Common English Bible (CEB)
15 Look here! Today I’ve set before you life and what’s good versus death and what’s wrong. 16 If you obey the Lord your God’s commandments that I’m commanding you right now by loving the Lord your God, by walking in his ways, and by keeping his commandments, his regulations, and his case laws, then you will live and thrive, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. 17 But if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and so are misled, worshipping other gods and serving them, 18 I’m telling you right now that you will definitely die. You will not prolong your life on the fertile land that you are crossing the Jordan River to enter and possess. 19 I call heaven and earth as my witnesses against you right now: I have set life and death, blessing and curse before you. Now choose life—so that you and your descendants will live— 20 by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to him. That’s how you will survive and live long on the fertile land the Lord swore to give to your ancestors: to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
They say that where treasure is, so is your heart. I have sort of adapted that to “where ever I have the most email subscriptions and follows on Facebook, so is my heart.” Every Saturday morning when I open my church email after not having looked at it for two days I find 30 to 50 emails, probably three quarters of which come from organizations whose focus is human rights or environmental justice. I’m sure that’s no surprise to anyone here since a lot of my sermons revolve around those things - care for humanity and care for creation.
Most of you know that I spend a day once a year in Sacramento with other members of California Interfaith Power and Light lobbying for bills that will lead toward cleaner air, clean energy and sustainability. Often those bills propose changes that will improve the lung health of children in our poorest (and most polluted) communities or educate people on how to conserve electricity and water. Some of them try to restrict large corporations from following courses of action that will almost certainly cause damage to the ecology and/or significant health risks. Because it is an Interfaith group we spend our time with the State Senators and Assemblypersons talking about these bills from a faith perspective, speaking on behalf of those who cannot speak for themselves. We don’t try to sound like scientists or economic experts because that’s not who we represent. But we do represent may different religious communities so we quote Scripture and speak of God’s commandments to care for the earth.
Today is the annual Interfaith Power and Light Preach-In, a religious response to Global Warming. I personally prefer the term Climate Change to Global Warming because it seems a more accurate representation of the weather effects we have been seeing but as you all know, I don’t do science. I do words, and the phrase Global Warming tends to get responses like, “Global Warming isn’t our doing. It’s just God hugging us closer.” Climate Change, on the other hand, reflects the increase we have been seeing in unseasonable and record-breaking weather effects, massive storms and other forms of severe weather, intense cold, unusual heat, floods and droughts. And just to be clear - I don’t believe that Climate Change is solely humanity’s doing. I know enough history to be aware that the earth goes through cycles of heat and cold. I do, however, believe that we contribute to it by polluting he air and water and earth. The annual Preach-In is intended to focus our attention on love for creation as our inspiration for stewardship.
Today is also the first Sunday for the Week of Compassion special offering For those of you who may not know, Week of Compassion is the aid agency of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), responding to crisis and emergency situations around the world through our contributions. Out of every $1 we give, 50c goes directly to emergency aid and most of the disasters WOC responds to are weather related. For example:
On November 17, 2013, Karla and Jim Buchanan of Southside Christian Church (DOC) in Kokomo, IN returned home from picking up Cassie (the child we are adopting) from a weekend of respite, only to find their home severely damaged by a tornado. Karla wrote: We were in total shock, and Cassie was overwhelmed. Glass was all over the back family room. A tree sat on top of my father-in-law's van. The shed that held all of our Christmas decorations was flattened. Windows were broken, trees were down, and the roof was in shreds. [The next day folks from church came to help with the clean up and recovery of cherished possessions and their insurance company had found them a room in a motel. These were blessings but there was more to come.]
Becky Sundquist, our minister, called that night and told us another amazing thing: Week of Compassion was sending us a grant to help with recovery. You can't imagine how great that was to hear. Although our insurance company was paying for our hotel and eventually would cover expenses, we had a number of immediate expenses to cover. The WOC grant made that possible.
