How Will I Respond to the Waitperson?

November 8, 2020
How Will I Respond to the Waitperson?

Lamentations 5:11-22; Revelations 3:14-17; excerpts from Walter Brueggemann

Imagine a Gigantic Banquet

This morning I’d like you to sit back and: “Imagine a gigantic banquet.  Hundreds of millions of people come to eat. They eat and drink to their hearts’ content – eating food that is better and more abundant than at the finest tables in ancient Athens or Rome, or even in the palaces of medieval Europe. Then, one day, a (waitperson) arrives, wearing a white dinner jacket. The waitperson says, “Here is the bill.” Not surprisingly, the diners are in shock. Some begin to deny that this is their bill.  Others deny that there even is a bill. Still others deny that they partook of the meal.  One diner suggests that the person holding the bill is not really a waitperson, but is only trying to get attention or to raise money for their personal projects. Finally, the group concludes that if they simply ignore the waitperson, the bill will go away.

This is where (the world) stand(s) today on the subject of the climate crisis.  For the past 150 years, our industrial civilization has been dining on the energy stored in fossil fuels, and the bill has come due.  Yet, we have sat around the dinner table denying that it is our bill, and doubting the credibility of the (waitperson) who delivered it.  The great economist John Maynard Keynes famously summarized all of the economic theory in a single phase: “There is no such thing as a free lunch.”  And he was right.  We have experienced prosperity unmatched in human history.  We have feasted to our hearts’ content. But the lunch was not free.”[1]

We are a part of the 100’s of millions of banqueteers? How are we going to pay this bill?  It sounds rather unnerving to think of ourselves as part of that crowd. I have been trying to find out how I can help pay my share of the bill because it’s not just my share I am concerned about. I want to pay forward for my kids, my grandchildren and their children’s children.  Now, this morning, I want to share three possible ways I can.

The ideas I’m sharing with you today are based on my participation in the 9th American Climate Leadership Summit.  I virtually participated in this Summit because of the United Presbyterian Church (USA) Mission Agency.  The Presbyterians have been involved in, support and promote this program. The Summit included a broad mix of supporters representing environmental activists, church leaders from other denominations, political figures, youth activists, researchers and scientists.

We Must Increase our Understanding

So, how are we going to pay the bill?  The first way that we can help pay for our feast is to acknowledge that we have been easting and understand the problems this has caused.  How can we do that?  One answer was suggested by one of Summit leaders, Dr. Leah Schade, Assistant Professor of Preaching and Worship, Lexington Theological Seminary. She said, “We can draw much from Christian scriptures, liturgy and rituals.” What might we use from our traditions to deal with the climate crisis? 

For example, her idea grew out of the Book of Lamentations.  This book includes 5 short poems that describe the intense loss by Jews when their temple was destroyed and they were taken into exile by the Babylonians.  She described how Jerusalem’s inhabitants experienced the devastation of their city, their Temple, their livelihood, the loss of their feasts and celebrations; no one was there to help them. They felt that God had forsaken them and had punished them for their exorbitant behavior and then denied them the ability to enjoy the fruits of the field. The last few verses of a poem are a prayer for mercy.

The writer says,                                                                                              

  1. You Lord, reign forever; your throne endures from generation to generation.
  2. Why do you always forget us?
  3. Restore us to yourself Lord, that we may return: renew our days as of old
  4. unless you have utterly rejected us and are angry with us beyond measure.”[2]

As I reviewed these passages I could not help but think about the many people who have no home because of the terrible forest fires, floods and hurricanes across our country.  Their churches, stores, schools are now gone. Some friends or family may have died. Their family, friends, and neighbors are being cared for by strangers and the government who now provides them shelter, food and clothing. They are denied the opportunity to personally comfort one another because of Covid-19.  They find themselves asking God to restore them to himself so that they can “…renew our days as of old.”[3]

There are additional interpretations from Lamentations from theologian Walter Brueggemann. He explains that we have three main teachings from Lamentations:

  1. We need to identify the problem.
  2. We need to define the moral or ethical sin related to this problem.
  3. We need to do something about the problem.

We can easily identify the problem created by the use of fossil fuels and can often find the moral or ethical sin related to our condition.  As we deal with the problems we can be overcome when we see that the problem is so immense and complex.  We also can become dispirited by the extent of the damage done to those with minimum income, limited or no health insurance, or who happen to live in a country which is losing its shoreline to the encroaching ocean eating up the land they live on.  Our attention should be focused on doing something, acting, about the problem, so God can renew our days. 

Dr. Leah Schady, also suggested a word that should resonate with us, it’s “tithing,” the giving of 10% of our wealth to serve God.  However, she refocused this idea on the environment by naming it “Creation Tithing.” Two environmental writers have defined this as a program for houses of worship and their members to reduce greenhouse gases by 10% each year through a dedicated focus on reducing the worst consumer -generated emitters: electricity, gas, heating oil, water and automobile fuel. It involves the church, clergy and congregation. Dr. Shady suggested that the reduction commitment or creation tithing can be as high as 25%. That level would be something Southminster could achieve.  The Presbyterian Church (USA) has  already provided tools to help us start “Creation Tithing.”  The booklet is called “Guide to Going Carbon Neutral.”

