March 21, 2021   Holy Vessels: Restoration (Environmental Health) by Pastor David

Mark 4: 35-41. That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” Jesus got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” 

We take a moment in silence hearing the words and taking in the moment to make ourselves available to what the Spirit has to say to us this day.

March 21, 2021 Holy Vessels: Restoration (Environmental Health)

The first time I remember being on a sailboat was at summer camp - the same one I told you about earlier in Lent, the camp where I learned to undress in 30 seconds. My camp counselor seemed like a nice guy. I liked him a lot. I trusted him. I put on my life jacket and got in the boat willingly. I thought I told him this was my first time in a sailboat, and that he would take it easy with me and the other guys.

He showed us how the sailboat worked and we took a nice easy ride. At some point, he said something like, “So, you want to go a little faster?” and before I could say anything, he pulled that rope in tight and the boat started to tip over. Really, I had no idea a boat could tip that far and not go over. The water was whizzing by and I thought I was going to fall off the boat and die.  No, I did not want to go a little faster.

I was angry at my yahoo counselor for scaring me like that. He apologized later, but only half-heartedly. He didn’t really get that I was a rank beginner, I guess, and he really liked going fast. It was a Christian camp and I sensed over time that my counselor really did have an appreciation for holy vessels - the humans more than the boats. And I learned to appreciate the balance a sailboat has that allows it to catch the wind and speed through the water. It’s fun watching Jon get his boat Serenity ready for spring (which begins today) and to see his excitement growing for a new season.

On this last Sunday before Holy Week, we are using a reading from Mark about Jesus with his scared disciples on a stormy sea. In this series on healing and recovery from the pandemic we read it to think about environmental healing. We are near the end of this sermon series on Holy Vessels and today we think about all creation, all the earth as a Holy Vessel. 

David Straus, a rabbi friend of mine wrote to me this week to appreciate our 35 Vessels sign out in front of the church. He said did you know that “holy vessels” is a big theme in the Jewish mystical tradition of Kabalah? The myth goes that in the beginning God was everywhere and everything and had to make room for creation by creating a Holy Vessel. The vessel contained the light of the world, but the vessel unfortunately shattered. The task of humanity then is to help God find the broken pieces and repair the Holy Vessel. 

Today we recognize that Holy Vessel as the whole of creation, and we see that it is more broken than ever. In this time of pandemic we feel the urgency of repair as much as we ever have. We have seen that the ways in which humans have taken over more and more of the land, crowding other animals into smaller and smaller spaces, has been part of the problem. As humans live in closer proximity to wild animals like bats, coronaviruses can jump between species. 

Over this past year, we have learned to be on this Holy Vessel with masks and distance and wifi worship, but it’s far from ideal. We long to be safe in each other’s presence, to sail on this boat without being afraid, to live on the earth and care for all God’s creatures and the Holy Vessel itself. 

The story from early in Mark’s gospel that Sherry read for us today reminds us that Jesus is not just a charismatic healer the evangelist is showing us, but a divine warrior and agent of eschatological deliverance, with his power extending not just over disease and disability but even over creation itself. Week after week, we read about Jesus the healer, and then we come upon a story where Jesus calms the wind and the waves, and we realize we have to understand everything, every part of this gospel in a mythic framework. Everything Jesus does is part of healing the Holy Vessel of creation, picking up the pieces (excuse me for mixing the metaphor) that belong in God’s holy lamp. 
Jesus calls us to be part of taking these broken pieces and stitching them together into something beautiful again. We are part of healing the environment. We are part of the healing the broken worlds of Asian women this week. We ourselves are being called to check our consumerism and overuse of resources. It is hard for us to hear that call, but it is getting louder and louder, like waves slapping on the boat, like a storm whipping up the breakers, like a freezing storm in Texas, and destructive fires in Utah. 

Listen, we are part of the repair. POWER has been working for years, demanding that PECO put solar panels on hundreds of houses in North Philly to meet energy needs less expensively than their current sources. Since 2015, POWER and the Philadelphia environmental justice community have been opposing SEPTA’s plans to build and operate a gas-fired electricity generation plant in Nicetown in North Philadelphia to power the regional rail system. 
POWER has said to SEPTA “no new fossil fuel infrastructure anywhere and especially not in neighborhoods already multiply targeted by poverty, racism and disinvestment. They went ahead and built the plant anyway, but we are continuing to contend the air permit that they are trying to receive to allow additional air pollution in Nicetown. The organizers are meeting tomorrow with the POWER Board on which I serve to talk about the next steps in fighting the allowance of an increase in racially prejudicial air pollution. I will let you know what steps we take.

There’s one more thing I want to say this morning. It has to do with suffering and a difficult broken Holy Vessel of this creation. Next week, the choir will be singing the story of the Passion of Jesus. On Thursday, our Bible study reads the end of the passion story in the gospel of Mark, which has been a whole book of pain and betrayal and trauma. Our God is a God who understands our pain and trouble. 

Barbara Brown Taylor puts it this way: “Christianity is the only world religion that confesses a God who suffers. It is not all that popular an idea, even among Christians. We prefer a God who prevents suffering, only that is not the God we have got. What the cross teaches us is that God’s power is not the power to force human choices and end human pain. It is, instead, the power to pick up the shattered pieces and make something holy of them — not from a distance but right up close.”

God is with us in everything. As we go through the holiest week of the year starting next Sunday, we know that deep in our bones. We know it in our shattered places, and in the ministry we do for and with each other’s brokenness.
And this is God’s somewhat odd, but deeply hopeful, good news.