A presentation to clergy and lay leaders in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts that was given on Parish Leadership Day, March 5, 2016. A handout of suggested action steps is available for download here.
Friends, I’d like to take a page from writer Anne Lamott, who wrote a book a few years ago called Help, Thanks, Wow. She calls these our three most basic prayers, and they make a good framework for these remarks about caring for God’s creation, though I’m going to shuffle the deck a bit and take them in this order: Thanks, Wow, and Help.
“Thanks” comes first.
Thank you to every congregation that is exploring how to live more lightly and sustainably on the Earth.
Thank you to you churches that have joined Massachusetts Interfaith Power & Light and gotten an energy audit, maybe even looked into solar panels. I look forward to seeing which church in our diocese will be the first to go solar.
Thank you to you folks who have switched your homes to clean renewable energy from local sources – a step that is easy and inexpensive to take, thanks to an outfit called Mass Energy.
Thank you to everyone who is reining in your own consumption of fossil fuels by walking more and driving less, by turning out lights and turning down the heat.
Thank you to all who are “fasting” from wasteful over-consumption and from actions that pollute.
Thank you to everyone who is looking for ways large and small to “go green,” so that in our individual lives and in our communities we truly bear witness to the God who loves every inch of Creation and who entrusted the Earth to our care.
A special thank you to you clergy who are preaching about the climate crisis. I know that some fine preaching is going on, for some of you have sent me copies of your sermons. I also want to thank you lay leaders who encourage your clergy to preach about climate and who assure them of your support. Because it’s not easy to preach about climate. All kinds of voices tell us that the topic is too controversial, too political, and, besides, who are we to speak about climate – we’re not experts on the subject, we’re not scientists.
So thank you to everyone who sees through that fear and who understands that preaching and teaching and acting boldly on climate is not a political issue – we don’t care about the climate crisis because we’re Democrats or Republicans or members of any particular party.
We care about the climate crisis because we’re human beings, because we want to pass on to our children a habitable and healthy world, a world with clean air to breathe and clean water to drink.
We care about the climate crisis because we refuse to wipe out life as it has evolved on this planet and because we know the situation is grave – record heat, record levels of atmospheric CO2, record melting in the Arctic, a precious web of life on the brink of – or already – unraveling.
We care about the climate crisis because we’re Christian – because God’s love is being poured into our hearts through the power of the Holy Spirit and because we have chosen to follow Jesus’ way of love, justice, and truth. So thank you to all you good folks who in so many ways are expressing God’s love for our precious blue planet and for all its inhabitants, human and other-than-human.
That was Thanks. Here comes Wow. Wow is my response to what happened last year as a surge of religious energy rose up all over the world to safeguard life. How many of you have read or heard of the Pope’s encyclical Laudato Si: On Care for Our Common Home? Released last June, it was greeted with admiration by religious leaders around the world and elicited statements on climate action by Anglicans and Evangelicals, Muslims and Jews, Hindus and Buddhists. Never before have so many faith groups spoken out so strongly and so unequivocally about our moral responsibility to the poor, who bear the brunt of a changing climate, and about our spiritual responsibility to honor the sacredness of “this planet Earth, our island home.”
By the end of last year, faith groups of all kinds – including our own diocese and the Episcopal Church, at last summer’s General Convention – helped build the fossil fuel divestment movement to reach a combined total of $3.4 trillion in assets committed to divestment. Wow. And faith groups helped generate the momentum that brought us to the landmark climate agreement in Paris last December, when 196 countries came together through the U.N. and pledged to change the course of the global economy and to cap global temperature increases at 2º or ideally 1.5º degrees Celsius.
To all of this, I say: Wow. The wind of the Holy Spirit is blowing.
Here comes my last word to you: Help. I need your help. The Earth needs your help. This is an all-hands-on-deck moment, for the only way to avoid shooting past that 1.5º or 2º degree Celsius cap that protects us from runaway climate change is to keep 80% of known fossil fuel reserves in the ground. We simply cannot burn all that oil, coal and gas. We must transition quickly to clean sources of energy like wind and sunshine. This is a struggle, and we need your help.
I hope you’ll connect with the grassroots climate movement, either through 350Mass for a Better Future, which has nodes across the state, or through Climate Action Now, which is centered in the Pioneer Valley. Important campaigns are going on right now in Massachusetts to stop new pipelines, to divest our pension fund, and to make solar energy accessible and affordable to all. The campaign to put a fair price on carbon is asking for interfaith support, and I’m happy to say that the bishop of this diocese and the bishops of the “other” diocese in Massachusetts have all signed on.
People of faith are deeply engaged in the climate struggle, and some of us are getting together to make the faith basis of our work very explicit: I’ve been helping to launch a new group called Mass. Interfaith Coalition for Climate Action. If you’d like to help grow that interfaith coalition here in western Massachusetts, please sign up (send an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org). My clergy friends: I hope you sign up for Interfaith Power & Light’s Faith Climate Action Week and preach on climate at least once this April.
I am grateful for your help, and glad to offer you mine: all are welcome to sign up for blog posts at my Website, RevivingCreation.org, and I’d be glad to come to your parish to preach or teach or lead a retreat about caring for God’s creation.
So to God we say:
Thank you. Thank you for your marvelous Creation and for giving us ears to hear the cry of the Earth and the cry of the poor.
Gracious God, we say “Wow” when we see your awesome power transforming people’s lives and inspiring us to stand up for life.
And please help us, God – help us to stay grounded in your purpose for us and to become the people you created us to be, people who are a blessing to the Earth.
All this we pray in the presence and power of Christ Jesus, whose way we follow and whose guidance we trust. Amen.
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