People working together for peace, justice and the restoration of the community of life.
Sermon Notes for Earth Day 2000
published by the National Council of Churches
Environmental Justice Task Force in March, 2000
Written by Sharon Delgado
Scripture: John 20:19-29
It is fitting that Earth Day comes so close to Easter. As we continue to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, we consider our response to the good news we have received. Just as the Risen Christ appeared to his disciples so long ago, Christ comes bringing us peace, empowering us with the Holy Spirit, sending us out in his name for the sake of the whole creation.
The book Dead Heat: The Race Against the Greenhouse Effect tells of a “Nightline” special on global warming that was presented during the heat wave of 1988. Ted Koppel asked the scientist he was interviewing, “I’d love to be able to say to you that I think the American public can get energized over some perceived threat forty years down the road, but I don’t believe it. Do you?”1 It is difficult to believe and even more difficult to take action based on something that we cannot see. But scientists warn that if we do not take action to avert climate change there could be grave consequences.
What do we mean when we talk about global warming? Light from the sun enters the atmosphere and warms the surface of the earth. Under natural circumstance, the atmosphere works like a greenhouse. It contains just enough water vapor, carbon dioxide, and other gases to trap the right amount of heat and solar energy, while allowing the rest to escape back into outer space. People of faith see the hand of the Creator in this delicately balanced process, which regulates the climate, keeping the earth at a stable temperature that changes gradually through geological time.
Today, however, the balance is being disrupted by human-caused air pollution. Large amounts of CO2 and other so-called “greenhouse gases” are being emitted into the atmosphere, trapping more heat, causing the earth’s temperature to rise.
Scientific assessments of the likely consequences of global warming vary, but the majority of scientists are convinced that changes are likely to be significant and could be catastrophic. Scientific studies and computer-generated models predicting outcomes of climate change suggest the following: increasingly severe and frequent heat waves, more violent hurricanes, melting ice caps, global sea level rise, extreme droughts, increased ranges of disease-carrying insects and rodents, crop failures, heavy rains and flooding, ocean temperature increases, forest fires, migration of bacteria and change in disease patterns, destruction of coral reefs, drying up of wetlands, acceleration of species loss, change in the patterns of seasons, serious social and economic disruption throughout the world, environmental refugees.
And indeed, the earth is growing warmer. Over 2,500 scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change launched by former President Bush found that human activities are altering the earth's atmosphere, and that global warming is already underway. As of this writing, the 1999 heat wave compares with temperatures in 1998, the hottest year in recorded history. The previous record was set in 1997. The earth has been warming most rapidly during the past 25 years. The ten warmest years have all occurred since 1983, with seven of them since 1990. These high temperatures are consistent with predictions and there is mounting evidence worldwide of the impacts of global warming. Scientists warn that with no action to curb emissions, over the next century the earth’s temperature may become warmer than at any other time in human history.
As reports of some of these occurrences become more common, we are reminded more often of the risks of climate change. Talking about the weather no longer falls into the category of “small talk,” but takes on an apocalyptic tone.
But the problem of climate change seems so overwhelming, and we have so many other concerns. We push the specter of global climate change to the back of our minds. Feeling powerless, we go into denial to avoid facing the problem. But we know that the problem is there.
In the book Laboratory Earth, scientist Stephen Schneider details the methods through which scientists predict the probable results of global warming. He suggests that we need to come out of our collective denial, to become informed enough to determine the true risks of global warming and to take responsible action. He asks, “And what if we don’t act responsibly? In that case we’re gambling that what it would cost us to protect the planet will, by some good luck, turn out to be more costly than the damages we carelessly inflicted on the Earth. This is a gamble that we--and the other living creatures who share our planet, but not in the decision making--simply can’t afford to lose.”2
At some level we know that if we do not take responsibility, our children or grandchildren will have to deal with the consequences of our inaction. Deep down, we know that our society’s addiction to fossil fuels is unsustainable, but we feel powerless to stop, hopeless about changing what seems to be the inevitable course of events. And so we hide behind walls of fear, apathy, denial, powerlessness, hopelessness. We try to lock out the reality that threatens the quality of the future of life on earth.
But in this season of the resurrection, we are reminded that Jesus himself comes to us, even through the walls of our own making. He stands among us with a message of peace, with wounds still visible, reminding us of the powers that put him to death, powers that are still at work and which now threaten God’s good creation. Jesus empowers us with the Holy Spirit and sends us out to live resurrected lives, and to carry a message of forgiveness, hope, and transformation. We carry this message not just in words, but in the way we live our lives.
How do we live by the light of the resurrection in a time threatened by potentially major changes in the earth’s weather patterns? How can we respond faithfully to this challenge?
As individuals we can conserve energy by turning off lights, switching to energy-efficient appliances, choosing a car that gets good mileage, riding a bike or taking public transportation, planting a tree. As a church, we can join the Environmental Justice Covenant Congregation Program of the National Council of Churches or the EPA’a Energy Star program for churches. In this way we model responsible stewardship and demonstrate our Christian concern for God’s creation. As citizens of the nation that uses the most energy and emits the most carbon dioxide into the environment, we can work for legislation to eliminate gas and oil subsidies, to support renewable energy, and to strengthen gas mileage standards for all vehicles, including minivans and SUVs. Such laws should include mechanisms to ensure that the heaviest burden does not fall upon the poor. We can urge our national leaders to support and follow through with binding international agreements limiting overall fossil fuel emissions, such as the Koyoto agreement, which has been signed by the United States and eighty-three other countries. We can support the sharing of non-polluting technologies with developing nations, and work to resist trade agreements which would weaken current environmental laws in our nation or in other nations of the world.
As Christians, we believe that Jesus of Nazareth was raised from the dead almost 2000 years ago. Can we also believe that God has the power to bring us through the great challenges we face today? Certainly God is raising up people even now to carry on Christ’s work.
Christ is risen! We are not alone. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is a sign, not just of the promise of life after death, but of the power of God to bring transformation in this life, personal transformation and world transformation. We are invited to accept and offer the peace, courage, forgiveness, and transforming power of the Holy Spirit that we have received. We are sent out as Christ’s followers, not motivated by fear, but by faith in God’s amazing power and by hope for positive change.
We believe that God can bring life out of death. Do we believe that the Risen Christ can bring about renewal and transformation through us?
Jim Wallace of Sojourners Community says, “Faith is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.” But faith in the power of God to bring about change does not mean passive waiting. Rather, says Wallace, “faith leads to hope, hope leads to action, and action leads to change.”
Each time we install an energy-efficient light bulb, it can be an act of faithfulness. Each time we ride our bike or take a bus, it is a spiritual victory. Each time we plant a tree, it is a sign of hope for the future. Each time we struggle to bring the necessary changes to our church, our community, our nation, or our world, we engage in action that can lead to change. Each time we make decisions that will lead to a better world for a grandchild or niece or nephew, it is an act of faith in the God who raised Jesus from the dead and who, through the power of the Holy Spirit, can work through us even today to bring about God's future. In these ways we do our small part in helping to preserve God's creation, for the sake of the people we love, for the sake of the whole, for the sake of future generations.
1Dead Heat: The Race Against the Greenhouse Effect by Michael Oppenheimer and Robert H. Boyle (New York: Basic Books, Inc., Publishers, 1990) page 75.
2Laboratory Earth: The Planetary Gamble We Can’t Afford to Lose by Stephen H. Schneider, Ph.D. (New York: Basic Books, 19970 page154.