Earth Sunday, 2017

Date:  April 23, 2017

Title:  “Mind Your Mother (Earth)”

Preaching:  The Rev. Donna M.L. Pritchard

Scripture:  Psalm 98:4-9;  Romans 8:18-25

            Yesterday was Earth Day – again.  The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970.  It was organized by Gaylord Nelson, a US Senator from Wisconsin, who had been appalled at the destruction of the Santa Barbara oil spill in late 1969.  On that first Earth Day, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks and auditoriums to demonstrate for sustainable environmental policies.  Earth Day went global in 1990, and more than 193 nations celebrated and took time out to “mind our mother earth” yesterday.

Forty-seven years of Earth Days have come and gone.  And yet, still all we hear is the bad news.  As often as we’ve tried to deny it or drown it out with one more technological wonder, reaching for the latest fancier, flashier gadget, we know that since 2005 90% of the world’s glaciers have shrunk.  In Glacier National Park alone, there were 150 glaciers in 1910; today there are less than 20.  We know that two-thirds of the world’s polar bears, and fully 1/6th of all species could be lost to global warming by the year 2050.  Think about that – 2050 sounds like a far-off number, but it is only 33 short years from now!

We have heard how millions of people and entire cultures will disappear if sea levels continue to rise like the seven inches they rose in the 20th century, after 200 years of stability.  We know the kind of apology we will have to make to future generations.  We know all of this, and so we wonder if St. Paul was writing for our time when he wrote “The whole creation is groaning in labor pains, waiting with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God.”

             After forty-seven Earth Days now past, isn’t it about time we grew up to be the children of God the creation desperately needs?  Isn’t it about time we claim that identity?  Isn’t it about time we join God in the ongoing act of creation and creation care?  Kathleen Dean Moore, in her book Great Tide Rising puts it this way:

            Economists say that the carbon catastrophe is an economic problem, and of course it is; it will cost trillions to restore or replace the functionality of ecosystems that climate change will destroy, if it’s possible at all.

            Military experts write that climate change is a national security problem, and of course it is; famine and flooding will force people from their homes in waves of desperate refugees, and armies will mobilize for control of water.

            Technological wizards insist this is a technological problem, and of course it is; new ways to generate energy might free the world from culture-killing fossil fuels.

            Economic issue, national security issue, technological issue – it is all of these.  But fundamentally, global warming is a MORAL ISSUE and it calls for a moral response.

             What Dr. Moore, and the apostle Paul, want us to remember is that faith, and morality in the big “M” sense of the word is not something we can use as an incidental accessory to be put on and taken off at the slightest whim without considering the consequences.  To be a person of God is to be actively involved in the work of creation and redemption.  To be a person of faith is to engage the power of human imagination, to reinvent ourselves and to reorient our lives in ways that “mind our mother Earth” for the sake of all creation.  To be children of God is to wake up and smell not just the coffee, but the fossil fuel burning away what we have taken for granted for far too long.

I am reminded of one of my favorite Gary Larson cartoons.  In it there are a few dinosaurs – a Tyrannosaurus Rex and a Brontosaurus and some other flying creature.  They are standing in a circle, chatting with each other and smoking cigarettes.  And underneath the picture there is this caption:  “The real reason the dinosaurs became extinct.”

It is a funny cartoon.  And it makes me think.  We can say the dinosaurs never saw it coming; they never knew what hit them.  Scientists think the earth was hit by a six mile wide asteroid which wiped out marine ecosystems, and eliminated 75% of all plant and animal life on the planet.  There was literally nothing for the dinosaurs to do.

But we are not dinosaurs!  We know we are in danger, we understand there is a crisis looming.  So why is that so many of us seem happy to hang out in our comfortable, slightly anesthetized state, mindlessly smoking our cigs with the dinos?  Perhaps it is because, in part, we have forgotten what it is to hope.

Climate change, and all that it portends from poverty and famine to uncontrollable flooding and catastrophic storms, from the loss of animal species to the loss of civilization itself, seems so huge it feels impossible to address.  So it is easy to give in to despair, which is the dead end to end all dead ends.  Again, Dr. Moore would tell us that despair is no place to live.  She says she likes to give a pop quiz when she lectures, just to see if people are paying attention.  So let’s see how you do, and whether you are paying attention.

The good news is, it’s a multiple choice quiz, so it should be easy-peasy!  Here we go.  The first question is Who said, “Nothing is going to change.  The big guys have all the power and all the money.  No point in even trying.  I can’t imagine how the world might be different.”

  1. Martin Luther King
  2. Gandhi
  3. 411,000 demonstrators in NYC for the People’s Climate March
  4. none of the above

2nd question:  Who said, “I’m only one person.  Nothing I can do will make any difference, so why should I put myself out?  Besides, I’m pretty busy already”

  1. Rosa Parks
  2. Rachel Carson
  3. Elizabeth Cady Stanton
  4. None of the above

3rd question:  Who said “Climate change is the greatest crisis of our time”

  1. Barack Obama
  2. Pope John Paul II, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew I, the United Methodist Council of Bishops, and Pope Francis
  3. The Dalai Lama
  4. All of the above

It is true we are facing a crisis of epic proportion.  And we don’t need a president or a pope or even a bishop to tell us that, because we are not dinosaurs.  Instead of brains the size of walnuts, we have really big brains, which give us the ability to see what’s coming and the ability to imagine that we can do things differently.  We have the ability to hope, for as Paul reminds us:  “In hope we were saved.  Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what is seen?  But if we hope for what we do not see, Paul says,  we wait for it with patience.” 

And I would add, if we hope for what we do not see, we also work for it with patience.  We have the ability to hope.  Alaskan singer-songwriter Libby Roderick wrote her own answer to the question of despair:

What do you do when the life rafts are burning and your babies are inside the boat?

Where do you turn when the waters are churning and you’re desperate to learn how to float?

What do you do when the iceberg is looming, and the ship isn’t turning away?

How can you be heard when the warning bell’s ringing and the band just continues to play?

Where do you turn when the engines catch fire and the life rafts are starting to burn?

 Turn, turn, turn… to each other, reach for each other, take one another by the hand.

We’ll form our own life raft, a human life raft, and together we’ll swim toward the land. 

             My friends, we can still swim together toward the land.  As we choose to “mind our mother Earth”, our hope becomes transformed.  Every time we choose to reduce, reuse, recycle – every time we say not to a culture of greed and work to create a culture of love – hope becomes courage.  And courage becomes integrity as hope becomes possibility and the world breathes a little bit easier.

Who knows what Earth Day 2018 might bring, if my hope and your hope meet God’s hope for us all?  Maybe it will bring apologies that are more than empty words. Because we can still swim together, we can still make a difference, we can still mind our mother Earth.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

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