Creation Care through the lens of: Prayer

“Grant us, O God, the courage to choose Jesus’s way even at great cost, bearing our cross and releasing our possessions, for the liberation and healing of your world; through Jesus Christ the Wisdom of Creation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”

 

         These words were our opening Collect today. A collect, for anyone who has ever wondered, is a specific type of prayer, one whose purpose is to gather and set the intentions of a community coming together in prayer. It has a standard structure, and they are used throughout the Anglican worshiping community.

         This particular Collect was created by looking at the Gospel reading and, like most collects, is attempting to set a tone for the service.

         And our particular service today, as set by both the Diocese of Massachusetts and Western Massachusetts, is one designed to look at Creation Care through prayer.

         Prayer, though, is a complicated thing to define or explain, really.

         So I tried to begin where any good Millennial-ish priest would: on the internet. And found that the Episcopal Church defines prayer as:

 

“The experience of corporate or individual nearness with God, through words, acts, or silence. Any act or activity offered to God in a spirit of dedication may be prayerful. This nearness may take the form of addressing God, as in prayers of petition, praise, and thanksgiving; or the form of listening, as in contemplative and meditative prayer. Both forms assume a relationship between God and the one who prays. Prayer is the opening of the direct relationship between God and humanity.”

         In summary, prayer is anything designed to eliminate the space between humans and God. It is through our words, our actions, and the setting and following through of our intentions that we pray, and that allow us to become closer to God. Not merely when we bow our heads and talk to God. Anything that eliminates the space between humans and God is, or can be, prayer.

It is an increase in that space between humans and God, a separation between us and the Divine, that I define as sin. I believe Thomas Aquinas said this first, but honestly I’m not certain.

         Who said it matters less than the point: prayer is our number one defense against sin and our response to it! Because, prayer is designed to lessen the space between us and God. Prayer is our answer to sin, be it our separation, or any willful separations others have caused.

         Prayer, I believe, is an ideal place to start to approach any complex issue, because, in part, it invites God into the conversation. We can begin to approach and address the separation between humans and God by opening ourselves to God.

I think, often, we approach prayer as an individual and intellectual exercise. We say prayers on behalf of ourselves or others. Expecting a response from God, but not often following our words with actions.

This is also true when we offer prayers in response to global crises or something that is clearly a problem, but not something that we are responsible for. We pray for a solution to magically appear, without doing anything to be part of the solution.

This is especially true when we see things like wars in other nations, or, the ramifications of climate change.

We, as individuals, we did not cause climate change. And we, as individuals, will not solve climate change.

But, and I cannot say this lightly enough, it is pointless for us to pray for things to be different, for a solution to climate change and it’s ramifications to be found, and for us as individuals to do nothing.

It’s hopes and prayers in response to problems, rather than prayer, action, change.

Now, in order to tie prayer into climate change, we have to further discuss sin, and the ways in which individual sin leads to corporate sin. Because the actions of one, or two, or a few, can most certainly lead to entire communities and populations to become separate from God in one way or another.

         At the most recent General Convention, the House of Bishops released a statement on climate change. The middle section of the statement reads, in part:

 

“This ancient pattern of separation and sin is ours today. We crave and hoard what we do not need. We take and grasp what does not belong to us. We burden and dominate what was meant to be free. As a result, the planet and our most vulnerable neighbors suffer. This flows from our failure as human beings to live as the people made in image of God, bearing the sacred responsibility entrusted to us.

 

Climate change and environmental degradation are manifestations of our turning away from God. The effects of this willful separation from God resonate across our collective lives: All areas of justice are either worsened or made better depending on the health of the planet. A changing climate and degraded environment worsen conflict, forces human migration, and causes food insecurity. These related crises increase the rate of violence, cause more natural disasters and humanitarian crises, and deepen the wounds of those already suffering from racism. People living in poverty are plunged further into poverty by the deteriorating condition of the planet.”

