Susan Adams, 27th November 2022
NZ Herald, page A20: 22 October 2022 (Roman Hill)
Presumably, every single person in the world could argue they alone are responsible for an insignificant impact on the climate, and need not change anything.
Matthew 24:1-2, 36-44
We have just heard a reading relevant to Advent Sunday… it spoke of paradox.
Well there is plenty of evidence of the paradox of our time for those of us who call ourselves Christians: the shops are full of seasonal good cheer – the joy of Christmas with all the fancy food and baubles; while in the liturgical calendar the advent season is one of stock take – looking hard and honestly at our world and facing up to the grim state of things.
And goodness me, we have been hearing some grim things lately.
Things about the state of our nation- food insecurity, pressure on emergency housing, continuing ram-raids. We hear very disturbing things about our wider world too – the horror-war in the Ukraine, about food insecurity (read famine) in Somalia, and the persecution and gunning down of LGBTIQ people.
This morning I am thinking, in particular, about information coming from COP 27. The final report was very disappointing for most with no agreement, again, on the actual reduction of carbon emissions. A positive outcome – as I hear it, is that the richer carbon producing countries will establish a fund to compensate developing poorer countries as they transition to renewable energy instead of continuing to develop using fossil fuels.
However, the Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, said in his opening address to the conference “We are in the fight of our lives, and we are losing. We are on a highway to climate hell with our foot on the accelerator.”
If we destroy the planet what else will matter to us?
Pacific nations are even now planning for the possibility of relocation, of the evacuation of climate refugees and what that might mean. ***
This is an intense few weeks in the Christian calendar.
It’s a time when we are reminded to wake up to what is going on, to read the signs of the times and prepare for what is coming toward us.
Advent is not ‘Christmas come early’. It is an invitation to look at with eyes wide open at our world and to wonder if this is the life we dream of, the life the kin-dom of God opens up for us? It is an opportunity to consider change and embrace a new way of life even as we wait to celebrate life and hope at Christmas.
Advent is a difficult time, because if we take it seriously it demands a response, and we might well wonder if it is all too hard: too bleak.
Waking up to the signs of the times and coming to terms with matters that need our committed attention if we are to make changes, is tough.
We rightly wonder if it is all too hard for us, if it’s worth it, if we can manage it, if this is what being a Christian is about.
I say this because today I am taking the gospel writer we call Matthew as my model. In today’s reading Matthew uses images and language that are shocking – they are a wakeup call..
Matthew has Jesus redirect the gaze of his listeners from the beauty of the temple to its destruction: ‘not one stone will be left upon another.’
“When will this be?” they ask Jesus, to be told “soon” and, “ there will be wars and insurrection and nation will rise against nation, kingdoms against kingdoms …. There will be earthquakes and famine and plagues in various places”
Even in the midst of your ordinary lives disruption and disaster may strike – at any time! You could be at a party, at work, on holiday – anytime!
The end of the world is in sight in this passage.
Could he be speaking to us? It all sounds familiar…. like a reading from the NZ Herald.
There is no more waiting time! Horror and destruction is upon the people, the temple has been destroyed and the people persecuted! ***
Remember, Matthew was writing after all these things had already happened – in the 80s-90s BCE.**
Matthew’s hearers( the Christ followers) would have already experienced these things, including persecution and betrayal, and the alienation from family. Matthew is warning his hearers, “do not be seduced by surface beauty, or led astray by false promises or people claiming easy solutions.” Matters are in dire straits but hang in! Don’t give up the struggle! Persist in your vision for a better world.***
The impact of Jesus’ uttering these seeming ‘end time’ predictions in Matthew’s gospel is, amongst other things, to show the people what a great and reliable prophet Jesus is – a new Moses leading the people to a new way of life.
Across more than 2000 years there is still relevance in this text.
This ‘little apocalypse’ still sounds shocking.
It should shock us out of any complacency to turn a blind eye to the state of things in our nation, in our world or with planet-earth.
We do have to be very careful about reading our contemporary situation back into the text, and interpreting what we find in those historic writings through the lens of our contemporary scientific and technological world.
Jesus day was not ‘scientific’ as we understand that term today. There were commonly held expectations that we find strange and unbelievable about the end of the world, and what you could expect when it happened – depending, of course, on your lifestyle and choices.
The Bible doesn’t address the issue of a climate crisis, so we cannot go to the Bible looking for a solution.
- it does point us in the direction of moral or ethical behaviour that will have an impact on our capacity to face our behaviours and shape our attitude and relationship with the earth including the peoples that inhabit it along with us.
- It does challenge us to choose the future we want and to work for and to decide and act for it at every possible opportunity.
- it does remind the people that God is with them in the tough times as well as the joyous ones
And we will find in the Bible the clues to the restorative justice impetuous necessary for both the mitigation and the adaptation necessary if there is to be a future for our grandchildren and all living beings.
We need to restore our ‘right relationship’ with the earth just as we need to restore ‘right-relations’ with people we might have wronged either by direct action or lack of insight and action.
In Advent we declare we long for a future where justice and righteousness are the hallmarks of our human activity.
