Earth Day for People People

Earth Day for People People

A sermon preached by Pastor Vicki on Creation Sunday at Church of the Village, April 17, 2016.


A couple weeks ago, I was walking with some of my favorite people

down 59th St right at the southern edge of Central Park.

It was around 9 or 9:30 at night, so it wasn’t too crowded,

and all the lights of the city were twinkling,

and we were talking about social justice

and organizing and books and life.

It was one of those moments when you just feel,

“I am so grateful to be living this life I’m living.”

So there was this lull in the conversation,

and we were walking by the giant, carriage-strapped

mythical beasts resting from their long days

of carting charmed tourists and top-hatted guides around the park.

And in that magical silence, I couldn’t help but blurt out,

“Can I just say, I love the smell of horse poop?”


I do kind of love it.

As a potty training mother of a toddler,

I happen to be kind of a poop connoisseur right now.

And, with that credential, I’ll tell you what is so divine

about the smell of horse poop:

The smell of horse poop is about the closest thing you can get in the city

to the smell of cow poop.

And the smell of cow poop…wow.


The smell of cow poop takes me to a good place.

It takes me back to grandpa’s farm.

My grandpa was a beef cattle farmer,

and we would go to the farm often when I was a child,

and we would go visit Grandpa’s hunting hounds, Luke and Duke,

and we would go to the barn and check in on the cattle eating their hay.

And all that stuff is golden for kids.

It was time with Mom and Grandpa and the pickup truck

and the tall grass and the sticks and the family stories

and the mud and the giant mammals.

It was amazing.

And, as we walked, for any of you who have ever walked around on a farm

or—really, the sidewalks of New York City—

we always had to watch the ground for…THE POOP.

Those perfectly circular, fly-covered, brown and grassy,

at various stages of drying,

patties of the cow waste.

And the aroma of those patties permeated the experience, and—

to this day—I just love that smell.


I’m saying this because we are celebrating the earth and God’s creation today,

as Earth Day is coming up this week.

And I feel like telling you that my family comes from a farm,

and I grew up smelling cow poop every few weekends as a kid

gives me some street cred on this earthy environmental stuff.


But if I were to be really honest with you,

loving the smell of the excrement of large mammals

is about as emotional as I get about

animals and dirt and plants and other earthy things.

I know logically about how precious the earth is,

how interconnected and interdependent we are

with the earth and other living things.

And I wish all of that moved and motivated me more.

I wonder if one day I’ll get there, where maybe some of you are.


But I’m just not very emotionally moved by it.

And I’m not proud of that.

I’m actually embarrassed to admit it.

I’m pretty sure those of you who do feel that stuff are a step ahead of me.


But my words this morning are for the people in this sanctuary who, like me,

would not label yourselves “environmentalists”.

For the people in this sanctuary who didn’t even know Earth Day was this Friday.

For the people in the room who might not say it out loud–

but, if it doesn’t affect people–other human beings–

you’re probably not going to care all that much.

My words this morning are for those people people–

people people like me.


I want to start by telling you a story about people,

about church,

and about climate change.


A couple of weeks ago, a 24 year old mother of three

walked into a United Methodist church in the Philippines.

Her name is Majobie.

Majobie is from a farming village in the Philippines that, like much of the country,

has fallen victim to a drought.


I want to read you some words about Majobie that were published 

by the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights this Monday:


Back in her village, [because of the drought],

Majobie said there had been no harvest for the last six months.

The crops they planted like rice, corn and vegetables

have all died since November 2015 because of the El Niño drought.

Even banana leaves have turned yellow.

Since then, her family has survived only from eating cassava and coconut.

But towards the end of January, the cassava began to taste bitter.

They feared they might be poisoned.

So she started feeding her children with coconut,

but coconut also became scarce as the weeks of dry spell went on.

Once a week, she would give her children porridge.

As though it was the first time she realized the gravity of their misery,

Majobie cringed when she shared,

“I cry every time my children, asked me, , ‘Naa na ba tang pagkaon, Ma?’ (Ma, do we have food).”

Majobie has three children, the eldest of is nine and youngest is four.


A few weeks ago, Majobie heard that farmers were organizing a protest

to ask the government for aid for their starving families,

and she joined the group.

Thousands of farmers gathered at Spottswood Methodist Mission Center

in Kidapawan City and launched a human blockade of a major highway.

