1000 Teachings sermon: Urgency

This sermon was given by The Rev. Rebecca S. Myers, LSW, at The Church of the Nativity and St. Stephen’s, Newport, PA, on January 21, 2018, the third Sunday after the Epiphany, Year B (lectionary page) and is part of the 1000 Teachings #EachGeneration movement, and we’re delighted that she has shared it with all of us.

Audio version of the sermon.

And immediately they left their nets and followed him. Mark 1:18

Earlier this week, The New York Times reported that 2017 was one of the warmest years on record since weather records have been kept, which began in 1880. Kay Cramer also sent the Environmental Stewardship Committee a link to a carbon calculator and I once again calculated my carbon footprint.

I have been trying to reduce my personal carbon footprint over the past few years. I drive a pretty fuel efficient vehicle and often walk to the church rather than drive. I love to hang my clothes out to dry when the weather is conducive to do so. I choose sustainable electricity through PA PowerSwitch. If offered, I choose carbon offsets when I fly or take the train. And last summer, I installed a heating/cooling system similar to what we have here in the church. The new system runs on electricity, which in my case is using a sustainable electricity source. My fuel oil furnace is a backup when it’s especially cold.

So, while I’ve personally reduced my carbon footprint, it turns out it’s still 17.30 metric tons. What’s known as our secondary carbon footprint is the highest part of my footprint at 6.07 metric tons. This is carbon created when I use banks for credit card payments or buy clothing and shoes, use my cell phone or buy electronic equipment.

Next comes my car at 5.56 metric tons for nearly 21,000 miles during the year. Finally, comes my home at 5.51 metric tons, mostly from my oil furnace. My 17.30 metric tons of carbon is nearly one ton more than the average for a person in the United States and it is over 14 metric tons greater than the average for a person in the world! The amount I should try to be at is 2 metric tons per year in order to combat climate change!

I do have urgency around addressing climate change and doing my part.

In our Gospel today we hear more about how Jesus called his disciples. What struck me as I read this passage is that when Jesus asked a person to follow him, according to Mark, they IMMEDIATELY followed him. They dropped whatever they were doing and followed him.

They didn’t run a background check on Jesus, first. They didn’t gather their advisers together and discuss whether they should follow Jesus or not. They didn’t find their job replacement. They didn’t check it out with the government or religious authorities of their time… they just stopped their lives and followed him.

Somehow they knew that being in the presence of this man from Nazareth was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. Somehow they knew that following Jesus was necessary for life, not only for themselves, but also for those around them. Maybe they didn’t fully understand all of this, but they knew that following Jesus was the most important action they could take in their lives.

There was an urgency about being with Jesus…about being in his presence. God had come into the world and the most important thing was to follow him…to be near him.

This past week, I learned about some young people who live in that same urgency of those long ago disciples. They live in urgency about continued human life on this planet that God has created for us; this earth that has everything we need for our lives.

In 2015, these 21 young people who are now ages 10-21, filed a lawsuit against the government of the United States. They charged that the government’s failure to address climate change robbed them of their future. The lawsuit states that this group of young people:

…represent the youngest living generation, beneficiaries of the public trust. Youth Plaintiffs have a substantial, direct, and immediate interest in protecting the atmosphere, other vital natural resources, their quality of life, their property interests, and their liberties. They also have an interest in ensuring that the climate system remains stable enough to secure their constitutional rights to life, liberty, and property, rights that depend on a livable future. A livable future includes the opportunity to drink clean water, to grow food, to be free from direct and imminent property damage caused by extreme weather events, to benefit from the use of property, and to enjoy the abundant and rich biodiversity of our nation. Pg 40 No. 96

By 2100, these Youth Plaintiffs (many of whom should still be alive), and future generations, would live with a climate system that is no longer conducive to their survival. No. 97

These young people are urgently trying to save our home. They are not waiting around to see what happens next. They are taking action immediately.

And lest you think that only the young are fearful of losing their future, another article I read recently reported on a study that showed that day-to-day increases in air pollution, even at what are considered acceptable levels, cause the deaths of approximately 20,000 people who are elderly each year…that is more deaths than caused by HIV/AIDS.

As disciples of Jesus Christ, we understand urgency. We understand immediacy. Let us join these young people in protecting and preserving the wonderful world God has created for us.


Rev. Rebecca includes the following links with her sermon on the Church of the Nativity and St. Stephens website


Praying with the Adorers #CovenantWithTheFuture

We pray for the earth as our sisters, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, go to court to protect it. We pray in the words of St. Hildegard who reminds us:

The earth is at the same time mother,
she is mother of all that is natural,
mother of all that is human,
she is mother of all,
for contained in her
are the seeds of all.

