Speaker: Michelle Burkholder
The United Nations has designated September 21st of each year as the International Day of Peace. [And just so you are not confused for the rest of the day, or week, yesterday was the 21st, today is the 22nd – but it’s close enough to warrant exploration today] There are a variety of UN instituted International Days each year which are described like this on the UN’s website:
“International days are occasions to educate the public on issues of concern, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate and reinforce achievements of humanity. The existence of international days predates the establishment of the United Nations, but the UN has embraced them as a powerful advocacy tool.”
As a congregation that belongs to a denomination who’s executive director has challenged the church to #BringThePeace and share stories with each other about how we are living out peacemaking in our personal and congregational contexts, it seems fitting and even important to recognize and join in a celebration of international peace.
The theme for this year’s International Day of Peace was: Climate Action for Peace. Again from the UN’s website:
“The theme draws attention to the importance of combating climate change as a way to protect and promote peace throughout the world.
Climate change causes clear threats to international peace and security. Natural disasters displace three times as many people as conflicts, forcing millions to leave their homes and seek safety elsewhere. The salinization of water and crops is endangering food security, and the impact on public health is escalating. The growing tensions over resources and mass movements of people are affecting every country on every continent.”
Surrounding this International Day of Peace with a Climate Action theme was the Youth Climate Strike on Friday – where millions of youth (& people of all ages) walked out of school and work in hundreds of countries around the world to protest against the inaction of politicians in response to the science of climate change. And tomorrow, Monday, the UN is convening a Climate Action Summit that will focus on concrete and realistic plans to accelerate action in response to what the youth continue to name the climate crisis. UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres put out this call to world leaders coming to the summit:
“I am asking leaders to come to the September summits, not with beautiful speeches but with concrete actions, plans and commitments to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda and the Paris agreement on climate change.”
Action. That is what the youth of the world were also asking for last week as they prepared for and held the youth climate strike to remind those in positions of leadership that their actions, or lack of action, will hold real and tangible implications for the future lives of today’s youth.
You have likely heard about 16 year old climate activist Greta Thunberg of Sweden. [If not, a great place to start is a Ted talk given by her that you can watch online which lays out her case for the need for immediate action in response to climate change.] Last year, Greta began skipping school on Fridays to protest in front of the Swedish Parliament beginning a movement known as Fridays for Future that has spread across the globe. Greta is currently in the US and this past week participated in the youth climate strike and spoke to members of Congress. She is also here to participate in the activities of the UN climate summit in the week ahead and a follow up climate strike next Friday, the 27th. As a climate activist, she has chosen to no longer fly in airplanes due to the large carbon footprint they impose. She travelled to the US on a wind and solar powered boat to draw attention to climate change awareness and to call people to action.
What Greta is seeing and naming right now is the crisis that is at hand. The climate crisis is a gaping wound in the earth that is already impacting living conditions around the world and has the potential to make life on earth inhospitable for humans (not to mention the countless species of animals and other life forms already going extinct every day). Known for her ability to not mince words, and to not fear speaking out loud that which may be uncomfortable, Greta’s voice calls out to those with the power to do something to change the course we are on to do it. Otherwise, science tells us, we are headed into a time of dire suffering and loss. Much like the times in which the Prophet Jeremiah lived and preached into – a time for facing hard truth, a time of deep lament.
As I sat with the Jeremiah text this week and then listened to Greta’s speech to members of congress, I was curious about how the two seemed to weave together in unexpected ways and so I overlaid a portion of her speech with a portion of the text from Jeremiah and offer it here for your consideration. I have invited Elina to join me as a young person to speak the words of Greta so that we can truly hear them coming from the youth of this time and place. I will read for Jeremiah.
“Wherever I go I seem to be surrounded by fairytales. Business leaders, elected officials all across the political spectrum spending their time making up and telling bedtime stories that soothe us, that make us go back to sleep.
These are “feel-good” stories about how we are going to fix everything. How wonderful everything is going to be when we have “solved” everything…
My joy is gone, grief is upon me, my heart is sick.
…But the problem we are facing is not that we lack the ability to dream, or to imagine a better world. The problem now is that we need to wake up. It’s time to face the reality, the facts, the science…
Hark, the cry of my poor people from far and wide in the land: is the LORD not in Zion? Is its ruler not there anymore?
…And the science doesn’t mainly speak of “great opportunities to create the society we always wanted”. It tells of unspoken human sufferings, which will get worse and worse the longer we delay action…
“The harvest is past, the summer is ended but we are not saved.”
…unless we start to act now. And yes, of course a sustainable transformed world will include lots of new benefits. But you have to understand. This is not primarily an opportunity to create new green jobs, new businesses or green economic growth. This is above all an emergency, and not just any emergency. This is the biggest crisis humanity has ever faced.
For the hurt of my poor people I am hurt, I mourn, and dismay has taken hold of me.
And we need to treat it accordingly so that people can understand and grasp the urgency. Because you cannot solve a crisis without treating it as one. Stop telling people that everything will be fine when in fact, as it looks now, it won’t be very fine. This is not something you can package and sell or ”like” on social media.”
Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then has the health of my poor people not been attended to?
We might rephrase that last line and say: Why then has the health of our poor planet not been attended to?
It seems we have the capacity to imagine and create solutions to the crisis at hand. We have an opportunity to travel a different path than the one we have been on that has brought us to this point. Taking drastic (and likely necessary) action will be a big cultural shift – one that will likely require changes in expectations, and hold economic implications, which makes action, especially for those with the power to make real and big changes, a politically perplexing problem.
