Rev. Sarah Buteux

April 23, 2017

Change We Must Believe In
John 20:19-23

In our church we listen for a still speaking God, a God whose voice, I believe, came through strongly when Chief Seattle spoke the words on the cover of your bulletin:

“Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”

Let us pray: O God, may the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, you who are our rock and our redeemer. amen.
I was looking for a birthday card for Todd the other day and came across one with big bold letters that read:

“Happy Birthday: Life doesn’t get any better than this!”

OK, I thought, and then opened it up to read:

“After a certain age that sounds more like a threat than a promise.”

I like my job, so I picked out something a little more upbeat for Todd, but I thought of that card again as I was meditating on these words of Chief Seattle. I wonder if his words ever felt like a promise, because you could certainly read them that way. “All things are bound together. All things connect. Whatever we do to the web we do to ourselves…”

I suppose you could hear those words and think: Yeah, we humans are creatures of great power. We have the potential to do so much good. The earth is lucky to have beings as highly evolved as us running around at the top of the food chain, nurturing and protecting such a beautifully responsive eco-system. I mean creation doesn’t get any better than this! You. Me. Humanity. Right?
No? You’re not feeling the promise in that line of thinking? Yeah, me neither. It’s hard to believe in the potential of humanity to do good in the web of life when you hear Chief Seattle’s words, because I know as well as you do just how badly we’ve spoiled, squandered, and screwed all this up.

The grace and goodness and generosity of the earth can hardly be overstated, but it can certainly be exhausted, and I fear we may have already reached that point.

Ignorance is bliss and it has no doubt fueled many a comforting sermon, but that’s not how I roll, so I’ve been reading a lot of Bill McKibben lately and keeping up with the news… and basically, if you’re paying attention to things like – I don’t know, maybe the giant icebergs floating by Newfoundland this week – than you know as well as I do, things are not looking good.

One of the books I read for this sermon was McKibben’s “Oil and Honey,” about his improbable crusade to stop the Keystone XL pipeline back in 2011. It’s a great book about his work with 350.org. Together they traveled all over the world: staging demonstration, getting arrested, and giving talks in an effort to wake people up to the reality of climate change.

Bill hopped on an eco friendly bus and traveled the country for the “Do the Math Tour,” which some of you may have caught at Amherst college. Was anybody here part of that? Yeah? Andrew and I were there too. It was amazing, wasn’t it?

Yeah. Depressing, right? But amazing, because Bill is an incredible communicator. He gets up in front of massive crowds and with no notes just lays it out, plain and simple. He called it the “Do the Math” tour, because you can basically boil the whole climate change situation down to 3 vital numbers, which back then were: 2, 565, and 2,795.

2 refers to 2 degrees celsius, “which is the only figure the world has ever agreed on about climate change. The only one.” Everyone agrees that we cannot allow the earth to heat up more than 2 degrees celsius or we are irreversibly fried.

The second number is 565. That’s the limit of gigatons of carbon dioxide we can release into the atmosphere and still stay below that 2 degree limit.

But the really scary number is the last one: 2,795, scary in large part because I’m sure that number has gone up. Back in 2011, when some of us were sitting over at Amherst College listening to Bill talk, Fossil Fuel companies already had 2,795 gigatons worth of CO2 emitting fuels in reserve.

What that means in English, is that six years ago, without one more pipeline or coal mine added to their holdings, energy companies already had access to 5 times more coal and oil than we can ever use if we want to maintain life as we know it on this planet.

This news was enough to spur colleges like Amherst, denominations like the UCC, and institutions all over the world to divest from fossil fuel companies, which is great. It was enough to get people moving on the political front to put a price on carbon pollution, which Northampton voted unanimously to do just this past Thursday in large part because people like Sharon and John and Sue and our Peace and Justice committee have been showing up and writing letters and spreading the word. (clap). Thank you.

And now back to our regularly scheduled programing, my sermon about the end of the world as we know it. Bill’s incredibly scary numbers 2, 565, and 2, 795 were also enough to convince the Obama administration to shut down the Keystone and Dakota Access Pipeline, and take a strong leadership role on the world stage during the Paris Climate Accords. All of which was great, and all of which still was not enough.

Because now look at where we are. Six years later there are still 3 important numbers to contend with, but the math has not played out in our favor. In Paris they agreed that 2 degrees celsius was too high. It’s 1.5 now. Meaning that 575 gigatons – the amount of CO2 we thought we could release into the atmosphere – had to be revised down to 353.

But the amount of oil and coal already in reserve, and the amount of the world’s economy already tied up in the successful extraction of those reserves has only climbed. And will no doubt continue to climb under a new administration that is working to re-open Keystone and DAPL, de-regulate coal, renege on the commitments our country made in Paris, and cripple the Environmental Protection Agency because they persist in denying that climate change is even real at all.
To quote our new president completely out of context, “Not good folks. Not good at all.”

I went back to that card store this past week to buy some thank you notes and saw one of those “Keep Calm and Carry On” signs – you know the ones I’m talking about with the British crown at the top? – only this one had the crown tuned upside down and read: “Now Panic and Freak Out.”

