Disciples are like Skunk Cabbage
“They are like trees planted by streams of water, which yield their fruit in its season, and their leaves do not wither,” the psalmist writes. This week in conversation with Bill Williamson, who has been joining us for worship online, he let me know that some folks in BC once suggested skunk cabbage should become the provincial flower or plant. I had a chance to see skunk cabbage growing next to a pond in Finnerty Gardens at UVic. The gardens are located next to the Multifaith Centre (formerly Interfaith Chapel), which I recommend you visit sometime. The rhododendrons are in full bloom.
Even if you can’t identify skunk cabbage, you’ll know it by its smell. It stinks even outside with a spring breeze. And skunk cabbage grows like a weed planted by streams of water. Sometimes I wonder as disciples if we are a little like skunk cabbage, in a good way. When we are following Jesus, people might not see it immediately but they can smell something in the air. People take notice.
Jesus protecting us from a world of systemic injustice
To give some context about why Christians are like skunk cabbage, consider the gospel reading from John. We hear God sends disciples into the world not to conform to systems of injustice, but to point to another way. To give off a different smell. And if pursuing individual wealth and success at the expense of others and harming creation is what we are taught smells good by society, then going against that will at first seem to smell bad.
Jesus is praying to the Father, worried that he won’t be there to protect the disciples after he ascends, while the disciples go on discipling. In case you missed it, this past Thursday was Day of Ascension, when we take a sci-fi interlude and Jesus gets beamed up into a heavenly portal. While sometimes our thoughts turn to heaven and where Jesus went, the emphasis in the gospels is about God’s continued love for the disciples here on the earth.
This time between Day of Ascension and Day of Pentecost, coming up next Sunday, we focus on Jesus praying for the disciples’ security. He knows that he will be executed by the state and is afraid for the safety of the ones he loves, which is understandable. This is what we can expect from a God with empathy, a God who loves us. Jesus knows the disciples must continue his ministry and he knows it is dangerous work.
And yet it’s not an escapist theology of yearning for heaven. Throughout the gospels, Jesus is thoroughly grounded here on the earth, even if he represents a different life than all the systems we reproduce that harm people and prevent them from flourishing. Claudio Carvalhaes comments that it’s important we separate healthy theologies which support caring for the earth, from unhealthy theologies that fixate on leaving the earth behind. God never abandons the earth. Even as Jesus ascends we already anticipate the gift of the Holy Spirit that we celebrate next week on Pentecost.
There are at least two kinds of unhealthy theologies we need to watch for. One unhealthy theology is the belief that like Jesus, we’re going to be beamed up to heaven to live with Space Daddy, so it doesn’t matter what happens to creation. As we know from the Book of Genesis, God created the earth and saw that it was good. Caring for the earth, responding to the climate crisis, and honouring the wishes of Indigenous people around land and water issues ought to matter a great deal to us as Christians.
Another unhealthy theology is the space utopia vision that currently Elon Musk and company are curating with building a colony on Mars. If the colonial project failed spectacularly here on earth, what trust do we have we’ll do a better job in space? Also it’s a way of diverting attention and resources away from tending to the climate crisis we created here on earth.
Both of these bad theologies lead to similar outcomes. Fundamentalist Christians don’t care if the earth burns because their eyes are set on heaven. Elon Musk and company also diverts attention towards a utopia of building a colony on Mars. Both offer an escapism that salvation comes from leaving the earth behind.
Discipleship as skunk cabbage planted together
We have talked a bit about unhealthy theologies and now want to flesh out what healthier theology look like. God is using us to build a more beautiful world, valuing our bodies, and our gifts that we share together here on earth.
What kind of skunk cabbage are we called to be as disciples today in this place? How is God planting us by streams of water? I know when we start listing all the injustices in the world there are a lot. More than than we can properly address as a congregation. There will always be discerning where we are going to place our focus at a given time.
Thinking about gardening, lets think about plants that do well being planted together. Sometimes we try planting one plant and it struggles, but together with other plants they flourish. Sometimes as disciples we’re like that too. We do better planted along streams of water together.
On that note, one thing I heard this week that was encouraging was Elle Dowd, author of Baptized in Teargas, forthcoming book, is the importance of solidarity with others. She mentioned that while she was organizing with Black Lives Matter in Ferguson, Missouri after the shooting of Michael Brown, organizers in Ferguson received messages of support from people in Palestine. The simple act of standing with people in support who understand struggle firsthand, can mean so much. Today with everything unfolding in Palestine and the plight of their people, we know the importance of lifting Palestinians in prayer. We have Lutheran expressions in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. At the same time we stand against anti-Semitism and continued attacks on Jewish friends. We know it’s a complex conflict and we pray for justice including a two state solution for Palestine and Israel.
Thinking about standing in solidarity, it’s a strength we have as disciples, to support one another. Not only here in Church of the Cross, but throughout Greater Victoria, ecumenical partners, BC Synod, ELCIC, multifaith partners and beyond. We are stronger together.
One thing we’ve heard from student leaders of Inclusive Christians at UVic is an interest in collaborating with others. We’re all feeling a bit fragmented these days, so the idea of working together is exciting. It’s also a reminder that it’s not all up to us. We can work together with partners and even find joy in teamwork. Increasing the putrid stink of the skunk cabbage discipleship.
As the vaccine rollout continues, we’re all longing for more collaboration, doing more things together, and hoping that becomes a reality sooner rather than later. Although we have to be patient in the meantime, following Covid protocols.
It’s also exciting to see the Shelbourne Community Kitchen renovations moving along in the lower level of the church. Another great partner with whom we are collaborating.
Wrapping up I want to share about some recent conversations about solidarity and collaboration I have had recently. I had the chance to check in with Pr. Rob Crosby-Shearer of the Abbey Church and Emmaus Community here in Victoria. We’re all feeling a bit isolated in ministry these days, unable to do plan or attend many public events. However, many of us feel called towards a ministry of action, in the same way Jesus did ministry in public spaces. This is especially true around justice issues where Christian and religious voices are often not heard outside of people already attending worship.
One idea we have is supporting four public events per year, whatever that looks like. One example is when some of us joined former Bishop Logan McMenamie of the Anglican diocese. We walked from the cathedral down to the legislature and had prayers in support of Indigenous Youth for Wet’suwet’en. Fairly simple. An opportunity to be church visible. Something where we may not have the numbers to support an action like this on our own, we do have enough when we work together with neighbours.
Recently I had the opportunity to go for a walking meeting with Bishop Anna Greenwood-Lee, the new Anglican bishop, affirming ecumenical partnerships and opportunities to work together. She encouraged us to get more involved in GVAT, Greater Victoria Acting Together, something Barb Smart has been doing on behalf of Lutherans in Victoria for some time, as a public forum for us to work together on justice issues as Christians in Greater Victoria. Bishop Anna mentioned during her time in Calgary it took them ten years to build a coalition like that, so good to work with what is already up and running. I know some folks in the Social Justice committee, Truth and Reconciliation committee, and more are already working one overlapping issues.
It sounds like partners at the Multifaith Centre at University of Victoria are also interested in collaborating on public expressions of ministry, so together we can work together and lift up those who are suffering. I am already excited for the fall and what will be possible for us at Church of the Cross and beyond.
In closing remember you are skunk cabbage planted along streams of water. You have been blessed by God to thrive and singing praise through the putrid smell of the gospel. What are ways God is calling you to collaborate with other skunk cabbage? Together we continue to love and live into the world as followers of Jesus. Amen.