We pray for strength, courage and peace for our sisters, the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, protesting the fossil-fuel industry’s stealing of their land for immoral gains.
And we pray that we may follow their example may increase our own passion to protect the earth. We pray in the words of St. Hildegard who knew:

Everything that is in the heavens, on earth, and under the earth
is penetrated with connectedness,
penetrated with relatedness.
We shall awaken from our dullness
and rise vigorously toward justice.
If we fall in love with creation
deeper and deeper,
we will respond to its endangerment
with passion.

Anne McCarthy, osb
Jan. 18, 2017
Benedictines for Peace

Many of you know that the Adorers of the Blood of Christ, a community in rural Lancaster County, PA, has been resisting the seizure of their land by eminent domain for a pipeline to transport fracked gas to processing and export terminals.  They’re fighting the seizure of their land on religious freedom grounds, pointing to their long commitment to care for the Earth and all who live there as one of the primary reasons they own the land at all.

In the spring of 2017, the Adorers dedicated an interfaith chapel on the edge of a cornfield on their land, which has been used actively by the Adorers themselves, and by many other religious gatherings and groups since spring/summer 2017.  The Adorers are supported by Lancaster Against Pipelines which is led by a Mennonite clergyperson, Malinda Clatterbuck.  There are lots of national and international news pieces about their objections and commitment to care of our Common Home.

Tomorrow, Friday, January 19, 2018, they will be heard in Federal Court in Philadelphia. While many people will go to support them in person, we also want to assist the much broader community of support. With that in mind, we have gathered prayers generously shared with us by women religious across Pennsylvania. The prayers include Franciscans, Benedictines, Sisters of Mercy, Sisters of the Immaculate Heart of Mary.

We invite you to use these prayers, and to offer your own, sharing them on our Facebook page as you are so moved. If you do share prayers on social media, please use the hashtag #CovenantWithTheFuture, which will help savvy people connect to a full list of the prayers and intentions. We will share the attached prayers throughout the day. Please watch for them and share and reshare on your own pages.

Join the many, many people supporting the Adorers by sharing these prayers and your own. May they be a door through which we can lend our support in Spirit, whether or not we can be present in body.

*The hashtag, #CovenantWithTheFuture comes from the PA IPL Board Resolution calling for no new fossil fuel infrastructure, which refers to infrastructure as a “covenant with the future.”

One thousand teachings. Join us.

Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light invites faith communities from every tradition to join us in support of an effort to preach 1000 sermons, teach 1000 teachings, or ponder and pray on 1000 studies — all focused on the enormous impacts our climate choices will have on the rising generation.

Will your faith community contribute a sermon, study, or teaching?  With 67 counties in Pennsylvania, it would take just over three sermons, teachings, or studies per county would allow us to contribute 210 to the 1000, in honor of the 21 young people. Will you help?

Learn more, including supports and a one-pager to share.


Reflection on Hope

Offered by Harrisburg PA IPL chair, Rachel Mark, and member congregation Unitarian Church of Harrisburg, 12/31/17

On the subject of hope, I pondered what I thought about it and how I personally relate to it. If you know me, then you would assume I was going to make a climate change connection. But everyone has heard that before. So I thought about how hope ties in to world peace, how hope relates to equality, and how it relates to any number of social justice issues. However, for me hope is deeply connected, not just with aspiration, but with action. So yes I did indeed come back to climate change.

On October 16, when I traveled to the small Susquehanna River town of Columbia in Lancaster County, with intrepid UCH member Barbara Van Horn [photo and article], I did not have a preconceived notion of what I intended to do that day. I only knew I wanted to be present with a group of people who over the course of several weeks, had inspired me with their stories, their vision and their determination. As we gathered that morning and listened to instructions, options, and possible consequences of civil disobedience, it became clear to me that I needed to stand with those in the “no trespass zone”, in the way of pipeline construction, and to risk arrest.

I felt a deep resolve to stand in support of new and old friends, who were committed to taking action against an injustice to their land and neighbors, an injustice to their children, an injustice to the climate. With this community, I have now shared a prison cell, sang songs, stood in the rain, and froze our butts, all of which has restored my energy and hope. I have discovered that where there is resolve, where there are still options and choices to be made, there is hope.

Active hope, in community with others, seems to me the healthiest and perhaps only sane way to live in the face of an uncertain and daunting future. Daunting, not just in terms of climate change, but in terms of our democracy and civilization.

Several days ago in my email box, there was a short message written by a writer familiar to many UU’s. Rebecca Solnit is an American writer whose book A Paradise Built in Hell was read by many UU circles. The email message read:

Dear Rachel,

It’s a race. And you’re in it; it’s your race too, to win or lose.

A race between the increasingly ominous news about how the climate is changing and the extraordinary measures being taken to slow that change and transform our society. That’s one of the challenges of this moment: to feel the despair and the hope, both, together. And then to choose hope.

Hope doesn’t mean pretending that climate change doesn’t exist or that we can erase it. It means we can fight for the best outcome instead of settle for the worst.

