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Wednesday, December 16, 2015
Now that #COP21, the Paris conference on climate change, has finished, it's time to start equipping people of faith to take action to enact climate justice. This book, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015), is a helpful guide for pastors and preachers to frame the climate issue - as well as other environmental justice topics - within biblical and theological themes. With a blend of theory and practical tips, as well as examples of sermons that address ecological themes, this book can be useful for book study groups, pastor study groups, and for sermon preparation. Also helpful for homiletics professors looking to give their students a useful resource as they begin their ministries in a time of increasing environmental challenges.
Tuesday, December 15, 2015
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Texts: Zephaniah 3:14-20; Luke 3:7-18
Keywords: refugees, gun violence, climate change, racism, Confederate flag, domestic violence
Recall the words of the prophet Zephaniah, the words he spoke on behalf of God to the people of Israel: “I will deal with all your oppressors at that time. And I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you.” (Zephaniah 3:19-20).
I will bring you home.
A father carries his brand new baby son out of the hospital in the carrier they received at the shower just last month, now 7 pounds and 6 ounces heavier than when he brought it into the birthing suite. He opens the door to the car and places the carrier into the seat, fumbling with the harness and strap, making sure that everything is secured just right. He helps his partner climb into the passenger side, and they both look back at the seat. They have a moment of paralyzing reflection, realizing how fragile is the life wrapped in those blankets, and how dangerous is the journey they are about to begin. More carefully than the day he took the test for his driver’s license, he pulls out of the parking space and cautiously drives into their new life as a family. I will bring you home.
Across the sea, another father wraps his daughter in her warmest winter coat. At thirteen, the top of her head just reaches his neck line, and she looks up at him, her smooth olive skin and soft brown eyes framed by her favorite orange and green hijab, the head-covering her mother made for her last month. His wife opens the door of their house onto the street strewn with rubble, empty shell casings, and traces of blood. He tucks his worn copy of the Koran into his backpack and pulls the straps, making sure everything is secured just right. He helps his daughter and wife climb over the broken concrete as the ratatata sound of gunfire in the distance rattles their nerves. He looks back at his house, the roof partially collapsed from a mortar shell from last night. He has a moment of paralyzing reflection, realizing how fragile is the life wrapped in that coat, and how dangerous is the journey they are about to begin. More carefully than when he used to climb rocks in the foothills as a boy, he leads his family down the street into their new life. I will bring you to a new home.
What a comforting word Zephaniah proclaims to a people who knew what it meant to be forced from their homes in a time of brutal war and a series of relentless military conquering. “I will deal with all your oppressors . . . I will save the lame and gather the outcast . . . I will bring you home.”
Home is where the aroma of a warm drink and the light of a kitchen table surrounds those who embrace you, gently tease you, worry about you, and make sure that the door is unlocked for you when you arrive.
Home is the town where you can walk the street and gather smiles from passers-by, exchange jokes and friendly words with acquaintances, and travel to work and shopping and recreation with only the baggage of your day, rather than the baggage of your skin color, or your religion, or your gender and sexuality.
Home is the planet where the water is clean, the air is fresh, the seasons change with comfortable predictability, and other lifeforms can enjoy the same.
I daresay that in the last two months, many of us have not felt at home. Forsythia bushes and cherry trees are being tricked by the consistently high temperatures into blooming in December. This season is out of season, and while we may enjoy the spring-like weather, deep in our bones we know – this is not right. This does not feel like our home.
In the last two months, many of us have not felt at home.
Across the continent, the Native American town of Quinault Village of Taholah on the Pacific Coast is having to relocate because of sea level rise due to melting glaciers. “Five years ago, the Anderson Glacier, which contributes cool water to the Quinault River at critical times of year, disappeared for good. It had been receding for as long as locals had been photographing it, but one woman still remembers the day when she saw that it was completely gone. ‘In that moment I could feel my heart sinking, thinking that the glacier that feeds the mighty Quinault River has now disappeared,’ she says. Without the glacier, the Quinault River was lower than ever recorded. So low that while walking through a newly exposed stretch of riverbed, one tribal member stubbed his toe on what turned out to be a mastodon jaw that may have been submerged since the last ice age.” (https://climatestew.com/an-ancient-village-must-relocate-climate-displacement-in-north-america/) This does not feel like home.
Have you felt things shift in your home? In your home planet? In your hometown?
