I invite you to join me in a moment of silence as we remember those who lost their lives on 9/11, and as we pray for peace and healing… (silence)
Gracious God, you love nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom. Guide us with your wisdom and fill us with your love. May only your word be spoken and only your word be heard. Amen.
What a joy to be with you this morning! Thank you, Harvey, for inviting me to preach. It was just brought to my attention that you are celebrating ten years as rector of this parish, so it’s a special day to be with all of you. As you know, I serve as Missioner for Creation Care in our diocese and in the United Church of Christ in Southern New England. I travel from place to place, speaking about God’s love for our beautiful, precious planet and about our call as faithful followers of Jesus to rise up together to restore the web of life that God entrusted to our care. If you’d like to know more about this ministry, please visit my Website, RevivingCreation.org.
So – let’s give a shout-out to your “green team” – your Creation Care team. Thank you for your leadership. I want to thank all of you for celebrating Creation Season. As you know, the season begins on September First with the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation and ends on October 4, with the feast day of St. Francis. During this 6-week period, millions of Christians around the world lift up our prayers and voices on behalf of what our prayerbook calls “this fragile Earth, our island home.”
Now, a friend of mine who cares deeply about the fate of the Earth and the future of life on this planet sometimes grumbles to me, “Why do we need a Season of Creation? Isn’t every day a good day to care for creation?” Well, of course, that’s true. He’s right. But just as we mark the seasons of Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, and so on, knowing that it’s helpful to set aside some time to look carefully at a particular aspect of our Christian faith, so it’s likewise helpful to set aside a season to focus on how faith in God affects our relationship with the natural world.
For a couple of reasons many of us may be especially glad to participate in Creation Season this year. For one thing, at the height of the pandemic many of us learned again how much solace and comfort we experience in connecting with the natural world. I know many people who during the lockdown deliberately spent daily time outdoors, feeling the wind on their face and savoring the trees and the open sky. I know a man who bundled up every morning, stepped outside, and to his amazement actually learned to love winter, and I know a woman who spent the pandemic happily exploring every trail she could find. What’s more, some of us may have been lucky enough this summer to visit an especially beloved place in nature – maybe a lake, a mountain, or a beach. So, I wouldn’t be surprised if we arrive at Creation Season this fall with a fresh appreciation of the natural world and a deeper gratitude for the ways it conveys the presence of a loving God.
In a turbulent and stressful time, nothing may quiet our minds and refresh our spirits so much as spending time beside a lake, watching the sun dance across its sparkling waves, or sitting down somewhere to listen to birdsong or rainfall or the sound of wind in the trees. Creation Season invites us to come to our senses and to renew our felt connection with the living world around us, maybe to go out for a quiet walk and to bless the Earth with each step. Even a small tree in a city park can speak to us of the larger living world that surrounds us, and even if the night-time glare of a city conceals them, the shining stars still wheel overhead. “The Earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it” – so says Psalm 24. And for that we give thanks in this Season of Creation. God loves the world that God made, and so do we.
A second reason we may come to Creation Season with particular fervor this year is because, after this past summer, many of us are aware, as perhaps never before, how deeply imperilled the natural world is and how a changing climate threatens everything we hold dear. Across the country this summer – and around the world – we witnessed massive wildfires, record floods, historic drought, extreme storms, unprecedented heat. In some places, people drowned in their basement apartments or were washed away in their cars by flash floods. In other places, families lost their homes, livelihoods, or lives as uncontainable fires raged. Out West, farmers stared at empty reservoirs and withered crops. Back East, regions soaked in record rain. Nearly a third of Americans live in an area where a federal disaster was declared sometime in the last three months.
The summer of 2021 will go down in history as the hottest on record in the United States, exceeding even the Dust Bowl summer of 1936. All seven of the warmest years on record were the last seven, and 19 of the 20 warmest years occurred since the year 2000. The climate is increasingly unstable, and if we continue with business as usual – if we keep on burning coal, gas, and oil, keep on filling the atmosphere with heat-trapping gases, keep on cutting down forests – we will leave our children and our children’s children a hot, unstable world that is very difficult to inhabit.