Accepting our Responsibility

What is a second way to pay for our feast?  We can and must accept our part  in helping to right the inequities that have caused others to suffer from all sorts of unjust environmental policies, programs, and conditions.  For example, we have been repeatedly made aware of the unfair effect of the Covid-19 virus, wild-fires, earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. We have all become appalled by the daily account of minorities that are suffering from the pandemic. The time is ripe for us to expand our relationships with environmental justice-oriented organizations.

Presbyterians were challenged to correct these inequities now  by the Rev. Jose’ Gonzalez-Colon at a Peace Camp sponsored by the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship just this last June.  He is the pastor of Iglesia Presbiteariana de Hato Rey, Puerto Rico.  He spoke about “A Planet to Save and Very Little Time.” 

The biblical text he used to illustrate his views on this subject came from Revelation 3:14-17.  These passages say, “the revelator chastises a Christian community for their indifference.  Listen to this: I know your works. You’re neither cold nor hot. I wish that you were either cold or hot . So, because you are lukewarm, neither cold or hot, I’m about to spit you out of my mouth , says the Lord, for you say, I am rich, I have prospered. I need nothing. You do not realize that you’re wretched. You’re pitiable, you’re poor, you’re blind, you’re naked.

He said repentance is not taking place because “we have been convinced that there is no other way to preserve our way of life without fossil fuels.  And there you have the false idol, the false sense of prosperity, the false sense of security that we’re dealing with inside and outside the church.  It’s the pharaoh, the enslaving pharaoh, of our day.”

Rev. Jose reminded his audience that, “Communities of color have to deal with the fact that ‘climate breakdown makes us even more sick makes us poorer and even more miserable…lamenting that “the COVID-19 pandemic is showing us how the Native American, African American, Latinx communities show a disproportionate level of infections in the U.S. today.

These same issues were presented at another session “Getting to a Just Future: Addressing Climate Disparities.” Two African American climate leaders, Professor Carlton Waterhouse, professor of property and environmental law at Howard Law School, and James Woodley, President of Jail and Prison Rehabilitation Information Program. Both suggested several effective ways to create environmental justice.

“Practice Allyship and Advocate across racial and ethnic groups, across class location and national boundaries.”

Could Southminster increase our ‘allyship” and advocacy? We have already established a relationship with Citizens Climate Lobby.  There is a need for one or more of us at Southminster to have continued contact with the Portland Citizen Climate Lobby.  They are actively promoting fossil fuel divestment.  We could also establish our contact with the Center for Sustainable Economy, a member of the US Climate Action Network, and become an organizational member.  The Center is located in West Linn.  In order to increase our knowledge about minorities involved in environmental issues we might also join with a local church whose national office supported the American Climate Leadership Summit.  A contributing member that fits this definition is the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Portland. 

Persevering in the Face of Negative Blowback

The  third way by which we can pay for the creation of the climate crisis is by persevering in the face of negative blowback. We are faced by many negative forces that don’t acknowledge or belittle the science evidence of the climate crisis. They are the same forces that fight various efforts to reduce the presence of greenhouse gases.  It is clear that those individuals and organizations that support environmental justice are faced with formidable pushback forces. So, even though 67% of American voters report feeling more concerned about the climate crisis[4] from previous elections, it is obvious that attempting to address climate change is going to continue to be challenged.

Well, there you are.  It’s time for all of us to take the climate crisis seriously.  It’s time to be “All in” for a livable planet with healthy, global citizens and justice for all.  It isn’t going to be easy because the solutions demand our personal commitment.  There is no simple, single solution.  So, to encourage you to consider your future steps I’d like to read “The Spirit of the Pioneer” because, in a sense, we are now the pioneers of the future.  It was written by Melvin Hoover in Been in the Storm too Long.

 “We can’t control the future but we can shape it and enhance the possibilities for children and grandchildren. We can’t discern in the present the fullness of our actions and their impact but we can be pioneers in our time, exploring fully the crevices and cracks where knowledge and new insights might be found. We can explore our spectrum of relationships and confront our complacency and certainties about the way things are. We can dare to face ourselves in our entirety.

  • To understand our pain
  • To feel the tears
  • To listen to our frustration and confusion, and
  • To discover new capacities and capabilities that will empower and transform us.

We can’t change the past, but we can learn from it and build on it.
In the spirit of the pioneer, let us now go forth.”[5]

[1] “Merchants of Doubt,” Naomi Oreskes & Erik M. Conway, page 266, Epilogue, A New View of Science.
[2]Lamentations, Chapter 5, verses 1 – 22.
[3] Lamentations, Chapter 5, verse 21
[4] Celinda Lake (Lake Research Partners) and Nathaniel Stinnet (Director, Environmental Voter Project) at the XV Session of the American Climate Leadership Summit – 2020.
[5] ”Spirit of the Pioneer” by Melvin Hoover from Been in the Storm too Long