That’s kind of how I feel. I come from British stock, so me panicking and freaking out looks a lot like me keeping calm and carrying on, but the truth is, I am totally freaked out. I’m not sure that we’re going to make it out of this one ok, and like you, I’m at the top of the top of the food chain.

The changes coming are going to effect people further down a heck of a lot worse. But I’m still worried: worried for them, worried about the world we’re leaving to our kids and our grandkids, worried because we’ve already done serious damage to the web of creation, we’re on a crash course to do even more over the next few years, and I don’t think any of us are going to escape that damage unscathed.

I think we’ve messed up, royally, which here in the church we call sin. Don’t tell anybody else I said that, but you know what I’m talking about. And there is a part of me that wishes I could run away and lock myself – and everyone I love – up somewhere safe to escape the consequences of all this, which is why I stuck with our lectionary text for this morning.

Given our theme for today, I could have just gone with a Psalm about the beauty and majesty of creation, but I stuck with this story because that’s exactly what the disciples did. They ran away and locked themselves up tight in the same room where they’d celebrated the passover with Jesus just a few nights before. I think there might be something we can learn from this story, because if anyone knows what it’s like to completely screw everything up past the point of no return, it’s these guys.

When we catch up with them it’s only Easter evening. It’s just three days since that disaster of a last supper after which Judas betrayed Jesus, Peter denied Jesus, and all the rest of them abandoned Jesus to the mercy of the Romans.

They’ve no doubt been in hiding ever since, afraid for their lives, full of guilt, regret, and doubt, second guessing every last stupid thing they did. And now they’ve heard – thanks to the women – that the tomb is empty!

Which means one of two things: either the Romans are up to no good and the disciples are probably going to get it next, or Jesus has risen just as he said, in which case he’s probably gone after the Romans and the disciples are going to get it next.

Either way the disciples are next, and they have no recourse. There’s no one in power they can turn to. In fact, those in power would only get in the way and make things worse. It is time to face the music, reap what they have sown, and suffer the consequence, so I’m not surprised that they’re afraid – afraid of the Jews in general sure, but honestly probably even more afraid of one Jew in particular – Jesus!

I think it’s a miracle that no one has a heart attack when he appears in their midst. I bet half of them dove under the table when he beamed in. But is Jesus furious when he arrives? Does Jesus throw a fit? No. He appears in their midst and says, “peace be with you.”

Jesus doesn’t come back in anger. He doesn’t lead with reproach. These guys screwed up so badly, but when Jesus comes back, he comes ready to forgive, ready to make peace, ready to start again, because friends, that’s how God works.

That’s how wide and deep and all encompassing God’s love for us is and will always be. Not because of who we are or what we deserve but because of who God is and just how deeply God so loves the whole world.

Actually, that, in my mind, is the central messages of Easter… that is the central truth of the cross, that’s the defining love at the heart of my faith.

With his appearance in that upper room, Jesus shows us all that there is nothing we can do that can separate us from the love of God. Denial, betrayal, crucifixion, you name it: God will endure us at our very worst and still come back to us with God’s very best. God will never stop loving us, never give up on us, because God entered into covenant with all of creation a long, long time ago, and God will not break that covenant.
Our job, then, the job that began when Jesus breathed forgiveness over his disciples 2000 years ago, is to let all the world know that God stands ready in every moment to invite us back into that covenant, to meet us right where we are, forgive us for the ways we have failed, and help us start again.

And dear ones, hear me when I say the world needs to hear this good news now more than ever. Sure, people of faith need to stand up and remind the world of our calling to care for our one precious earth and be good stewards of all creation.

Yes, we need to keep buying the good lightbulbs and driving hybrid cars and investing in solar. We need to keep writing and divesting and singing and marching and praying and gardening.

But people of faith are also needed to bring hope, especially to those who already get it, hope to those who have been fighting this fight for so long and are sorely tempted, especially now, to give into despair. People of conscience the world over need people like you and me to come alongside them and share the good news that it is not too late. It is never too late.

Now please understand that I don’t say that to in any way minimize the mess we’ve made or the damage we’ve done to this planet. And I know we will suffer the consequences of our sin as surely as Jesus did. Jesus suffered at the hands of the greedy and the power hungry and so will many us and even more of our siblings around the world. Just as we damaged him we have damaged the earth and the scars upon her will no doubt remain as surely as his have.

Sin always has consequences and the damage done in the next few years may remain forever. And yet I still believe in grace. I still believe that God, not death, hope, not greed, and love, not fear, will get the last word… because I believe in the resurrection.

Dear ones, we are an Easter people, a people who should know better than to give up hope. We’ve known the suffering of Good Friday and the emptiness of Holy Saturday, but we also know the miraculous joy of Easter Sunday, and that’s the energy we need to bring to the world as we go forth. We need the faith of those early disciples to turn the threat of climate change into the promise of a new tomorrow and that is a faith God is always willing to bestow. So hear thee words and believe:

God stands ready to breathe new life and new hope into us all. The same breath that brought creation into being, the same breath that revived Ezekiel’s valley of dry bones, the same breath Jesus breathed over the disciples in that upper room, hovers even now over ordinary people like you and me. And that’s not a threat, that’s a promise; a promise with the power to save the world. Amen.