Some people named the week beginning September 21, 2015, the Week of Moral Action for Climate Justice. Others called it Pope Week. I want to call it Watershed Week: the week when Americans streamed to Washington, D.C., New York City, and Philadelphia, like rivers pouring through a watershed, eager to hear Pope Francis speak about our call to love each other and all Creation. The week was a watershed in another sense, too: a turning point where everything changed.

Doug Hendren and Dave Pruett express the spirit of the climate rally on the National Mall
Doug Hendren and Dave Pruett express the spirit of the climate rally on the National Mall

I spent most of that week in D.C., swimming through crowds and participating in prayer vigils, concerts, strategy sessions, and rallies. On Monday I gave the opening prayer at the National Prayer Breakfast on Creation Care, an annual event organized by the National Religious Coalition on Creation Care (NRCCC). NRCCC is composed of members of all the major religious groups in America, including Catholics and Protestants, Jews and Muslims, Evangelicals and Orthodox Christians.  Joined in prayer, and united with people of every religious tradition, we advocate for a right relationship to God’s creation.

Over the summer I’d taken the lead in composing letters from NRCCC to President Obama and to members of Congress about the moral and religious call to address the climate crisis, and on Monday we officially released the letters and began delivering them to members of Congress. (The NRCCC press release is here.)

The Open Letter to President Obama focuses on actions he can take without approval of Congress, such as becoming an advocate for a carbon tax, modifying the Trans-Pacific Partnership, rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline, and rejecting new coal leases on public lands. The letter urges the President to adopt the language of “emergency” whenever he speaks about climate change, and “to mobilize the nation with the same focus and determination with which we mobilized during World War II, so that we reach 100 percent renewable energy in two or three decades.”

The NRCCC team gathers for a meeting at the State Dept.
The NRCCC team gathers for a meeting at the State Dept.

We were gratified to hear from the Council on Environmental Quality that the letter was shared widely with the White House climate team. Maybe it will make some waves.

On Tuesday a group of NRCCC members headed to the State Department to meet with Karen Florini, Deputy Special Envoy on Climate Change, and Amy Willis, in the Secretary’s Office for Religion and Global Affairs. With only two months to go until the crucial international climate talks in Paris, we wanted to express in the strongest possible terms our desire for bold leadership by the United States. Ms. Florini welcomed our faith-rooted advocacy – she herself is a person of faith – and we talked about how to push for effective climate action both at home and abroad in the midst of an obstructionist Congress. As she put it, “We are under active political assault.” (Learn more about the visit here.)

Sharing our Open Letter to President Obama with Ms. Karen Florini
Sharing our Open Letter to President Obama with Ms. Karen Florini

From the State Department we headed to the Senate Building to meet with the legal counsel of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. We gave him an earful about the moral mandate to tackle the climate crisis, citing science and Scripture, ethics and economics. In turn, we listened to his concerns about unemployment in Kentucky and the future of coal. A member of our group pointed out, “Coal is over.” So the question becomes: can Republicans and Democrats work together to make a swift and just transition to a new economy based on clean energy? That is something to work and pray for.

Wednesday began with an interfaith coalition of climate leaders meeting over breakfast with the staff of ecoAmerica. EcoAmerica has been instrumental in developing best practices for climate communication, and its Blessed Tomorrow campaign is mobilizing faith communities to engage in the struggle to stabilize the climate. The offices of ecoAmerica happen to be directly across the street from St. Matthew’s Cathedral, where Pope Francis spoke for one hour to Roman Catholic bishops and cardinals. We relished having the chance to see the Pope as he entered and left the sanctuary.

Praying at Multi-faith Prayer Vigil, with Rabbi Mordechai Liebling
Praying at Multi-faith Prayer Vigil, with Rabbi Mordechai Liebling

On Wednesday night I joined a large group on the steps of John Marshall Park near the National Mall to mark the end of Yom Kippur. At the start of Yom Kippur the night before, Rabbi Mordechai Liebling had delivered a powerful sermon that called for atonement – At-One-Ment – with the Earth and each other, a watershed moment that can only take place when we “feel in our hearts and know in our guts that what happens to the oceans, to the forests, to other species, to other people is also happening to us.”

A multi-faith prayer vigil completed the marking of Yom Kippur, and I gave the opening prayer, lifting up Jesus’ cry from the cross as the cry of the Earth-community.

“Why have you forsaken me?” We hear that cry
in the din of collapsing glaciers as they tumble into the sea,
in the crash of forests as they are felled,
and in the blast of mountaintops as they are blown open for extraction of

“Why have you forsaken me?” We hear that cry
in the murmur of refugees searching for water in lands scorched dry,
in the diminishing bleats and roars and chirps worldwide as species go extinct,
one by one,
and in the silence of dying coral reefs as they bleach in acid seas.

At the foot of the cross, we hear the cry of all humanity, and especially the poor, as the climate crisis unfolds around us.
We hear the groaning of all Creation: “Why have you forsaken me?”

