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A Mournful Land and a Common Hope

Sermon - 10/01/06
Daniel E. H. Bryant
First Christian Church, Eugene, Oregon

Hosea 4:1-6

The scripture text this morning is from the prophet Hosea, but I'm going to hold off on that and share it with you just a little bit later.  

As some of you know, for the last couple of weeks we have been featuring stories, video testimonies, from members of the church reflecting on the importance of the church in their families, the meaning of faith, and their thoughts on stewardship.  As part of our annual campaign on the theme 'Common Hope, Common Trust'.  

I had planned for this morning to have a video related to stewardship of the earth, featuring Al Gore.  But Al didn't show up in time (!), for me to do the editing work that I needed to do in order to present that.  But I do have some other things that I want to share.

Interfaith Power and Light is a national organization that arranged with Paramount Pictures a special, exclusive showing of Al Gore's movie "An Inconvenient Truth" during the month of October, as part of the spotlight on global warming being conducted by the Interfaith Power & Light group.  How many have see that movie?  So quite a few of you have already seen it.  We're going to have an opportunity to see it here this coming Friday evening.

At any rate, there are 11 congregations in this area that are joining together as part of this effort, and we held a press conference over at First United Methodist church on Thursday to talk about that.  Rather than just tell you about it, I'd like to show it to you (broadcast on KVAL T.V. in Eugene):

Global warming is one of the most serious challenges facing us today, according to the Union of Concerned Scientists.  But not everyone agrees -- the Cooler Heads Coalition calls the risk of global warming 'speculative'.  However, the federal government says there is 'certainty' that human activities are rapidly adding greenhouse gases to the atmosphere, and that these gases tend to warm our planet.  It is an issue that global religious leaders are now preaching to their congregations.

Reverend John Pitney drives his electric vehicle to the First United Methodist church every day.  It's his way of helping the environment and spreading the word about global warming.  "People are stopping me all the time to ask me questions about it, so I have wonderful conversations about how to take care of the world".  Now, he's joining leaders of nearly a dozen local congregations in one united environmental message:

"Because global warming is not just a numbing scientific reality, but one of the most serious moral, ethical, and religious matters of our time on this planet".

It's part of a national interfaith effort.  "We're gambling with life as we know it".  Uniting Jews, Christians, Unitarians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and others with a common belief to correct environmental sins.  As part of this effort, local churches and synagogues will be airing the move "An Inconvenient Truth".  The first showing will be here a St. Jude's this Sunday night.

The Al Gore documentary spells out the science and predictions about man's impact on the ozone layer, heating up the earth.  The movie has drawn praise as brilliant, and criticism as alarmist.  But these religious leaders say the issue transcends politics.

Dan Bryant:  "I would say it equals and goes beyond any other catastrophe that we have experienced in the history of the human race".

They plan to sign a covenant to practice what they preach.  Temple Beth Israel uses solar panels, St. Jude's switched to low-voltage fixtures, others switched light bulbs and turned down thermostats.  And of course, Reverend Pitney on his drive to reduce greenhouse gases, small steps with a global goal:  "It's our chance to mobilize and take decisive action together on behalf of God's creation".

I offered to drive up in my Toyota, 1987 van with a hole in the muffler, but somehow they didn't think that would add to the message that we wanted to convey J.

We were looking for 20 to 30 seconds, and they gave us over two and a half minutes on the 6:00 o'clock news.  We felt pretty good about that.

Global warming, as I think most of you by now should know, is a theory that carbon dioxide emissions are creating a 'greenhouse effect' that is trapping more and more of the sun's energy in the earth's atmosphere, thereby warming it up.  Al Gore talks about this in that movie, "An Inconvenient Truth", explains it quite well, so that it's easy to understand.  I thought I'd do my Al Gore imitation here, since I couldn't get them to give me the movie.  If you've seen that movie, you know that it's a glorified, very well-done PowerPoint presentation with his Apple laptop computer.  I've got mine here, so I'm doing my best to follow in his footsteps.  He almost got elected president of the United States, I almost became rich & famous . . . . . oh well.

So there's the theory.  The question in everyone's mind is:  how real is it?  Can we be sure?  Do we really know? What certainty is there?  And I'd like to show you then, since I don't have Al, this HBO special -- a number of scientists who talk about precisely that:

You should care about global warming, because it's going to remake the face of the earth.  The average person can just sort of start to sense the changes, but scientists can see the whole picture.  We're headed toward a completely different world than the one we're used to.  

I'm often asked what the extent of the scientific consensus is around global warming.  I'd put it at 90-95%.

It's getting warmer, the storms are getting stronger, the glaciers are melting.  And the plants and animals are changing as you'd expect when it's warming.  It's getting pretty hard to say anymore 'this is all together an accident of nature'.  

The changes due to global warming are already visible, even to the average man in the street.  

As one local scientist put it, the debate is over.  The only issue is how severe the impact will be, and what can we do about it.