Just thirty minutes south of this church, a woman sat on the porch of her hometown one October Saturday watching the annual Halloween parade. This is the town where she had grown up as one of the only black families in the community, but had always felt accepted and safe – that this town was her home. But on this day she watched as a float featuring a Confederate flag moved down the street, and her blood ran cold as she heard shouts of “light ‘em up” from some in the crowd - a phrase used to give the order to shoot at one’s enemy. Add this to the many other red and blue-x flags she has seen displayed in increasing numbers around the Valley in the last six months. Add this to the pick-up truck with the flag that drove past her on the street where she lives, and the words hurled at her: “Nigger – go back to Africa where you belong!” This does not feel like home.
Just a few blocks away, a 10-year-old boy scuffs his feet along the sidewalk as he reluctantly makes his way to the place where he lives. He had tucked the test with the D-grade into his backpack before leaving school, making sure the strap was secured tight. He prayed his father would not ask to see it as he walked up the steps of the porch with paint peeling off the banister and the recycling can of empty bottles and cans of alcohol sitting beneath the window sill. He could hear his father in the house yelling, screaming. And he had a moment of paralyzing reflection, realizing how fragile his life was, and how dangerous was the world inside of that door. More carefully than when he used to sneak down in the middle of the night to lift a cookie from the canister, he crept through the kitchen, hoping to escape to his bedroom without being noticed. I wish this was not my home.
It is very difficult to feel at home when the threat of violence seems ready to erupt from any car, in any school, in any building, in any home.
It is hard to feel at home when so many angry voices scream at refugees and Muslims and blacks to stay away, go away.
It has become increasingly depressing to look at the home of this fragile orb spinning in space, its climate and its cities and its towns and its homes spinning out of control.
And it is precisely into this spinning whirlwind of chaos and fear and hatred that the prophet’s voice calls out: “I will save the lame and gather the outcast, and I will change their shame into praise and renown in all the earth. At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you.”
Those words echoed down through the centuries and landed at the feet of a man standing at the Jordan River two thousand years ago. He picked up those words and added his own unique invitation: “Bear fruits worthy of repentance.” Turn your lives around. Be washed clean of all this nasty, selfish, greedy arrogance and complacency. Repent – turn around. Come back home.
Are you ready to return home? What might it look like – this homecoming?
It might look like people wading into that river and actually changing their ways, actually listening and responding. It might look like people sharing what they have – their extra coat, their extra food, their extra room, their hometown, their country – sharing with people who may not look like them or worship the same God as them, or have the same skin color as them. But they do it because they want to help someone feel at home.
It might look like the very rich, and the comfortably well-off, and the modestly privileged making the deliberate decision to live within their means, and establish just and equal pay, and repent of their sinful accumulation of wealth. And they do it because they want to help others be able to afford to live and survive and be at home.
It might look like soldiers and police restoring trust and adhering to justice for themselves and those they are charged with protecting. It might look like a place where firearms and weapons are so few and far between that people finally feel safe to walk into their school, their workplace, their local movie theatre, their shopping store, their home, and not worry about who might channel their rage and insanity and evil thoughts into the barrel of a gun. And they will feel like they can safely be at home.
It might look like a father carrying his brand new baby son out of the stable in the swaddling clothes they had received from the innkeeper’s wife – that bundle now 7 pounds and 6 ounces heavier than when he brought it into the manger. He opens the stable door and helps his wife onto the donkey, strapping on their meager bundle of clothes and supplies, fumbling with the harness, making sure that everything is secured just right. He had been warned to escape this place – because the troops were coming. The weapons would soon be spraying blood. He and his beloved gaze at the smooth olive skin and soft brown eyes looking up at them. They have a moment of paralyzing reflection, realizing how fragile is this life wrapped in those blankets, and how dangerous is the journey they are about to begin. More carefully than the day he helped guide that donkey into the stable with his pregnant wife balanced between contractions, he pulls the reigns of the animal and cautiously begins the journey south, hoping and praying to find a place and a people who will welcome him and make a safe place for his new family. I will bring you home.
The One who was born into the spinning whirlwind of extreme violence and racial hatred, of extreme poverty in the midst of extreme wealth, of extreme darkness in a fearful world – this One, the Messiah, was born for peace and equity, for hope and generosity. This One stands with those most vulnerable and invites us to do the same – to respond with compassion and courage and just plain old decent courtesy. He is calling us to come home – and to open our home, and to cherish and clean up and protect our planetary home, and to make our home free of violence so that it is safe and welcoming.
“At that time I will bring you home, at the time when I gather you.” We are being gathered – we are being called. It’s time to return home. Amen.
Sunday, December 6, 2015
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Isaiah 5:1-7; 11:1-5
If a picture is worth a thousand words, than a metaphor is worth a thousand feelings and connections. The Bible is replete with images that not only spoke to the original hearers, but also speak to us, Many generations removed. This imagery of new growth arising out of the stump was so powerful for the people in Isaiah’s time. Their history was marked with periods of utter devastation, sometimes at the hands of their enemies, but other times through their own failure to enact justice for those most vulnerable in their own community.
