The text for this
Earth-Day Sunday I chose from Paul's letter to the Colossians, chapter
1, verses 15 through 20:
He [Christ] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.
There's a saying in the gospel of
Thomas, in which Jesus says 'Split a piece of wood, I am there, lift up
the stone and you will find me there'.
When I first encountered this a few
years ago, I thought 'how silly'. You know, sounds like something
that came out of a hippie commune or something. This notion of
finding Jesus under a rock, or by splitting wood. It's easy to
dismiss the gospel of Thomas because it's not in scripture -- it's not
one of the 4 gospels, you won't find it in your Bible. It's a text
from the 2nd century that was lost and then re-discovered in 1945.
Much of it is very familiar, sounds like Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.
But much of it is very strange, very different, like this saying.
What I think is intriguing is when you
take this saying from the gospel of Thomas and put it along side
Colossians, where Paul (actually, many scholars think Colossians was
written by a disciple of Paul's after Paul's death) says that all things
have been created through Christ. In Him, all things hold
And then suddenly that saying from
Thomas that Jesus can be found in all things does not sound so strange
after all. Now, I'm not suggesting that Jesus ever said this quote
in the gospel of Thomas. The Jesus Seminar, which rated all the
sayings of Jesus (including those in Thomas) gave this particular saying
its lowest rating -- in other words, they don't think it came from
Jesus, but that it reflects later traditions about Jesus. Indeed,
quite possibly from the 2nd century.
But even if it didn't come from Jesus,
it puts onto the lips of Jesus what Colossians says about the exalted
Christ. That the risen Christ is an integral part of creation.
These are great texts, of course, for
Earth Day. But what the heck do they mean? Saying Jesus can
be found under a rock, or that Christ is in all things, that all things
are held together through him?
Before I go any further, I need to make
a disclaimer. These texts are not about saving the
environment. No Biblical author ever conceived that the natural
world could ever be threatened by any human activity. God, yes.
But not by humans.
What this text from Colossians is
about, and why it has significance for us today is that it has to do
with Christ's relationship to creation, and therefore by extension, for
us as Christians as well.
Now, we're all familiar with the idea
that the earth is the Lord's and that we are to be stewards of it.
That's kind of the theme of the anthem 'This is our Father's World', and
I'm sure you've heard many sermons (I know I've given many sermons) on
that kind of idea.
I want to take a different approach
this morning from this text in Colossians, and suggest to you that
concern for the well-being of the earth is not just a matter of our
stewardship (which we too often view as something that's optional
anyway, kind of like celibacy -- fine for the Pope and Mother Teresa,
but don't expect me to abide by that
I propose for you that care for the earth, as Christians, is a matter
that is central to the gospel message. And therefore is not
optional but is part of the good news we are called to proclaim.
That in Christ, we are reconciled to God:
And what is absolutely stunning in this
passage from Colossians is the claim that through the death and
resurrection of Christ not only are we reconciled to God but all things
-- whether on earth or in heaven -- are reconciled to God.
In short, the entire cosmos is reunited
with God because the first of all of God's creation, the one in whom all
else was created, gave himself to the world and was destroyed by it.
But by raising Christ on Easter, God restored harmony to the cosmos and
made reconciliation possible.
This idea that Christ is before all
things and in all things is often called "the cosmic Christ".
Franciscan Priest Richard Rohr, whose spiritual writings on these
matters I have found most insightful (quoted him a few times as of
late), says for instance that this idea of a cosmic Christ means:
He goes on to say:
The incarnation of God in all things is
the cosmic Christ who is both the agent of creation and the agent of
reconciliation. That is, the one who brings us into being is also
the one who brings us into harmony with God in all things.
Behind my desk, if you've ever been in
my office, like most preachers, I've got a couple sets of commentaries.
I think preachers get those to make us look impressive and learned
One of those sets is the New Interpreter's Bible, published by Abingdon
Press, one of the leading Christian publishing houses, about 10 years
ago. $89 bucks for a volume (and on up), multiply that by 12, and
you almost get the costs of one of my son's Calculus textbooks at Lane
Community College! But, of course, price does not determine value.
The value of those commentaries I think far exceeds the price. And
in the commentary on Colossians, Andrew Lincoln (a British Biblical
scholar) says this about this particular text:
That the earth is in need of such
reconciliation can be of little doubt. Did you see the article
yesterday in the Register Guard? I think it was on page 5, a small
article titled "Documents show climate group ignored scientists".
Evidently there was a group employed by the fossil fuel industry called
the Global Climate Coalition. And it's purpose was to proclaim the
'good news' that climate change is natural, not caused by us, therefore
there is nothing that we need to do about it. And they've been
proclaiming this for the last 15 years.
But what the article reveals is that in
their initial report their own scientists said:
Well, guess what -- when the report was
released, that sentence was edited out, deleted. Didn't want
anyone to know that.
Now, there are still a fair number of
folks who don't believe climate change is real, or if it is, it's not
caused by human activity. And a few scientists still who would
claim that. But I like this cartoon:
We don't like the diagnosis because it
would mean if we don't change our fossil fuel based economy and
lifestyles, the earth is going to change it for us and it won't be
pleasant. And so we find the experts who will give us the
diagnosis we want rather than the one we need.
