We’re talking a lot about climate change and the changes required of us in these days. The 9:15 adult education sessions are crowded with people who have been braving the snow and the cold and whatever it is that we are getting today in order to be a part of these conversations.
But let me begin with a confession.
I haven’t given a lot of attention to nature and creation and climate in my preaching and teaching, in my pastoral conversations, in my reading and my prayer and worship life. I’m discovering the centuries-long tradition of people of faith thinking about the care of creation and taking action to be stewards of this earth. I’m seeing the enormous body of worship materials that have been developed in recent years to help congregations sing about and pray about our calling to tend this earth, our home.
Unlike others in our congregation, I’m only beginning to get up to speed on all of this. I confess that I am behind the curve and feeling somewhat overwhelmed by all that I don’t know. My thinking, my preaching is incomplete, partial, rough, unsophisticated—and searching.
So I start where I am—and in a sense where all of us are this morning—emerging after a week of extreme temperatures.
116 degrees Fahrenheit—that was the temperature this past week in Adelaide, Australia, a record for that nation as it endures a summer of heat, drought, and wildfires.
Here in Iowa City we were part of the record cold brought on by the splitting of the polar vortex. You know what it was like: schools and businesses closed, cancelations were rampant, individual and community lives were disrupted across the country, and many deaths have been attributed to the bitter cold, including that of UI student, Gerald Belz, who was found unresponsive just a short walk from here.
In that face of all of this, the president blithely tweeted: “What is going on with Global Warming? Please come back fast, we need you!”
In addition to showing callousness in the face of a natural disaster affecting millions, he showed a pointed lack of understanding of the science of climate change. The heating of our planet is what caused the polar vortex to split, sending the deadly cold our way. Warmer temperatures worldwide will lead to more frequent record snow storms and cold conditions. We do not—repeat—we do not need global warming to come back fast. It never went away, even in the bitter cold. Because of the changing climate, winters will be shorter—and also more brutal.
As irritating as the president’s tweet was, it also pointed to a disturbing reality—an inconvenient truth, it you will. Although as human beings we are a part of the natural world, we are cut off from nature, we don’t understand this earth, how it works, and our relationship to it.
Our alienation from nature is understandable. We know that the natural world is filled with danger and death—we saw that again this past week. So we seek to tame it, to control it. To get biblical about it, we seek to have dominion over this world.
But our efforts fail because we forget the central reality: this world was not made for simply human beings, who have been around for only a tiny fragment of the earth’s five-billion-year history.
Job has a handle on this. Reflecting on his suffering, he questions the “wisdom” of his friends. He calls all of creation as his authorities—the birds of the air, the plants of the earth, the fish of the sea. They will tell all who will listen that not only the breath of every human being but also the life of every living thing are held in the care of God.
Every living thing.
Such an insight, such a faith is echoed in the words of the psalm that we read this morning. This hymn of praise to the God who creates and sustains all things sets human life in a much larger context.
In reflecting on this psalm, Bill McKibben—the environmental activist and United Methodist Sunday school teacher who has been a major theological voice for the care of creation—reminds us of the radical and always troubling reality that we human beings are not the center of all things on earth: “We are part of the whole order of creation—simply a part.”
Recall those words of the Psalm (Psalm 104) that we shared:
The trees of the LORD are full of sap,
the cedars of Lebanon which the LORD planted,
in which the birds build their nests,
and in whose tops the stork makes its dwelling.
The high hills are a refuge for the mountain goats,
and the stony cliffs for the rock badgers.
It is not, as McKibben points out, “The mountain goats live in the high hills.” The high hills are for the wild goats—that is their purpose.
It is not, “The rock badgers seek refuge in the stony cliffs.” The stony cliffs are a refuge for the rock badgers—that is their purpose.
This creation is for all living things, not just human beings.
