Scripture reading preamble

What we are about to hear is a passage from the prophet Isaiah.
The people he is addressing imagine themselves to be a faithful people … fasting, praying, doing all the things good religious people do.  But then we hear their complaint … why are we doing these things and you, God, don’t even notice. We hear their distance, their sense of alienation from God.

So then we hear God’s reply through the prophet’s voice.
It’s a scathing judgment … how it is that what they are about has really nothing to do with drawing near to God. They are more about serving their own interests.

But that’s not where the exchange ends.
We then hear what is that God so desires instead … and what we hear is this radical alternative that in the end is life-giving for all.

So let us listen for what the Spirit is saying to the Church …

Text: Isaiah 58: 1-14

On Wednesday nights, a whole number of us are gathering to have conversation about a book[1] we are reading together that addresses the church in the face of the climate emergency … calling the church to take up a leadership role in these times when sustainable life on the planet is gravely threatened.

How do we get from the themes of this Remembrance Sunday to talk of the climate emergency? It’s actually not a stretch at all ... when you realize that already --not in some future time, but already-- there are places and people in the world experiencing the massive disruption due to drought, the drying up of arable land and so the shortage of food and water and the ready eruption of armed conflict. Rising temperatures, rising sea levels are already making places no longer habitable; devastating fires and raging storms … these events are already reshaping our human geography and sooner than we might have imagined, we will see a mass migration of climate refugees. As pressure on resources increases, and those without become more desperate and those who still have become more protectionist, the threat of barbarism is a real possibility.
We need to be asking ourselves now, what kind of people do we want to be? As others come approaching our shores, do we send them away, let them drown in the sea? What kind of people do we want to be?

In the face of rising costs here at home …for health care, education, for basic infrastructure, do we reduce our foreign aid to countries laid waste by so-called natural disaster? … do we cut off much needed emergency care to have more for ourselves? What kind of people do we want to be?

One of the most alarming truths about our current situation that has stayed with me from the book we are reading, is something I can hardly begin to wrap my mind around -- that the world’s current use of fossil fuel to manufacture and transport goods, to drive our cars and heat our homes, and to provide meat for our meals -- our use of fossil fuel is adding heat to the planet’s oceans, atmosphere and earth that is equivalent to exploding 400,000 Hiroshima atomic bombs per day, 365 days per year … or the equivalent of 3 Hiroshima size nuclear bombs every second. That is how much extra heat Earth is gaining each day! [2] 
At this pace, at this rate of global warming --you can see it can’t you-- it is catastrophic. We have been told for decades now that we need to make some radical shifts in how we go about our lives. We need to make those shifts yesterday … for to carry on business as usual means a living hell for future generations … and we’re talking these next generations. Knowing what we know, what kind of people do we want to be?

Amidst all these hard truths, what we also need to know is that it is not too late to shape a more hopeful future. In fact, there is a lot of energy and imagination being invested these days in the development of green energy technology and the re-ordering of our economy that is shaped by life sustaining values.  In other words we have available to us a way forward, should we choose to embark on it.

Naomi Klein is one of the most out-spoken advocates these days of this way forward … what is being called the Green New Deal. In an interview in which she is being asked about it and at times challenged about the feasibility of it, there then comes this final question of the interview. She’s asked:

“If you don’t see the solutions enacted for climate change that we need in the ten, eleven, twelve years deadline that they talk about – what would you want your legacy to be?”

Unlike all her other responses that she offers so readily, this question is followed by a significant pause. And then finally, here’s what she says:

“Does anybody have a legacy if we blow this? I don’t think about that. We have a war against the future going on right now. Legacies don’t matter if we don’t do this. I’ve never been someone particularly concerned with personal legacies at any rate. I see myself as part of a vibrant social movement that takes different forms in different moments but has fundamentally been fighting for some core principles of justice and fairness, and valuing human life. And also non-human life, and the beauty of the planet. I care about the legacy of that movement because all of our lives depend on it.” [3]

So it’s not just about technology or economic or environmental policies. It is even more fundamentally about a transformation of our hearts and minds and wills … that we would be human in the way God imagines … in the way God images us … having created us in God’s own image. Which is all about relationship … all about opening towards the other … in hospitality, in mercy, in compassion and justice, in non-violence and forgiveness, in self-giving love.

Before there was ever the articulation of the Green New Deal, there were the wise ways of God expressed through the prophet Isaiah … the call to remember again that all life is interconnected; the call to remember again the commandment to love our neighbour if life is to thrive and flourish.

So what does that look like?
There’s so much for us there in that passage from Isaiah:

to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke
to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin
Then your light shall break forth like the dawn,
and your healing shall spring up quickly;
your vindicator shall go before you,
the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.
Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer;
you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am.

Can you hear it ?… this assurance that divine help comes to us as we reach out to each other, as we care for each other.
And it continues:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,
if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,
then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you continually,
and satisfy your needs in parched places,
and make your bones strong;
and you shall be like a watered garden,
like a spring of water,
whose waters never fail.
Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to live in.

And then there’s this final piece about keeping Sabbath, that practice of one-day-in-seven, taking time to savour and delight in life, stepping off the rat race, stopping the production line, trusting that we can give it a rest and there will be enough, we will be enough, and that, in fact, there is renewal for the earth and earth’s creatures through the very act of stopping.

It’s not just technology and environmental and economic policies. Finding our way into a more hopeful future is fundamentally about tending matters of the heart, the state our soul:  what kind of people do we want to be? … remembering who, by God, we are already given to be -- as bearers of mercy and compassion, justice and joy, so that protectionism gives way to generosity, and fear of the other to hospitality to the stranger, and concern for me and my wants to self-giving love for the sake of future generations.

The wonder is that in making these moves, we find ourselves in the flow of God’s relentless love, in the deep currents of God’s mercy.  We are so not left to ourselves to find our way.

Thanks be to God who so loves this world.

[1] Jim Antal, Climate Church, Climate World - how people of faith must work for change, Landham, Maryland: Rowman and Littlefield, 2018.

[2] Jim Antal, Climate Church- Climate World, p 59.

[3] interview with Naomi Klein, "We have a war against the future going on right now" September 17, 2019