Eliot Church of Newton, U.C.C. Romans 8.18-27 May 1, 2022
It is a pretty safe bet that all of us here today know that we are in a climate crisis. We’ve been bombarded by facts and figures that confirm this sobering reality. This crisis calls for immediate action, and at next week’s service and forum we will consider how best to answer that call. But today let’s explore the effect the crisis is having on us emotionally and spiritually.
That said, we must face facts, so here are just a few that convey where we are today. Last year a Siberian town in the arctic circle reached a temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit during a protracted heat wave. The latest report from the UN’s IPCC, (the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says we have three years to take the action needed to prevent the worst consequences from climate change. According to UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, “it is now code red for humanity.” Personally, I like the way young Swedish activist Greta Thunberg puts it when she says, “Act like your house is on fire because it is.”
There is a new dilemma within this larger crisis. Recent polls show that most people in the U.S. and most of us in Massachusetts now feel less urgency about climate than they did a few years ago. As one participant put it, “With so many issues right in your face, climate just seems less urgent.” With a brutal war, a pandemic that feels endless, insurrection in our capital, and racial, religious, and economic divisions tearing apart our communities, we appear to be in an emotional and a spiritual crisis as well as a climate crisis. What to do?
We can give voice to our feelings and offer support to one other. Please join me at our forum immediately after worship, as we begin to do that. But now, let’s look for signs of hope Then we will ask, “where is God in all of this?”
Rev. Steve Blackmer of Church of the Woods in New Hampshire reminds us that “Hope comes in small packages with small beginnings, hiding in small places. But hope comes.” One of those small packages is the recovery of the monarch butterfly, helped by individuals who have built small, and in some cases large breeding habitats. IF we continue to nurture that recovery it will become a big deal.
We can also find hope in this very congregation! Eliot Church embarked on a “Caring for Creation” initiative in 2003. The net result is that since then we have lowered our carbon dioxide emissions by 61%! The most visible signs of that are our solar panels, which generate more electricity than we need, allowing us to donate some of our Eversource credits to the Brighton-Allston Congregational Church. But even before the panels went up in 2016, Eliot had obtained an EPA Energy Star for Congregations rating of 91%. That means that we were more energy efficient than 91% of the houses of worship in the country. Massachusetts has more Energy Star congregations than any state except Michigan, and more houses of worship with solar than any state except California.
Eliot’s commitment to climate justice extends beyond the improvements to our building. With leadership from Rev. Reebee Girash we passed a resolution committing ourselves to reduce our investments in companies which extract and sell fossil fuels. Between 2014 and 2020 Rev. Girash and other Eliot members advocated for, and testified in support of legislation requiring Massachusetts to provide more offshore wind and to put a price on carbon.
Every year we participate in volunteer cleanups along the Charles River and at other green spaces. We have participated in many marches and made our building available without cost to climate advocacy groups. The Needham-Newton Chamber of Commerce, the Southern New England Conference of the UCC, Green Newton and MassIPL have all recognized that work. We can celebrate our progress, while at the same time acknowledging that there is much more to do.
On behalf of the congregation, I would like to offer thanks to some current and past members, who have contributed to this success, namely: Mary Anne Schoonover, Betsy Harper, Ginny Robinson, Doug Stuart, Nadia Young, Rev. Rick Chrisman, Beverly Craig, the Reverends Reebee Girash and Tony Kill and the many others whose efforts are unknown to me. And I’d like to personally thank each of you for Eliot’s financial support for MassIPL; and to thank Mary Anne for her years of volunteer service before MassIPL was able to pay her.
Hope may be found in many other places. Massachusetts is one of eight states including the District of Columbia that has passed legislation committing themselves to become net-zero carbon by 2050. Now there are laws (which are essentially binding promises), and then there are actual results. Of the seventeen states (including DC), who have committed to carbon dioxide reductions of at least 80% by either law or executive order, Massachusetts’ actual carbon dioxide emissions exceed those of the next best state, 10%, which I will only identify because that state is New York. On the corporate side, 313 major corporations, like Colgate Palmolive, Microsoft and Verizon have committed to become net-zero carbon by 2040, ten years earlier than most of the above states.
The Keystone XL pipeline which would have carried carbon intensive tar-sands oil from Alberta to a port on the Gulf of Mexico for export, has been abandoned. Keystone was known as a “fossil fuel zombie” because it survived years of grassroots protests and three presidential administrations. A smaller, natural gas pipeline that would have gone through northern Massachusetts was also abandoned a few years ago after intense grassroots opposition. And there are similar campaigns around the country.
The infrastructure bill signed by President Biden last November includes $240 billion for environmental justice projects, the largest such investment in U.S. history. Although the COP26 negotiations in Glasgow were a disappointment, former MA Senator John Kerry brokered a joint resolution providing that the US and China, “would work together to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement.”