Leonard Higgins, a Unitarian Universalist from Oregon, has been convicted and faces sentencing for his involvement in pipeline action. Leonard was one of five activists, so-called Valve Turners, who turned the valves on pipelines in four northwestern states, and halted the flow of petroleum for one day. Leonard faces a prison term of up to ten years.

About hope, I think I most resonate with Emily, another one of the five valve turners. She says, “to be honest, I’m not sure what I hope for, except that humans can be as loving and sane and brave as possible in the coming decades—to each other, to the world. I look into the future, sometimes to think about how life might start to reestablish something like the abundance and magic that’s here now. “

Hope is the opposite of resignation, of giving up. It is about resolve, about looking for those actions that work to bring about our vision.

To further quote Rebecca Solnit in her book Hope in the Dark:

“Hope means another world might be possible, not promised, not guaranteed. Hope calls for action. To hope is to give yourself to the future. Anything could happen and whether we act or not has everything to do with it. I want to start over, with an imagination adequate to the possibilities, the strangeness and the dangers on this earth in this moment.”

As long as there are visions, options, and further actions to be done, there is room for action—and hope.

—Rachel Mark

More about the site and history of the pipeline protests in rural Lancaster County here. The Adorers of the Blood of Christ have been leaders, as have Lancaster Against Pipelines, which is led by a Mennonite clergyperson.

Rachel appears in a photo at the Day 5 verse (that’s the Golden Rings one) of a fun 12 Days of Christmas rewrite by Lancaster Against Pipelines.

A Solstice Story

Whenever we feel pessimistic
concerning the future of humanity
upon this troubled planet,
we can always remember this:
that with all their fears and failings,
human beings have yet somehow managed
to put the brightest of their festivals
in the darkest part of the year.

When it is darkest, we celebrate the light.   [A. Powell Davies, adapted]

Rev. Alison Cornish writes:
In my years as a parish minister, I was struck by the longing that arises in so many people during this time of long shadows, short days, cold winds and bare trees.  A yearning for connection to the rhythms of nature, the simplicity of timeless stories, and a word of hope.  I searched long and hard for a solstice story to offer them – and finally wrote one myself.

And now I’m giving it to you.   I’m giving it in honor of all you’ve given to PA IPL across the years; in honor of your grandchildren and great-grandchildren; in honor of the other-than-human creatures amongst whom we live; I’m giving it to you for telling today and tomorrow; for honoring the mystery of the Earth which we share as our Common Home.  

Here is the story of Solstice Black Cat.

Once upon a time, long, long ago, there was a black cat.  He was a black as the bottom of a coal bin, blacker than a starless sky, a jar of India ink.  Even his eyes were black.  His name? BLACK CAT!

Black Cat lived with his People in a cottage on the edge of the forest.  It was OK, but his People were old, and they worried a lot, and they didn’t play enough for Black Cat’s taste.  They fed him, and let him sleep in all the warmest and softest places in the house.  But they didn’t venture far from home.  They didn’t explore, and they didn’t seem to be very curious about the world around them.  But Black Cat was.

Sometimes Black Cat explored far from home, following his nose, and his ears, and his very sharp eyes.  But Black Cat always made it home before the darkness of night folded itself around the little cottage.  He may have been adventurous, but he still liked to be safe and warm come nighttime.

One winter’s day, Black Cat was exploring in the woods.  It was a gray day, just right for a snowfall, and he kept moving to stay warm.  One thing led to another – chasing a squirrel led to a stream, where he found icy water to drink.  Climbing a tree led his eyes to wonder what would be over that next hill, and through that grove of trees.  On and on Black Cat explored, not noticing how early the dark came in the woods.  And then, quite suddenly, he found himself in darkness, and quite a ways from home.  Black Cat began to be a little nervous.  Thoughts of dinner flashed through his growling belly, and the cold night crept into his thick fur.  Black Cat was feeling a little scared, and alone. 

Then he saw something up ahead – a light inthe dark.  He decided to investigate, very cautiously.  As he drew closer, he saw the light came from a window in a stone cottage.  It wasn’t a steady light, but the flickering light of a fire.  As he crept up onto the windowsill to peer through the glass, he saw the most amazing sight!  The room was filled with animals, all kinds and all sizes, and they were dancing together!  The flickering light came from a great stone fireplace in the middle of the room, and around and around the animals danced, Bear with Wolf, and Squirrel with Chickadee.  “How extraordinary” thought Black Cat.  And as he thought, his tail swished from side to side.  Bear, who seemed to be in charge of things at the dance, saw the movement outside the window, and went to the door to see who was there.  Black Cat shrank into the shadows, afraid of Bear’s great size, but Bear could see him even in the dark.  “Come in,” he said, “you are welcome to join us.”  Shyly, Black Cat tiptoed into the warm, bright room, and sat in the corner to watch.  He was still in awe of what was happening – all these animals?  Together?  Dancing?  It seemed too incredible!