The prayer ended with an appeal for divine mercy, asking God to empower us not to forsake each other, but instead to stand with the vulnerable, the poor, and the living world around us. Receiving God’s forgiveness and accepting our interconnection with all Creation can be a watershed moment. The dusk drew shadows around us; above us, the stars began to shine. (The complete prayer is here. )

Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Rev. Stephanie Johnson
Rev. Dr. Jim Antal, Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas, Rev. Stephanie Johnson

On Thursday morning, I joined thousands of people at a reserved area on the lawn in front of the Capitol Building, to listen and watch on large screens as Pope Francis addressed a joint session of Congress. Eventually I moved further back on the National Mall to participate in the Moral Action on Climate Justice Rally, which featured lively music, speakers, and a diverse throng of activists. On either side of the stage stretched two long banners in English and in Spanish, quoting from the papal encyclical: Hear the cry of the Earth. Hear the cry of the poor.

A hush settled over the crowd as the Pope began to speak. In a world where so many leaders speak rapidly and evasively, bending the truth to suit their needs and using their words to dominate opponents, defend a narrow, partisan agenda, and push for power, it was rare and sweet to hear a leader speak slowly, truthfully, and from the heart, excluding no one and welcoming everyone. Here was a person whose humility evoked our own basic goodness as human beings, reminding us that in fact we are connected to each other, we do care about the Earth and each other, we do have the capacity to be good, we do have the power to work together and to do the right thing. Was I the only listener moved to tears? I doubt it.

Pope Francis stands at the balcony
Pope Francis stands at the balcony

After the Pope left Capitol Hill, I lingered for a while at the rally to meet with friends, old and new. Activist and writer Ted Glick was on the penultimate day of an 18-day, water-only Fast for New Permits, organized by Beyond Extreme Energy. The fast targeted the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC), which essentially rubber-stamps approval for gas pipelines. Ted, looking tired but resolute, cited Gandhi’s insight that “fasting is the sincerest form of prayer.”

That night I made my way on foot to the National Cathedral (forget driving – roads were closed because the president of China was on his way into town). “Coming Together in Faith on Climate” brought together Christian, Jewish, Muslim, and other national religious leaders to express interfaith and ecumenical support of the Pope’s call to action on climate and Creation care. The Episcopal Church’s Presiding Bishop spoke eloquently, and, with the other faith leaders, committed to five initiatives to address global climate change.

As leaders of many faiths were endorsing and amplifying the Pope’s message in Washington, D.C., so, too, countless communities beyond Washington, D.C., were also bearing witness to the moral imperative to create a just and sustainable world. Take, for instance, Springfield, Massachusetts, where, on the same day that the Pope addressed Congress, a rally was held at City Hall to support funding for a climate justice office. Bishop Doug Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Massachusetts gave a rousing speech.

I’ve been part of the religious climate movement for many years, but I’ve never experienced as deep and wide an awakening to the urgent call to stand up for life as I did last week. In order to give our children a livable planet, we need the vision and passion of people of faith – people who can see the long view, not just short-term quarterly or annual reports; people who care about the homeless, hungry, and poor, not just about elites; people who understand that the web of life is a gift to be protected, not a commodity to be exploited and destroyed; people who place their hope not in the promise of success but in the faithfulness of God.

People like that are rising up on every side. The image of a watershed may fit this moment in history, but, so, too, does the image of a rising tide. I look back on last week as a watershed moment, because around me and within me I sense a rising tide of activism, resolve, and love.

The most inspiring climate song I’ve yet heard was written by Rabbi Shoshana Meira Friedman and Yotam Schachter, and first performed by Rabbi Shoshana and Rev. Fred Small on September 20 – just in time for that pivotal week. They also went on to perform it at the National Cathedral on Thursday night.

The song is called: “The tide is rising and so are we.”

The Pope’s encyclical on the environment was officially released today, and I am relishing the response from both the secular and the religious climate movement. Surges of enthusiasm are rolling across the Internet like waves across the sea, and rivulets stream into my email inbox. Pope Francis’ landmark encyclical was addressed not only to Roman Catholics, nor only to Christians, but also to “every person living on this planet.” And all sorts of groups far and near are responding with invitations to Stand With the Pope. Hands down, the best invitation was extended by Forecast the Facts: name your identity and take your stand beside the Pope on climate. I’m a Mormon and I stand with the Pope on climate! I’m Buddhist and I stand with the Pope on climate! I’m a Republican… a pagan… an atheist… a Sikh… a Jew… a non-church-going Catholic… a Humanist… a parent… an Earthling… and I stand with the Pope on climate!

I'm Episcopalian and I stand with the Pope on climate!Guess what? It turns out that preserving a habitable world, caring for the forgotten and the poor, and honoring the Earth and its inhabitants, human and other-than-human, are values that resonate deeply with the human spirit, whatever our faith tradition may be and despite the lies that are peddled to us daily by the fossil fuel industry and by an extractive, exploitative, and consumerist culture. Climate change presents humanity with a decisive spiritual and moral crisis, and the papal encyclical has added precious momentum to messages that cut through the fog of inertia, denial, and political impasse and rouse the human family to unite in tackling the crisis before it’s too late.

