Tell a New Story
A Sermon Shared with the People of St. Matthew’s, St. Paul, December 27, 2015
A Christian Response to Climate Change
Today God calls us to tell a new story
One that comes from a very old, Genesis story.
Imagine strolling about creation with those first lucky few.
God is making nothing into something, and this is very good.
Look around. Squint at the sun governing the blue sky day.
God gives us the sun and it fuels the earth.
Enjoy the giant trees, unfurling leaves in the wispy clouds.
This is the charity of sunshine and plants,
and God says they are very good.
Feel the rich dark soil, tickling your toes, cushioning your feet.
Scoop up a handful and drizzle it between your hands-
you just brushed 1,000 living things.
They root around underground, turning old bodies into new soil,
churning new life into the garden.
This is dry land, and God says this is very good.
Listen- can you hear the sweet water gurgling past mossy stones?
Follow the stream as it races over a waterfall into a clear blue lake.
Cup your hands for a cold drink.
Dive into the lake- soothed as the water glides over your skin- head to toe!
Open your eyes as beaver and bugs and fish frolic amid watery sunbeams.
Swim across the lake, rest on a smooth sun-warm rock,
and watch the river take sweet water to the ocean.
Smell the salty sea breeze, glimpse the shoals of fish
gorging at the river’s nutrient buffet.
See the dolphins, otters, and whales chomp the small-fry
This is water and life, and God said this is good.
Take a deep breath.
Taste the crystal air as it runs over your tongue.
The oxygen in that air came from billions of tiny ocean creatures
Who breathe our atmosphere into being.
Wide eyed, speechless with gratitude,
We listen to God’s instructions for creation care:
“God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.”
Now (pause) God had options for that opening phrase to all of humanity.
In these first breathless words,
God welcomes us home and says a word about how to care for the place.
While it may seem that Genesis
gives us unbridled sovereignty over creation,
a close reading of the word ‘dominion’ - Radvah in Hebrew-
shows how we might live on “this Fragile earth, our island home” (Book of Common Prayer)
Radvah implies “care-giving, even nurturing” the very antithesis of exploitation (NIB).
It’s fascinating to watch the way Hebrews used this word Radvah
In their non-biblical literature.
They often used it to describe a beloved king.
Sure, the king could rule with an iron fist,
Could horde the food, could waste the water
And forget about the next 100 years.
But those kings tended to lose their heads in revolutions.
Through this word Radvah,
Genesis says to treat creation the same way God loves us-
with love and wisdom, with care, with stewardship for the long haul.
Sadly, the truth is we are devastating our only home,
That great dome in the midst of the waters has a fever from too much fire.
Let’s talk about climate change today because
It epitomizes our ravaging of creation
And because God calls us to tell a new story.
But what kind of story shall we tell?
Hear Jesus’ summary of the law,
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and all the prophets.”
Now is our time to act on climate change.
On a hot and crowded planet, we can no longer talk responsibly
of loving our neighbor until we fight with all we have for stable climate and just society.
Why is that the case?
In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells all the gathered nations,
‘I was [hungry], [thirsty], [a stranger], and [sick]”
Dear people of God, climate change affects every single one of those issues.
And Jesus isn’t just talking to individuals here.
In Matthew 25, Christ addresses all the gathered nations, panta ta ethne in Greek.
Scientists tell us that we are on the brink of catastrophe and
Tinkering at the margins of our global economy will be too little, too late.
The time has come to rebuild the way all the gathered nations conduct our business.
Far from a partisan squabble, Climate Change is a GOSPEL issue,
One that we must reclaim from the political rancor of our day.
So as we seek to love and serve Christ in all persons,
May we also come to know Christ in the vital link between climate and: hunger, thirst,
refugees, sickness, and the least of these, who are members of God’s family.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. And the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry?”
The drought of 2013 spiked world corn prices 30%,
Though we didn’t much notice the change in American stores.
That’s because when we buy a box of corn flakes,
We pay more for the cardboard marketing than for the corn.
But for the 2 billion people who live on less than a dollar a day,
the 30% cost was grave.
“Lord, when was it that we saw you thirsty?”
