Sermon for the Sixth Sunday of Easter (May 22, 2022) by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and posted at Sustainable Preaching Acts 16:9-15 Psalm 67 Rev 21:10, 22 – 22:5 John 14:23-29

Receive the Peace of Christ

[NOTE: The preacher may wish to have available a hat, scarf, shawl, jacket, or other piece of clothing to wear when each of the two characters shows up in the sermon] “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”    (John 14:27)

Today’s Gospel passage is a good text for an in-between time, a time of transition in which something is coming to an end and the new has not yet come.  Jesus is saying farewell to his disciples at the Last Supper and preparing them for his crucifixion.  Because we read this passage in Easter-tide, we also hear it as the risen Christ preparing his disciples for the ascension, when the vivid resurrection appearances will come to an end.  Jesus assures his disciples that the Holy Spirit will come in all its fullness – but it has not come yet.  It is an in-between time.

Can you touch into that sense of living in an in-between time?  Maybe you’re between jobs. Maybe you’re about to graduate and haven’t begun whatever comes next.  Maybe you’ve broken up with someone and haven’t yet started dating again. Life is full of in-between times. I think of the interval between becoming engaged and getting married, the interval between getting pregnant and giving birth, or the interval between deciding to move to a new home and actually moving. It is an in-between time for our planet, too, for we sense that an old way of being is coming to an end and we wonder what new way of being will arise in its place.  Scientists tell us that modern industrial society, with its sudden expansion of our human capacity to extract and consume the planet’s abundance for the sake of short-term profit, is not sustainable. Over the past 250 or 300 years, human beings have been extracting goods faster than they can be replenished, and dumping waste faster than Earth can absorb it.  Society is increasingly unstable, as those who are wealthy live in a luxury once reserved for kings, while the billions who are impoverished struggle for clean water and a mouthful of food. The web of life is unravelling before our eyes, and species are going extinct at a rate unprecedented since the death of the dinosaurs.  The global climate with its delicate balance of gases turns out to be more fragile than we ever imagined. I know I don’t need to go on.  Many of us walk around with a more or less vivid awareness that a chapter of human history is coming to an end.  Just as the agricultural revolution 10,000 years ago ended one form of human society and brought a new one into being, and just as the industrial revolution 300 years ago also changed the way that society is organized, so we now find ourselves on the brink of what some thinkers call a “third revolution.”1 Modern society as we know it is coming to an end, and more and more people around the world are searching for ways to create something new – to bring forth a human presence on this planet that – in the eloquent words of the Pachamama Alliance – is “environmentally sustainable, spiritually fulfilling, [and] socially just.”2 We don’t have much time to do this and to get it right, so it is a precarious and precious time to be alive and to take part – if we so choose – in this great work of healing. So, with great interest I turn to see what Jesus has to say at an in-between time: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you.  I do not give to you as the world gives.” Jesus’ gift at an in-between time is the gift of peace – shalom, to use the Hebrew word – but you’ll notice that it is not any old peace.  It is, he tells us, his peace, the peace of Christ, something that is evidently quite different from the peace that is offered by the world.  In the middle of the Eucharist we exchange that peace among ourselves, when we say, “The peace of Christ be always with you,” and we let that peace flow from one person to the next until everyone in the room is strengthened and lifted up by its power.  At the end of the service we often refer to it again, when the celebrant, quoting from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, blesses us with “the peace of God, which surpasses…understanding” (Philippians 4:7). What is the peace of God, and how is it different from the peace of the world?  To answer that question, I’ve invited two guests to join me this morning at the pulpit.  My first guest is Industrial Society, who would like to speak to you about the peace it has to offer and the worldview that lies behind it.  Then we’ll hear from our second guest, the Holy Spirit, who will say a few words about the peace of God. “Ladies and gentlemen – or, shall I say, consumers, for that’s who you really are – my name is Industrial Growth Society,3 and boy, do I have something great to give you: the peace of this world.  The main thing you need to know about yourselves is that you are completely alone.  You’re alone as individuals and alone as a species. You are limited to the envelope of your skin – that’s who you are.  Your identity ends here – and your task in life is to focus on that isolated self – what it wants, what it needs, what kind of shampoo it likes best and what kind of breakfast cereal. You know, it’s a dog-eat-dog world out there, and self-advancement is the name of the game. The only peace an isolated self is ever going to find is the kind it can grab for itself. Wielding power over everything around you – that’s the ticket to peace. Domination is the path to peace – protecting your own interests, guarding your own small self.  So go ahead – drain the aquifers, clearcut the forest, over-fish the oceans – it’s all yours for the taking. Never mind if Indigenous cultures are being decimated, to say nothing of low-income and minority communities, and all our non-human relatives. So what? It’s every man for himself. Peace grows by focusing on what you like and by surrounding yourself with pleasant things. You’ll definitely feel more peaceful if you pile them up – gadgets, information, boats, planes, credentials, clothes – and then go all out to keep them safe. Don’t think about the collapse of honeybees, the massive droughts and floods, the profits being made by fossil fuel companies as they push to extract more oil and gas – ouch! That doesn’t concern you. Thinking about stuff like that just messes up your peace of mind. Put up some walls – don’t take that in. There, that’s better. It’s much more peaceful to put your head down and focus only on yourself and your family. Focus on that promotion. Impress your neighbors and pull every dandelion out of your lawn – or, better yet, spray everything with chemicals. Lose those five pounds. Clean up your email. That’s all you should think about, and then you’ll have peace – or something like it, anyway – and hey, if you still feel restless inside or start feeling lonely, you can always go shopping, have another drink, pop a few pills, stare at the TV. We’ve got plenty of entertainment for you, plenty of distractions.” Thank you, Industrial Growth Society. Now let’s hear a few words from the Holy Spirit, who has consented to make a brief appearance before fully arriving at Pentecost, two weeks from today. “Dear friends, you are not alone and you have never been alone. You were loved into being by God the Father-Mother of all Creation, and God so loved the world – so loved you – that God sent God’s Son to become one of you, to enter every aspect of human life and to draw you and all Creation into the heart of God. The peace that Jesus gives you springs from your connection to the flow of love that is always going on between the Father and the Son and me, the Holy Spirit. God has made a home within you, and there is nowhere you can go where God is not. The Creator and Redeemer of the world dwell within you through the power of the Holy Spirit (that’s me), and with every breath you take, God is breathing into you and flowing through you. Once you really understand that, you will see that you are much more than an isolated self.  At every moment you are connected with the love of God – and not only with God, but also with every other human being and with your brother-sister beings to whom God has also given life and whom God loves, just as God loves you. So, when you feel pain for the brokenness of the world – when you weep for rapidly disappearing species or for the forests and wetlands we’ve already lost, when you feel morally outraged that narrow self-interest or short-term political or financial gain so often prevail over a larger good and a longer view – when you let your defenses drop and feel your sorrow and outrage and fear about what is happening in the world around you, you are expressing how big you are, how connected you are with the whole web of life. The peace of God is spacious enough to stand at the Cross and to open itself to the pain of the world without closing down or running away. Christ bears that pain with you and for you, and by allowing that pain into your awareness – by opening the doors of your senses and the door of your heart so that sorrow and joy can flow through – the peace and power of the risen Christ will move through you, as well. So, now the walls around you can come down. The peace of God is open to life, and it may impel you to move into the world’s most brutal and broken places to be a warrior for life, to protest what is unjust and to help midwife a better and more beautiful world. In an in-between time, you can trust in the peace that God has planted deep within you, a peace that the world cannot give and that the world can never take away.” As I listen to these two voices, it seems to me that if we steep ourselves in the peace of Christ, we will have everything we need. We know that society needs to be transformed from top to bottom – we need to draw down our carbon emissions, to buy locally produced goods and food, to build different kinds of dwellings, to develop new, sustainable, and non-polluting sources of energy.  I can think of no more beautiful way to spend our lives than to take part in what leaders like Joanna Macy and David C. Korten call the Great Turning, the epic transition from a deathly society to one that fosters life. It’s what philosopher Thomas Berry calls the Great Work: our wholehearted effort to create a more just and sustainable society. And it’s what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls the “supreme work” of Jesus Christ, who longs to reconcile us to God, to each other, and to the whole of God’s Creation.4 We are engaged, together, in a third revolution that will require new depths of wisdom, courage, and compassion. But only a shift in consciousness can sustain us in that crucial work, a deep rooting in the ground of our being, which is God.  So, today, and every day, as we celebrate the gift of being alive at this crucial moment in the planet’s history, may the peace of Christ be always with you. ________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________
  1. See, for instance, Joanna Macy, John Seed, Lester Brown, and Dana Meadows.
  2. Pachamama Alliance, “Mission and Vision
  3. The term comes from Norwegian eco-philosopher Sigmund Kwaloy and has been popularized by Joanna Macy and Molly Young Brown, Coming Back to Life: Practices to Reconnect Our Lives, Our World (Gabriola Island, BC, Canada: New Society, 1998).
  4. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Foreword, The Green Bible, New Revised Standard Version (New York: HarperOne, HarperCollins, 2008), I-14.
This is a slightly edited version of a sermon with the same title that I preached in 2007

Earth Sunday Sermon

Earth Sunday and resurrection hopewas recorded for the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, to celebrate Earth Sunday and the Second Sunday of Easter (April 24, 2022).

“I wonder if we could learn to see the wounded Earth as revealing not only the harsh reality of sin, suffering, and death, but also as lit up with God’s undying love. I wonder what it would be like if, in tending to the wounded body of creation, we knew that we were also ministering to the wounds of Christ…”

Sermon text is here.

Sermon for the Second Sunday of Easter (Earth Sunday) April 24, 2022 Written and recorded by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas for Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts, Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts, and Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ Acts 5:27-32 Psalm 150 Rev. 1:4-8 John 20:19-31

Earth Sunday and resurrection hope

Today is Earth Sunday, the Sunday after Earth Day, when people across the country expressed their determination to fight for a healthy and habitable planet.  Over the years I’ve celebrated quite a few Earth Sundays, as maybe you have, too, and I’ve noticed that Earth Sunday often lands, as it does today, on the Second Sunday of Easter.