Bear lumbered up to Black Cat, to ask him of his origins, his home, his People.  Black Cat told about himself, and then ventured a question.  “What is all this?  Why are you all here?  Why are you dancing?”  Bear solemnly replied, “Tonight is the Winter Solstice.  It is the darkest and longest night of the year, and it is the one night when all animals come together in peace to celebrate our kinship with one another.”  Black Cat was puzzled – “Why have my people never told me of this?”  His people, he thought, knew everything.  “Well,” Bear sighed, “many people have forgotten about the celebrations of the natural world.  They are so busy in their lives with other people, that they forget the ancient rhythms of the earth and the planets.  They mean no harm, but they are forgetful.”  Black Cat felt a little sad.  This seemed such a wonderful celebration, and after a while, he joined in, dancing with Mouse and Dog, as if they had been friends for life.

As the night wore into morning, and light began to appear on the horizon, the animals started back to their homes in the forest and cottages in villages.  Black Cat didn’t want to leave – he wanted to stay with his new friends.  But Bear came to him and said, “No, you must go back to your people.  They will be worried about you by now, and they need you.  You can come again next year.” “But how will I remember,” Black Cat moaned.  “I never knew about this, and you already said people forget.  How will I know?”  Bear smiled, and told Black Cat to look in the window to see his reflection.  “Do you see something different about yourself?”  Black Cat did, for where his eyes were once as black as his coat, they now glowed as yellow as the fire in the center of the cottage.  “All you will need to do,” said Bear, “is take a look at yourself, and you will remember this night.”

And off Bear went, back to his cave to sleep off the rest of the winter.  And off trotted Black Cat, back to his people.

Some people say when we look into each other’s eyes, we see windows to the soul – perhaps, just perhaps – when we look into the eyes of animals, we see the memory of the world around us, its rhythms, darks, and lights. [Cat image credit: Jirmut Center Papyrus, Egypt]

On this, the longest night and shortest day of 2017, we wish for you the remembrance of kinship with all creatures, and the possibility of peace and joy embedded in the promise of a new day.  With you, we celebrate the returning of the light, and the persistence of hope even in the darkest season.  And we thank you for your generous support of our work through all the seasons of the year.

DONATE               To support the “persistence of hope” persistently, you might consider an automatic recurring donation.  They can be made to recur monthly or quarterly, and they provide financial stability which is vital to our planning.


Republished email, sent Nov. 21, 2017.  Get added to our mailing list!  

Thanksgiving is our shared national holy day.  It is fitting that it is rooted in gratitude —a practice that grounds all of our faith traditions.  Refocusing ourselves there can help us drink in all that is good about this time of gathering, even as we hold and seek healing for the close-in aches of illness, loneliness, or challenging relationships and wider-circle aches of wounded communities and ecosystems that can can be especially visible in contrast.  Thanksgiving is a day when these things are juxtaposed: the bounty of the harvest, the voice of an old friend or beloved, the holes where things are not whole, and the spaces where the commercial world is banging at the door to chase us from gratitude and to acquisition.*

We invite you to join PA IPL around the table this week, too.  Enjoy your food.  Eat all the leftovers.  Then also hold a few moments or hours to get out into the slanting light of November. Go slowly.  Breathe deeply — we’re breathing with you.  Feel the solid ground holding you up.  Savor one small specific moment and share it with us, via email or on our Facebook page.  Perhaps you will make something beautiful.  Perhaps you will clear a little space for a native plant to breathe.  Perhaps you will heal a small corner of a place.  Or bless the grass.  Or laugh at an active squirrel.  When you come back indoors, share the moment, however you wish to do so — a photo, a sketch, songs or poems that you sing, or read, or write, or maybe even a 6-word story.

(The photo we’ve shared here is a grand sweep rather than a small moment.  It was taken just a few weeks ago by the Rev. John Creasy, a member of our Board, on the farm he manages on a hillside directly below a water tower right in Pittsburgh —  a gift as he was working on the harvest.)

For those of you looking for prayers of harvest or thanksgiving, in a past year we gathered a good group still collected here.  Extend the season of gratitude by printing or forwarding them, and reach for a new one each day before a meal, or as you return home.  Looking for tools for conversations instead?  We collected a few of those in a previous year, too, and just today ran into this piece about a longtime skeptic changing his mind.

*Those who were able to attend our 2017 Annual Conference got a beautiful glimpse of shared practices in the work of Joanna Macy, who always begins with gratitude. A conference statement from the program book introduces one part of her work.  More is available at The Work that Reconnects and we’d be happy to connect you with one of the many talented folks in our networks who has studied with Joanna Macy to help design a workshop in your neck of the woods.  Just ask!