Rev. Alison Cornish Sermon on “The Rich Man and Lazarus”

On September 25, 2016, Rev. Alison Cornish, Executive Director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, delivered the following sermon to University Baptist and Brethren Church in State College, PA.Alison Cornish

Luke 16.19-31
Today’s scripture reading, the parable often called ‘The Rich Man and Lazarus,’ gifts us with a perfect, albeit miniature, 3-act drama, so beautifully wrought that it’s not difficult to picture it in our minds in full and resplendent color – and, to translate it to our own times.

Act I: Our narrator describes the nameless Rich Man, living luxuriously essentially in a gated community, surely surrounded by others like him, and securely protected from others that are not. His very costume exudes wealth – purple and fine linen – and we can picture him sweeping by Lazarus, lying right at the foot of the gate. Lazarus is poor – he has no food – and unwell – he is covered with sores. He must have been a sight to behold – except, as far as we can tell, the Rich Man simply didn’t see him. It’s the narrator here that’s telling us the story, and as far as we know, there was never any interaction between the two men. A gulf, a chasm, between two people, living literally side-by-side, but in completely separate worlds. Lazarus was clearly aware of the Rich Man’s existence, as he ‘longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table,’ but, then – as now – it is a privilege of the rich to look past the existence of the poor. Different lives, nothing to do with one another.

Now we move to Act II – and the narrator informs us that both the Rich Man and Lazarus have died, but here is a bit of a twist. When Lazarus died, he was carried away by angels ‘to be with Abraham,’ which we know is the sign of the highest bliss, the greatest honor. The Rich Man was buried. Period. No angels. No Abraham.

On to Act III – a shift of scene, to Hades and Paradise, and now not just a narrator speaking, but dialogue, a conversation. Now we can actually imagine not just what these men looked like, but what they sounded like, too. We learn that the Rich Man, tormented by the heat of Hades, actually knows Lazarus’ name, and though he doesn’t address him directly, calls to Abraham to have Lazarus quench his thirst – as an act of servitude? Compassion? Could be either … And to Abraham falls the task to gently point back into the past – when the Rich Man had good fortune, and Lazarus suffered, and announce the ‘reversal:’ it’s now the Rich Man’s turn to experience something of the agony Lazarus once lived. The Rich Man seems to quickly accept his fate … but then appeals to Abraham again, this time imploring Lazarus to travel from the world of the dead to the world of the living, bringing to his brothers a message of warning, giving them an opportunity to repent and change their ways, so as to save them from the fate that has befallen him. Abraham again (patiently? Pointedly?) says all the information for his brothers to live faithfully is available to them – always, has been, always will be – but the Rich Man seems to know his brothers well, and nothing short of someone returning from the dead will get their attention. Abraham is unconvinced, and the curtain falls on what must now be a devastated Rich Man, consumed not only by his own agony, but with the specter of his brothers eventually joining him in the same fate.

A beautiful, elegant illustration of God’s favor not for those who expect it – the rich and successful – but the poor and sick. But also a provocative story for our times, in at least a couple of ways.

I see first the economic chasm that separated the Rich Man and Lazarus in life, of which Lazarus was so clearly aware, and the Rich Man had the privilege to ignore – and how, in the Rich Man’s mind, they could be so completely disconnected – so disconnected that the Rich Man may never need contemplate how the wealth he so enjoyed was in any way related to the poverty Lazarus experienced.   For though we don’t how the Rich Man’s wealth was connected to Lazarus’ poverty, we can surely conclude that it was, because it doesn’t matter whether we are all living equitably or with vast differences in wealth and poverty, we are all interconnected. Was the Rich Man one of the .1% controlling the same amount of resources that 50% of the poorest in his city had access to? Did he see any connection between their stories? Was there anyone ‘connecting the dots’ that extreme wealth is accumulated from somewhere: by not paying a living wage, by not investing in a public infrastructure to care for the poor and incapacitated, by systems of oppression and power that keep whole populations ‘in their place,’ dependent on scraps from the table?

And I see, too, in the drama – in the separation between the Rich Man and Lazarus – the gulf, the nonexistence, really, of compassion – the result of hardened hearts, of not seeing – of being insulated from – another’s pain, which is far too much with us still today.