Rabbi Michael Lerner describes Pope Francis a “the first international spiritual progressive voice who can go beyond the ‘common sense’ of global capitalism and articulate a different worldview,” and he urges an interfaith effort to support the Pope’s direction. Rabbi Lawrence Troster calls the Pope “a spiritual guide for everyone – believer and non-believer alike – and… perhaps the only person in the world with the potential to unite humanity to save itself and our increasingly fragile planet.” Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, the spiritual leader of 300 million Orthodox Christians around the world, expresses his deep appreciation for Pope Francis’ encyclical in a powerful essay in this week’s TIME magazine, noting that “We are not faced with two separate crises, one environmental and the other social, but rather one complex crisis which is both social and environmental.”

It will take some time to absorb the comprehensive thinking that went into the encyclical, and I am grateful for the excellent analysis that some writers have already provided, such as James Martin, S.J.’s helpful essay on “Top Ten Takeaways from ‘Laudato Si.’”

Springfield Climate Justice Coalition meeting
Springfield Climate Justice Coalition meeting

Meanwhile the urgent work to build a sustainable, just and peaceful world goes on. Last night I sat with a group of Springfield, Mass. residents who are acutely aware of the health impacts of climate change on their struggling city, and the particular burden that is carried by the poor. Across boundaries of race, class, and religious and ethnic background, this growing band of men and women is organizing to resist environmental injustice and to promote sustainability, resiliency and equality for all Springfield residents. Last night none of us in the Springfield Climate Justice Coalition had read the Pope’s encyclical, but tonight we can all take heart from the Pope’s understanding of the “immense dignity of the poor” (158).

Capitol Building, Washington, DC
Capitol Building, Washington, DC

On Sunday I will travel to Washington, D.C., and will join about 900 other citizen volunteers – including a host of faith leaders – to lobby Congress for action on climate change. Our goal is to advance carbon fee and dividend as a solution acceptable to Democrats and Republicans alike.  The Citizens Climate Lobby has made 3200 assignments, which means that every member of the House and Senate should receive a visit. How will it go? I have no idea. I’ve been assigned to meet with Republican politicians from Florida, Texas, Kentucky, and Illinois. It’s no secret that many conservative Republicans are staunchly opposed to regulating carbon emissions, and some of them began objecting to the papal encyclical even before it was released (I am grateful for the strong witness of my bishop, Doug Fisher of the Episcopal Diocese of Western Mass., who takes issue with their stance and speaks cogently about how Christians connect care for the Earth with care for the poor).

To prepare myself for lobbying on Capitol Hill, I inhale deeply, and breathe in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. I ground myself in the love of God. I am strengthened when I recall the Pope’s thoughtful critique of unfettered capitalism, especially when it harms the poor. “Profit,” says the Pope, “cannot be the sole criterion” of our decisions (187). Christianity has a long tradition of advocating for economic justice, and I intend to carry that message forward.

Today the Pope released a groundbreaking document that urges reverence for all Creation, and justice and mercy for all its residents. Tomorrow men and women around the world will get out of bed with a renewed commitment to fight the good fight – to divest from coal, gas, and oil, to keep fossil fuels in the ground, to build a society based on fairness and generosity, and to provide a habitable world for our children, grandchildren, and generations yet unborn. I hope that one day we will look back and remember the Pope’s encyclical as the electrifying moment when humanity finally grasped that we have the power to bear witness to love, and the responsibility to protect the Earth upon which all life depends.

Today the three faith leaders who serve on the Board of Trustees of Better Future Project released this statement, “Choosing Between Two Floods: Responding to Pope Francis’ Encyclical”:

“We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen apart, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”  — Attributed to St. Francis of Assisi

Pope Francis, Korea Haemi Castle (
Pope Francis, Korea Haemi Castle (

We welcome the strong prophetic witness on climate change offered this week by His Holiness Pope Francis in his encyclical “Laudato Si’.”

Pope Francis addresses this encyclical to people everywhere: “Now, faced as we are with global environmental deterioration, I wish to address every person living on this planet…. In this Encyclical, I would like to enter into dialogue with all people about our common home.” We hope that indeed people of all faiths will heed his words and take action.  As the Pope affirms, climate change is largely human-caused. In keeping with his commitment to the marginalized and vulnerable, Pope Francis emphasizes that climate change has especially devastating effects on the poor.  Addressing climate change is an essential aspect of ethics. As individuals we must reduce our personal consumption of fossil fuels; as citizens, we must push for effective governmental and international action.

As ordained clergy and as members of the Better Future Project Board of Trustees, we applaud Pope Francis’ call to action. Since its founding in 2011, Better Future Project has been a leader in the climate action movement, empowering grassroots organizing through 350 Massachusetts and leading campaigns for divestment from fossil fuel companiescarbon pricing, and a shift to renewable energy in Massachusetts.

We believe that taking swift and responsible action to address climate change is an urgent moral imperative. Last September we walked with faith communities in the People’s Climate March, joining 400,000-plus people in the streets of New York. You might call it a kind of flood — not Noah’s flood, not the flood of a monsoon or hurricane, but a flood of loving determination, a flood of witness and hope for action on climate change. The climate movement is a flood of people calling for systemic change: for sharply reduced greenhouse gas emissions and for a swift transition to clean, safe renewable energy; for the protection of poor and vulnerable communities, for an end to fossil fuel subsidies, and for a strong international climate agreement in 2015.