Majobie was among the thousands who put their bodies on the line

to demand that their government look and see the producers of the nation’s food,

who were now starving.

On April 1, after three days of successfully disrupting

the highway’s economic functioning,

the police surrounded the protesters and gave them 5 minutes warning

before firing water canons, stones, and finally guns

at the unarmed crowd.

At least two people were killed and more than 100 injured.

Four thousand farmers took shelter back at the Spottswood Methodist Center,

which was subsequently surrounded by the military.

The United Methodist bishop sheltering the farmers received threats,

and police took the names of every person

who came into the Center for worship on Sunday morning.

(Imagine NYPD taking your name when you walked in here this morning.)


More than 80 people were taken to a convention hall

and given food by the government

only to find out that they were not free to leave,

that they were being detained and charged.

That was what happened to Majobie,

who was detained along with

three pregnant women,

three elderly women, four elderly men,

four children, and 10 people with serious injuries,

most slapped with assault charges and a high bail.

The farmers were finally freed yesterday after over 2 weeks in detention.


I and many other United Methodists have been watching these events

unfold in the last few weeks with both horror and appreciation.

The Twitter and Facebook hashtag that has been following the events

has been #BigasHindiBala, which means Rice not Bullets.


It is sad to see what people are taking risks for in this situation.

People risking their bodies to get help for their starving children

and grandchildren and unborn children.

And the government being willing to risk their military

and their ammunition

and their public relations,

not for those most vulnerable dying in their nation,

but for the economic impact on businesses

that rely on that highway for profit.


But we have also been so grateful to the United Methodists

at Spottswood Mission Center

for risking their standing with a violent government

to provide sanctuary to these farmers.

Usually, when those of us who are really into the United Methodist Church–

I call us “Methodorks”–

when we talk about the denomination,

we are cynical,

we are fed up with the blatant discrimination against LGBT people,

the more subtle discrimination against people of color

and women and young people,

the institutional stagnation stuff

that many big denominations struggle with.

But in these weeks we have been grateful and proud

to be connected to the hearts that run this courageous mission center

in the Philippines.

We have been glad that we are a global church

that can spread the message of those farmers around the world:

people are starving and dying.

And we can spread the message of those Methodists around the world:

it is our responsibility to help them.


In the midst of all that was happening at Spottswood Center,

I read again the story from John that Erich told this morning.

And when I read those words Jesus said to Peter–

Do you love me?

Well then, feed my lambs.

Tend my sheep.

Feed my sheep.

Feed. Tend. Feed.

–When I read those words, I knew I had to preach about the farmers.

About how we are called to Feed. Tend. Feed.


It is heartwarming that our United Methodist family in the Philippines

has been doing that.


But, for us, this is not just an inspirational story.

I’m taking a turn here, so pay attention.

For us, for us, who live in one of the largest carbon producing nations in the world

and in one of the wealthiest countries in the world…

For us, whose wealth has been produced through carbon production…

For us, whose wealth now provides protection for us

from the worst effects of climate change…

For us, survivors of Hurricane Sandy…

For us, who may or may not remember Hurricane Haiyan or Super Typhoon Yolanda

that took more than 6000 lives and displaced 650,000 people

in the Philippines a year later.

For us, who…did you even know the drought is still going on in California?

How has your life been affected by it?


For us…For us

we are called to acknowledge more than a call to feed and tend.

When the crucified and risen Jesus asked Peter if he loves him,

he asks him three times.

Do you love me?

And do you love me?

And do you love me?

One time for each time Peter denied Jesus before his death.

One time for each time Peter made a mistake and betrayed his relationship,

his connection to Jesus out of his own self-interest.

Jesus wasn’t just going to return from the dead and let that whole thing slide.

How could Peter truly love Jesus if they never acknowledged how Peter had hurt him?

That’s not real love.

Peter is standing there alive because he betrayed and denied Jesus.

I mean, Peter could have been arrested and killed too,

and he and Jesus could be playing Go Fish up in heaven right now.

But, no. Peter denied knowing Jesus when it was all going down.

And he did it three times.

And I don’t think Jesus is upset that Peter is alive.

I think Jesus just wants to acknowledge that Peter did something dubious

to still be alive and,

since he’s alive and thriving now,

he has some responsibilities to Jesus’ people.