But, given the work that I do today with communities of faith and climate change, I see another, perhaps less literal, way of looking at this story of the Rich Man and Lazarus. Looking through this lens, when the curtain rises on Act I, the personification of a certain (over) developed country – let’s just say the U.S. – is at the center of the scene. Its wealth is conspicuous, particularly in the powering of our economic engines with fossil fuels. Blithely we consume, combust, and spew forth more ‘absolute emissions’ in tons of CO2 than any other country on the planet, save China.

artist: John Reilly b.1921
artist: John Reilly b.1921

And who is it that sits at our gates, our ‘borders?’ Those countries who are far less developed, consuming, per capita, far less of the total ‘carbon budget’ – the oil, coal and gas that spew GHG into the atmosphere we all share. And, not inconsequentially, who are also the first to experience the effects of rising temperatures and sea levels, warmer oceans, changing weather patterns, intensified storms, and altered migration routes. Those at the gates are indeed suffering.

Like the Rich Man, the U.S. and other heavy fossil fuel users are going about business as usual, just living out their lives. Quips, like ‘we earned our prosperity’ and ‘we’re not hurting anyone, just doing what we do,’ and ‘no one is going to take away our way of life’ are heard coming out of that gated community. And we burn fossil fuels with abandon, as if there are no consequences, because we’re not connecting our way of life with those who are suffering. It takes connecting the dots to realize that our voracious appetite for our carbon-fuel-based economy is pouring CO2 into the atmosphere, allowing the planet to warm, and putting life for everyone in peril. It takes recognizing that those at our gates are real.

Just as in our parable/play, all the information is there. It’s been here all along. The scriptures that that tell us that Creation is a gift to be treasured and cherished and treated with care. The still small voice within, our conscience, that knows when we are in right relationship, caring for life, and when we have fallen short of the mark, sinned against God and fellow earthly travelers, including the flora and fauna. The science that documents the massive changes to our air, water and soil, directly connected with soaring GHG emissions from the age of industrialization. Just as in the parable, no presence returning from the dead is going to give us a stronger message than what is right in front of us, accessible each and every day.

But, somehow, we refuse to listen. Our ears are stopped up, our eyes closed. And our hearts are hardened. We are not getting the message.

Which makes me wonder if the parable-as-play needs a fourth act – always needed one, really, but today, truly needs another piece, another chapter. Because to leave us at the end of the story as it is, with the Rich Man bereft, and Lazarus in the bosom of Abraham, with the wide, uncrossable chasm between them, leaves us, where? What will change? What can change?

If I were to write another few verses, if the curtain were to rise again, I would give the next lines to the voices of the not-yet born, the future generations, the great great grandchildren of Drew Dellinger’s poem. They would perhaps appear and speak to the characters in their dreams – that’s a good biblical literary device – and speak to those both behind the gates and at the gates and perhaps even to the Rich Man’s brothers. And their voices in the dreams would be so compelling, so moving, that the separation of the gate would fall away as people recounted to one another the remarkable dreams they had – and wanted to share with everyone they encountered.

These dreams would carry the voices of future generations because I don’t know who else has the capacity to stir us to action. It would be in their voices because keeping their interests, their questions for us, before us, might help us keep perspective as we try to figure out, day-by-day, what it is we’re here for. For them, for their well-being, we might be willing to make the sacrifices we must make. If we remember that they are coming, we might find within us untold reserves of creativity and perseverance and stamina. Just thinking about them, hearts might be made less hard. Perhaps their voices would be strong enough for us to say, without equivocating, that what we face isn’t a matter of left or right or progressive or conservative or rich or poor or black or white but a matter of life and death like no other our species has ever faced. The dreams would be in their voices, because nothing else seems to be working. And the dreams would carry the words of future generations not because they will actually be alive on the planet – that’s something we can’t actually know but … because of how they might shift our own awareness.[1] In other words, we might, finally, get the message.

And, what would the message be? What could they whisper into our sleepiness to awaken us in all the ways we must be stirred?

They would remind us that we are God’s treasured and beloved people, gifted with such extraordinary powers – foremost amongst them, to be fully aware of the preciousness of life, to love living beings, and feel the call to protect and preserve them.

Those voices would recognized the times we are living in are so difficult – to live, every day, with the knowledge of the damage the planet is experiencing – the loss of species – the poisoning of air, water and soil. And their voices would offer compassion across the gulf of time.

Those voices would remind us of the strength, courage and perseverance that are a part of who we are – that we have brought to bear in other crises – that moved us past obstacles and discouragements – and are always available to us.

And, they would remind us that we are all interconnected, with one another, even with them – the not-yet-born.

