Light in the Darkness of Climate Change

Sermon preached on August 16, 2021 at Nevada City United Methodist Church (sermon begins 30.44 minutes in)

Humanity is facing a code red alert because of how much and how fast the planet is heating up, and most of the warming is unequivocally the result of human greenhouse gas emissions. That’s the message from the latest scientific report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. All over the world, extreme weather-related disasters are shattering all records. Here it has been heat waves, droughts, and wildfires.

The recent fires have been traumatic for our community. They started during Pastor Gail’s first month here! She had been preaching a four-part sermon series on the mission of Nevada City United Methodist Church, “the light at the top of Broad Street.” She hadn’t even fully unpacked when the sky filled with smoke and evacuations began. Initiation into our community by fire! That’s when Pastor Gail invited me to preach today about climate change.

Hold this image in your mind: our church at night, in the dark of winter, during Victorian Christmas, with all the lights shining. Solar panels on the roof now power those lights. The mortgage was paid off recently and our energy bills are much reduced. It’s a beautiful image—a solar-powered beacon at the top of Broad Street. It’s a sign of our church’s willingness to act on climate and a witness to the God of Love who cares for all creation. It’s a way to let our light shine so that others may our good works and give glory to God. We care. God cares. 

One of the most important things we can do as a church in this time of climate change is to help change the values and metaphors and assumptions of the dominant culture. That’s what Jesus did. This passage comes right after Jesus’s teachings on wealth. He says, “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth,” but rather, “in heaven.” “You cannot serve both God and wealth,” or “You can’t serve both God and money.”  

“Therefore, he says, “do not worry” or (in some versions) “do not be anxious” about food or drink or clothes or tomorrow or even your own life. Rather, live simply, trusting God. This has been called “the most radiant passage on Christian simplicity in the Bible.” It is an antidote to our culture of instant gratification, overconsumption, overuse and misuse of the gifts of the earth.

Jesus instructs his followers to consider how God cares for the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Sadly, such reflections on creation can bring us face to face with our deep anxiety about the worrisome loss of species and humanity’s impact on the planet. We experience not only the glory of creation but also its pain.  But as we move out of denial and face our feelings, we allow space for the Holy Spirit to intercede for us and for all creation, with sighs too deep for words. And we find a deeper peace, the peace of Christ that passes understanding.

In Matthew 10 Jesus assures us that not one sparrow “will fall to the ground outside of God’s care,” and says, “even the hairs of our head are all numbered.” God’s loving care extends to us and to all parts of creation. We are creatures, part of God’s creation, dependent on God for life and breath and all things, and interdependent with the whole community of life. In John Wesley’s words, “God is the soul of the universe.”

This passage will inform us as we consider how our church can respond to climate change, in addition to solar panels. We’ll look at relief, resilience, and mitigation.

First, relief. When fires threaten and smoke fills the skies, we can offer immediate relief to people who are impacted by climate related disasters.  Our church is good at giving to those who are in need… through our Christmas and Thanksgiving outreach, our regular work with Hospitality House, our organized support for Interfaith Food Ministry, and in many other ways.

During the recent fires and even now in the aftermath, our whole community responded with generosity, raising money, offering food and clothes and shelter for evacuees, even space for people who lost homes. Many of us helped out. 

One thing we could do as a church is to organize in advance disasters. We could support members of our church and community in becoming fire safe and fire ready. We could even offer our church as a resource and become a hub in the community’s disaster response network.

Second, resilience. Immediate disaster relief is not enough.  How can we be a light at the top of Broad Street when the smoke settles? One way is by joining with other groups and individuals to help build a resilient community that can adapt to future changes that we know are coming.

Building a resilient community would include working for food security by supporting local small farms and local businesses. It would mean holding local officials accountable in protecting our soil, air quality, and water and in conserving energy and moving to renewable power. Building a resilient community would also mean fostering just relations for all of God’s people. Our work on behalf of racial justice and LGBTQ inclusion can’t be ignored. No one can be left behind. All these things will be important in adapting as a community as the climate warms. 

Third, mitigation. In climate change lingo, this means reducing global greenhouse gas emissions. Even as the smoke clears, the impacts of climate change will continue. Scientists make clear that the magnitude of the problem is beyond the scope of any individual solutions. We need bold policies to reduce emissions now.

Working toward mitigation means advocating for an immediate transition away from fossil fuels to just and sustainably sourced forms of renewable power, advocating for policies that would keep fossil fuels in the ground without harming the poor. But this advocacy can only be successful if we join others in building a movement for climate justice that is strong enough to pressure the powers that be to make it happen.  Fortunately, there is such a movement… it is strong, it’s growing, and it is global, on every continent. Its slogan is “another world is possible.”

