Hancock Church Sermon – Rev. Paul Shupe – May 12, 2013 – Isaiah 55:6-13 Romans 12:3-5

http://youtu.be/b8UFbsMxgG0

 

Isaiah 55:6-13

    The prophet Isaiah exhorts the people to turn once more toward God, and to seek God’s mercy.  God’s purposes are not thwarted, and God seeks partners to join in the work that God has begun.

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near; 
let the wicked forsake their way,
 and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven,
and do not return there until they have watered the earth,
making it bring forth and sprout,
giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, 
so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth;
it shall not return to me empty,
but it shall accomplish that which I purpose,
and succeed in the thing for which I sent it.

Romans 12:3-5

 

    Writing to the church at Rome, Paul counsels each individual to understand that each one is a member of the body of Christ, and that while each is important, all have vital roles to play if the body is to remain healthy and strong.

 

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another.

“Changing Climate, Changing Lives”

Last Sunday, I watched my good friend Sarah Drummond preach a powerful sermon and learn an important lesson about preaching at Hancock.  In service to her larger theological message, she raised the subject of the science of human genes.  As she did, I said a silent prayer, hoping that she got the science right, because at Hancock our pews are full of scientists, and not shy scientists, either, but scientists willing to correct the preacher, though always in a good natured way, of course.  Get the science right, and all are pleased; miss the boat, and the preacher will hear about it.

Well, she was close, as it turns out.  And the scientists who offered to her a “fuller” understanding did so with graciousness and genuine concern, agreeing with her theological points in the end.  Once more, all’s well that ends well, and the scientists were pleased to be taken seriously in church without being asked to abandon science in a trade off for faith, and Sarah still likes us and will return when asked, to again proclaim the Good News.

I learned this message early here; every preacher who would stay must learn it.  And so while I have been pondering a sermon on climate change for some time, lurking in the background has been the fear that I’ll mess up, get the science wrong, and my errors will compromise the message.  And so I dug in, reading as much as I could, filtering through my limited science background.  My last science course, Principles of Biology, I took when Isaac Newton was still a teenager, and I expect that things have changed a bit since then.  But the more I read, the more I realized that while the full picture of what increasingly high levels of carbon in the atmosphere portends is not perfectly clear, and while all good science continues to look at the question with a humbleness of a teachable mind, still there doesn’t seem to be a lot scientific uncertainty here.  This week scientists measured more carbon in the air than at any point in human history.  What that means is not known with certainty, but it’s a fact, and it’s a dangerous fact, and human beings are contributing to it.  It’s not really an unsettled scientific matter.

Here is what it is: it is an unsettled political matter.  Our fractured political world insists that even complex matters have only two viewpoints, and so it is with climate change: either it’s regarded as a grave threat to human life, or it’s a hoax perpetrated by a cabal of scientists so vast that it includes virtually everyone not on the payroll of a fossil fuel company.  It’s one or the other, politically, apparently, and so I began to craft a political sermon.

Well, if there’s anything more dangerous at Hancock than a scientific sermon, it’s a political one, so I was trying to figure out what to do, when at last, it hit me.  For people of faith, climate change is a matter of science, and it is also a matter of politics: but first and foremost for us, it is a matter of theology, for it includes all four of the great theological elements: you, me, God and the world.  The great four.

When they are doing science, the scientists cannot think theologically.  And when they are doing politics, the politicians get derailed when theology is introduced.  But here, this morning, we’re doing faith, we’re thinking critically about our world, our God, and our role in it.  And these questions, while informed by science, and filled with political implications, are first and foremost theological.  They are about our faith.  All of which is a long way of saying that as a preacher this morning, I accept the consensus of science, and I deplore the limitations of political either/or thinking, and I insist that we talk and think and pray about the relationship of God, and you and me, as all three of us share the world that God has made.

For much of human history, when we have thought theologically about it, the human reaction to the world has been based on a few words from the book of Genesis in which God addresses the human beings God has made:  “Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion [over it].”  You’re in charge, we hear God saying.  Go thrive.  Use any thing and every thing for your own purpose.  Well, even if you grant that these are the most important words in scripture for defining our role, (which I do not), you’ve got to say: Well, that’s all done.  Be fruitful and multiply?  Check.  Fill the earth and subdue it?  Check.  Have dominion over it?  Check.  If these were the only commands of God, it would all be perfect, and there would be no more work to do in creation.