Today we must choose between two floods: the flood of rising seas, or the flood of hopeful and courageous change. As Professor Mercy Oduyoye, an African theologian, has said, unless we take care of each other, we will lose our humanity; unless we become earth-keepers, we will be homeless.

Ban-Ki Moon, the U.N. General Secretary, has asked people of faith to urge bold action on climate change and to “provoke, challenge and inspire political leaders.” We celebrate the release of the Pope’s encyclical, which has done just that.  We recommit ourselves to the struggle to provoke, challenge, and inspire political leaders and to mobilize a wave of religious activism to stabilize the climate, heal the Earth, and chart a course to a just and sustainable future.

The Rev. Dr. Robert K. Massie

The Rev. Dr. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas

The Rev. Reebee Kavich Girash


Sermon for the Second Sunday after the Epiphany, January 18, 2015. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. John’s Episcopal Church, Northampton, MA. 1 Samuel 3:1-10                                         1 Corinthians 6:12-20 Psalm 139:1-5, 12-17                                 John 1:43-51

    Martin Luther King, Jr. and the climate movement

Friends, it is good to be with you this morning. Thank you, Cat, for inviting me to preach. I serve the diocese as your Missioner for Creation Care, so I travel from church to church, preaching the Gospel and speaking about our call as Christians to heal the Earth. I am blessed by the timing of this invitation to speak, for across the U.S. this weekend Americans are celebrating the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., a man who gave his life, quite literally, to the quest to heal our country’s great racial divide, and who dreamed of a world in which men and women of all races could live together with justice and mutual respect. Racism and racial justice is of course a vital issue in our country right now, a topic of intense debate as we observe in several cities the tragic tensions between some white police officers and the people of color that they were sworn to protect. Across the country people are exploring hard questions about white privilege and institutionalized racism, about how far we have come as a society and how much farther we have to go before we finally manifest what Dr. King called the Beloved Community.