What happens when we bring Earth Day into the light of Easter? The first thing to say is that our Easter liturgies are clear that the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ is good news not only for human beings but also for the whole of Creation – for rivers and mountains, forests and fields, hawks, whales, and bees. At the Great Vigil of Easter, when we mark Jesus’ passing from death to life, we start by lighting a fire in the darkness and by listening 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! Too often our liturgies limit the good news of Christ to human beings, and we push to the margins all the other creatures and natural elements with whom we share this planet, as if Homo sapiens were the only species of any interest to God. But Easter and Earth Day give us a chance to remember the larger truth: according to Scripture, God loved the whole world into being, sustains all things through the Holy Spirit, and through Christ redeemed and reconciled all things in heaven and on earth “by making peace through the blood of the cross” (Colossians 1:19).  What’s more, our Christian faith looks ahead to the renewal of all things (Matthew 19:28), to the restoration of all things (Acts 3:21), to the day when humans live in peace with God, with each other, and with the whole of God’s creation.  Folks, the good news of God in Christ is not just for us – it’s for all the round Earth! That’s one reason I like associating Earth Day with Easter: we have a chance to highlight the deep ecological meaning of faith in Christ.  Cherishing and protecting the natural world is not just an “add-on,” a sideline hobby for a few Christians who call themselves “environmentalists.”  In fact, protecting the Earth that God entrusted to our care is central to being Christian.  It’s a faithful response to the very first task given to humans at the very beginning of Genesis – to “till and keep” the Earth (Gen. 2:15), to be stewards and caregivers. Prophets and sages throughout the Bible, culminating in Jesus himself, cajole us and urge us to participate with God in creating a beloved community in which people and the land live together in balance and harmony, in a shalom of justice, wholeness, and peace.  Mystics of every faith tradition tell us that human beings are not separate from – much less “above” – the rest of the created order but are siblings of wind and water, of porcupine and tree – all of us, every living being, every element of the natural world, created and cherished by the same almighty God. What strikes me this year, as we consider the familiar story from John’s Gospel that we always hear on the Second Sunday of Easter, is that it’s a tale of how ordinary people begin to grasp the meaning and power of resurrection. It’s a story not just about Jesus’ resurrection, but ours, as well. The story begins in a closed, tight place. The disciples are huddled inside a house with the doors locked, the text says, “for fear of the Jews.” The term “Jews” could more accurately be translated as “Judeans,” referring to a local group of religious leaders caught up in a power struggle in Jerusalem.  The point is that the disciples are frightened, and we can understand why – they’ve been through trauma; their beloved friend and leader has been brutally executed; they could well be hauled before the authorities as accomplices of Jesus; and they are wrestling with guilt and shame for abandoning or denying him. That very morning, Christ rose from the dead, and although it seems they’ve heard about it – the verses right before this story report that Mary Magdalene told the disciples that she’d seen the risen Lord – apparently the news hasn’t really reached them; it hasn’t transformed them; it hasn’t changed a thing. They are still frightened, huddled, and alone. The resurrection, if it’s real, might be good news for someone else but it hasn’t had much impact on them. I want to stop right here, for I think that’s where many of us find ourselves this year: closed down, holding back, locked up tight.  The brutal war unfolding in Ukraine, the appalling revelations of corruption and self-serving in the halls of power, the crushing weight of racism and economic inequity – all these and more can overwhelm us with the stubborn power of sin and death. News of the natural world may drive us even further into despair: relentless rises in global temperatures, driven largely by the extraction and combustion of fossil fuels; last month’s collapse of a massive ice shelf as an extreme heat wave blasted Antarctica with some areas reaching temperatures 70º Fahrenheit above normal; dead coral at Great Barrier Reef; wildfires and drought out West; hurricanes down South; and a sweeping new report from the U.N.’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change announcing that it’s now or never if we’re going to limit global heating to 1.5º Celsius, the uppermost limit to keep Earth reasonably protected from catastrophic climate change.  What’s a person to do but duck their head, close the door, and turn on the TV, right?  It’s easy to slide into “doomerism” – into the hopeless conviction that it’s too late to turn this around, it’s not my responsibility, the future is set in stone and can’t be changed – in short, death will have the last word. Of course, succumbing to this temptation pleases fossil fuel companies, since our passivity allows them to go on merrily extracting, selling, and reaping billions from their products. But into the closed room of withdrawal and fear steps the risen Christ.  Christ isn’t stopped by locked doors or locked hearts. He comes and stands among us, breathing forgiveness and peace. “Peace be with you,” he says to the disciples – indeed, he says it three times in this one short passage.  “Peace be with you.”  Christ’s peace is timeless, and he is offering it to each one of us right now.  Can you breathe it in?  Right now, as we share this time together, can we let Jesus draw near and, with our next breath, can we breathe in his presence, breathe in his love and forgiveness? As we breathe out, can we extend that compassion to the world around?  Experiencing the resurrection is as intimate as breathing in and breathing out, as intimate as the subtle shift of a heart that has been closed now beginning to soften, as tender and powerful as a new sprig of grass pushing up through asphalt. Then, as Jesus breathes peace into his frightened, guilty, and now awe-struck disciples, he shows them his wounded hands and side. When Thomas refuses to believe unless he sees and touches the mark of the nails in Jesus’ hands and puts his hand in Jesus’ side, Jesus invites Thomas to reach out and touch the wounds. I wonder what the disciples see when they look at Jesus’ wounds.  Surely in those wounds they see the harsh reality of violent suffering, sin, and death, but I wonder if those wounds are now radiant – if they are now lit up with love, and if light is pouring from Jesus’ wounded hands and side. In gazing at his wounds, I wonder if the disciples see that all the wounds of their lives, all the wounds of the world, have been taken up into God. I wonder what it would be like if we could look at the wounds of creation like that.  I wonder if we could learn to see the wounded Earth as revealing not only the harsh reality of sin, suffering, and death, but also as lit up with God’s undying love. I wonder what it would be like if, in tending to the wounded body of creation, we knew that we were also ministering to the wounds of Christ – so that in every act of love for creation, in every choice we made, say, to eat less meat and move to a plant-based diet, to walk rather drive, or to push for state and federal policies that promote renewable energy and keep fossil fuels in the ground, we were honoring the presence of the wounded and yet risen Christ. For it is not only peace that Jesus gives his disciples. He gives them a commission.  “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21), 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 loves and forgives us – he also summons us to share in the divine life of God that pours itself out in acts of justice and compassion. Like Jesus, we, too, have been sent here on a mission. We participate in the same holy work that he began. The early Christians were really clear about that. They shared Jesus’ passion to welcome and bring into being the love and justice of God.  Like him, they stood up to the empires and unjust powers of this world. The New Testament suggests that they spent as much time inside jail as outside! As we heard in today’s reading from the Book of Acts, when Peter and the apostles are asked why they refuse to cooperate with the police and local authorities, they answer, “We must obey God rather than any human authority” (Acts 5:29). Today, Christians and people of many faiths are rising up to call for an end to new fossil fuel projects and a rapid, just transition to a sustainable future. Some of you listening to these words in Massachusetts have joined rallies to protest a new gas pipeline in Springfield, to stand against a compressor station in Weymouth, or to stop a proposed new power plant on the North Shore. Some of you have organized a team to block coal trains. Some of you are planting community gardens, pollinator gardens, and Good News Gardens. Some of you are supporting local land trusts to protect forests and farmland. Some of you are fighting to make clean energy accessible to low-income communities. Some of you have joined campaigns to push the four biggest banks who finance fossil fuels (Chase, CitiBank, Wells Fargo, and Bank of America) to quit propping up the oil and gas industry. Some of you will join the Poor People’s Campaign on June 18th in a March on Washington. We are so done with huddling in fear! Whenever the crucified and risen Christ draws near and opens the closed doors of our minds and hearts, as he does today and every day, we hope to breathe in his love, to receive his forgiveness, to honor his wounds, and to find our place in the Spirit-filled, justice-seeking movement to protect the web of life that God entrusted to our care. Rejoice and sing now, all the round earth! Christ is risen!  The Lord is risen, indeed!  Alleluia! _______________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________ On April 24, 2022, Rev. Margaret delivered this sermon in person at Immanuel Congregational Church in Hartford, Connecticut, as part of GreenFaith’s Sacred Season for Climate Justice.  A video of the sermon as recorded for the two Episcopal dioceses in MA and for Southern New England Conference, UCC, is posted on her YouTube channel and on the respective Vimeo or YouTube channels of those faith communities.    

Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas recorded the following prayer for the opening session of National Faith and Climate Forum, American Climate Leadership Summit 2022 (March 31, 2022).  A YouTube video of the prayer is available here.

Friends, I invite you to stand in body or spirit and to join me in a simple body prayer as we welcome the presence of the Holy in our midst.

As we gather today, the winds of war are howling around us: a war against Ukraine that is underwritten by oil and gas, and a relentless war against Earth herself as coal, gas, and oil continue to be extracted and burned.  The winds of war, the casualties of war, are all around.

So, I invite us to take a moment to ground ourselves, to feel our feet on the ground. Beneath the floor is the earth. Let yourself feel the support of the good earth under your feet.  Let the good earth hold you up… Imagine, for a moment, that you are a tree. Your roots extend deep into the earth.  Let your roots reach deep into the soil and bend your knees a little.

As we breathe in, we lift our arms like branches, and as we breathe out, we breathe down into our roots.  The Bible’s first psalm says that those who trust in God are “like trees planted by streams of water, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither” (Psalm 1:3). So, we plant ourselves in the love of God. Our roots go down deep into the divine Presence, which runs like a river beside us or below us or within us.  Even when the world is dangerous or chaotic, we draw from a divine river that is endlessly flowing, for, as another psalm tells us, “The river of God is full of water” (Psalm 65:9).  Maybe your fingertips sense the flow of that river.

I invite you to take a big, deep breath. Breathing in, let your arms sweep up to the sky overhead.  Breathing out, let your arms float out to the sides, like the great canopy of a tree. As we breathe in, we receive the breath of life from trees. As we breathe out, we release the breath of life to trees.  We exchange the elements of life with each other.  Take a moment to stand with trees and with all plants and green-growing things. Like every creature that breathes, we join a mysterious dance of giving and receiving. We live in a sacred world of reciprocity and mutuality.

Bring your arms down to your sides. Breathing in, we draw the love of God up through our body.  Breathing out, we extend God’s blessing to every tree, every creature, and every person.  Breathing in, we take in the love and power of God, and breathing out, we extend that blessing to every part of the web of life. Who needs that blessing right now?  Send it there.

Let’s take a moment to enjoy standing still, feet on the ground, and breathing.  I’ll close with a prayer.

Gracious God, in troubled times may we draw from the deep wellspring of our faith.  Then may we rise like a mighty tree, bearing fruit in due season, with leaves that do not wither, offering our gifts to each other and to a warring world, speaking words of peace, and joining hands to build a just and thriving planet.  Amen.

 

A presentation by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas for Creation Justice Ministries on March 24, 2022. Facilitated by Avery Davis Lamb, Co-Executive Director of Creation Justice Ministries, this online workshop was part of CJM’s ongoing exploration of how the church might become a hub of resilience in the midst of the spiritual and physical storms of the climate crisis. A recording of this conversation, along with CJM’s other workshops on climate resilience, is available on their YouTube channelA PDF is available for download.

Let’s begin by taking a quick pulse.

 

    • How many of you have heard a sermon about the climate emergency and our moral obligation as Christians to tackle it? Please raise your hand.
    • How many of you preachers – lay or ordained – have preached a sermon about the climate emergency and our moral obligation as Christians to tackle it?
    • How many of you preachers intend to preach a climate sermon sometime soon, and how many of you non-preachers will give them your full support when they do?

I hope everybody’s hands went up that time!

For a while now I’ve been traveling around, preaching about climate change, and you’d be amazed how many times I’ve asked a group of parishioners whether they’ve ever heard a sermon about climate change, and no one raises a hand. So, let’s talk about preaching resilience and cultivating climate justice from the pulpit.

I want to be real. I want to acknowledge right off the bat that it can be hard to preach about climate emergency. Preaching of any kind is challenging but preaching about climate emergency is especially difficult. Why is that? What are we afraid of?1

Maybe we fear being ill-informed (I don’t know enough science).

Maybe we fear provoking division in the congregation (Climate change is too political).

Maybe we fear stressing out our listeners (Daily life is hard enough; why add to their worries?).

Maybe we fear our parishioners won’t be able to handle the bad news (If I do mention climate change, I’d better tone it down and underplay the dire science).

Maybe we fear that climate preaching is not pastoral (People come to church for solace, not to get depressed).

Besides, we may tell ourselves, preaching about climate change should be someone else’s responsibility (Climate change isn’t really “my” issue; someone else should deal with it).

A preacher’s fears may cut close to home (I could lose pledges; I could even lose my job).

And climate preaching may require a painful and very personal reckoning with oneself that the preacher would prefer to avoid (How do I preach resurrection when watching the web of life unravel before my eyes fills me with despair?)

Reckoning with ourselves may also be difficult as we admit our own complicity and consumerism. Years ago, a friend of mine, a suburban priest in a wealthy parish, confessed to me, “How can I preach about climate change when I drive an SUV?”

No wonder so many preachers delay addressing the climate crisis – most of us weren’t trained for this, we don’t want to stir up trouble, and we face an array of fears. As a result, many of us kick the can down the road, perhaps waiting until the lectionary provides the supposedly “perfect” text.

Well, I think it’s fair to say that the time for shyness about preaching on climate change has long since passed. It’s high time for us preachers to overcome our fears and step into the pulpit to preach a bold message of Gospel truth and Gospel hope, because climate change is bearing down on us fast. The winds of war are howling.  We live amidst a war against Ukraine that is underwritten by oil and gas, and a relentless war against Earth herself as coal, gas, and oil continue to be extracted and burned.  This week the U.N. Secretary General warned that the Paris Agreement’s goal of limiting global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius is “on life-support.”2  He went on to say: “Last year alone, global energy-related CO2 emissions grew by 6% to their highest levels in history. Coal emissions have surged to record highs. We are sleepwalking to climate catastrophe. Our planet has already warmed by as much as 1.2 degrees, and we see the devastating consequences everywhere. … If we continue with more of the same, we can kiss 1.5 goodbye. Even 2 degrees may be out of reach.”