None of this sounds easy.  So let’s turn again today’s passage from Matthew six. Note that Jesus is not just saying “don’t worry, be happy,” as the song goes, or “relax and take it easy, and leave everything up to God.” Not at all. Jesus says, “Strive first for the kingdom of God and its righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

But just what does this mean? The proclamation of the kingdom of God (or the kingdom of heaven) was central to Jesus’s ministry. He talked about it in different ways. It’s like a small seed that grows into a big tree. It’s like a treasure buried in a field or a pearl of great price that is worth everything we have. He talked about it as a present reality: “The kingdom of God is within you” and “The kingdom of God is among you.” At the same time, he talked about the coming of the kingdom of God, and he called people to “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand.”

Jesus is talking about a reality that is already present, but not yet fully revealed. He tells his followers to strive for God’s kingdom and teaches us to pray: “Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” These are two ways of praying for the same thing. For when God’s will is done on earth, God’s kingdom is revealed.

Biblical scholars and theologians refer to it in different ways, as “God’s intended world” or “God’s dream, ” or God’s Domination-Free order. It’s been called “Love’s Domain,” or “Love’s Rule,” because “the Kingdom of God is where the God who is Love rules.” Martin Luther King, Jr.’s term “The Beloved Community” is another way of talking about the compassionate and inclusive community that Jesus proclaimed and created when he walked on earth. Theologian Jurgen Moltmann refers to this understanding when he says that Christian hope is “hope that the world can be different.” Or in secular terms, “Another world is possible.”  

We are called to pray and strive for the coming of God’s reign here on earth, even in the midst of climate change. That’s what it means to follow Jesus. As the light at the top of Broad Street, we point not to ourselves but beyond ourselves to Jesus, doing our small part to be faithful in a time of climate change. Our mission is to be a faith community that prays for and strives for vision of the world as God intends for it to be, for God’s reign of compassion and justice for all creation, for God’s will, God’s dream, Love’s domain. And we reflect that vision as best we can to our community and world.

So don’t worry. Turn your worry into prayer. God’s got us. We’ve got each other. 

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Other blog postings about climate change can be found here.  

Resisting Cultural Possession

The “Golden Bull” at Occupy Wall Street in New York

All of the kingdoms can be yours,” the devil tells Jesus, “if you will just lord your power over others and take up the sword of the nations. Take charge of the biological weapons, deploy some troops, command the implementation of a ‘Star Wars’ missile defense system. All the kingdoms can be yours—if you will just use the world’s means of power: domination and violence.”       Charles Campbell

There is a call in life to come to terms with who we are in relation to the universe, to give ourselves to something ultimate, to live in right relationship with the Ground of Being, to fulfill our destiny, to enter into the Great Mystery.  But we hear other voices as well, voices that we have internalized from our families and cultures, which we hear as our own.  These voices tempt us.  They present us with a choice:  to be true to ourselves and live as free human beings or to be ensnared by desires that reflect the values of our culture and end up being possessed by them.

Jesus, too, experienced this conflict.  After John baptized him in the Jordan River, Jesus saw a vision in which the Holy Spirit descended upon him as a dove and heard God saying to him, “This is my beloved Son; with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:16-17).  This revelation led him to a time of testing in the wilderness, during which a spiritually strong but very human Jesus strove to find clarity about his identity and calling (Matthew 4:1-11).  He especially struggled with what it meant to be “son of God.” This was a well-known designation in the ancient world.  The term “Son of God” was applied to the Roman Emperor, who possessed status, wealth, and worldly power.  Jews who awaited the Messiah were hoping for the coming of a king like David who would embody these characteristics.  Not surprisingly, these were the very things that tempted Jesus.

“If you are the Son of God,” said the voice of temptation (the “devil” or “tempter”) to Jesus, testing him.  If you are the son of God, then prove it… by refusing to be bound by human limitations, by ignoring the laws of nature, by choosing a path that will lead to fame, fortune, and power over others.  But each time Jesus refused, choosing instead to be faithful and to entrust himself to the will of God.  We are called and empowered by grace to do the same.

Theologian Walter Wink demythologizes “the devil” or “Satan,” relating these concepts to the “interiority” of a culture at a particular time in history:  “Satan is the real interiority of a society that idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good. Satan is the spirituality of an epoch, the peculiar constellation of alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy that characterizes a specific period of history as a consequence of human decisions to tolerate and even further such a state of affairs.”

