6th Sunday of Easter and 400 ppm CO2
“Do you want to be made well?” is the question Jesus asks in the story in John (John 5:1-9) about the healing of the man who had been lying next to the pool by the Sheep Gate for 38 years. Unlike other stories of Jesus healing people, neither this man nor anyone else acting on his behalf approaches Jesus or calls out to him to ask for healing. Instead, Jesus approaches him and asks, “Do you want to be made well?”
In answer, the man offers an explanation of why he has not been healed: he has no one to help him be the first one to get in the water when it is “stirred up” and thought to have healing properties. After 38 years of this, he doesn't sound as if he has any expectation that he will ever make it into the pool at the right time, and yet he keeps doing the same thing day after day. Could he not imagine any other alternative?
Jesus gives him an alternative, and in giving the alternative, also gives him his healing. Jesus doesn't lay hands on him or pray over him or cast out demons. Instead, Jesus simply tells him to get up, pick up the mat he has been lying on all these years, and walk.
As May begins, we are hovering around atmospheric carbon dioxide levels of 400 ppm. The home page of CO2Now.org shows this graphic today:
The level of atmospheric carbon dioxide scientists tell us we need to reach for climate stability that supports life as we have known it on the Earth is 350 ppm. (See the CO2 Now website or 350.org for more information about that number.)
These readings are taken at the Mauna Loa observatory in Hawai’i. Ralph Keeling, a geologist at the Scripps Institute of Oceanography that operates the observatory, said, “I wish it weren't true but it looks like the world is going to blow through the 400ppm level without losing a beat.”
On the Climate Progress blog today, Joe Romm’s post Into The Valley Of Death Rode The 600, Into The Valley Of 400 PPM Rode The 7 Billion compares our staying on a “self-evidently suicidal” path to the charge of the British light cavalry in the Crimean war that Tennyson remembered in The Charge of the Light Brigade. Romm writes:
Certainly as we hit 400 parts per million (ppm) for the first time in human existence, with not even a plan to avoid 600 ppm, 800 ppm, and then 1000 — not even a national discussion or an outcry by the so-called intelligentsia – it is worth asking, why? Is there something inherent in homo “sapiens” that makes us oblivious to the obvious?
Along with those questions, we might ask ourselves the question Jesus asked the man by the pool: Do we want to be made well? This is a question about our priorities. Choosing health over sickness, holiness over sin, life over death is really a matter of putting first things first. The things that help us continue to grow toward greater wholeness and the fullness of life that God desires for us are not always the comfortable or convenient things or the familiar things. It’s usually easy to find excuses for not doing the right thing; when we choose to stay stuck instead of making the effort to move forward, we can rationalize that choice so well that we often manage to convince ourselves that staying stuck is our only option or the best option or even the right thing to do. This time the consequences of staying stuck are the most far-ranging and dire we have ever approached.
We know that changing the trajectory of our carbon emissions will require some significant changes in the way we do things. Even though what we are doing is making climate change worse and worse, doing something about it, especially doing anything that requires political courage or inconvenience or change of any sort is not a priority for very many people. Doing the deep spiritual work of really seeing what we are doing to our planet, ourselves, and all living things and keeping ourselves spiritually whole and grounded in faith as we figure out how to respond seems to be an especially low priority.
Do we want to be made well? Do we want to change the path we are on? The choices are either to continue just what we are doing, or to get up and walk into a very different but healthier future.
At the beginning of May, Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori, Church of Sweden Archbishop Anders Wejryd and ELCA Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson signed a statement celebrating a commitment to hope in the face of climate change. The statement includes a commitment to “walk a different course”:
As Christians, we do not live in the despair and melancholy of the tomb, but in the light of the Risen Christ. Our resurrection hope is grounded in the promise of renewal and restoration for all of God’s Creation, which gives us energy, strength and perseverance in the face of overwhelming challenge. For us, this promise is more than an abstraction. It is a challenge to commit ourselves to walk a different course and serve as the hands of God in working to heal the brokenness of our hurting world.
Scientists, engineers, economists, and political leaders are better prepared to address big pieces of the work we must do if we are to cut carbon emissions enough to make a difference. People of faith can offer a new kind of hope. Perhaps most importantly, we can ask the important question, “Do we want to be made well?” and empower ourselves and others to get up and do the work that needs to be done.