We, too, can resonate with the loss God feels for this vineyard that had been Israel – “he expected justice, but saw bloodshed; righteousness, but heard a cry!” And how anguished those cries have been this past month across our world, as we saw story after story of bloodshed in Baghdad, Beirut, Paris. And here in the United States where we have had more mass shootings than days of the year in 2015. And in refugee camps and walking trails across the globe where thousands are fleeing for their lives, trying to find safety in a place that will welcome them, rather than shutting them out.
“O Come, O Branch of Jesse, free your own from Satan’s tyranny,” we sang in the opening hymn. What does this mean – Branch of Jesse? It comes from this passage in Isaiah: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” Jesse was the ancestor of David, the great king of Israel. At the time when Isaiah was writing these words, it appeared that the line of kingship had been cut to the stump, along with the rest of the nation of Israel. They were existing on bare bones, with little hope, and not many prospects for a better future.
I came upon a stump earlier this summer.
It was a tree that had been ripped down by a storm. All that was left was this stump.
But that was not the end of the tree. A new branch began growing out of the stump.
And today, this is the tree that has grown just as tall as the other trees around it.
I have to admit – I passed by this tree for years and never really took notice of its trunk, what had happened to it. But one day as I was walking past it, something made me stop and notice the raggedness of the trunk. And as I took a closer look, I realized what had happened to it. This tree had once been just a stump. But look at it now.
An image like this, like the one we have in Isaiah, is so important – because it ignites our theological imagination. Theological imagination is the capacity to see the world as God would have us see it, to see people and communities and our planet as God sees them. A metaphor like a new tree rising from the stump gives us access to a regenerative theological imagination and helps us to see a God-directed future.
“Theological imagination?” you might ask. What good is that going to do for us when we’re just struggling to make ends meet? When we’re facing a rising tide of racism, gun violence and terrorism around the country and around the block? When the doctor puts her hand on my shoulder and gives me the news I was not prepared to hear? How is theological imagination going to help us – help me – then?
But you see, lack of imagination is precisely the problem. When we refuse to see our fellow human beings as children of God, when we cannot see beyond a person’s gender, or skin color or sexual orientation, or immigration status, or police record – it is a failure of imagination. When we can no longer imagine any solution for our conflicts that does not involve guns or bombs – that is a failure of imagination. When we cannot see any alternatives for our economy, and our ecology, and our agriculture in order to create a more just way of life for people and our planet – that is the failure of imagination. When the news about our health, or that of a loved one, leaves us so distraught, we can barely get out of bed in the morning – a healthy dose of theological imagination can go a long way.
I have seen this happen for one of our own in this congregation. One of our members has learned first-hand what it means to be cut down and be left with a stump. The virus or bacteria or whatever it was that struck his heart and eventually led to loss of circulation in his leg has left him with one less limb. I can only imagine the pain he is experiencing, the sense of loss, and the sinking feeling of knowing that his life is changed forever. But he and his wife have told me that what has gotten them through, in addition to the medical care he has received – has been the love and prayers and support of their family, friends, and this congregation. Soon he will be learning to grow a new life out of that stump, and it will take all of us to help him, encourage him, and lift him up in prayer.
And that, my friends, is why you are here. It’s why this church exists. When you look back on the history of this church, you can see the ways in which theological imagination sustained the members of this congregation through very difficult and trying times. And given what we face now in a time that is reminiscent of the exile the Israelites experienced – this is precisely the reason why theological imagination is so important. This community, this synod, this area of Central Pennsylvania, this world needs your imagination. And this church, United in Christ, is the place where you can cultivate just that – a vineyard with new growth emerging from what appears to be nothing but dead stumps. This is the place where you can encounter God’s Word and feel its power to open up new possibilities of creativity for your life and your community. This is the place where you are invited to dream of ways to reach out to your neighbors, offer hope and encouragement, work for justice, and sustain the communities around you with saplings of faith.
Remember, Israel had been cut down to the stump by the hands of those who sought their demise. By all counts, they were done for. But Isaiah was looking at that stump through the eyes of theological imagination and saw a connection between human spiritual and societal health and God’s Creation. That which was written off as hopeless is what actually contains the seed for new life.
Slowly, much more slowly than I’m sure they would have liked, Zion emerged as the people who would be strong. And where does that strength come from? On the back of a suffering servant figure. While Israel did not envision such a root coming in the form of Jesus, as Christians, we can’t help but see the similarity in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. This means that our hope, our strength, our renewal comes through Jesus – who is, by the way, a descendant of David’s line – a branch of Jesse.