These words were true of the time in which Jesus lived, when the “Roman Peace” was imposed and enforced throughout the Empire, but they are also true today.  Clearly, the United States is a society that “idolatrously pursues its own enhancement as the highest good.”   The present culture of unrestrained corporate capitalism, enforced by mass incarceration and endless war, exalts nationalism, pays tribute to wealth, promotes consumption, bows to worldly success, glorifies violence, and vilifies people who have not attained these things.  The “alienation, greed, inhumanity, oppression, and entropy” that characterize this time in our history are made possible by the personal decisions of many individuals to tolerate or even further this state of affairs.

The temptation of Jesus set the stage for the events that led to his death.  By choosing a path of deep integrity instead of adopting the cultural values of his time, Jesus set himself against the religious, political, economic, and military rulers of his day.  It’s no wonder that the religious elite, who benefited from the Roman occupation, collaborated with the Roman authorities in targeting him, plotting against him, and finally putting him to death.

And it’s no wonder that those of us who live here in the United States are often tempted to submit to cultural expectations.  Today’s ruling Powers have a million ways to reward and punish based on whether or not we comply.  But there is a deeper way to live, which offers immeasurably greater rewards.

There is always temptation, especially in our consumer culture.  It might be easier to come to terms with who we are and who we are called to be if we could go out into the wilderness.  That is what the season of Lent is about—a season that involves taking time out to reflect on what is ultimate and to accept the responsibility and privilege to make a conscious choice.

We do have a choice.  We do not have to surrender to the Powers or be driven by desires to conform and excel in their service, at the expense of other people and the earth itself.  We can refuse to submit to social pressures, resist cultural possession, and live in freedom as fully human beings, as beloved children of God.

There are many paths to freedom, and divine love is universal, offered to all people and all creation.  I choose to follow and live in the Spirit of the one who calls me, Jesus Christ.

Previous post:  A Lenten Call to Resist.     Next post:  Rejecting Theological Sadism.  

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We Are Everywhere

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Sharon leading a climate Justice workshop at Roseville United Methodist Church.

Here I am, coming up from the depths of prayer, meditation, study, and writing.  These past months I’ve been focused primarily on writing my new book, Love in a Time of Climate Change, which is almost ready to send to the publisher.

Then in August, I spent three weekends leading workshops in Merced, San Rafael, and Roseville on “Climate Justice” for the United Methodist Women’s program of transformational learning, Mission U.  I had helped write the book for the class, and last Spring I had traveled by train to St. Louis for the leadership training.  The workshops I led emphasized that working for climate justice includes, but is not limited to, making simple lifestyle changes.  It also requires us to respond to the demands for justice from those who are living and working on the front lines of climate change, and whose lands and waters are threatened with pollution by extreme forms of fossil fuel extraction, transport, and refining.  It also means working to change the system that perpetuates climate change and so many other forms of injustice.  That’s why banners at climate justice demonstrations often say “System Change Not Climate Change.”

Just today, I had to add a few words to my book about the growing protest led by the Standing Rock Sioux against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota.  This, too, is climate justice action.  It is also history in the making!  The camp now includes 150 tribes and over 1,000 people.  A call for solidarity actions has gone out, and I plan to participate. Here is more information and a list of actions planned so far.

The courageous, Spirit-filled actions at Standing Rock give me hope.  I believe that the Spirit is active wherever people are taking a stand for people, for the earth, and for future generations.  And such actions are not just taking place in isolation.  As the title of a popular book on this topic says, “We Are Everywhere.”

 

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Support the Indigenous led movement to Stop the Dakota Access Pipeline

#NoDAPL Solidarity             https://nodaplsolidarity.org/

 

 

 

Grateful for the Giver

The woods near my home.

The woods near my home.

As we head into Thanksgiving, I am reminded of the cultural and historical context in which we observe the holidays.  So much is wrong with the world, so many people are suffering, enough for Pope Francis to call the celebration of Christmas a “charade.” As for Thanksgiving, I cannot celebrate the narrative of the Pilgrims and Indians at peace together, considering the story’s historical outcome (still awaiting repentance and reconciliation).  And while I am grateful for the abundance in my life, I feel pain and a sense of responsibility because I am aware of the widespread suffering of our time.

Still, I am grateful for my life, for creation and all its gifts, and especially for the Giver.  This became clear to me years ago:

“Part of my spiritual practice is to spend time in the wild. It is also my joy. Each day is an adventure. I often see deer, sometimes a fox or bobcat. Once I saw a Great Horned Owl and stood looking up at it in awe for over an hour.

