Stewardship of the Environment Committee (Anglican Diocese of Montreal) and the parish priest at St. Andrew and St. Mark Anglican Church in Dorval, Quebec.
Why on the 3rd Sunday of Easter are we reading all about sin? It’s almost as if after the first two Sundays of Easter we’re back in Lent. One commentator wrote: “Can’t the Scriptures cut us a break for one Sunday and give us simple ‘God is great’ good news?” It’s the 3rd Sunday of Easter after all! The commentator added: “I feel the same way about the world sometimes [thinking]: can’t the world make joy a little easier?”
The question for us at this time is: How do we be an Easter people; how do we follow the risen Christ when life does not always seem touched by the resurrection?
Earth Day is celebrated this Wednesday, but it’s hard to think of celebrating when the state of our Earth seems so very hopeless. What are we to do in the face of overwhelming and seemingly entrenched problems such as climate change? How do we remain hopeful? How do we remain sane? How do we take action? How might an Easter people respond to climate change?
We typically consider sin solely in terms of individual behavior. Our reading from Acts though clearly presents sin as a communal problem – it implies we can be trapped together in sin’s web; theologians sometimes refer to this as “structural sin,” sin rooted in unjust social structures in which we are all participants. Peter is speaking to a crowd, not to an individual when he says: “you killed the author of life . . . [but] I know you acted in ignorance as did your leaders.” He is saying that all the people and their leaders are implicated in the execution of Jesus. Peter clearly indicates that it is the collective action and inaction of all that enabled the crucifixion of Jesus; he adds, however, that God was able to use even this for good. And just as all the people were implicated in Jesus’ death, all are inheritors of his proclamation of repentance forgiveness of sins.
When faced with entrenched injustices and worsening crises we often give change up as a lost cause; we may occasionally feel guilt that we are part of the problem, but we say to ourselves, “I’m just one individual and therefore I cannot make a difference.” “Besides,” we tell ourselves, “I am not as bad as some people – those other people are more at fault, they must change first.” No doubt those in Peter’s audience were thinking, I was just a voice in the crowd, I wasn’t Pilate after all.
“You killed the author of life,” Peter states. The generations who come after us will no doubt hurl similar words at us when they say, “you killed our planet. You killed the source of our oxygen, our sunlight, our good foods, and our water.” I do not think, however, that they will be able to excuse us as having acted in ignorance, for we are no longer ignorant. We are now acting with full knowledge that our actions: continued dependence on fossil fuel, deforestation, overuse of chemicals, are causing climate change that will eventually lead to the destruction of our planet.
And as with all calamities, the vulnerable suffer first and most deeply. For example, reduction of crop yield will lead to higher food prices – something we will all likely see in the very near future as a result of the current drought in California, but across the globe it is the poor who cannot afford to pay higher prices who will first begin to suffer malnutrition. It is the poor who already suffer most when climate-change related natural disasters occur. The number of natural disasters between 2000-2009 was about 3 times higher than in the 1980s.
Martin Luther described sin as “self curved in on self.” If this is the case, then when we think about sin, perhaps we should focus less on ourselves, on our own guilt and our own need to be relieved of feeling guilty, and more on the wounds we inflict with our selfish acts. The sins of others wounded Christ’s body and our sins are currently wounding the earth. The theologian Sally McFague writes that one way to approach our relationship to the earth is with the understanding that the earth is the body of God. Cynthia Moe-Lobeda adds that Christianity proclaims a God who dwells in Creation, is not then the earth in some sense the body of Christ which we are continuing to crucify? Moe-Lobeda adds that in both Jewish and Christian tradition the call to love God and neighbor implies “active commitment to the well-being of whom or what is loved.” She concludes, “we can ignore structural sin and our participation in it or we can face it and repent. To repent is to turn the other way, both in actions and consciousness.”
I’m sure you are all now thinking the same things as the commentator I quoted in the beginning: “Hey give us a break! Isn’t it Easter!?” I know that’s what I'm thinking. Where is the good news? Where is the risen Christ?
The good news in the words of John , Paul and Peter is that Jesus Christ frees us from being self curved in on self, Jesus Christ frees us from being interminably caught in a web of structural sin.
