Sermon based on Exodus 20. 13, 15 You shall not murder. You shall not steal.
Preached on the occasion of the Blessing of the Mugs and the church’s revocation of the use of paper cups.
Who can tell me what the word “kosher” means? What does it mean to eat kosher”?
(Judaism: traditional law-code of proper ritual slaughter, proper separation of meat and milk, proper tithing of fruit)
Over ten years ago, a mentor to me, a great sage, Rabbi Arthur Waskow of the Shalom Center, started to ask questions about eating kosher as they had not been asked before. Given the peril of climate change, he asked whether eating kosher shouldn’t be understood in relation to eating, producing, harvesting, transporting foods in ways that are demonstrably good for the earth, or at least in ways that are not demonstrably bad for the earth. He began asking questions like this: Is it “kosher” to eat tomatoes that were grown by drenching the earth in pesticides?
Down at Yale Divinity School, where I co-chair the Dean’s Advisory Council, we are asserting ourselves as leaders in theologically rooted sustainability. At Yale Divinity School the word
“salvation” is taken on a new meaning: saving the planet. We are initiating the most ambitious
Living-Building Residential project in the world. We are also partnering with the Yale School of Forestry to expand our join degree programs. Professors are developing new courses with titles like: the Doctrine of Creation; Ecological Ethics and Environmental Justice; and
Radical Transparency and Leadership in a Time of Environmental Crisis. The idea is to train the next generation of Christian leaders who will lead at the edge of catastrophic climate change.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow and Yale Divinity School see their work as a religious and ethical imperative. After all, God created the earth – the oceans, continents and sky, peopled it and filled it with creatures, with all manner of flora and fauna – and pronounced it, all of it, good and very good. For Arthur Waskow and Yale Divinity School, caring for creation is religious work, holy work; it is a sacred undertaking, a faithful rendering to God the respect and consideration God is due as Creation’s author.
As Rabbi Arthur Waskow and YDS are reframing ancient religious practices and meanings for a new day in light of new information (tweaking Kosher into Eco-kosher, and giving Salvation itself a whole new meaning, here’s a question for us. What if we were to look at the Ten Commandments and ask some hard questions of ourselves? Consider these two of the Ten Commandments: Thou shalt not kill, and Thou shalt not steal. These are stark, unequivocal
I wonder if our violation of them isn’t staring us in the face. With respect to the climate, are we not accessories to the crimes of murder and theft? Are we not aiding and abetting the dying off of species and the theft of habitat?
Perhaps you are aware of a burgeoning field of literature that chronicles the loss of species.
Books with titles like: “In Search of the Golden Frog”, “Extinction in Our Time”, “Requiem for Nature”, “Silence of the Songbirds”, “The Last Rhinos”, “Planet without Apes”, “Witness to Extinction”, “A Farewell to Ice: A Report from the Arctic”, and a forthcoming book, entitled
“Coral Whisperers: Scientists on the Brink”
As you cannot have missed, the United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change just issued a report on the state of our climate. Three years in the making, it was written by 90 scientists from 40 countries. Over 180 countries signed off on the report. The report inspires words like, Dire and Catastrophic, and phrases like these: The world stands on the brink of failure, and this: it is A deafening, piercing smoke alarm is going off in the kitchen,” and this, Disaster movie material, and this: Nightmarish.
The report concludes nations have ten years to take unprecedented actions to curb carbon emissions. Failing that, allow me to rehearse what science predicts:
- Major, increasing rate of species extinction, relative to the past
- Melting of the Arctic Ice Cap
- Melting of the ice sheets in Greenland and West Antarctica
- Ocean carbonization
What does it mean for humans, creatures and for habits upon the earth?
- Worsening food and water shortages
- Increase in wildfires
- Extreme weather
- Mass die off of coral reefs
- Coastal flooding
- Life-threatening heatwaves
- Greater habitat loss
- Lower global crop yields
- Mass migrations as people evacuate the tropics
- Ever increasing conflicts over food, land and fresh water
What’s more, each successive climate failure (each coral reef bleached, each species extinct) will engender its own snowballing effect … a hastening of a cascading into catastrophe.
The report suggests that the only solution, the only fix, the only means to right the keeling, sinking ship, the only salvation from the breathless speed toward which we are hurtling toward catastrophic climate failure, is this: to transform the world economy, at a speed and at a scale that has no historical precedent.
These are sobering assessments. Terrifying assessments. Responses to the report range from,
It’s over. We’re done for. We can’t possibly turn things around fast enough, to
to this sliver of light: There’s a chance we can reverse the trends and avert disaster, but the chance is as slim and unlikely as a snowball in hell.
