A sermon by Tom Huetteman, lay member of Lake Merritt UMC (4/19/20)
The famous Astronomer, Galileo, some 400 years ago said that “mathematics is the language in which God has written the universe.” And I think it is true that one of the ways God communicates with us is through the language of math. Today, I think you might say we are seeing God’s alarm going off. The alarm I’m thinking of is the exponential growth curve, that line graph that at first starts slowly rising and then suddenly shoots straight up. God’s alarm – Wake up! Pay attention! Act! It’s all over the news – the horrifying numbers associated with COVID-19 growing exponentially.
There is another place where we see this same graph shape, a line shooting straight up. It’s the exponential growth of carbon dioxide or greenhouse gas emissions into the world’s atmosphere, only this has been going on for quite some time, shooting sharply up for the past few decades and no flattening of the curve is in sight. God’s alarm is going off again! Wake up! Pay attention! Act!
It’s Earth Day this week – the 50th anniversary is this Wednesday, April 22nd. It began as a movement to care for the earth. That same year the US Environmental Protection Agency was formed and I later spent 33 years working for EPA in public service for environmental protection.
As Christians, we shouldn’t need an Earth Day celebration to remind us of the precious gift that is this creation we are blessed to be part of. Our faith tells us that God’s glory and goodness is revealed through creations. The Bible’s beginning in Genesis is a celebration of creation that continues throughout the Bible. Through creation God’s presence and glory are revealed to us. In the New Testament, like our reading today, we are told that Christ is also revealed through creation – everything came into being through Christ. And it is not just God’s glory revealed to us in creation, but God’s love. Indeed, God’s love is revealed and made manifest in all of creation. And so how should we respond?
Our human neglect and abuse of the environment should make us very concerned, I have to say, even terrified. The impacts of a changing climate and resulting environmental degradation are unfolding all around us: massive scale wildfires, extremes in patterns of drought, enormous loss of biodiversity and threats of growing extinctions, disruptions in water and food supplies. And not surprising, the poor are the most vulnerable to these impacts and will suffer greatest. Our growing degradation of the environment is an enormous social justice issue. The human caused greenhouse gases in our atmosphere today are the accumulated result of the last 100 years of human activity and the United States is responsible for about half of these emissions, yet the whole world will suffer the consequences.
So how should we act as Christians? Many will act from a place of fear or even anger and blame, but this is not the attitude we need. I believe that now, perhaps more than any other time in our history, people of all faiths need to show the way. To paraphrase one modern day Christian leader, ours is a path centered in generosity and compassion, that moves gradually away from what I want to what God’s world needs. It is liberation from fear, greed and compulsion. A path that sees the world as a sacrament of communion, as a way of sharing with God and our neighbors on a global scale, where the divine and the human meet in the seamless garment of God’s creation.
This is a moment for transformation. And that is what we at Lake Merritt United Methodist Church are called to do, be disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, inclusive of God’s creation. To care for each other and all of creation, centered in God’s love.
I think the present day pandemic crisis also offers us a glimpse of the transformation we are being called to. A crisis is an opportunity for transformation and the Bible is full of such stories. God is calling us, and in the despair around us, it is a call for hope and faith. We are being called to center in God, called to be in community, centered in love and compassion on a global scale.
How will we respond now and in the future? You see the tensions between an old way of living and a call to a new way of being. How will we be in community together as neighbors, as a country and as the whole of humanity? How will we respond to the needs of the most vulnerable among us? What will we do when the pandemic now and over time climate change strikes hard the poorest of countries in the world? When the pandemic ends, will our economy just go back to business as usual or will this be an opening to a new way of living that can help to transform humanity for the future? We as people of faith need to lead the response.
Now you are probably hoping for some tips on what you should do to help the environment – here are three: First, eat more of a plant-based diet and avoid food waste; second, drive a lot less, walk or bike more; third, live simpler lives, purchasing fewer material goods, finding pleasure in engaging the world around us, resisting our consumer culture. I recommend visiting the website Drawdown.org and take the time to really learn and continue to act to make a difference. And most importantly, over and over continue to fall in love with this great gift of creation we have been so blessed with. Pay attention to the flowers blooming, the birds singing, the changing sky, the people you encounter. Be awake to the joys and to the sorrows around us and act from a place of love.
Real transformation is challenging work and this is the work we as a faith community really need to focus on. I hope we will join together on this journey. We are an Easter people called to live out the resurrection. To live today in hope and love, to restore, regenerate, renew, in deep communion with God, with each other, and with all creation. Amen