SERMON: 13 Pentecost B 8 19 18
We're about six months out from Earth Day, but this sermon couldn't wait, I'm afraid. Since Molly and I came back from the West Coast a couple of weeks ago I have been reflecting on the environment and our relationship to it. It occurred to me this week, in light of today's Gospel, that we have an excellent opportunity to consider the environment, God's creation of it, and our role in its protection.
Creation is the environment. It's the entire enchilada. And when we give thanks for creation and its sustenance of us, as Trinitarian Anglicans we give that thanks to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Beyond that, however, before I connect the Gospel to Creation, I would like to test your understanding of a few environmental principles:
Why does as a TIME magazine survey say only 85 per cent of Americans think climate change is happening? The other 15 per cent work for the fossil fuels industry.
What do loggers eat in the forest? Mac and trees.
How do oil companies handle oil spills? Slick lawyers.
How does the President plan on fighting record high temperatures? By changing from Fahrenheit to Celsius.
What is the difference between a tree and a person? It's illegal to hit one of them with an ax.
How do you know if you're a bad recycler? You give the recycling bins to your kids for sledding.
And finally, a little close to home for Molly and me:
How do Prius owners drive? With one hand on the wheel and the other patting themselves on the back.
Did you detect a little confession in that last one? Molly wanted a Prius when we came to Poughkeepsie. I was indifferent. But we got it and, frankly, I rarely feel as smart as I feel when I am driving down the road at 48 miles per gallon. It's a modest but remarkable thing. And I am glad to benefit from it.
I am also glad the automotive industry is doing more and more--even more than new models of the Prius--to conserve energy and, by extension, protect the environment.
Our trip out West last month surprised me in a couple of ways. One is that I actually felt I was in the midst of beings when we were standing among the sequoias and the redwoods. I think I felt as I had felt when I was l playing with my pet bulldogs, both growing up and as an adult. They were alive and present for me, enjoying me like I was enjoying them. I felt the trees were alive and present for me.
I envision myself but don't often identify myself as a tree hugger, but on this trip and since, I sure do. Those trees knocked me out. John Muir wrote that when one approaches the giant sequoias one should look not at its height or its girth, but just straight at it. The wood, the bark, the roots are a beautiful tapestry of color and texture and contour that are, ignoring height and girth, fantastic.
The whale that entertained us for a few minutes below the bluff we were hiking along at Port Orford, Oregon, likewise thrilled me. I've seen and been close to a lot of whales, especially in Alaska and on ocean tugboats, but to have a whale seemingly cavorting in the water below you when you're standing on land is a sublime experience.
A friend of mine recently returned from a vacation in Alaska and came back delighted and raving about the endless beauties of the 49th State. I had encouraged her trip and given suggestions. I don't know who was more pleased by her enthusiastic trip report, me or her.
As such conversations often do, that one turned to concern for the environment. The current administration has taken a number of steps which threaten the careful scientific and political balance that protects the environment in this country nationwide and in Alaska especially. My recently returned friend was highly indignant --outraged, now that I think about it--at the potential loosening of environmental protections.
Her ire brought to mind the Aug 1 release of the entire Aug 5 issue of The New York Times Magazine concerning climate change. The headline, in white on an otherwise totally black cover read, "Thirty years ago, we could have saved our planet."
Now I will admit to being a bit of a political junkie. I've worked for a US Senator and a mayor and in local governments in Alaska and Florida. I'm of the Watergate generation. I know where I was when Nixon resigned. I have a cassette tape of it.
But I was flabbergasted to learn that since the Nixon administration --since the 1970s--we have had evidence, ever increasing evidence, that the burning of fossil fuels, if not drastically reduced, would generate enough climate change to kill hundreds of thousands of people, swamp coastal countries and cities, make life miserable for most and utterly change the future of the planet. And most shocking of all is that there was a growing movement to initiate those drastic reductions on a global level through treaty. And that that plan was dashed by carelessness, indifference, greed and ego in the worlds of industry, politics and, even science.
The horror of this is that its effects will be visited on future generations at a cost exponentially higher than if our generation had dealt with it. Likewise, for us to pick it up and accept this challenge now would be exponentially more expensive than it would have been had the challenge had been accepted during the first Bush Administration.
That was when industry-funded disinformation programs started casting doubt on the science of climate change. We entered into a phase of our history that we can only hope will peak during the truthless Trump administration. The man who denied President Obama's birth in the US despite no evidence and considerable facts to prove it, now claims "fake news" whenever the facts disagree with his vision of how he'd like the world to be. For Donald Trump there are no unfriendly facts; only fake news.
You may know that we have fretted as a country about the cost of the ill-conceived wars in the Middle East since Sept. 11, 2001. The Atlantic Magazine recently pegged that cost at $5.6 trillion. The cost of addressing climate change is estimated as high as 50 times higher: over $250 trillion.
I'm now going to connect this to our Gospel. You can take some comfort in my plan to not name more names, express more shock, or bemoan our political impotence. Here's the connection:
In our Gospel we read today, "Jesus said, "I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats of this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh."
As Christians we believe that as Jesus spoke it was the voice of God speaking. After all, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit are three co-equal persons of God. So as Jesus spoke he was making reference to God's involvement in every bite of sustenance, every breath of air, every sip of water, as being part of God's creation and therefore part of God. When we consume anything in creation we consume, if I may, God. Creation--known as God--gives itself to us in many, many ways. We are grateful. We give thanks.
But then, in a virtually suicidal gesture, humanity has developed and used and effectively refused to control, the utter consumption of creation. To the extent that we deeply harm if not consign to a miserable future all generations after our own, this is humanity killing itself. It is our generation killing future generations.
When Jesus told his followers, the disciples and you and me, to follow him, he meant to do as he did: loving God and loving our neighbor. When he said he was the living bread and told us to eat his flesh Jesus was telling us to be mindful as we consumed what our bodies and our appetites called for, being mindful that it is a holy gift, every grain of wheat, every drop of water.
Jesus is the living bread because creation is what allows us to live, even as we despoil the very earth that feeds us. The next time you receive, "The body of Christ, the bread of heaven," consider that this is from creation, it is of God. When you drink the wine of Communion and hear it described as the blood of Christ, the cup of salvation," I hope you can remember that Jesus gave all that we might understand him and follow him, and for that matter consume that bit of creation that comes our way.
This is, I will acknowledge, an awkward proposition. The religious authorities were concerned that Jesus was talking about being related to God. Others worry that we're talking--elliptically, to be sure--about eating flesh and blood, that is, cannibalism.
What Jesus was saying to his followers, those who believed in him and to all of the peoples of the earth, is that we should conserve creation, protect it, nurture it, help it. Not despoil it, pollute it and burn it as fuel.
If we can absorb his language, the cautious metaphor of bread of life, the analogy of blood and wine, we can absorb his message wholly and live as he lived, as a participating part of God's creation. Amen
A sermon preached Aug. 19, 2018 at St. Paul's Episcopal Church, Poughkeepsie NY by The Rev. Tyler Jones, Rector