Sermon: September 10, 2023


Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17

To read the headlines about climate change would be to see the crisis in which we are currently living solely as a crisis of science and technology. Fix our carbon and methane emitting technologies and we will solve the climate crisis. Go after the baddies–big oil, corporations, and the wealthy 1 percenters–and we will be saved. Find ways to remove carbon from the atmosphere and we will breathe freely and our planet will heal. With science and technology as our weapons, life as usual can be resumed and we can celebrate how human ingenuity has saved us from a perilous fate. We can rest easy knowing that humanity is in charge and we can continue living the limitless lives that we have been living. More solar panels! More wind turbines! More geothermal energy! More recycling! Roll out the carbon capture! Buy plastic free products! Electric cars for everyone! Organic all the way! 

Hmmm, but what happens to the areas where lithium is mined for the batteries in those electric vehicles? Will that land be left devastated? And all these plastic free products I am buying, won’t they end up in landfills too and what are the environmental costs of making them? And those organic strawberries that I bought in January still had to travel here from California. I wonder how many wind turbines had to be installed to power the train that brought me those strawberries? What effect do those turbines have on the local environment in which they are located? And I hear that many species of animals are still threatened with extinction because we keep taking more and more land for human use, including for the building of clean energy power plants. And people living in desert and drought prone areas are still running out of water. Industrial agriculture has become much less carbon intensive, but it is still wearing out the land, the animals and the workers caught up in its systems. Is our crisis really a crisis of science and technology or is it a crisis of something much deeper and much more important?

A growing number of philosophers and theologians (and some scientists too) are beginning to argue that we have a much deeper problem that science and technology cannot solve. These thinkers are beginning to understand that at root our problem is a spiritual one. It is a problem of how we view ourselves in relation to non-human life and the very land upon which we live and move and have our being. And the theologians would add: it is also a problem in how we view ourselves in relation to God and God’s relationship with the world created by God. 

Our climate crisis has been brought about because we are living in a time in which we have forgotten who we are, where we are, and whose we are. We have come to believe that the world exists for human pleasure and flourishing alone. We live and move and have our being in ways that treat the earth and all that is in it as commodities and resources put here for our consumption with little value in and of themselves. We no longer seek ways to live within our environment, the place in which we find ourselves, but instead we seek to dominate our environment and to bend and twist it to meet our needs with little or no regard for the nonhuman creation that is also seeking to live and move and have its being. We no longer understand and behave as creatures of a creating God, but as creators who have no limits and who exist outside of nature rather than within and intertwined with it. 

Let me tell you a real story that illustrates what I am saying. The town I lived in in Connecticut, Southington, is located in a valley with mountains on its east and west sides. During the decade that I lived in Southington, I watched as the wooded land on the outskirts of town filled with newly built McMansions. The houses steadily crept through the forests and up the mountainsides. As this building progressed, the black bears who made these forests and mountains their home began to first enter into the backyards of these new homes and then into the town of Southington itself. I lived close to the center of town, and one evening heard a racket outside my living room window. I looked out to see a medium sized black bear attacking the suet my neighbor had put out for the birds. It was a surprising and alarming sight.

I continue to follow a group on Facebook called “Southington Talks” and from what I read the black bears continue to be a source of struggle and contention for the town. A growing number of people want to find a way to get rid of all the bears. As I read the arguments on this page, I find myself thinking, “But where are these bears supposed to go? Can’t we find a way to live with the bears? Maybe they should stop building all these houses on the bears’ land?” Sometimes someone will post similar thoughts to mine in the comments, and boy does all hell break loose. Phrases like “property values” “safety of children” “I can do what I want on my land” and “the only good bear is a dead bear” get thrown around and then the yelling and the trolling start. But the real problem is not the bears. The real problem is the humans and how they see the world around them. The bears are just being bears and trying to live and move and have their being.

If the people of Southington understood themselves to be part of the created world around them instead of outside and above it, I don’t think there would be a “bear problem” at all. If the people of Southington understood that they are creatures just like the bears rather than the creator, then they would not take the bears’ land with little or no regard for the bears’ right to live and move and have their being. They would not be building McMansions up the sides of the mountains, because they would understand that as creatures created by the Creator, God, they are beings called to live within limits with responsibilities to and for the created world around them. They would understand their place within this created world and see that all of the created world has value simply because it was created by a loving God and not because it is meant to be a resource to be used up and thrown out by humans.

Now, I am not trying to single out the people of Southington, Connecticut, for are we really any different than they are? No we are not. For hundreds of years, the dominant thinking in the western world has been that God put us here to dominate and rule this earth which was provided for our purposes and enjoyment. God may have set the world in motion, like a great clock-maker in the sky, but now humans are God’s appointed rulers and we can do with this world what we like. And God isn’t concerned much with this world anyway. When it comes to human beings God is concerned only that we worship his Son, Jesus, and live individually pure lives. If we do these things, we will go to heaven when we die. If we destroy the planet in the process, no worries, if we have been faithful and pure we’ll end up with God anyway. We may not want to admit that this is the way we think, but if we look at how we live, we will discover that it is true. I would guess that even the least materially well-off among us here this morning has more space, more stuff, more travel, more land, more everything than they really need to live and move and have their being, and I include myself in this assessment. It is painful to admit and it feels like it is impossible to change how we see the world and how we behave.

This is why this is a spiritual problem. There are no easy fixes to spiritual issues. To change the way we live and move and have our being takes discipline, time and hard work. Just ask anyone who has lived a monastic life, the goal of which is to live and move and have one’s being in a way that is aligned with God. But as the saying goes, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” Wherever you are in your journey to wake up to who you are, where you are and whose you are, today is the day to take the first, or the second or the 500th step. And this is a community which can support you as you take that next step. 

Here at St. Andrew’s we have a dedicated group of people called the Earth Keepers. They are working hard to place the community that is St. Andrew’s in right relationship with creation and with God. They have created a covenant which they will share with you. They are seeking to create activities here at St. Andrew’s which will help to open our eyes to who we are in relation to God’s good creation. They are seeking to be good stewards of this small piece of earth upon which St. Andrew’s sits. And today and over the next three Sundays we will be celebrating creation, focusing on our care of it, and exploring how the current climate catastrophe is the result of the spiritual crisis we are in as a culture, and what we might do to heal ourselves and by extension the world around us. I pray that wherever you are in your journey, you will join us as we all seek to take the next step, for:

Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world but in order that the world might be saved through him. John 3:17