The Good Earth in Peril
Isaiah 24:1-6; Luke 21:25-28
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After the Isaiah text was read a few minutes ago,
some of us might well have been tempted to pack up and go home,
lay down on the couch,
and binge-watch NetFlix for the next . . . oh . . . say . . .
25 or 50 years,
or whenever it all crashes down on us.
This may be the most undeniably hopeless text in the Bible.
“The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled.”
“The world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth.”
“The earth lies polluted under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws . . .
broken the everlasting covenant . . .”
I had us read only the first six verses this morning.
Because if we read the whole chapter,
by the end half of us would be on the floor in a fetal position,
This is horrible stuff!!
Let me read just a few more lines from Isaiah 24,
just a little—I’ll keep it PG-rated.
The wine dries up, the vine languishes,
all the merry-hearted sigh.
The city of chaos is broken down,
every house is shut up so that no one can enter.
All joy has reached its eventide;
the gladness of the earth is banished.
Desolation is left in the city,
the gates are battered into ruins.
Whoever flees at the sound of the terror
shall fall into the pit;
and whoever climbs out of the pit
shall be caught in the snare.
The earth is utterly broken . . .
the moon will be abashed,
and the sun ashamed.”
These are words of judgement
against the whole earth and its inhabitants—
a judgement issued by God,
for failure to obey the universal commands of God.
Those moral failures cover the gamut of God’s commands—
all of the Big Ten, and more.
But . . . what is the first recorded commandment of God,
a command to the whole human race,
in the persons of Adam and Eve?
It was to till and keep the garden.
Till and keep.
Words which, as I said last Sunday,
are not dominating words.
They do not mean to manipulate or own.
They mean to serve, guard, and preserve.
But humankind failed in this.
We did not serve the earth, and did not serve God the owner.
The diminishing of species,
the polluting of air, water and soil,
drought, flood, and fire,
the moral decline of anxious humans
who turn to violence for survival—
all of this was foreseen by the prophet,
as the predictable outcome of disobedience.
Now when we hear all this about God’s judgement,
we can easily make some bad moves, theologically.
We can blame the environmental crisis on God.
We can spiritualize climate change.
We aren’t causing it by our lifestyle or actions.
This is just another sign of the end times,
caused by God as punishment,
for our sin and spiritual failures.
That argument has been used by Christians to excuse inaction.
Everything is going to burn up anyway,
because that is God’s will, for disobedient people.
That’s a bad move because
we are taking a world view from ancient times
and applying it directly to our world today.
We can still take God’s judgement seriously,
and recognize that we generally bring it on ourselves,
through the destructive and evil consequences of our actions.
We can take full responsibility.
And recognize God’s presence even in the midst of it.
That’s why I wanted us to hear this awful text.
Terrible things have happened on the earth, and are still happening.
And they came about because, as the prophet says,
we have transgressed laws . . .
and broken the everlasting covenant.
But, just as God is present in the destruction.
God is also present in the redemption.
I’ll get to that in a few minutes.
Reflections from Cal Redekop, Eric Beck, and Michaela Mast
from Cal Redekop . . .
Pastor Phil asked me to respond to the question-what is my fear and foreboding versus signs of hope for our planet earth? —in 500 words!!
Signs of hope . . . Locally at PVMC:1. Worship series on environmental crisis (like this service), panels on our roof, Creation Care Committee and many other activities are giving a powerful message to our community;2. Members are increasingly using fossil free solar energy for homes and cars;3. Members are active in community organizations that are promoting sustaining and restoration of mother earth, e.g. Community Action Alliance of the Valley and4. Members are participating in local and area political action for pro -environment candidates and policies. PVMC is an area leader. Lets give each other a hand.Nationally and globally:1. There is increasing “stating the facts” by the scientific and financial community on the critical impending crisis. Last week, International Monetary Fund declared the absolute necessity for an immediate global $75 tax per ton on Carbon; 2. There is increasingly honest and aggressive reporting in the national and regional press on the MASSIVE ECOSYSTEMIC destruction happening right now; 3. Increasing agreement on national and political levels, of the already approaching POINT OF NO RETURN---2050? (full restoration of nature is impossible).
