The Rev. Alison Cornish delivered this sermon, entitled The Passing of First Things, on April 24, 2016, at PA IPL member congregation Tabernacle United Church in Philadelphia.
Good morning, and thank you so very much for the invitation to be with you here this morning. Having an opportunity to participate in worship of many different faith communities is one of delights I cherish as Executive Director of Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light.
I sincerely doubt that the common lectionary that lays out the cycle of scripture readings for so many Christian communities intentionally aligns itself with the relatively new, and entirely secular, holiday of Earth Day – officially 3 days ago – but what a gift they have given us this morning! First, those beautiful images from Psalm 148 that Susan read earlier – words, in fact, that are the basis of St. Francis’ Canticle of the Sun – words that one author describes as ‘a symbiosis of praise involving humans and nature.’ And then, the vision from Revelation of a new earth, a new creation, of almost Edenic quality, coming to pass at the end times. I’ll dig deeper into each of these in a few moments, but for now, let us savor these images, connecting perhaps to moments in our own lives when the qualities of our environs have elevated us, inspired us, nurtured Continue reading Sermon: The Passing of New Things
In 2014, the Baha’is of Harrisburg once more participated in the national IPL Preach In on Climate Change, but they decided to use the Preach-In materials as a springboard to go a little deeper this year. They did a study series of relevant Baha’i scripture, then showed the Chasing Ice DVD twice — once in a public venue (a reservable library room they used for last year’s event) and then also convened at a member’s a home, where they could have a bit more time to both discuss what they had seen in depth. That meeting was on a weeknight at dinnertime — with Bring Your Own Pizza solving the dinnertime food challenge.*
The State of the Union speech was this week, so we had a chance to hear the President’s views on energy, climate, and goalsetting. We’re always thinking about leadership by, in and for communities of faith, but with SOTU sandwiched between the national IPL Preach-In mid-February, and MLK day mid-January, it’s certainly in high relief at the moment.
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 wildernessthe 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 rememberedscripture, and he knew that he didn’t receive thepower 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. Thatwould 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 breathsaying 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.Godpromised 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.
The members of the Baha’i Faith in Harrisburg, PA held a very inspiring and educational event on February 9, 2013 as part of their “Devotionals and Firesides” series. The goal of this event was to study and reflect on the Holy Scripture of the Baha’i Faith which teaches how the universe and the earth were created. The earth was formed very similarly to the human body in that every organ and segment of it has a critically important role for the life of that creation. We also have to understand the importance of the ecological balance of nature which sustains all lives that depend on it.
Also, there were displays with pictures, graphs, and statistics showing the effects of the climate change on the earth. Another display showed examples of how we all can reuse, recycle, and make useful things with those items.
We will have another gathering to see The Hungry Tide DVD sent by Interfaith Power & Light, followed by discussion and planning for future actions and programs.