That brings us to the Luke passage we heard this morning – which is also perplexing. It’s hard to imagine the full implications that Jesus was intending to teach with this parable. Honestly, it can be hard to understand any of the intended teachings of this particular story. At first blush it doesn’t appear to make sense to our morally conscious and logic pleased ears. A dishonest man is fired by his employer and before he finishes his work, he goes around reducing the total amount that all his boss’ debtors owe and when his boss (who will end up receiving less than owed from all of these debtors) finds out about what the worker had done – he gets complimented on his behavior. I find this confusing, until I remember this is a Jesus story.
Jesus stories are not bound to the framework of logical morals that we might instinctively impose on them. It’s called the upside down kindom for a reason. Jesus again and again teaches us to look beyond the boundaries that we have superficially imposed on ourselves and each other. And so we open ourselves and look again. And this time we will look again with our eyes and ears open to how this text might, in any way, speak to the climate crisis which we have also been exploring.
When we look again we can see connections to our present circumstances almost immediately:
As the story starts, we encounter a steward of the land mismanaging that which has been entrusted to his care. Are we not also called to be stewards of the earth that has been entrusted to our care? How are we doing in our duties?
In response to the mismanagement, the landowner lets the steward know that the end of things as they have known them to be is near. The implications of mismanagement are real for the steward, his livelihood is about to be taken away. Likewise the detrimental implications for the earth are real if we don’t make changes to how we live with and care for creation.
Knowing he is at a point of forced transition, the steward considers his position. Like it or not he will have to face the future that results from his choices. And so it is a moment to consider the path ahead and to make choices about how he will travel forward. We too are in a time of considering how we will travel forward in our relationship with the earth and climate activists of all ages are crying out – the time for complacency has passed – act, make a change, do something.
The steward too has lost his sense of complacency. He chooses to awaken himself to the reality that if he doesn’t do something to change his fate, he will be an outcast in the community, unskilled in labor and too proud to beg. Instead of accepting such a prospect for his life, he chooses to forgive a portion of the debt that is owed to his employer so that those indebted to the landowner will have kindness in their hearts towards him when he is no longer the steward.
In reducing their debt, he has offered a new lease on life to those that were suffering under his previous lack of care. And while the motivation may not have been entirely pure – it was self serving after all to try to make a better name for himself in the community before he was cast into their care – the action itself was an act of sacrifice and justice. The amount that was forgiven could have been an amount of interest that was accruing on the debt (a practice that was against all religious laws in those days) which would have breathed new life into justice in the community. Or it may have been the portion of the debt that would have been paid to him as the steward of the landowner; a portion he was willing to let his portion go for the sake of the possibility of life instead of suffering and death when he was no longer in a position of power. Taking action requires a choice and effort.
In this moment of climate change awareness, we too are at the crossroads of complacency. We can choose to accept what comes, or we can choose to make changes in our own relationships with the world around us.
There are many ways that we as individuals can practice creation care in mindful ways in our lives:
- Reduce, reuse, recycle have been keywords of environmental response for a long time (I might also add eat local) and they are options each of use can embrace in our lives in a variety of ways, even if the actions feel small and insignificant – they count. Those who can be trusted with little things can also be trusted in greater.
- I cannot give you the answers or actions for your own life, those are things you will have to determine for yourself and your household; I can however encourage you to consider making the choice to engage in learning about and being mindful of your carbon footprint.
- I can affirm that it is an act of love, peace, and justice to choose life and that includes choosing those things which are life-giving in our relationship with the planet.
- I can also remind you that you are not alone on the journey. There is a group of folks here in the church community called the Greens group who are committed to environmental justice, climate change response, and creation care as individuals and for us as a community. Which you can see the influence of with our new solar panels on the roof thanks to the Trustees and the Greens group inspiration. You are invited to join in these conversations by joining the listserv – contacts are listed in your bulletin.
- The Greens group has offered this suggestion to the church as one way we can work on climate change together as a community: The HMC Church council, and all church committees, will take into account the following question on all decisions this year: Does this action contribute to or move away from our reliance on fossil fuels as individuals, as a church and community, and as a nation?
- This may even be a question that can serve as a place to start as individuals if climate change is something new to you.
- Beyond taking action in our individual and congregational lives, we can also challenge those in positions of power to also take action.
Action comes with costs. They may be personal, political, emotional, or financial. And I think this is one of the most complex parts of getting people on board with acting in response to climate change: making choices that leans towards life, even when those choices may come at a higher cost. Part of our action as individuals is to lean into those choices in our own living and to convince and support those who have more sway in the systems of power and decision making that the cost of life-giving action is worth it because the cost of inaction may be dire.
When I think of the political systems in place right now, and the greed and entitlement that enforces a reluctance to choose action in response to climate change, I am tempted to return to the bitter lament of Jeremiah weeping day and night. And then I think about all of the people who took a stand on Friday in the climate strike and let their voices be heard – millions of individual people from all around the world – Australia, China, Thailand, India, Kenya, Germany, Bulgaria, Turkey, South Africa, Russia, Senegal, the UK, El Salvador, Indonesia, Afghanistan, Nigeria, France, here in the US, the Philippines, and on and on and on and I remember that this one earth is home to all of us and that we are all stewards of it together.
In the light of inter-connection
I am no longer a fountain of tears
I am instead a spring of hope.