Charles Ringma was a professor at Regent College during my time there. I never got to take a class with him, although I wish I had…
“I’m very concerned about ‘tribalism’ and I’m very concerned about thinking in ‘little boxes’, and I believe what needs to happen is that we constantly need to be pulled out of our comfort zones into a wider and richer tradition. That’s why I believe we need to be open to other religious traditions as well.” –Charles Ringma
When I was in seminary at Regent College, there was a professor there named Loren Wilkinson. Loren was famous for regularly inviting students to join him and his wife Mary Ruth at their farm on Galiano Island, just off the coast of British Columbia’s lower mainland. This trip to the Wilkinson farm became one of the central hallmarks of the Regent College experience for many students, myself included.
Now, this trip was no mere vacation, mind you. No, when you went to Galiano Island, you went there expecting to work. Loren got you up early and gave you a task to complete somewhere on the farm. There was always something to be done, and with groups of students visiting almost every weekend, there were usually enough hands to get it all done. Many students, like me, came from urban or suburban backgrounds, so we had never experienced life on a working farm before. Loren made sure that we got our hands dirty and broke a sweat during the day.
And then, at night, the real treat came: dinner. After work, the other thing you were expected to do at Galiano Island was eat. And, oh my goodness, did we eat! Homemade delicacies of every imaginable variety were set out before us in abundance. Nobody left that table hungry. And it wasn’t just the quantity of food that was abundant, it was the quality as well. Everything was organic, homemade, and delicious.
Loren and Mary Ruth lived very simple lives on the island, but the main thing we learned during our stay with them is that simple need not mean austere. Visitors never got the sense that these people were sacrificing or going without the creature comforts of life. They live in abundance.
I thought about my trip to Galiano Island and the abundance I discovered there when I read this week’s scripture passage from the book of Isaiah:
Ho, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price…
…Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good,
and delight yourselves in rich food.
Later on in the passage, the prophet compares the word of God to the life-giving qualities of rain:
For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater,
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.
Finally, at the end, the prophet leaves the people with a promise of even more abundance, which is yet to come:
For you shall go out in joy,
and be led back in peace;
the mountains and the hills before you
shall burst into song,
and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.
Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress;
instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle;
and it shall be to the Lord for a memorial,
for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.
The power of these images is undeniable. The earth itself is veritably bursting at the seams with life and blessing. More than just “the way it is”, to this Jewish prophet, the abundance of creation is a divine revelation: it tells us something about God: the Ground of all Being, the core nature of reality itself. We humans live, move, and have our being in a vast ocean of abundant blessing and amazing grace.
Why then don’t we see it? Why don’t we believe it? Why don’t we live our lives as if this was the most central truth of our existence?
It can be hard to embrace the abundance of creation when we are surrounded by a cacophony of voices and circumstances testifying to the contrary. Every time we change the channel, it seems like there’s one more voice reminding us how close we are to the brink of Armageddon. Politicians and advertising executives make their livings off of our fear that there is not enough to go around. Popular media would have us believe that poverty and starvation are problems too big to be solved. We tell ourselves there’s simply nothing we can do. However, according to the World Hunger Education Service, the earth produces enough food to provide every man, woman, and child with 2,720 kilocalories per day… that’s over 1,000 times the amount of calories needed for a healthy diet. Regardless of this fact, people all over the world (mostly in Asia and Africa) are dying of starvation while Americans are dying of an obesity epidemic.
Is the problem really that there’s not enough to go around? Or is it that too much has been hoarded into one place? Could it be that powerful, fear-mongering politicians and executives are holding the rest of us hostage with delusions of scarcity?
What makes it worse is that the powerful people who propagate these lies have come to believe in them so strongly that they are making decisions for the rest of us. They lob their ideological grenades at one another on TV, meanwhile the children of God line up outside soup kitchens and homeless shelters. Senators and CEOs drive around in bullet-proof limousines while the people of this country stand in unemployment lines. Friends, I daresay this is a sin against heaven itself. Something is radically wrong with our collective worldview if we truly believe the lie that there is simply not enough to go around.
This morning’s scripture reading calls us to change this worldview. First, the prophet gets our attention:
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live.
And then warns us:
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts
The details of this passage are worth paying attention to: the problem, according to the prophet, is not the bounty of creation but the small-mindedness of its inhabitants. Presumably, they want to live and live well. What is needed then? We must forsake our wicked ways and unrighteous thoughts. The problem is not with the world itself, but with our way of thinking and living in it. Average people are envious of those who have more than they need, so they run roughshod over the rights and needs of the poor in an attempt to emulate the powerful.
