Sermon “Climate Change: getting to hope”
The Reverend Dr. Dorothy A. Jeffery July 28, 2019 Psalm 107
Can you hear it in the music? Today's and ancient song, for that is what the psalm is A song - you can tell by the refrain. Can you hear it in the music love for creation… fear of and for creation …. Hubris (pride) … trust in God and hope? It is all there if you can feel it. It is why the ancients sang. It is why we sing. The psalms are the most emotion laden part of the bible and emotions don’t change. Theology may change.
The psalm was written from a theology of a judging God who intervenes to save those who he favours and punish those who he does not. Today, at least in the UC of Canada, the predominant theology is a God who loves and intervenes mostly through inspiring us to take right actions guided by our reflection on God’s will and our evolving understanding of the world God created.
Psalm 107 was undoubtedly a processional song evidenced by the repeated refrain “they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; followed by a response from God differing with each repetition of the refrain. Then a call to give thanks ##V. 8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind”. //
The psalm is inclusive, addressed to all people (from east and west, north and south). In its original form it was understood to address the scattered (exiled people of Israel). EXILE and RETURN (redemption) is a significant theme of the bible. Some scholars of the psalm suggest the origin may be in the EXODUS from Egypt story, also very formative in Jewish theology. The scenes in the psalm could fit that story also. Could the story be Exodus from Egypt (pre-exilic) or return from exile from Babylon (post- exilic)? Either is plausible.
The very fact that the psalm may have at least two foundational stories opens the psalm to contemporary contexts and situations. If we change the “they” to “we”, we can better see and feel ourselves in the struggles. // One of the ways we are exiled or are coming into exile today is through Climate Change. We know it is happening – here, the last two years of record wild fires in BC. This year, wild fires and heat waves in Ontario and in Europe (esp. Portugal). Three times normal melting Greenland surface ice sheets just last week (Wed, Thursday July 31, Aug 1, 2019). Melting of permafrost in the north (warming twice as fast in than the rest of the world – a global phenomenon effecting Northern Canada more because of our northern exposure), Sea-level rise and storm surges in low lying islands and coastal countries. Dykes built up and still breeched in storms. Fields rendered useless by salination.
Some people in the world are already EXILED (and becoming climate refugees). The effects disproportionately burden the poor who do not have the means to move, or remediate their homelands. Their lives depend on close association with the land and water for crops and for food. The rich (and that is most us in Canada) have more wealth to protect ourselves from the effects of climate change. But do we have the will to take measures to combat and possibly reverse Climate Change? Have no doubt it will be expensive and will require changes in our lifestyles – uncomfortable but not at this stage for us, life and livelihood destroying. // Four scenes are given in the psalm (four stanzas).
#1 **V. 6 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress; V. 7 he led them by a straight way, until they reached an inhabited town. ##V. 8 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. V. 9 For he satisfies the thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things. God’s response – leading the people to a place where they can live, and providing for the poor.
#2 **V. 13 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; V. 14 he brought them out of darkness and gloom, and broke their bonds asunder. ##V. 15 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. God’s response - free prisoners. These first two scenes sound very much like the theme of Jesus’s ministry expressed in Luke 4:18-19. Luk 4:15 [Jesus] He began to teach in their synagogues and was praised by everyone. Luk 4:16 When he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, as was his custom. He stood up to read, Luk 4:17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written: Luk 4:18 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because [The Lord] he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, Luk 4:19 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."
#3 V. 17 Some were sick through their sinful ways, and because of their iniquities endured affliction; V. 18 they loathed any kind of food, and they drew near to the gates of death. **V. 19 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he saved them from their distress; V. 20 he sent out his word and healed them, and delivered them from destruction. ##V. 21 Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love, for his wonderful works to humankind. God’s response to those who were terminally ill … healing. You may also note the old theology pre-scientific that illness was a direct result of “sin”
#4 V. 23 Some went down to the sea in ships, doing business on the mighty waters; V. 24 they saw the deeds of the LORD, his wondrous works in the deep. V. 25 For [God] commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea. V. 26 They mounted up to heaven, they went down to the depths; their courage melted away in their calamity; V. 27 they reeled and staggered like drunkards, and were at their wits' end. **V. 28 Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress; V. 29 he made the storm be still, and the waves of the sea were hushed. V. 30 Then they were glad because they had quiet, and he brought them to their desired haven. T
his section (the fourth) aptly describes world globalization of commerce we see today by sea with the attendant risks. Storms at sea, courage fading. The peoples’ response to God’s rescue to a desired place is now gladness. The redeemed are brought to praise. // The form of the psalm shifts from call for aid, and response and thanksgiving, to a wisdom poem, There is a strange reversal here, not the way we expect God to act. V. 33 He turns rivers into a desert, springs of water into thirsty ground, V. 34 a fruitful land into a salty waste, because of the wickedness of its inhabitants.