Signs of Fear and Foreboding . . . 1. Globally most effort and resources are still being spent on adapting to the consequences of the crisis such as moving to higher ground, rather than demolishing its causes- abolishing carbon and methane in the Paris Climate Agreement of 2016; 2. religions vary from outright rejection of environmental concern such as American right wing Christianity to pro nature religions like Buddhism; 3. Multinational corporations and business enterprises are battling carbon taxes and other restrictions, mining and ravaging the earth, mortgaging the future);4. The majority of humans prefer immediate gratification to avoid the longer range planning, and cost involved for future benefits. Even PVMC friends ask “what is the payback for solar?” I reply, “what is it for oil?” 5. Human arrogance assumes it is impossible that humans could be destroying their own habitat (cf. Pastor Phil's last Sunday Sermon on Humans challenging God); 6. We continue to ignore the connection between the increasing production/consumerism/ human reproduction cycle which is destroying the balance of our finite eco-system; we believe personal lifestyle is our business (remember Greta Thunberg?) ;7. We fear change and desire stability and predictability--- business as usual is the most comfortable life style; 8. Finally we deny we are the cause of the environmental crisis. Pope Francis recently stated “we humans are the problem.” We reject scientific understandings of nature and cling to traditional sacred texts which do not help our lack of knowing how to act responsibility for the well being of home--the planet earth.
Conclusion . . . We will lose the race between global destruction and our actions to save it, unless we act immediately. Nature will survive but with a vengeance, (tornadoes, hurricanes, droughts, floods, fires, anyone?) not in the form that will be good for our grand children. I hope I am wrong.
from Eric Beck . . .
“Think Global Act Local” – One of the primary experience in my life that impacted my concern for the environment was 2 summers as a canoe guide for a Mennonite Camp in the Boundary Waters Wilderness Area, some 20+ years ago. The themes of wildness, beauty, restoration, our need to understand, respect, and integrate with natural systems our traveling companions were evident, very real, and great points for prayer and action on our trips. The question for reflection this morning was my commitment to Creation through my work as a builder. While incorporating energy efficiency and alternative energy into building has given me drive and interest in what I do. I was struck by a list from Project Drawdown that ranks actions that we can take to lower the levels of CO2 in the atmosphere and reduce global warming by 2050. The plight of those in between 10 degrees latitude on either side of the equator could be crassly termed the canaries of our earth. Tribalism, nationalism, religious conflict are all barely disguised efforts to control increasingly limited resources. Environment and justice now go hand in hand.
The “least of these” are most vulnerable. So, back to Project Drawdown, #1 on the list is refrigeration management, then wind turbines, reduced food waste, plant rich diets, tropical forests… Then I came to #6 & #7, which shocked me out of my “professional context” and made me smile, Educating Girls and Family Planning (defined as healthcare, meeting women’s expressed needs, empowerment, equality and well being) If combined, those 2 equal the single most important effort this world can take. A reminder that its not just hard science or technology that will stem the tide of climate change. Efforts and resources spent to further initiatives such as 6 and 7 do not have to be written off as touchy feely nicey nice kinds of fluff, but are hard work and ought to be held in the same esteem and importance as the technical initiatives. This gave me hope.
I have felt sadness,anger, and guilt when reflecting on what parts of our shared Christian faith have done to contribute to climate change: dominion over the earth instead of caretakers of, bald faced or disguised patriarchy that gives cover for domination over or condemnation of anyone or thing not deemed masculine enough, mission initiatives that are more about colonialism than service of other cultures, teachings on salvation that place too much emphasis on the “here after” than the here and now, prosperity gospels that place vulnerability, shame, and blame on the poor.
I’m hopeful when I hear about education, micro loan programs, empowerment, and health initiatives in “developing worlds”, and in our own community. I’m encouraged when I hear of “missionary initiatives” that include what I just described as well as building resources such as sand dams that lessen the impact of drought, small solar initiatives that can extend learning and reading times in small communities. Large and small efforts to reduce energy needs, improve carbon sequestration, develop alternative energy give comfort. The large and small efforts to restore us to each other and creation bring confidence that we can make it through this global crisis. I have met so many creative and innovative people, in all places and stations. I think we hear the doom and gloom too often, but there are positive and fascinating inititatives happening that we need to hear about and raise awareness for.
from Michaela Mast . . .
First of all, I would like to thank you for inviting me to share with you this morning. I will be sharing a piece of my heart – these are stories that I don’t tell lightly. They are thoughts that shape my world, guide my decisions, and weigh on my shoulders every single day. So thank you – for sitting with me in my anxieties, questions, sorrows, and dreams this morning.
The words climate change used to shut me down a little. I’d hear them and, inevitably, feel repelled. Consciously, or at least subconsciously, those words were associated with a sense of implication – of guilt. They were associated with feelings of isolation, paralysis, uncertainty, and tension. And often, I found, my body’s response was to put on a face of indifference. Shut it down, don’t even go there, said my brain.