And, before the curtain falls on this ‘new’ last act, I can imagine the newly awakened – those from behind-and-at-the-gate – the Rich Man’s brothers – all together speaking this prayer, from Joanna Macy, as a chorus, as one –

O you who will walk this earth when we are gone, stir us awake. Behold through our eyes the beauty of this world. Let us feel your breath in our lungs, your cry in our throat. Let us see you in the poor, the homeless, the sick. Haunt us with your hunger, hound us with your claims, that we may honor the life that links us.[2]

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[1] Carolyn Baker, Love in the Age of Ecological Apocalypse: Cultivating the Relationships We Need to Thrive (Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books, 2015) p.186.

[2] Joanna Macy and Molly Brown, Coming Back to Life (Gabriola Island, BC: New Society Publishers, 2014), p. 183.

Denominations Call for Transition from Fossil Fuels to Renewable Energy

One of the ways that some religious communities are taking action to protect life and care for creation is to transition away from support of fossil fuels at a policy and governance level.

elcafinalIn August 2016, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America voted at its Churchwide Assembly to move “Toward a Responsible Energy Future.” Read the full text of the statement on page 5 here.

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In July 2015, the thirtieth General Synod of the United Church of Christ (UCC) approved a resolution calling for its pastors, conferences, and members to advocate for a swift transition away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy.

UCC_logo“It is our belief,” the resolution states, “that the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy is among the most compelling and urgent issues of our times.” Further: “…If we do not immediately decrease our use of these fuels and completely eliminate them by the year 2014 all life on earth will likely experience previously unknown devastating results including drought, wildfires, extreme precipitation and cyclones, drinking water scarcity, diminished food production, population migrations, human mortality, violent conflicts, and species extinction, thereby upsetting the whole ecology of Earth.”

The full text of the resolution is available for download here.

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UUA logo_gradientIn June 2014, the Unitarian Universalist Association approved a resolution calling for divestment from fossil fuels at its annual General Assembly. It says, in part: “The climate crisis threatens Earth systems through warming, destabilization of the atmosphere and climate, sea level rise, and the acidification of the oceans, of which the brunt of the burden has fallen and will fall on the poorest people in the world, who are least responsible for the crisis.”

The full text of this resolution is available online here.

Marywood University Presentation on Laudato Si

The 2015 release of Pope Francis’ encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care of Our Common Home, shifted the conversation about ecology, climate change, and environmental impacts on human communities, and emphasized our moral responsibility to care for creation. A great way to consider the teachings offered in the encyclical is to study it with a group in your community.

Marywood slide

Here, we offer a PowerPoint presentation about Laudato Si that was first given by Rabbi Daniel Swartz at Marywood University. Download the presentation here: Marywood Laudato Si, and the full text of the encyclical is available for download here.

Find other Laudato Si resources here, including a study guide for Yom Kippur developed by Rabbi Swartz.

 

PHILLY: Climate, Race, Ju$tice: We are All In This Together

screen-shot-2017-01-09-at-2-16-00-pmJoin us for a 30 video presentation with breaks for discussion and worship sharing. Light supper provided. Video comments by Cornel West, Juliet Schor, Van Jones and Naomi Klein about ways that climate disruption, social injustice and institutional racism are driven by indiscriminate economic growth. We will look for ways forward as we consider FCNL’s affirmation that policies recognizing that the”biosphere is finite” are essential and view short clips of how some committed PYM Friends have been inspired to engage in these crises.

the Eco-Justice Collaborative of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting is a friend and supporter of PA IPL.

Everyday Ethics: Environmental Justice

Originally published Rock Ethics Institute screenshot logoby the Rock Ethics Institute of the Pennsylvania State University.  Written by Dr. Jon Brockopp, director of the Initiative on Religion and Ethics for the Institute.  Published at the Centre Daily Times on October 28, 2016

Environmental Justice

We Americans like to think of ourselves as an ethical people. For generations, our presidents have referred to America as the “shining city on a hill” and “the brightest beacon for freedom and opportunity in the world.” We pledge allegiance to a flag that stands for “liberty and justice for all.”

That word “all” is key. If our lofty declarations are to have any meaning, then justice must be available for everyone, including the vulnerable and the oppressed.

The difficulty is not with the principle of the thing – pretty much everyone I know would move quickly to correct an injustice if, say, they accidentally mowed over a neighbor’s prized peonies. The difficulty is in the fact that acts of injustice often happen out of sight.

Whatever else the Black Lives Matter movement has accomplished, it has clearly shown how hard it is to see injustice happening in our own country.

For example, in almost 30 years of driving, I’ve hardly ever been pulled over by a police officer, and I’ve certainly never had one pull a gun on me. That’s why I found the video of Walter Scott being shot in the back while running away from officer Michael Slager so shocking. As a middle-aged white man, I’ve never seen anything like this. I could hardly believe it was real.

