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Preach-In on Climate Change

On February 16, 2014 the Rev Nancy Sehested led High Country United Church of Christ’s participation in Climate Change Sunday!

This was in association with an invitation to join the National Preach-In on Climate Change through Interfaith Power & LightThe mission of Interfaith Power & Light is to be faithful stewards of Creation by responding to global warming through the promotion of energy conservation, energy efficiency, and renewable energy. This campaign intends to protect the earth’s ecosystems, safeguard the health of all Creation, and ensure sufficient, sustainable energy for all.

In addition to the Sermon that Rev Sehested created for our occasion (included down further on this page) here is the Children’s Story she wrote.

 

Children’s Story for Climate Change Sunday

My daddy loved birds. He played music that was the sound of bird’s singing. He had a books on birds….one for the car and one for the house, just in case he saw a bird that he didn’t recognize. He had binoculars to look at birds from far away. He had a clock that had the sound of a different bird for each hour on the hour.

When I was 8 years old my daddy took my sister Abigail and I to the pond to see the birds. Mom and Dad would wake us up when it was still dark.

It was Saturday morning when we didn’t have to go to school. Mom would give us our breakfast packed in a bag. A biscuit and a thermos with milk in it. Then she kissed us good-bye and said, “Have fun!”

Then off we went in the dark before the sun came up to find our place at the pond beside the tall grasses.

On the way in the car while we were still wiping the sleep from our eyes, Daddy would say, “ Girls, don’t forget that God created every winged bird of every kind and called it good. It was the 5th day of the week when the birds were created. We are on our way to see some of God’s goodness. But once we get out of the car, we will need to be real quiet. No talking. We don’t want to scare the birds. Just follow me and look for the birds in the grasses and on the waters edge and flying up into the sky when the sun comes up.”

So we did. We got out of the car and didn’t make a sound, except my sister yawned with a big noise. “Shhh!!!!” I said. “Don’t scare the birds.”

We crouched down on the ground and waited…. and waited…..and waited.

Then we started hearing something. Ahh.  A noisy old blue jay.

blue jay

In the dim mist of the morning, we saw a blue-winged teal duck with her ducklings. I don’t know why they were called blue-winged teal because they looked like shades of brown, brown, brown to me.

blue_winged_teal_7

Then we saw a big bird…walking on the edge of the pond….and another one and another one….Dad whispered “That’s snow geese.” One of them took flight…, then another and another and another…white like snow with black wings spread way out.

snow-goose-4

Dad couldn’t stay quiet then. “Beautiful. Just Beautiful.”

“Okay, Dad. Can we go now?”’

“Eat your biscuit. And be real quiet.”

With the sun coming up we could see better.

“Look girls! There’s a northern pintail duck swimming around the water.”

northern-pintail-pair-1

I wondered if it was northern if it’d gotten lost in the south.

“Okay, Girls. That’s all for today. Let’s go. But walk very quietly. We don’t want to disturb the birds.”

We started walking, when Dad suddenly stopped.

“There she is! There she is! A snowy egret….right there in the grasses. See her tall skinny legs? She’s a beauty, a real beauty!”

snowy_egret

We went several times on Saturday mornings.

We saw Kingbirds that have a tail like a fan when they fly. We saw cedar waxwings whose tails looked like they were dipped in yellow paint.

Cedar Waxwing4

The next year I was ready to go bird-watching with my Dad again.

“Dad, are we going bird-watching again? It’s spring time.”

“Well, Nancy, we’ll have to find another place. The pond with the grasses was drained of all its water. Then a parking lot was put in. There are no birds there now. It is terrible. It’s a terrible thing to take away the home of God’s beautiful birds. We have to do what we can to save the places for birds to live. That’s what God would want us to do.”

Then my big old dad took out his handkerchief from his pocket and wiped his eyes. It was like he was crying or something. I think he was sad for the birds that lost their home. It made me sad too.

When we come together to be the church, we remember that God hopes we’ll do all we can to save the homes for birds….and all of God’s creatures.

If I forget, will you remind me?

And if you forget, I’ll remind you…Okay?

—Nancy Hastings Sehested, February 15, 2014

 

Sermon for Climate Change Sunday

Brother Sun and Sister Moon

Do you have an inner landscape that you carry around in your spirit? The one that carries you through all kinds of weather?

My inner landscape is the giant Texas sky from the land of my birth. In my imagination I can press my body onto the thick green blades of grass of the earth and gaze at the immense blue sky above me. Clouds of cathedrals pass by.  Brother Sun warms me.

At night I spread out under Sister Moon knowing she is tugging on the ocean tides, as well as in my own small body.

I can return to these images whether I am marooned in a cramped seat on an airplane, or smushed into a subway car, or walking on cement floors through the halls of grey  in a prison.

It brings me peace. I touch again the sacred mysteries. It is a saving grace.  You know it too.

