Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9: 61-62)
As we prepare for our Sunday Gospel reading of Luke 9:51-62, we are hearing about record high temperatures and dangerous heat in the southwestern United States, the most recent widely publicized effect of global warming in the news in our part of the world. In India this week, there were mass cremations of hundreds of people who were killed in floods and landslides two weeks ago. Officials there predict that the final death toll will be more than 1000 people. In Canada, the city of Calgary is beginning what promises to be a long clean-up from flooding. According to this report from the CBC, “the province faces a potentially decade-long cleanup effort that could cost $5 billion by BMO Nesbitt Burns estimates.” President Obama gave a long-awaited major speech about climate change this week.
The reality of climate change is becoming clearer as both the increase in extreme weather events and the necessity of preparing for and mitigating its effects become more visible. “Business as usual” is not a realistic option any more.
In our Sunday Gospel lesson from Luke, Jesus talks about the difficulty of discipleship. When we follow Jesus, we may find ourselves in a place that doesn't feel like home: “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” Good and holy obligations, like burying the dead and saying a proper farewell to family members, are abandoned if they get in the way of discipleship. Following Jesus entails knowing that there are times when conventionally good things get in the way of the best things, the things toward which Jesus points us.
Our way of life as middle class Americans is in many ways the conventionally “good life”. We have secured many of the necessities of life in a way only dreamed of by most people in other times and places. We aren't bad people for living the way we live and enjoying our abundance, especially when we do so with thankful hearts. But knowing what we know now about the consequences of this way of life, especially our use of fossil fuels, helps us see that our conventionally good way of life is getting in the way of the greater good of caring for God’s creation and caring for the people in the world who are being affected first and worst by climate change.
Other Scripture lessons this past week have reminded us that clinging to customs and conventions, holding onto “business as usual”, is usually not the way to live in accordance with God’s will. The Eucharistic reading from Luke (Luke 1:57-80) for The Nativity of Saint John the Baptist on June 24 tells the story of John’s father, Zechariah, breaking the conventions for naming a baby. When the temporarily mute Zechariah writes “His name is John”, everyone is “amazed” at his straying from the convention of naming a baby after a family member. When Zechariah then regains his speech, fear comes over the neighbors. Readings from Acts 6 and 7 later in the week, St. Stephen’s speech to the council, remind us of other times when people later counted among the most faithful followers of God’s will were persecuted for challenging customs and conventions.
Throughout Scripture, we find a willingness to challenge business as usual when necessary part of living faithfully. Being willing to question the ways we use our resources in our homes, businesses, and churches places us in the tradition of faithful disciples. We may very well need to choose between some traditions and customs that are dear to us in order to be faithful followers of Jesus. Our church buildings may need to be different in size and structure, or existing space may need to be used differently. The ways we prepare and serve food, the materials and activities we offer our children and youth, the ways in which we meet or communicate to do the work of the church are all areas that may require a change. And it’s time for the church to look prayerfully at our investments in the fossil fuel industry and consider whether those investments reflect faithful stewardship of our resources. Deciding to divest from fossil fuel companies and re-invest in companies creating new and less harmful ways of producing energy may necessitate some difficult conversations, but may well be one of the ways Christ is calling the church to lead in the 21st century.