Now, of course, just because there is new hope does not mean that the angels will swoop down with a chorus of hallelujahs, and the heavens suddenly open up with rainbows and sunbeams. If you read to the end of Isaiah, you see that he does not allow the reader to arrive at a simple solution. We can’t just expect God to come and clean up our messes and make a happily-ever-ending for us. We will have to be honest about the wrongs that have been done, to be forthright about the injustices people have suffered. And when we do discover this new growth, it will require patience and nurturing and protection. You will not be able to make it grow faster than it will. But you can be assured – it will grow. And it is our theological imagination that enables that growth to flourish.
It is theological imagination that sparked the idea for our monthly senior center – OAKs. We now have 50 people who have come to our program on the second Wednesday of the month. Our society often looks at seniors as nothing but cut-off stumps, past their prime. But this church said, wait a minute. The seniors of this community are still Children of God. They deserve a place where they can gather, talk with old friends and meet new ones, share memories, laugh with each other, share prayers and tears with each other, learn together, and grow, yes grow, in their faith. A program like this helps people see that we need to value our senior citizens. When I look at the folks who come to OAKs, I see saplings rising up out of the ground. And it’s because this church remembers them and takes action.
This image of the saplings sprouting up out of stumps captures so well the spirit of this verse in Isaiah. It activates our theological imagination to remind us of God’s promise that no matter how terrible the tragedy, not matter how difficult the problem, no matter how heavy the burden, no matter how long it takes - suffering is not the entire picture. God will persist in helping us overcome the obstacles that prevent us from living the full, productive, peaceful, healthy lives that we were meant to enjoy – individually, as a family of faith, as a community, as a nation, and as a human community on this planet.
United in Christ – you are that sapling. You are a sign of hope for a weary world. You are the bearer of Christ’s branch, rising out of the stump of Jesse, bringing new life to your members, to your community, and to this world. During this Advent season, may God give you each the gift of this theological imagination to see new growth from old stumps. To see a future for this church that is reaching up and out, tenderly and tenaciously. To see Christ’s hands reaching, beckoning us into this new future with confidence, patience, and quiet, unremitting joy. Amen.
More ideas for sermons about the Creation-Crisis can be found in my book:
And visit the website for more ideas for connecting faith and Creation:
Monday, November 30, 2015
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade
Texts: Psalm 25: 1-10; Luke 21:25-26
Watch the video of the sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DnvZAN27Iek
“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 Jesus 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’m noticing here in Central PA in mid-November and December. After all the leaves had dropped from the trees in preparation for the winter months, I am noticing buds sprouting from the tips of branches from some of the trees and bushes.
We’ve had many warm days – in the high 50s and low 60s. The sun has been shining and people are out enjoying the nice weather. Friends are telling me they are seeing roses bloom and cherry trees blossom. In November and December. Part of me wants to say, isn’t this balmy weather wonderful? But the other part of me knows – this is not right.
|This is a forsythia bush blooming in December in Lewisburg, PA.|
We’ve had many warm days – in the high 50s and low 60s. The sun has been shining and people are out enjoying the nice weather. Friends are telling me they are seeing roses bloom and cherry trees blossom. In November and December. Part of me wants 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 on this first Sunday of Advent we hear these words of Jesus carrying so much dire warning about things to come. We talked about this passage in our Bible study before the service, and were struck by the words that seem to describe what is happening in our world – everything from political terrorism to racial hatred, from war refugees to mass shootings that seem to occur weekly.
These stand 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.
For two weeks, political leaders from all over the globe met for the United Nations Conference on Climate Change. Nearly 150 heads of state and government gathered 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 were they meeting? Paris, France. Yes, the same place where just a few weeks prior to the conference, 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 and curb the worst effects of climate change. But the march had to be cancelled because of security concerns.
So instead, marches have been taking part all over the world by people in their own towns and cities.
Even those who weren’t near a local march were encouraged to take selfies with their shoes to show their solidarity with the marchers. Our family did this as well. Instead of adding our fuel to the fires of Black Friday, we played games, threw the football, and took part in our own 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 to be alert and 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 and intensifying. 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/).
And, 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 ideas for sermons about the Creation-Crisis can be found in my book Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015).
And visit the website for more ideas for connecting faith and Creation: http://www.creationcrisispreaching.com/
Tuesday, November 3, 2015
The following is my testimony for the listening sessions the DEP is holding throughout the state to gather citizen input as it considers how Pennsylvania can best implement the Clean Power Plan, which our country adopted to reduce carbon pollution from power plants - the nation's biggest source of climate change emissions.
Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA-DEP)
The Rev. Dr. Leah D. Schade, PhD
Pastor, United in Christ Lutheran Church, Lewisburg, PA
Author, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theologyand the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015)
Adjunct Professor in Religion and Philosophy –
Lebanon Valley College, Annville, PA; Susquehanna University, Selinsgrove, PA
November 4, 2015
First, I want to thank the DEP and Secretary Quigly for gathering citizen input on the formulation of the state's strategies for meeting the Clean Power Plan targets. Climate change poses grave threats to present and future generations of Pennsylvanians, so the Commonwealth must take immediate action against climate change. A strong state plan to implement the CPP is the most important near-term action Pennsylvania can take. I offer this testimony today on behalf of myself, my husband and two young children, and my congregation, United in Christ Lutheran Church in Lewisburg, to express my support for the DEP to do two things to meet the Clean Power Plan: 1) encourage energy conservation, and 2) refuse to entertain any thought of allowing methane gas to be a means by which to meet the targets.
First, I am concerned that energy efficiency will not be utilized to its full extent in the plan, because it was not included in the target-setting. It is still allowed for compliance. The fact is that energy efficiency is the fastest, cleanest, and most cost-effective compliance mechanism available to states. And on the basis of levelized costs, the evidence is clear: energy efficiency is cheaper than any generation technology. There is no compliance mechanism better suited to directly help consumers with their energy costs.
Just this week, my elementary-age son received a “Bright Kids” kit at his school from PP&L with three free LED light bulbs and materials to help him learn about energy conservation. Just that small investment from the power company will help our home save energy, save money, and cut our carbon emissions. Imagine if all power companies were required to provide such kits to every one of their customers. Energy efficiency is cheaper than any type of electricity, new or existing, fossil or renewable. We should be investing in energy efficiency first to displace new and existing fossil fuel energy generation. This way, even if rates go up, bills will stay the same or go down.
In regards to my second concern about methane gas, I served as a member of the task force on slickwater hydraulic fracturing for the Upper Susquehanna Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. We spent two years studying the ethical and moral issues surrounding fracking. I have also been a member of several environmental groups that study and bear witness to the harmful effects of the shale gas industry in our state and across the country. The Clean Power Plan undervalues the warming impact of methane gas in two important ways. First, the CPP regulates stack emissions, not upstream emissions, so the impact of the methane leakage from wells and infrastructure is largely invisible to the Plan.
Second, methane is a greenhouse gas even more potent than carbon dioxide. The total lifecycle emissions from methane-gas-fired power plants, including leakage during production, processing, and transmission, emissions flaring at gas wells, and energy consumed in the production and transport of liquefied natural gas have the potential to send greenhouse gases on our planet into out-of-control levels.
While the most recent report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change states that methane is 86 times more powerful as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide over a 20 year period, the Clean Power Plan relies on an outdated figure previously published by the IPCC, stating that methane is only 25 times more powerful than carbon dioxide over 100 years, a timeframe that is hardly relevant given the Plan’s goal to reduce emissions by 2030. The bottom line is that the more Pennsylvania’s plan avoids relying on shale gas, the faster we can make lasting efforts to reduce emissions.
By some estimates, if Pennsylvania designs a strong plan centered on low-carbon solutions, we could generate at least 5,100 new jobs in the energy efficiency sector and save local businesses at least $241 million on energy bills in 2020. We can also expect to see an additional $17 billion in investment come to our state's clean energy projects.
I am committed to helping people of faith learn how to do their part to care for God’s Creation and address ecological justice issues. The Clean Power Plan should lead to significant climate and public health benefits for all, especially minority, low-income, and indigenous communities. The crafters of the plan must also be vigilant about identifying and closing any loopholes that would enable carbon emitters to skirt either the letter and/or spirit of the law.
In conclusion, I call for the DEP to move toward a plan that shuns reliance on shale gas and embraces clean, renewable energy, along with energy conservation, all of which has the potential to create jobs, reduce greenhouse gases, and power our state in sustainable ways. I urge the DEP to make the plan as strong as possible, exceeding the federal specs, and to do everything within its power to move our state away from fossil fuels and toward solar, wind, and geothermal, as well as greatly increased energy efficiency and conservation. Thank you.
Wednesday, October 7, 2015
World Communion Sunday
First reading: Exodus 11:1-10 (Warning of the final plague)
Psalm 109:26-31 (prayer for vindication)
Second reading: Exodus 12:1-3, 7, 11-14, 26-28 (The first Passover)
Gospel: Mark 14:12-21, 22-25 (the first Communion meal)
I said last week in the sermon about the plagues of Egypt that when those with power and influence harden their hearts, it usually the children who suffer the most. No one knew that better than the Hebrew and Egyptian children. Pharaoh’s infanticide program against Hebrew babies, combined with his concentration camps in the brick-yards where children slaved away in the hot desert sun are estimated to have killed over 2 million innocent children during the Pharaoh’s reign. But no matter how many plagues they suffer, no matter how clear the warnings, Pharaoh refuses to relent. What does it take to finally get the hard-hearted person to respond?