Next in the psalm we see reversal to what we more likely expect from God. Here a return to the theme of God’s preferential option for the poor with a clearly agrarian and “care for the earth” scenario. Is this our direction for today? V. 35 He turns a desert into pools of water, a parched land into springs of water. V. 36 And there he lets the hungry live, and they establish a town to live in; V. 37 **they sow fields, and plant vineyards, and get a fruitful yield. The people take action** V. 38 By his blessing they multiply greatly, and he does not let their cattle decrease. V. 39 When they are diminished and brought low through oppression, trouble, and sorrow, … V. 41 he raises up the needy out of distress, and makes their families like flocks. V. 40 he pours contempt on princes and makes them wander in trackless wastes;
God punishes the wicked naming them as the leaders (princes). Sounds pretty contemporary - blaming the government. Who are the princes – whose government? Or are we in the global west the princes (rich, oppressors of the former named ‘third world)? God guides us to choose our princes carefully with wisdom. With the coming Federal election we have important and thoughtful choices to make. The well-known Canadian environmentalist David Suzuki recently (June 2019) said ordinary Canadian can have their biggest impact on Climate Change now by asking every candidate and party whether Climate Change is the #1 issue, then listening carefully for cogent, logical and practical responses. About 15 years ago when I started to connect faith and ecology in my ministry I encouraged individual actions. I expect that most of you are already making individual efforts to abate climate change and its consequences.
Continue your individual efforts but impending climate crisis needs action at a wider level. The saying “think globally, act locally” needs to be revised to think globally, act at least nationally. Actions are important. Actions can help an individual feel more empowered, and doing something together with others (like at the local church or community level) is a basic route to empowerment. Many assume that a psychology of climate solutions would be about what each of us as individuals can do separately. Many assume we only get better one by one. BUT individual solutions are not sufficient to solve climate issue alone. Individual and small group actions do build stronger “from the bottom-up” support for policies and solutions that can have a national and global impact.
Our personal impact on others is much more valuable in giving momentum to the change of society than the number of [kilograms] of CO2 each action generates or reduces. It works like rings in water - if I see someone else that I respect taking action, then I want to act also. Enthusiasm is contagious. That is why engaging with other people is crucial. So today I am inviting you to engage this issue together in your church and community and country. In a June post on the CBC “What on Earth”series we are urged to take more commercial and political action right away to ensure safety for society, and secure our health. The predicted result: amazing opportunities for jobs and better lives that come with the shifts into clean energy, away from fossil fuel dependence. // The psalm was written from a theology of total trust in God to save the people. God did all the work. I repeat myself here. Today, at least in the UC of Canada, the predominant theology is a God who intervenes mostly through inspiring us to take right actions guided by our reflection on God’s will and our evolving understanding of the world God created. This theology is always linked with a call to action. The call – Care for the earth itself so it can care for us. Pay attention to the basic necessities of life – food, shelter and a safe place to live. Turn away from oppression that comes from greed and over consumption.
The psalm says God’s intervention is for those who are righteous V. 42 The upright see it and are glad; and all wickedness stops its mouth. Perhaps as we approach the October Federal election we will listen for what is right; and angry, greedy and evil words will not be heard by us. I have no doubt they will be spoken. Our task is to make the effort to “see” what is right for the most people and for all of God’s creation. It is our task, God does not do it without us, but as Augustine said we cannot do it without God. // I titled my sermon “Climate Change: getting to hope”, yet this psalm does not use the word “HOPE. We are living in a world of corporate and social sin. In the chapter on “Sin and Salvation” in his book “The Heart of Christianity”, the late Marcus Borg not only defines ‘sin’ more broadly than many of us might have thought, but also offers hope (redemption) in many forms.
Christianity is often described as a religion of HOPE given to us through Jesus. Hope is what we already know about Jesus and his mission – working together, to help the last and the least. There are so many familiar stories where Jesus offers hope, healing and redemption. I will not name them here. I expect you each have favourite ones. [pause]. Examples of salvation from Borg liberation for captives, return from exile, resurrection from the “land of the dead” (depression and isolation), knowing God, being made right with God (justified). Jesus as liberator has its metaphorical home in the Exodus story, Jesus sets captives free. Jesus as “the Way” has its metaphorical home in the exile story, Jesus life, death and resurrection embodies a way of return.
Both these foundational stories are in the psalm we have dwelt on today. What happened in the past -gathering exiles guiding people through desert- the wise know God will do the same in the future. In the coming years as deserts take over more arable land and global water shortage progress, the promise of God coming to save the lost ones in the desert will take on more poignancy and immediacy for everyone, not just exiles. // I have so far emphasized the psalms as songs needing to be sung, but we can also experience the psalms as prayers of the people. And this is where we find hope for according to writers of “Earth Prayers” collection “All prayer is ultimately an act of hope” … Hope empowers our intention and gives character to our action.”
Will you pray with me? “God give us vision, and will and wisdom to care for Your earth and all your earthly creation. May we live with the model of Your Son who walked on this earth with compassion and love even in the face of struggles and challenges. May we share Your gifts with all, for that is Your will for justice in this world You love.