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Tuesday
Aug062019

Eighth Sunday after Pentecost - August 4, 2019 - The Rev. Matthew Stewart

A few weeks ago, a few friends of mine took me along for a trip to Iceland. Iceland is a place of amazing natural beauty. I feel really lucky to have had the chance to see things like dormant volcanos, and bubbling hot springs, and adorable puffins.  But probably the highlight of the trip was this big hike we took. You walk past a whole bunch of waterfalls and eventually make your way to walk out onto icefields from one of the many glaciers of Iceland. And I’m one of those people like many of you for whom nature can give me this sense of the presence of God. The beauty. The awe. It can take us beyond ourselves. And this hike was that for me. 

So, we’re out there on this icefield in the middle of nowhere, except there is little hostel there right up next to the glacier. A place where you can unroll a sleeping bag and sleep on the floor. We didn’t stay there but we did stop by to refill our water bottles and, in the process, our phones picked up on the hut’s wifi. And so, with the disturbing magic of modern technology, my phone knew I was on an Iceland glacier and so proceeded to offer me a bit of related news. And that was that elsewhere in Iceland they were preparing to memorialize the death of another glacier. 

Back in 2014, this glacier called Ok (pronounced Auk) died due to human-caused climate change. One of the amazing things about glaciers is they have such a massive accumulation of ice and snow that they are always moving. But, if too much melts away, they stop and become what glacier scientists call “dead ice.” In a week or so, a plaque will be installed at this former glacier. It will say, “Ok is the first Icelandic glacier to lose its status as a glacier. In the next 200 years all our glaciers are expected to follow the same path. This monument is to acknowledge that we know what is happening and what needs to be done. Only you know if we did it. August 2019 415ppm CO2.”

So, here I am, standing in the middle of God’s beautiful creation and my Iphone’s reminding me that we are destroying it. This land of living ice will become a land of dead ice if our species doesn’t radically change the way we live in the world. 

And, of course, there is so much more that is being killed off by climate change. Lots of animal species go extinct each year and we’re starting to lose mammal species in particular. People in the poorest parts of the world suffer most from climate change. Poverty and starvation will increase. Languages will be lost to climate change as fringe communities on islands and coastlines need to relocate as refugee. Biodiversity and human diversity will diminish.

It isn’t partisan hyperbole to say we are entering into a climate apocalypse. 

Further we Christians have another reason to be horrified at climate change. Climate change is hurting the planet. Climate change is hurting other species. Climate change is hurting our species. But climate change is also hurting God. You know, we Christians believe that God was most incarnate, most present in the world, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. But we also believe that God, through God’s indwelling Spirit, is somehow in us and in the world. In the planet. The destruction of our world is a reenactment of sorts of Good Friday. Yet another set of nails driven into the incarnate body of the Divine. All creation is soaked in Christ and so I think if Matthew 25 was being written today, Jesus might add one more line, “Whatever you have done unto Mother Earth, you have done unto me.”

So, what do we do? How do we live in this time? Well, I certainly don’t feel like I have the best of answers here but this week, while I was driving my fossil fuel burning car around, I found myself a podcast that gave me some new ideas. It’s by Adrienne Maree Brown who Lauren quoted from last week. The podcast is called “How to Survive the End of the World.” And she explores in it how to live and feel and be in times like this. And, as an aside, it’s good stuff even of those of you for whom the apocalypse that seems most pressing to you isn’t climate change.  Maybe something else is making your life fall apart. Racism or oppression. Addiction or the loss of health or job or the death of loved one. Life falls apart a lot. And so Maree Brown and her sister share a lot about how they live in the face of it all. And I want to share two particular things they talked about that jumped out at me. 

The first is that we shouldn’t avoid the apocalypses of the world but rather that we should sit and face them. Indeed, this is very much in keeping with the teaching of Jesus. Jesus was an apocalyptic prophet. It’s a part of his teaching that we don’t like to hear very much when he says stuff like, “The sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light” or “For at that time there will be great suffering, such as has not been from the beginning of the world.”  Apocalypse was something challenged his hearers to wrestle with. We don’t like to hear it much so we only read those passages for a few weeks in December. But maybe we should hear it more. The world, at least as we know it, is ending. And what Adrienne Maree Brown says is, even before we try to do something about it… you know, a lot of us activist types want to jump up and go do something, make some change… and we can and should do that… but, before we do those things, we need to sit with apocalypse and grieve it. And as communities grieve and lament together. And you know, that communal piece, I think it’s really important. Therapists are beginning to see that more and more folks are coming to them with what now is being termed “Climate Grief.” This brand of depression that comes from seeing how our earth is being destroyed, and also feeling an immense sense of powerlessness because the powers that be don’t seem to care and so the collision course we are on seems inevitable. There are multiple folks in our congregation here at St. James’s that wrestle with serious Climate Grief.  And that’s why I think the grieving together… the communal naming and lamenting of climate apocalypse… is so important. Because doing it together not only gives us the comfort of not going it alone but also provides the space for healing. A healing that isn’t about ignoring the truth or expecting a supernatural intervention but a healing where we are freed to live authentically and even with a joy right in the face of that which is so horrifying.  

And this gets to Adrienne Maree Brown’s second idea. Her newest book is called Pleasure Activism. In it, she talks about how activist types, and all of us really, sometimes feel like we should feel bad all. The world is full of pain so I should be sad. The world is full of injustice so I should be constantly unsatisfied. The world is broken so I should not feel good. But Brown says, “Nope.” The best activists are those that claim pleasure. That do face apocalypse honestly but also do not fail to laugh, do not fail to enjoy life, do not feel guilty to feel embodied pleasure. Indeed some of her book and her podcast is little racy for all the ways she thinks we should seek after pleasure in our lives.

And I think she’s right. I don’t think this some kind of hipster hedonism but right in line with the teaching of Jesus. I think part of what Jesus meant in today’s Gospel about “being rich with God” is not some sort of world-denying asceticism. Jesus isn’t saying here to love God means have lives devoid of all sensual pleasures. No, I think being rich with God is where we are in love with God and of all God’s blessings, we are love with the world and all the world’s beauties, and we are even in love with ourselves… all the wonders and quirks of our fleshly, embodied selves.  All of it is the complete joy that Jesus wants for us. Because not only did he talk about facing the end of the world but he also said, “I have said these things to you so that my joy may be in you, and that your joy may be complete.” 

Facing apocalypse and knowing complete joy. Knowing real powerlessness in the face of death and having complete confidence in the reality of new life. We follow a Savior who calls us to action for justice and who invites us to savor times of just sitting at his feet. We follow a Savior who says it is the end of the world and yet do not fear for “Lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world.”