OUR HOUSE IS ON FIRE. Our one and only home, this Planet Earth, is on fire. We are in a climate crisis. Due to human activity, mostly the burning of fossil fuels, we are changing the climate by raising the overall heat of the entire planet — the atmosphere, the land and the oceans. Only knaves and fools are committing the sin and scandal of denying any aspect of this process — that it is happening, that humans are responsible, what the results are and will be. The science is clear and the effects are already here and accelerating. The planet's survival absolutely is threatened.
But the question of faith before us is "What is our religious and moral responsibility for this?" Religious leaders, including Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama, agree: We have a religious and moral responsibility for the care of this Earth and all of its inhabitants (including all non-human beings) and all of its aspects (atmosphere, oceans, land); exactly the same kind of responsibility we are called to act on for all our sibling humans, be they known or strangers. It is no different for our atheist and agnostic siblings, who also are morally grounded.
And part of that responsibility is justice, Climate Justice. Climate Justice means that all species have the right to access and obtain the resources needed to have an equal chance of survival, plus freedom from discrimination. Already, there are thousands of human migrants and refugees because of climate change. And we are entering a new era of mass extinction of non-human species.
A total response at the individual, organizational and political levels — working in harmonious unity — is required to save Earth and all that live here. THERE IS NO PLANET B. THE TIME IS NOW.
I shared the message to our outreach group this past Sunday. I reminded them in life, we will encounter some people who will be with us for just a season, some for a reason, and very few for a lifetime.
In all aspects of our life — work, home, school, family, relationships, community, church, neighbors — there will be those who do a better job of trying to keep you down than helping you up or helping you be your best self. And often, we seem to focus our thoughts on those who make the most noise, those who say the most hurtful things and those who betray us the most.
In the 23 Psalms, we are reminded that a table was prepared in the midst of those who were my enemies. I share that for us to be reminded of this important lesson: Every human being on this planet has a struggle; did you hear me? Regardless of who you are, where you are from, who you love, what you believe, what you don't believe, WE ALL have a struggle.
That does not excuse behavior that harms us or hurts us. And it should not afford us the free pass to treat them, or others, in the same manner.
None of us are our best selves in every way, every day, to everyone. We don't know what the person next to us has gone through, is going through or is about to go through. Even those who have helped us be our best selves. Even those who are "our enemies."
When we pray, meditate, hope for the best and act with good intentions, I challenge you to include "our enemies."
I close with this quote: "We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love. There is some good in the worst of us and some evil in the best of us. When we discover this, we are less prone to hate our enemies." — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
There is a big tree in Rockport, Texas. It is notable because there aren't many trees along the Texas Gulf Coast, but this one is particularly notable.
The Big Tree is thought to be at least 1,000 years old, and maybe closer to 2,000 years old. It possesses a circumference of over 35 feet and is more than 45 feet tall; the crown's spread is 90 feet.
In its long, long life, it's seen fire, it's seen rain. According to local legend, it even stood tall in the middle of a Civil War battle when the town around it was destroyed. Big Tree has survived between 40 and 50 major hurricanes sitting directly on the Gulf Coast. It's been through severe drought.
The tree has been nourished by sun and rain. It has also been cared for by people. Someone cared for this tree through the centuries. Someone pruned it when the old limbs needed care. In the droughts, someone watered it. Someone treated it for disease. Not any one human kept it alive for a thousand plus years, but generation after generation took their turn caring and serving the tree. It grew strong. It gives back. It inspires others to stand strong in the face of harsh storms. Its leaves make music with the wind whistling through branches and rustling leaves. It gives shade and acorns and homes for birds. It received, and so it lives, and it gives. That's what God's creatures do.
We receive the gifts of others as food for our body and soul. We receive, so we live, and because we live, we give ourselves. In a world that is so divided and fearful of one another, we can reclaim the ancient call to community and care for the Earth and one another.
This weekend in our reading from St. Paul's letter to Timothy, Paul gives us a difficult command, "Beloved: First of all, I ask that supplications, prayers, petitions, and thanksgivings be offered for everyone, for kings and for all in authority, that we may lead a quiet and tranquil life in all devotion and dignity." (New American Bible, 1 Tim 1:1-2.) Paul's words would have been difficult for the early Christians to hear; many lived under cruel kings and occupying regimes. And yet Paul instructs them to pray for kings and all in authority. We live in a world where the common practice is to pick a side, defend that side and do everything we can to defeat the other side. We are quick to demonize our opponents and oppressors, but we probably don't pray for them very often.
Last summer, I attended a conference for FOCUS
Missionaries who work on college campuses all over the world. The speaker was talking about how to engage those who were hostile to the faith, those who held beliefs contrary to the Gospel, even those who actively worked against it. He said that when we encounter someone like that, we must remember that that is not God's enemy — that is God's desired prize. In other words, our goal isn't to simply defeat them, but win them over with the Gospel.
That is certainly no easy task, and often love, forgiveness and compassion are mistaken for weakness. But if we look at the life of St. Paul, we don't see weakness. We see what real strength looks like. It takes a great deal more strength to pray for our enemies than it does to hate them, talk about them and ridicule them. Each one of us has a list of those in authority who we wish weren't there. Today, we hear St. Paul remind us to pray for them.