Testing the Lord

Rev. Cheryl Pyrch of (PA IPL member) Summit Presbyterian Church graciously shared her sermon from the 2013 National Preach-In on Climate Change.  For the non-Presbyterians out there wondering how she chose this reading from the many, many possibilities: many liturgically-based Protestant Christian denominations use the Revised Common Lectionary, a three-year schedule of Bible readings that specifies the texts that will be preached on a particular Sunday.  If your time is short today, skip to the last 3 paragraphs.  I have no doubt that you’ll come back for the rest.

Testing the Lord
Luke 4: 1-12

         I wonder what the devil thought, as he watched Jesus being baptized.  Now, we don’t know that he was there  – none of the gospel writers mention him  – but if he wasn’t, surely he had an informant. An informant who told him about this man from Nazareth who had the Holy Spirit descend on him like a dove.  About the voice from heaven that said, “You are my son, the Beloved, with you I am well pleased.”  Was the devil jealous, or did he just realize Jesus would be a really big catch?  Either way, during those forty days in the wilderness  the devil did his best to tempt Jesus into disobedience.  To undermine that father/son relationship.   To perhaps make Jesus a little less beloved.  We aren’t told about all the tricks he used in those forty days, but at the end of them he made three final offers.

         “Since you are the Son of God, turn this stone into bread.”  It must have been tempting.  Jesus was famished.  But he remembered  scripture, and he knew that he didn’t receive the  power of the Holy Spirit to satisfy his own needs.  So he replied, “it is written, one does not live by bread alone.”

         Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world.  “To you I will give their glory and authority; it will all be yours, if you worship me.”  It must have been tempting.  Jesus could do a lot of good as ruler of the world’s kingdoms.  But he knew that to worship the devil he’d need to disown his true parent.  So he replied, “It is written, worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”

         Finally, the devil took Jesus to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you,” and “on their hands they will bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”  Jesus must have been tempted.  He wouldn’t get hurt — the scriptures said so. That  would shut the devil up.  But Jesus knew that putting God to the test, making God “prove” his love, was no way to treat his father. So he replied, “it is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”  And then the devil departed from him until an opportune time.

         In climate change activist circles over the past few years there’s been a lot of discussion about how to “message” climate change.  The message that scientists are giving us is straightforward:  if we continue with business as usual, if we don’t turn from fossil fuels, we’re toast.  The rising seas will wipe out the world’s major port cities.  Droughts and floods will kill crops.  We can expect large-scale famine, especially in Africa.   One third of all plant and animal species could be wiped out as eco-systems collapse, our oceans acid wastelands.  Studies and predictions differ on the details.  There’s uncertainty about the future, and a lot depends on what we do or don’t do.  But most agree:  climate change could wipe out the human race completely.    It probably won’t come to that — glaciologist Edward Alley calls human beings the greatest weed on the planet — but it could.  More likely, our civilizations –  – organized communal life on a large scale – will come crashing down.   And we have very little time to prevent catastrophe.  We’ve already put into motion change that we can’t yet see.  When disaster is clearly upon us it may be too late.  And those are cautious, sober scientists speaking.

         But that message hasn’t gotten a lot of traction.  (Much like the nuclear threat).   Although things are beginning to change, Obama is talking about it, our national leaders act like there’s no danger.  The candidates were never asked about it during the election.  Everyone “agrees” there’s no way a climate bill will be passed by this congress.  But it’s not just politicians.   Even those of us who believe the climate is changing don’t talk about it much, or go beyond changing lightbulbs.  There are exceptions, of course, including the thousands marching on Washington today.  But still, especially in the United States, we aren’t acting in a way commensurate to the threat.  Stephen Colbert had a very funny spot this past week.  He noted that certain pundits who’ve been denying the reality of climate change were beginning to acknowledge it, but in the same breath  saying there’s nothing we can do about it — blaming China, everyone’s favorite scapegoat.   As Colbert put it, they went through the 5 stages of climate change grief:  Denial, denial, denial, denial, acceptance.  I think that’s hilarious, but we have to admit it doesn’t just apply to conservatives.  Most of us, in actions if not words, seesaw between denial and acceptance. 
         There are many reasons for our passivity.  A well funded disinformation campaign that says there’s no danger.  Paralyzing fear.  Other ministries, causes and responsibilities.   Well-founded suspicion of change.   Scientific illiteracy and the still rather abstract and future nature of the threat. .  .   But I also believe we’re listening to the devil quoting scripture in our ear; the wily serpent who says, “God will command his angels concerning you.  God won’t let humankind destroy itself. God will deliver mankind from the snare of the fowler, the deadly pestilence.  God will protect you and your descendants, and show God’s salvation.  God  promised never to send a flood upon the earth again.  Christ will come in clouds of glory.  Have faith.  Those prophets of doom are alarmists.”   

         In other words, we’re putting the Lord our God to the test.  We’re putting the Lord our God to the test with every thoughtless turning of the key in the ignition, and with every shrug of our shoulders when we hear about the melting arctic ice or drought in the Sahel.   It may be that God will protect us from extinction, and I believe we can trust in God’s love and a future with hope.  But stepping to the edge of the parapet and leaning over isn’t faith.  It’s no way to treat our heavenly father.  It’s no way to treat our divine mother, the giver of life and creator of the earth and the stars.  We’re called to love God, not to test him.  
         Our first scripture today, although dated in  specifics, tells us how to love.   By taking care of the land, this earth that God has given us to live on, and by caring for all God’s people upon it.   By giving thanks.  By standing with the alien among us.  By remembering the poor, the oppressed, the refugee — as God remembered our ancestors in Egypt.  So let’s follow the example of Jesus.  Let’s take ourselves off the pinnacle.  Let’s  repent from our self-destructive ways and raise our voices together.   Let’s renounce evil and its power in the world, and love God with all our heart, and mind and strength, loving our neighbors as ourselves.  Let’s fight climate change.
Rev. Cheryl Pyrch
Summit Presbyterian Church
Luke 4: 1-12
February 17, 2012