Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hope at Pentecost

This Pentecost morning I preached at Grace Episcopal Church in Columbus, Nebraska, and included some thoughts about what hope might look like in the face of global warming. Here’s an excerpt:

Jesus said, “[God] will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth…Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.” (John 14: 16,17, 27)

In this morning’s lesson from Romans (Romans 8:12-25), St. Paul says that “hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen?” In other words, if we know that something we desire will happen, we don’t call that knowledge hope. Hope is being mindful of the possibility of something good; it's not the knowledge that something that is definitely going to happen is going to happen. If I know that today is Pentecost, if I see it right there on the church calendar, then it would seem odd to say that I hope that today is Pentecost. I might hope that the weather will be nice on Pentecost or hope that people come to church on Pentecost, but I don’t hope that it’s Pentecost because I know that no matter what the weather or the attendance, today simply is Pentecost.

We might wonder what hope looks like in this century, especially in light of the environmental challenges before us. Last week, the level of carbon dioxide measured in the atmosphere at the Mauna Loa observatory hit 400 parts per million for the first time in human history. Scientists tell us that to prevent catastrophic warming, that level needs to be no higher than 350 parts per million. We are already seeing an increase in extreme weather – drought, storms, floods, extreme temperatures, already seeing a dramatic decrease in the volume of Arctic ice, and already seeing the effects of these things on humans and other living things. I read this week (Geoffrey Lean, The Telegraph) about two villages in Fiji that are moving uphill and inland to escape rising sea levels, leaving behind, as one official put it, the place where “they have stored their history, their genealogy and their very being”.   On the other side of the Pacific from Fiji, the villagers of Newtok, Alaska, are also preparing to move. Newtok is built on permafrost which is no longer permanent; the melting ground is now too unstable to support buildings and roads. There will in future years be fewer and fewer livable places to which we can move. We know that the changes we are already seeing will be with us long-term no matter what we do now; the challenge is to avoid the worst.

We don’t think about all of this much; we at least don’t hear as much about this in the news as we do lesser things, even trivial things.  We aren’t used to having to think about such things, and we don’t know how to think about them. Christians, though, know how to think about hope, and that makes it possible for us to hold all of this and look at it and think about it. What does hope look like now?

Hope is indeed as Paul describes it, even as the whole creation groans in suffering. Hope is what helps us have the will and the energy to do what we can; and we in turn find new hope when we work with others to turn this around, to advocate for cleaner energy sources, to break the silence from our leaders and the media that keeps us from doing what needs to be done. Hope is in the end trust in God’s goodness; it is believing that even if we cannot imagine or envision a good end to the story, God is good. We are Easter people who know that God brings life where we can see only death; we are also Pentecost people who at our best are open to receiving the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth, and to acting faithfully in response to the Spirit.

Today is the birthday of the church and a day we gather in joy in the name of God: the Source of All Being, Incarnate Word, and Holy Spirit. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid. Amen.

On the road to Columbus this morning

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