Warm air holds more water, so dry spots get drier, and wet places get wetter.
We start to see epic droughts and wildfires in places like California.
But then when the water comes gushing down in other latitudes
The storms are often gully washers, the kind that don’t help anybody.
Droughts and floods threaten drinking water, but they damage crops too.
Saudi Arabia pumped too hard on its aquifer.
And recently bought more land in Sudan and Ethiopa to grow food.
The farmers who used to work that fertile soil had virtually zero voice in the sale.
They were forced off the land, and now they’re hungrier, thirstier,
And more open to the allure of extremism.
Lake Chad used to be the water source for Sudan, Darfur, and Niger,
and 95% of that lake is now a desert.
Though this African famine and war is complex, drought made things worse.
In a related way, the conflict in Syria
Has been exacerbated by drought and wheat shortage over the past decade.
We have a word for genocide, war, and natural disaster, but we don’t even have a
concept in our language for predictable global chaos,
caused by a handful of countries who
failed to stand up to the barons of the 19th century.
“Lord, when was it that we saw you sick?”
Mosquitoes and other pests spread Malaria and Yellow Fever,
And they die when water freezes.
Nairobi Kenya, to name an example, lies safely above the frost line
that kills these bugs during a hard freeze.
As frosts come later and lighter, Nairobi is experiencing higher infection rates
And the city will probably be frost-free by 2100.
It turns out public health takes a hit
When cities get hungry, thirsty, crowded, and hot.
So it’s true that climate change will make low-income communities sicker,
But we also place a burden on poor folks
When we mine and burn fossil fuels.
We now know that coal smoke, fracking fluid, oil refineries,
Toxic dumps and smog make people sick.
And the impact falls hardest on the poor.
For example, the best predictor of childhood asthma in LA
Is proximity of your home to the freeway, where land is cheap.
“And Jesus, when was it that we saw you a stranger”?
As oceans rise, hundreds of millions of people will flee their homes.
The nations of the world are already scrambling to welcome climate refugees
Because island wells are filling with salt water,
Waves are eroding homes,
And famine is sparking violence.
We know that oceans are rising now
As Greenland and West Antarctica melt
Faster than scientists predicted even five years ago.
Forced to flee, climate refugees are beconing strangers in a foreign land,
And the immigration of desperately poor people
Presents a challenge that few countries have yet to meet with compassion.
In the ocean, warmer surface water makes for stronger, wetter, and more ocean storms.
These storms cost and sting, whether it’s floating corpses in the 9th ward of New Orleans,
salt-water in New York subways after Sandy, or last year’s flood in the Philippines.
Sandy was expensive on the east coast, but it killed people in Haiti.
Katrina was on the news in 2006, but its real legacy may be the defunded school system
After people abandoned land and stopped paying taxes in poor neighborhoods
Like Holy Cross and the 9th Ward.
Almost always, poor communities suffer from disasters first, hardest, and longest.
Climate change creates a raging injustice because
Rich countries burn the lion’s share of carbon smoke
And poor countries suffer the bulk of the harm.
And the King will answer them. “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Praying with the Gospel this week, I’ve resonated with this phrase
“members of my family.”
Jesus isn’t talking about service in the demeaning sense of the word.
I don’t think he imagines wealthy folks bending down
to serve the poor just so we can go back to our mansions and dine finely, with less guilt.
I think Jesus is talking about life-changing,
mutually beneficial relationships that are rooted deeply in love.
The kind of love we feel for our moms and dads, our daughters and sons, our brothers and sisters:
Members of our family.
Let’s imagine for a moment someone we each love very much.
Perhaps a husband, a wife, a partner, a child.
Imagine hugging that person on Christmas morning.
Sharing a meal, laughing
Taking joy in their joy, sorrow in their sorrow.
Now let’s imagine that person in any of the vulnerable places of the world.
Darfur- surrounded by gunfire and cracked fields.
Syria- starving, thirsty, fleeing from barrel bombs.
New Orleans- in a neglected neighborhood with underfunded schools
The Maldives- forced to abandon the flooded family home forever
Imagine for a moment, that these too are members of our family.