In Pharaoh’s case it only happens when his own son, his first-born, is found dead at midnight. Then it all comes crashing down on him. This is what it feels like to taste the bread of suffering like the Hebrews did for decades when they watched their own little boys floating dead in the Nile, drowned by Pharaoh’s soldiers. This is the taste of the wet, salty tears of grief that the Hebrews drank by the gallons as they watched their children die in the hard-labor camps making bricks for Pharaoh’s palaces and pyramids. All those innocent infants and children, cut down, starved, beaten and drowned to death.
Yes, but what about the Egyptian children on the night of the Passover? Why did God punish them for the sins of Pharaoh? Why did God cause them to die? It wasn’t their fault. They were innocent too.
Let’s be clear – it was not God who brought on these deaths. It was Pharaoh. God cannot be blamed here. The blood is on Pharaoh’s hands. He was given plenty of opportunities to change. He was given clear warning by Moses telling him exactly what would happen if he did not change. But still he chose death. He did nothing to protect his own people. All he had to do was compromise, relent, humble himself just a little. But he chose hard-heartedness. He chose stubbornness. He chose to sacrifice his own son. Not God. http://christianthinktank.com/killheir.html
God was no more responsible for the deaths of the innocent first-born of Egypt than God is responsible for the deaths of Syrian children or Honduran children or black children in American, or students in a classroom gunned down by men who harden their hearts and insist that their way is the only way.
It’s called moral reciprocity. When appeals to a person’s or a nation’s sense of decency and compassion fall on deaf ears and hard hearts, the only logical result is that the violence and evil and suffering will at some point rebound, bounce back upon the perpetrator. It may take years, even decades for the tide to turn, but eventually the body counts reach a tipping point, and something has to change. The killing has to stop. Because Hebrew Lives Matter. Black Lives Matter. Syrian Lives Matter. Honduran Lives Matter. Children’s Lives Matter. They matter to God. Do they matter to us?
On the night he was betrayed our Lord Jesus took bread, gave thanks to God, and broke it, saying, This is my body given for you. Do this for the remembrance of me.
The lives of children matter to Jesus. The lives of those who suffer matter to Jesus. The bread of suffering, he too has tasted. The salty tears of pain and grief he has tasted.
He took the cup, gave thanks and gave it to his disciples saying, take and drink. This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many.
This is the blood of the lamb. This is a remembrance that children suffered and died like innocent lambs in Israel and Egypt. And children still suffer and die in America and Syria and Central America. This is not a sacrifice to the god of Pharaoh – a god of violence and murder and deadly weapons. Jesus’ death is not a sacrifice. This is God saying – the sacrifices must stop. They stop right here, on this day, with this meal.
Like the Hebrews who ate the Passover meal with traveling clothes on and their bags packed, we, too, will eat this meal hurriedly, with shoes on our feet, ready to act. This is not a leisurely sit-down meal. It’s a meal we eat on the go, on our way to serve, on our way to act, on our way to respond, to do something with the faith we have been given.
It’s a meal we eat in solidarity with our Jewish sisters and brothers who gulped the Passover food on their final night of genocide.
It’s a meal we eat in solidarity with Syrian refugees who eat their meals in cramped camps, escaping their own tyrannical murderous rulers.
It’s a meal we eat in heartbroken communion with the families students gunned down in their college classroom in Oregon, and every other family of the 140,000 shooting victims in this country over the last 11 years.
It’s a meal we eat before being sent out to answer the call of God and embark on a journey to a new place, a new phase of life, a new phase of faith, a renewed commitment to God and the church, to our family and community, to our planet and its fragile ecosystems.
How will you answer that call? For some it will be to say, let me learn more about the faith of my Jewish neighbors. Or the Syrian refugees. Or my black neighbors. Or the need to address the ongoing problem of gun violence.
For others, it will be to make a donation to help with Lutheran Disaster Response, or World Hunger. Or it will be a decision to increase donations to this congregation so that this center of ministry of the world, this outpost of love and service, can continue to do the work God calls us to do.
Some may be moved to contact their legislators, write letters to the editor, talk with family and friends about the need to confront the Pharaoh-like powers that are conducting systemic and systematic killings of innocent children through the economic, military and political machines of our time.
For others, it will be to pick up a pair of scissors and cut pieces of cloth for a quilt that will be sent to one of those refugees.
