As we gather today with our prayers for change, perhaps Psalm 23 can be our heart song for transformation. We pray for the world to turn from the way of selfishness, greed and corruption which destroys creation—oceans, seas, forests, communities, lands and peoples.
These paintings dipped in oil give expression to the ruination across the globe.
We are witnesses to ravaged forests. People in various places in Africa know the desolation caused by the sun as heat scorches the land. Persistent heat is relentless. Floods and rain, mud and muck bury communities. Hurricanes, typhoons, tornadoes wreak havoc on the coastlands of North America and in the Philippines. Oceans with garbage.
We mourn this devastation. A worldwide pandemic only heightens our sorrow. Rather than delighting in paradise as created and as it should be tended—we walk in the valley of the shadow of death. Our hearts are broken-- for ourselves and for our children and our children’s children.
We know that communities living in poverty are most vulnerable to climate change. Fishermen and women, those living on coastlines, farmers, city dwellers dependent on power grids suffer disproportionately. Indigenous communities have been killed, exploited and abused because of our privileged domination and greed. Peoples with the fewest resources are the most devastated. Living in the valley of the shadow of this death is inescapable.
The report of the UN secretary general António Guterres called the findings of the IPCC a "code red for humanity," adding that the "alarm bells are deafening, and the evidence is irrefutable." It is unequivocal that human influence has warmed the atmosphere, ocean and land. The report also found that climate change is intensifying, occurring at an accelerated pace and is already affecting every region of the planet.
For billions of people around the world, it is the valley of the shadow of death.
But this is not the way it has to be.
This journey song relaxes our anxiety and eases our fear when we realize–-God is not only with us but gives us guides and teachers. Creation will show us the way—God in and through creation offers us the wisdom of every living thing and the breath of every human.
The animals, the birds, the earth, and fish will teach you. God’s hand is the life of every creature and the breathe of humankind. (Job 12:7-10)
(God leads us to still waters and restores our soul).
And there are things we must do: stop – be still – listen.
Turn our attention and engage with the voices of creation. Listen to indigenous voices, listen to those often ignored. Artists Gardner and Gardner invite us to listen….
For those of us who are claimed by faith—as we keep true to faith—we have special responsibilities. We are grounded in creation (Judaism, Christianity and Islam). Our stories of faith acknowledge the stories of God’s goodness in creating the world. We know the stories of how it began and how exquisite it was. And we have a special responsibility to listento those living closest to the earth and seas and those indigenous communities. We begin to hear how to be transformed and return. Return the seas to a clean home for its inhabitants. Do not put your garbage in the oceans. Return the habitation of your communities to clean and healthy spaces. Do not ruin them for your greedy purposes. So how now do we get there? We hear the words from our journey song.
You prepare a table…
In this song we hear a way forward (or back). You prepare a table before us in the presence of our enemies. We normally think of tables for baking, sitting, drinking beer, eating with family/friends. There are tables prepared for other things.
Writing – building Legos with grandchildren, projects. And oh yes—meetings/arguments/negotiations/figuring things out. Renegotiating our economic structures to benefit the whole world. Making promises that return to paradise. The Great Creator prepares a table before us—even in the presence of our enemies.
We know how this goes. We complicate the table with questions like: Whose table is it? Who called the meeting? Who gets name tags? Who sits closet to the “powerful ones?” Who is allowed to speak? Who does not have credentials and may not speak? Then there are the ones that want to sit at the right hand. Some very far away and could be invited to sit up closer. And then there are hidden ones. And there are the ones under the table with only the crumbs. Jesus turns that upside down.
This Psalm reminds us that God has already prepared this table in the very presence of our enemies. The enemies of life/shared power/creation/ justice and equity.
Jesus is always at table reaching out to those at the far end or under the table. Jesus invites and privileges those on the margins, the most vulnerable. There is always a place for everyone. Those walking in the way of faith which leads to justice and equity for all to be heard at the table of negotiation—for remembering—Creator, creation returned (transformed) and the future.
The COP is a great table – for listening – attending – arguing- negotiating - not for ourselves but for creation. For the way it once was. When God said – It was good.
We are all wandering—roaming the globe in (and from) villages, suburbs, inner cities, sea sides, desert lands, mountains, metropolises—seeking justice and the restoration of creation (paradise) and hoping it comes. Sometimes we journey alone and are thoroughly surprised when compassion bumps into us. We enter the journey in utter fear and anxiety that the world will explode into pieces of meaningless chaos and self-destruction and are astounded when hope comes.
Disruption and surprise are integral to transformation.
Our song does not die in the valley of the shadow of death but beckons, calls, teases, and cajoles us onward. To do better – to do the very best we can for creation and too continuously promise to care for it.
And then we return to our dwelling place….
Returning and Into Your Arms - are the words that emanate from the pulpit of this Cathedral- in this neon inscription by the artist James Pfaff. The soft white light cascades across the stonework floor of the nave below where lies the crypt of St Mungo. In 565 AD, St Mungo was banished from Glasgow by the pagan King Morken. For years he lived in exile, travelling across Wales and England. Many years later, St Mungo returned to Glasgow to take up the post of Bishop of Strathclyde upon the request of the new king (from the artist).
This amazing artist, James Pfaff, himself, left Glasgow in the mid 1990s and wandered for many years. After years of wandering, Pfaff returned to Glasgow experimenting – now with fire and glass. This marvelous installation illuminates and underlines the “Returning” message for global change by activating its natural life.
The hour is late. And we fear the striking of the midnight hour.
My mother was born in 1915. She had an excellent mind and irrefutable memory. Last year sitting at home avoiding COVID I discovered her journal of the 1918 writings about the pandemic. As a little girl, she remembered what it was like. I do not know how she remembered it so vividly. I cannot tell you how she saw the world before and after a pandemic. I cannot tell you how she experienced the world between wars and after them. I can tell you she became a nurse and helped heal people.
On De, 7, 1998 she died at 11:59 pm. Breathing in every last breathe of her amazing life.
11:59 does not have to be the end. It can be the beginning. Midnight turns to the dawning of a new day.
She departed this world at 11:59 - but 11:59 was not the end of the world. It was the breaking of a new day. It is a dark moment before the light breaks and Life begins anew.
As a Christian, I believe – God is preparing a table - hovering and welcoming us into new life.
It may be 11:59 and we gather to prepare, negotiate and make promises for the new day that is dawning. And we do return and into your arms—to dwell in the home of God forever.
This text was originally shared as the sermon of the Ecumenical Service for COP26, held at Glasgow Cathedral, 7 November 2021.