And even after an entire year of dedicating 8 hours a day to the topics of climate change, justice, and the church, I’m still met with uncertainty, sorrow, and fear. But I’m reminded that God can work with that. After all, God is a God of mystery and of restoration.
So this morning, you’ll start to see what it’s been like for me to lean into the realities of climate change.
The first story I have for you comes from a man named Saulo Padilla. Saulo is cordial, kind, and centered, even over the phone. He immigrated from Guatemala as a youth, and now works as the Immigration Education Coordinator for MCC. Just last year, Saulo walked the Migrant Trail, which is a 75-mile path that thousands of migrants have taken on their way to the United States. The trail crosses the desert that lies just south of the US border. Saulo has walked this trail a couple times now, in honor of the 10,000 migrants who have died in that desert. He told us of the backpacks and empty water jugs that litter the trail. In recent years, he said, the journey across the desert has become even more dangerous. The wall along our southern border is being built in strategic areas in order to push people to the most treacherous parts of the desert. A “lethal deterrent,” the US is calling it. And it is lethal, said Saulo. But it’s not working as a deterrent. Already this year, in just the first 5 months of 2019, the number of people arriving at our southern border surpassed the average number we’ve seen every year in the past 2 decades. In May 2019 alone, 132,000 people arrived at the border seeking asylum. 11,000 of those were unaccompanied children. 84,000 more were members of family units. Saulo shared some of the messages he hears from those he meets at the border. “No hay lluvia,” say some. There is no rain. And it’s true. There is a segment of Central America known as the “dry corridor.” It’s a triangle of land that includes parts of Guatemala, El Salvador, Honduras and Nicaragua that has been experiencing devastating drought for 10 years now. For most people living in those areas, sustenance farming is what sustains them. And so as the droughts worsen, two things happen. First off, there is conflict over the remaining resources. And second, people move, often to the cities. But the trouble with the cities is that they are not equipped for such an influx of people. And so with the population growth in the cities comes poverty and crime. Poverty and crime – the main push factors Saulo hears about from migrants. As the climate continues to change, more and more families are being uprooted, forced to leave their homes in fear of their own safety. So as we discuss climate change, we must remember the immigrant. Thinking of one without the other just doesn’t give us the full picture. I also interviewed a man named Kevin King. Kevin’s name may be familiar to you – he is the director of MDS – Mennonite Disaster Services. Kevin is very familiar with the devastation and trauma experienced with the loss of a home. He has been coordinating disaster relief in Canada and the US for over 15 years now. When he first began this position 15 years ago, Kevin was accustomed to responding to 3-4 major disasters in a year. That’s 3 or 4 major hurricanes, tornadoes, wildfires, and the likes. Now, 15 years later, the number of major disasters MDS responds to has quadrupled. Kevin said that, instead of 3-4 disasters, he’s been seeing 15-20. Every year. And this is just in the US and Canada. And as you can imagine, when disaster strikes, it is those already on the margins of a community, those without resources, who have the hardest time adapting, and who suffer the most. So as we examine our role in climate change, we must not forget that we are talking about the widow, the orphan, the oppressed, and the homeless.
Kevin and Saulo are certainly not the only ones noticing the troubling trends accompanying climate change. The United Nations University estimates that by 2050, 200 million people will be displaced from their homes due to changes in climate and the natural disasters, food insecurity, and water scarcity that follow. Take into account the violence stirred up when resources are lacking and the numbers get even bigger. Some sources predict the displacement of up to 1 billion people by 2050. So you see – climate change is not just some far-off abstraction. It’s about the security and health of people and their homes. The last story comes from a friend of mine whom I will call Sam. Sam is a third grader at Smithland Elementary, the local city school I’m working at this year. And for Sam, home is a volatile, unstable place. When he comes to school, his mind is saturated with images and thoughts of stress. He carries recent memories of angry parents, of young siblings that land in his care. And he lives with the realities of food shortages and a persistent fear for his own safety. For Sam, a sense of belonging is hard to come by. And his body has become well-trained. His mind has adjusted, the pathways in his brain altered by repeated trauma to protect himself. And so, at the slightest sign of stress, Sam’s body enters survival mode. It might be a math problem, or slight provocation from another student, that sends him into a flurry of anger or fear or self-doubt or anxiety – all strong, debilitating emotions that have a way of warping his reality. And this is why relationships are hard for Sam. His self-preservation instincts tell him to keep his guard up, to protect himself from further instability and pain.
