Twenty-Second Sunday, Sept 3, 2023 Holy Wisdom Monastery
Jeremiah 15: 15-21; Romans 12:9-21, Matthew 16:21-28 Patti La Cross
In each of the monotheistic traditions, prophets are seen as key to connecting and communicating between humans and the divine. It is they whodiscern the signs of the time, who guide, warn, and confront – always in an effort to help the people move toward liberation and reconciliation.
As we move into this latest stretch of very hot days, I want to explore how the notion of prophecy might help us reflect on faithful action in this era of climate crisis
The Confessions of Jeremiah, as chapters 11-20 are known, are unique to ancient religious literature; He ‘tells all’, pulling back the curtain to reveal an intimate relationship with God. He’s aware that he’s been singled out for the role by the Creator, but struggles with it, and pushes back at God’s demands. Sensing threats from every direction, he’s strung pretty tight, pressured. Like the guy on a downtown corner with a sign, shouting “The End Is Near”. He acts as if he swallowed God’s word whole, and he’s choking with its urgency. We just heard this intense dialogue with God.
Jeremiah laments that God won’t punish “the wicked”, those he calls out for the oppression and corruption he sees; their neglect and abuse of the poor. Not even for the irreverent hollow practices of the religious leaders… Yet how they prosper! all while he’s at best ignored, often harassed, and lonely. He implores God to “cut them down a notch”, or worse. But God won’t have it; the demand is firm: Jeremiah must continue to speak truth to power! The Creator sees the people heading toward ruin.
in Reality, Grief and Hope, Walter Bruggeman wrote “the prophets had anticipated, not predicted, the destruction of Jerusalem. They had anticipated it for 150 years because they knew that a public life out of sync with the will of the creator could not be sustained. “ He suggests that rather than by the judgment of God alone, Jerusalem may finally have fallen from the logical outcome of policies of abuse and exploitation toward women, orphans and immigrants that made it an easy conquest. May nations in our time take heed! The prophets, intimates of God, teach that the Holy One has no desire that we suffer, nor especially that we cause others to suffer. We are called to turn to justice. That is the litmus of good faith, and the way we know God’s mercy, even if we ourselves have to suffer for it.
In his memoir Walking With the Wind, John Lewis* explained that there was “something in the very essence of anguish that is liberating, cleansing, redemptive,” adding that suffering “touches and changes those around us as well. It opens us and those around us to a force beyond ourselves, a force that is right and moral, the force of righteous truth that is at the basis of human conscience.”
The essence of the nonviolent life, he wrote, is the capacity to forgive — “even as a person is cursing you to your face, even as he is spitting on you, or pushing a lit cigarette into your neck” — and to understand that your attacker is as much a victim as you are. At bottom, this philosophy rested upon the belief that people of good will — “the Beloved Community,” as Mr. Lewis called them — would rouse themselves to combat evil and injustice.
For those we honor as martyrs, and all who now take risks to awaken us to God’s justice and mercy let’s give thanks. Those who put themselves in harm’s way to protect the most vulnerable meet Abraham Heschel’s definition that “Prophets are those who suffer the harms done to others.” **When they see that the current path leads to doom and destruction, a prophet is one who can’t be silent!
“Indifference,” Heschel wrote, “as history shows, can be more insidious than evil, because it is contagious, and so silently justifies a wrong to become the norm .”
We know this to be true in light of the Holocaust, in the continued fight for Civil Rights and in light of the past 60+ years of growing scientific documentation of climate change
When Marjorie Stoneman Douglas moved to Miami, the Everglades were considered a worthless swamp in need of draining; Recognizing its complex ecology and value as a source of much of Florida’s fresh freshwater, she wrote Everglades: River of Grass in 1947. She educated and animated many to protect that gem, and her continued advocacy was pivotal in preserving this great resource from total loss to date.
From 1960, evidence of climate change was being noted across much of the globe, from severe droughts, floods, and crop losses leading to starvation, migration instability and war across the globe. Within a very short time this was scientifically linked to the burning of fossil fuels,
As a marine biologist Rachel Carson got that memo, and her 1962 book Silent Spring is considered the launch of the environmental movement. Even as she battled cancer, she pushed back against the chemical corporations, to her death. As the public was enlightened, the Environmental Protection Agency was established, to not insignificant good.
Early on, it was quite common for environmentalists and hunters, fishers to organize around dwindling species of birds and animals. So much was already known, from valid science, about the impact of burning fossil fuels since the mid-1950s. But it was suppressed through deceitful shams of corporate “climate studies”. Thus many millions of dollars – worth many times that by today’s valuation- were diverted from alternative energy, often of course in collusion with political leaders. That clearly still goes on!
With every passing day, many lives, and especially those of the world’s poorest, are on the line. Too many Indigenous leaders have been murdered defending the integrity of their Amazon home, most recently Eduardo Mendua of Ecuador. Yet from there to the Water Protectors in Northern MN and WI, and around the world, women, men and children, are making this their mission.
With nearly 70 years from the first warning signs and scientific data on these changes to broader action, anger and grief are appropriate responses..But as Jeremiah was taught, and many of us discover, anger takes a lot of energy to sustain. God’s answer to anger is mercy, which is animating, not “othering” those who do not share our concerns or ways. We still share one beautiful,if threatened, planet.
Engaging in Community is one of the surest ways I’ve found to sustain shared hope.
From ancient days to the present, national leaders and their advisors have squelched and distorted the truth. But truth is still proclaimed by varied prophetic voices, from scientists and reporters, the astute observers of their own surroundings, and the activists who defend their natural environments around the globe. With gratitude for them all, let us renew our hope in this prayer.
Let us pray: for communities of faith and communities of resistance against political, environmental and religious and racial/ethnic violence and repression, let us pray….
For all who grow, pack and transport our food, that they know justice through the protection of their safety, health and liveable wages, let us pray….
For all within the expansive identity of the Holy Wisdom Monastery’s communities, especially those grieving loved ones who have recently died, those newly diagnosed and those living with serious illnesses, and all of our loved ones in need, let us pray…
Let us lift up the names of those for whom we wish to pray,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,,
And for all whose names are entered into our Book of Intentions, let us pray..
Thank you, O Holy One, O Compassionate One who suffers with us, and who calls us beyond our fears to witness your mercy to others. Hear our prayers, and
Make us witnesses of hope to uplift the weary, and to challenge the self-centered.
We ask you this in the name of Creator, of Jesus the Christ, and of your Holy Spirit, amen.
*John Lewis wrote Walking on the WInd with Michael D’Orso, Simon & Schuster, 2015
**Abraham Heschel, The Prophets Volume II, Harper Row, 1962