The prophet gives us the remedy:
Incline your ear, and come to me;
listen, so that you may live…
let the wicked forsake their way,
and the unrighteous their thoughts
In other words: it’s high time to change our stinkin’ thinkin’.
It’s time for us to stop shouting at the sky about how big our problems are and start shouting at our problems about how big the sky is.
Instead of looking out for number one in our small-minded, self-centered little worlds, we need to cultivate an attitude of gratitude and sharing. The abundance of creation is a free gift to all. We lose it when we try to keep it all for ourselves. It’s time for us, as people of faith, “to affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.” I borrowed that phrase from our neighbors in the Unitarian Universalist tradition. In the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
The simplest answer is that it’s time for us to learn how to share. I’m not just talking about opening our wallets on occasion; I’m talking about opening our minds on all occasions. We have to expand our definition of the word family. We need to nurture global family values, but that’s a tall order, so why don’t we start with localfamily values? When we hear about that sickness, that layoff, or that foreclosure for our neighbors, let’s not harden our hearts or turn our backs saying, “It’s not my problem.” Because it is our problem. When we live in community with one another, not just proximity to one another, options, possibilities, and resources begin to open up. All of a sudden, we don’t feel so desperate or alone anymore. Together we find hope, strength, and courage to overcome adversity and make it through the darkest night. In short: we begin to manifest the freely given abundance of creation that is our collective birthright. We start small and work our way up. As they say, “Think globally, act locally.”
Coming up in a few weeks, on Easter Sunday, our congregation will be participating in a single, unified manifestation of abundance for people all over the world. It’s called One Great Hour of Sharing. This ecumenical effort was begun over sixty years ago to pool the efforts of multiple denominations in the fight against global poverty and hunger. Our forebears realized they could do more together than any of them could do apart. To date, we have raised as much as $20 million annually to assist with disaster relief and development projects around the world.
Throughout the season of Lent, you will notice inserts in your bulletins that outline a different project each week that is supported by One Great Hour of Sharing. Take these inserts home with you, pray for the project highlighted that week, and please consider pooling your resources with ours on Easter Sunday so that we might collectively manifest the abundance of creation for the good of the whole.
These are our global family values. This is our faith-based alternative to the politics of fear and the economy of scarcity. It has nothing to do with the powers that be in Washington or on Wall Street. The kingdom of heaven-on-earth doesn’t belong to the powerful; it belongs to the little ones of this world, it belongs to the local communities of average Janes and Joes who reach out to care for one another in the midst of good times and bad.
In a few minutes, we will gather as a church around the Communion Table to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. In this feast of the abundance of heaven and earth, all people are invited to come, eat, and drink without money and without price.
I pray that the message of this feast will not return empty, but will accomplish the purpose for which it was sent: bringing forth life and growth, manifesting the abundance of creation for the common good. May the meaning of this mystery take root in the soil of your soul, and as you go out from this place today, fed and filled with Word and Sacrament, may you go out in joy and be led back in peace, may the mountains and hills burst into song before you and the trees of the field clap their hands.
May you know the abundance of creation as you share it with everyone you meet. May you be blessed and be a blessing in the knowledge that I love you, God loves you, and there’s nothing you can do about it.
Waking up early on a Monday to do lecture prep for my Ethics course.
I found this image on Facebook. For me, it’s not only cute, it’s also a little nostalgic. My pastor in Vancouver, Rev. Dr. Sylvia Cleland at West Point Grey Presbyterian Church, used to have this photo up on her office door.
That was the last church I attended where I was not either the pastor or the pastor’s spouse.
I often call it “Vancouver’s Best Kept Secret” for several reasons:
It’s the only Presbyterian church I knew of where Koreans and Anglos worshiped together (they have separate presbyteries and usually keep apart).
It’s the only church I knew of where students from Regent College and Vancouver School of Theology would worship and serve their internships together. In spite of the fact that they are only two blocks away from each other, these two seminaries usually keep separate. The Regent folks generally assume that the VST folks are godless heretics while the VST folks assume that the Regent folks are fundamentalist fanatics. They’re both wrong.
The church’s small size made it possible for ministerial interns to actually do real ministry, like preaching, pastoral care, and education. At the bigger, more popular churches in town, student interns would end up answering phones and making coffee. We actually got to find out what being a pastor was really like.
So, if you’re thinking of going to seminary in Vancouver, BC (at Regent College or Vancouver School of Theology), check out West Point Grey Presbyterian Church at the corner of 11th & Trimble. Thank me later.