So, to Creation Season this year we bring our uneasiness, our grief and fear, perhaps even our alarm. We may identify with that poignant image in the reading from Proverbs, which portrays Wisdom as a woman wandering the streets and public squares, crying out in search of someone who will listen to her counsel and warning that calamity will surely follow if the wayward and complacent refuse to listen (Proverbs 1:20-33). Today, wisdom tells us that we have only a short span of time in which to change course, make a swift transition to clean renewable energy, and avert the most catastrophic level of climate change.
At this hinge-point of history, when the choices we make are so decisive, will we choose life? Will we listen to the voice of wisdom? Today’s Canticle picks up the theme in a lyrical passage that brings a message of hope: “In every generation Wisdom enlightens holy souls, making them friends of God, making them prophets; for God loves nothing so much as the person who lives with wisdom” (Wisdom of Solomon 7:27b-28).
I give thanks for the holy souls who listen to Wisdom’s call and who join the struggle to create a safer, healthier, more just and livable world. I give thanks that just a few days ago, for the very first time, three of the world’s top Christian leaders – Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, Pope Francis, and Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew – issued a joint statement on climate change and made an urgent appeal for the future of the planet. In this extraordinary statement, the leaders of the Anglican Communion, the Roman Catholic Church, and the Eastern Orthodox Church called on people – called on us – to pray for world leaders ahead of the U.N. climate change conference (COP26), which will be held in November. And these Christian leaders called “on everyone, whatever their belief or worldview, to endeavor to listen to the cry of the earth and of people who are poor, examining their behavior and pledging meaningful sacrifices for the sake of the earth which God has given us.”
I give thanks for their clarion call, and for all the followers of Jesus who are rising up with people of faith and goodwill to mobilize a response that is commensurate to the crisis. You probably know that earlier this year, the Episcopal bishops in Massachusetts declared a climate emergency. Our two dioceses have begun to work together in a more coordinated way as we discuss how we can pray, learn, act, and advocate on behalf of God’s Creation. Our diocesan Website on Creation care is loaded with ideas about ways we can make a difference. Some actions are simple, like eating less meat and moving to a plant-based diet, recycling more, driving less, protecting trees, and reducing our use of fossil fuels in every way we can. Other actions are bigger and bolder and address systemic change. That’s important, because the scope and speed of the climate crisis require more than changes in individual behavior – they require massive, collective action and a push for policies that help us move away quickly from fossil fuels, encourage clean renewable energy like sun and wind, and ensure that historically marginalized and low-income communities – which are those hurt first and worst by climate change – are protected.
I invite you to join me at 11 o’clock tomorrow in a rally at the Springfield office of Congressman Richie Neal, Chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, as we urge him to fully fund the reconciliation package that some economists say “may well be our last chance to take serious action against global warming before it becomes catastrophic.” A number of faith groups are pressing Congress to pass this legislation as a moral imperative. I will be speaking at the rally not as a Republican, not as a Democrat, but as a follower of Jesus who believes deeply that God is calling us to live in harmony with Earth and with each other. I hope that you will stand with me or will pray for the rally’s success and for passage of this legislation.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu says that the “supreme work” of Jesus Christ is to reconcile us to God, to each other, and to all of God’s creation. Can we do that together? Can we support each other to make the swift, bold changes we need to make in our own lives and in society as a whole? These are the questions confronting every community of faith as we clarify our vocation in a time of climate crisis. I hope you will subscribe to my monthly newsletter, Creation Care Network e-news, so that we can stay in touch and encourage each other.
Thank you for the ways you bless the Earth. Thank you for honoring Creation Season, and thank you, as my friend says, for making every day a good day to care for God’s creation.
A note: After the service, I spoke with a number of you about ThirdAct.org – a brand-new initiative by environmentalist Bill McKibben to bring together people over 60 – Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation – who care about climate change and social injustice. If you’re over 60, please sign up! Welcome to your third act.
Rev. Dr. Harvey Hill
Third Order Franciscan