Dr. King recognized that race relations do not exist in a vacuum. He understood that racism intersects with other patterns of violence, including poverty and militarism. If he were alive today, I believe that Dr. King would add a fourth item to what he called the “triple evils” of poverty, racism, and militarism. To that list I believe that he would add environmental destruction, especially human-caused climate change. For unless we stabilize the global climate and rapidly reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, we will unravel the web of life and destroy any possibility of Beloved Community for human beings and for most of the other beings with which we share this precious planet. The struggle to end racism is linked to the struggle to end poverty, the struggle to end war, and the struggle to protect life as it has evolved on Earth. Racial justice, social and economic justice, environmental justice, climate justice – all these struggles intersect. In the end we share one struggle, one dream, one deep and God-inspired longing: the desire to build a peaceful, healthy, just, and sustainable world. Martin Luther King, Jr. It is God who whispers that dream into our hearts, God who plants  that longing in us like a seed that grows into a mighty oak, God who stirs us out of our complacency and sends us into action. It is God who gives us a heart to care, and strength to keep fighting the good fight. For it can be difficult to keep going, difficult to keep the faith in the face of sometimes brutal opposition and the sheer inertia of business as usual. There is a wonderful scene in the movie Selma, a movie that I hope you will see, if you haven’t already. The movie is set during the turbulent three months of 1965, exactly fifty years ago, when Martin Luther King, Jr. was leading a campaign to secure equal voting rights. Early in the movie we see David Oyelowo, the actor playing Dr. King, awake at home late at night, restless, anxious, and acutely aware of the threats against his own life and against the lives of his wife and children. Should he keep going and head to Selma? He is resisting the powers and principalities of this world and he has reached the limit of his strength. In that late-night hour he picks up the phone, dials, and says to the person on the other end of the line: “I need to hear the Lord’s voice.” The friend he has phoned is the legendary Gospel singer, Mahalia Jackson, and into the phone receiver she begins to sing very tenderly, “Precious Lord, take my hand.” It is an intimate moment, as intimate as the moment recorded in this morning’s first reading, when late at night the boy Samuel hears the voice of God speaking his name in the darkness (1 Samuel 3:1-10). When God speaks to us in that intimate way, often without any words at all, we feel mysteriously addressed. In that quiet, intimate encounter we feel known by name, touched very personally by a loving power that sees us, knows us through and through, loves us to the core, and gives us strength to carry on. This is the experience of the psalmist who writes – marveling and full of wonder – “Lord, you have searched me out and known me; you know my sitting down and my rising up; you discern my thoughts from afar” (Psalm 139:1). This is the experience of Philip, who hears Jesus call him to follow, and of Nathaniel, who realizes that Jesus saw, and knew, and thoroughly understood him even before they’d met (John 1:43-51). As Christians, we open ourselves to be seen and known, loved and guided by an intimate, divine presence that will never let us go. That is what prayer is, and it gives us strength. And when we’ve lost touch with that divine presence, when we feel frightened, despairing, or overwhelmed, we rely on each other to help us find our way back to God, just as Philip helped Nathaniel, as Eli helped the boy Samuel, and as Mahalia Jackson helped Dr. King. As people of faith, we are in this together, and when any of us lose heart, we try to help each other, as individuals and as a community, to turn again to God and to make our appeal: Precious Lord, take my hand. I feel as powerfully as ever that call to prayer, that call to community, and that call to active, faithful service and advocacy. I don’t usually carry a newspaper into church – actually, this is the first time I’ve ever done it. But I want to show you the front page of yesterday’s New York Times, which gives a map of the world colored in shades of red to indicate all the areas that were above average in temperature last year. The year 2014 broke the record for the hottest year on Earth since we started keeping records. But hey, we may be saying to ourselves, it’s been so cold in New England! It turns out that below-average temperatures in our region may be indirectly linked to climate change. Some scientists are studying the likelihood that the unusual dips they are noticing in the jet stream are connected to the rapidly warming Arctic and the exceptionally warm waters of the Pacific Ocean. Bottom line is that the phrase “global warming” is probably much too simple – a better term might be “global weirding.” As the world grows warmer we can expect more erratic and extreme fluctuations in local weather, and some places will sometimes become unexpectedly cold. Yet all the while the average global temperature is heading in only one direction: up. In just two centuries – a blink in geologic time – we have burned so much coal, gas, and oil and released so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere are higher today than they’ve been for hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, of years. I heard a climate scientist say, “We are breathing from an atmosphere that none of our ancestors would recognize.” Sticking to business as usual could raise average global temperatures between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century. That may not sound like much, but in fact it would make the world extremely difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit. Oceans are already heating and becoming more acidic; tundra is thawing; ice caps and glaciers are melting; sea levels are rising; coral reefs are dying; massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains are intensifying in others. Last spring we learned that the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to collapse and slide into the sea in a way that scientists call “unstoppable.” The latest climate report from the U.N. warns of food shortages, waves of refugees, and the mass extinction of plants and animals, if we keep to our present course. This is the sort of news that wakes me up at night and pulls me into prayer: precious Lord, take my hand. It is also the sort of news that propels me out of bed in the morning, eager to find a way to be of use. Once we have grasped what the bishops of the Episcopal Church call “the urgency of the planetary crisis in which we find ourselves,”1 there is so much we can do, so many ways that we can contribute to the healing of Creation. Thank you for the work you’ve done here at St. John’s to conserve energy, switch to efficient light bulbs, and use cloth rather than paper napkins. Our individual actions add up: we can recycle more, drive less, be sparing in our use of water, quit using bottled water. We can turn off lights when we leave a room. Maybe we can eat local, organic foods and support local farms and land trusts, maybe even leave them some money in our wills. I hope you’ll form a “green team” in this parish, and name a Creation Care Minister. I hope you’ll sign up to join a network of people in the diocese who care about Creation. I’d be glad to support you in any way I can. I also hope you’ll sign up to receive a weekly newsletter from the grassroots group, Climate Action Now, which is centered right here in the Pioneer Valley. If we work as isolated individuals, our success will be limited, for the scope and speed of the climate crisis require action on a much broader scale. So we link arms with other people and we join the movement to make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. The climate movement is gaining momentum, and many of us are inspired by Dr. King and the civil rights movement. Last week I spent a day in Amherst with other local climate activists, studying the principles of non-violent civil disobedience as practiced by Gandhi and Dr. King. Along with more than 97,000 people across the U.S., I have signed a pledge of resistance, a pledge to risk arrest in non-violent direct action if the Keystone XL pipeline is approved. Stopping that pipeline has become a powerful symbol of the urgent need to keep 80% of the known fossil fuels in the ground, where they belong. Fossil fuel companies now possess five times the amount of coal, gas, and oil that, if burned, would force the average global temperature to rise far higher than the 2 degree threshold that gives us a 50-50 chance of preventing runaway climate change. So now is the time to make a swift transition to clean, safe, renewable energy, such as sun and wind. In this unprecedented time, many of us feel called anew to listen to the tender voice of love that God is always sounding in our heart, and then to embody that love in the world as bravely and clearly as we can. If ever there were a time to bear witness to our faith that life and not death will have the last word, now would be the time. If ever there were a time to take hold of the vision of a Beloved Community in which human beings live in right relationship with each other and with all our fellow creatures, now would be the time. The collapse of the ice sheet in Antarctica may be “unstoppable,” but so is the love that calls us to stand up for life. Archbishop Desmond Tutu fought for racial justice and against apartheid in South Africa, and now he is one of the world’s champions of climate justice. Reconciling human beings to each other, to God, and to the rest of Creation is what Tutu calls the “supreme work” of Jesus Christ. Thank you, my brothers and sisters in Christ, for joining me in that supreme work.
1. In 2011 the bishops of the Episcopal Church issued a pastoral teaching on the environment that begins with a call to repentance “as we face the unfolding environmental crisis of the earth.” For the full text of “A Pastoral Teaching from the Bishops of the Episcopal Church,” meeting in Province IX, in Quito, Ecuador, September 2011, visit here.  
Sermon for the Nineteenth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 24A), October 18, 2014. Delivered by the Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas at St. James Episcopal Church, Greenfield, MA Exodus 33:12-23 Psalm 99 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10 Matthew 22:15-22

Show me your glory

It is a pleasure to be with you this morning, and I’d like to thank Heather, your priest, for inviting me to preach and worship here at St. James. I serve the diocese as your Missioner for Creation Care, and, as you know, during October and November this year, our diocese is celebrating its first-ever Season of Creation. Across the diocese we are reflecting on the preciousness and sacredness of the natural world, and God’s urgent call to protect the Earth and its creatures. I’m delighted that the sequence of readings from Exodus gives us today’s passage about Moses, who turns to God and prays, “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18).

We know something about that glory, don’t we? This very week we have seen God’s glory shining in the sight of orange and yellow leaves standing out against a clear blue sky, and – if we’ve been lucky and the timing has been just right – we have felt God’s glory in the wind that makes the leaves whirl and tumble all around us. This week God’s glory was revealed to me in a vivid sunset that played out for a good half-hour with all the drama and details of a symphony. This happens from time to time around here. I live in Northampton, and in the late afternoon when I’m heading west on the Coolidge Bridge, there are times near sunset when I think that we should all just pull over, get out of our cars, and stop to gaze, praising God and rejoicing. I know this would create a traffic jam and so far I have resisted the impulse. But you know what I’m talking about – those moments when something like scales suddenly fall from our eyes, and we perceive the beauty and splendor of the living world around us. We stop in our tracks, overcome by a sense of wonder and awe. “Show me your glory,” Moses prayed to God, and God granted his request. Because seeing the divine presence in all its fullness would be more than mortal eyes could bear (Exodus 33:20), God sheltered Moses in the cleft of a rock and tenderly covered Moses with his hand, so that as God’s glory passed by, Moses could see only what Scripture calls God’s “back” (Exodus 33:23). It is only after death that we will see God’s glory directly – as Paul writes in his First Letter to the Corinthians, “Now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Until the day comes when we see God face to face, here on earth God grants us glimpses of divine glory, brief and holy glimpses that come to us when our eyes are opened, when, as poet William Blake puts it, “the doors of perception” are cleansed, and “everything appears… as it is, Infinite.” Nature is one of the primary places we perceive God’s glory. In fact, Christian tradition speaks of two “books” that reveal God – the book of Scripture and the book of Nature. As Martin Luther so wonderfully puts it, “God writes the Gospel, not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and the flowers and the clouds and stars.” The opening pages of the Bible tell us that God created the world, took a look around, and was filled with delight. “God saw everything that [God] had made, and indeed, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31). The web of life – what scientists call the biosphere – is radiant with God’s presence. The psalmist proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows [God’s] handiwork” (Psalm 19:1). Meadows and rivers, seeds and soil, animals, air and sea ultimately belong to God, not to human beings, for, as we also hear in the psalms, “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” (Psalm 24:1). Moses is a fine companion to keep beside us during this Season of Creation, for he was a man of deep prayer who spent much of his life outdoors and experienced there what theologian Rudolf Otto calls the “awesome and rapturous mystery” of God (mysterium tremendum et fascinans). Just think of Moses walking repeatedly up the mountain to commune with God, or of his vision, early on, of the ever-burning bush that conveyed God’s voice and presence. Most of us don’t live like that. Most of us don’t spend much prayerful, conscious time outside. I’ve heard that the average North American spends 4% of a typical day outdoors, including time spent in a car. What’s more, many of us work and play in ways that are mental, and we get absorbed in the “virtual reality” of the TV or smart phone or computer screen. When we lose touch with nature, it is easy to think of nature as “out there” and distant, to be ignored and taken for granted, or to be dominated and used up. And when we lose touch with nature, we lose touch with God. I invite us, this Creation Season, to do what Moses did: to take time for solitary prayer and silence, and to look for God’s glory in the natural world. For a while now – and I hope to keep this up until the weather gets too cold – I’ve been going outside first thing in the morning to walk barefoot and to put my body in direct contact with the body of the Earth. We live in a noisy world, a world of bustle, frenzy, and haste. I know that only if I spend regular time alone and in silence, as Moses did, will I come to see a bush that is aflame with God – in fact, come to see that every bush is lit up with God’s radiance. A quiet mind is a spacious mind, a mind that begins to perceive what we might call the hidden vastness or hidden depths of things. The change of consciousness that Moses repeatedly experienced, that “cleansing of the doors of perception,” is available to everyone who takes time to pray in silence and who learns some practices for quieting the mind and paying attention. It seems to me that one of the most essential tasks of our time is to move from a spirituality of alienation from the natural world to one of intimacy with all creation. Being attentive in nature with eyes and ears of love is a practice that can open our eyes to God’s glory. I take Moses as a spiritual guide, and I take him as a guide to activism, too. For what happens when he sees the burning bush? What happens when he sees the divine Presence shining out toward him and hears God addressing him intimately by name? What happens next is that he hears God calling him to become not just a mystic, but also a prophet, a healer and liberator. God calls him to confront the Pharaoh and to set the slaves free. Moses discovers – as we do, too – that God invites us into an interior, intimate, and sometimes ecstatic encounter with God in prayer, and then God sends us out into the world to engage in the struggle for justice, healing, and liberation. God’s Spirit is like a flow of air that moves through our body as we breathe: we breathe God in, and we discover God in our depths; we breathe God out, and we are sent out to heal, repair, and restore the world. As one of the Desert Fathers used to say, “Always breathe Christ.” Contemplation and action become the rhythm of our lives, like breathing in and breathing out. God’s Creation has never needed our help and healing more than it does today. The web of life is unraveling around us. Climate change caused by human activity is already having drastic and far-reaching effects around the world. In only two centuries – just a blink in geologic time – human beings have pumped so much heat-trapping carbon dioxide into the air that atmospheric levels of CO2 are higher today than they’ve been for millions of years. I heard a climate scientist remark, “We are breathing from an atmosphere that none of our ancestors would recognize.” Burning fossil fuels, such as coal, gas, and oil, at present rates could raise worldwide average temperatures between 5 and 11 degrees Fahrenheit in this century, which would make the world extremely difficult for humans and other creatures to inhabit. Already our planet is changing before our eyes: oceans are heating up and becoming more acidic as they absorb some of the carbon dioxide that cars and power plants release; tundra is thawing, ice caps are melting, sea levels are rising, coral reefs are dying, massive droughts are spreading in some places and heavy rains are intensifying in others. Last spring we learned that the huge West Antarctic ice sheet is starting to collapse and slide into the sea in a way that scientists call “unstoppable.” This week the Pentagon released a report asserting decisively that climate change poses “an immediate risk to national security” and is a so-called “threat multiplier,” increasing the likelihood of terrorism, infectious disease, global poverty and food shortages.” We live in an unprecedented time in human history, a time when our choices really matter and what we do, or don’t do, makes all the difference to what kind of world we leave our children and our children’s children. What can we do? Well, we can recycle more, drive less, and be sparing in our use of water. We can turn off lights when we leave a room. Maybe we can eat local, organic foods and support our local farms and land trusts. We can install insulation and turn down the heat. I know that this parish includes ardent recyclers and composters, and that you’ve talked about planting a community garden. I salute you for that, and I’d be glad to support you in any way I can. If you are interested in joining a network of people in the diocese who care about Creation, I hope you will give me your name and contact information. As individuals we can and should do everything we can to reduce our use of fossil fuels, but the scope and speed of the climate crisis require action on a much broader scale, too. We need to join with other people and make it politically possible to do what is scientifically necessary. Like Moses, we, too, need to stand up to the political and corporate powers-that-be and to push our country to make a swift transition to clean, safe, renewable sources of energy like sun and wind. We need to quit our addiction to fossil fuels and to reduce the level of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere to a level that allows life as it has evolved to continue on this planet. We are blessed, right here in the Pioneer Valley, to have a strong, local, grassroots climate action group, which is called Climate Action Now. I hope you will sign up for weekly emails and read the news and connect. I am also happy to say that tomorrow night you can join me, Bishop Doug Fisher, and the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Jim Munroe (whom many of you know), along with a crowd of other folks from the diocese who will be marching to Springfield’s City Hall to support a resolution proposing a climate action plan for the city. Springfield is the largest city in Massachusetts without a climate action plan, its residents suffer severely from asthma and other respiratory diseases caused by dirty air, and tomorrow faith communities from within and beyond Springfield will show their support for a resolution to develop a climate action plan that City Council members will be discussing that night. A range of folks in Springfield – including poor Hispanic, African-American and immigrant communities – is joining together in an extraordinary coalition to ask the city to prepare for and to slow down climate change. All the things they are asking for – such as more bike paths, better public transportation, better insulated buildings, and more trees and community gardens – will contribute to public health and safety as well as to a healthier and more stable environment. When climate justice meets social justice, I am truly thankful. If you come, please bring your church banner. This is a Jesus moment, a moment when God is making all things new. “Show me your glory,” Moses prays, and where do we see God’s glory? In the beauty and intricate complexity of nature, in every gesture of forgiveness and reconciliation, in every word of kindness, in every face that shines with love, in every mind and hand and heart that is devoted to creating a better world. The melting ice in West Antarctica may be unstoppable, but so, too, is the divine love that made us, that sustains us, and that calls us to stand up for life. Breathing in, we pray and give thanks. Breathing out, we serve.  Jesus is with us, offering us here at this table the nourishing gift of his presence and power, and then he will send us out to love and to serve in his name. I wish you a blessed Season of Creation through the end of November, and also in all the days to come.  

