The Earth Cries Out . . .

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UMW and Earth Day Sermon                                                  Claremont UMC

Linda J. Vogel                                                                                     April 17, 2016

Deut. 24:19-22; Hosea 4:1-3, 14:1-9; Acts 7:51-58

What a perfect day for UMW Sunday as we focus on Climate Justice, and prepare for Earth Day which is next Friday. This year’s Earth Day theme is “Trees for the Earth,” how appropriate since our Claremont trees are at great risk because of the drought.

I have felt for a long time that climate change and the urgent need to change our ways and work for the healing of the earth is perhaps the most crucial issue of our day. And then I read the UMW study book for this year’s celebration and my perspective broadened.

Pat Watkins, in an article on “A Biblical Theology of Creation Care” says, “Abuse of the poor and abuse of the land go hand in hand when it comes to lining the pockets of the rich. And, given the biblical witness, we’ve been at it for a long time.”[1] Flint, MI is a current and devastating example.

And here’s what became for me an “aha” moment. Gus Speth, former dean of the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies at Yale University addressed a group of religious leaders several years ago. [This] is what he said:

“I used to think the top environmental problems facing the world were global warming, environmental degradation and ecosystem collapse, and that we scientists could fix those problems with enough science, but I was wrong.

The real problem is not these three items but GREED, SELFISHNESS, AND APATHY. And for that we need a spiritual and cultural transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that. We need your help.[2]

Our scripture reading from Deuteronomy is quite straightforward. When you harvest your crops, leave some for “the foreigner, the orphan, or the widowed.” No handouts here. Just leave it in the field and on the vine so that those who need it are welcomed to harvest it for themselves. After all, Adonai says, “remember, you were slaves in Egypt.”  Do not forget, the implication is, that when you were suffering, God saved you. Now, pay it forward!

The eighth century prophets, including Hosea, are also very clear. There is “no fidelity of kindness, no knowledge of God.” Rather, there is “only cursing, lying, murder and infidelity—these things run rampant throughout the land, and mayhem begets mayhem.” Isn’t it amazing, how these same charges could be made to us in the twenty-first century?

Hosea speaks strongly about the sin and evil in his day. But then he offers some hope. If the people will return to Adonai, their God, if they acknowledge that their “corruption has been their downfall” and turn back to God—if they stop making gods of things their hands had made, then God “will heal their rebelliousness and love them freely.”  When the “prudent learn these things,” God’s compassion and forgiveness and presence will again bring blessings. But, Hosea warns, “the corrupt [will] stumble and fall.”

On days when hope seems far from me, I need to cling to the graciousness and love which God continues to offer to all who return to love of God, love for all peoples, and love for the earth.

So what does the account of Stephen’s martyrdom have to do with earth justice? Gene Boutilier reflected on this passage at a recent Eucharistic circle at Pilgrim Place and it spoke to the “aha” I was experiencing. For we mourn yet another martyr this Lent. Berta /, an indigenous Honduran environmental activist, was murdered just a few weeks ago. They broke down her door in the middle of the night and shot her to death. She was a well-known leader for the social movement in defense of the land and indigenous communities. We live in a world where greed, selfishness and apathy destroy beauty and try to destroy hope. Her blasphemy against the powers was words like these: “Our Mother Earth—militarized, fenced-in, poisoned, a place where basic rights are systematically violated—demands that we take action.” “We have to wake up! We have to wake up, Humankind! We’re out of time.” “Let us come together and move forward with hope as we defend and care for the Earth and its creatures.” Such words challenge those in power so that she must be murdered!

Caceres, spoke out against the powers much like Stephen did in his day. She led grassroots campaigns and built international support against the mines, the dams, the plantations, the expropriation and destruction of the land of the Lenca people in Honduras.

The point of terror, as the Romans and their local elite collaborators in Jerusalem knew, is to immobilize people with fear. The message to exploited communities everywhere, not just to Berta’s indigenous comrades in Honduras was do not resist. The message is also for advocates of ecology and sustainability and human and indigenous rights across the globe —do not resist. Lest we try to distance ourselves from this shocking murder, we need to remember that our own U.S. government has, for generations sponsored, trained, financed and benefited from the murderous repression in Honduras.

So, as we reflect on all of this, we need to reflect on the ways in which greed, selfishness and apathy led the Hebrews astray though-out their history. It fueled the religious and political leaders of Jesus’ day to kill the one who called on the people to love their enemies and to care for the foreigner, the orphan and the widowed. And it fueled those in Stephen’s day to murder him. It fueled the onlookers to shout and to hold their hands over their ears, and finally to stone him.

When do we shout? When do we “hold our hands over our ears”? When does our own apathy keep us even seeing the way the earth is becoming less and less hospitable for all living beings? When do we allow apathy to stop us from speaking out against greed and selfishness?

What can we do to live more lightly on the earth? When can we acknowledge and speak out about climate change that is already causing climate refugees to flee from their homes? How can we buy less and recycle and reuse? Fossil fuels and beef are major contributors to the destruction of our earth home. What are we willing to do about that?

It is estimated that by 2050, there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Already there are giant—as in twice the size of the state of Texas—trash islands in the Pacific ocean where nothing lives in or below it. Check out the NASA web site for photos of these islands.

The earth is crying out—loudly in some places and in other places it has become only a whimper. What are we—good people, followers of Jesus people—willing to do today and this week and this year about it?

 

The wise writer of children’s books for all ages, Dr. Seuss, wrote in The Lorax in 1971, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.” Listen, friends, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

And President Obama rightly claims that “change is brought about because ordinary people do extraordinary things.”

If we are to embrace resurrection faith this Easter, I believe we must commit to addressing the REAL problem: GREED, SELFISHNESS, AND APATHY. And I cannot image addressing these behemoths, this evil, without the compassion-doing, justice-seeking and hope-sharing that Jesus brings into our world.

I leave us with a song from another group of indigenous people. The  Southern Arapaho sing:

My children,

My children,

Here it is, I hand it to you

The earth,

The earth.[3]

[1] Pat Watkins, “A Biblical Theology of Creation Care” in Climate Justice: A Call to Hope and Action” ed. by Pat Watkins, p. 10.

 

[2] Quoted in Pat Watkins (ed.), Climate Justice: A Call to Hope and Action.

[3] Margaret Coel, Chief Left Hand: Southern Arapaho, The Civilization of the American Indian Series, University of Oklahoma Press, 1981.