Almighty God, Creator of all that is, seen and unseen, inspire and guide our
prayers and actions here and now, through the gifts of the Holy Spirit and in the
name of Jesus Christ, our brother and friend. Amen.
Good morning. My name is Peter Sergienko. I’m a layperson and a member of St.
Michael and All Angels in NE Portland I’ve been involved in Creation Care
ministries in Episcopal and Interfaith settings for many years. I am grateful and
humbled to spend Creation Care Sunday with you. Happy Earth Day +1!
I don’t know about you, but my email inbox was bursting at the seams yesterday.
Happy Earth Day! Can you donate to save the whales and the salmon, the birds and
the bees, the flowers and the trees? Can you donate to promote environmental
justice, ecological justice, indigenous justice, youth justice, racial justice,
reproductive justice? Can you donate to support my candidacy for office? Can you
donate to help turn out environmental voters? Can you donate to save the children?
Can you donate to prevent the spread of malaria and other tropical diseases? Can
you donate to protect the land, air, water, and oceans? Can you donate to cleanup
plastic pollution? Can you donate to electrify everything? It’s Earth Day! Through
a generous donor, we’re offering a double match, a triple match, a 5 times match!
Hey, do you want to buy a Timbers jersey made from recycled ocean plastic? Well,
yeah, actually, maybe I do want to do that.
It’s always a little overwhelming to go through these urgent requests. I know and
support most of these organizations, but I can’t give to them all. To be more
strategic, I have become particularly invested in the faith-based organizations
working in these spaces: Interfaith Power and Light, Creation Justice Ministries,
GreenFaith, Green the Church, and Ecumenical Ministries of Oregon and EcoFaith
Recovery locally. I know or have met many of the board and staff members of
these organizations. They are all God’s people, faithfully doing God’s work.
I also know I live in an information bubble. I know my inbox on Earth Day is
atypical. And, with all this passionate support for this fragile and beautiful Earth,
our Island Home, I still wonder and lament: Why is there a climate crisis? Why are
we on the edge of a mass extinction? Hold those thoughts.
Did any of you happen to watch Presiding Bishop Curry’s sermon last Sunday,
commemorating the 300th Anniversary of the Old North Church in Boston. He
preached on John’s Gospel of course, on Thomas, on belief, on the etymology of
belief as a form of love, on the difference between belief and agreement. It’s
superb. Listen to it if you haven’t already.
Bishop Curry added some scripture to the assigned readings. I’m stealing it and
hopefully amplifying it appropriately. Presiding Bishop Curry said that one goal
for the final year and a half of his episcopacy, is for all Episcopalians to memorize
one line of scripture. This got a big laugh. Then he got into it. He doesn’t want us
to memorize just any line, he wants us to memorize chapter 4, verses 7-8 from
John’s first letter. Here’s the whole thing: “Beloved, let us love one another
because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God;
Whoever does not love, does not know God, for God is love.” Again, hold those
Onto today’s readings. There’s a lot going on. When I meditate on scripture, I try
to orient myself first. Who is in the story? Where are they? What’s happening? For
the people with speaking parts, what are they saying and how does the audience
respond? I read again. What are the messages, insights, and themes? What speaks
to me? What might be especially relevant or inspirational to the communities I help
In the Gospel reading, it is Resurrection Day, but the news of the Resurrection
hasn’t spread far and wide yet. Jesus’s death, and the violence and trauma of the
Crucifixion are still foremost in the thoughts of most people. Crucifixion sent a
very specific message. The Romans reserved it to torture and humiliate
seditionists, enemies of the state, and certain criminals. Crucifixion symbolized
Rome’s power over its subjects: you are nothing; you have no rights or freedom; if
you do not submit to Roman authority, we will obliterate you. We’ll leave you
hanging from a cross in public to die slowly and painfully, dogs and vultures
picking at your body.
The Disciples are still mostly in hiding. Jesus’s other followers are starting to
scatter. The two men on the road to Emmaus are leaving Jerusalem and returning
to their home village, about six or seven miles away.
In Acts, it is the first Pentecost after the Crucifixion. Peter is speaking to the
assembled crowd in Jerusalem at the Temple. Peter and the disciples have just
received the gift of the Holy Spirit, but today’s reading is structured to omit this
Peter may or may not have written his first epistle. It may have been written about
30 after the Crucifixion or about 50 years later. We know it was addressed to “the
exiles of the Dispersion,” to the early church in Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia,
and Bithynia. I had to look this up, of course, but these were five distinct Roman
Regions located in what is now modern-day Turkey.