A spider is basking on the bathtub’s white porcelain. Once upon a time I might have considered the malicious fun of surprising it with a spray of hot water from the shower and watching it slide down the drain. Today I gently cup the spider in an empty glass and walk it outside for release in the yard. Be well, Spider. You are not so different from me: you, too, want to live. In your own way, you, too, want to be happy and at peace.

Protecting one tiny creature – a gesture that a while back might have seemed merely sentimental – takes on new meaning today. A report just released by the World Wildlife Fund reveals that more than half the world’s population of mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish has disappeared since 1970. Jon Hoekstra, chief scientist at WWF, summarizes the heart-breaking news: “39 percent of terrestrial wildlife gone, 39 percent of marine wildlife gone, 76 percent of freshwater wildlife gone — all in the past 40 years.”

Pileated woodpecker
Pileated woodpecker in Ashfield, MA, photo c) Robert A. Jonas

Much more than an occasional spider is vanishing. Because of humanity’s accidental or malicious impact on other creatures worldwide, great numbers of creatures are being lost, as are entire species. I imagine St. Francis of Assisi – the man who spoke of Brother Sun and Sister Moon – grieving the loss of kin, as members of his family disappear. I also imagine him looking around to see what he can do – what alliances he can forge, what actions he can take to heal the Earth community, human and non-human alike.

A place to begin is to save the individual creature that falls, hapless, into our hands. Then we look around to see what else we can do – maybe plant native landscapes and protect the habitats that shelter bees, birds, and butterflies; eat lower on the food chain; support organic agriculture; protect farmland and open space; and stringently reduce our use of fossil fuels.

This morning a friend who lives in Northampton and who, like me, routinely drives 8 miles to Amherst and back told me that the next time she heads over there, she plans to take the bus. She has never taken that bus before, but after the rousing People’s Climate March in New York City, she knows afresh that she wants to do her part. Using public transportation rather than driving a car is one way we can help. I wonder how much more quickly the climate movement would grow if we who have financial resources encouraged each other to break our habit of over-consumption and waste, and turned our minds and hearts to protecting the web of life that is unraveling around us. There is so much worth fighting for and so much left to save.

Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers.  Source: AP Photo/NOAA, Corey Accardo
Pacific walrus looking for places to rest in the absence of sea ice are coming to shore in record numbers. Source: AP Photo/NOAA, Corey Accardo

The Feast Day of St. Francis on October 4 marks the beginning of the first-ever Creation Season in the Diocese of Western Massachusetts. For the next 7 weeks, until the last Sunday of the church year (November 23), congregations will explore four ways to celebrate and safeguard the gift of God’s creation: Pray. Learn. Act. Advocate (a Web page offers suggestions and resources for each category). I hope to hear stories of breakthrough and experiment.

If you are lucky enough to read this post in time and to live near central Massachusetts, you can celebrate St. Francis Day on October 4 at Agape Community in Ware from 10am – 4pm, at a gathering entitled, “A Vital Conversation: Integrating Ecology, Justice, and Peace,” with two gifted leaders of the religious environmental movement, Mary Evelyn Tucker and John Grim. For information about the event, visit here or email: (phone: 413-967-9369).

To honor St. Francis, you can also study a free online resource, “The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi,” courtesy of Fr. Richard Rohr’s Center for Action and Contemplation, which writes: “Learn more about the Franciscan way of simplicity, compassion, and justice, from its historical roots to modern implications. Browse a wide variety of textual and media-rich perspectives at your own pace. Begin at any time and return as often as you like. No registration needed.” Visit here.

Are you looking for another way to celebrate St. Francis, who recognized that all creatures were members of one family? Here is a possibility: embrace the whole human family. Jesus loved not only the lilies of the field and the sparrows in the air; he also loved the outcast and the poor. Caring about the health and well-being of the natural environment involves caring about justice for the human poor. Stabilizing the climate and building a sustainable future is inextricably connected with working for social and economic justice.

I give thanks for the strong coalition just now springing up within and around Springfield, the hardscrabble city that is third largest in Massachusetts. Over the past year, Arise for Social Justice, supported by Climate Action NOW, has been working to develop a climate change action plan for the city, which is the biggest urban polluter in the Pioneer Valley. The neighborhoods most affected by climate change – poor, Black and Latino – are forming a new coalition, which includes NEON from the North End, to advance their need to decrease air pollution and thereby to prevent asthma, emphysema and heart disease. More than one of every five children in Springfield is afflicted with asthma, a rate that is twice the average across the state.

What do the under-served populations of Springfield want in a climate change action plan? They want more public transportation, more bicycle lanes and bicycle racks, more trees, parks, and community gardens, brighter and more efficient lights on public streets, more recycling, increased composting, and a stronger bottle bill, and “green” jobs for city residents. The people’s needs for good food, clean air and water, public health and public safety line up with what the Earth needs, too.

On Monday, October 20, the Springfield City Council will consider a resolution that demands a Springfield People’s Climate Action Plan, which includes a provision for a staff-person to implement it. That night we will hold a march that begins at 5:00 p.m. from two separate locations: Northgate Plaza (1985 Main Street, which has plenty of parking) and Arise for Social Justice (467 State Street). The two groups will start walking and will meet on Main Street in downtown Springfield. United, we will walk to the steps of City Hall for a speak-out at 6:00 p.m., and then pack the Council meeting to share our passion for a cleaner Springfield.

Will your organization become a sponsor of the march? To become a sponsor, you agree to publicize the march among your membership, to participate in the march, and to allow your name to be included in our publicity. To become a sponsor of the March for a People’s Climate Action Plan for Springfield, please give your name, email address, and organization’s name to Susan Theberge (susantheberge (at)

As I experience it, the Spirit of St. Francis – the Spirit of Jesus – is with us in our struggle to safeguard life as it as evolved on this planet. What shall we do with St. Francis? Pray, learn, act, and advocate. Save some wildlife, and hit the streets.