These old mountains worn down by wind and water over 1000’s of years gently hug us, embracing us with beauty. We can carry their image with us throughout our days… the streams, the laurels, the pines, the moss, the waterfalls, the snows. Brother Sun streaks through a forest with its slanting light. Sister Moon lodges in the night sky, and creates her own light show of shadows.

Ah! What splendid beauty surrounds us. We know again  we are one family.

When I want to renew the images in my inner landscape,  and discover peace in a fretful time, I walk through the woods beside noisy streams. Once again I am saved. You too?

Sometimes I am able to travel to the West to see again the vast, vast sky. For over 20 years I have visited a 20,000 acre ranch owned and managed by two friends who are real cowgirls.

Last June I took my usual walk up the mesa. My boots made a crunching noise on the brittle ground. The creek beds were dried up. The ground was cracked, edges open like millions of puzzle pieces scattered across a desert. There was no vegetation for the cattle or the horses. Skinny antelope roamed the plains looking for food. Forest fires burning over the mountain range to the east and to the south were leaving the ranch in a smoky haze. The drought of many years was taking its toll.

My friends valiantly tried to save the land, the waters, the animals. But finally they had to look at defeat. While I was there a huge cattle truck came to haul the animals from the ranch to a site that was beside green pastures and still waters. I watched as the truck made its way down the road, kicking up dust to add to the smoky haze. They are climate change refugees.

Next month my friends move after 27 years on the ranch. They are climate change refugees. They are part of a growing number.

By some predictions there will be 200 million people who are climate change refugees by the year 2050….36 years from now.

Last summer these mountains had record rainfall. The landscape changed with floods and mudslides. We know something about the dangers, the changes right here in our own backyard.

We live in relationship to the earth, in gratitude for its life-sustaining bounty and beauty….and in awe of its unpredictability.

Some of us have ancestors that came to this land long ago as climate change refugees from famines in their homeland. There has always been some measure of shifting populations, migrations, exile, and deaths in severe times. So what is happening now to magnify our vulnerability?

In October 2009 the president of the Republic of the Maldives (Mal-deeves) called a special meeting of his government’s eleven cabinet members. The Maldives are a string of coral islands in the Indian Ocean.  80% of their land is less than one meter above the surface of the ocean. The majority of the 386,000 islanders live within 100 meters of the coastline.

The president and his cabinet members put on scuba diving gear and dove to the ocean floor to conduct their meeting. They used hand signals and white board to communicate. They passed an official resolution from their nation to the nations of the world to curb carbon emissions —-a known cause of sea-level rising. They fear that the rising of the sea is the sinking of their land. They fear becoming climate refugees.

HCUCC is well aware of the issues involved in climate change. This sermon is simply a tiny reminder of our calling to continue to do what we can to cherish the earth. And to remember that we do it from our unique faith perspective.

Yes. We already know about rising sea levels, glaciers melting, drought, fires, floods, typhoons, hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, mudslides, and extreme weather conditions.

Are they “Acts of God” or “Mother Nature”?

Both explanations can hinder us from taking seriously our part and our responsibility as human beings in the climate changes of our time. If it is all of God’s doing, then we are off the hook. If it is all Mother Nature, we can passively accept our fate. After all, we can’t mess with Mother Nature. But we can and we have and we continue to mess with nature.

There has been a rise in the average temperature of the Earth’s atmosphere. Why? Because of the emission of greenhouse gases that are released through the burning of fossil fuels.

We can’t blame God for our human-caused disasters.

The most recent news includes the dangers of mountain top removal, coal ash spills into the Dan River, toxic chemicals in the waters of West Virginia, and damage to land and water with the Keystone XL pipeline.

After a horrible disaster like Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy….or the typhoons of the Philippines, or the fires in California, or the tornados in the Midwest…after one of these horrors that devastates land and people and animals….we can usually count on some religious leader to offer an explanation .

Some say, “It is God’s judgment on our sin.” If that were true, we’d have all been wiped out long ago.

Sometimes we hear people say that the severe weather is of “biblical proportions.” Biblical proportions? What does that mean? God raining down a plague of frogs? Or God flooding the earth again like in Noah’s time? Or God wiping out a family like Job’s?

What is your image of God?

If it was God’s wrath that wiped out vast numbers of people through earthquake, hurricane winds, fires and flood…then the image of God is a fearful one….and we cower before God to appease God’s fury. Or maybe we’d just hate God and want nothing to do with such a god.

When I was a child, some adults told me that thunder was God’s anger and God was stomping in the heavens. I hid under my bed afraid a foot would stomp through the sky.

God created us in God’s own image. Then we do everything we can to create God in our image. How we see God is how we see ourselves.

“Acts of God” is a legal term still used by insurance companies to explain a natural disaster where no one is to blame. It creates an image in the mind of a God who is at a control panel zapping the landscape with disaster.

Remember the story of Job? It is an ancient story wrestling with the question of suffering.  Who is to blame? God, Satan, or us?

