Sermon, May 31, 2015
First United Church Bloomington
?Don?t Scare me, Love Me!?
This sermon begins with a warning. I am part of a seminar class of preacher-types and church leaders. The seminar is sponsored by Hoosier Interfaith Power and Light and the Louisville Presbyterian Seminary. It is an attempt to get preachers, church leaders and, as a result, congregants to be as fully informed as possible about climate change. It is further an attempt to give us a push to be leaders and active participants in what it means to be part of a world in which there are slow but significant changes in our environment and lifestyles and in life itself because of global warming and climate change.
First, let me tell you that this one sermon?asked of me as a result of being in this seminar?is not due until the last Sunday in August. I don?t live by deadlines. I am married to someone who is. I got to know Lynn in graduate school over a quarter century ago. I remember her having a paper that had to be in the professor?s hand by, let?s say, 10 a.m. on a certain day. She was running the paper off on her printer at 9:50 a.m. when the printer stopped working. While I was working on her printer, she was running across the street to the school turning in the pages that were printed. After 25-plus years she is still thriving in the midst of deadlines.?? I may preach variants of this sermon twenty times between now and the end of August in a hope to get it right. That?s the warning.
Last week on a Facebook post by our former associate pastor, Caela Wood, she announced to her congregation in Manhattan, Kansas that she was going to do a sermon series on the Book of Revelation. Our own Leah Mullins commented on the post saying, ?Oh, I wish Jack would do that.?
Through the accumulating years of my professional life I have preached on the Book of Revelation in quite dismissive ways. Throughout the history of the formation of the Christian canon of books, our Bible, there have been many attempts to rid ourselves of the book completely. Alas, we are stuck with it.
The Book of Revelation was written purposefully using coded language to avoid the Roman government from knowing that early Christians thought the Roman Empire was the Devil incarnate, pure evil. Further, the early Christians who gave birth to the Book of Revelation were preaching disloyalty to the Roman governmental structure; they were also sure that Jesus was going to come back, any day now, and end Roman rule, establishing, finally, God?s rule, when Christians would then be seen as shining examples of how God intends the world to be run. The book is, in its primal essence, political treason and thus it was written to be nearly impossible to understand except by those who had the inside secrets.
Christianity has long been subject, for good reason, to end-of-the-world-as-we-know-it preaching. Conservative, fundamentalist Christianity has seen it as God finally rewarding the good and punishing the bad. The punishing the bad is often made extremely graphic and horrible beyond belief. Those conservative fundamentalist Christians have said that this should scare the hell out those of us who are not pure like they are and we will be motivated to change and find salvation.
Many of us were scared as children! I?m not scared anymore. In fact as an adult I find conservative Christianity?s espousal of God as an abusive punishing tyrant antithetical to my understanding of God as love, as healing, as justice, mercy and kindness.
The traditional story as told by Christian fundamentalists is best understood in that context of the story of the boy who cried wolf so many times that finally when he was in the clutches of an actual wolf, no one bothered to respond to his cries that he was in real danger. I don?t think God is a source of danger to anyone unless one experiences being loved deeply, intimately and fully as dangerous. I do think and believe that such love calls upon us to do things wherein we might experience danger. But never is God one whose desire is for us to be in danger. Danger is not ever an end unto itself. God is not ever dangerous to anyone. Period. No add-ons.
There are people who tell me that what they enjoy in my sermons is my saying something that they are sure will cause me to be struck dead by lighting. I suspect in a greater sense, what those folks are telling me is it is better for Jack to be struck down for saying something than for it to happen to them. So, though several of you think the same things, you want me to take the risk for it. Nice!
So, here comes today?s costly nugget that might get me killed. Jesus believed that the end of life, as it was on this planet, was coming soon, that God was finally going to close down all evil and set in place God?s kingdom, God?s reign on earth as it is in heaven. Jesus was wrong on that one. Jesus lived and was killed and, if you will, nothing changed in the manner of which Jesus taught. Life kept right on going and the Romans just kept right on oppressing through an endless stream of governments and tyrants.
Now, some might argue that it wasn?t Jesus that was wrong, it was how people remembered Jesus that was out of step. Sadly, Jesus? assumptions about the coming apocalypse were so strong that we have not been able to rid Christianity of end times theology, mainly because it was part of what Jesus taught; we ended up with the Book of Revelation, which became known by many as Holy Scripture.
What I think many in the early church and those early disciples then and after did come to discover was that it is our responsibility to make life, our lives, the lives of others, governmentally, nationally and internationally; we are the ones who must make life fair, just and livable for all on earth just as it is in God?s presence in heaven. God cannot do what we ourselves must do. It is not that God won?t, it is that God can?t and we must, if it is to happen at all.
