Happy Earth Day! Here’s the sermon I gave this weekend. I hope you will all stay hopeful and focused out there–it is not too late to make the changes we need to protect the world we know and love.
Good courage to you,
This Earth Day weekend,
I want to give you a message of hope
for this planet and for our own future on earth.
And I promise you we will get there,
even in these troubled times for our planet.
There is hope,
even in the darkest moments,
but to find it, we need to walk through some scary stuff first.
I don’t have to tell you, these are scary times
for everyone worried about climate change.
The weather’s getting really weird.
The land and the sea are changing right before our eyes.
In the reading we just heard,
Bill McKibben spelled out in pretty blunt terms where we are.
What he has to say is scary.
Global warming is already happening,
and we may not be able to stop it.
Today scientists agree the climate will change
when levels of atmospheric CO2
get higher than 350 parts per million.
 Bill McKibben, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (New York: Times Books, 2010), p. 15.
And here’s the thing: we’re already past that.
At this very moment we are at 392 parts per million and climbing.
The planet is changing.
Glaciers are melting—
the beautiful, stark white glaciers in the coldest places on earth,
topping the tallest mountains—it’s all melting.
All that frozen beauty is melting away into the sea,
to be transformed into hurricanes and typhoons
of ever greater destructive power.
The seas are warming;
sea levels are rising much faster than anyone expected,
so quickly that several island nations
with civilizations going back thousands of years
are making plans to evacuate their entire population
before their homes are swallowed by the ocean.
Around the world, farming is getting harder and harder
as the old predictable weather patterns begin to change.
 McKibben, pp. 45–46.
Poor people in the developing world are even more vulnerable now.
We have never experienced anything like this before.
We don’t really know what’s going to happen next.
Nobody really knows.
But most scientists are afraid the world is going to keep changing
in ways that will sorely tax our powers of adapting.
It’s going to be very hard to fix.
Most of our politicians, it seems, have so little will to act.
They don’t seem to understand the urgency.
So much money has already been poured
into the fossil fuel industry. It’s very hard to change.
And even if every person in the world
were to change gears right now,
we’re not sure it’s going to be enough
to stop the chain reactions we’ve unleashed.
We hope it will. Lots of experts believe we can still do it,
there’s still time.
But we don’t know what’s going to happen.
It sounds like one of those summer adventure movies, doesn’t it,
where Will Smith or Nicolas Cage saves the world at the last minute,
only this is real life and we truly don’t know how the story ends.
Let’s take a breath here.
I can’t tell you how much I wish
all this were not part of the message I have for you today.
So many painful emotions come up for me,
maybe for you too:
fear, sorrow, shame.
Fear of what might be in store for our world.
We wonder, are we going to be OK?
We feel sorrow for everything that has been lost,
everything even now slipping through our fingers.
And shame for everything we’ve done
to collude with what’s happening to the planet—
every tank of gas we’ve pumped,
every ounce of coal that’s been burned
to generate electricity for us—
for our homes, our refrigerators, our stuff.
We might feel despair,
that horrible sensation of everything crashing down around us
and nothing, it would seem, that we can do to stop it.
We cast about for someone to tell us what to do,
how to make it stop.
And of course there are some things we can and should do to help.
All of us have a part to play.
We all need to conserve energy at home and at work.
We all need to keep up the calls and letters
to pressure our politicians to take this crisis seriously.
A lot of us are doing this already and have been for a long time.
Did you know that one of the lead organizers
of the very first Earth Day in 1970
is a member of this very congregation?
I hope you will thank him when you see him.
Today, we’re so lucky to have a committed group here at UUCF,
the Green Sanctuary group,
that’s helping us minimize our environmental impact
as individuals and also as a congregation.
Did you know we’ve started to work on a plan
for powering our campus with geothermal energy?
Imagine how great that would be!
Did you know we have a Simplicity Circle that meets every month
to help us think about how to be happy with less stuff in our lives?
That group is open to everyone, by the way!
I’m proud to be part of a congregation like this.
What we’re doing matters.
do you ever feel afraid that none of this is going to be enough,
that maybe the world really is changing and we can’t hold it back,
and we don’t know what’s coming
and we’re afraid it’s not going to be good,
and we truly just don’t know what to do?
Sometimes I feel that way.
Sometimes I feel afraid
that all the changing of lightbulbs from incandescent to fluorescent
and driving hybrid and electric cars
and skipping the A/C in the summer
and all the letters to our representatives are not going to be enough.
But here is exactly where I want us to stay hopeful.
I picked up another book this spring
that I was pretty sure would leave me freaked out and depressed.
Has anyone read Paul Gilding’s The Great Disruption?
I’d heard that Gilding argues that very dramatic and scary changes
are coming over the next fifty years,
not only to the natural environment
but also to the world economic system.
He says, if the human species has any hope
of avoiding a near-total collapse,
we are going to have to reinvent huge swathes
of the life most of us take for granted these days—
the energy economy, of course,
and also our standards of living
and our expectation that each generation can and should
have more material things than the one before.
We’ve got to reinvent all that, he says,
and come up with clean energy
and new values—or rather, old values of simplicity and thrift
and contentment with what we have.
We’ve got to make a huge shift
or human society as we know it is going to collapse
and the planet is going to keep heating up.
This is what I’d heard Gilding’s book was about.
So when I cracked it open, I steeled myself for a grueling read.
But you know what? As I read, I found myself more hopeful
about the future of our planet and our species
than I have been for a long time.
Because what Gilding also says is this:
human beings have a track record of being incredibly creative
when we are faced with enormous challenges.