The story says that Job was blameless. Job’s 10 children and his livestock were completely wiped out…some by warriors, some by fire, some by wind. Then Job was stricken with leprosy.

Job’s wife named her heart’s assessment of the complete devastation. “Curse God, and die.”

Job’s 3 friends came over to visit him after the horrors. Seeing Job’s suffering they sat with him in silence for 7 days and 7 nights. That seemed the most compassionate response to the tragedies. Silence.

What if the book of Job had ended with all of them sitting in silence? Wow. We might have had an inkling of humility, recognizing how little we know, how little we can understand….and how important it is to share in such a  profound and common human experience of not knowing, not understanding, not having  answers.

Or maybe the book should have ended with all of them silently going about cooking their food together, planting together… doing what they could as resilient human beings. Starting over.

But instead Job started cursing the day he was born. Then the 3 amigos started asking Job to fess up to his sins. Surely he’d done something terrible to bring on such disaster. They explained and blamed both Job and God.

Then Job blamed God. And when he finally got a time with God in conversation, Job wanted to know why. Why’d this happen? The answer came from God in the form of 60-plus questions, but no answers.

With the Psalmist and with Job we too can ask, “Where are you, God? Where are you in this mess?”

Perhaps we can say that God is in the mess, wondering with us, hoping with us, restoring with us and weeping with us. Perhaps we can say that God is not responsible for earthly calamities.

Friday night as I was working on this sermon, our whole house shook. It was an earthquake. 4.4 at its epicenter 150 miles away in South Carolina. It was a reminder. The earth is still shaking and moving. It is still being made, remade, renewed, changed. The Grand Canyon is still being shaped by wind and water. These Appalachian mountains are still changing too. The rains and floods create new avenues of water.

Devastation to plants and animals and humans and housing and buildings happen along the way…even as new growths and new plantings and new ways to conserve the land happens.

Humans have always lived at the mercy and the mayhem of our natural world. We have harnessed wind, sun and water to power our needs. We have harvested the earth to feed our bodies.

We are vulnerable to ecological disasters that can transform our world. We can be defeated by the fury of the elements.

Yet if Job’s 3 friends were asking us this time what sin was committed to cause this calamity, we would have to say: “Yes, we have sinned.”

If sin is “missing the mark”, then sometimes we have missed the mark on cherishing our common earth home. We are not blameless.

Repentance is the good old fashioned word that is called for. The word repent is the Greek word “metanoia”. It means “turn around.” We repent of the ways that we have harmed our earth home…repent, turn around and walk in new paths, new directions, new practices.

The climate change that is hoped for and worked for these days is a change in the climate of our political leaders, a change in the climate of their priorities, so that the climate moves away from stuffing the pockets of big business and toward the responsible use of our natural resources.

From all indications, we are running out of time. How warm will it get? How much harm will be done? How soon? There are many variables. Can we curtail our use of fossil fuels? Some say it is happening. What does it all mean for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren?

We live between certainty and uncertainty. It can be overwhelming and depressing. But then…we remember.  Our calling as followers of Christ is to be hope-bearers.

We follow the Christ who looks at the broken places in our world and seeks healing.

People of faith are practiced in knowing how to live as lovers of people and the planet. People of faith know how to live differently because of our strong values for the good. People of faith know how to re-orient our lives in such a way that it matches up with our mission and our priorities. People of faith know how to live into difficulties.

Maybe we need a “Green Team” named to keep us encouraged in practicing earth-saving ways…however small or large.

Nature? It is within our human nature to want to sustain our life and the life of this earth home. The good news is that there are people all over this country, and all over the world, who are jumping in to save this planet.

It’s at biblical proportions….an ever-expanding number of people of all ages and all walks of life and all religious faiths and no religious faith and all nationalities and classes of people, rising up with courage and conviction to save our common home.

Acts of God? Oh, there are plenty acts of God showing up everywhere.

Dr. Wangari Maahtai (wan-GAH-ree mah-DHEYE) won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2004 for her Green Belt movement that planted 30 million trees in Kenya. Through her efforts women across Africa have planted 10s of millions more trees to restore natural resources. She said that people will fight for food and water. The trees are sentinels for peace and restoration of the land.

Acts of God? Oh, there are plenty of acts of God if you have eyes to see. There are people planting gardens together….like HCUCC with others in the community. There are people cleaning up rivers, and conserving our land

Acts of God? Time would fail us to talk about the many ordinary people doing extraordinary things to respond to the climate change crisis of these times.

May we find ourselves cherishing our inner and outer landscape….knowing that we are all created in God’s image….created as brother to the sun, as sister to the moon, as friend to the egret and the antelope, the wolf and the warbler, all of us enveloped and alive by air and ocean. One family.

Let’s keep cherishing our one home together as an act of God.

—Nancy Hastings Sehested, February 15, 2014

Climate Change Sunday at High Country United Church of Christ