Black Lives Matter helps us to see systemic racism, discriminatory actions that are simply built into the system. Now that I know, I must respond, because I’m willing to work hard to ensure that ours is a moral society. But other forms of injustice are just as hard to see.

Like most Americans, I am an energy hog. Just in living out my normal life of heating my house, driving my car, and flying out to visit my elderly parents, I pollute the atmosphere. No big deal, right? Everyone does it, right?

Well, [keep reading and see how it connects to our 2016 Annual Conference: An Environment of Justice]

William Lochstet Comments on Environmental Impact of the Atlantic Sunrise Project, June 2016

In June 2016, PA IPL board member William A. Lochstet submitted the following comments to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission in regards to the Draft Environmental Impact Statement for the Atlantic Sunrise Project:

The staff of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) has prepared a draft environmental impact statement, FERC/EIS-0269D, for the Atlantic Sunrise Project, Docket No. CP15-138-000, (Ref. 1). This report (Page 4-196) states that:

The EPA found that the current and projected concentrations of the six GHGs in the atmosphere threaten the public health and welfare of current and future generations through climate change.

However, this report concludes (Ref. 1, Page 4-289) that the net change in GreenHouse Gas (GHG) emissions from operation of this project would be less than 0.1 percent of the year 2005 Pennsylvania total of 313 million metric tons of CO2 equivalent. The impacts of Marcellus Shale wells and gathering systems are ignored in this conclusion even though these are specifically highlighted (Ref. 1, Page 4-259). This report (Ref. 1, Page 4-288) also states:

Although climate change is a global concern, for this cumulative analysis, we will focus on the potential cumulative impacts of climate change in the Atlantic Sunrise Project area.

Such a choice ignores most of the earth where many more impacts will occur. How narrow a focus is appropriate for personal responsibility? Consider that person A drives person B to a bank to rob it. Person B is held for bank robbery. But person A only provided transportation to his/her friend who wanted to go to the bank. The law considers person A to be an “accessory,” which is also a crime. This is a broader focus which considers more of the whole.

Many religious traditions address the question of who is my neighbor. Christianity suggests that even persons normally rejected by society are actually neighbors. Native American tradition suggests that neighbors extend seven generations into the future. We are all brothers and sisters together now, in the past and into the future. How narrow a focus would our legal system allow?

Our environmental laws also take a broader view as is required by the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (NEPA), as amended. In fact, this position has been upheld by the court in Calvert Cliffs Coordinating Committee v. USAEC, 449 F. 2nd 1109 (D.C. Cir., 1971) which states:

We conclude, then, that Section 102 of NEPA mandates a particular sort of careful and informed decision-making process and creates judicially enforceable duties……But if the decision was reached procedurally without individualized consideration and balancing of environmental factors–conducted fully and in good faith—it is the responsibility of the courts to reverse.

Therefore, we will consider a full Life Cycle Analysis (LCA) for this entire system.

This pipeline does not exist as a whole, without connecting to a source of natural gas and a customer who has an intent to utilize its energy for a useful purpose. The Project would move 1.65 billion cubic feet per day (Ref. 1, Page 1-2) of natural gas. Using the good approximation that this is pure methane, there are 12 million metric tons of methane transported per year. If this methane is burned by the customers, it yields 33 million metric tons of CO2, and some water. Methane escapes into the air at the well site, during storage, processing, and delivery to customers. The total leak rate is estimated to be in the range of 3.6% to 7.9% of production, with a mean value of 5.8% of production (Ref 2). Taking production to be 12 million metric tons of methane, which is an underestimation, the total leaked in a year is 0.71 million metric tons of methane. Methane has an enormous Global Warming Potential (GWP) in the first few decades after release, before it undergoes chemical reactions and is no longer methane. This prompt surge in global temperature rise could trigger any of several tipping points. For instance, a large sudden rise in temperature for a few decades could melt the polar ice cap, so that it absorbs summer sunlight, rather than reflecting it as snow and ice do. Thus, the short term is important to consider here. Using the GWP of methane for the first 20 years of 86 (Ref. 3), the 0.71 million metric tons of methane is equivalent to 61 million metric tons of CO2. The total warming effect due to operation of this entire system for one year is the sum of the methane burned or leaked. This sum is 94 million metric tons CO2e over the first 20 years.

This EIS reports that, in 2005, Pennsylvania emitted 313 million metric tons CO2e of GHG (Ref.1, Page 4-289). There is no indication if this is for a 20 year or 100 year period, or what the separate quantities of the GHGs were in 2005. The report goes on to compare this value with its estimate of CO2e emissions from operation of the project. Nevertheless, 94 million metric tons is about 30% of 313 million metric tons. This pipeline does not operate, or exist without these other emissions.