But how about the emotional and spiritual realms? It is there that most motivation originates. As Rev. Margaret Bullitt-Jonas of the Episcopal Diocese of Western MA says, “God is giving God’s self to us as the sun and the moon, the stars, the wind, the air, the trees, the birds, and the pets we love. We live in a sacred world of interdependence and interrelationship.” 1 But do we feel that? If not, can we take the time to begin to feel it?
Here are a few times when I have felt it. Our son, our first and only child was born in Nebraska. He woke me up before sunrise the first night after he was home from the hospital. As I held him in my arms the sun rose over the corn fields, turning the entire sky into the deepest and most brilliant red that I have ever seen in the sky. Things had seemed dark during the more than ten years we had tried to have a child. That brilliant red sky over the golden corn, felt like the love God has for creation was being reflected in the love I had for my son.
I was born and grew up in New York City. After college I hiked into the Grand Canyon with two buddies. As we descended the switchbacks through the multi-colored layers of rock shaped over the eons into an endless array of shapes, we eventually saw the mighty Colorado River, appearing as swirling ribbons below. I was awestruck by its power. The power of the Colorado River reminded me of God’s power and the immensity Grand Canyon reminded me of the wideness of God’s mercy.
Our late pet cat, Calli, was a source of comfort, as is the companionship or our chocolate lab Zoey, who implores me with soulful eyes to take her for a walk, and who every night comes to my side of the bed to say good night before she goes to her bed. Yes, our family is both cat friendly and dog friendly.
Francis of Assisi “was particularly concerned for God’s creation and for the poor and the outcast. In his Canticle of Creation, he called his fellow creatures, no matter how small, by the name of “brother” or “sister.” Francis reminds us that “the Earth, our common home is like a beautiful mother who opens her arms to embrace us or like a sister with whom we share our life. This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her. This is why the earth herself, burdened and laid waste, is among the most abandoned and maltreated of our poor; she “groans in travail” (Rom:8:22)2”as this morning’s scripture tells us.
Paul’s letter to the Romans tells us how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection are gifts of God’s love for humanity. Jesus reconciled God to humanity, but God also promises us the renewal of all creation. Just as “the love of God has been poured into our hearts (5:5), so also its full realization is not yet fully manifest. This morning’s scripture says, that “suffering is not eliminated by the resurrection life, but it is sustained by the Spirit (8.17-22). And since the Spirit is at work in the world to bring about a radical renewal of all creation, there is genuine hope for the future (8:22-25).
According to theologian Jurgen Moltmann, “the evolutions and the catastrophes of the universe are also the movements and experiences of the Spirit of Creation. That is why Paul says that the divine Spirit ‘sighs’ in all created things under the power of futility.” “Through the spirit we are bound together with the natural environment. We might describe this as a spiritual ecosystem; for human societies live in and from the recurring cycles of earth and sun, air and water, day and night, summer, and winter. So human beings are participants in subsystems of the cosmic life system, and of the divine Spirit that lives in it.”3
The Hebrew bible uses wind, or breath or fire as images for the Ruah, or spirit of God. The gospels speak of the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove. These are all dynamic images involving air. We cannot see it, but we know it is always with us, within us and around us. For me, the Holy Spirit is God’s presence above, below, within and betweenall of God’s creatures.
Might the Spirit be operating when humans restore the habitat of the Monarch butterfly? Or when diverse members of a congregation join as one to make their sanctuary sustainable and to advocate for change? Was the fire of the spirit there when activists killed Keystone XL? Is the breath of the spirit shared when both states and corporations strive to become carbon neutral, and when our president commits funds for climate justice? Did a dove of peace descend to help John Kerry establish a personal relationship with his Chinese counterpart that enabled them to find agreement?
On a lighter note, I recall a moment when I testified before a Massachusetts legislative committee. Although these words were not in my prepared remarks, I was somehow moved to say, “If Jews, Catholics, and Protestants can agree that this law is good for Massachusetts I hope that the House, the Senate, and the governor can agree.” I got a big laugh, but judging from the results, the Holy Spirit must have been somewhere else.
Today, we are in a great existential crisis. So now, after we celebrate Jesus’ victory over death, during this season when the birds are chirping and the tulips, the azaleas, and the cherry trees are blooming, spend some time with Mother Earth, sister sun, the hills and vales and the plants and the animals who are our brothers and sisters. Spend time with them. Observe them. Listen to them. Feel what you feel. Begin to create a loving relationship with them.
If you are yet to feel God’s love in creation, take a first step from anger, fear, or sadness by opening your heart to the awareness of God’s love and the Spirit’s presence in this beautiful, abundant, complex, and suffering gift of creation that God has given us.
And in this moment, let us pray,
Here and now the Spirit waits to break into our experience: to change our hearts to change our lives, to change our ways. to make us see the world and the whole of life in a new light. to fill us with joy and hope for the future. This is the place, as are all places. this is the time, as are all times.