President Obama picked Dr. Steven Chu
to head the Department of Energy. Dr. Chu is a physicist. I
don't know a whole lot about physics except that you've got to be a
really smart guy to get a PhD in it, right? Dr. Chu is not your
average physicist, he got a Nobel Prize for his work in physics.
So he's a really smart guy. And he was interviewed in
Newsweek last week, and the first question was about global warming.
And his first response was this:
urge everyone to do this: Google the 2007 Intergovernmental
Panel on Climate Change".
In other words, look up
the document. Well I thought that would be a good thing to do in
preparation for this Sunday. Wow, did I discover a lot -- my eyes
were opened to all kinds of stuff:
And you may recall:
They won this along side of Al Gore.
Because Al Gore is a big celebrity, he got all of the attention, but
they were given the prize as well.
They were formed in 1988, and their
first report was in 1990:
Notice their latest report is 3 times
as long (I didn't read the whole thing
In other words, this is an enormous
global effort unlike any before that are behind these reports.
One word about the scientific process
that these authors go through:
The cartoon depicts a scientists that
is headed down the road with his article in hand, to have the article
approved. And on either side of the road are all these other
scientists with swords and clubs and guns. And I love the one in the
middle on the right -- he's got a chainsaw with a hood over his head!
And the one behind that is death. And if you can make it through
this gauntlet, you see, of scientists reviewing your article, then
it is accepted.
So that's the basic process that we're
talking about, that these folks have gone through in order to publish
Four different reports, beginning in
1990 and the latest in 2007, and what's interesting is how those reports
have changed. There's a progression of certainty expressed in
Notice they initial said it may take a
decade to detect "unequivocal" evidence of human-caused climate change.
Then, just 5 years later, they said the balance of evidence suggests
discernable human influence. That's the same year those other
scientists published their report that was edited by the fossil fuel
industry. So in other words, this group is more conservative
than the scientists hired by the fossil fuel industry.
In the last report, they say it is very
likely (odds 9 out of 10) due to greenhouse gases. The colored
graph on the right (above) shows the rising average temperature -
The conclusion of their report:
That 3rd conclusion (above) is the one
I found most stunning -- that humans control the mechanisms of climate
change. Think about the implications of that -- we control the
mechanisms for global climate change.
The report gives you all kinds of data
-- the rising temperature, rising seal level, decreasing snow cover:
Even more impressive are the pictures
-- this one was from the movie Inconvenient Truth. This glacier in
Alaska, picture taken in 1941 in August:
Fifty-three years later, in 2004,
here's the same glacier, now mostly a sea of water.
Or these charts from the different
continents, of the rising temperature -- the rose area shows the range
of temperatures in the last 100 years, the blue area behind that shows
what those temperatures would have been without the greenhouse gases
causing the greenhouse effect:
And this slide of data, which is quite
stunning -- from 1950 to 1998, the weather events and the economic
damage caused by those events (very measurable). In the 1950s,
there were 13 weather-related events. In the 1990's (only going up
to 1998 -- before Katrina in New Orleans), there were 72 events, and you
see the green bar chart showing the economic damages.
The effects of carbon dioxide that goes
off the charts -- this is 10,000 years of measurements from ice core
samples. In the last 50 years, you can see this dramatic rise in
carbon dioxide. That's one of the greenhouse gases that causes the
So what is the effect on temperatures
and precipitation? This is in the next century, their projections
of changes in precipitation. The dark blue/purple shaded areas are
a 20-40% increase in rain and snow (mostly rain). The yellow and
red shaded areas are decreases of 20-40%. In other words, a
shifting of weather patterns, more precipitation in the north and south,
and less precipitation in the central areas:
Think of the impact that would have on
us. I heard a report at the City Club about a year ago that the
only ski resort that will survive in Oregon would probably be Bachelor,
and maybe Mt. Hood. Willamette Pass is history within the next
The temperature changes (below) -- the
light brown area is 1-2 degrees, the orange and red areas 3-4 degrees,
and then the purple area (the polar cap region), 7 degrees increase in
temperature by the next century. That of course would mean the
extinction of polar bears. In fact, they say that these kind of
temperature changes would possibly lead to the extinction of up to 80%
of all animal and plant species:
So that gives you an idea of the types
of changes we're talking about within a century IF nothing is done.
The good news is:
Mitigation -- changing the way we live,
changing our practices -- will enable us to change this trajectory.
So, the report lists a number of
examples of things we can do:
I learned just this week (Phyllis Weare
enlightened me) that 40% of the energy we consume in Oregon
(electricity) comes from coal-fired plants. Even though we don't
have any in the Northwest, we import that energy from those plants
outside of the Northwest to supply our needs. Coal burning is one
of the big contributors to greenhouse gases. So converting to
natural gas is helpful.
The great work of our Power & Light
Committee has enabled us to swap 5 refrigerators and freezers in this
church to more efficient models.
These are all things that we can do,
and have begun to do, and with continued development in new technology
[Phyllis Weare was then invited to
review an insert in the church bulletin that surveys what we as
individuals can do to change our lifestyle habits in support of the
I'd like to conclude by bringing us
back to that quote from Richard Rohr:
The gospel message is that God's
mission in Christ is nothing less than the reconciliation of all
creation, of all beings and all things, united in harmony with God.
In the words of that St. Patrick prayer that we began the service today:
If we are to arise to a new day of
living in harmony in Christ with God's creation, it must begin here and
now, in us, with a new commitment to live in the One who reconciles all
things to God.