impacts to Connecticut’s treasured coastline could be substantial.”4 Five years later that “could be” has become “is already.”


So, here in eastern Connecticut you have a double challenge, when it comes to climate change: to work on mitigating climate change for the sake of our neighbors around the world and our children and generations to come – and to work on adapting your coastal region to the inevitable impacts of climate change. I mean, I’m assuming you here in Wilton are not interested in front yard beaches.


The scientific consensus is that climate change is real, and human caused. Some folks say, God has promised never again to flood the earth, so really, we have nothing to worry about. But God never said, I won’t let humanity flood yourselves.


There’s some crucial science background I want to cover to fill in the big picture. Since I am not a scientist and this is not a science class it will be very brief: really just five numbers. You may know them already. I share them because they’ve become part of my story – and the urgency that has caused me to move from being an earth steward in the broad sense, to be a climate activist.


1) The world is already .8 degrees C warmer due to climate change, and our weather patterns show increasing drought, wildfires, flooding, and extreme storms. Folks from Connecticut to Malawi people are already dying because of climate change.


2) The international scientific community thinks we need to keep the temperature rise under 2 degrees C in order to maintain a climate compatible with human civilization. In order to maintain a climate compatible with human civilization. 2 degrees of change would still be pretty difficult for earth’s inhabitants. Seas rising, more extreme storms, famine and disease. Resource wars and climate refugees will increase. 2 degrees still means, pretty likely, your grandchildren’s Connecticut coast will be very different. Consider the current drought in California, endangering water supplies, just a foretaste. Consider Typhoon Haiyan just an early indicator.


3) The International Energy Agency says we’ve got less than four years to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure to stay under two degrees.5. That means, no new coal plants, no new fracking wells, four years to change direction on energy. We don’t have to close all the old ones in that time, but we have to stop building new fossil fuel infrastructure. 4) Scientists tell us we can only burn another 565 gigatons of fossil fuel before we lock in 2 degrees of warming. 5) But the fossil fuel industry has 2795 Gigatons of fossil fuels in reserve.6 So right now the climate action movement is about keeping most of the fossil fuel reserves in the ground – work that is politically tough, work that goes against the most profitable industry in the world, and work that comes with a hard deadline. And work we all need to be part of, because everyone who enjoys living on earth, and everyone who cares about children inheriting a livable world, should be climate activists. As Christians, we are called to worry about climate change because God entrusted the earth to our care, and asked us to take care of neighbors, too.


Climate change is getting worse so quickly, and intersects with and exacerbates so many other justice issues, that I believe it has become our most urgent global crisis. In Bridgeport, CT it intersects with issues of race, class, and public health in the area surrounding the coal plant. In Malawi, aid workers will tell you that climate change exacerbates drought and changes growing seasons, affecting women’s and children’s health. In Texas, it intersects with landowner’s rights and in Alberta it is the latest disruption of First Nations’ communities. In China, the intertwined issue of particulates released by burning fossil fuels means entire cities wear masks and avoid going outside. In Charleston, West Virginia, the processing of coal means you still can’t drink the water. That’s the moral imperative to move off fossil fuels, and to address climate change: it affects every part of our world, and every part of our children’s lives.


So, that’s dramatic.


A friend asked if I was coming down here to put the fear of God into you. I said the science is frightening enough.


I am part of a group that does house parties about climate change with moms,7 and there is a moment in each of those conversations, when those numbers I mentioned sink in, when the dire future that may come to our children sinks in, and I see tears around the room. This is deeply frightening.


I hear college students, on the front lines of climate action, who are deeply afraid of the world they will live in thirty years from now. I have sat with a Dorchester mom who is scared for her son’s lungs.


As people of faith, how do we respond? Well, first and foremost, we respond – we don’t stand by. We become part of the movement. And we respond authentically, from our faith – from our calling to love our neighbors and from the deep hope of our faith. It is crucial to proclaim, from authentic conviction, a better future is possible. There is hope. The work is hard, but there is hope.


So today I what I want to do is put the hope of God into you, so that you will join in this movement, acting to preserve a livable climate. There is hope: but it’s hope that depends on action.