In case you didn’t get it, we’re Peter here.

Wealthy western nations did something dubious to be alive and flourishing right now.

We wrecked the earth and its climate and continue to do so.

And, with the wealth we got and continue to get from that dubious stuff,

we can much better protect ourselves from its effects.

We can build up sea walls,

we can move to higher ground,

we can buy food and water from other places,

we can have paved roads to emergency personnel

can get to people trapped in their flooded homes.


The people in the world that will be most affected by climate change

do not have those privileges.

You may say, But we didn’t know it was wrong.

Or I personally didn’t burn the coal in the industrial revolution.


I know we have a pretty racially conscious congregation.

If that’s your primary frame,

think about when we talk about white privilege,

those same arguments come up, right?

How am I responsible for what my ancestors did?

It was a different time, and they didn’t know any better.

I didn’t personally own slaves.

I don’t personally do or say racist things.

But the thing is, sometimes we benefit from things that aren’t personal.

And those benefits we have harm other people.

And, even if it’s not our fault personally,

it matters that we acknowledge that privilege,

that we acknowledge when we are alive and thrive

because of stuff that hurt other people.


There is no real love, no real feeding, no real tending that can ever happen

without acknowledging that kind of stuff.

Because then we get into this thinking that

it’s really sad what’s happening to those farmers in the Philippines,

and maybe I can donate some rice.

That would be nice.

But it’s not really my problem.

We get into forgetting that we are absolutely connected to,

our wealth and health and flourishing

is absolutely connected to

their children’s hunger cramps.


Now, of course, no one can say that this particular drought

is a direct effect of climate change.

But if it’s not, the 2014 monsoons in India were.

And if they weren’t, the 2014 floods in Bolivia were.

More and more extreme weather is coming as global temperatures rise,

and in the aggregate, we are absolutely connected to it.

Our comfort, our wealth, our relative safety in the face of a world that is changing

is absolutely connected to their suffering.

We are absolutely responsible for each other.


Jesus’ words to Peter and to us are basically, and I’m paraphrasing,

“I’m not sad that you’re not dead.

I’m glad you’re alive and having a good time

fishing naked out here with your friends.

AND I was crucified. That sucked a lot.

That was a lot of suffering that I had to do that you didn’t…

because you denied me.

AND, I forgive you for that.

AND if you have any love for me,

you will take some responsibility for the people I loved.

And you will even sacrifice for it.”

–He talks about how Peter will ultimately be crucified in the end too.


So what does it look like for us to heed Jesus’ call,

to bring healing to our relationships with our siblings around the world?

It means knowing and caring about farmers in the Philippines

and vulnerable people all over the world.

It means knowing about two things are about to happen around us.

On Friday, Earth Day, leaders from all over the world

are going to sign the climate agreement made in Paris

to try to stall the world’s temperature increase.

We’re on track to increase global temperatures 4 degrees by the end of the century.

Our leaders have agreed to keep the temperature increase to under 2 degrees.

2 degrees will mean catastrophe for huge numbers

of vulnerable people around the world.

We have to do more.

We have to pour aid and infrastructure resources into nations

that are most vulnerable.

We have to live more simply.

We have to acknowledge the harm we do

and then we have to feed and tend and feed.


The other thing that is about to happen around us

is that at least four of us in this room are about to travel to Portland, Oregon,

for our denomination’s General Conference.

While we are there, we will be engaged in a fierce debate

about whether or not our $20 billion pension fund

will continue to invest in and profit from the fossil fuel industry

or whether we will join a strong global movement

to divest from this harmful industry.

You can pay attention, and you can help our own Church of the Village leadership

as we make choices in coming months about

how to faithfully and responsibly invest our own endowment.


I end simply with Christ’s call and challenge to Peter, to us–to us.

Perhaps you will hear it differently today.

When they had finished breakfast,

Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my lambs.”

A second time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He said to him, “Yes, Lord; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Tend my sheep.”

He said to him the third time, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?”

And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything;

you know that I love you.”

Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”


Photo credit: Gladys P. Mangiduyos, UMNS

Bishop Rodolfo Juan, center, with the Rev. Rubynell Estrella, pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Manila, lead a candlelight prayer service at Central for farmers caught in a violent protest at the Spottswood United Methodist Church.