So, do we need to preach and practice resilience? You bet we do. Do we need to wake up and quit sleepwalking? You bet we do. For a long time, we may have been sitting on the sidelines, telling ourselves: Things aren’t that bad. The scientists are exaggerating. Or: If I don’t pay attention, it will go away. But eventually our efforts to ignore the reality of a rapidly changing climate can’t help but fall apart. One too many reports of melting glaciers and bleaching coral reefs, one too many accounts of withered fields and bone-dry reservoirs, one too many stories of massive downpours and flash flooding, one too many experiences of devastating wildfires and record heatwaves, and it becomes impossible to suppress awareness of the climate crisis. Our defenses crumble. And we experience what journalist Mark Hertsgaard calls the “Oh, shit” moment we all must have. Climate change is real. It’s here. It’s accelerating.

The truth is that if we keep burning fossil fuels and stick to business as usual, by the end of century, average global temperature will rise 4.2 degrees Celsius (= 7.6 degrees F). Human beings simply can’t adapt to a world that hot.

And let’s not forget that, depending on their social location – on their race and class – people experience ecological breakdown differently. As the saying goes: “We’re all in the same storm, but we’re not in the same boat.” Low-income and low-wealth communities, racial minorities, and the historically underserved are those hurt first and worst by a changing climate, those least able to adapt, and those least likely to have a seat at the table where decisions are made.

Oh, shit.

This is where preachers have an essential role to play.  This is where preaching resilience, preaching justice, preaching faithfulness to the crucified and risen Christ becomes crucial.  Why?  Because the more that people know about the social and ecological breakdown going on worldwide – and the more they experience it directly, in their own lives – the more they may feel overwhelmed, hopeless, or depressed.  That’s why a message of urgency needs to be accompanied by a message of agency, a message of empowerment and strength: God is with us, we’re not alone, and there’s a lot we can do.

Here are nine things I try to do when preaching on climate.

  1. Push back against helplessness

That’s one of the main functions of good climate preaching: push back against helplessness. Your parishioners might not have mentioned it to you, but it’s likely that many of them are grappling with climate anxiety, grief, and dread. A national survey recently conducted by Yale Program on Climate Change Communication reports that seven in ten Americans (70%) say they are at least “somewhat worried” about global warming and that one in three (35%) are “very worried” about it – numbers that have reached a record high.3  It can be a relief when a preacher finally names and addresses their fears, makes climate change “speakable,” and pushes back against the helplessness and “doomism” that suck our spirits dry. That’s why preaching about climate emergency can be deeply pastoral, an act of kindness to your congregation.

Simply gathering for worship can also push back against helplessness: we see each other’s face, we hear each other’s voices, maybe we take each other’s hands.  How do people get through tough times?  We gather, we sing, we hear our sacred stories, we raise our spirits together.  We sense the power of being part of a community that longs, as we do, to create a better world.  Entrusting ourselves to God, especially alongside fellow seekers, can overcome our sense of helplessness and release unexpected power among us to do “infinitely more than we can ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).

  1. Enable people to face hard facts

Like all spiritual seekers, Christians are committed to the search for truth, to cutting through fantasy and self-deception. So, in my sermons I share some facts about climate science. As climate preachers we need to know the basics: climate change is real, it’s largely caused by human activity, it’s gotten worse in recent decades, and it will have disastrous effects unless humanity changes course fast. Basic information is available from many sources, such as NASA or reputable environmental groups like Natural Resources Defense Council.4 For up-to-date climate information, I subscribe to daily news from Climate Nexus.5

So – we share some science, but we don’t have to worry that we need to be a scientist. In preaching, I keep my science comments short, brisk, and sober. To summarize the big-picture effects of a changing climate, I often quote a couple of sentences by Bill McKibben from his book, Eaarth: “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.”6 Then I cite specific examples that resonate most strongly with the local congregation. In California, I mentioned drought, wildfire, and mudslides; on Cape Cod, I mentioned rising and acidifying seas, and threats to fishing and groundwater.

When so much misinformation is being spread and funded by fossil fuel corporations and by the politicians in their pockets, faith leaders need to be resolute in speaking hard truths. A religion that directs our gaze to a suffering, dying man on a cross is surely a religion that can face painful facts.

 

 

  1. Offer a positive vision of the future

Climate science has done its job, reporting on the catastrophic effects of burning fossil fuels. But facts aren’t enough to persuade people to take meaningful, concerted action. For that, we need vision – a shared goal and purpose and values. That’s what preachers do: we lift up a vision of people living in just and loving relationships with each other and with the whole Creation, a vision energized by a deep desire for God’s love to be fully manifest in the world.

Antoine de Saint-Exupéry observed, “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.” How do you build resilience? By lifting up God’s vision of a Beloved Community and by inviting everyone to join God’s mission of reconciling us to God, each other, and the whole Creation.  This is the mission that Archbishop Desmond Tutu called the “supreme work” of Jesus Christ.

  1. Explore ethical questions and provide a moral framework

The climate crisis forces upon us existential questions about the meaning, purpose, and value of human life.  What is our moral responsibility to future generations?  What does it mean to be human, if human beings are destroying life as it has evolved on this planet?  How do we address the anger, self-hatred and guilt that arise with this awareness?  Are we willing to radically amend our personal patterns of consumption and waste?  What does a “good” life look like, once we know the deadly consequences of over-consumption, inequitable distribution of resources, and being part of an inherently unsustainable, extractive economy that depends on fossil fuels and unlimited growth?

Such questions may hover in the background or roar to the foreground. Congregations provide a context for grappling with these questions, and preachers can offer moral grounding and guidance, reminding their listeners of such old-fashioned values as compassion and generosity, self-control and selfless service, simple living, sacrifice, justice, forgiveness, and non-violent engagement in societal transformation.

  1. Encourage reconciliation

Climate change has become a deeply divisive political issue – so polarizing that people may fear to mention the subject to family members, co-workers, and friends. Sermons can open a space for conversation, and congregations can follow up by providing settings for difficult conversations and active listening.  If we can express compassion while also holding groups and individuals morally accountable, we can create possibilities for reconciliation and collaboration that otherwise might not exist.

Jim Antal points out in his seminal book, Climate Church, Climate World, that “truth and reconciliation” groups could be modeled on the Truth and Reconciliation Commission that was formed in South Africa in the 1990’s after the abolition of apartheid.  Antal writes: “Initiating Truth and Reconciliation Conversations could well be the most important contribution of the church to creating a world able to undergo the great transition we are now beginning.  For many generations we have sought to conquer, dominate, and exploit nature.  Now we must seek intergenerational and cross-species atonement. It seems to me that if the church, the synagogue, and the mosque are to offer meaningful hope in the years ahead, they must host such personal and communal, transparent and sacred conversations.”7

  1. Provide opportunities for emotional response

The climate crisis can make us go numb.  Why think about the enormous stretches of coral reefs in Australia that died in less than two months?  What can we possibly feel in response to the acidifying ocean, the children choking from asthma in our inner cities, the rising seas, the ever-increasing droughts and floods, and the cascade of species going extinct?  It is hard enough to face our own mortality or to mourn a loved one’s death.  How do we begin to explore our fear and grief in response to the ecocide going on around us – much less express it?  How do we move beyond despair?

Preachers can offer practices, teachings, and rituals that allow us to feel, accept, and integrate the painful emotions evoked by climate change.  We can create small circles for eco-grief lament and prayer. And we can hold public ceremonies outdoors.  Over the years I’ve led or participated in many outdoor interfaith public liturgies about climate change.  Some were held after environmental disasters such as the Gulf of Mexico oil spill and Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines; others were held before significant environmental events, such as Pope Francis’ visit to Washington, D.C., and the U.N. climate talks in Paris.  Preachers and congregations can create public spaces for expressing grief, naming hopes, and touching our deep longing for healing and reconciliation.  We can protect our human capacity to feel our emotional responses without being overwhelmed. Our emotions can become a source of energy for constructive action to address the emergency.

  1. Build hope by taking action

How do we maintain hope?  That’s a question many contributors address in the anthology I co-edited with Leah Schade, Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis. One author, Tim DeChristopher, is a Unitarian Universalist who spent two years in federal prison after disrupting an oil and gas auction in Utah. When someone asks him, “What gives you hope?” Tim replies, “How can anything ‘give’ me hope?” He writes: “Hope is inseparable from our own actions.  [Hope] isn’t given; it’s grown. Waiting to act on climate change until we have hope is like waiting to pick up a shovel until we build callouses on our hands.  The hope never arrives until we get to work.”8

In my climate sermons I include suggestions for action, such as cutting back sharply on our use of fossil fuels, moving toward a plant-based diet, going solar, protecting forests, and planting trees. Individual actions to reduce our household carbon footprint are essential to our moral integrity and they help to propel social change.  Yet the scope and speed of the climate crisis also require engagement in collective action for social transformation. As environmental justice activist, Mary Annaise Heglar, puts it: “I don’t care if you recycle. Stop obsessing over your environmental ‘sins.’ Fight the oil and gas industry instead.”9

So, in my sermons I encourage parishioners not only to live more lightly on Earth but also to use their voices and votes to make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. We can support the growing movement to push banks to stop financing fossil fuel projects.  We can lobby for policies that support renewable energy, clean green jobs, and a just transition that addresses the needs of poor and low-wealth communities and communities of color, and the needs of workers in the fossil fuel industries as we transition to a clean energy economy. If we have financial investments, we can divest from fossil fuels. If we’re college graduates, we can push our alma mater to divest. We can support 350.org, ThirdAct.org (a new climate action group led by Bill McKibben for people over 60), Sunrise Movement (a climate action group led by people under 30), Extinction Rebellion, and other grassroots efforts to turn the tide. We can put our bodies on the line and risk arrest in non-violent resistance to fossil fuels. By inspiring significant action, preachers can challenge the deathly status quo of “business as usual” and rouse society out of apathy and inaction.

  1. Deepen reverence for nature

Our society treats the natural world as an object to master, dominate, and exploit, and preachers can call us to reclaim the sacredness of Earth. After all, nature is a place where humans have always encountered God – so say generations of mystics and theologians, including Moses, Jesus, and St. Paul (Romans 1:20). As poet Gerard Manley Hopkins puts it, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Destroying Earth is therefore a desecration, a sin against the Creator.

So, in addition to preaching reverence for God’s creation, maybe we can plant a community garden in the vacant lot behind our church.  Maybe we can support land trusts to preserve farms, woods, and open space; maybe we can partner with organizations to bring inner-city children into natural settings; maybe we can sponsor retreats, hikes, and worship services that explore the wonders of Creation. Step by step we can begin to reclaim what traditional indigenous societies have never forgotten: the land itself is sacred. Discovering this for ourselves will affect our behavior: we only fight to save what we love.

Which brings me to my final aim in preaching:

  1. Encourage love

Cultivate love. That really should be Point #1! Whenever I preach, I try to evoke the presence of a God who loves us beyond measure, a God who heals and redeems, who liberates and forgives. I preach about a God who honors and shares our climate grief, a God who weeps with us. I preach about a God who understands our outrage, fear, and sorrow as the living world around us is destroyed; a God, in the words of Peter Sawtell, who calls us “to active resistance, not to quiet acceptance.”10 I preach about a God who knows our guilt and complicity in that destruction and who gives us power to amend our lives. I preach about a God who longs to create a Beloved Community that includes all beings, not just human beings. I preach about a God who sets us free from the fear of death and who gives us strength to bear witness to a love that nothing can destroy. When people are going mad with hatred and fear, only love can restore us to sanity.

When we deliver a strong climate sermon and we trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, we’re like the boy in the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand (Jn. 6:1-14): we put our words in Jesus’ hands.  Through his grace and power, maybe our small offering will become a catalyst that enables a crowd to be fed. Maybe our words, like those of Ezekiel, will be infused with Spirit-power to enliven that valley of dead, dry bones and breathe life into a multitude (Ez. 37:1-14).  Maybe that homily – that word of challenge or encouragement – will contribute to a social tipping point that releases rapid societal transformation.

Holy Week, Easter, and Earth Day are all approaching, and this year we have a special opportunity to amplify the power of our witness: we can register our climate sermons and prayer vigils with GreenFaith’s global initiative, Sacred Season for Climate Justice. All five of the world’s major religions celebrate a holy day or season between now and early May, and faith communities around the world will hold special events and services that proclaim one urgent message: climate justice now!  So, when you preach a climate justice/climate resilience sermon sometime this month, as I hope you will, please be sure to register your service with Sacred Season for Climate Justice.11

Thank you, friends.

