July 5, 2020
Having a half-acre of land has brought Eric and I a deep sense of freedom. When we haven’t been working, we’ve headed up to the house to watch the many kinds of bees collecting pollen and nectar from our back field of clover, while contractors work on various home repairs. Our home’s previous owner didn’t want to have gardens to care for, and so the entire property is a blank canvas. Landscaping is a new experience for both of us, and after work, on our lunch breaks, and on our weekends, we’ve been testing the soil to see what can grow and dreaming together of what the space could become. We’ve also started to see what some of the challenges are for our land, seeing mud and water pool here and there, and flow into our neighbor’s yard, driveway, and into the street. Garlic mustard is prolific in our back woods, and lesser celandine is everywhere. We have a small hill at the back of our property and would love to install a pond for local frogs and toads, with a waterfall and stream cascading to the back of our land. The other day I suggested we plant a weeping willow, to shade the pond, a spot for Eric and I to read and relax under. In this process of transforming and trying to heal the land, we did a quick search about trees in Maryland. I was surprised to learn that weeping willows are invasive trees. I’ve never really thought much about how trees impact an ecosystem. In my mind, a tree was a tree. But before long, Eric and I were learning and talking about how some trees are susceptible to infestations of damaging insects that could harm our neighbors fruit trees, and native oaks. We were reading about what feeds local birds, what provides food for native insects and the native bumble, carpenter and other solitary bees that we have been enjoying getting to know. Our decisions, we realized, will have an impact, not just on us, but on the health of a larger ecosystem, and our neighbors. There is an incredible freedom we have both felt having a half-acre of land. And yet, as we learn more about the ecosystem we are a part of, we have found ourselves having to make some unique choices; will we live in concert with the Earth and our surroundings, or will we go the expedient, easy way of doing what we want, without thought for the impact we have?
Last week I preached about the Liberation and Freedom that music can usher into our community through our corporate worship. There are many ways of experiencing and working for liberation in our lives and communities, many different works of the Holy Spirit that lead to human flourishing. This week I’d like to focus on the promise of communal liberation from fear and conflict, the ways in which God invites us to build peace in our world.
Independence Day, the release of Hamilton, and this week’s scripture passage from the Hebrew Writer Amos have me thinking about peace, freedom, and liberation from fear. George Washington in Lin Manuel-Miranda’s stunning masterpiece sings “Like the scripture says:
“Everyone shall sit under their own vine and fig tree
And no one shall make them afraid.”
They’ll be safe in the nation we’ve made
I wanna sit under my own vine and fig tree
A moment alone in the shade
At home in this nation we’ve made
One last time.”
The vision sung of comes from Amos, of a day when swords will be turned to plowshares, when nation shall not rise up against nation, and the people will study War no more. Instead, each nation, each person will be able to plant grape vines, and fig trees, caring for the soil, having enough to eat, but also have peace and security to plant and cultivate for the long-term. To enjoy the sweet fruits that can come when conflicts end. Of freedom from war, freedom from want.
This vision of Amos, its establishment is promised through the building up of the Temple in Jerusalem. He envisions those thrown into exile because of war streaming home, returning to the land. And the Temple, where the people will gather, bringing the first fruits of their harvest, celebrating and eating together, will be a place that others will journey to, to learn how to live together in peace. Amos’ vision is about more than the absence of armed conflict; he dreams of the establishment of Justice; of learning how the people live in harmony with one another, and other nations, other ethnicities, in concert with indigenous tribes, immigrants and refugees. This isn’t a vision of assimilation, but of learning how to live together in peace, instead of pursuing conquering. It’s a vision that takes a lot of wisdom to pursue; how can we live together to provide for peace and freedom for all? This isn’t a vision of Hebrew Independence, but instead of a deeply recognized, honored, and cultivated interdependence. Instead of pursuing the quick and easy path to our own self-interests, at the expense of our relationships with our neighbors, it’s the much slower, deeper peace of the people finding their place in the family of the world’s people, and pursuing their own peace and liberation in concert with those they live among, and those who live within their communities. It takes study, and cultivation, and in not studying war, the resources and time can go to seeking peace and pursuing it. In learning how to partner with the liberation of others, Amos casts a vision of how this kind of work can lead to the mutual liberation of his people as well.