For this to be so, some things urgently need to change.
Change is not easy, it has a cost.
Sometimes the cost is grief, and
sometimes it is anger, and
sometimes it is conflict.
But we can’t have change that will restore the health of the planet while continuing to enjoy the comforts of life as we have shaped it. Nor can we expect change without alienating some people! Not everyone will be happy if we increase taxes on petrol-driven cars, or restrict private motor vehicles from entering the CBD, or dis-establish dairy farms in Canterbury for example.
Christian faith does not remove us from conflict but it can help us choose when and how conflictual situations might open the way for the ‘activities of God’; when it might be the time to make ‘mountains level and roads straight’ as a popular Advent reading says.
Sometimes it is important to be angry.
Anger in itself is a simply a surge of energy and can be directed destructively or used positively.
Sometimes it is important to confront directly the issues that face us and find the energy to face change.
If we really are interested in the kin-dom of God that we pray for, that alternative to the imperial powers of the princes of petroleum and their fossil-fuel economy. Then,
- now is the time for us to get angry,
- now is the time for us to prepare for conflict,
- now is the time for us to ramp up our gentle persuasion into something more strident.
- Now is the time for shocking speech and stirring action if we care about the life of planet-earth and the future of our children and grandchildren.
- Now is the time to face the fact they may not have a future if we continue on our current trajectory using fossil fuels, methane-gas, chemical fertilizers and destroying of food producing land. ***
The future is closing in on us. Our demand for more and more money and possessions, and bigger and better everything, and GDP growth year by year is bringing the end-times closer. We are killing not just the future for life on planet earth but the lives of countless people now – we are in a pathological spiral to extinction..
What more signs to we want to persuade us of the need to act now?
Theologian and ethicist Carol Robb notes “the industialised nations’ economic patterns of production and consumption since 1800 are the source of most greenhouse gas emissions. We know our policy-makers continue to favour policies that have as results these harms, knowingly and willingly,”
the leaders of the nations know how to decrease the harm but few are doing it. they are behaving unethically.
So let us stop talking about ‘climate change’.
“Climate crisis“, as Greta Thunberg would say, is not even strong enough “the weather is on steroids – wildfires, hurricanes, heat-waves, floods…”
Let’s stop talking about ‘mother earth’ with all the connotations attached of gentle caring unconditional love that will feed us and clothe us clean up after us no matter what we do. Instead, perhaps we can dare talk about planet-earth as our ‘life-partner’ and include in our understanding the shared responsibilities of mutual care that being a life-partner holds.
We do not have unlimited time in which to wait for a solution to the problem of life that we have created to emerge; nor can we simply buy our way out of destruction no matter how much money we have, and we can’t simply summon up a technological solution that will deal swiftly with all the interlocking aspects of the climate crisis no matter how brilliant the minds addressing the situation are. We all need to work together.***
Currently we are faced with an immediate three pronged approach:
- mitigation: reducing our dependency on fossil fuels and food production that we know exacerbate the problem
- adaptation: changing how and where we live,
- a social revolution: changing what we think are the important things about life, imagining a different future, and persisting with our vision.
Now is the time to confront our economic patterns and political relationships and admit they are not life enhancing.
For the followers of Jesus at the end of the first century to whom Matthew was writing, the end had come: the temple had been destroyed, stones had tumbled, fires had burned it all up and family was at war with family. They were nevertheless being invited to remain faithful to Jesus’ vision of the ‘kin-dom’ of God come on earth and to persist in their efforts to bring that to reality.
We are invited to choose the vision of the future we will work for.
If we fail to choose a different way from the one that has brought us to this precipice, the beauty of planet earth will be only a memory, as the beauty of the temple was a memory for Matthew’s audience.
Apocalyptic writing sought to set out the suffering and problems of the times, to remind the people a different future was possible for those who worked for it, and to declare that God remained with the faithful working with them through their grief, their anger and fear toward a life-giving future in which all living beings could flourish. That faith is our inheritance.
The prophets of old used shocking images to wake the people up to the need to change, Jesus used shocking actions, Matthew used shocking language, are we brave enough to shock our contemporaries with a wakeup call to action?
…. you know what time it is, how it is now the moment for you to wake from sleep. Roms. 13:11
What are we?
What are we when the earth flexes her muscles?
No gentle, embrace from this mother now.
What are we when the waters tower and roll?
No peaceful rocking, from this mother here.
What are we when the wild winds roar?
No breath of life from this mother’s spirit.
What are we when elemental fires rage?
No healing warmth in this mother’s arms.
How small we are in our puffed up suits, our inflated egos, our strength of mind,
carrying our piled high purse.
Another aftershock, fires in control, death in the water of life.
We have no control.
The rules we bend, the money we make, the minds we admire cannot help us.
This earth and her power is not for us!
We are parasites on the thin-skin of this whirling planet,
Our earth does not know us, does not mind us.
Our universe does not care that we are small and afraid.
Oh God, energy by whatever name, overflow your compassion so we are washed in hope with eyes open to the size of things.