Last week’s reading from Jeremiah painted a bleak picture.
Your ways and your doings
have brought this upon you, he wrote.
This is your doom; how bitter it is!
It has reached your very heart.’
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before Yahweh, before God’s fierce anger.
In his sermon last week, David Ourisman shared a picture of the Bay area in California where he and Claire lived. It looked a lot like the vision Jeremiah described. Orange Wednesday–when smoke from the fires became so oppressive it blanketed everything in orange–was the tipping point for them. That’s when they decided to move to Asheville.
Jeremiah had it right, I think. It is our ways and our doings that have brought climate change upon us. This is, in many respects, our doom. And, when we see pictures like David showed us last week, the doom does take up residence in our hearts. David, you must have worked some homiletical magic last week. Somehow, instead of leaving the service depressed, we left hopeful. I’m not sure how that happened. But thanks.
Reading on in last week’s passage, you see that even Jeremiah–sometimes referred to as “the weeping prophet”–can’t stay with only bad news. The next line reads: “Thus says Yahweh: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.”
Yet I will not make a full end. Things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better, but they will get better. I’m reminded of the line from the movie, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” “Everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not alright, then it’s not yet the end.” After that one glimmer of hope, Jeremiah goes back to mourning Earth and black skies… but for a moment–he couldn’t help himself–Jeremiah hoped.
On the hope-o-meter, today’s words from Isaiah are on the opposite end of the spectrum. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new Earth…I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight.” Aren’t you glad the Season of Creation ends with this passage and not last week’s?
Last week, David asked why God was sharing that vision of doom with the people. Why not just let the people bear the consequences of their poor decisions? Why not just let the world implode? David reminded us that the Hebrew prophets “were not in the business of predicting a future that was set in stone. The prophets were in the business of talking about consequences, of painting a vision of what the future would look like if the people would not change their ways. There’s good news in that because the prophets are affirming that we have agency, that we are capable of choosing to change our ways. We have agency. We can change.
There’s David’s homiletical magic. If things didn’t change, the world would end. But it didn’t have to. If people changed their ways, the world would change. For the better.
Though Isaiah’s vision of creating new heavens and a new Earth lies at the opposite end of the Hope-o-meter from Jeremiah’s, the prophetic invitation is the same: Catch this vision God is rolling out and make that vision reality. This time, the change the prophet is calling for is from inaction to action. The picture God is painting of a world of peace and wellbeing–it’s not just pie in the sky. We. Can. Make. It. Happen. We can make God’s dreams come true.
Let’s try something. I’m going to read the passage from Isaiah again…slowly. As I read, hear each phrase as an invitation to work with God to create a new Earth, a new narrative. See what emerges. Settle into your seat. Breathe in…breathe out… A reading from Isaiah.
For I am about to create new heavens
and a new earth;
the former things shall not be remembered
or come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever
in what I am creating;
for I am about to create Asheville as a joy,
and its people as a delight.
I will rejoice in Asheville,
and delight in my people;
no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it,
or the cry of distress.
No more shall there be in it
an infant that lives but a few days,
or an old person who does not live out a lifetime;
for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth,
and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed.
They shall build houses and inhabit them;
they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit.
They shall not build and another inhabit;
they shall not plant and another eat;
for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be,
and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands.
They shall not labour in vain,
or bear children for calamity;
for they shall be offspring blessed by God—
and their descendants as well.
Before they call I will answer,
while they are yet speaking I will hear.
The wolf and the lamb shall feed together,
the lion shall eat straw like the ox;
but the serpent—its food shall be dust!
They shall not hurt or destroy
on all my holy mountain,
says our God.
If we respond to these words, then for us, they have become the word of the still-speaking God. Thanks be to God!
Did you know that we were the first congregation in the state of North Carolina to install solar panels? I don’t know for sure, but we still might be the only congregation to have installed a geo-thermal HVAC system. We planted a pollinator garden in back of the church. First Congregational has been acting Earth into wellbeing for a long time.
I’m wondering if it might be time for our First Congregational community to create a new narrative of creation care. Storms are stronger now; their effects are more devastating. Wildfires are more frequent. I see that insurance premiums for waterfront properties are in for sharp increases.
David and Claire’s story of deciding to move to Asheville because of its climate safety (relatively speaking) isn’t unusual. In fact, David and I both have been talking with a mutual friend and her family who are looking to move to Asheville from the Bay area. There are other people in this congregation who’ve moved from California to get away from the fires. Another person moved from Houston to get away from hurricanes, flooding, and a city that doesn’t have a will to take actions to mitigate those flooding problems.
Western North Carolina is a beautiful place to live. It’s also a relief to live in a place that–at least for now–doesn’t experience as devastating consequences of climate change as other regions.
It would be easy to breathe a sigh of relief and thank God that we live in such an environmentally healthy place. But our task as people of faith always is to be intentional about how to be good stewards of what we have been given. As people of faith, it’s vital that we become even more intentional about how we steward our eco-privilege. What will it mean for our area that so many people are moving here? What actions can we take to preserve the beauty and relative health of our region? What actions must we take to bring less healthy eco-systems into greater health?
How will we work with God to create new heavens and a new Earth? How will we write a new narrative for Earth care? What I’m asking, Church, is this: How will we act Earth into wellbeing NOW?
In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us, and hopes for our wholeness. Amen.
Kimberleigh Buchanan © 2021