Yet, here is what I know: Human are made a little lower than the angels (Psalm 8).
Here is what I know: God has put eternity in our minds (Ecclesiastes 3) … if eternity,
then surely we can see ahead 100 years!
Here’s what I know: human are capable of repentance, of turning around, of changing course, of righting wrongs.
Here is what I know: We cleaned up the Hudson River. In the1960’s the Hudson River was a raging sewer, a liquid dump for industries that grew along its banks. It was full of PCBs from the electrical industry, sewage discharges, pesticides, and other contaminants. With the leadership of Pete Seeger, marshaling sheer determination and grass roots activism they turned the tide and cleaned the river.
Here’s what I know: humans are capable of sending humans in to space and bringing them home alive.
Here is what know: We have cured and eradicated diseases.
We can do this!
Old South Church’s Climate Task Force was blessed into being at the September meeting of the Church Council. Led by Ted Wade, Mary Ann Lape and Carol Boggs the Task Force is calling us to be part of the solution. As individuals, in our homes and personal lives, we are challenged to use less paper, install LED bulbs and smart-thermostats and eco-friendly appliances. We are challenged to eat less meat, recycle, consider modes of transportation for the sake of the planet, stop buying and using all plastic bottle and utensils, Styrofoam and paper cups and plates, and plastic. We are being challenged, each of us, to reduce our carbon footprints as much as possible. Finally, we ask you to vote candidates into office for whom environmental stewardship is a priority.
As a church, we have and will continue to do what we can. We are printing less paper and using more recycled paper. We installed interior storm windows throughout the buildings. We converted to gas. We are in process of converting to LED bulbs (in the case of the sanctuary and Chapel that will require some re-wiring). We introduced recycling bins on every floor and in most rooms. We are in the process of eliminating plastic bottles cups and utensils, as well as all paper cups and plates. Today’s Blessing of the Mugs (your gently used mugs) is a symbol of our larger commitment.
How many have seen the movie, Shawshank Redemption? Andy wanted a library, a meaningful library for Shawshank prison. He was told there were no funds. What did he do?
He undertook to write a letter every week to the government requesting funds. How long did it take? Six year before the first check arrived. Andy went on to build a library that became the social and educational and community hub of the prison. It turned everything around.
We don’t have six years. So, what about a letter a day. What do you say?
Here’s the truth: no matter how much you and I and this church are able to reduce our carbon footprints, it won’t be enough. True salvation—saving God’s creation—require a world-wide effort on the level of governmental action on energy.
The United States is the world’s largest economy and second-largest emitter of carbon dioxide.
To succeed in averting catastrophe, the US must take a lead role. Simply put: without the US working at this, we face catastrophic climate failure. We face failing God, God’s Creation and our neighbors. If we fail at this, we face being tried and found guilty as accessories to the crimes of killing off species and stealing habitat.
The only way to get the US to move in this direction, is importunity (Luke 18). Importunity: demand, insist, persist, clamor, persevere, and pester. Become relentless, incessant. It is left to us to contend with the powers and principalities: to wear them out, wear them down and win them over by the sheer, overwhelming force of our demands.
Here’s what I propose, and nothing less. Nothing less will do. Nothing less will matter: A letter a day to your representatives. A letter a day to POTUS. A letter a day to our Governor and our Mayor. A letter a day to the AG’s office, because a lot of this will only come about by litigation.
Even then our letters will not be enough. We aren’t enough on our own. We need to multiply the movement: your friends, your families, co-workers, neighboring churches. You need to convince others to join in this movement… to take up righting the foundering ship.
A letter a day is a lot. It’s asking a lot of you. I know. The spirit is willing but the flesh is week. (Matt 26.14) I know. But what if we gave it all we have? If I miss a day, you’ll be sending letters. If you miss a day, I’ll be sending letters—and not just writing: calling, emailing, faxing.
Let’s clog the system, tie up the lines, and inundate inboxes. What is required is a deluge, a torrent, a daily we-will-not-be-denied cascade of correspondence from the people of this land;
correspondence informed by the report issued this past week; correspondence, that by turns
indicts the US for immoral inaction and inspires our elected officials to lead, to become leaders, that is, to render to God and to God’s creation the care it requires.
What say you, Church? Are we in the business of salvation? Can we reorient our lives to be kosher with God, to be in right relation to God and all that God has made? What say you, Church? Are we going to fold, throw in the towel and give up before we really started to fight?
Or, do we have it in us to rise and lead, to defy indifference and ignorance, to call out cravenness and greed when it is at the expense of species and habitat? Do we have it in us to inspire action, to turn this thing around, to protect what God has loved and authored into being? What say you, Church? Are you ready for the work of salvation to take on new urgency and meaning?