Saturday, January 21, 2012

Time and Hope

Third Sunday after Epiphany, Year B

It’s been a couple of weeks since the last Green Sprout’s post. A combination of family obligations, travel, and a painful shoulder that has made writing difficult is mostly to blame for so much time passing between posts, but it’s not the entire reason for the lack of posts.

While time has passed, I’ve been thinking about time in relation to global warming, struggling to process where we find ourselves in January of 2012 and how to begin to articulate a response. We know how urgent this crisis is, yet our actions and those of our leaders seldom reflect that urgency. We know that our present course leads in this century to mass extinctions of species, to mass migrations of people from areas of flood, drought, and famine, to increased risk of tropical diseases, to major cities dealing with rising oceans, and to island nations disappearing. We know that our present course eventually leads to the end of life as we have known it, bringing a sobering eschatological element into the discussion.

By the end of 2011, we knew we were running out of time on climate; we knew we were up against what some had begun calling a “climate emergency”. This blog’s December 20 post, How Can This Be? , summarized some of the factors that were causing us to realize that global warming was an even more pressing issue than we had known it was at the beginning of the year. Yet while climate experts continue to publish information pointing to the urgency of the situation and the need for the world’s leaders to address it in significant ways very, very soon, even those leaders who acknowledge the problem speak and act as if we had all the time in the world in which to act.

Earlier this month, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists moved the hands of the symbolic Doomsday Clock one minute closer to midnight, putting us at five minutes until midnight. The move was made not only because of lack of progress on nuclear weapons reduction and proliferation, but also because of “inaction on climate change”.

 This week’s Scripture readings all address questions of time and eschatology in some way, with the Epistle and Gospel using the word kairos, “the appointed time” or the time when the kingdom of God draws near. Each of these lessons suggest something for Christians to consider as this new year in this still young century begins and we wonder about how to go about caring for God’s creation when so much seems to be working against us.

The reluctant prophet Jonah (Jonah 3:1-5, 10) warns the Ninevites that God will destroy the city in forty days. Much to his surprise, the Ninevites heed the warning and repent. Seeing their penitence, God spares them. The Ninevites might very well have either ignored Jonah and denied the truth of what he told them, or believed him but decided their doom was inevitable and so did nothing.  In our world, there are people in denial about global warming, people so deep in despair that they see no point in acting, and others who continue to work to address the issue even though we don’t know how effective our efforts will be. If we truly see what is happening, working to change things is a form of repentance. It’s the right thing to do.  (As Bill McKibben has said, “The only thing for a morally awake person to do when the worst thing that’s ever happened is happening is try to change those odds.”)

Psalm 62 reminds us that power belongs to God. “For God alone my soul in silence waits” because God is the only thing worthy of our complete trust. Working for a healthier planet while all the power and money of fossil fuel corporations seems to be working in the opposite direction is discouraging, but compared to God’s power, their power is nothing. “On the scales they are lighter than a breath, all of them together.”

Paul’s words in First Corinthians (I Corinthians 7:29-31) remind us to put first things first, to “deal with the world” as if we have no dealings with it, to put the urgent matter before business as usual. This is something to consider, given that so many of the arguments in our country against addressing global warming have to do with our inability to consider giving priority to anything over business as usual.

In our Gospel passage from Mark (Mark 1:14-20), Jesus says that “the time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near”, then goes about ministry in a very concrete, straightforward way. He approaches ordinary men who are fishing or mending nets and invites them to follow him. They in turn will go out to invite others to join them in following Jesus. We in Nebraska learned this past year about the power of ordinary power doing ordinary things – speaking with neighbors, writing letters to elected officials and hometown newspapers, telling our stories and the story of our land and water – that resulted in something extraordinary: keeping the Keystone XL pipeline out of the Sandhills. When we realize that we are living in an extraordinary time, our best response might be to go about what needs to be done in a fairly ordinary and straightforward way, relying on ourselves and other ordinary people to do the work and to invite others to join us.

This week’s lessons point to this: The best way for Christians to live in a time like this is to live in hope with our eyes wide open. That means learning everything we can about what is happening, acknowledging the truth of the situation, and doing all we can to serve God, all of God’s children, and all of God’s creation.