I’ve been thinking a lot about the climate crisis lately. The pictures I saw of roads with which I am very familiar in Philadelphia, completely underwater after the remnants of Hurricane Ida, were shocking to me. More horrifying by far were the accounts of people who drowned in their basement apartments in New York because the water levels just rose so fast, and the force of the water against their doors prevented them from getting out. And of course, the devastation where the hurricane made landfall on the Gulf Coast is hard to imagine. While scientists cannot say that storms like Ida are necessarily caused by the warming of the planet, they are pretty well agreed that the effects of these storms are far worse because of it – coming more frequently and developing more quickly because of warming ocean water temperatures, and bringing more flooding in our area because, in case you haven’t noticed, the atmosphere and the ground have both been pretty soggy lately.
I’ve been thinking a lot about the climate crisis lately, too, because on Tuesday this week, Pope Francis, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and the head of the Eastern Orthodox Church issued a press release about climate change. In it, they urged Christians to pray for world leaders preparing to attend the United Nations Climate Change Conference this November; to make meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the planet, taking responsibility for how we use our resources; and to lead in the transition to just and sustainable economies, because it’s not a coincidence that the poorest people are those who are the most adversely affected by climate change. The statement asserts that this is a critical moment – that our children’s future and the future of the earth depend upon the choices we make today.
It was the phrase, “make meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the planet,” that jumped off the page at me this week since I was already thinking about Jesus’ words in today’s gospel: “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” I never before would have associated Jesus’ words with our care of the planet. And yet, it seems to me that the meaningful sacrifices that are required of us as creatures of this earth do include denying self and taking up the cross.
Denying self means, at least in part, thinking less about our own comfort and more about the welfare of others. And if we’re going to take care of the beautiful planet that God has given to us, it might mean living more simply so that others may simply live. It might mean sacrificing some of the comforts to which we have become accustomed – anything from turning down the thermostat another few degrees this winter or buying a more fuel efficient car or drinking tap water instead of bottled. I don’t think that denying self means we are supposed to be miserable. But I do think it means being aware of the consequences of the daily actions that we don’t even think about and being willing to be a little uncomfortable for the sake of the planet.
And taking up the cross means following Jesus: caring for the most vulnerable, lifting up those who are bowed down, and making life-giving choices for the sake of the world.
I cannot tell you what denying yourself and taking up your cross means for you in your life. That’s a conversation that each of us needs to have with our maker. And yet, at the same time, I know how helpful concrete suggestions can be. That’s why I’m making available to you via email a resource called Stewardship of Creation: A Thirty Day Discipline, which was created at the Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. I do have a few print copies to share with you, but in the goal of good stewardship of resources, I’m going to ask that as many of you as can to access this resource through your email. I’ll be sending out an email with a daily devotion Sunday through Thursday (skipping Friday and Saturday since you already get regular emails from the church on those days and I don’t want to overwhelm you). Each day’s reading begins with scripture, shares facts about creation care topics, suggests both immediate and long term commitments that you might consider making as you figure out what it means for you to make meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the planet, and finally ends with a prayer. If you’re using the print booklet, you can read as many as you like, but if you want to stay in sync with those who are getting the devotions by email, you should do five each week.
Let me anticipate some of your objections to this work of creation care: it’s political, and shouldn’t be talked about at church. But here’s where I would say that all people of all political stripes ought to care about the future of our planet. We may disagree about what to do about the problem, but if ever there was ever an issue that everyone ought to be able to get behind, it’s our care of the environment. And as people of faith, who are called by God from the very beginning to be caretakers of the earth and all its creatures.
Another objection you might have is this: it’s too big a problem for us to make a difference. No one of us can save the planet. You’re absolutely right. But we’re not called to act alone. As the prophet Isaiah wrote, “Let us stand up together.” God has given us one another so that together, we might do God’s work in this world, including the work of caring for creation and the most vulnerable of earth’s creatures.
I also anticipate that, somewhere deep within your hearts, you are afraid that, in spite of your best intentions, you won’t be able to make good choices. I know that’s what I fear. We will all, at times, lack the will or the means or the strength to be as green as we might be. But here’s where I remind you that, while we might lack will and means and strength, our Savior lacks nothing. Jesus had the will to save us. He had the means, freely giving himself as a gift of love. And he definitely had the strength to suffer, and the strength to prevail against even death. This same Savior is the one who will love us for our efforts to follow in his footsteps in caring for the earth, will forgive us when we fail, will lift us up to try again, and will change us so that neither we, nor the earth, will ever be the same.
Reflection Question: Before you even read any of the emails that will be coming your way, can you think of any are of your life where you might be thinking about making a small change to help in this big task?