Sermon for Seventh Sunday of Easter, May 24, 2020
Read Pastor Julie's sermon as shared on Facebook Live. Visit https://www.facebook.com/saronstrasburg each Sunday at 8:30 a.m. for a brief live service of scripture, prayer, and a sermon by Pastor Julie.
Acts 1:1–14 | Psalm 68:1–10, 32–35 | 1 Peter 4:12–14; 5:6–11 | John 17:1–11
In the last few months, I’ve learned something about trees. It’s not just that I sit and stare at them a lot these days—which is really kind of nice—or that they have to be trimmed and sometimes cut down—which is not so nice. (Fortunately, the last immensely tall and dying ponderosa in our yard was taken care of by the power company since it could have fallen on some lines.) We have one lovely aspen tree growing in a shady bend of our house next to the front porch that rattles in the breeze and casts dappled shadows on the floor. Last summer this tree had aphids, so as a do-it-yourself-er and having some inherited insecticide in the house, I threw the hose on the roof, crawled out my daughter’s window and sprayed as much of the tree as possible. And it worked! I apparently won and saved the tree . . . Of course now the spruces nearby are showing some telltale signs of aphid infestation. And living in a maintenance-free townhouse is looking better and better all the time.
But back to tree-learning: Last fall I listened to a book called the Overstory, which led to me thinking about trees differently—and eventually to the internet and the BBC and a TED talk (Suzanne Simard). Studies show that trees communicate with each other: That is, they pass information and nutrients to each other. Attached to tree roots are fungi that form pathways underground between trees. These connections can be mapped by injecting radioactive isotopes that are detected with a geiger counter as they move along this “Wood Wide Web.” And these maps begin to show patterns: Older trees have more connections and favor sharing nutrients with younger, more vulnerable trees: some preference to their own seedlings, but across species, too. Not surprisingly, they are called “Mother” trees. Also, a dying tree will dump its resources, pushing them out to surrounding trees. And, when a disease or invader attacks one tree, chemical messages are sent through the Wood Wide Web that prompt nearby trees to increase their defenses. (I’m still waiting for this work in my yard. Although I did go with the full-on chemical attack, which might have messed up the organic process a bit.)
Those trees that we see as individuals are actually inextricably connected to and in community with one another. With their unique species or age as single trees, they benefit immensely from growing together- relying on one another.
Maybe you—like me—have become particularly aware of our interdependence recently as human beings? I am newly grateful for those who keep our lives functioning: Trash collectors who take festering garbage away, grocery store clerks who deal with neurotic hoarding and exposure to all of us, delivery people who bring what we need—and want; also for those who lead us- governors, bishops, scientists- and care for us- medical, fire, police personnel. We also understand better how we rely on people far away when manufacturing and delivery are disrupted; and how people close by rely on us when local businesses can’t open. I can profoundly affect the health of those around me- for good or ill. These days—like it or not—we are a connected World Wide Community. It’s not just “me” or “us”—and never was: (Even though that’s all I see these days! :) ) But an illusion—seeing only me, my family, my state, my tribe—that lasted for a while as we tried to leave the messy give-and-take of community behind: Wendell Berry, poet, said, “ to speak of the health of an isolated individual is a contradiction in terms.”
And this—from a book on Family Systems—which figured out this parallel between biology and social groups a while ago. We exist in webs of relationships which mimic what happens in your body—more than just this cell and that cell, but complex inter-relationship and inter-dependence—including the relationship with microbes (like essential gut bacteria for nutrient absorption and viruses that have contributed a good amount of our DNA) and the miracle of immunity. It’s all about the AND that happens in between. Which means—again—that you can’t disconnect from this field that ties you to others in your family, and your community and world. When we tend to the health of the system, our own health increases; and tending to our own health (not our own desires) in relation to others increases the health of the system. We are in it together.
Jesus draws our attention to the importance of connectedness, community: And takes it one step further. He says in the gospel of John how he and the “Father”- his affectionate way of talking about God- are so connected that they are, in fact, One. And, it doesn’t stop there: Because of him, this connection and oneness is able to extend to the relationship between God and us. In fact—as we hear in Acts with the ascension—Jesus might be no longer visible, but he really can’t “go” anywhere. He’s “coming back” the same way. That is, Jesus is inextricably connected to God, therefore to Creation, therefore to us. We are, therefore, in community with God: Our own conduits of give-and-take loop in the divine. Think about the way that might affect the health of the system! God is part of it! But I’m also not talking about a lack of disease. Unfortunately, we have this COVID-19 with us, but when we are in community, there is joy even yet in the opening of our eyes: That we were made for support and love of each other in the midst of the mess that is life.
Of course, the disciples in Acts just go “Hey- nice you rose from the dead, Jesus—NOW how about that fixing the Roman problem that we still have?” If only Jesus would fix this current problem, then everything would be fine. But Jesus says, “go and wait.” They do. And they pray in the meantime. The Spirit is coming. The Breath, the Wind. The great AND that fills all the spaces between us: So that we are not just individuals, but part of a greater and beautiful whole that holds us in these times; that holds and values those, too, who are dying. And those who are mothers. And who are new and growing. Those who are vulnerable because of any number of things: Because they are not white, because they don’t have financial resources, because they live where chaos reigns, because they don’t have adequate health care. These things, my friends, are not disconnected from us. We are IN the “world” that Jesus keeps bringing up in John—that God so loves. And we are one with it, as God is with us. Thanks be to God. Amen.