 

         We, again, are not the reason there is climate change. But, we, every single one of us, benefit from the intentional, sinful, actions that defiled this planet, and lead to the prosperity of the United States.

         I would like to illustrate what the House of Bishops wrote with a discussion of the Syrian Civil War.

         I think most of us know that in 2011, a civil war began in Syria. This civil war resulted in nearly 7 million Syrians leaving their nation as refugees over the last decade, and another nearly 7 million people being displaced within Syria.

         The commonly understood reason for the civil war was political unrest. But that’s not the whole story.

         The surface level of media coverage tells us that the civil war started in 2011 after a violent government lead crackdown on protests lead primarily by younger people as part of the movement known as Arab Spring.

         But if we look a little bit deeper, read a few more scholarly articles, a deeper cause for the uprising emerges: water.

         A little background: in 1970 the Assad family took control of Syrian government.

         Very quickly they began to use and abuse access to water in the semi-arid nation, as a tool to gain political favor and hold on to power. A resource given freely by the earth, held ransom. They built hydropower

dams and granted access to water for agriculture to their allies and supporters.

         In 2010, when Syria found itself enmeshed in Arab Spring, 40% of the country’s population was dependent on agriculture, which was responsible for using 90% of the country’s water. This was intentional.

         But the reason Syria was ripe for the unrest of Arab Spring and the brutal war it caused, was the record setting 5-year drought that began in 2006. This drought is a direct consequence of climate change, of the climate change brought on by western nations developing and hoarding wealth.

         The water simply stopped falling from the sky in 2006. Irrigation systems ran dry. And Turkey, also greatly impacted by the drought, dammed the Euphrates River. This alone cut Syria’s access to water by 40%.

         There was no food. There was no work. In the Eastern half of the country, 85% of livestock died. Crop yields declined, depending on if they were based on irrigation or rainfall, from 25% to 85%.

         People were starving. Without hope. Scared.

         And so the first refugee crisis began, with people leaving their rural and village homes for what are referred to as shanty towns on the outskirts of the major cities. Homes and farms that had been in their families for generations, were abandoned.

         A government that built it’s political capital on access to water found itself vulnerable because there was no water. And rather than finding

solutions to the lack of water, the Syrian government responded with brutal force to the protests of starving people. Civil war began as a response to the brutality.

         The ramifications from the fighting are still being felt. Fighting blamed on political unrest, without acknowledging the unrest was caused by limited access to water from both climate change and intentional actions.

         I chose to discuss the Syrian refugee crisis because I think it shows a lot of different levels of abusing the earth and her resources. Willful sin. And it’s ramifications.

         It all started because of climate change. Because of a record setting, deadly, 5-year drought. Climate change that Syria did not cause; western nations caused it. Corporate greed in western nations caused and continues to cause, climate change, we know that. There are the undeniable effects and implications of climate change like this drought.

         But there is also hoarding of resources, and using the resources of the earth, that are free, to gain wealth and power. Both of which are almost always accumulated because of a willful separation from God that causes great harm to achieve individual desires.

         Hoarding and controlling that which the earth gives for free causes the individual who is hoarding to be separate from God, and also causes entire communities to feel separate from God. The individual is putting themself in the place of God, and is causing entire groups of people to wonder why God has caused such a tragedy. They then feel separate from God and act accordingly.

         But it is humans, not God, causing climate change, hoarding resources, and limiting access. And then deciding not to change in response. To act out of fear and hoard more.

         Layers, upon layers, upon layers, of sin, of separation from God. Alienation. Hurt. Wondering why God has caused, and then why God doesn’t end, the hurt, the fear, the pain.

         And then, war. A war blamed on idealistic youth, when in reality it was caused by access to a basic necessity of life: water, and the food it yields.

         A need so basic to the continuation of human life, that people literally leave all they have because if they stay in their homes, they will die. But if they leave, there is a glimmer of hope that they might have any sort of life. Not a better life. But they’ll be alive.