However you choose to respond to God’s call, this meal is your connection to your sisters and brothers across the world, and across the street. It is your connection across time to the disciples who received the bread and wine from Jesus. It is your connection with all those saints who have gone before, and the saints who are to come. This is bread that will be fed to the rowdy child behind you, and the cane-toting elder in front of you. This is the cup that is your faith-in-action – forgiving, finding compassion, activating your own responsiveness to those in need.
“This day shall be a day of remembrance for you. You shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord; throughout your generations you shall observe it as a perpetual ordinance . . . And the people bowed down and worshiped.” Amen.
Tuesday, September 29, 2015
FROG Sunday – Fully Rely On God
(Keywords: power, corporations, climate change, fossil fuels, change, church)
Watch the video of the sermon here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?t=3&v=tI_n8R9o7XE
First reading: Exodus 7:1-7 (Pharaoh’s heart hardens)
Psalm 10:1-8, 12-14 (prayer for deliverance from oppression)
Second reading: Exodus 8:1-15 (plague of frogs)
Gospel: John 12:37-43 (their hearts were hardened)
How did they get themselves into this mess? Frogs everywhere! In their sinks, in their shoes, in their pots and in their pews! One frog hopping is a source of delight. Hundreds of frogs keep you awake all night!
Where did this mess come from? And what are they going to do about it? Everyone’s looking to Pharaoh, the great and powerful ruler of Egypt, to wield his divine power and rid the land of these ambitious amphibians. But they’re beginning to suspect that maybe Pharaoh isn’t as powerful as the propaganda says he is. If he can’t even control a simple thing like frogs, maybe there needs to be a rethinking about who’s really in charge here.
The people might be thinking that, but Pharaoh certainly is not. Pharaoh relied on himself and his own power. That power was very real, and it was symbolized by the panoply of gods and goddesses that were believed to control all aspects of Egyptian life. The goddess of the Nile controlled the river, the lifeblood, of the valley. Pharaoh controlled the priests who consorted with her. Thus Pharaoh believed he controlled the water.
The goddess of birth was symbolized as a frog and thus revered in Egypt. Pharaoh controlled the priests who consorted with her. Thus Pharaoh believed he controlled the fertility of his people.
And on down the line – Pharaoh controlled the crops and harvest. Pharaoh controlled the livestock. Pharaoh controlled their health. Pharaoh controlled their children. Pharaoh even believed he controlled the light of the sun itself. And, even more arrogantly, he believed he controlled the forces of life and death. It did not matter to him how much people suffered under his rule. What mattered to him was the securing of his own position, wealth and power.
And you know, it’s not that much different in our time. We still have people in whom the power of the world’s resources and wealth are concentrated. Heads of global corporations and government and elite financial centers are the Pharaohs of our time who are answerable to no one, and serve the god of profit, commodifying every aspect of the earth and people’s labor.
Who am I to go to Pharaoh? Moses asked last week. What is one person in the face of these awesome powers? What difference can I possibly make? Pharaoh is too big – too big to fail – and I am nothing but a peon. It will make absolutely no difference whether I act or not.
Well, God begs to differ. Because there’s nothing that irritates God more than someone who thinks he’s god. People or organizations or corporations or governments who control so much and can act without impunity – this really gets under God’s skin. So God sends Moses and Aaron to bring a message to Pharaoh: let my people go to worship the true God. Because you are not god. You only think you are. And if you do not humble yourself before the true God, there will be dire consequences for you and all those who support your reign.
Pharaoh, of course responded the way most people in power respond. He hardened his heart. Kavad-lev, in Hebrew. It means he made is heart impermeable with his own riches and glory. He made himself dense with his own sense of omnipotence. His heart became insensitive. He could not feel.
So God has to bring down every one of his illusions of power in order to break through to his heart. He systematically sends plagues that reveal the impotence of Pharaoh’s gods, and thus himself. The river is turned to blood until Pharaoh promises to let the people go. But then he goes back on his word when Moses returns the water to its previous state of cleanness. Frogs fill his palace and the homes of all his people, and then lay dying and stinking in the hot sun. Thus demonstrating that Pharaoh really has no power over birth. And on down the line – flies, gnats, boils on the skin, locusts, severe weather events that destroy crops. Strange diseases that kill livestock. All the gods are shown to be illusions. And Pharaoh is given multiple chances to humble himself and recognize that his place is to serve his people, to serve God’s creation, not to dominate them and use them for his own profit.
Sometimes when I see the devastation brought on by the changing climate, I wonder if a similar process is happening. Invasive species, alternating floods and droughts, severe weather events, decimated crops, strange diseases in our fish and livestock and our own bodies. Are there messages in this plagues that we are not heeding? Are we in the United States hardening our hearts to the suffering of those most vulnerable just so we can enjoy the lifestyle of a rich Pharaoh? Are we worshiping gods that are illusions? Are we being given opportunities to humble ourselves and recognize that our place is to serve each other and to serve God’s creation, not to dominate them and use them for our own profit?
Sometimes it can even happen in a congregation – this hardening of hearts. Sometimes things happen in a church that reveal who we really are, what kind of heart is beating within us. When things are going well, we can get complacent, and just assume that everything is going to continue without any challenges or changes. But when those challenges do come, we are given the same options as Pharaoh. Soften your heart and give yourself over to God. Or harden your heart and withhold yourself from God.
Perhaps we shouldn’t be too hard on Pharaoh. Maybe it wasn’t just blind stubbornness that encased his heart against God. Maybe it was good old fashioned fear. Release the Israelites, you’ll lose your energy source. That’s a scary prospect. But maybe there were other ways they could have powered their economy.
Let the Israelites go and worship God, and you’ll lose your sovereignty. Who wants to lose that? But maybe there are better ways to relate to people other than trying to dominate them.
Let yourself see the suffering of people and you’ll be overcome by guilt and grief. And those are feelings no one wants to experience. But maybe this is the way we can truly come to learn who God is, and to experience the gift of divine compassion.
And maybe the hardening of hearts we see today is also driven by good old fashioned fear. Release fossil fuels and we’ll lose our energy source. That’s a scary prospect. Or maybe there are other healthier ways we can power our economy.
Let the needs of poorer nations guide our policies, and we’ll lose our sovereignty. Who wants to lose that? Or maybe there are better ways to related to our neighbors, other than trying to dominate them.
Allow ourselves to see the suffering of people and we’ll be overcome by guilt and grief. And that can be paralyzing. So we tell ourselves – better to hold onto what we’ve worked so hard for. Better to tighten the grip on our own power. Better to harden our hearts and dig in our heels with what has always worked before.
But here’s the thing: the world is changing and has already changed. We live in a different time on a different planet. The old one has already passed away, and trying to grasp it only leaves you with clenched fists and a clenched heart. God is already doing a new thing. God’s already made a decision that injustice can no longer rule. The enslavement of earth and human beings is no longer the way we can fuel our economy. What worked before isn’t working now, and really it never worked that well to begin with. Because look what a mess it’s gotten us into.
The same thing can happen in the church. The church is changing and has already changed. We live in a different time in a different congregation. The old one has passed away, and trying to grasp it will only leave you with clenched fists and hearts. God is already doing a new thing. God has already made a decision that the foundation on which we are built is not working. It is sinking beneath our feet. It needs to be repaired. Not just the physical joists, but the spiritual and financial undergirding of our congregation. Something unhealthy has taken hold within the structure of our congregation and needs to be exposed to the light, cleaned up and rebuilt. It may look okay on the surface. But the cracks are showing, the floor is separating, and there is work to be done.
So the question for us is, will we harden our hearts and clench our fists? Or will we fully rely on God? Will we soften our hearts, open our hands, and give ourselves over to the task of supporting the ministry of the church? Will we let go of our excuses and rationalizing and our self-serving reasons for digging in our heels?
It wouldn’t have been so bad if Pharaoh’s decisions only affected himself. But what he failed or refused to realize is that his stubbornness was going to drag everyone else around him down with him. And that is the real tragedy, isn’t it? When the ones in charge, the ones with power, the ones with influence, the ones with resources make the decisions not to care, not to act, not to respond to God’s command, it is ultimately the children who suffer. We will see it happen in Egypt when the children suffer from the plagues because the adults refused to respond to God’s call.
I’ve seen that happen in congregations where the adults refuse to care. They refuse to participate in learning programs with the younger members. They refuse to model generosity. They stop attending worship. They stubbornly refuse to try new things. They appear to support the ministry of the church, but then they complain in secret and scheme behind closed doors, and their words and actions form like mold beneath the foundation of the church. They harden their hearts. And they may believe they have every right and reason to do so. But who ends up losing out in the end? The children.
But our children have not given up on us. They will sing for us.
They will beckon us to come color with them, and listen to Bible stories with them, and play silly games with them, and learn with them. They will trust that we will take care of what needs to be done to make sure the foundation beneath their feet is cleaned up and restored.
And the children of earth have not given up on us. They look to us to leave them a world they can live in with clean water and air and animals with enough room to live and grow and thrive. They are trusting us to take care of what needs to be done to make sure the foundation of our economy and energy and health and education systems and food systems are cleaned up and restored. They are fully relying on God. Let’s show them how wonderful and loving and generous and compassionate and powerful our God really is. Amen.