“One morning in the spring of 1988 I went jogging down the dirt paths in the woods behind my home toward Deer Creek, as I did almost every morning. I was reflecting on what I had read earlier in the morning in Richard Foster’s book, Celebration of Discipline, specifically advice from John Wesley about fasting: “‘Let our fasting be done unto the Lord, with our eye singly fixed on Him. Let our intention herein be this, and this alone, to glorify our Father who is in heaven.’ That is the only way we will be saved from loving the blessings more than the Blesser.”   I had fasted and practiced other spiritual disciplines, but I had never thought about fasting in this way. Wesley’s words were a mystery to me.

“On my way back up the path, I stopped in my favorite sacred grove. The dogwood and manzanita were exultant, showing off their blooms. The pines, firs, and cedars seemed to raise their branches in praise, creating a beautiful canopy of varied greens sparkling with the rays of the morning sun. Birds of all kinds sang their own unique songs, joining together in an amazing chorus of joy. The soft mat of pine needles invited me to stop again and pray, to open my eyes, ears, and heart to the splendor and magnificence of God’s creation, of which I felt so gratefully now a part.

“As I rose and started toward home I reached a spot where the sun was breaking through the trees. It seemed at that moment like heaven itself was shining down, illuminating the earth. In the beaming, radiant light I felt a God of infinite love showering me with all the blessings of creation.

“Standing in this light I suddenly remembered Wesley’s words about loving the blessings more than the Blesser and it dawned on me: I had been like a child at Christmas opening present after present, saying “thank you” and then looking around to see what was next. I had been “grateful” and had prayed my thanks. But I had forgotten or had never really known what I only now remember: the Giver, the God of Creation, the Spirit of Love at the heart of the universe, loves each of us deeply, desires the best for us, wants life to flourish and blossom, and through the creation showers us with evidence of self-giving love.”

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving, filled with gratitude and all the blessings of God.

This blog post includes an excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization by Sharon Delgado (Fortress Press).  Order from local bookstores or find it online. 

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Writer’s Retreat

coffee shop

I’m here at my favorite Santa Cruz coffee shop, at the end of five days of work and play.  I’ve been traveling by Amtrak (bus, train, bus) to my varied destinations, writing as I go.

My first stop was Berkeley, where I spent most of the day in the Graduate Theological Union Library, perusing dozens of books related to my work.  I’ve kept my library card since seminary, so I checked out several books that most attracted my interest.  From Berkeley I headed by train to Merced, where I led a workshop for forty United Methodist Women on “Climate Justice and System Change.”  It gave me the opportunity to share some cutting edge ideas with concerned people of faith.  I had considered presenting a slide show, but decided an interactive workshop would be livelier.  It was!

After the workshop I traveled five hours from Merced to Santa Cruz.  I don’t mind the time it takes to travel by train and bus.  It cuts down on my carbon footprint and instead of driving I have time to read, write, rest, and pray.

Arriving in Santa Cruz on Saturday night was a kick—so much wild energy, so much going on.  And I have such a peaceful, beautiful place to stay—my friend’s guest room, just a 10-minute walk from downtown.  She and I got together for a walk and dinner Sunday evening, and she joined me for Salsa dancing on the beach, but most of the time when I’m in Santa Cruz I just come and go on my own, wandering and doing my own thing.  I visited places I used to enjoy when I lived here:  West Cliff Drive, favorite beaches, the Santa Cruz Public Library (yes, I still have my library card and yes, I checked out a book).  Oh, and Lulu Carpenters coffee shop, where I spent many hours writing among the UCSC students and their laptops.  Writing retreat headquarters.

It seems that I need plenty of free time in order for the creative process to kick in.  Here in Santa Cruz I take that time, watching the dolphins at play, watching the waves come and go, following my thoughts and watching them dissipate as the waves disperse on the shore.

Now I’m ready to go home.

I’m grateful that the God I know is not the kind to order me around, because I’m really not the obedient type.  I don’t like hierarchy and I don’t like following orders.  I like the “mother hen” metaphor for God that Jesus used when he said, “How often I have longed to gather you as a mother hen gathers her flock, but you were not willing.”  I’m often like a baby chick running around after whatever attracts my fancy.  Even so, God can work with me.   I experience God as inviting me, drawing me, attracting me, even wooing me (as process theologians say) through concrete situations in my wanderings through life.