Now is the acceptable time—to speak out boldly!
Care for Creation Commentary on the Common Lectionary
Readings for Year B – 2014-15
by Leah D. Schade
The Fourth Sunday after Pentecost in Year B
Psalm 107:1-3, 23-32
2 Corinthians 6:1-13
8 ‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
when it burst out from the womb?—
9 when I made the clouds its garment,
and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
and set bars and doors,
11 and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?
So asks God of Job after listening to the latter’s laments about the suffering he has endured. God responds by taking Job on a whirlwind tour of Creation, beginning with its very foundations. How interesting that the sea is imaged here as a baby being birthed from the womb of Earth. In Catherine Keller’s book Face of the Deep: A Theology of Becoming (London ; New York: Routledge, 2003), she parses just the first two verses of the beginning of Genesis in order to open a space to explore the depths of the chaotic tehom, the depths out of which all Creation arises. She makes a distinction between “the depths” and water itself: “What of the waters (mayim) over or with which the spirit vibrates? These waters are distinguished from tehom: no longer tehom, not yet literal ocean (which must be separated out on day 'two'). So the mayim suggest (analogously to the earth tohu vabohu) the fluidity, the waves, the membranes of energy from which matter forms and stabilizes" (Keller, 232).
So it is out of God’s formless depths of tehom that the waves of energy begin to coalesce and form the matrix (“the foundations”) of the universe. Eventually the planet Earth became discernable among the self-organizing solar system that is the Milky Way. And, as poetically described in these verse from Job, from the Earth’s womb the “baby sea” emerged in swaddling clothes of clouds and the night sky. But like a parent setting limits for a toddler, God commands the sea—this far and no farther.
Humans often feel caught in the drama between God and the seas. When “well-behaved,” the sea is a bountiful source of food, a means of transportation, the site of restorative recreation, and a symbol of openness and exploration. But when the sea becomes wild and untamed, whipped into a frenzy by storms, or overstepping its bounds by flooding beaches and human habitations, the loss of life and property can be overwhelming. Ancient peoples prayed to their gods or God to keep the sea within its prescribed boundaries. This is reflected in both the Psalm (“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out from their distress,” v. 28), and in the Gospel of Mark (‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” v. 38).
The preponderance of the “super storms” that have wreaked havoc in the last few decades, however, can no longer be attributed to the forces of nature alone. Nor can they be blamed on God’s inability—or choice not to—control the seas. Dr. James Hansen was one of the first climatologists to discover the greenhouse effect that was leading to climate change. Dr. Hansen worked for the Goddard Institute for Space Studies in 1988. An unassuming, soft-spoken scientist, his research indicated that our planet was experiencing the same kind of greenhouse effect as Venus. All the carbon dioxide being released into the air from the burning of fossil fuels was like putting a blanket around the planet holding in the heat and destabilizing the atmosphere. The warming climate draws in more moisture from the seas in what is known as “positive feedback,” which intensifies the hurricanes and typhoons that form over the seas and oceans. At the same time, the seas are not staying within their prescribed boundaries because the polar ice caps are melting at a rate fast enough to inundate coastlands and swallow entire islands.
When Hansen and his colleagues released this information to warn the public and government officials of the impending climate crisis, however, they were immediately attacked for their research. Over the past 25 years climate scientists have received threatening and hate-filled emails, been mocked and lampooned in the press and on the Internet, and had their integrity as scientists questioned – an effort led not by other respected scientists but by lobbyists, PR firms, and industry front groups financed by the fossil fuel industry (for details about these efforts, see Merchants of Doubt: How a Handful of Scientists Obscured the Truth on Issues from Tobacco Smoke to Global Warming, Naomi Oreskes and Erik M. Conway, Bloomsbury Press, 2011).
For many years, Hansen and other scientists shied away from these attacks, avoided any media altercations, and trusted that as their research was studied and shared with policy makers, steps would be taken to address the problem. Instead, the amount of carbon dioxide has sky-rocketed as the public, industry and governments did either nothing or very little to respond to the data. After years keeping quiet, however, he realized he could no longer keep silent. In an uncharacteristic display of boldness, Hansen has emerged as one of the primary voices speaking the truth and leading the movement to address the dangers of the climate crisis. In his efforts to draw attention to this climate crisis, Dr. Hansen has joined protests and marches, speaks at events, and has been arrested during nonviolent demonstrations of civil disobedience. “You just have to say what you think is right,” Hansen has said in response to his critics.
While not completely parallel with what Paul and the apostles endured in their efforts to spread the Gospel, the climate scientists and those who have worked tirelessly to bring attention to ecojustice issues (especially those in developing nations) share some similarities in their experiences with the early Christians. Specifically, they have endured “in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, [and] truthful speech” (vv.4-7). A preacher wanting to encourage her or his congregation to speak a prophetic word on behalf of those who suffer the brunt of climate injustice can draw on the example of Dr. Hansen and his colleagues who have humbly yet forthrightly voiced the truth about the challenges we face.
The Good News is that the voice of Jesus who spoke up in the midst of the storm inspires us to raise our own prophetic voice. Jesus’ voice is not calling for us to run and hide, or lie about the truth, or to be cynical and jaded about this world. The voice of Jesus, the voice of our Triune God, calls us into relationship and accountability with each other, with God’s Creation, with our community.
“See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (2 Cor. 6:2).
For additional care for creation reflections on the overall themes of the lectionary lessons for the month by Trisha K Tull, Professor Emerita of Old Testament, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary and columnist for The Working Preacher, visit: http://www.workingpreacher.org/columnist_home.aspx?author_id=288