Love Has the Long View
Psalm 23 and Encyclical Letter Laudato SI’ of the Holy Father Francis on Care for Our Common Home and 1 John 3:16-24
April 25th, 2021
Good morning and Happy Sunday on what in our tradition is the Fourth Sunday of Easter. And in our church it is the day we are celebrating Earth Day. It has been a wintry week here in Colorado, but there are indeed signs of spring all around.
What a gift to be connected in all kinds of ways. Thank you for being a part of worship from wherever you are experiencing worship today. And as we come to this time, it is our practice to pause for a moment, to let ourselves arrive in not just body, but in mind and spirit. I invite you to breathe, to notice your heartbeat, to breathe in peace and breathe out stress. And as you are so moved, I invite you to join me in a spirit of prayer and centering from Psalm 19. God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts, be acceptable in your sight, O God our rock and our redeemer. Amen.
"We children are doing this to wake the adults up. We children are doing this for you to put your differences aside and start acting as you would in a crisis. We children are doing this because we want our hopes and dreams back." Those are words from climate activist, Greta Thunberg. She went on, "Humanity is now standing at a crossroads. We must now decide which path we want to take. How do we want the future living conditions for all living species to be like?"
It does seem like we are at a crossroads. Because those of us who are paying attention now understand that much of human life as we have arranged it, is unsustainable. According to recent studies, what we call the good life is killing the planet and will make its salvation impossible if we carry on, knowing that by the end of the century, there will be 11 billion human beings on planet Earth. Economist Daniel O’Neil says America has shown that the per capita CO2 emissions in the United States are 13 times higher than the sustainable level, our phosphorus use is eight times higher and our nitrogen use is seven times higher. Further, our ecological and material footprints are both four times above sustainable levels.
At a United Nations climate-change summit in September, Greta said boldly, “We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth. How dare you!”
Now together with all of humanity at this crossroads, I wonder if part of our bind, part of the tension of where we are and the truth of where we need to go, is that we have worshiped the god of growth. And this devotion has demanded short-term thinking and asked for our consent in cognitive dissonance. Because we all know that our beloved planet and its resources are finite and some of what we are taking won’t ever come back, won’t ever exist again.
So if our economic system and much of our life exists in denial of that reality, we are surely at a crossroads. And it’s not just our economic system. In many parts of American life, it’s our entire idea of success. Whether it is our economic system or the size of our home or the size of our families, or the size of the church or the size of the corporation, much of American culture is rooted in the notion that what is needed, what is a sign of health, what is success is always growth.
The god of growth says it is always good, bigger is always better, more is marvelous. Too much isn’t considered and enough never seems to come.
The average size of the American home has nearly tripled in the past 50 years (NPR). And even so, 1 out of every 10 Americans rents a storage unit, which is not surprisingly, one of the most rapidly growing segments of the commercial real estate market. (New York Times Magazine). 3.1% of the world’s children live in this country, but our kids own 40% of the toys consumed around the globe (UCLA). Some reports indicate that we consume twice as much today as we did 50 years ago (The Story of Stuff). But as ecological economist Giorgos Kallis argues, “The faster we produce and consume goods, the more we damage the environment.”
I woke up anxious on Thursday and then I realized it was Earth Day. It’s hard to know what to do, when there is so much wrong. But I think that the pandemic is inviting a collective rethink in many parts of our common life. And this gives me hope.
So I wonder, is it time for people of faith to challenge the idea that more is always marvelous, that bigger is always better, that growth is always good?
I understand that this might be wildly countercultural and yet what are we here for if not to speak the truth? What if we could help shift the conversation and to model with our lives a longer view that aims for what is sustainable, instead of always what is profitable? And maybe that could be profitable too? But in the short term, it won’t be that which gets us to something else, which gets me to something I have been thinking about a lot: sacrifice.
We are living in a time where there is lots of talk about individual rights. Have you noticed that? Whether it is about masks or the availability of reproductive healthcare or the ownership of guns, over these twelve months we have talked a lot about the rights of individuals. But what if what is needed in this moment is for more of us who can, to make some sacrifices.
Often this word is only used when speaking of the tragic loss of the life of a member of the military, but it is in fact a part of discipleship. Sacrifice is a part of the spiritual journey and part of what is required with a life grounded in love. Sacrifice asks a giving up of something now, for an investment in the shared project of creation. And sacrifice is often necessary for big things, big hopes and big dreams.
In First John, chapter 3, which is a commentary on the Gospel of John, we hear that part of what followers in the Way are asked to do is to lay down our lives- to give up comfort or clarity for the sake of the bigger thing we are a part of. Verse 18 says, “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Isn’t that just perfect? Love isn’t a sentiment, but a movement, behavior, choices that express compassion, healing, hope, justice and more. Love responds to what is. We simply cannot love fully without action.
Indeed, “We were not meant to be inundated by cement, asphalt, glass and metal, and deprived of physical contact with nature.” We are meant to be connected to it, to herons as well as humans, reminded of our place in and deeply connected to all of creation, attuned to its seasons and rhythms, aware of its gifts and limitations. Tim Jackson, a professor of sustainable development at the University of Surrey, in England wrote, “People can flourish without endlessly accumulating more stuff. Another world is possible.” He calls on Western countries to shift economies from mass-market production to local services—such as nursing, teaching, and handicrafts…” And I think in addition to being more sustainable, shifting our minds and our economies to diving deeper into experiences, to building and making, creating music and connecting will be more meaningful and more beautiful.
If we are a people of love, then we must also be a people of action.
"Humanity is now standing at a crossroads. We must now decide which path we want to take.”
So how can we be a part of the shift away from worshiping the god of growth, that has allowed us to kill ancient forests for toilet paper, allowed us to kill over 1 million marine animals, including fish, sharks, turtles, and birds each year due to plastic debris in the ocean, so we can have single use containers, allowed us to build fracking wells that produced hundreds of billions of gallons of water that is toxic, so we can have cheap energy, and cheap stuff?
Is this really the world God wants?
How can we call out the devotion that has demanded short-term thinking and asked for our consent in cognitive dissonance? How can we insist as people of faith that we all have the longer view? And what if this is a time that asks us individually and collectively to make some sacrifices because of who we say we are? Because of who we say God is and because of what we believe our role is in protecting all of this? I don’t have many answers, but I do know that part of the solution is surrounding ourselves with people willing to acknowledge the crossroads too and to act. I do know that part of the solution to hopelessness is choosing to do something. I do know that culture shifts start small and then can happen quickly. Among us in our church we have vegans and gardeners, makers and minimalists. We have people who live what is professed, and this inspires all of us to live and be better. If we are a people of love, then we must act.
“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” The children of now are shouting out, “we want our hopes and dreams back.” May it be so. Amen.