Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter, April 27, 2014 (Earth Day/Creation Sunday). Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, St. Francis Episcopal Church, Holden, MA

Acts 2:14a, 22-32        1 Peter 1:3-9
Psalm 16                     John 20:19-31

Do not doubt but believe


Every year on the Sunday after Easter we listen to the marvelous and mysterious story from John’s Gospel that we just heard. Jesus shows himself to the disciples on the evening of Easter Day and then returns a week later to convince the disciple we call Doubting Thomas that yes, the Risen Christ is real.


“Put your finger here and see my hands,” Jesus says to Thomas, showing him the wounds. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.” And then Thomas finds his faith, saying, “My Lord and my God.”

As I’m sure some of you noticed, two days after Easter Sunday we celebrated Earth Day, which means that this year Easter Week and Earth Week almost completely overlapped. As your new Missioner for Creation Care in this diocese, I’d like to reflect on Earth Day in light of our Easter joy. And what great timing for me, because I get to do this in a community named after St. Francis, a Christian who discerned God’s Presence in non-human creatures and in nature herself, and who experienced that connection so deeply that he called the sun his brother, and the moon his sister in Christ.

Our Easter proclamation and our Easter hymns and prayers make it abundantly clear that Christ’s death and resurrection are good news not just to human beings but also to the whole and every part of Creation – to river and mountain, whale and sparrow, forest and field. At the Great Vigil of Easter, when we mark Jesus’ passing from death to life, one of the first things we do is listen to someone chant these ancient words:
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth,
bright with a glorious splendor,
for darkness has been vanquished by our eternal King.
Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth! Christ is risen!

Today’s Gospel story invites us to explore the good news of Christ’s resurrection by taking stock of our doubts and then letting them go. Doubting Thomas stands for all of us who wrestle with doubt – doubt about what Jesus accomplished on the cross and doubt about the reality of the resurrection. Doubt is a perfect theme for Earth Day, too, for when it comes to climate change, which is at the top of everybody’s list of concerns on Earth Day, we hear a lot about the doubters, don’t we? A Gallup poll released on Earth Day shows that one in four Americans is “solidly skeptical” of global warming and refuses to believe that human-caused climate change is real. Other members of the public are on the fence and don’t know what to believe, assuming that the jury is still out and that scientists have yet to reach a consensus on the reality and causes of climate change.
I’m sure there are many reasons that some people still doubt that human-caused climate change is happening. If you’re a gardener or a farmer, you know how much you love the piece of ground that is in your care, and how precious and beautiful the natural world is. If you’ve gardened in one place for a while, you may have started to notice the subtle changes taking place as the years go by: how a particular flower now blooms two weeks earlier than it used to, or how migratory birds now arrive at a different time. In some respects climate change is very local, but many busy, rootless, urban folks don’t have that kind of intimate relationship with a specific ecosystem.1 Today, most people worldwide live in cities, and many of us who live in modern, post-industrial countries work indoors and travel to work inside a vehicle. Many of us spend a lot our work time and leisure time relating to a computer screen or a TV screen. The natural world can seem very far away, and we may be completely unaware of what’s taking place right in our own backyards.

What’s more, a good many special interest groups are working hard and spending millions of dollars in a deliberate campaign of disinformation to make the American public stay confused. The same folks who spread doubt some years ago about the risk of smoking tobacco are throwing their weight behind some of the current efforts to mislead the public about the reality of climate change.2

But the truth is that the scientific controversy is over. The science is settled. 97% of climate scientists worldwide are telling us with increasing alarm that climate change is not a future threat – in fact, it is not a threat at all. It is our reality. Burning fossil fuels such as coal, gas, and oil is releasing gases into the atmosphere that are forming a blanket around the Earth and making the climate hotter and more unstable. Of course there has always been some natural variability in the planet’s average temperature, but ever since the Industrial Revolution we’ve been forcing the climate to change in a way that human beings have never experienced before. Around the world we’re seeing the result in extreme fluctuations of weather: droughts and floods, record heat waves and unusual bouts of cold weather. No wonder global warming is sometimes dubbed “global weirding.”

The environmentalist Bill McKibben puts it succinctly: “We’ve changed the planet, changed it in large and fundamental ways… Our old familiar globe is suddenly melting, drying, acidifying, flooding, and burning in ways that no human has ever seen.”3

So when I hear Jesus say to Doubting Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe,” I hear Jesus inviting Thomas – and us – to face the truth of crucifixion. We might wish away the reality of the violence and the wounds. We might wish very ardently that none of this wounding of our dear planet were happening, that we weren’t seeing dying coral and melting ice-caps, rising seas and rising numbers of refugees. But it is happening, and just as on Good Friday the disciples couldn’t pretend that Christ’s wounds on the cross weren’t real, so we, too, can’t pretend that the wounds to God’s Creation aren’t real.