___________________________________________________________________________

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas is an Episcopal priest, author, retreat leader, and climate activist.  She has been a lead organizer of many Christian and interfaith events about care for Earth, and she leads spiritual retreats in the U.S.A. and Canada on spiritual resilience and resistance in the midst of a climate emergency. Her latest book, Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (2019) is a co-edited anthology of essays by religious environmental activists. She has been arrested in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere to protest expanded use of fossil fuels.  She serves as Missioner for Creation Care in the Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass. and Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ, and as Creation Care Advisor for the Episcopal Diocese of Mass. Her Website, RevivingCreation.org, includes blog posts, sermons, videos, and articles.

Selected resources for climate-crisis preaching are available on her website, as are about 100 of her lectionary-based sermons on climate change.

____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

1. This section is drawn from “Preaching When Life Depends on It: Climate Crisis and Gospel Hope,” by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Anglican Theological Review (Spring, 2021, Vol. 103, 2), 208–219, https://revivingcreation.org/preaching-when-life-depends-on-it-climate-crisis-and-gospel-hope/

2. https://www.democracynow.org/2022/3/22/headlines/un_secretary_general_says_paris_climate_agreement_goal_is_on_life_support

3. Leiserowitz A. et al, Climate Change in the American Mind, September 2021. Yale Program on Climate Change Communication, November 18, 2021.

4. https://climate.nasa.gov/resources/global-warming-vs-climate-change/
https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-climate-change-what-you-need-know/

5. To sign up, send an email to: info@climatenexus.org.

6. Bill McKibben, Eaarth (New York: Times Books, Henry Holt & Co., 2010) xiii, book jacket. The title is deliberately mis-spelled in order to signal that the planet onto which you and I were born is not the same planet we inhabit today.

7. Jim Antal, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), 77.

8. Tim DeChristopher, “Working Up Hope,” in Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis, ed. Leah Schade and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019), 148.

9. Mary Annaise Heglar, “I work in the environmental movement. I don’t care if you recycle. Stop obsessing over your environmental ‘sins.’ Fight the oil and gas industry instead.” (Vox, June 4, 2019)

10. Peter Sawtell, “Three Layers of Environmental Preaching,” http://www.eco-justice.org/3layers.asp/. (If the link doesn’t work, you can search for the article directly.)

11. Creation Justice Ministries has also produced an Earth Day resource for 2022, “Weathering the Storm: Faithful Climate Resilience,” a timely and applicable resource for all of 2022.

Sermon for the First Sunday of Advent November 28, 2021 Delivered by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas Church of Reconciliation, San Antonio, Texas Psalm 25:1-9 Jeremiah 33:14-16 1 Thessalonians 3:9-13 Luke 21:25-36

Standing up when things fall apart

Friends, I am blessed to be with you this morning. Thank you for inviting me to preach.  I was hoping to join you in person because I’d planned to come to San Antonio to speak at the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion. But because of the pandemic, my presentation went virtual, so here I am at home, bringing greetings from the East Coast, where I serve the two Episcopal dioceses in Massachusetts as well as the United Church of Christ in southern New England.  In this ecumenical role, I speak to people of faith about our call to cherish and protect God’s creation.  If you’d like to know more about what I’m up to, please visit my Website, RevivingCreation.org.  I want to give a special shoutout to members of your Creation Care team – thank you for your leadership.  If there’s anything I can do to support you, please let me know.

I can’t think of a better day to be with you than today, as we launch the season of Advent and begin a new church year.  During these four weeks leading up to Christmas, we prepare to celebrate the first coming of Christ, when God became incarnate in Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem. And we prepare for his second coming, too. We look ahead to that last, great day sometime in the future when Christ will come again, when everything will be gathered up in love, when all that is broken will be healed, all that is estranged will be reconciled and forgiven, and the Lord of life will return at last to reign in glory.
Late November Sunrise, Ashfield
Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
Christianity is full of hope about where we are ultimately heading – into the loving arms of God.  But it is also bracingly realistic about the suffering and turmoil that will take place in the meantime.  Today on the first Sunday of Advent, as we do every year, we must grapple with the Bible’s portrayal of the end-times, which include frightening predictions of social breakdown and cosmic turmoil.  As we heard two weeks ago in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus foretells “wars and rumors of wars” (Mark 13:7); he speaks of earthquakes, famines, and persecution. In today’s passage from the Gospel of Luke, Jesus says that when the Son of Man comes at the end of time, “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves.  People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken” (Luke 21:25-26). It’s scary stuff.  And it resonates with our own experience of a shaking world.  Snow in Houston.  Triple digit temperatures in the Pacific Northwest.  Withered crops and empty reservoirs in the American Southwest.  Shorelines dissolving in Florida.  Flash floods rising so quickly that people drown in their basement apartments. Wildfires so hot that they generate their own storms. Oceans emptying of life and filling with plastic.  Changes in the jet stream.  Changes in the Gulf stream. The signs of a changing climate are visible everywhere.  Around the world, throngs of people are already on the move, because drought or crop failure or fires or storms have dislodged them from their homes. Indeed, the once-stable web of life is unraveling before our eyes. Huge populations of creatures have vanished in less than 50 years. Human activity has wiped out 60% of the world’s mammals, reptiles, amphibians, birds, and fish since 1970.1 With dismay, scientists are describing what they call a “biological annihilation.”2 And about one million plant and animal species are at risk of extinction, many within decades. The world is reeling, so I come to today’s Gospel passage with relief – it tells the truth.  It speaks to our condition. The Bible has wisdom to convey in apocalyptic times like these. What is “apocalypse”?  It comes from the Greek word “kalypto,” which means “to cover” or “to hide.”  “Apocalypse” refers to a great unveiling, a lifting of the veil of illusion.  In that sense, surely, we live in apocalyptic times: something like scales have fallen from our eyes and everything that was hidden is being laid bare. For instance, now we know that we can’t take the natural world for granted.  Now we see the miracle of what we once thought would be ours forever: predictable seasons, moderate weather, thriving coral reefs, ice sheets as big as a continent.  Now we know that the stable natural world into which you and I were born is coming apart, and – to quote a conservation wildlife photographer – that “even the lowliest ants or butterflies can no longer be taken for granted ever again.”3 Do apocalyptic, end-time passages like these mean that we should passively accept natural disasters that result from human-caused climate change as somehow preordained and part of God’s plan?  That’s what some Christians would have us believe, but I don’t see it that way.  I don’t for one minute believe that God wants human beings to burn the Earth to a crisp. I don’t for one minute believe that biblical end-time passages give human beings a license to rip apart the web of life and to destroy the world that our Creator proclaimed “very good” (Genesis 1:31).  On the contrary, I believe that God’s creative, holy presence fills our precious, living planet, and that all of it belongs to God – meadows, rivers, soils and seeds, animals and oceans. As the psalmist says, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). And the very first task given to human beings is to care for the earth, to serve as custodians and stewards. As I see it, the Bible’s end-time passages and their frightening imagery of chaos and distress were not given to us so that we can indulge in wasteful and disheartening political rhetoric, in helplessness, resignation, or fatalism, but just the opposite: in order to sustain our courage, hope, and perseverance even in the midst of crisis.
Icy twigs, Ashfield
Photo credit: Robert A. Jonas
In this time of climate emergency, I hear three messages in today’s Gospel. The first is: Don’t be surprised by suffering. Jesus warned of social breakdown and conflict. He anticipated natural and even cosmic disruption. Don’t be surprised by suffering, our Gospel text reminds us.  Don’t take your suffering or the world’s suffering to mean that God is powerless or that God doesn’t care or that God has abandoned us. Everything we are experiencing is held within the gaze – indeed, within the embrace – of a loving God. So, don’t be surprised. A second message: Don’t be afraid.  Although many people “will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world,” followers of Jesus should take heart.  “Now when these things begin to take place,” says Jesus, “stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).  “Stand up!” he says. “And raise your heads!”  What bracing words these are when we may feel like curling up in a ball and ducking our head under a pillow!  It’s easy to feel hopeless about ecological collapse and climate change.  It’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed.  What can I possibly do? We may say to ourselves. What difference can I possibly make?  But here comes Jesus, telling us to stand up and not be afraid, for our redemption is drawing near.  He is very close (Luke 21:27). And here comes message number three:  Don’t fall asleep.  Stay awake, says Jesus. “Be alert at all times” (Luke 21:36). Look for the small but telling signs that God is in our midst, bringing forth something new. Just as the branch of a fig tree becomes tender and puts forth its first, soft leaves, assuring us that summer’s abundance is near, so Jesus urges us to notice that even in the midst of chaos, violence, and endings, God’s kingdom is drawing near. In the very midst of endings, something new is being born. As I hear it, Jesus is calling us to stand up and take part in that birth – the birth of a new community, the birth of a new society that lives more lightly on God’s good Earth and that treats human beings and other-than-human beings with reverence, compassion, and respect. In this perilous time, God calls us to stand up, raise our heads, and bear witness in word and deed to God’s never-failing love, which embraces the whole creation. And when it comes to healing, there is so much we can do!  Earlier this year the Episcopal bishops in Massachusetts declared a climate emergency.  Our two dioceses have begun to work together in a more coordinated way as we discuss how we can pray, learn, act, and advocate on behalf of God’s creation.  The Diocese of Western Massachusetts has web pages on Creation care loaded with ideas about ways to make a difference.  Some actions are simple, like eating less meat and moving to a plant-based diet, recycling more, driving less, protecting trees, and reducing our use of fossil fuels in every way we can.  Other actions are bigger and bolder and address systemic change.  That’s important, because the scope and speed of the climate crisis require more than changes in individual behavior – they require massive, collective action and a push for policies that help us move away quickly from fossil fuels and that encourage clean renewable energy like sun and wind. A just and equitable transition to a new economy means creating lots of good green jobs for folks now working in the fossil fuel industry, and it means ensuring that historically marginalized and low-income communities – the people hurt first and hardest by climate change – have a voice at the table where decisions are made. If humanity is going to keep living on a reasonably habitable planet, then this transition must happen now. It’s up to us to insist that political leaders lead the transition – especially in places where so much of the economy and so many jobs are dependent on fossil fuels. Here’s the last thing I’ll say.  After COP26, the U.N. climate summit that just finished in Glasgow, every member of the Episcopal delegation made it clear that “protecting the Earth and preventing human suffering are not merely political talking points but central tenets of the Episcopal faith.”4 I was especially touched by the words of the Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, a delegate from the Diocese of Olympia and a member of the Shackan First Nation people. She said: “The faith of re-greening the world must become as central to our theology, and to our worship, as crucifixion and resurrection… We must give nothing less than all we have and all we are in order to assure new life if generations are to follow us at all. The world to come that we pray for in our Sunday worship is ours to entomb or to liberate.”5 I pray that our Church – the Church of Reconciliation and our Church as a whole – will become a beacon of light and a leader of bold climate action.  As we step into this Advent season and into a new year, may Jesus keep us steadfast in faith and abounding in love for one another and for all, until his coming in glory.  Amen.   ________________________________________________________________________________ NOTE: To subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Creation Care Network e-news, please click here.  A video of “Standing Up When Things Fall Apart” is posted at my YouTube channel. ________________________________________________________________________________ 1. “A Warning Sign from Our Planet: Nature Needs Life Support,” Living Planet Report 2018, World Wildlife Fund, Oct. 30, 2018 2. Gerardo Ceballos, Paul R. Ehrlich, and Rodolfo Dirzo, “Biological annihilation via the ongoing sixth mass extinction signaled by vertebrate population losses and declines,” PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America), July 25, 2017. 3. Cyril Christo, “Climate change is really Apocalypse Now,” The Hill, July 17, 2021. 4. Egan Millard, “Episcopal delegates to COP26 climate conference share lessons of hope and struggle with the church,” Episcopal News Service, November 19, 2021. 5. The Rev. Rachel Taber-Hamilton, quoted by Millard, “Episcopal delegates to COP26.”