The effects of global warming are numerous, and I'm not going to go through all of those, instead I'd just like to highlight one example.  At a City Club meeting last year, we heard a local climatologist talk about just the impact on the snow-pack here.  We can expect a 50% reduction in the snow-pack in the Cascades.  So think about the impact in terms of water availability and power generation.  The Russell's were in Peru earlier this year and brought back pictures of the glaciers that are receding in the Andes, and heard reports about all of the people in that area that depend upon the water from those glaciers and the expect that those glaciers will likely disappear during this century.

And so scientists in that HBO special talk about the impact of the glaciers in Alaska:

In Alaska, there are about 2,000 large glaciers.  More than 99% are currently melting, retreating, and shrinking.

The last time we had a complete melting of glaciers on the Juneau ice field was probably 5,000 or more years ago.  So this warming trend we're seeing is extremely significant.

We're standing on the shore-line of Mendenhall Lake.  Behind me is Mendenhall Glacier.  70 years ago, I would have had 150 to 200 feet of ice above my head, because where I am right now would have been under the glacier.  And the retreat that you're seeing took place in the lifetime of my parents.

There's nothing as simple as two photographs, taken from the same location, where you can see physical changes to the surface of the earth.

We will make the political debate of 'is climate changing?, how is climate changing?'  We can show you unequivocal visual documentation that the earth's surface is changing.

Mendenhall Glacier in 1941

Mendenhall Glacier in 2004


What we're seeing is melt-water, cold melt-water, that's just been converted from solid ice to liquid water.  Each year, the amount of melting is increasing.

The water from the melting of this glacier ice ends up in the global ocean, and the sea level rises.

If all the glaciers in Alaska were to completely melt, the sea level would go up less than 1 foot.  But, if you melt Greenland, the sea level will go up more than 20 feet.  And if you were to melt all of Antarctica, the total result would be a sea level rise of more than 240 feet.  We'd see total inundation of coastlines around the world.    

So scientists are pretty much in virtual agreement that the cause of this global warming is the burning of fossil fuels -- oil, gas, coal, and the like.  Oddly enough, that means that the solution to this problem is within our reach.  Listen:

The United States uses more energy, by far, than any other country in the world.  America has about 5% of the world's population, and it adds about 25% of the carbon dioxide.  When you put a molecule of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere today, because it came out of your tailpipe or your chimney, it stays in the atmosphere for something like 100 years.  

We're already committed to a certain amount of warming.  But the future lies largely in our hands, it's under our control.  Whether we get a modest warming that we can adapt to, or whether warming gets out of control.  To stabilize the climate, we'll need to cut emissions by something like 80%.  But it doesn't have to be done overnight.  We can do it gradually over the course of this century.

I don't think American's lack ingenuity or innovation, I think we really thrive on that.  And given such a challenge, I think we can reinvent ourselves in a way to be really extraordinary.

I think it could really renew the United States' ability to lead the world technologically.  And by the way, the time from the Wright brothers first flight to Neil Armstrong setting foot on the surface of the moon, was only a little over 60 years.  

So if we think about what we have achieve in those 60 years technologically, and we think about the possibilities of what we could achieve in the next 60 years if we put our minds to it.

Astrophysicist Brian Swimme says that we need to think in terms of mass extinction.  For most of human history, where we were completely unaware that anything like that was possible.  When scientists found the first dinosaur bones, they assumed that they had to be bones of creatures that existed perhaps somewhere else on the earth that had not yet been explored.  It's only been recently that we have become aware that the extinction of the dinosaurs occurred about 65 million years ago and at the same time we're becoming aware that thousands and thousands of species are becoming extinct now.

The American Museum of Natural History did a survey of biologists in the United States and discovered that 70% of biologists believe that we are in a period of mass extinction.  And so Swimme says this is not a technological problem, but fundamentally it is a spiritual problem.  The materialism of Western culture, built around individualism and accumulation of 'stuff', is literally destroying us.  Swimme says:  

"What is necessary for us to understand is that at the root of things is community.  We came out of community, so how can we organize our economy so that it is based on community and not on accumulation?  How can we organize our religion to teach us about community?  And when I say community, I mean the whole earth community.  That is the ultimate sacred demand".

And I think that's what we seek to teach here.  He continues:

"Darwin shows us that everything is kin.  Talk about spiritual insight -- everything is kin at the level of genetic relatedness.  So let's build a civilization that is based upon the reality of our relationships".  

With all of this in mind, I want to share with you now the prophetic word that comes as quite a challenge to us, from the prophet Hosea, in the 4th chapter where we read:

Hear the word of the Lord, O people of Israel;
   for the Lord has an indictment against the inhabitants of the land.
There is no faithfulness or loyalty,
   and no knowledge of God in the land.
2Swearing, lying, and murder,
   and stealing and adultery break out;
   bloodshed follows bloodshed.
3Therefore the land mourns,
   and all who live in it languish;
together with the wild animals
   and the birds of the air,
   even the fish of the sea are perishing.

