The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Texts: Psalm 25: 1-10; Luke 21:25-26
“There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves” (Luke 21:25). So said Jesus over 2000 years ago. Certainly the first hearers of his words and readers of this text could have had no idea about the kind of roaring of the sea and waves we are currently seeing on this planet.
|Flooding in Pakistan: Getty Images|
According to scientists at NASA, “Sea levels have risen about 8 inches since the beginning of the 20th century. The ocean is projected to rise by as much as 3 feet or more by the end of this century,” (http://climate.nasa.gov/climate_resources/125/). What will this look like for our planet? It would mean that our coastal and low-lying cities would be inundated with flood waters. Especially at risk will be the poorer citizens of these cities who have no resources to move to higher ground, the homeless who have no place to go, and the sick and elderly who may be too fragile to endure these rapidly changing conditions, not to mention the myriad health problems that accompany flooding.
Why is this happening? According to NASA, our ocean absorbs more than 90% of the heat trapped by human-produced greenhouse gases such as natural gas and carbon dioxide from burning oil and coal. This extra heat causes the sea level to rise because the ice sheets and glaciers are melting at an unprecedented rate.
|Arctic ice pack has diminished 13% since 1979 due to rising sea temperatures. Photo credit: NASA|
Then he told them a parable: “Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 3as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away,” (Luke 21:29-33).
Again, Jesus points us to nature as a harbinger of things to come. And again, certainly his original hearers could not have foreseen the kind of thing I noticed here in Central PA in mid-November. After all the leaves had dropped from the trees in preparation for the winter months, I noticed buds sprouting from the tips of branches of some of the trees. It was a warm day – in the high 50s and low 60s. The sun was shining and people were out enjoying the nice weather. In November. Part of me wanted to say, isn’t this balmy weather wonderful? But the other part of me knows – this is not right.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report with data showing that October had a combined average temperature over global land and ocean surfaces that was the highest in the 136-year period of record. “This marked the sixth consecutive month a monthly global temperature record has been broken and was also the in the 1630 months of recordkeeping, surpassing the previous record high departure set just last month.”
NASA also released a report that the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has reached 400 ppm. It’s supposed to be at 350 ppm for the planet to be able to maintain a climate equilibrium. But because of our global economic system that has required the extraction and burning of fossil fuels, clear-cutting of forests, and industrial animal agriculture, CO2 levels have reached the highest level they’ve been in millions of years.
As Dr. Erika Podest, a carbon and water cycle research scientist, said in her response to this news: “Even more alarming is the rate of increase in the last five decades and the fact that CO2 stays in the atmosphere for hundreds or thousands of years. This milestone is a wake up call that our actions in response to climate change need to match the persistent rise in CO2.” (http://climate.nasa.gov/400ppmquotes/)
How interesting that as we approach this first Sunday of Advent we hear these words of Jesus carrying so much dire warning about things to come. It stands in stark contrast to the advertisements and holiday music blaring from our radios and hand-held devices and television screens. Images of millions of eager shoppers lining up at stores to get the best deals for their Christmas list proclaim that all is right with the world. Click the link – your Christmas shopping has never been easier! Your friends and family and dog will love you for giving them these pieces of colorful plastic made from oil, driven to your store in trucks fueled by gas, lit up by hundreds of lights powered by electricity from burning coal and natural gas, that will be thrown into the trash and taken away by more trucks burning gas, and sit in landfills for the next several hundred years. But don’t worry – as long as you get yours, as long as your lifestyle is maintained, as long as you are comfortable while all of this is happening – that’s all that really matters, right?
How are we as Christians to respond to all of this? What are we to think when the very holiday that is to proclaim God’s love and forgiveness and light coming into a world darkened by sin has been turned into one big commercial for capitalism and consumerism? How are we to respond to the pressure to produce, sell, buy, and acquire which is in direct conflict with Jesus’ command to “Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life” (Luke 21:34)?
Perhaps this is the year when we stand up and say: that’s enough. Instead of adding fuel to this fire of consumerism that is burning up our planet and leading to a devastating climate crisis, we make a conscious decision to take a step back and reassess our priorities. Instead of racing with the mindless mobs toward the cliff, we stop, turn around and begin walking in a different direction.
This week, political leaders from all over the globe are meeting for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Starting Sunday, nearly 150 heads of state and government will be meeting to address the crisis of global warming and what steps need to be taken to avert the worst-case-scenario for our planet and humanity. Where are they meeting? Paris, France. Yes, the same place where terrorism rocked the city with explosions and gunfire killing and wounding hundreds of people. Climate change activists had been planning a peaceful march in support of their leaders to take the biggest steps forward on global cooperation for ending our addiction to fossil fuels. But the march had to be cancelled because of security concerns.
So instead, marches are going to be taking part all over the world by people in their own towns and cities.
|People hold placards at last year’s climate march in Paris. Photograph: Tom Craig/Demotix/Corbis. http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/nov/19/organisers-of-cancelled-paris-climate-march-urge-global-show-of-support|
Even those who aren’t near a local march are encouraged to take selfies with their shoes to show their solidarity with the marchers. Our family will be doing this. Instead of adding our fuel to the fires of Black Friday, we are playing games, passing the football, and walking to take part in our own little march in solidarity for the planet.
“[Be on guard so that] that day does not catch you unexpectedly, like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man,” (Luke 21:36).
This is the season of alertness and to pay attention to the signs and signals nature is sending to us. Earth’s fever is rising. Islands are disappearing. Species are dying off at historic levels. Droughts are increasing. Floods are inundating entire countries.
But as Christians, we also proclaim that Creation contains within itself the very signs that remind us of God’s presence in the world. The countless species of trees and animals and insects and microbes, the beauty of forests, oceans, deserts and grasslands – all of Creation attests to the loving power of our Creator God.
And there are things we can do to align ourselves with that power instead of trying to oppose or undermine it. As research oceanographer Dr. William Patzert advises: “Listen to the scientists, vote wisely, beat carbon addiction and put humanity into the game.” (http://climate.nasa.gov/400ppmquotes/).
As Christians, we add Jesus’ instructions: “Be on guard, be alert. Pray for strength.” Churches will need to be places that heighten that alertness, marshal that prayer-power, and help organize the resources that will be needed to help our poorest and most vulnerable folks survive the effects of the climate crisis. This is exactly the time when Christians need to lift their voices, move their feet, and join their hands with like-minded brothers and sisters of all religions and ranges of belief in peaceful, prayerful protest of all the forces that are undoing God’s Creation and the fabric of civilization.
We can start with this prayer from Psalm 25 that can orient us to our calling during this Advent season:
Make me to know your ways, O Lord;
teach us your paths.
Lead us in your truth, and teach us,
for you are the God of our salvation;
for you we wait all day long.
Be mindful of your mercy, O Lord, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
Do not remember the sins of our youth or our transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember us,
for your goodness’ sake, O Lord!
[More reflections and sermons on the climate crisis and other environmental justice issues can be found in my recent book: Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015). Also check out resources on www.creationcrisispreaching.com.]
 NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information, State of the Climate: Global Analysis for October 2015, published online November 2015, retrieved on November 27, 2015 fromhttp://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/sotc/global/201510. Accessed 11/27/15