Putting our whole trust in the grace and love of Christ, frees us from being “self curved in on self,” because when we put our care and nurturing in Christ’s hands, trusting him to give us all we need, this offers the possibility of a life lived not only for ourselves, it frees us from our primary concern being our own comfort, it enables us to give up things we did not think we could do without. One of the biggest barriers to taking small steps that could aid our planet is that we are a people addicted to convenience, we are a people who are constantly given the message that if we do not protect our own interests, no one else will: a world in which every nation and every individual is primarily concerned with self-preservation and a life of convenience is a crucifying world. Trusting Christ to care for us, frees us to care for others. It frees us to be an Easter people, a people of the resurrection.
The question than is what can we do?
Laura Faye Tenenbaum of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the US writes about how when her family turned their front lawn into a vegetable garden, it attracted people in a way that brought them new friends and also transformed the neighborhood as others followed suit. She explains: “There’s no way to tell what will unfold when you start to do something, even the smallest thing. Actions grow and expand, sort of like the way our peas started out small, crawled past their trellises and are now getting tangled up into each other. What you create in the world can take on a life of its own, beyond what you might ever imagine.”
She continues, “Every Earth Day I write about taking an individual action, and every time I write this I get all kinds of criticism about how doing one small thing isn’t enough. But next time you start to think that your actions are too small to make a difference, think about me and my silly old peas. Remember that I reached down, picked a fresh pea and handed it across the stucco wall to the guy who lives down the street—the guy whom I hadn’t yet connected with in all these years; one of the last of my neighbors to reach out. He told me that he and his wife saw our yard and decided to plant a garden as well.”
Here at St. Mark’s we are going to be planting our own vegetable garden. The garden will be installed in early May and will grow vegetables primarily for Dorval Community Aid. It is a joint project with our daycare rental partner. So in addition to increasing urban biodiversity, creating a natural place for urban pollinators and reducing reliance on global food imports and therefore fossil fuel use, it will teach children about the importance of good stewardship of our beautiful environment.
An Easter people respond to climate change by proclaiming the good news, by proclaiming the good news through taking actions that honor our Creation, by taking action instead of giving in to hopelessness. No matter how young, how physically limited, or how old, there is something we can do. I am reminded of the first video we watched in our evening Lenten series, when Sr. Joan Chittster said, “if you wonder if you’re too old to do something good in this world, and you’re still alive, than the answer is no.”
Here are some things we can do:
1) Use water efficiently. Every time you shower, wash your hands, wash dishes, or drink water, give thanks for this resource and consider how you might avoid wasting it.
2) Reduce waste and recycle. I just spoke with someone this week who has a friend who has two young children, but together as a family they have pledged to go an entire year with zero waste. Perhaps you can’t get to zero waste, but consider how you might reduce your waste, by composting, using reusable products or buying products with less packaging.
3) Drive smart, avoid hard accelerations or braking, get regular maintenance, check your tire pressure. Or better yet, give the car a break now and then and take public transit. On your next car purchase, buy a fuel efficient vehicle.
4) Use LED light bulbs.
5) Reuse and recycle all you can.
6) Review your investments and divest from those companies known to be the biggest polluters. Start with the much published list of the 200 dirtiest companies.
7) Write letters to our leaders and tell them combating climate change must be a priority.
No doubt we will need to take far more drastic steps than this, but small steps matter. God is not going to magically renew our Creation – God has already given us what we need to do so; we are already an Easter people.
Some of the biggest barriers to responding creatively and constructively to climate change are fear, guilt, and hopelessness. When Jesus appears to his followers after the resurrection, his greeting is “Peace be with you.” It is when we are at peace rather than consumed by fear, that we are able to be hopeful, it is when we realize that there are things worse than our own death, that we are able to make the sacrifices necessary to usher in a resurrecting world.
The children of our world, most especially those in poverty need us to act now. So let’s go forth and proclaim the good news by acting as if we matter, as if our planet matters and if those who come after us matter. To repent means to change our mind, to go a new direction. We are being called upon to repent, and this is the good news, God is waiting to work through us to bring new life.