‘But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and herbs of all kinds, and neglect justice and the love of God; it is these you ought to have practised, without neglecting the others.’ (Luke 11:42)
Only halfway through the week, the week’s headlines have already included stories such as these:
Climate change caused by global warming is affecting people around the world. As warming increases, economic disruptions and other risks for people increase. Extinction rates for entire species are accelerating, too, as a result of climate change, habitat loss, and other factors.
With all of this going on, this verse from today’s Daily Office Gospel lesson (Luke 11:37-52) seems to speak to Christians today as much as it did to the Pharisees to whom Jesus was speaking. If we put all our energy into the usual concerns of parishes and dioceses — worship details, finance, attendance, building maintenance — and neglect something that affects our neighbors and God’s creation as much as global warming does, we are neglecting justice and the love of God. Jesus says we need to practice justice and love of God without neglecting our other duties.
We might begin to broaden our focus from our equivalent of tithing herbs to this huge issue that affects all of us by simply naming it. Global warming is the proverbial elephant in the room. It is affecting or will affect every aspect of our lives, and yet we often pretend it isn’t there. Preachers say they don’t dare mention it in their congregations. Even in parishes and dioceses that do some intentional work to be “greener” or even address climate change in some way, it often remains unnamed and neglected when vestries and committees meet to plan for the future, as if global warming weren’t going to change anything close to home. And as its effects in a variety of locations become more apparent, our failure to name it and talk about it begins to look less like our ignoring one elephant in the room and more like being in a very warm room full of elephants we are ignoring.
When we ignore global warming, we neglect the people suffering now and in coming months and years along with neglecting the love of God through our neglect of God’s creation. Powerful people with lots of money to influence politicians and the media have managed to politicize this issue and sow doubt about the well-documented scientific research. By doing this, they have made talking about climate change caused by global warming nearly a taboo subject. This makes it easy for us to retreat into our usual institutional concerns in the church and leave the topic out of our conservations, our sermons, and often even our outreach and social justice work.
Woe to us if we allow our neglect of justice and neglect of the love of God in a warming world to continue!