Every day, I see the way that trauma alters the life of that one resilient child. The lack of physical and emotional security we see in Sam will be multiplied again and again in those 200 million people who will be displaced in the next 30 years by climate change. Think of the loss of lives, the violence within communities, the devastation of whole ecosystems, of the injustice, grief, and trauma that is sure to accompany those numbers. We must not take that lightly.
But there must be hope somewhere, right? Well, I can tell you that this morning, I feel hope. This morning, I feel joy. And what brings me that joy? It is this. This. That a community of believers that believes in a life of abundance, that is willing to hold our brokenness and pain together – a community of believers that has a moral framework that cares for the marginalized and the poor, and views all living things as integral to our well-being – that we are here, this morning, even if it’s just the very beginning, to look the ugliness and despair of this world right in the face and say – no. We have a different way. That brings me joy. We will come together and ask hard questions. We will love all of our neighbors with a fervor that does not ignore the perils of this world. We will act upon our conviction that God is on a mission of peace, justice, and restoration, and that we are a part of it. What gives me hope is that we are sitting here, as a church community, with a handbook, a guide, to living with humility, and uplifting the voices of children and widows and the imprisoned and the oppressed – the undocumented and the displaced and the homeless. That’s what we’re about.
In the words of Karenna Gore, a very wise woman I met during my travels, “If church communities go to the front lines of ecological devastation and wait for God in those locations, then there is going to be a miraculous result.” We have seen the way God can move in broken places, and so what brings me hope is that leaning into the realities of climate change could very well be an opportunity to breathe life into the church and its people.
More than ever, what I desire is to be in a community that is willing to feel unsettled together, to recognize the missteps we take every day together, and to be bold together in exploring what it means to live in loving relationship. As the world presses in, I’m convinced that the greatest strength is hope in the face of reality. A hope that takes note of the world and still decides to love. And I am grateful, this morning, to be doing that together.
As we have seen so eloquently by these three speakers,
despair and hopelessness is not the way forward
for us people of faith.
Others may well despair.
But we have a larger view of our place in the universe,
and the relationship of the Creator to this universe.
We believe that God owns this place,
and has not forgotten about it.
We believe that God is still at work
for the healing of the nations,
and the healing of creation itself.
We believe that all of creation is waiting,
and groaning with a deep longing,
for the redemption that is coming.
And we believe, that as God’s collaborators,
we are part and parcel of what God is up to.
As the apostle Paul says in Romans 8,
all creation is groaning, as in childbirth,
and we are groaning inwardly,
as we, and all creation, await redemption.
Redemption is coming.
As the prophet Isaiah himself said, in the next chapter,
after the most hopeless text in the Bible,
is perhaps the most sublime treatise on redemption in the Bible.
“On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines . . .
And he will destroy on this mountain
the shroud that is cast over all peoples . . .
The Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
and the disgrace of his people
he will take away from all the earth,
for the Lord has spoken.”
And as Jesus told his disciples in Luke 12,
after listing all the signs of foreboding,
“Now when these things begin to take place,
stand up and raise your heads,
because your redemption is drawing near.”
Again, if we do not take care,
we can make a bad theological move.
We can look to our coming redemption,
the “Son of Man coming in the clouds,”
and see an excuse for inaction.
That is never what Jesus intended.
The reason for all these biblical warnings,
these signs of foreboding,
is so that we can stay awake, and alert,
and fully cognizant of God’s presence in our midst.
It is an antidote to despair.
God’s coming redemption of the heavens and the earth,
is not something being done to us by a God “up there”,
to whisk us away from this evil physical world.
No, we participate in God’s saving and redeeming action now.
Redemption is not a panacea.
It is not an escape.
It is never an excuse not to act or not to make sacrifices.
The promise of redemption is simply this—
confidence about where all this is eventually heading.
The historical arc of God’s action in history
is always toward shalom, toward wholeness, toward life.
We cannot know how that will all unfold, and when.
But our vocation is to be God’s active partners in redemption.
We must care, and care deeply.
We must act, and act boldly.
We must love, and love sacrificially.
I thank God for these three who shared their stories,
and are on this journey with the rest of us.
And I am deeply concerned
about what is happening to God’s Good Earth.
But it is still “God’s Good Earth.”
And I am full of hope in God, the Redeeming One.
With the hymn writer, Thomas Troeger, I confess that,
By Christ we are connected to every shining star,
to every atom spinning, to all the things that are,
and to your very being, around, below, above,
suffusing each dimension with light and life and love.
Let us sing together the hymn printed in our bulletin.
—Phil Kniss, October 27, 2019
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