What then should Wilton UCC folks do? How does a Christian community join the movement? I know you are already doing a lot, individually and in town, and I applaud Wilton Go Green’s work! But I urge you to step up and do more – knowing that each of you will be ready for a different level of action somewhere in this list: Sign up for renewable electricity. Bike to work. Eat local. Jump into Mission 4/1 Earth as a church. Pray for wisdom and the courage to act boldly. Show up at rallies. Consider divestment. Call your senators. Help shut down that last Connecticut coal plant (and don’t replace Bridgeport Harbor with another fossil fuel plant – work for a just transition to renewable energy and good jobs for the workers)8. Or stand with your brothers and sisters of the Austin Heights Baptist Church of Nacogdoches, TX, who have just this week called out to to people of faith to unite in opposition to the Keystone XL Pipeline which will run within a mile of their homes.9 Or sit down with your neighbors here, Connecticut UCC, and the Healthy Connecticut Alliance, and the Interreligious Eco-Justice Network and say, how can I be part of this?


Oh, I forgot one on my list: Do be sure to change your lightbulbs.


Change your lightbulbs. If I were penning a modern paraphrase of our Gospel this morning it would include this verse: “No one after changing a lightbulb puts it under the bushel basket, but shines light on renewable energy to all in the house, the neighborhood, and the state.” Climate action is not just a personal lifestyle choice, it’s a movement for justice.


Hear me: if you care about ensuring a livable climate for all the children of our world, it is no longer enough to change your own lightbulb. You need to let that light shine. Be the city on the hill, be salty prophets of systemic change. I’m reminded of the words of Cornel West, “Justice is what love looks like in public.” So when you change your lightbulbs, do it as part of a movement to to shift the public narrative so that everyone knows what we face. It’s only when there is a critical mass calling for action, when there is political and social and economic will, that we’ll see the change we need. So with hope, step out into the world and work for change.


Church, you can be a blessing to the climate movement by rooting your action in the fertile soil of Christianity, and acting with hope and love. In the midst of storm surges and rising seas, you can point to the one who calmed the sea. When sand erodes beneath your feet, find the Rock to stand on and make room for your neighbors. When the outcome seems inevitable, when the powers that be say, there’s no other way, when they say our economy, our society, our government could not possibly operate without more and more and more fossil fuels – call upon the One who turned everything upside down and let him help you envision a redeemed and transformed world. When the reversal of creation seems the inevitable path – choose instead to be a watered garden, choose instead to proclaim hope in a better future.


Church folks haven’t cornered the market on hope, but our faith keeps hope central to our work. And our hopefulness, deliberate and radical hopefulness, salty, bright hopefulness, gives strength to folks throughout the climate action movement. Ours is not a Pollyanna hopefulness, it is hopefulness that has come through Good Friday. Offering the hope we find in our faith gives people the strength to defy despair.


My friend and fellow climate activist, the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas says this: “we bear witness to the Christ who bursts out of the tomb, who proclaims that life, not death, has the last word, and who gives us power to roll away the stone.”10 Through the Spirit of the risen Christ, we are sent out to act, to do what we can to transform the world, to be repairers of the breach.


Friends, Jesus was the one who said, terrible things are coming but I will rise, and through me you will have new life. He was the one who said, the Kingdom of God is like….and then said: you can build it. He was the one who said: You are the salt of the earth. You are the light of the world. You are the city on the hill.


There is hope, that the world can be reoriented, revived, restored. There is hope for a just and sustainable future for our children. Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is like…and then said: you can build it.


This is what I know: we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We can even love, and respect, and partner with our neighbors enough to heal this planet we share.


Folks, I believe the scientific consensus on climate change: that human activity has harmed our ecosystem, that the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, the fruits of the soil – and most definitely human beings, children of God – are already suffering as a result of that harm, and that our deadline for the healing of the earth is fast upon us. I believe the science, but I also believe in something else: I believe in God, our Creator, our Redeemer, our Sustainer. Our source of hope. Our peace which passes all understanding. The great Love who sends us forth to love our neighbors.

Last week I heard Bill McKibben say something at a conference on religious responses to climate change: “The benefit of faith is hope – that if we do all we can, maybe the world will meet us half way. Maybe some force will recognize the love and strength we are putting forth.”11

That sure sounds like Isaiah’s hopeful words, to a people seeking to rebuild.

Listen again to Isaiah:

If you take up the fast that the Lord chooses,

Then your light shall break forth like the dawnThen you shall call, and the Lord will answer… if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday… The Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.

May it be so, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.

1 More evidence this textual link is no coincidence: Earlier, in Isaiah 51, the Lord promises to comfort Zion by making her wilderness like Eden and her desert like the garden of the Lord.

2McKibben most recently made this analogy at “Religious Responses to Climate Change” at Hebrew College on January 27, 2014 . Not from an official transcript.

