In God’s Hands

A sermon for the 4th Sunday of Easter / Earth Sunday.
Acts 9:36-43
Revelation 7:9-17
John 10:22-30

May the words of my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be now and always acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our strength, and our redeemer. Amen.

There is a game I used to play on the school-ground with my friends, and now occasionally play with my eldest daughter. Good for those quiet moments when you need to amuse yourself for a little while but with nothing at hand but… your hands. We face each other, my hands palms down, her palms facing up, against mine. And her goal is to slap the back of my hand and pull her hands away, fast enough that I cannot turn, and catch her hands in mine. She’s getting faster and I’m getting slower. When I catch her, we switch places.

I don’t know if this game has a name. But there is a fair amount of laughter as her hands slip out of my grip. Sometimes she lets me catch her. Sometimes I let her catch me.

We haven’t played in a while. Maybe I should try my luck with my little one, her reflexes are slower.

And somehow, despite the ease with which my own children slip out of my grasp, that’s the image that comes to mind when I hear this promise from Jesus, in the Gospel of John “No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” God’s reflexes will always be faster than mine. God’s grip will always be firmer.

And what a week to hear that promise.
Doesn’t it seem as if something dark and powerful is snatching at us?
Do you sometimes feel as if you are slipping out of someone’s grasp?

Fear has been a fairly constant companion, for many of us this week. Fear, and confusion. And pain. And grief.
And that helplessness that comes from watching people suffer, when there’s nothing tangible we can do about it.

And that’s just the stuff in the headlines.
Let alone the worries and frustrations and struggles that go on behind closed doors, in all of our lives.

So much fear, and pain. So much confusion and grief.
Too much.

An undertow of fear- can you feel it, pulling at you? If you can- than this promise is yours: “No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.”

The Father and I are one. And we are held, safely and securely in God’s hands. This is his promise.

The God who raised Jesus Christ from the dead is victorious over all- even death itself. The light shines in the darkness and the darkness does not overcome it. No one can snatch us out of the Father’s hand. Thanks be to God. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

The more fear, and confusion, and grief, and pain that there is in the world, the more it matters, I believe…
The more it matters to find a reason to hope.

Not the naïve optimism that says “nothing bad will ever happen to me”. We know that doesn’t work.
But Hope that’s been knocked down, and gets back up again. Hope that knows that terrible things can and do happen to good people. Hope that finds a way to look into the face of darkness, and declare “You lose. I choose. Let there be light”

Amidst everything else that has been circulating around the internet since Monday, there’s a quote from a source that my own generation, despite all our cynicism, manages to trust almost completely. Mister Rogers. Beloved television personality AND Presbyterian minister, from a parenting book he wrote in 2002, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

And there is the essence of hope.
Not only to look to the helpers- to insist on seeing the light;
But to BE the helpers. To share light, spread light, shine light into dark places. To, in the words of Bruce Cockburn, “kick at the darkness ’til it bleeds daylight

We are an Easter people, not yet quite half-way through the Easter season. And if the Easter Gospel is to mean anything to us, 2000 years later, it is a constant invitation for us to find that kind of hope. Fierce hope. Brave hope. Determined hope.

Hope that remembers that even as God laughed in the face of death, Even as all the power of the tomb was undone,
Jesus went to his friends, his beloved ones,
And gave them one last command:
“Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Feed my sheep”.

On the beach that morning, did Peter remember that his friend Jesus had once described himself as the good shepherd?
When he wondered “what in the world does that THAT mean, Jesus?” Did he remember that his friend had once said, “My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
Peter went on from that beach to reach out to, and tend, any number of unlikely lambs, Simon the tanner and Dorcas the needleworker among them. From that beach, Peter’s story becomes one of ever-widening circles of Jesus’ lambs, fed, and tended.
Knowing they were all held in God’s hand, he reached out his own hands, reached out with teaching, with good news, with healing, with life.

This is a week that challenges us to pay attention to our own circles, our own sense of who we will imagine as God’s own lamb.
The martyrs described in John’s vision, who have come out of the great ordeal; they have washed their robes and made them white, held in God’s hand where the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.

Can we imagine Rehteah Parsons held safe in the hand of God? What about Martin Richards. They’re both children. Both victims of violence. It isn’t too hard to imagine them held firm in God’s grip. The first responders who were caught in the explosion when they went to fight a fire in West? Heroes, it is easy to imagine them held safe in God’s hands. But what about Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. Are they held in the hand of God? Are they ours to tend, and to feed? Can we pray for God to have mercy on those who showed none? Can our circles extend so far?
Before the events of this week kept us glued to the news reports, we were prepared to mark today as “Earth Sunday” – and celebrate our connection to “this fragile earth, our island home”.

At the Bishop’s urging, we name this day- the Sunday closest to April 22, as a day to remember that we are intimately connected with the earth, and all the many and varied forms of life upon it.

What the book of Genesis describes as a poetic story is echoed by astrophysicist and science communicator Neil DeGrasse Tyson: “We are all connected; / To each other, biologically / To the earth, chemically / To the rest of the universe atomically”

We are all in this together. St. Francis knew it- the birds and bees, animals and trees- all our brothers and sisters. All of us creations of this God who is triumphant over death, and who said “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”.

How wide can we draw the circles. Who and what can we imagine as God’s own lambs? A stand of old-growth trees? An endangered species? An ecosystem?

Jesus said “What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father’s hand”. How much of Creation can we imagine is cradled lovingly in the hand of God?
Today we are invited to remember, to celebrate, to honour a simple truth: That we are all connected. To each other, to the earth, to the universe.

And it is a universe with darkness in it.
We know it. God knows it. There is darkness.
But we have also seen light.
The more fear, and confusion, and grief, and pain that there is in the world, the more it matters, I believe… the more it matters to find a reason to hope.

Hope that finds a way to look into the face of darkness, and echo the very words that began this whole wondrous enterprise: “Let there be light”

So may we choose hope, choose love, choose light.

May we know that we are held safe in God’s hands,
But may we also see how crowded it is there,
And recognize in one another,
In all people,
In all creation,
The image of our Creator.

In ever-widening circles.
May we be gentle with ourselves, and one another,
Helpful to our neighbours,
Kind to strangers.
Respectful of even the dust of this earth,
From which we came, and that sustains us.

May we rejoice in abundant life
Flying and swimming things.
Creeping and crawling things
Green and growing things.

May we nurture life. May we tend sheep. May we feed lambs. May we live in hope. In the face of darkness, may we choose light. For we have seen light.

Lord have mercy. Christ have mercy. Lord have mercy.

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