Yet because of Jesus’ crucifixion, we know that God is with us in our suffering and in the planet’s suffering. We know, and God knows, that all Creation is groaning (Romans 8:22). And because of Easter we also know that death does not have to be the end of the story. “When it was evening of Easter day, the first day of the week,” Jesus comes and stands among his disciples and says, “‘Peace be with you’” (John 20:19). Can you feel the impact of that moment? The Risen Christ comes to his guilty, worried, frightened friends and says “Peace be with you.” It is peace that he gives them. Forgiveness. Acceptance. However much they’ve abandoned and denied him, he loves them still. In fact, in this one short passage Jesus says “Peace be with you” three times, as if the disciples need to hear that message again and again – partly in order to undo Peter’s three-fold denial, but also so that all of them and all of us will experience that forgiveness deep in our bones. Maybe that moment marks the beginning of our own resurrected life: when we hear and take in how much God loves us and how completely we are forgiven, no matter what we have done. We humans are hurting this Creation, which God has given us as a free gift to love and to steward – and yet, we are forgiven. And from this place of being forgiven, we can now act to right the wrong and can live in a different way.

So it is not only peace that Jesus gives to his disciples. He also sends them on a mission. “As the Father has sent me, so I send you,” he says, breathing into them the Holy Spirit, the same creative wind and energy that moved across the face of deep at the very beginning of creation. Jesus not only shares in our suffering, he not only loves and forgives us – he also sends us out to bear witness to the resurrection, to the wild, holy, and completely unexpected fact that through the grace and power of God, life – not death – will have the last word. Through the power of the Risen Christ, we are sent out to be healers of the Earth, sent out to take our place in the great work of healing the wounds of Creation, sent out to restore the web of life upon which we, and all creatures, depend.

What can we do? We can recycle more, drive less, and quit using bottled water. Maybe we can eat local, organic foods and support our local farms and land trusts. We can install insulation and turn down the heat. As individuals we can and should do everything we can, but the scope and speed of the climate crisis require action on a much broader scale, too. We need to join with other people and make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. We need to push our political leaders to get this country and other countries on track to bring down the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to 350 parts per million, the uppermost level that many scientists say is safe for life as we know it to continue on this planet. What is the level today? 400 -- and climbing. So we have work to do.

I invite you to imagine a church, imagine a diocese, in which every aspect of its life, from its preaching and worship services to its adult education and Sunday School, from its prayers to its public advocacy, grasps the urgency of protecting life as it has evolved on this planet. We are facing the greatest challenge that human beings have ever faced, and we refuse to get bogged down by doubt, denial, or despair.

I am delighted to hear that you are forming a green team or a Creation Care task force – or whatever you want to call it – in this parish, and that you will start exploring what you can accomplish together. I hope that anyone interested in building a network of people in the diocese committed to Creation care will give me their name, so that we can work together and support each other.

I am grateful for Doubting Thomas, for he gives voice to our doubt – doubt that we can prevent catastrophic climate change, doubt that we can make a difference, doubt that resurrection is even possible. But just as Jesus invited Thomas to move past his doubts, so, too, Jesus invites us to receive the gift of his forgiveness and the power of his energizing Spirit. Today at the Eucharist we will stretch out our hands to receive the body and blood of Christ, just as Thomas stretched out his hands to touch Christ’s wounded hands and side. There is so much healing that we can do, so much power-to-reconcile that God has given to us, so much life that we can help to bring forth. Do not doubt but believe.

1. Naomi Klein has written an excellent essay about why so many Americans are not responding to the climate crisis: “The Change Within: The Obstacles We Face Are Not Just External,” posted online on April 21, 2014; appeared in May 12, 2014 edition of The Nation. http://www.thenation.com/article/179460/change-within-obstacles-we-face-are-not-just-external

2. Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. M. Conway, Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming (http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/); see also Ross Gelbspan, The Heat is On (http://www.heatisonline.org/); and Union of Concerned Scientists’ 2007 report on ExxonMobil http://www.ucsusa.org/global_warming/solutions/fight-misinformation/exxonmobil-report-smoke.html

3. Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet, New York: Henry Holt and Company, Times Book, 2010, p. xiii and book jacket (http://www.billmckibben.com/)