We wait until the very last minute.
We stay in our fear and denial and despair for a long time.
But when our backs are up against the wall,
when we just have to act, or else—we act.
Gilding talks about how Britain mobilized for World War II
almost overnight after years of waffling and delay,
years when the Nazi threat was growing clearer and clearer.
It delayed and delayed,
and then at last enough people could see that action was necessary,
and they acted.
They did what was necessary to save their world.
 Paul Gilding, The Great Disruption (Bloomsbury Press, 2012), pp. 110–11.
Gilding predicts this is what’s about to happen on a planetary scale.
It won’t happen overnight, but it’s coming soon.
He believes, and I choose to believe with him,
that we are going to have to change,
and it’s going to be scary and hard,
but we will get through it.
We will get atmospheric CO2 back to manageable levels
and stabilize the climate.
We will rebuild our economy in truly sustainable ways.
Gilding believes that we will do this.
Just think: this is the task that’s fallen to us,
of all the generations on earth. And we can do it.
This is where I choose to put my hope today.
But it is not the only thing that gives me hope.
It can’t be.
Though I truly do believe we are going to pull it out,
that we are going to be OK,
I find I still need to face that terrible what if…that little voice
What if everything we do isn’t enough?
What if life on earth is changing because of us
and we can’t stop it?
Where is our hope then?
Let me read to you the words of Psalm 4,
as translated by Stephen Mitchell.
 Stephen Mitchell, A Book of Psalms, Selected and Adapted from the Hebrew (HarperPerennial, 1993), p. 4.
Even in the midst of great pain, Lord,
I praise you for that which is.
I will not refuse this grief
or close myself to this anguish.
Dear ones, have you ever felt in your sorrow
a deep and shimmering holiness,
something sacred shining dark
at the bottom of the well of your tears?
Don’t be afraid of your sorrow for the earth, for yourself,
for everyone who suffers.
Don’t be afraid of this grief.
The psalmist continues:
Let shallow men pray for ease:
“Comfort us; shield us from sorrow.”
I pray for whatever you send me,
and I ask to receive it as your gift.
This is the hardest thing—
to let go of what we think we want
and trust that whatever is given us
is what we need to have.
And not only that—to receive it as a gift.
Are we brave enough to look inward
in the very moment of our suffering
and ask, How can this open my heart?
How can this suffering be my teacher?
Can it be that enfolded in our suffering
is an invitation to become more tender
and more courageous in service?
Because we all have to ask ourselves,
how am I called to act during this crisis,
in a spirit of hope and love?
This is what the world needs now.
It’s what our own heart needs too.
You have put a joy in my heart [says the Psalmist]
greater than all the world’s riches.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
for I know that even now you are here.
I want to share with you a comfort I have found
as I try to reach out and trust the darkness
of these times on planet Earth.
It’s maybe a small thing, but to me it goes deep.
You all know it’s become almost a cliché
to talk about the “weird weather”
that seems to be part of global warming.
The weather has been weird all over the country—
just this past year we’ve had this strange, extreme flooding;
so many other places have had huge storms,
heat waves, cold snaps,
changing patterns that feel really weird.
But you know where that word “weird” comes from?
A thousand years ago it was a German word that meant
It’s said there were three goddesses, the weird sisters,
goddesses of fate who controlled human destiny.
The weird sisters, given that name
because they were goddesses of becoming.
Artists imaged them as strange, frightening to look at.
And who can blame them?
Becoming, changing, transforming can be terrifying.
Gradually we came to use that word “weird”
to mean strange, disconcerting, upsetting.
But at its root it means becoming.
And I wonder,
I wonder if that’s what is happening now on earth.
Maybe we can see this as a time
of moving toward something new and unknown,
as much as it is also a time of loss and dying.
Sometimes I try to imagine what our world will be like
millions of years from now.
Maybe people will still be here—I hope we will,
or whatever we’ve evolved into by then.
Maybe those future people will look around them at
the radiant, resplendent diversity of life on earth,
all the plants and animals,
fish and birds and four-footed and two-footed creatures,
and they will look very different from the creatures we know,
and they will be no less lovely and miraculous.
I imagine those future people loving their world
as much as we love ours.
And this gives me hope.
I don’t think the earth needs saving.
The earth will be fine—it will just be different,
maybe as different from our world now
as the long-ago world of the dinosaurs.
And from the perspective of the earth itself, that’s OK.
It truly is OK.
Please don’t misunderstand me.
I love this earth the way is,
the way it was when I was a girl
playing in the woods, swimming in lakes,
looking up at the sky and the stars.
I don’t want things to change.
I don’t want things to be lost.
The thought of creatures and plants
and landscapes we have learned to love,
the thought of their passing away is heartbreaking.
The knowledge that our actions are killing them
is terrible and solemn.
If we can save them, at least some of them,
let us save them and rejoice.
But our hope has to run deeper than that.
Our hope cannot depend on things going the way we want them to.
I lie down trusting the darkness,
for I know that even now you are here.
I put my trust, and I believe you do too, in life itself—
that limitless force which came before all things
and will still be there when everything we know has passed away,
that power behind the universe which is unimaginably strong,
as tiny as a seed,
as immense as galaxies unnumbered—
life itself, the life that gave us birth,
the life that has given birth to dinosaurs and ferns
and insects and birds and mammals
and has not yet exhausted its tremendous creativity—
the grand and mighty life, so much stronger than ourselves,
of which we are a tiny, precious part.
Blessed be everything that lives and grows and loves.
Praise the life that endlessly creates and recreates itself