9 our East Texas church wishes to encourage faith communities throughout our land to join us in being witnesses that this good earth is the Lord’s and is not to be abused, exploited nor destroyed. We hope you’ll join us, too, in making an unmistakable plea to work for an earth capable of sustaining future generations.

10Andrea Cohen-Kiener. Claiming Earth As Common Ground: The Ecological Crisis Through the Lens of Faith (p. 135-137). Kindle Edition.


11“Religious Responses to Climate Change” at Hebrew College on January 27, 2014 . Not from an official transcript.

Lent: bare branches and muddy fields clear the way


Every year, Lent starts when the branches are bare, and ends when spring is displayed in budding trees and flowering bulbs.  I often engage Lent as a time for spiritual clearing and focusing.  This year I was struck by a quotation by Parsch included in Patricia S. Klein’s Worship Without Words: “The dust and dirt accumulated over winter have to be routed.  Outside in the gardens, now at the coming of spring, leaves and dry grass have to be raked together and burned.  Now, in the time of Lent, Mother Church…like the gardener, is determined to burn up and to rout the dust and trash….”  Now – I’d rather compost the leaves than burn them…except on Ash Wednesday.  Isn’t this a compelling image of the burning of the palm leaves on Ash Wednesday?  We clear away the dry leaves, we burn away sin and excess, we redeem the highly ironic palm branches, something in what we’ve cleared away feeds the soil, and we make room for the planting of new seeds which may bring new life.

This year I am anchoring my Lent with two practices: a Lenten plastics fast/awareness and the planting of seeds for this spring’s garden.  Our household’s biggest excess plastic consumption revolves arounIMG_20140305_172108d yogurt.  So I am prayerfully searching for ways to reuse those containers at least once.  So far, these practices are overlapping: the yogurt containers will host our seedlings until the ground is clear, and warm, and ready for their planting.  It’s a start.

Prayer: Merciful God, help me to clear the ground, to make room for the new life you would plant.  Amen.

Upper Left Photo: a worship setting I put together for the HDS DUCCS this week.
Bottom Right Photo: from my kitchen window.

Sermon: Jesus + Food = Miracle

Jesus + Food = Miracle

A Sermon for First Church in Cambridge, UCC

Rev. Reebee Girash

October 7, 2012

Audio Recording:

Responsive Reading Psalm 8
L: O God, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.

C: Out of the mouths of babes and infants you have founded a bulwark because of your foes, to silence the enemy and the avenger.

L: When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established:

C: What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?

L: Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.

C: You have given them dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under their feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field,

L: the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

C: O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth!

Reading Luke 24: 13-33

13 Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, 14 and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. 15 While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, 16 but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. 17 And he said to them, “What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?” They stood still, looking sad. 18 Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, “Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?” 19 He asked them, “What things?” They replied, “The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, 20 and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. 21 But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. 22 Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, 23 and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. 24 Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.” 25 Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! 26 Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?” 27 Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. 28 As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. 29 But they urged him strongly, saying, “Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.” So he went in to stay with them. 30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. 32 They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?” 33 That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together.



Jesus + food = miracle.

They walked along the road, murmuring. A stranger asked them what they were talking about. Cleopas and his unnamed companion said, we are deeply grieved. Our teacher has been killed. How can we imagine life, now? We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel. The stranger wondered at their foolishness, and opened scripture to their understanding. Which was, let’s just say, an odd response to their grief. If I had been Cleopas I would have been thinking, who’s this guy who hears our grief and responds by citing scripture and calling me foolish for grieving?

So, Cleopas and his companion, when they got to their fork in the road, they could just say – well, have a good day, safe travels, see ya. It would have been perfectly understandable to wave this stranger on. But they were followers of Jesus, Jesus who ate with sinners and children, Gentiles and tax collectors, Jesus who managed to look at everyone with compassion.

And their hearts were burning, while he was talking to them. And so they invited the stranger in to stay with them and eat at their table.

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. That’s when they recognized him. And that’s when he vanished from their sight.

Jesus + food = miracle.

Growing up I experienced a miracle once a month.

Our family was part of a little United Methodist congregation on the west side of Nashville. The church was tucked in between a McDonalds and a pawn shop, across a busy road from a public library and park. Back in the day that my parents first called West Nashville home, Charlotte Avenue was on the suburban edge of town; in the 80s this street was urban and troubled. But this was our church, and miracles happened there. Not every Sunday. Most Sundays folks sat in the pews wishing the preacher would wrap it up so we could get to Shoneys before the Baptists. But then there were Communion Sundays. This congregation drew deep upon the ancient Christian tradition of the Agape Feast which John Wesley had updated for the American context and called the Love Feast. Every Communion Sunday, after worship, we all settled in to the Fellowship Hall to eat a potluck meal together.

