Climate Change Preach-In

This monthly column will point out environmental dimensions in upcoming lectionary passages and suggest ways to bring God’s creation into our preaching — not just occasionally but throughout the year.

Interfaith Power and Light, the religious environmental organization, is promoting a preach-in for climate change awareness the weekend of February 8-10, 2013.

It’s now official: 2012 was the hottest year ever recorded in the continental U.S., causing wildfires in the west and drought across most of the country. The ten previous hottest years have all occurred since 1998. Unsurprisingly, the melting polar ice cap frequently made the news.

The year was dominated by extreme weather. Hurricane Sandy, the Atlantic basin’s largest storm ever, trailed only Katrina in damage and damage expense. Last June’s derecho wind across the Midwest killed 22. Deadly droughts plagued the African Sahel and parts of Brazil. Flooding devastated southeastern Brazil, Bangladesh, Australia, China, the Philippines, Rwanda, and Nigeria.

Despite these wake-up calls, according to The Daily Climate, news coverage of climate change continued to decline. Who will kickstart the conversation? Why not those who claim that “the earth is the Lord’s”?

Climate change endangers not only the non-human creatures facing extinction. It will increasingly damage life for the earth’s poor, who live in risky areas, who cannot afford their food that doubles in cost, whose crops and livestock face increasing damage. Those least responsible for climate change are the most vulnerable.

Despite denials by those invested in fossil fuel, the science has long been settled. In 2007 the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change called human-caused global climate change virtually certain. Every National Academy of Science of every major country has confirmed the danger. It’s time to stop debating and to start acting.

Speaking at Louisville’s Festival of Faiths in November, Sally Bingham observed that if those who believe in climate change are wrong, and we act unnecessarily, we will have cleaned up the air, water, and soil; created a better power infrastructure and more sustainable energy; freed ourselves from foreign oil; eaten more healthily; and learned to love the planet. But if those who deny climate change are wrong, and we do not act, we will have destroyed our children’s future.

Please join the preach-in — if not on February 10, then perhaps on the 17, or on Earth Day Sunday, this upcoming April 21. In my home congregation we plan to spend the month of April preaching gratitude, wonder, connection, and care for living creation.

February’s lectionary passages offer opportunities for subtle touches. Two large opportunities for introducing ecological themes are Ash Wednesday itself (“you are dust”) and the following Sunday, with Deuteronomy 26:1-11, which prescribes bringing the first fruits before the priest while recounting a story characterized by gratitude, reminding hearers of the natural miracle of food.

Courage is a central theme in February’s first two Sundays.

The passages for February 3 commend courageous leadership:

  • Jeremiah 1:4-10 recounts God’s call to the prophet: “Do not be afraid of them, for I am with you to deliver you….”
  • Psalm 71:1-6, requests protection from injustice, since “upon you I have leaned from my birth.”
  • 1 Corinthians 13:1-13 commends love as the motivating force behind words and deeds.
  • Luke 4:21-30 recounts Jesus’ bold sermon in Nazareth. Reviewing times of drought and disease, it highlights God’s justice toward foreigners.

February 10 likewise commends bold leadership:

  • Exodus 34:29-35 describes Moses’ leaving Sinai with the commandments, his face shining.
  • Psalm 99 announces God as ruler of all, lover of justice, establishing equity, answering prayers.
  • 2 Corinthians 3:12-4:2 comments that “since we have such a great hope, we act with boldness … we do not lose heart.”
  • Luke 9:28-36 narrates Jesus’ transfiguration, which the disciples failed to understand.

Ash Wednesday (February 13) recalls our intimate connection with the earth: “You are dust, and to dust you will return.”

  • Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 highlights the locust plague that infests the land, ruining crops, reminding us that food is a gift.
  • Isaiah 58:1-12 claims that acceptable worship means alleviating hunger, homelessness, and want, not acquiring selfish advantages.
  • Psalm 51:1-17 recognizes dependence on God for living within limits.
  • 2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10 distinguishes between wealth and security, on the one hand, and lives well lived, on the other.
  • Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21 insists that material treasures perish, and commends spiritual treasure instead.

February 17, Lent’s first Sunday, includes the Deuteronomy passage discussed above. Also

  • Psalm 91:1-2, 9-16 commends security in God alone.
  • Romans 10:8b-13 recalls God’s love for all without distinction.
  • Luke 4:1-13 commends trust in God over Faustian agreements with the devil, who deceptively offers limitless power.

February 24, Lent’s second Sunday, offers various hints:

  • In Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18, God invites Abram to consider future generations.
  • Psalm 27 offers the ecologically poignant line “I believe I will see the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.”
  • Philippians 3:17-4:1, with its distinction between minds set on earthly things and heavenly citizenship, invites reconsideration of what belonging to God means — renunciation not of God’s creation, but of materialism, which defies God.
  • In Luke 13:31-35, Jesus compares his compassion to a mother hen’s care.