I have been a Disciple all my life, and I have given to Week of Compassion when possible, but I never imagined I would be a recipient of a Week of Compassion grant. Of course, I never imagined I would live through a tornado either! Words cannot express our thanks. We hope soon to be on the giving end of disaster recovery, but for now please accept what we can give: our thanks and prayers. May God bless the work of Week of Compassion!” …
When I realized weeks ago that the Preach-In on Climate Change and Week of Compassion were falling on the same day as a passage in which God tells the people “if you follow my laws your land that I am giving you will be blessed,” and “choose life so that you and your descendants may live,” I felt that there must be some divine guidance going on. God says, if you do those things that I have told you to do - if you care for each other the way I have told you to, if you take care of the land and its creatures the way I have told you to, if you treat each other with justice and compassion the way I told you to, if you love me the way I told you to love me, then you will be blessed in the land I am giving you.
But if you don’t - “if your heart turns away and you refuse to listen, and so are misled, worshipping other gods and serving them, I’m telling you right now that you will definitely die. You will not prolong your life on the fertile land.”
The Law of Moses is multifaceted. It covers all the many ways that people live and interact with each other. It also covers the ways in which people interact with the rest of God’s creation. The Law tells the people to rest on the Sabbath and also to give the land rest by letting it lie fallow for one year out of every seven. The Law tells the people how to treat their servants justly and how to treat their flocks justly. The Law says, “Don’t cook a kid in its mother’s milk.” Not because God has a problem with milk gravy, but because it would be unfeeling and cruel to treat any living being as if her feelings don’t matter. If a person will be cruel to a goat he will be cruel to humans also. Lack of care for other forms of life is a one sign of a sociopath. Cruelty to animals is one of the early indicators for a serial killer. If an entire people are encouraged to treat even goats justly, then surely they will want to treat other people justly.
“Choose life”, God says, “so that you and your descendants may live by loving the Lord your God, by obeying his voice, and by clinging to him. That’s how you will survive and live long on the fertile land.”
The thing about fertile land is it only stays fertile if it is cared for. If it is used and overused and used some more without being allowed to rest and be revitalized it won’t remain fertile. Farmers learned to solve that particular problem through crop rotation, apparently never realizing that crop rotation was actually prescribed in the Law of Moses. We have seen the mudslides that come when we cut down all the trees on a hill, the barren desert that follows when we strip away ground cover from our prairies, the destruction of plants and animals when we dump slag on a mountainside, the death and illness that follows when we dump waste into our rivers and spill oil in our oceans. When we choose to bring death to God’s creation, then we will find that we cannot live on the land we have been given to care for.
If, however, we choose to treat the rest of creation, all the not human parts of creation, as if they, too, deserved to be cared for even as we wish to be cared for - if the choices we make in our use of God’s creation are for life, then the land may return to fertility, the air may become sweet again, the water will bring comfort to those who drink it. Our treatment of all the not-human parts of creation, our choice whether to bring life or death to the other creatures that share the planet with us, our decision whether to put caring God’s creation ahead of filling our own desires will always affect us because all of us - human and not - are interconnected in ways that we don’t even understand.
When we make choices that contribute to global warming, when we add to the reality that is climate change, those choices will always effect us one way or another. We may be inconvenienced by getting stuck in an airport in a hurricane. Or lose our home in a drought caused fire. Or lose our life in an ice storm in the deep South. When we make choices that lead to the pollution of a river in Africa, or the death of honey bees in Colorado, or the destruction of the rain forests in South America, these choices will effect us. The earth is a very small planet. Each and every part of it, every blade of grass, every snow covered mountain, every sea and stream, every breathing creature from polar bear to mosquito, every water bound creature from coral to manatee, every part of this planet is related to every other part. If we are to survive in this fertile land God has given to us then we must obey the voice of God, cling to God, love God. If we are to survive in this fertile land we must choose life - for our selves and for the farmland, the tree-filled hillsides, the air we breathe and the water we drink. If we are to survive in this fertile land - if the fertile land which God has given us is to survive - we must choose life for all of creation, from the biggest creature to the smallest. Let us go from this place dedicated to loving God and every facet of God’s creation. For our God is not just our God - but also God of the Sparrow and God of the Whale.