         This story plays out over and over and over in different ways, all over the world; it’s why there are at least 21.5 mil climate refugees around the world. A number that will grow to an estimated 1.2 billion people by 2050. Less than 30 years from now 1.2 billion people will be climate refugees.

         Climate change in wreaking havoc in California, where entire swaths of the state burn each summer. Nestle, in the midst of the drying of groundwater and huge forest fires, rather than rethinking where they source their water, are running entire forests of groundwater dry. Which dries out the entire forest, making it ripe for a fire. Furthering the destruction and implications caused by the fires in the interest of their bottom line.

         We’re not immune from climate change on this coast either. Every part of Massachusetts is in a drought. 94% of the state are in a severe drought, but not us. In our portion of Massachusetts we have an extreme drought. The Charles river is reduced to mud in many places! Farmers can’t rely on the sky to produce rain, so they are paying more and more for water, which means we pay more and more for food.

         Not a big deal for most of us. Inconvenient, but not a big deal.

         Higher food costs will literally kill some of our neighbors, who already struggle to afford food, rent, and utilities in and around Boston.

         How are we responding to this increase in cost? Are we hoarding and holding? Are we adjusting our spending patterns?

         “Grant us, O God, the courage to choose Jesus’s way even at great cost, bearing our cross and releasing our possessions, for the liberation and healing of your world; through Jesus Christ the Wisdom of Creation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.”

         These words, this prayer that we offer, they don’t just mean that we need to sell everything we own and live in poverty. But these words do invite us to consider deeply if we need all of the indulgent things we accumulate. And to consider if how we behave, how we spend, where we invest our money, if those actions reflect our values as Christians.

Prayer, praying, is an invitation for us to deeply consider the ramifications of our actions, and, when the ramifications of our actions don’t align with our values, prayer invites, encourages, and supports us to change.

         Climate change, creation care, green justice, whatever you want to call it, is a very low hanging fruit for us to consider how our individual and community actions impact our neighbors around the world. Because we can see it! The science is there. And the science is real.

         Most everyone here invests in the stock market, including us as church. Do we invest in fossil fuels, either directly or indirectly? Do we invest in green energy? In companies that are doing more than giving lip service to investing and following through on protecting our planet?

         Who are we voting for? Are they taking the call to protect the planet seriously? Are we holding our elected officials accountable to hold the corporations responsible for climate change accountable for their actions?

Are we buying products from companies that are taking responsibility for how they impact our planet? Are we attempting to buy groceries from local suppliers? Could we fly less, drive less, and invest in offsetting our carbon footprints?

         We as a community need to consider offsetting our individual and our community carbon footprint. Y’all took a big step by getting a green certified furnace! And there are other ways. Even having the conversation about what to do, and how, that’s prayer.

         Let’s prayerfully consider the fact that our stock portfolio as a church went up so much during 2020 and 2021, while so many were struggling to survive. Did we stop to think about that? Consider where that wealth came from? About who was hurt so that we could accumulate it?

         Or do we brush it off because now, much of that money is gone? And what does that mean for our little green church?

         Let’s have the conversations. Remembering that the conversations can be prayerful, can draw us nearer to God. And that God is calling us to action, which will also draw us closer to God.

         So let’s pray on it. And then, let’s prayerfully act.

         Let’s act in big ways and small. Remembering that our words, our actions, our contemplations, are all prayer.

         And it is through prayer that we will close the chasm that climate change has caused between humans and God.

         This is our cross to bear. Period. We as individuals didn’t cause climate change, but we are not immune in this nation from making it worse, and for not holding those who could do something about it accountable.

         There will be no one after us to fix this if we don’t.

         That’s not a rhetorical statement. There will be no one after us to fix this if we don’t.

         Prayer; our words and our actions bringing us into alignment with God.

         We must fix the willful separation from God that climate change, and the destruction of the earth, have caused.

         “Grant us, O God, the courage to choose Jesus’s way even at great cost, bearing our cross and releasing our possessions, for the liberation and healing of your world; through Jesus Christ the Wisdom of Creation, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.”

 

Amen.

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