George brought the chicken and Louise the banana pudding (delicious, but not the miracle). Harry loaded the dishwasher and Ed played music with a pair spoons on his knee. McDonald’s often donated the drinks (that’s not the miracle part either). There was always some holy chaos. The kids knew all the grownups and the elders held all the babies, and no one had assigned seats. That was part of the miracle. And there was always, always, enough food. That was part of the miracle, too. You all know this: at a church potluck, even when you start with the 7 leftover goldfish crackers in your kid’s lunchbox, at the end there’s biscuits to take home. And part of the miracle, too, was that our door was open to the world.

And the door was open and all manner of strangers, neighbors and friends came in. One time, a man came to the door and asked if he could eat with us and we said, sure, of course, and we felt like we were doing something nice for him. Until after the meal was over and we were digging in to the banana pudding and he made his way over to the piano and he sang to us, it was a spiritual, it was I Want Jesus to Walk with Me. And there was Jesus in the room with us. We recognized him in the breaking of the bread, and the sharing of the banana pudding. It was a miracle. It was a Love Feast.

Jesus + food = miracle.

Church, you know that when people get together to eat, when the table is spread and the doors are open strangers become friends over a meal, miracles happen. Jesus shows up.

And this is what happens at the Communion Table, too. The piece of bread may be small but the nourishment is abundant. At the Communion Table we experience a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. Jesus makes the invitation and we respond. We are all welcome in God’s house and at the Communion Table, and miracles happen here.

It is World Communion Sunday. We do not often get to share communion with people around the world, but today, we do. Today we can imagine that in sanctuaries in Uganda and Belize, people are sharing a foretaste of the heavenly banquet. We can imagine that in Korea and the Philippines, there are potlucks taking place. And folks are seeing Jesus in their neighbors and miracles are happening in Fellowship Halls around the globe. And in spite of the differences in our traditions, our languages, our cultures – that’s a miracle.

But, it is World Communion Sunday and it is also the season of the Neighbors in Need offering. And how can we imagine this lovely picture of the miracle of unity in Christ around the Communion Table without also considering: who is hungry in our world?

If Jesus + food = miracle,

then what does Jesus say to us when there are people in our world who do not have access to food?

When it comes to our nearby neighbors I know this church is thoughtful and generous: sandwiches and meals, a shelter downstairs where often the smells of a fabulous feast waft all the way through the building. Not to mention the miracle of last week’s luncheon which will be told for years. Yes, indeed, many a guest has shared a meal in Margaret Jewett Hall and maybe, even, we have entertained angels unaware.

That church down in Nashville – you will not be surprised to hear that not long after we heard that spiritual, the congregation decided a weekday evening meal, every week, advertised to the neighborhood, would be a good idea. And then came a food pantry, too.

It’s World Communion Sunday, though, so let’s think about this globally. After all, our Psalm reminds us that we have been given dominion over the earth – we have global responsibility.

One of the news stories hidden under the fold these days the spike in global grain prices. If you listen to NPR you may have heard this week that social scientists are now able to predict social unrest based on food prices. Let me quote: “High food prices….create the range of conditions in which the tiniest spark can lead to riots.” This group accurately predicted the Arab Spring based on food prices. And right now, they note, are higher than they were in the winter of 2011.…

Food prices are high because of all sorts of factors: commodity speculation, use of food crops for biodiesel, various economic injustices, and extreme weather events related to climate change. Climate action is my passion – and this is one of the reasons.

It takes about twenty seconds on Oxfam’s website to see how humanitarian agencies highlight the link between climate change and food security.

Much of our world faces increasingly unstable access to food. Put another way, our brothers and sisters are hungry. Around the globe, as of 2010, one in seven people were undernourished, according to the UN. ( 925 million people hungry, and that number has not magically improved in the last two years. On World Communion Sunday, that’s disturbing. We can’t just think, how miraculous to share the bread and the cup, how thankful we are to eat lunch together in Margaret Jewett Hall. Sara Miles, whose food pantry memoir some of us are reading together, says that when the disciples came to complain to Jesus that there wasn’t enough food to feed the crowd, he looked back at them and said: You feed them. (Take this Bread by Sara Miles )

Churches know that when people get together to eat: when the table is spread and the doors are open strangers become friends over a meal, miracles happen. Jesus shows up. Churches also know that when people are hungry, Jesus calls us to show up. And maybe in following that call, there is a different kind of miracle.