Looking for guidance as you prepare pastoral and prophetic sermons about the climate crisis?  Here is a short list of resources for preachers that was assembled in September 2021 by the Rev. Dr. Jim Antal (Special Advisor on Climate Justice to UCC General Minister and President) and the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas (Missioner for Creation Care [Episcopal Diocese of Western MA & Southern New England Conference, UCC] and Creation Care Advisor [Episcopal Diocese of MA]).  We may update the list from time to time.  If you have additions or corrections, please email mbj@revivingcreation.org.  To download a pdf, click here.

(updated 3/25/22)

Climate preaching resources from Jim & Margaret:

Jim’s website, JimAntal.com, posts news & thought about the interfaith climate movement, upcoming events, information about his book, and ways to take action.  His website includes a 3-page pdf of climate crisis resources for congregations and clergy that is packed with information and contains links to many UCC resources, resolutions, newsletter, etc.

Margaret’s website, RevivingCreation.org, includes about one hundred lectionary-based sermons about climate change and Creation care, plus blog posts, articles, upcoming events, videos, and books. Sign up for her monthly newsletter, Creation Care Network here.

Jim Antal, Climate Church, Climate World (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), especially the chapter, “Prophetic Preaching,” 121-135.  The book includes study questions and can be used for group study as well as individual reflection. Visit Jim’s Website to see what people like Bishop Desmond Tutu, Prof. Walter Brueggemann and Bill McKibben have to say about it.

Leah Schade and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, ed. Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).  This anthology of 21 essays on courage and spiritual resilience from a range of faith traditions includes stories and insights useful for climate preaching, plus study questions and spiritual practices.  It can be used for group study as well as individual reflection. For a 30% off discount, buy it from the publisher and use the code RLFANDF30.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, “Addiction, Climate Change, and Spiritual Liberation,” Religions (September 2021). Drawing from her long-term recovery from addiction and her decades of ministry as a climate activist, the author reflects on how understanding the dynamics of addiction and recovery can inform our efforts to protect the web of life and bear witness to the liberating God of love. Topics include, among others, climate grief, denial, and “Is climate change my fault?”

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, “Preaching When Life Depends on It: Climate Crisis and Gospel Hope,” Anglican Theological Review (Vol. 103, 2), pp. 208–219. The author reflects on the power of sermons to awaken moral courage and considers six ideas for preachers: how to frame the climate emergency in terms of Christian theology; how to approach the lectionary; how to be adequately informed about climate science; how to connect climate change with other issues, such as coronavirus and racial and economic justice; why and how to infuse sermons with the empowering love of God; and individual and collective actions to encourage.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, “Preaching Resilience: Cultivating Climate Justice from the Pulpit.” In this presentation for Creation Justice Ministries on March 24, 2022, the author discusses nine things she tries to do when preaching about climate emergency, from pushing back against helplessness and providing opportunities for emotional response to offering a moral framework and building hope by taking action. A recording of this conversation, along with CJM’s other workshops on climate resilience, is available on their YouTube channel.

Other climate preaching resources:

Fletcher Harper, “Stop preaching about ‘being good stewards of the Earth,” Sojourners, Sept. 16, 2021

Peter Sawtell, “Three Layers of Environmental Preaching” (If clicking the link doesn’t work, use a search engine to find the article). Peter Sawtell’s archive of weekly emails to his 6,000 subscribers is a treasure trove of resources and reflection for clergy and congregations: http://www.eco-justice.org/E-list.asp

Let’s Talk Faith and Climate: Communication Guidance for Faith Leaders,” produced by EcoAmerica and Blessed Tomorrow, explains why our faith calls us to lead on climate, provides key talking points, and gives examples of “successful messaging.”

SustainablePreaching.org: This ecumenical Website provides lectionary-based sermons. You can look up biblical passages and read sermon suggestions.

Leah Schade, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (Chalice Press, 2015)

EcoPreacher 1-2-3: In an effort to encourage clergy to preach and teach on Christian ecology at least once a month, The Interfaith Center for Sustainable Development and the Rev. Dr. Leah Schade have partnered to develop a new free resource called EcoPreacher 1-2-3. Drawing from Eco Bible, a Jewish ecological commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures, Dr. Schade provides sermon preparation for preaching about caring for God’s Creation that is short, accessible, and based on a solid biblical foundation. EcoPreacher 1-2-3 offers a brief “eco-exegesis” for interpreting a Hebrew text from the Revised Common Lectionary for the coming Sunday, followed by one “eco idea” for the basis of the sermon, two “eco questions” to go deeper, and three “eco actions” to choose from to help a congregation put their faith into action. With this resource, preachers can use the sermon ideas in their own context and make it relevant for their congregation.  For information and to subscribe to weekly emails, click here.

Staying informed about climate crisis:

  • To learn about your region’s environmental concerns, contact your local chapter of Sierra Club. To view climate risks and clean energy opportunities in each of the 50 states, visit Climate Nexus.

Other faith-based resources: Web

      • Christianity and Climate Change is a nine-part video series for small groups featuring Katharine Hayhoe, the internationally renowned climate scientist and Evangelical Christian. The videos are only six minutes long, leaving plenty of time for discussion:
        • What the Bible says about the natural world,
        • Climate change is a poverty issue,
        • How to persuade others to care about climate change,
        • What we can do as a church,
        • Speaking to other Christians about climate change,
        • Grateful for fossil fuels but time to move on,
        • Climate change is a threat multiplier,
        • There can be a better future, and
        • It is not too late.

     

    • Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass. provides Creation-care resources in four areas: Pray, Learn, Act, and Advocate (The “Learn” section includes articles connecting climate change and racism, climate change and Covid-19.) The Website also includes links to many Episcopal resources.
    • Episcopal Diocese of Mass. provides seasonal Creation-care resources and also “Sustainable Life,” a list of suggestions for responding to climate emergency.
    • Climate Change and Social Change”: Four presentations by T. Wilson Dickinson on how movements for food justice, climate justice, and social justice fit together, and the role that Christian communities can play

Other faith-based resources: Books

  • T. Wilson Dickinson, The Green Good News: Christ’s Path to Sustainable and Joyful Life (Cascade Books, 2019) – an environmental justice reading of the Gospels
  • Pope Francis, Laudato Si – Praise Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home (2015) (also available as a free download on the Web)

Other helpful resources:

    • National Issues Forum Institute has materials on controversial issues (e.g., immigration, policing) and a short video about how to moderate “deliberative forums,” in which people deliberate with each other on a variety of difficult public issues.
  1. Climate Solutions for Your Home and Neighborhood
  2. Climate Solutions for Your Workplace and Congregation
  3. Climate Solutions for Your Community
  4. Climate Solutions Advocacy with Policy Makers

Possible “asks” in your sermons:

Lighten your carbon load Inform your congregation about ways to reduce their carbon footprint – e.g. https://blogs.ei.columbia.edu/2018/12/27/35-ways-reduce-carbon-footprint/
For instance:
Eat low on the food-chain – moving toward a plant-rich diet is one of the most immediate and effective ways we can reduce carbon emissions. Eat local.  Eat organic. Waste less food.
Buy less stuff.  Get an energy audit of your home, so that you can identify ways to be more energy-efficient and perhaps save money (if possible, tell your congregation where to get an energy audit).
Drive less. Walk, take public transportation, carpool, rideshare or bike to your destination, when possible. If possible, purchase a hybrid or electric car. Fly less. If you must fly, buy carbon offsets (e.g., www.terrapass.com/).

Join the climate justice movement Pushing for systemic change is more important than making personal changes. Get politically engaged. Vote! … Join 350.org, the global grassroots network to stop all new coal, oil, and gas projects and build a clean energy future for all … Join ThirdAct.org, environmentalist Bill McKibben’s new initiative seeking to harness the wisdom and resources of elders (people over 60) to assure that we leave a fair, stable planet for future generations… Stand alongside marginalized, vulnerable communities in your area that are fighting environmental racism.

Restore the land and grow food Support local land trusts and farms. Cultivate a landscape that sequesters carbon and provides food for the homeless and low-income households. Launch projects such as composting, tree planting, habitat restoration, permaculture gardening, and growing produce for food pantries. Join the Good News Gardens Movement.

 

Homily for the Eighth Sunday after Pentecost Sunday, July 18, 2021 Delivered online by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at Trinity Episcopal Church, Chicopee, MA Mark 6:30-34

Healing the climate crisis

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.’ For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat.” (Mark 6:31)

What a blessing to be with you this morning! Thank you, Pastor Daphne, for inviting me. As you know, I serve as Missioner for Creation Care in our diocese, and I travel from place to place, speaking about God’s love for our beautiful, precious planet and our call as faithful followers of Jesus to rise up together at this critical moment to heal and restore the Earth that God entrusted to our care. It is particularly sweet to join you on the day after you embarked on a cleanup project – thank you for your stories! Please know that it warms my heart and lifts my spirits to know that the good folks at Trinity Episcopal are stepping up and stepping forward, joining with countless people of faith around the world who understand that now is the time for bold action to protect the web of life, especially to address the climate crisis.

Trinity Church, Chicopee’s Creation Care Team gets to work
Two aspects of today’s Gospel passage stand out for me. One is its understanding of how profoundly we need healing. When Jesus and the apostles slip away in a boat to a deserted place by themselves, the crowds watch the boat withdraw and what do they do? They “[hurry] there on foot from all the towns and [arrive] ahead of them” (Mark 6:33). That’s how much they need Jesus! On another occasion, Jesus and the apostles set out by boat and when they come to shore, people recognize him and rush from “the whole region” (Mark 6:55) to bring him those who are sick. Wherever he goes – villages, cities, farms – people bring him their need for healing. So, let’s follow the guidance of the Gospel and bring into Jesus’ healing presence the places around the world that need healing from the effects of climate change. Let’s lift up to Jesus the American West and Southwest, which are now in the grip of an historic mega-drought – an extraordinarily persistent, unbroken drought that is draining reservoirs, withering crops, and increasing the spread of massive wildfires. Let’s bring to Jesus the Pacific Northwest, a usually cool and foggy part of the world that has been roasting in record-setting levels of heat. Let’s bring to Jesus the hundreds of people who died last weekend in heat-related deaths in Oregon, Washington, and British Columbia. Let’s bring to Jesus the East Coast, too, where it’s been awfully wet here in New England and where a few days ago parts of the mid-Atlantic were drenched in torrential rains. On Monday, “as much as 10 inches of rain fell in less than 4 hours in southeastern Pennsylvania.” Let’s bring to Jesus the hundreds of people in Europe who died this week and those who are still missing after an unheard-of deluge of rain and flash-flooding that devastated entire communities. Extreme precipitation is linked to global warming, for warmer air holds more water and therefore dumps more water when it rains – just as a bigger bucket can hold and dump more water. Let’s bring to Jesus all the people we know, and all the people we don’t know, and all living creatures – all of us who are already living with the effects of a rapidly-warming world, driven by the relentless burning of dirty fuels like coal, gas, and oil.
Cleaning up our corner of the world: Trinity Church, Chicopee's Creation Care Team
Cleaning up our corner of the world: Trinity Church, Chicopee’s Creation Care Team
God knows we need healing. And so God sends us Jesus, a person so filled with the Spirit that everything he does is guided by God’s love; everything he says arises from the presence and power of God; and everything he touches is in some way healed. That’s the second aspect of today’s Gospel passage that stands out to me: Jesus comes among us with power to save, and he invites his followers to join him in his mission of healing. As we see in today’s story, Jesus and his apostles were kept mighty busy – indeed, “they had no leisure even to eat” (Mark 6:31). Jesus urges his followers to “come away” and “rest a while,” to nourish their souls, just as we gather every Sunday for prayer and refreshment, and he also invites us into a life of focused service. At this unprecedented moment in human history, when the choices we make around climate change will largely determine whether or not we leave our children and our children’s children a livable planet, followers of Jesus are rising up with other people of faith and goodwill to mobilize a response that is commensurate to the crisis. You know that here in Massachusetts the Episcopal bishops recently declared a climate emergency. Our two dioceses have begun to work together in a more coordinated way as we discuss how we can pray, learn, act, and advocate on behalf of God’s Creation. Our diocesan Website on Creation care is loaded with ideas about ways we can make a difference. Some actions are simple, like eating less meat and moving to a plant-based diet, recycling more, driving less, protecting trees, and cutting back on our use of fossil fuels in every way we can. Other actions are bigger and bolder and address systemic change, like pushing for climate policies that keep fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong, or fighting to stop the construction of new pipelines, such as Line 3 in northern Minnesota, which is being built to carry dirty tar sands oil from Canada and is slicing right through land and waters that are sacred to Native peoples, violating their treaty rights. God is calling us to live in balance and harmony with Earth and with each other. Can we learn to do that together? Can we support each other to make the changes we need to make in our own lives and in society as a whole at the speed and scale that scientists tell us is necessary? That’s the question that confronts every community of faith as we clarify our vocation in a time of climate crisis. I hope you will subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Creation Care Network e-news, so that we can stay in touch and give each other encouragement. Thank you for the ways you bless the Earth. Thank you for sharing in Jesus’ ministry of healing. I look forward to hearing more good news from your congregation in the days ahead.  