As Bill McKibben says, “Our goal must be to make real the Gospel, with its injunction to love our
neighbors- not to drown them, not to sicken them, not to make it impossible for them to grow crops,
but to love them.”
But all of this, so far, has been only talk.
And talk’s cheap.
As Martin Luther King Jr. observed in his Letter from a Birmingham Jail:
“In the midst of blatant injustices…, I have watched …church [folk] stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of… injustice, I have heard many ministers say: ‘Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.’" (Letter from a Birmingham Jail). So often the contemporary church is a weak, ineffectual voice with an uncertain sound. So often it is an archdefender of the status quo.”
Lord have mercy when we have been that church.
God help us now to be a powerful prophetic voice
with a traffic-stopping clarion sound.
God help us to be sickened by the images of drowning children, cracked fields, burning forests
Lord, empower us to speak to this issue in the public square
God call us to tell a new story.
For the old story says “I’m in it for me, you’re in it for you, may the best man win.”
But God’s new story of shalom says
“We are ALL on the same boat, facing a storm of our own causing.”
Jesus does not teach us to pray “Give me this day my daily bread”
But “Give us this day our daily bread.”
We ALL have plenteous food to eat in the Gospel banquet.
In God’s story of Shalom, our political-economy looks absurd
Because money no longer buys influence, love does.
And so now, dear people of God, it’s time to take a stand.
Because profit no longer trumps justice.
And greed no longer beats love.
Not in the Jesus story.
When we build local climate solutions that are small enough to manage and big enough to matter,
we mobilize pockets of political will,
catalyze local know-how, crack open a window of opportunity and things actually happen.
Parks get built, gardens get planted, strong laws get passed,
Markets develop, movements emerge
And then 200 nations unanimously consent to tackle the problem.
But the landmark Paris climate accord is paved with intentions.
Action is what’s needed now.
So here’s a story from the Kenyan leader Wangaari Mathai.
Whose greenbelt movement has planted over 51 million trees across Africa.
This is not a feel-good sleepy time story. It’s a parable that calls
Us to rumors of hope, to ridiculous courage, and to quiet confidence.
Not so long ago, and not so far from here, a glorious forest rose from the soil. As worms churned the life-giving soil, an emerald canopy sparkled in the noon-day sun, birds clattered among the branches, monkeys cawed over fruit, elephants played in the pools, deer munched in the understory, and big cats prowled in the shadows. It wasn’t a peaceful kingdom, exactly. It was an ecosystem, with predators and prey, growth and decay, a time for life and a time for death. To each thing there was, it seemed, a season. But this was a beautiful forest, lush, moist, and full of God’s creatures, each of whom had a place in the choir.
As time passed, local farmers drew down the wells, slashed and burned the forest for crops, killed the animals for meat, and tried everything they could think of to care for the growing human family. No one acted maliciously, or even (they would argue over this point) selfishly. They were trying to care for each other, and scarcity pushed them to drastic deeds. So the wells sucked harder on the water underground, the forest withered to a fraction of its former glory, the soil faded, and still the fires burned.
There was still one last speck of forest, shimmering in some remnant of what was. But the birds clattered feverishly, the monkeys skittered, the worms dove deep, elephants trumpeted nervously, deer scattered, and big cats hid. Smoke was in the air. As the smell grew stronger, sparks rose over the horizon, and the ground shook as everything that had breath ran for safety. They all ran to the water pool, now in the center of a dusty dry corn field. Everyone huddled for safety amid the stubble, and prepared to watch their home burn. They felt discouraged, powerless, defeated. Everyone said it was hopeless, everyone gave up, everyone stood on the sidelines. Everyone that is, except for the hummingbird.
[Leave the Pulpit here.]
So God has work for us to do.
The time has come for bold leadership, and it turns out we follow Jesus,
Who led boldly, and even gave his life.
Tables might get turned, and the mighty might tumble,
but we follow an even mightier God who stared down Pharaoh and led Israel out of Egypt.
Announcing the dawn of a new age is risky business
But that’s precisely what Jesus did.
Now it is our time to tell a new story.
India’s Arundathi Roor says it beautifully:
“Another world is not only possible, she is on her way. On a quiet day, we can hear her breathing.”