And when we look at the great and wide sea with living things too great to number—far beyond the knowledge of needs of human beings—we see “that Leviathan, which God made for the sport of it.” Whales—just for the pure delight of God! McKibben concludes: “Those who make fun of the ‘save the whales’ crowd make fun of God—they substitute their judgment as to what’s important for God’s.”[i]
We are part of something grand and glorious—but only a part.
Our task in these crucial years in the earth’s history is to see the larger picture and our place in it.
Our task in these crucial years is to fall in love with this creation, and to do all that we can to protect something so beloved.
How do we start?
Perhaps by taking our place among the storks and the mountain goats and the rock badgers and the whales as those in whom God finds delight and for whom God cares.
As is often the case, the psalmist helps, reminding us that when things grow, “the earth—the whole earth—is fully satisfied by the fruit of God’s works.”
Plants bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden human hearts,
oil to make a cheerful countenance,
and bread to strengthen the heart.
We sit at tables find the fruits of God’s work and the fruits of human work. God’s gifts of grapes and grain are, by human actions turned into wine for gladness and bread for strength. When we eat and drink we are connected with those who prepared the food, those who processed the food, those who grew the food, and the earth that produced the food.
In addition, eating and drinking connects us with one another.
That is the complaint made by some against Jesus, isn’t it? “Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.” His companions are those on the margins of society, people whose attitudes and actions have separated them from others and from God—that is, people like you and me, people who sense our separation, who sense that all is not right in ourselves and in the world.
Joining that company might just be the beginning of wisdom. Jesus knew the Jewish understanding that by Wisdom God created and sustained the world. In saying: “Wisdom is vindicated by all her children,” Jesus tells us that Wisdom’s true potential is shown when the widest range of people is brought into her family and gathers at her table. The boundary lines are redrawn. Jesus brings the outsiders inside and in doing so gives us hope. Even people like you and me might yet gain new wisdom and insight for addressing disaster we are bringing upon this earth.
Jesus sits with anyone and everyone, and says: “Take, eat, drink.” In simple daily acts such as eating and drinking, Jesus, like the psalmist, announces God’s pleasure with all creation. Jesus announces God’s care for all creation.
When we eat and drink we remember that the Creator God made known in Jesus is our friend, the one who desires our well-being and delight—and not ours alone, but the well-being and delight of all people and indeed of all creation. Whenever we eat and drink, we can see ourselves as belonging to the earth as a part of the earth.
We ventured out this morning to gather once more in the warmth of this community—and we recognize that even in sorrow and adversity, there is a particular joy that we find as we come together in this place in this community that is always made up of both friends and strangers.
And what have we found here?
Bread for strength and the fruit of the vine for gladness.
We find in this place a table that in a small and particular way holds all of the gifts of God.
We find in this place a meal that in a small and particular way ends our separation from God and one another and also reconnects us with all creation.
We find in this place food and drink that in a small and particular way offer the nourishment and joy needed that we might once again love our neighbors as ourselves and love this great and fruitful planet which we have so threatened.
This food and drink and meal and table connect tell a particular story of the way in which God is bringing about a new creation through death and resurrection. And when we tell this story in this way, we are brought back into a right relationship with all people who gather to eat at all tables and with all living things that are fed by the care of God.
We who eat and drink here are drawn into a renewed relationship of love with this creation.
Last week, by coincidence—I guess, I guess it was a coincidence—I read about the charge that is given to the congregation at the end of worship at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Adelaide, South Australia. Adelaide, you will remember, is the city where the temperature reached 116 degrees last week, where the heat has been so extreme. The people are sent into the word with the words: “Wherever you look, wherever you walk, Christ is there. Celebrate the Christ who fills our creation!”
Even in the extremes of sweltering heat or bitter cold, let us recover our place as a part of God’s good creation and love this earth—and in doing so, celebrate the Christ who fills our creation and offers us food and drink at the table.
[i] Bill McKibben, The Comforting Whirlwind, 2005, pg. 28-29.