This article by Margaret Bullitt-Jonas was published in Anglican Theological Review (Spring, 2021, Vol. 103, 2), pp. 208–219.

I have preached countless sermons in countless settings about the urgent Gospel call to care for God’s Creation. Nevertheless, when I step into a literal or virtual pulpit to preach about the climate crisis, I still feel a flash of fear: This will be a disaster.

Preaching on any topic is inherently challenging. As Ruthanna B. Hooke explains in Transforming Preaching, there are many good reasons that newcomers and experienced preachers alike find it frightening to preach.1 Fear, she argues, is an intrinsic and even necessary aspect of preaching God’s Word: preaching can only be authentic when we truly open ourselves to the presence of the living God and publicly put our life and faith on the line.  Barbara Brown Taylor compares watching the preacher climb into the pulpit to watching a tightrope walker climb onto a platform as the drum rolls.2  Preaching of any kind requires risky self-exposure and walking in faith. Before they embark, preachers and tightrope walkers must pray: Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast (Ps. 139:9).

However, preaching about the climate crisis may evoke particular anxiety. Although climate change is called the great moral challenge of our time, many preachers avoid preaching about it – often because of fear.  Maybe we fear being ill-informed (I don’t know enough science). Maybe we fear provoking division in the congregation (Climate change is too political). Maybe we fear stressing out our listeners (Daily life is hard enough; why add to their worries?) or maybe we fear they won’t be able to handle the bad news (If I do mention climate change, I’d better tone it down and underplay the dire science).  Maybe we fear that climate preaching is not pastoral (People come to church for solace, not to get depressed).  Besides, we may tell ourselves, preaching about climate change should be someone else’s responsibility (Climate change isn’t really “my” issue). A preacher’s fears may cut close to home (I could lose pledges; I could even lose my job). Climate preaching may also require a painful reckoning with oneself that the preacher would prefer to avoid.  Such a reckoning may be spiritual and theological (How do I preach resurrection when the web of life is unraveling before our eyes?) or it may be personal and moral as we face our own complicity.  As one suburban preacher confessed to me years ago, “How can I preach about climate change when I drive an SUV?”

No wonder so many preachers delay addressing the climate crisis – most of us weren’t trained for this, we don’t want to stir up trouble, and we face an array of fears.  As a result, many of us kick the can down the road, perhaps waiting for the lectionary to provide the “perfect” text, for a guest preacher to introduce the subject, or for a special (and thankfully rare) occasion, such as Earth Sunday or St. Francis Day.

Preachers who are hanging back from speaking about the climate emergency and those who have been preaching about it for years owe a debt of gratitude to Greta Thunberg, designated by TIME magazine as its 2019 Person of the Year. Thunberg is the Swedish teenager with the round face and straight blonde hair who delivered a fierce message to the U.S. Congress, the United Nations, the World Economic Forum, and all the adults who failed to take action: “Our house is on fire… We have to stop our emissions of greenhouse gas emissions.  Either we do that or we don’t… Either we prevent 1.5C of warming or we don’t… Either we choose to go on as a civilization or we don’t… We all have a choice. We can create transformational action that will safeguard the living conditions for future generations. Or we can continue with our business as usual and fail. That is up to you and me.”3

Preach it, Greta! Although Thunberg is not addressing the religious faith of her audience, her fiery words and presence convey the message of a prophetic preacher: humanity stands at a crossroads and we have a vital choice to make, a choice of life or death, blessing or curse (Dt. 30:19). Science shows that we are at the brink of catastrophe: the only way to avert climate chaos and to protect life as it has evolved on Earth is to carry out a top-to-bottom transformation of society at a speed and scope that are historically unprecedented.4 We need to keep fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong. We need to make a decisive change of course toward clean, renewable sources of energy. We need to protect forests and topsoil, rivers and oceans, pollinators and the other living creatures with whom we share this planet, to say nothing of the eco-systems upon which all life depends. And we must do this quickly, equitably, and despite the opposition of entrenched political and corporate powers that are determined to keep drilling, burning, mining, extracting, plundering and profiting for as long as they can – even though business as usual is wrecking the planet. Thunberg’s moral call to action galvanized millions of people around the world and inspired the global climate strike on September 20, 2019, which is so far the largest climate demonstration in human history.

Hearing a strong sermon can dissolve fear, awaken moral responsibility, and mobilize action.  I know this from direct experience – I was preached into jail by Bishop Steven Charleston. Back in 2001, while listening to him preach resurrection at an Easter Vigil service, I heard God’s call: I realized that in order to bear witness to the Risen Christ, I needed to gather up my courage and carry out my first extended act of civil disobedience. A few weeks later I joined a new interfaith group, Religious Witness for the Earth, and headed to Washington, D.C., to protest the Administration’s intention to drill for more oil in the Arctic.

Here’s what happened: about a hundred of us from different faith traditions marched down Independence Avenue in our diverse religious vestments, carrying banners and singing. When we reached the Department of Energy, which was surrounded by police, we held a brief worship service. After singing “Amazing Grace,” the twenty-two of us who had decided to risk arrest joined hands and walked slowly to the doors of the Department of Energy.

As I later wrote, describing the moments before our arrest:5

We stand or kneel in prayer, our backs to the building. The pavement under my knees is hard.  At home, I often sit on a meditation cushion to pray.  Today there is no cushion, just the weight of my body against stone.  I lift up my hands. I’m dressed for the Eucharist.  I might as well hold out my arms as I do at the Eucharist….

One by one we pray aloud, words thrown into space, words hurled against stone. Is this whole thing ridiculous?

But then came the revelation:

Suddenly I realize that behind the tension, behind the fear and self-consciousness, something else is welling up.  I am jubilant.

“Lift up your hearts,” I might as well be saying to the people before me, beaming as broadly as I do at the Eucharist.

“We lift them to the Lord,” would come the response.

How did I miss it?  After years of going to church, after years of celebrating the Eucharist, only now, as I kneel on pavement and face a phalanx of cops, do I understand so clearly that praising God can be an act of political resistance.  That worship is an act of human liberation.  The twenty-two of us come from different faith traditions, but each of us is rooted in a reality that transcends the rules and structures of this world.  Tap into that transcendent truth, let the divine longing for a community of justice and mercy become your own deepest longing, and who knows what energy for life will be released?

I feel as defiant as a maple seedling that pushes up through asphalt.  It is God I love, and God’s green earth.  I want to bear witness to that love even in the face of hatred or indifference, even if the cost is great.

So what if our numbers are small?  So what if, in the eyes of the police, in the eyes of the world, we have no power?  I’m beginning to sense the power that is ours to wield, the power of self-offering.  We may have nothing else, but we do have this, the power to say, “This is where I stand.  This is what I love.  Here is something for which I’m willing to put my body on the line.”

I never knew that stepping beyond the borders of what I find comfortable could make me so happy.  That shifting from self-preservation to self-offering could awaken so much joy.

Is this what Jesus meant when he promised that the poor in spirit would receive the kingdom of heaven and that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness would be filled (Mt. 5:3, 6)?  I am hardly the first climate-justice or social-justice activist to discover that her understanding of the Gospel deepens immeasurably as she bears public (and risky) witness to her faith.  As Robert Raines (former director of Kirkridge Retreat and Study Center in Bangor, PA) put it years ago, “The Gospel is just so much wind until we raise our lives against it like a sail.”

Strong sermons on climate change create the conditions for that kind of spiritual awakening: preacher and listeners alike are invited to take hold of their deepest convictions as they ask themselves: What do I truly value? What is love calling me to do? What is my moral responsibility to future generations? Am I willing to settle for a way of life that is destroying the web of life that God entrusted to our care? Am I ready to imagine a better future and to join with other people who are fighting for a just and habitable world?  These are difficult and essential questions that all of us must face, individually and together.  Jesus wept over Jerusalem because the city “did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Lk. 19:44). Are we willing to recognize that we, too, live in such a time?  This is a holy moment, a moment of truth, a moment of reckoning. Our calling as preachers is to step through whatever fears hold us back and to take up our pastoral and prophetic vocation to preach Gospel hope in a time of unprecedented human emergency.6

Are there any “best practices” for climate preaching?  The Episcopal Church, in conjunction with ecoAmerica and Blessed Tomorrow, has produced a helpful manual. “Let’s Talk Faith and Climate: Communication Guidance for Faith Leaders,”7 released in 2016, explains why our faith calls us to lead on climate, provides key talking points, and gives examples of “successful messaging.” The chapter, “Prophetic Preaching,” in Jim Antal’s must-read book, Climate Church, Climate World: How People of Faith Must Work for Change,8 is likewise worth careful study, suggesting guidelines and what he calls “theological cornerstones” for climate preaching. Another timely book is Leah D. Schade’s Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit,9 which explores how to proclaim justice for God’s Creation in the face of climate disruption.

Based on my reading and lived experience, I hold several things in mind when I preach about climate change.

Frame the climate crisis in terms of Christian theology.  In a highly partisan, divided society, simply uttering the phrase “climate change” can make an audience twitch: Uh-oh. Here comes a sermon about politics.  Our task as preachers is to re-frame the conventional narrative that climate change is only a scientific, political, or economic issue, and instead to place it front and center as a subject of urgent spiritual and moral concern for every Christian.  Every climate preacher will need to locate the bedrock of Scripture, theology, and religious experience that establishes their worldview and values.10

I often make these points:

• God loved the world into being, pronounced it “very good” (Gen. 1:31), and entrusts it to our care. I sometimes reference the origin story in Genesis, though I critique the concept of “dominion” (Gen. 1:26) when it is interpreted as divine permission for humanity to dominate and abuse the world.  In my view, “dominion” does not refer to what Alcoholics Anonymous would call “self-will run riot”; rather, it means loving the world as God loves it. The second charge, to “till and keep” (Gen. 2:15) the garden, expresses more clearly our primary vocation to be a blessing on God’s Creation.

• The Earth does not belong to us, but to God (Ps. 24:1). The concept of “stewardship” reminds us that we are here to serve the Lord of life, not ourselves, and that our task is to safeguard Earth rather than to ransack and plunder. Still, the word “steward” can sound wimpy to me, as if our responsibility is limited to recycling the occasional can. Let’s find a more robust term to refer to the “children of God” for whom Creation is so eagerly longing (Rom. 8:19-22). Maybe we need to be “spiritual warriors” engaged in “sacred activism.”

• Jesus lived in close relationship with the natural world. In the Gospels we find him walking along the seashore and up mountains, taking boats out on the lake, and spending weeks alone in the wilderness in prayer. His parables and stories are full of natural images: sheep and seeds, sparrows and lilies, water and fire, weeds, vines, and rocks. What would it be like to reclaim the kind of intimacy with the natural world that Jesus knew – to know, as he did, that “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows [God’s] handiwork” (Ps. 19:1)?  In my sermons, I often try to restore a sense of reverence for God’s Creation, to dismantle the fossil-fuel mindset that the natural world is nothing more than inert material, an object for us to exploit.  The Earth, in fact, is a primary locus for our encounter with God. Such is the testimony of generations of Christian mystics and theologians, beginning with St. Paul (Romans 1:20). Like poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, we affirm: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”  Destroying Earth is therefore a desecration, a sin against the Creator.

• The life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ affected and redeemed not only human beings but also the whole of Creation.11 Christ is the Word through whom all things were made (Jn. 1:3).  In him, “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of his cross” (Col. 1:19-20; c.f. also Eph. 1:10, 2 Cor. 5:19). Creation is thus made new (Rev. 21:5).  As we relinquish a narrowly anthropocentric understanding of the Gospel, we realize that all of Creation participates in the Paschal mystery.  Our search to create a more just and habitable world and to live more gently on Earth is how we share in what Archbishop Desmond Tutu calls the “supreme work”12 of Jesus Christ, who reconciles us to God, to one another, and to God’s whole Creation.

