Sermon by The Rev. Kathy McAdams
April 28, 2019 - Earth Day
St John’s, Franklin, MA
Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. These are words we hear on Good Friday…words that Jesus spoke from the cross. We don’t usually hear them in Easter season, but they kept popping into my mind yesterday when a group of us were picking up trash that people had tossed out of their car windows. They must not be aware of the impact they are having when they toss their scratch tickets, beer cans, nips bottles, and other beverage containers into the woods. They don’t realize that animals live in those woods, and that their trash is contaminating the water and the soil, creating physical hazards for the animals who live there, and spoiling the experience for people who want to enjoy the serenity of nature. So, if you know people who do this, please share this information with them. And forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do. But that’s not actually what I wanted to talk about today; I just had to get that off my chest.
God blessed us with this marvelous planet that provides us and all of God’s creatures with everything we need. Every year about this time, new life emerges from the soil, fish and amphibians that spent the winter in suspended animation begin to thaw out and resume their activities, mammals end their long winter’s nap and begin searching for food, birds return from their southern migration, trees explode with leaves, and they all get busy creating the next generation to ensure the survival of their species. What was once a silent, monochrome landscape is suddenly bursting forth with life and sound and color. I wonder if this is how God experienced the world while God was creating this masterpiece.
All of these plants and animals support the life of others, whether becoming food for another, or providing some by-product that another needs. For instance, as mammals are shedding their winter coats, birds are collecting the fur to line the nests in which they will hatch and raise their young. The interconnection of this web of life works like a symphony, with all the parts flowing together harmoniously. Meister Eckhart, a 13th century German theologian, wrote, “Apprehend God in all things, for God is in all things. Every single creature is full of God and is a book about God. Every creature is a word of God. If I spent enough time with the tiniest creature—even a caterpillar— I would never have to prepare a sermon. So full of God is every creature.”
But there is one animal that causes dissonance in the whole system, and I think it’s mostly because we don’t think of ourselves as animals at all, and we don’t see ourselves as part of the system, or part of the interdependent web of life. We humans tend to set ourselves outside of nature, believing that we are masters over it. But we’re part of it. We are creatures, created by God, just like everything else on the earth.
We have all heard about Climate Change in the news, and the emergency that it has become. Most scientists agree that if we don’t limit the amount of carbon that humans add to the atmosphere within the next 12 years, that we will literally cause the end of life on this planet. Others believe it is already too late to reverse our course. We’re already experiencing more extreme weather events around the globe, which are killing and displacing millions of people.
There are many things that governments can do together to slow or even prevent our demise, so we need to keep the pressure on our elected officials to be sure this work gets done. We also need to hold companies accountable for their practices, and don’t buy their products if they’re not doing their share to reduce greenhouse gases.
Each American, on average, produces 21 tons of carbon a year, about four times the global average. And there’s a lot that we as individuals and families can do to reduce our carbon footprint. We all know that we should drive less – walk, bike, use public transportation - and when we do have to drive, use electric or fuel-efficient vehicles. There’s a slogan that’s been around for a long time: Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle that basically means reducing what we use, such as energy and water. You can replace all the lightbulbs in your home with LEDs. In fact, MassSave will come and do an energy audit of your home and give you free lightbulbs. We can use renewable forms of energy, such as wind and solar, whenever possible. Line dry your clothes. Use refillable water bottles and coffee mugs instead of buying bottled water and coffee in disposable cups. Buy products that can be used for a long-time, rather than things that are made to be disposable. Use things many times before you recycle them, since recycling takes energy, too. Compost food waste. Plant trees, vegetables, and perennials, instead of lawns. And participate in carbon offsetting programs.
All of those things will all help a lot, but if you want to really make a difference in reducing greenhouse gases, take a look at your diet. Research suggests that animal agriculture accounts for more than half of all greenhouse gas emissions – methane produced by cows in factory farms who are fed grain, which does not agree with their digestive systems; along with energy use for waste management and transport. One pound of beef produces the same amount of CO2 as driving 138 miles. Beans and other plant-based staples, on the other hand, are responsible for almost no CO2 emissions at all. So even if you aren’t ready to go completely Vegan, try to at least reduce the amount of meat and dairy that you consume – just forgo it for a couple of days per week.
Choose organic and locally-grown food, as well, or start your own organic garden. Organic is grown without synthetic fertilizers, most of which begin as byproducts of oil refining. Many crops are also over-fertilized, and some of that excess nitrogen ends up in the atmosphere as nitrous oxide, a greenhouse gas 298 times more potent than CO2. Locally-grown means that fewer fossil fuels are burned to transport your food.
Reducing food waste is another important thing we can do to significantly lessen our climate impact. Food that is disposed of and spoiled creates methane. The United Nations figured out that if food wastage was a country, it would be the third highest carbon emitter after the US and China.
All of these efforts will not only reduce our carbon footprint, but they will help us to reconcile our relationship with God and all Creation, to acknowledge that we are indeed dependent upon God and interdependent with all other creatures on earth… and that is humbling. We are not the rulers of Creation; that is God’s job. Our great intelligence and opposable thumbs make us responsible, instead, to be stewards or caretakers of Creation. If we believe that God created the earth and all its inhabitants in God’s own image, then we’ll want to give thanks to God for creating this amazing planet that we call home, by treating it and all its creatures as we would treat God, with reverence and tender loving care.