4Yet let no one contend,
   and let none accuse,
   for with you is my contention, O priest.
5You shall stumble by day;
   the prophet also shall stumble with you by night,
   and I will destroy your mother.
6My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;
   because you have rejected knowledge,
   I reject you from being a priest to me.
And since you have forgotten the law of your God,
   I also will forget your children.

Maybe that's why so many religious leaders are coming forward in this time to speak out on this issue.  

We are all related.  Earth, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, human beings and God.  And because of our neglect of this knowledge, our relatedness, we risk not only ourselves, but as the prophet says, we risk those we love most.  Our family, our parents, our children, and even the animals of the earth.  Therefore, we have not just a responsibility to do something, we have a mandate from God to do something.  To get our heads out of the sand and to stop this destruction before it is too late.

So what do we do?  Where do we begin?  Here are a few ideas:

We just have to live smart, and stop trying to get away with 'bigger, bigger, bigger' because you just can't keep doing that forever without having mother nature last.  When you buy a refrigerator, look at the label, calculate the electrical costs.  If it's $50 more, but it saves you $20 a year, you're going to get your payback so fast -- you can't get that kind of money in a bank.

When you walk out of the room -- do you turn the light out?  Do you ask your kids to turn the light out?  When you buy a car, does it have to be 8,000 pounds?  How 'bout a 3,500-pound hybrid?  It's a great car, it works well, and when the gas lines come when we get shortages, you'll be very happy you can go 500 miles on it and only have to pay $30 and not $80 for your tank of gas.  

Every year cars and trucks emit about 1.5 billion tons of carbon dioxide pollution, global warming pollution, in the United States.  That's more than most countries emit from all sources combined -- from electricity, from cars, from industry.  If we could shift to hybrids, we could cut that in half.

I love that first guy, he reminds me of a younger Einstein with his hair sticking out -- how can someone look at him and not think immediately this guy knows what he's talking about?!

The Interfaith Power & Light group was formed to help us to think and to organize as faith communities.  To work together to discover and to renew our relationships with the earth, utilizing our religious convictions as a basis for action.

I invite you to hear now how one priest in California talks about just that -- about how her faith informs her and has led her to establish a new group who organize and mobilize our faith community:

Greetings, brothers and sisters, my name is Sally Bingham.  I'm a priest in the Episcopal diocese in California.  I'm also the founder of the Regeneration Project, which is a ministry devoted to deepening the connection between ecology and faith.  We're committed to transforming the way religious people think, feel, and respond to one of the greatest problems to ever confront God's creation -- global warming.

I don't teach the science of global warming.  I don't debate its causes.  I believe the scientists are the true prophets and I take their word that global warming is a very real problem, with negative impacts so severe it's hard to imagine them.  I believe them when they tell us that global temperatures will rise more than 8 degrees over the next 100 years.  I believe that we humans have developed an unhealthy addiction to fossil fuels like oil and coal.  And that burning them is upsetting the balance of nature by putting too much carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.  And I believe that it's up to us to take a leadership role in reversing that trend.

And by 'us', I mean all of us who take to heart the commandments to love God and love our neighbors as ourselves.  It's a matter of faith, it's a matter of conscience.  Because we were created in the image of God, we have a special responsibility.  Some call the subject of this 'responsibility environmental justice'.  I call it the proper religious response.  All three monotheistic traditions hold that there is a covenant between God and humans, and that we are stewards of God's creation and are called to care for it.

In practical terms, loving God and loving God's creation means protecting the world around us.  It means preserving living creatures and ecosystems, not destroying them.  And loving your neighbors as yourself means not polluting your neighbor's air.  It means thinking about the impact of your behavior on those around you, and making choices accordingly.

The good news is that we can make a difference, and that we have more power to change the way things are than we think we do (Sally Bingham again):

Who can we count on to alleviate all the difficult problems caused by global warming?  The answer to that question is:  look around you.  Literally, look around you.

Right now, wherever you're watching this presentation, you're probably in the company of others in your faith community who share your belief in God.  They believe in loving God and God's creation, and in loving your neighbor as yourself.  And don't forget the group around you includes you -- me, us.  And you're not the only ones receiving this message -- it's being circulated across the country.  If every person who professes to love God and creation takes this message to heart and commits to reducing their own energy use, more than 150 million Americans would be working to make change happen.  We can lead this movement.

So we represent a powerful force.  We represent enough people to make significant reductions in fossil fuel consumption and pollution levels.  And significant increases in the use of renewable energy sources.  And we have the capacity to exert a lot of influence on our policy makers.  

In the eyes of many, it's people of faith who are called to take on this enormous responsibility.  

So the challenge is before us as people of faith to take on this responsibility.  And Friday night we'll have the opportunity to view that movie "An Inconvenient Truth" and to engage in dialogue afterwards to talk about the things that we can do.  

I would invite you to join with us at that time and to join with thousands of others in the churches, synagogues, and temples across the country as together we explore the ways that we can find a solution.  To put our minds and our faith to work for the sake of the earth and the future of our children.


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