• We are called to love our neighbors. Are we loving our neighbors when we drown them, starve them, and force them to uproot themselves from their homelands?  The rising seas, droughts, and extreme storms amplified by climate change are already harming innumerable neighbors, especially in the global South. Our “neighbors” likewise include future generations who depend on us to leave them a habitable world, and also the other-than-human creatures with whom we share this planet.  God forged an “everlasting covenant” not only with human beings but also with “every living creature” (Gen. 9:8-17) – they, too, are the “neighbors” we are summoned to love.

• We are called to bear witness to a love that transcends death.  In our baptism, we are immersed in the waters of death.  We die in Christ and with Christ.  And then we rise with Christ: from now on, our death is done with. It is behind us. We have died with Christ and are now alive in Christ – and to whatever extent we can take this in, we are set free from anguish and anxiety, set free to love without grasping or possessiveness or holding back. In the early centuries of the Church, Christians were called “those who have no fear of death.”13 That inner fearlessness, rooted in the love of God, empowered the early Christians to resist the unjust powers-that-be: early on they were charged with “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6) and “acting contrary to the decrees of the emperor (Acts 17:7).  Their inner liberation gave them courage to resist the forces of death and destruction, and to obey God rather than any human authority (Acts 5:29).

Respect the lectionary, but don’t make it an idol.  If you knew your house was on fire, would you wait for the “perfect” moment before calling for help to douse the flames?  Not a chance. Once we know that climate change is an emergency, we will quite naturally seize every tool at hand. This Sunday’s lectionary readings could be the perfect springboard for a sermon on climate change. If we can’t make a direct connection, we can ditch the lectionary and preach about climate change in relation to the liturgical season, the Eucharist, or themes such as incarnation, justice, compassion, sin and forgiveness, and Christian witness and responsibility. I enjoy The Green Bible, which highlights in green font the biblical texts that the book’s editors consider most relevant to Earth-care.  However, it seems to me that thousands of other biblical passages could just as well have been marked in green, for I read the whole Bible as a love-song between God and God’s Creation, as a living text that calls us to bear witness to a triune God who loved the world into being, who suffers with us and for us, and who empowers us to live together in right relationship with each other and the land.

My Website, RevivingCreation.org, includes about one hundred lectionary-based sermons about climate change and Creation care. SustainablePreaching.org is an ecumenical online resource that offers lectionary-based sermons on Creation care and a tool for searching out particular Bible passages.

Share some science, but don’t worry that you need to be a scientist.  As climate preachers we need to know and share the basics: climate change is real, it’s largely caused by human activity, it’s gotten worse in recent decades, and it will have disastrous effects unless humanity changes course fast. Basic information is available from many sources, such as NASA or reputable environmental groups like Natural Resources Defense Council.14 For up-to-date climate news, I subscribe to the weekly newsletter of InsideClimateNews.org15 and to daily news from Climate Nexus.16

In preaching I usually keep the science message short, brisk, and sober. To summarize the big-picture effects of a changing climate, I often quote a couple of sentences by Bill McKibben: “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.”17 Then I cite specific examples that might especially resonate with the local congregation (in California: drought, wildfire, and mudslides; on Cape Cod: rising and acidifying seas, and threats to groundwater and fishing).18 One reason that parishioners may be relieved to hear climate change discussed in church is that increasing numbers of Americans understand that climate change is already affecting their communities.19

Find an entry point and connect the dots. What are the particular concerns of your congregation? Begin there and show how they link to climate change. The novel coronavirus, for example, teaches lessons that relate to climate change: science matters; how we treat the natural world affects our wellbeing; the sooner we mobilize for action, the less suffering will take place; we have the ability to make drastic changes quickly; all of us are vulnerable to crisis, though unequally.20  Climate change increases the likelihood of pandemics, because flooding, droughts, and weather extremes force agriculture into new areas. Converting more natural habitat into crop land accelerates the loss of biodiversity and increases the incidence of zoonotic diseases, those spread between wild animals and humans.21

Climate change also exacerbates economic and racial injustice.  Low-income communities and communities of color are the ones hit first and hardest by climate change, the ones least able to prepare or recover, and the ones least likely to have a seat at the table where policy decisions are made.22 Philip Alston, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights, recently reported on the risk of “climate apartheid,” where the rich pay to escape the increasing heat and hunger caused by the climate crisis and the rest of the world suffers.23  So-called “climate gentrification” – where wealthy people seek refuge from the effects of climate change and move into once “undesirable” neighborhoods – forces out low-income and minority residents.24 Mary Annaïse Heglar, a climate justice writer who is also Black, details the ways in which Black people suffer disproportionately as temperatures rise, and she issues a clarion call, “It’s time to stop #AllLivesMattering the climate crisis.”25

Climate change is not one of 26 different causes that we care about – it is a cause that affects everything we cherish. The Pentagon has long called climate change a “threat multiplier,” which means that it amplifies existing problems. If we care about pandemics and public health, we care about climate.  If we care about racism and human rights, we care about climate. If we care about poverty, homelessness, and hunger, we care about climate. If we care about immigration and refugees, we care about climate. (How many people worldwide will be forced to move by 2050 because of climate change? Estimates range between 25 million and one billion.26). If we care about violence against women and girls, we care about climate: climate change aggravates gender-based violence.27 If we care about preventing war, we care about climate: climate change increases the risk of conflicts over increasingly scarce resources, such as water and arable land.28

In short, if we care about loving God and neighbor, we care about climate.  The climate does not belong to a special-interest group.  If we like to breathe, if we like to eat, if we want to leave our children a world they can live in, we care about climate. That is why it is so important to build an intersectional movement that pulls people out of their isolated silos of concern and pushes for comprehensive solutions: the groups protecting wilderness areas, farmlands, and wildlife habitat need to support and learn from the groups addressing racism, poverty, and asthma in the inner city.  As Pope Francis wrote in his encyclical, Laudato Si, we don’t face two crises, one social and one environmental, but rather “one complex crisis which is both social and environmental. Strategies for a solution require an integrated approach to combating poverty, restoring dignity to the excluded, and at the same time protecting nature.”29

Infuse your sermons with the empowering love of God. The more that people know about (and experience) the social and ecological breakdown going on worldwide, the more likely they are to feel paralyzed, panicked, or depressed. Despair holds many people in an icy grip. That is why a message of urgency needs to be accompanied by a message of empowerment and strength: God is with us.

I am deeply interested in the spiritual perspectives and practices that can sustain climate activism, even in the face of dire news about our planet’s health and the possibility that civilization will collapse.  In order to be healers and justice-makers, in order to bear witness to the Christ who bursts out of the tomb and proclaims that life and not death will have the last word, we need to be emotionally and spiritually resilient.  In this time of unprecedented challenge, where will we find the energy and hope to keep working toward solutions without giving up?  To help answer that question, my colleague Leah Schade and I collected and edited an anthology of twenty-one essays from diverse faith traditions, Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis.30

Whenever I preach, I try to evoke the presence of a God who loves us beyond measure, a God who heals and redeems, liberates and forgives.  I preach about a God who honors and shares our climate grief, a God who weeps with us; understands our outrage, fear, and sorrow as the living world around us is destroyed; and, in the words of Peter Sawtell, calls us “to active resistance, not to quiet acceptance.”31  I preach about a God who knows our guilt and complicity in that destruction and who gives us power to amend our lives. I preach about a God who longs to create a Beloved Community32 that includes all beings, not just human beings. I preach about a God who releases us from the tyranny of death and who gives us strength to bear witness to a love that nothing can destroy.

Build hope by taking action.  In almost every climate sermon, I include suggestions for faithful action33 such as cutting back sharply on our use of fossil fuels, moving toward a plant-based diet, going solar, and planting trees and community gardens. Individual actions to reduce our household carbon footprint are essential to our moral integrity and help to propel social change.  Yet the scope and speed of the climate crisis also require engagement in collective action for social transformation. We need to use our voices and our votes and make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. We can support the growing movement to hold Big Polluters like Exxon and Koch Industries financially and legally liable for the damages they knowingly caused (and continue to cause). We can lobby for policies that support renewable energy, clean green jobs, and a just transition that addresses the needs of poor and low-wealth communities and communities of color. If we have financial investments, we can divest from fossil fuels. If we’re college graduates, we can push our alma mater to divest. We can support 350.org, Sunrise Movement, Extinction Rebellion and other grassroots efforts to turn the tide. Maybe we can join the growing numbers of resolute and faith-filled people who carry out peaceful civil disobedience and put our bodies on the line.

If the voice of one young woman – Greta Thunberg – can rivet the attention of the world, what would happen if preachers everywhere unleashed their own passion for God’s Creation? What would happen if preachers across the Episcopal Church and in every religious tradition began to speak boldly and frequently about our moral obligation to create a more just and habitable world?  Just as ecosystems have so-called tipping points – a critical point when they suddenly undergo rapid and irreversible change – so, too, human communities can experience a tipping point after which society changes swiftly in dramatic ways. Is such a thing possible in terms of rapidly decarbonizing a society?  According to a recent article in the journal Anthropocene, an analysis published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences “suggests the answer is yes. In it, an international team of researchers argues that seemingly small ‘tipping points’ can trigger large, rapid changes in societies.”34 The team identified six relatively small, positive interventions that could help bring about systemic global change quickly, especially if they were carried out simultaneously.  One of them sounds as if it were crafted with preachers in mind: “Activists and opinion leaders could emphasize the moral implications of fossil fuels – that is, the idea that burning fossil fuels in ways incompatible with the Paris climate targets is immoral. This has the potential to shift societal norms and, consequently, widespread patterns of behavior.”35

When we deliver strong climate sermons and put our trust in the power of the Holy Spirit, I wonder if we are like the boy in the story of Jesus feeding the five thousand (Jn. 6:1-14): we put our words in Jesus’ hands and through his grace and power, maybe our offering will become the catalyst that enables a crowd to be fed. Maybe our words, like those of Ezekiel, will be infused with Spirit-power to enliven dead, dry bones and breathe life into a multitude (Ez. 37:1-14).  Maybe that homily – that word of challenge, consolation, or encouragement – will contribute to the tipping point that releases a rapid societal transformation.

What do preachers do in a time of unprecedented emergency?  Right before we preach our next sermon about climate change, we acknowledge our fear (This will be a disaster.) We entrust ourselves to God (Even there your hand will lead me and your right hand hold me fast).  Then we take a breath, open our mouths, and speak.

 

* Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, PhD, serves as Missioner for Creation Care (Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts and Southern New England Conference, United Church of Christ) and Creation Care Advisor (Episcopal Diocese of Massachusetts). An Episcopal priest, author, retreat leader, and climate activist, she has been a lead organizer of many Christian and interfaith events about care for Earth, and she leads spiritual retreats in the United States and Canada on spiritual resilience and resistance in the midst of a climate emergency. Her latest book, Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (2019), co-edited with Leah Schade, is an anthology of essays from religious environmental activists on finding the spiritual wisdom for facing the difficult days ahead. Her website, RevivingCreation.org, includes sermons, blog posts, articles, and newsletters.

Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, “Preaching when life depends on it: climate crisis and Gospel hope,” Anglican Theological Review (Vol. 103, 2), pp. 208–219. Copyright © 2021 Margaret Bullitt-Jonas. DOI: 10.1177/00033286211007431.

Link to the article on ATR:  https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/00033286211007431

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

1. Ruthanna B. Hooke, “Why Is It Frightening to Preach?” in Transforming Preaching (New York: Church Publishing, 2010), 1-21.

2. Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (Cambridge, MA: Cowley Publications, 1993), 76, quoted by Hooke, Transforming Preaching, 3-4.

3. Greta Thunberg, “’Our house is on fire’: Greta Thunberg, 16, urges leaders to act on climate,” The Guardian, January 25, 2019.

4. Chris Mooney and Brady Dennis, “The world has just over a decade to get climate change under control, U.N. scientists say,” Washington Post, October 7, 2018.

5. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, “When Heaven Happens,” in Heaven, ed. Roger Ferlo (New York: Church Publishing, Inc., 2007), 79, 80-81.  For information and support regarding civil disobedience, I suggest Climate Disobedience Center and Clergy Climate Action.

6. I helped to draft the 2019 statement by National Religious Coalition on Creation Care, “Religious Declaration of Unprecedented Human Emergency.”  As the statement makes clear, this is not only a “human” emergency but one that affects all life on Earth. In March 2021, the bishops of the Episcopal dioceses of Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts declared a climate emergency.

7. “Let’s Talk Faith and Climate: Communication Guidance for Faith Leaders.”  Other Episcopal resources for climate communication and for building momentum on climate solutions in your congregation and community are available at https://www.episcopalchurch.org/ministries/creation-care/.

8. Jim Antal, “Prophetic Preaching,” Climate Church, Climate World (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2018), 121-135.

9. Leah D. Schade, Creation-Crisis Preaching: Ecology, Theology, and the Pulpit (St. Louis, MO: Chalice Press, 2015).

10. For a helpful theological and devotional resource, view “A Catechism of Creation:  An Episcopal Understanding.”

11. For a brilliant sermon that evokes how Creation shared in Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection, read Leah D. Schade’s “A Resurrection Sermon for an Earth-Kin Congregation,” which was preached outdoors and is included in Creation-Crisis Preaching, 85-89.

12. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, “Foreword,” The Green Bible (New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers (HarperOne), 2008, I-14.

13. Olivier Clement, The Roots of Christian Mysticism (London: New City, 1993), p. 107.

14. https://climate.nasa.gov/resources/global-warming-vs-climate-change/,
https://www.nrdc.org/stories/global-climate-change-what-you-need-know/.

15. https://insideclimatenews.org/. “A Pulitzer Prize-winning, non-profit, non-partisan news organization dedicated to covering climate change, energy and the environment.”

16. To sign up, send an email to: info@climatenexus.org.

17. Bill McKibben, Eaarth (New York: Times Books, Henry Holt & Co., 2010) xiii, book jacket. The title is deliberately mis-spelled in order to signal that the planet onto which you and I were born is not the same planet we inhabit today.

18. To learn about your region’s environmental concerns, contact your local chapter of Sierra Club.  To view climate risks and clean energy opportunities in each of the 50 states, visit Climate Nexus: https://climatenexus.org/climate-change-usa/.

19. Brady Dennis, “Most Americans believe the government should do more to combat climate change, poll finds,” Washington Post, June 23, 2020.

20. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas and Leah Schade, “6 Lessons Coronavirus Can Teach Us About Climate Change,” Earth Day Network, March 25, 2020.

21. Georgina Gustin, “Our Growing Food Demands Will Lead to More Corona-like Viruses,” InsideClimateNews, March 24, 2020. Yale Climate Connections maintains an updated, curated list of articles connecting COVID-19 and climate, https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/03/key-readings-about-climate-change-and-coronavirus/.

22. Joe McCarthy, Global Citizen,Why Climate Change and Poverty Are Inextricably Linked: Fighting one problem helps mitigate the other,” Feb. 19, 2010.

23. Damian Carrington, “‘Climate apartheid’: UN expert says human rights may not survive,” The Guardian, June 25, 2019

24. Nathalie Baptiste, “Climate Gentrification: Coming to a Community Near You,” Mother Jones, September 5, 2019.

25. Mary Annaïse Heglar, “We Don’t Have to Halt Climate Action to Fight Racism,” HuffPost, June 12, 2020. Yale Climate Connections maintains an updated, curated list of articles connecting racism and climate, https://www.yaleclimateconnections.org/2020/06/the-links-between-racism-and-climate-change/.

26. Migration and Climate Change, No. 31, IOM International Organization for Migration, 12.

27. “Climate Change Increases the Risk of Violence Against Women,” UN Climate Change News, November 25, 2019.

28. John O’Loughlin and Cullen Hendrix, “Will climate change lead to more world conflict?,” July 11, 2019, Washington Post.

29. Pope Francis, Laudato Si – Praise Be to You: On Care for Our Common Home, 2015, par. 139.

30. Leah D. Schade and Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, eds. Rooted and Rising: Voices of Courage in a Time of Climate Crisis (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2019).

31. Peter Sawtell, “Three Layers of Environmental Preaching.”

32. https://episcopalchurch.org/beloved-community/.

33.  In order not to burden the sermon with a laundry list of resources and options for action, I usually put a handout of suggested actions in the service leaflet.  The Episcopal Church’s Creation Care Website offers some suggestions, including the carbon tracker now used in many dioceses (https://www.sustainislandhome.org/).

34. Sarah DeWeerdt, “Here are a half dozen nudges that could bring about rapid decarbonization,” Anthropocene, January 21, 2020.

35. DeWeerdt, “Here Are a Half Dozen Nudges that Could Bring about Rapid Decarbonization.”

 

Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter                          April 25, 2021 Delivered by the Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas             St. John’s Episcopal Church, Boulder, CO Acts 4:5-12 Psalm 23 1 John 3:16-24 John 10:11-18

Earth Sunday: “I am the good shepherd”

Today is Earth Sunday, the Sunday after Earth Day, when countless people across the country renew their commitment to restore the planet that we call home.  Earth Sunday always falls in Easter season, and this year it lands on the Sunday we celebrate as Good Shepherd Sunday. Scripture gives us many different ways to imagine Jesus.  In the Gospel of John, for instance, Jesus calls himself “the bread of life” (John 6:35), “the light of the world” (John 8:12) and “the true vine” (John 15:1) – images with their own resonance and meaning – but Jesus “the good shepherd” is the image that many of us treasure most.

I, for one, am grateful that this year Earth Sunday coincides with Good Shepherd Sunday, for I need to be drawn again into Jesus’ consoling and empowering presence. Maybe some of you do, too.  As we take stock of the living world around us and consider the faltering health of our dear planet, we confess that the path that society has traveled for the last two centuries has led to an unprecedented human emergency: we are hurtling toward climate catastrophe and we are watching the web of life unravel before our eyes. Great populations of creatures – even entire species – have vanished in less than 50 years. In what scientists call a “biological annihilation,” human beings have wiped out more than half the world’s creatures since 1970.  Meanwhile, the relentless burning of coal, gas, and oil and the logging of forests are accelerating climate change, pushing our planet to break records of all kinds – as Secretary of State Antony Blinken commented the other day: “We’re running out of records to break.” I know I don’t have to belabor the details of what it’s like to be at ground zero of the climate crisis.  My heart goes out to all of you in Boulder who are already experiencing the effects of a fast-warming climate, from extreme weather events to droughts and wildfire. Intertwined with our ecological challenges are the social justice challenges of economic inequity and white racism.  After the trial of Derek Chauvin, convicted this week of killing George Floyd, and in light of the movement for racial justice that has been surging for months across this country, many of us are reflecting deeply on our country’s heritage of white supremacy. Racial justice is closely tied to climate justice – in fact, I’ve heard it said that we wouldn’t have climate change without white supremacy.  Where would we put our urban oilfields – where would we put our dumping grounds and trash, our biomass plants, our toxic incinerators and other polluting industries – if we weren’t willing to sacrifice Black, indigenous, and people of color communities?  In the words of Hop Hopkins, the Sierra Club’s Director of Organizational Transformation, “You can’t have climate change without sacrifice zones, and you can’t have sacrifice zones without disposable people, and you can’t have disposable people without racism.”1 In a world of so much injustice, violence, and uncertainty, where a mass shooting can take place in your local grocery store and a beloved landscape can go up in flames, where do we turn for solace and strength?  We turn to the Good Shepherd of our souls.  How does his presence speak to you this morning? What I notice is that, as our good shepherd, Jesus holds everyone and everything together.  A shepherd is the person charged with keeping the flock intact, united, and heading in the right direction.  I find it reassuring to contemplate the image of God in Christ drawing us into something unified and whole, because right now so much seem to be splintering and breaking apart. The tapestry of life that was once intact is being torn apart as greenhouse gas emissions disrupt the planet’s atmosphere. Our human communities are likewise being torn apart by political division, economic division, racial division.
“File:’The good Shepherd’ mosaic – Mausoleum of Galla Placidia.jpg” by Petar Milošević is licensed with CC BY-SA 4.0. To view a copy of this license, visit https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0
When we turn to the Good Shepherd, we touch the sacred unity within and beyond all things. We touch the Ground of our being.  We meet the One in whom all things hold together (Colossians 1:17) – everything within us, everything around us. Maybe you remember the puzzle2 which consists of nine dots on a page, lined up in rows of three. The challenge is to connect the dots by making four straight lines without once lifting your pencil from the page.  Try it however many times you like, but the only way to connect all nine dots with just four straight lines is to go outside the borders of the box.  Solving this puzzle is an example of “thinking outside the box,” of moving beyond a given paradigm in order to perceive or to accomplish something that otherwise couldn’t be perceived or accomplished. That’s what it’s like to experience the Good Shepherd: in the midst of a world in which everything seems to be divided and falling apart, we sense an underlying wholeness and unity. We sense a love that embraces all things, connects all things, sustains all things. On the surface, in the realm of our five senses, we see mainly differences, what divides us from each other, but in the deep center of reality we meet the good shepherd who holds everything together, drawing us into community with each other and drawing us into communion with God. We hear the shepherd’s voice when we take time to quiet ourselves, when we sit in solitude and silence and listen to the inner voice of love that is always sounding in our hearts. The good shepherd is the one who knows us through and through and who calls us each by name.  Held in the embrace of that intimate love, we don’t have to keep trying to hold ourselves together – we are free to let go, free to fall apart, free to let ourselves feel our grief, feel our anger and fear as we respond to the climate crisis and to all the challenges of our lives.  The good shepherd is there to hold what we cannot hold, there to listen, there to protect and keep company, there to help us understand how deeply we are loved – and not just we ourselves, but all people – and not just all people, but all beings, the whole of God’s creation. In the presence of the Good Shepherd, we remember that there is more that unites us than divides us. And the movement toward unity keeps getting larger. As Jesus says, “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16-17).  And so – beneath all our differences of race, class, gender, and political party, beneath all the ways that humans try to separate ourselves from each other and from the rest of the natural world, presuming that we can dominate and destroy with impunity – Jesus reminds us that in fact we belong to one living, sacred whole. Every time we tap into the deep-down truth of our essential belovedness, we discover fresh energy for life.  We tap into the same wave of Easter hope that filled the first followers of Jesus.  When they saw that the stone had been rolled away from the tomb, when they met the Risen Christ in their midst and in their hearts, when they realized that life and not death would have the last word and that nothing could separate them from the love of God, their lives were filled with fresh meaning and purpose.  They realized that they belonged to a sacred mystery that was larger than themselves, to a love that would never let them go. Even though they were still mortal and frail, still vulnerable and imperfect people in a big, chaotic world, they knew that they participated in a long story of salvation to which they could contribute, every moment of their lives, by choosing compassion over indifference, kindness over cruelty, love over fear.  Their inner liberation gave them courage to resist the forces of death and destruction, and to obey God rather than any human authority (Acts 5:29). Today’s passage from the Book of Acts is a case in point: the witness of the first Christians got them into all kinds of trouble. Peter and the other early Christians were accused of “turning the world upside down” (Acts 17:6), and their commitment to God, and to the Good Shepherd of their souls, apparently led many of them to spend as much time inside as outside the walls of a jail.  Their witness to a transcendent, all-embracing Love shook the foundations of their society. That same wave of Easter hope fills Christians today and carries us now, every one of us who feels impelled to join our Creator in re-weaving the web of life, in building a gentler and more just society, and in getting us into what Representative John Lewis called “good trouble” as we fight to keep fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong, and to dismantle white supremacy. We can do this from a heart of love. On this Earth Sunday, we give thanks for the Good Shepherd and we renew our resolve to be a blessing to the Earth that God entrusted to our care. ____________________________________________________________________________________________________ 1. Hop Hopkins, “Racism Is Killing the Planet”: The ideology of white supremacy leads the way toward disposable people and a disposable natural world, June 8, 2020. 2. “Thinking outside the box,” Wikipedia (accessed April 25, 2021) The whole service may be viewed on YouTube on the channel for St. John’s Episcopal Church.  Rev. Margaret’s sermon begins at 20:18.