It might be argued that 94 million metric tons CO2e is too small to be considered. Taken alone, it might not do much harm, but consider raindrops. One raindrop is not a problem, but put enough of them together and there is a flood. Every little bit counts! We are like the alcoholic who says that one little drink will not matter. Every ton of fossil carbon that is added to the atmosphere is a threat to our present and future, as was quoted in the EIS and repeated at the beginning of these comments.

Normal Methane Releases

In the normal routine of operation of this pipeline, there are activities which will release natural gas to the atmosphere. Some of these are ordinary operating and maintenance activities at compressor stations, meter stations, regulator stations and mainline valve sites. It would be helpful, and produce a more complete picture if the final EIS would present numerical values for these expected releases. It is unsatisfactory to merely state that they are not significant. Let the public see the numbers, and then let them decide.

Miscellaneous Comments

Section 4.9.8 discusses environmental justice issues (Ref. 1, Page 4-177). It presents population data by county, only. In order to conclude that no population group is disproportionately burdened by the project, it would be necessary to survey the pipeline path, rather than the whole counties. The data presented does not support the conclusion presented of no disproportionate burden.

Section 4.11.1.1 has a portion headed “Greenhouse Gases” ( Ref. 1, Page 4-196). This states that methane has a GWP of 25 over a 100-year time period which is from the IPCC 4th Assessment Report of 2007. The correct value as of the IPCC 5th Assessment Report of 2013 (Ref. 3) is 34 over 100 years, and 86 over 20 years. It would be helpful to compare GHG impacts over both the 100 year time period and the 20year time period, Please use up to date information.

Sections 4.11.1.3 and 4.13.8.10 describe the operation of compressor stations 605 and 610 which are to be powered by electric motors, with a natural gas-fired emergency generator (Ref. 1, Pages 4-208, 4-210, 4-289). The text seems to assume that the electricity has no GHG emissions. Since Pennsylvania is an electric choice state, the GHG burden for this electricity would depend on which supplier is chosen, and is not presently indicated. The GHG burden of the source of the electricity should be included.

Section 4.13.8.10 also states: “Methane (CH4), which is a product of natural-gas fuel combustion…” (Ref. 1, Page 4-289). Combustion of natural gas results in CO2 and water. Please correct this simple typo.

Section 4.13.8.10 also states : “Natural gas is a lower CO2 emitting fuel when compared to other fuel sources (e.g., fuel oil or coal),” and “This would result in a potential reduction is regional GHG emissions” (Ref. 1, Page 4-289). It is true that burning natural gas in a boiler produces less CO2, at the boiler, than burning coal. However, as described at the beginning of these comments, there are many places where methane escapes into the air, and so much escapes that the result is the GHG effect of burning natural gas exceeds the GHG effect of using either coal or oil (Ref. 2). Using natural gas is worse than coal for climate change. This is the life cycle analysis.

Conclusions

It is not only necessary to evaluate the environmental impact of this project to the region within 10 or 20 miles of the pipeline, but also to consider the impact to the entire country, and perhaps even also the rest of the world. Many faith traditions tell us that we are all brothers and sisters together on this planet. Operation of this pipeline for one year will be accompanied by the release of 94 million metric tons CO2e when evaluated over the first 20 years. This impact is greater than would be realized from using coal, which is far too polluting. And, this impact is also about 30% of the emissions for the entire state of Pennsylvania in 2005. The EPA recognizes that the current and projected concentrations of GHGs in the atmosphere threaten public health and welfare of current and future generations. This pipeline is thus a threat to public health and welfare, now and in the future. As a threat, this pipeline cannot be a public convenience or necessity.

References

  1. U.S. Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 2016, Draft Environmental Impact Statement, Atlantic Sunrise Project, Transcontinental Gas Pipeline Company, LLC, FERC/EIS-0269D, Docket No. CP15-138-000, Accessed May 2016.
  1. Howarth, R.W., 2014, A bridge to nowhere: Methane emissions and the greenhouse gas footprint of natural gas, Energy Science and Engineering ; 2(2): 47-60 DOI: 10.1002/ese3.35
  1. IPCC. 2013. Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Available at: https://www.ipcc.ch/report/ar5/wg1, Accessed July 2014

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Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light is a community of congregations, faith-based organizations, and individuals of faith responding to climate change as a moral issue, through advocacy, energy conservation, energy efficiency, and the use of clean, renewable energy.