Liberation Theology, the multitude of movements from the Global South, especially in South and Central America, and Black Liberationists and Womanists in our own nation, seek this kind of peace and freedom. As a white, educated man of privilege, reading of these visions and interpretations of scripture, and seeing the practices of faith communities rooted in this kind of faith, I found myself drawn to the vision. I saw that my actions, and the practices of predominately white congregations like ours, could eschew the quick and easy path of Missional engagement in our world, and instead seek mutual liberation in relationship with others. Instead of sending a check as our acts of Discipleship, and then living in isolation, Amos and Womanists invite us instead to dig deeper and consider the impact of our actions, and to risk learning from what the Holy Spirit is doing in the midst of neighbors seeking liberation. The cause of peace invites us to discover the ways in which we are oppressed by short-cut thinking, where our actions inadvertently support systems of oppression. In supporting white supremacy unintentionally, participating in systems that set White Christianity as some kind of savior to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color through the giving of charity, faith communities can find themselves oppressed themselves. There is an impact on our souls and communities, most often manifested in loneliness and isolation, that come as a heavy cost. Instead, we are invited to go and learn of Christ’s peace breaking out in our world and learn how to live interdependently with our neighbors. This past month, working with the Interfaith COVID Taskforce, Leigh and I, and a number of you, along with Members of Dreams and Visions, Divinity Lutheran Brown Memorial, & Lutheran Campus Ministries, along with our friends from Hinenu, have been raising money to provide food to our neighbors who we know, and have been seeking food. We realized with our Farm to Stoop Project that, instead of going the easy and convenient way of buying food cheaply and in bulk from the box stores that instead, we could use the money raised and granted to us to purchase produce grown by a Black Owned and Operated Farm outside of DC, known as Three Part Harmony farms. Our missional engagement isn’t quick or easy or cheap; instead, it pursues the vision of everyone being able to sit under their own kale and apple tree, and no one making us afraid of poverty and hunger.
Eric and I are now looking at planting a native River Birch in our back yard, providing food for native birds, a cultivar that resists damaging infestations. We’re looking at a native magnolia for the front yard, that can be a part of our dreamed of rain garden. We’ve acknowledged our wants and desires and changed our plans to try and be better neighbors and stewards of the land, animals, and ecosystem. We’ve reached out to the Gunpowder Valley Conservancy to get on the waitlist for installing a few raingardens full of native plants. I’ve spent some time in our back woods pulling the invasive Garlic Mustard. We’ve started planting native seeds so that in future years the native birds will have something to eat, and our butterfly and bee friends will have more to eat and enjoy. These steps are a little bit more work, but it’s a small step we can take. Soon enough part of our front lawn will give way to a native flower field. Soon enough the back woods will begin to be repaired and seeded with native growth.
For you this day, I wonder, what is the liberation, the freedom to live safely that you are seeking? Maybe you’re disturbed by the killings of Black people by police and White Supremacist Vigilantes in this country. Maybe for you, Amos is inviting you to learn from activists who are Black, Indigenous, and People of Color, who are leading the way in changing how we seek peace and safety in our communities through the Black Lives Matter movement. Or maybe you’re worried about the economic impact the coronavirus is having with regards to your employment. In our interconnected Nation, maybe you’re invited to advocate for undocumented people who have begun being evicted as rent and mortgages come due and seeking economic relief from our national leaders so that all may flourish together. You may be wanting to experience being together with others these days, but are invited to continue to social distance and wear your mask, sacrificing your own desires to help slow the spread of this disease, that is disproportionately impacting Latinx and Black communities. Or maybe you’d like to drive down Lutheran Campus Ministries can to Three Part Harmony Farms on a Tuesday, to bring back produce. You don’t have to load the van, just take a road trip, and enjoy the farm. Maybe you want to deepen our relationships in Woodbourne-McCabe, and make phone calls, so you can get to know folks, and help the Assistance Center of Towson Churches provide groceries to folks who are staying home for their safety and the health of their neighborhood, or even join on a Friday delivering food.
Whatever it is you feel called to do, I invite you to dig deep. The work of peace and liberation, it not only frees others, but ourselves. May we work to rest in the shade of the new World the Holy Spirit has made available to us all. Amen