For me, the texts acknowledge descent and death, but speak to the promise of
resurrection, new life, and ascent. Death isn’t the end of the story.
From today’s Psalm: “The cords of death entangled me; the grip of the grave took
hold of me; I came to grief and sorrow. Then I called upon the Name of the Lord;
“O Lord, I pray you, save my life.”
In John’s Gospel, Jesus explains the Messiah’s suffering, with reference to all the
prophets, beginning with Moses. But we don’t hear what that explanation is! We
do know that Jesus planned to walk on from Emmaus, perhaps to the next town,
when his companions on the road called to him and invited him to dinner. Then, in
one of most powerful images from scripture, Jesus was made known to them in the
breaking of the bread. Their eyes were opened, and Jesus vanished. Perhaps
breaking bread and communion are the stars of the show, not the intricacies of
In Acts, Peter has been transformed. Only weeks ago, he had denied Jesus, his
friend and rabbi, three times. He had deserted Jesus during His time of trial and
went into hiding. He was effectively complicit in The Crucifixion. But, from the
depths of despair, Peter emerges, reborn by the Holy Spirit, speaking confidently to
thousands of his fellow Judeans: It’s not too late. Death doesn’t have the last word.
Repent and be baptized in the Name of Jesus Christ. New and abundant life awaits.
Finally, in First Peter, we have some beautiful language that mirrors the verses
Presiding Bishop Curry wants us to memorize: “Now that you have purified your
souls by your obedience to the truth so that you have genuine mutual love, love
one another deeply from the heart.”
As an amateur, volunteer community organizer, I tend to view the Gospels and the
Acts of the Apostles through the lens of social movements.
Purely as a practical matter, the Jesus Movement had no chance of success. The
leader had been crucified. Even his closest followers and friends weren’t sure who
Jesus was or what He taught. The movement was tiny and yet weirdly
confrontational. Movement leaders challenged existing institutions and rejected
established cultural norms. The first Christian Pentecost added 3,000 new baptized
members to the Church to perhaps an existing membership of a few hundred.
Based on some back of the envelope calculations and Wikipedia research, this
would equate to 120,000 baptisms today.
Impressive. But after some more Wikipedia level research, I learned that historians
have estimated there were only about 7,000 Christians in the year 100 of the
common era. They were thinly spread across the Roman Empire. They
communicated in secret through letters, carefully messengered from leader to
leader. They worshiped in small house churches. The total population of the
Roman Empire was about 60 million.
But the Jesus Movement survived, grew, and, eventually, it thrived. Was it a
miracle or a series of miracles? Specifically, was it the Resurrection and the
promise of eternal life? Was it superior community organizing? Particularly astute
messaging and communications strategies?
I don’t know. I believe it was about revolutionary love, about God’s love working
in tangible and intangible ways. I believe the Acts of the Apostles and the early
Christians and followers of Jesus were essential. It was about them learning to
follow and practice Jesus’s commandment to love one another by feeding,
clothing, healing, and caring for anyone in need. I believe it was about new life and
new ways of relating to each other, seeing neighbors as beloved children of God,
seeking and serving Christ in each other first, last, and always, loving our
neighbors as ourselves and respecting the dignity of every human being.
All those emails I received yesterday are from organizations taking part in a vast
global movement to mitigate climate change, to help human and beyond human
communities adapt to the unavoidable impacts of climate change, to minimize and
respond to human suffering, to preserve, protect, and enhance ecosystems,
biodiversity, and species, to reduce and clean up toxic pollution and wastes in the
land, air, and water, in our bodies, and in the bodies of God’s creatures.
Each organization is part of a larger, interconnected, global ecosystem. Each
organization is a force for good, for love, compassion, and cooperation. Each
organization is worthy of and needs our support.
Our unique contribution to this movement is as members of the Episcopal Branch
of the Jesus Movement. We are part of the Body of Christ, also a large,
interconnected, global ecosystem with 2.25 billion members.
Presiding Bishop Curry has built his Episcopacy on three missional priorities or
pillars: Evangelism, Racial Reconciliation and Justice, and the Care of Creation.
We must walk alongside the global movement to protect the environment as
Episcopalians by caring for Creation in our own ways and in our own communities
and contexts. We bring the revolutionary love of the Jesus movement to the table,
and the table needs us. I also encourage you all to do more, to research other
environmental organizations, to listen for God’s voice, and when you discern a
calling, heed it, share it, and rejoice in it. The movement needs us all.
Episcopal and Faith-based links and resources:
The Episcopal Church: