Didn’t we have some beautiful weather this week? Sunlight gleaming, air refreshing, flowers blossoming, thermometer flirting with 80 degrees…in February.
There’s been a lot in the news lately about folks who accept the scientific fact of climate change and those who don’t. With 97% of scientists agreeing that, largely due to human activity, the climate is changing, I don’t know that those of us in this room would debate those facts.
Even if we did want to debate the facts of climate change, worship isn’t really the time or place to do it…or even to strategize a plan for addressing it. If you’re interested in working for climate change mitigation, I invite you to meet with Hugh Lowrey and me after 10:00 worship next Sunday. For those who don’t know, Hugh is a scientist, a chemist who owns a couple of patents. Deeply concerned about shifts in climate—and the devastating, life-as-we-know-it changes to which those shifts lead—Hugh has done some research and has found practical suggestions about how actively to engage in working to mitigate climate change.
So, if our task in this worship service isn’t to debate climate change or to strategize how to address it, what is our task? In the context of worship, this space and time in which we open ourselves as fully as we know how to the God who has loved us, loves us now, and will always love us, how might we frame our concerns about climate change?
In an essay titled, “Teaching a Stone to Talk,” author Annie Dillard says, “God used to rage at the Israelites for frequenting sacred groves. I wish I could find one” (87). That’s her playful way saying that millennia ago, our human ancestors interacted with nature as if it were sacred. Of contemporary faith expressions, paganism comes closest to retaining that strong spiritual connection to creation. When Dillard says she’d like to find a sacred grove, she’s saying she’d like to reconnect with creation in such a way that its holiness becomes real to her.
The essay’s title describes the practice of an acquaintance of Dillard’s in the small village in which she lives. Thirty-something Larry is trying to teach a stone to talk. Each day, he takes the stone down from its perch and begins the lesson. Other villagers chuckle when speaking of Larry’s pedagogical folly. “Teach a stone to talk? Bless his heart!”
I wonder, though. Are Larry’s lessons folly? Or are they a deep form of wisdom?
Think about it. (Pull out stone.) Each day at the appointed time, Larry pulls the stone down from its appointed place, sets it in front of him, and begins the lesson. What do the lessons entail? Only Larry knows for sure. And the stone.
I’ve been thinking about what I would do to teach this stone to talk. The first thing I notice is that the stone has no mouth. That’s going to be a problem. How can the stone speak without a mouth? I could certainly carve a mouth in the stone, but even if I were to do that, there aren’t any vocal chords…neither is there breath to set the chords vibrating.
So the first thing I realize is that if I am to teach this stone to talk, I’m going to have to figure out how it might speak. The first few lessons, then, I’d pull the stone off the shelf, set it in front of me, observe it, and contemplate how this stone, in light of its unique physical properties, might speak.
I wonder what might happen after several days of sitting with the stone…Might I get frustrated? Might I grow despondent? Might I pick that stone up and hurl it out the window?
Or…might I discover that the stone has been speaking all along? That it has no need to learn from me how to communicate…that it’s been “crying out” for eons? And with that realization, might I—finally—begin to listen? Might I learn that it’s not so much a matter of teaching the stone to talk, but of learning from the stone how to listen?
Today’s Scripture lessons are mostly about things other than creation. Each text, though, uses nature as a metaphor, an image through which to understand faith better.
In Romans, the author describes creation as groaning and likens it to the groaning of people of faith…not the groaning that happens when the pastor tells a punny joke. Again. The kind of groaning that comes from waiting…like the groaning that accompanies childbirth. Intense pain, yes…but pain that leads to new birth. As people of faith, we sometimes feel intense pain, we ask “Is this all there is?” “What are we doing here?” “Is there a God?”
In these verses, the author seeks to reassure people of faith who feel stuck, or disheartened, or who, in the author’s historical context, are being persecuted. Despite the intensity of the current pain, if we don’t shy away from it, if we tend to it with all the love we have, like pains that accompany labor, inevitably, eventually, the pain will lead to new birth.
The author in Romans 8 wasn’t talking about climate change–the use of fossil fuels that would lead to the devastating effects of greenhouse emissions lay many centuries in the future. The image of creation groaning, though, is an apt image for where creation is in the 21st century. If we listen, I suspect we’ll hear creation groaning. (Is anyone else thinking about fracking…and the earthquakes it causes?) If we listen, I suspect we’ll hear creation writhing in pain. (Anyone hearing the rush of flood waters in California?) There’s little doubt that creation is groaning and writhing in pain. What isn’t clear at this point is whether this intense pain will lead to new birth.
The passage from Luke is part of the Palm Sunday narrative. Jesus is riding into town on a donkey when the large crowd of his followers begins praising him: “Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!” Some Pharisees in the crowd order Jesus to order the people to keep quiet. Jesus responds: “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.”
Certainly, this is hyperbole. Jesus often used exaggeration to make his point. Stones don’t shout…they don’t have mouths, remember? If the crowds kept quiet, the only sound would be the sound of silence (or the Pharisees’ grumbling)…but by using this image, Jesus is suggesting that everything he was about extended to all creation. He didn’t mean the stones literally would start shouting, but he did suggest that even the stones had a vested interest in what was happening. The God-through-Jesus thing wasn’t just for people. It was for all creation.
So. What would Jesus do about climate change? Because science and religious belief were at such different places 2,000 years ago, we can’t know for sure…but this bit about the stones crying out might give us a clue….
Why might creation have a vested interest in the God-through-Jesus thing? Because we’re kin. God created all of us, every single living thing. Because all of us—people, trees, plants, seas, animals, dirt, sky…all of it—all of us—are created by God. We are in relationship with everything else God created. And just as we look for and see God in our fellow human beings, when we look for God in creation, we will find God.
So the first step for us as people of faith in working for climate change mitigation is to remember that creation was created by God…and by virtue of its having been created by God, it is, like human beings are, holy. Creation is holy. Creation bears the image of God. Whatever we do to the planet, we do to God.
As we decide how to respond to climate change, we’ll do well to reconnect with the sacredness of created things. Science is important. Earth-affirming legislation from all the world’s countries is vital. But until we relate to creation as a living, breathing relative, until we open ourselves to its pain, until we look for and find that of the divine within it, until we listen to creation, all our efforts will be for naught.
In a recent article titled, “This Is the Most Dangerous Time for Our Planet,” physicist Stephen Hawking notes that inhabitants of planet earth “have the means to destroy our world but not to escape it.” Which means, we need to take care of it. We can’t just use this planet up and go somewhere else. We haven’t figured out how to do that yet. https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/dec/01/stephen-hawking-dangerous-time-planet-inequality
In unrelated news, NASA announced this week that it’s found not just one, but seven earth-like and habitable planets in a solar system just 40 light years away—an intergalactic hop, skip, and jump. Those planets have water and everything! Does anyone have Mr. Hawking’s email? I’m sure he’d like to know about this. J
So. What if it was possible for us to colonize other planets…to throw up our hands and say, we’ve done too much damage to Planet Earth, let’s just give up, move away, and start over? If we could move to another planet, as people of faith should we?
I think not. Even if it were possible to use this planet up and toss it in the trash, I can’t see how that would be the faithful thing to do. Creation bears the image of God! We’re kin! Creation was never meant to be used up and discarded. Creation was meant to be loved. We are called to love creation. We are called to act creation into wellbeing.
Dave Isay has called listening an act of love. I invite us this morning to love creation by listening to her. Is she groaning? Is she writhing in pain? Is she crying out to us? As the labor pains bear down, the question comes: What kind of midwives will we be? Will we stay with our patient, doing everything in our power to ensure that new life emerges healthy and whole? Or will we simply sit in the corner and let the patient take care of things herself? The rocks are crying out. What are they saying? How will we respond?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2017