This is the place, the crucial junction spot that all people of any faith system or religion, must cross over in regard to climate change. If God is in control then it doesn?t really make any difference, does it, who does what? If God is in the control then we must just accept the plan of the almighty.
But, since God is not all powerful what must we do to rearrange our thinking, our believing, and certainly our doing? I still love the song and the concurrent images that God has the whole world in God?s hands. But I have held in my hands a dying baby, when no matter how much I loved her and her parents, my love could not save that child, nor could all the world?s medical science. That little girl child died in my hands because her parents could not bear the pain of holding her and not being able to save her. But they did want her lovingly held. That is one image of what God may have to do with life as we know it on our planet if we do not change our abuse of fossil fuels and significantly adapt to new environmental conditions.
I am dependent, like so many others, on a lifestyle made possible mainly by fossil fuels. I really love travel by plane, train and automobile that use carbon-based fuels. I am so comfortable heating my house and hot water and cooling my house and cooking with the cheapest fuels available. I love to be able to eat strawberries and cherries and lettuce in the wintertime. I especially love fresh blueberries from Chile. I like meat, I really do. I?m hooked on a very easy and rich life and many consequences of my lifestyle, along with those of many others, are tragically accumulating to lead to the potential extinction of much of life on this planet. Further, I am so overwhelmed by the magnitude of this issue that it often renders me much more stupid-acting than I am.
I know many of the facts about global warming caused by CO2 from burning fossil fuels and the impact it is already having on atmospheric, oceanic, and life forms. It is sort of like that story told about a frog in a slowly heating skillet. Many life forms are already stuck in skillets that they cannot escape from. Many of the world?s best environmental scientists are studying what impact there will be on us when so much of our animal and plant life is seriously altered by the extinction of many of them. We are highly adaptive creatures who can move around and build new things, eat different things, but obviously plants, insects and animals are not so easily adaptable to big huge environmental changes.
I have just finished reading the Pulitzer Prize-winning book, The Sixth Extinction which focuses in great depth on the impact of climate change and global warming. I almost did not read it because a New York Times reviewer said that the author, Elizabeth Kolbert avoided any optimism. Number one, having read the book, I can assert that that is not true. And, number two, if there is no room to be optimistic about what can be done, let?s just all eat, drink and be merry because only doom is in our future.?? Scaring people to death is what the Book of Revelation does. It is counter-productive. Fear-based narratives do not produce creative, energized, relational solutions.
We are nearing completion of a major section of a most significant social movement in our country and in other places around the globe. It was just shy of a year ago that I spent a day at the Justice Building and here at church doing weddings for many of our gay couples. Most of us are acutely aware that it took several lifetimes of enduring abuse, murders, depression and suicides to even get to last year?s marriages and what we hope will be a Supreme Court decision in favor of equality next month. ?Why now? has been asked millions of times, and most often the answer has been about relationships. So many people, even Republicans, discovered that they already loved and respected someone who was gay and it tipped the scales.
We can have the most significant impact on our natural world by continuing to fall in love with it and to have as many others as possible do the same. When we are in loving, caring relationships we are most prone to going the extra steps and miles it will take to stop hurting and actually move toward healing our planet.
My cutting my carbon footprint will not make global warming stop. But, when I, out of love and daring commitment, cut my carbon footprint, it will encourage others to do the same. Political movement is always local and moves nationally and then globally. Most people want to do well, want to help and are afraid that their little will not suffice in the face of what can appear to be a nearly impossible situation. It is not impossible and in fact we must stop scaring, reprimanding and scolding people and continue explaining a most challenging reality in terms of what yet can happen.
God cannot step in and stop global warming or save species from extinction. But God is doing what God has always done?God is luring people, inspiring people, encouraging us, empowering us, loving us to be the ones, to be the people who in our place in our time provide the spiritual force to bring as much knowledge, as much vitality, as much sacrifice, as much joy and peacefulness as well as challenging ignorance, refusing to budge from good science and the demands it presents.
God does not cause things to happen. God dreams and inspires what yet can happen given what the present reality is. Elizabeth Kolbert in The Sixth Extinction talks about how nature is already moving toward a future that is radically changing. Measurements have been happening in the rainforests of Brazil and other areas for well over twenty five years trying to figure out the impact of a warming planet. Amazingly, the scientists have discovered by their painstaking measurements that plants, trees, and whole eco-systems are moving in the northern hemisphere?8 feet north every year. Trees are dropping seeds on what was the edge of their growth area and they are now, after twenty-five years, 200 feet further north and of course, the trillions and trillions of growing things are moving with them. If trees can move surely you and I, in a deep and abiding relationship with God and the planet and each other, can move Congress and ourselves to love and heal ourselves and this earth toward significant healing.
Yes, we should be discouraged, but we ought also to be amongst the most eager and positive toward what yet can be. Ours is a God of life and novelty and hope. So also should we be.