But the creation is more than just an economic opportunity for human beings.  The Genesis account, the same one that includes these commands, has a larger purpose of depicting creation as a great stage upon which God works out larger purposes than any human project.  And throughout scripture the created world emerges again and again: revealing God, and metaphorically describing God, and as being something in which God simply and utterly delights.  I think of the great soliloquy of God in the book of Job, in which God laughs with delight at the absurdly wonderful creations that have come from her hands for no apparent reason: the hippopotamus and the ostrich and whale.   And I remember that at the end of long divine speech about the wonders of creation, Job, the human being who had been complaining about his own little life, repents and acknowledges that there is more going on than what happens to affect him.

And that led me to Paul’s reminder to the Romans.  You are the body of Christ, he told them, and while individually each of you is precious, you are well advised never to think that it’s all about you: don’t think more highly of yourself than you ought, but remember that all is important for the good of the whole.  If there are theological lessons to be drawn from the matter of climate change, this is surely one: we are all in this together: God, human beings, the creatures, the plants, the whole of creation.  None of us has the right to think more highly of ourselves than we ought.  None of us has the right to think that our life, our experience, our existence is any more important than anyone else’s.  As the earth warms, and the seas rise, a huge number of species living in vast ecosystems of wetlands are affected, along with millions upon millions of people, most often some of the very poorest people in the world.  In the body of Christ, my life isn’t any more important than anyone else’s, or, more accurately, everyone else’s life is just as important as mine is.  These other people, these other creatures, are a part of the body, just as I am, and I don’t have the right to be ignorant about the impact of my lifestyle on them.  Humility is called for: an understanding of my (and our) proper place in the great creation of God.

Well, this is hard for me.  Because the truth is, I want to think that I am more important than I am.  I enjoy a wonderful style of living that sets me free from most physical suffering.  When I am cold, with the flip of a switch, I burn fossil fuels and am warmed.  When I am hot, with the flip of switch, I burn fossil fuels and am cooled.  When it gets dark, with the flip of switch I burn fossil fuels and there is light.  When I am lonely, or bored, or looking for a break, I flip a switch, I burn fossil fuels, and I am whisked to distant places, reunited with loved ones, tantalized by sights I have never yet seen.  My life leaves huge carbon footprints.  And I like this life.  There is a part of me, that part of me that always makes me less than proud of myself, that wishes the whole climate change thing would just go away, that makes me want to behave like God’s beloved ostrich, my head in the sand of denial as a way of avoiding something that I do not want to face.  There is a part of me that wishes that Paul had never written to the Romans, so that I could continue with my fantasy that in fact, it really is all about me, and go on thinking of myself more highly than I ought.

But that sort of thinking leads only to death.  I know this.  When I listen to that part of me, that part that I try to keep in the shadows, then I am diminished, selfish, and alone.  To choose deny the facts of our changing climate, and to deny that my life must change also, is to choose much less than God desires for me, for you, and for all the world.

Which brought me at last, to the words of Isaiah:

Seek the Lord while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near; 
let the wicked forsake their way,
 and the unrighteous their thoughts;
let them return to the Lord, that he may have mercy on them,
and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord. 
For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

What has been missing for me amid the angst of climate change is that we have a partner here, God, who may yet be found.  When we turn, however gradually, away from the uncritical pursuit of the comfortable life as we have come to know it, we turn toward God, who is merciful, and suddenly we find that we are restored to right relationship, not merely with God, but with others, and with the creatures of this incredible earth.  When we turn from selfish justification of thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, then we find ourselves once more in the arms of God who is merciful, and who delights in us, as in the hippo and the ostrich and the great whales.  When we turn from our huge carbon footprints, we find new solidarity with sisters and brothers who are most vulnerable to the immediate effects of our lifestyles.

    Well and good, perhaps.  But how do we know that this is true?  How do we know that changing our lives can restore us to right relationship with God and with others?  How do we know that this feels good?  This week, with help from Mark Sandeen, MaryAnn and I chose to purchase electricity only generated from renewable resources.  A few clicks on the computer, and now that computer is powered by the energy of the wind, and the energy companies are just a bit more inspired to choose to provide renewable options.  It’s small.  But it feels good.  Absurdly good.  And now I’m inspired to think again about how I live, to think about my bicycle as transportation, and not merely recreation, because every mile I don’t drive is a bit less carbon.  It’s small.  But it feels good.  And when my church sends good people to rebuild homes devastated by storms that used to be called rogue, but now are normal in this changed and changing climate, then we are remembering that just because we were unaffected this time, we aren’t immune, and we are remembering that the proper response to people in need is mercy and help.  It’s small.  But it feels good.

    In a world of changed and changing climate, when life is more perilous for all God’s creatures, and when we have been contributing, often mindlessly, to the problem, still there is time, to turn toward God, and find our proper place in the great and wonderful complexities of creation, in right relationship with God and with others and with the absurdly delightful world that God has made.  This week, I made a small change, and it feels good.  What can you do?  What will you do?  Amen.