“Getting our Attention”
This month in our worship at First Church, we are joining Christians around the world in celebrating the Season of Creation. This is a time to renew our relationship with our Creator and all creation through celebration, conversion, and commitment together. During the Season of Creation, we join our siblings in the ecumenical family in prayer and action for our common home.
The season starts on September 1st, the Day of Prayer for Creation, and ends October 4th, the Feast of St. Francis of Assisi, the patron saint of ecology beloved by many Christian denominations. Throughout the month-long celebration, the world’s 2.2 billion Christians come together to care for our common home.
I titled my sermon this morning, “Getting our Attention.” First of all, I wanted to get your attention and invite you into this special season of reflection on God’s world, appreciation for the natural environment, and action for its preservation and renewal.
I hope that you’ll come to worship each Sunday to think deeply with me about the Scriptures and Creation, that you’ll attend the special outdoor gathering being planned by the Mission & Outreach Committee after worship on Sept. 17th, and that you’ll respond with personal changes in the way you care for the environment and advocacy for broader responses by our province and country.
In our first reading this morning from Exodus 3, God gets the attention of Moses in a very dramatic way. Moses was minding his own business, “keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, when an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.”
Moses finds that he can’t just ignore it and keep doing what he’s doing. He says, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.” And when he does so, God begins to call to him out the bush and to send him on an important mission.
Of course, Moses wasn’t the first one to pay attention. It was God who first noticed the suffering and struggles of the Hebrew people. God said, “I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good and spacious land, to a land flowing with milk and honey.”
God saw. God cared. And God acted by calling and equipping Moses to lead them out.
I wonder if the fires are getting our attention now too? Did we notice when the town of Lytton burned down two years ago? Did we turn aside from our daily life and work when we heard about the evacuations in West Kelowna and Yellowknife? Although we can’t see the flames from where we live, we sure can smell the smoke, with seemingly more and more smoky days each and every summer.
In a “Season of Creation” resource from the Anglican Church, Rev. Rachel Mash invites us to consider whether we have heard the cry of God’s people: “Disasters are becoming ever more frequent. Last year a rain ‘bomb’ fell on the City of Durban, six months of normal rainfall in two days. Homes and businesses were washed away, and one family lost nine members. Some bodies have never been recovered. Families are still living in church halls. And this year Cape Town has had the wettest winter in 47 years. We have entered the era of climate chaos.
“At the same time in East Africa, they had the driest rainy season for over 40 years – putting over 20 million people at risk of severe hunger and starvation. The livestock have died, children are suffering from malnutrition and are too weak to walk to school.
“There is a growing number of inter-religious attacks such as the Massacre of forty people on Pentecost Sunday in St. Francis Church, Nigeria. But underlying the inter-religious violence and terror, climate change is playing its part. The mostly Christian farmers and the nomadic Muslim herders used to live in symbiotic relationship. The farmers would harvest, and then the herdsmen would come with their cattle, eat the left-overs, and fertilise the fields with the dung. Supplies would be sold on both sides.
“But now the rains have failed and the herdsmen come south too early, they trample the crops, and the farmers and herdsmen have armed themselves. It has become part of the broader inter-religious violence. Climate change is pushing migration and violence is growing.”
The people of God are crying, and I have no doubt that God hears their cries and knows their suffering. But are we turning aside to look? Are we paying attention? Are we doing what God is calling us to do to lead the people out of their form of slavery?
If we continue to use Moses’ story as a guide, we might notice that after God gets Moses’ attention, he’s not immediately sent out. First, God asks him to take off his sandals so that he can feel and know that he’s standing on holy ground.
I don’t think it was just Mount Horeb that was especially holy, but every part of the earth that is the Creation of God. And I think we need to remember that, by spending time in the natural environment and nurturing our appreciation and care for this holy ground on which we walk each day.
When was the last time you took off your shoes and walked barefoot on the grass, or in the sand, on in the water of an ocean? When was the last time you walked through a forest, or lay on the ground and looked up at the stars, or floated in the fresh clear water of a lake?
Rev. Mash asks, “Do we love the earth? Do we believe that it was made by our Creator God and so bears the fingerprints of God?” If we are going to turn aside to look and then respond to God’s call and mission for us to protect and renew the earth, then “our actions must be rooted in prayer and meditation. We must come in silence to listen to God on the mountain, and refill our spiritual tanks. We must fall in love with the wonders of this beautiful creation – learning to hear the great choir of God’s creation.”
Only after removing our sandals and standing on God’s holy ground, and growing in our love and respect for the wonders of God’s good creation will we be ready to respond to God’s call and mission with regard to the Climate Crisis. Then we will be able to respond out of love and passion for the earth and its creatures and people, rather than out of a sense of obligation or of guilt.
You may be thinking though, that you’re not Moses, and how is your response to God’s call going to make a difference with the enormity of the issues and challenges facing our world today. Rev. Mash suggests that when we hear God calling us, we often respond like Moses. Moses asked, “Who am I that I should lead the people out of Egypt?” And we think that our actions are too small and the problem is far too big to make any difference.
But she assures us that our “actions do matter. They matter because they are like small drops of water feeding into a bigger river. Transformational change doesn’t take place when individuals change, but when networked individuals change.” We are invited to get involved with other people, other organisations, and be part of a movement. Change cannot happen fast enough with individual actions, so our advocacy for broad changes by governments, companies, and churches as well, is so important.
I’m thinking about the fact that I know people who have been composting (and thereby reducing the garbage going into our landfills) for many, many years. Well done, if you are one of those people! But finally, the City of Regina has implemented a program to get us all composting together in a coordinated effort. It’s a program that could make a much bigger difference because it supports everyone in making that important change. All we have to do is get on board and learn to put the right things in the right bins!
I also know several families that have added solar panels to their homes, made reductions in their power usage, or made improvements to their energy efficiency. But wouldn’t it be nice if our Provincial Government would support such changes through more policies and programs that make it easier for families to do these things? We have a long way to go towards strengthening our collective efforts to protect and renew the earth, but we can learn from other communities, provinces, and countries that are ahead of us on making these necessary changes.
Dr. Katharine Hayhoe, a Christian Climate Scientist share this image: “When we realise the giant boulder of climate action isn’t sitting at the bottom of an impossibly steep hill with only a few hands trying to push it up, but rather it is already at the top and rolling down the hill with millions of hands pushing it in the right direction, that gives us hope. It isn’t going fast enough yet; but for each new hand that joins, it will go a little faster. As the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change says: ‘Every action matters… Every choice matters.”
This morning, as we begin this “Season of Creation” in our worship and church life, we are invited to turn aside and look, to let God get our attention. Let’s remember that we are standing on holy ground, let’s listen to the cries of God’s people, and let’s consider how God is calling us to act. May our small actions flow into the mighty river of justice and together, we will move mountains.