September 22, 2019
Story of Creation – Rivers Sunday
Rev. Carla Wilks at Mt Seymour United Church
This morning’s reading in Ezekiel 47 is an important part of this narrative. To set this part of the story into its context – God delivered the people from slavery and established them as a nation. Their power grew, the temple was built. Then the nation was divided and the temple was destroyed and the nation was in exile. Today’s reading comes as part of the very detailed description of the new temple, perhaps some of the most tedious chapters in the bible, with its measurements and materials and instructions. The significance of this particular reading though is that it is the turning point of the story – for two generations they have been in exile. Ezekiel has been wrestling with how hope can be restored, and then here it is – a trickle of water, flowing from the temple, from the sanctuary. Just a trickle, then ankle deep, then knee deep, then so deep it couldn’t be crossed. The river is full of life and many fish and the river brings life to everything it touches. The banks are overgrown with fruit trees and plants for healing.
As I thought about this reading this week, about the trickle of water flowing from the sanctuary I kept thinking about the story of Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old girl from Stockholm, Sweden. Just over a year ago in August 2018, as a 15-year-old, (PHOTO) she took time from school and demonstrated outside the Swedish parliament for three weeks, calling for stronger climate action, demanding that the Swedish government reduce carbon emissions in accordance with the Paris Agreement. In her own family she persuaded her parents to adopt several lifestyle choices to reduce their own carbon footprint, including giving up air travel and not eating meat. Throughout the year other students and adults have joined the movement and there have been multi-city protests planned every Friday. (PHOTO) Fridays for Future, the movement is called. In August she sailed across the Atlantic in a carbon neutral, zero emission racing yacht, fuelled by solar panels and underwater turbines, and she is in the US now, speaking with Congress this past week, and yesterday at the UN youth climate summit in New York City.
I saw a video this week where Greta and George Monbiot speak about solutions to the climate crisis. They say “to survive, we need to stop burning fossil fuels. But this alone will not be enough. There is a magic machine that sucks carbon out of the air, costs very little and builds itself. It’s called a tree. A tree is an example of a natural climate solution. Mangroves, peat bogs, jungles, marshes, sea beds, kelp forests, swamps, coral reefs; they take carbon out of the air and lock it away. Nature is a tool we can use to repair our broken climate.” She goes on to say: “These natural climate solutions can make a massive difference, but only if we also leave fossil fuels in the ground.” She says “Here’s the crazy part…. Right now we are ignoring them. We spend 1000 times more on global fossil fuel subsidies than on natural based solutions. Natural climate solutions get just 2% of all the money used on tackling climate breakdown.” She says: “This is your money. It is your taxes and your savings.”
The video goes on to say: “So what should we do? What should you do? Its simple” she says. “We need to protect, restore and fund. Tropical forests are being cut down at a rate of 30 football fields per minute. Where nature is doing something vital, we must protect it. Restore: Much of our planet has been damaged, but nature can regenerate and we can help ecosystems bounce back. FUND: We need to stop funding things that destroy nature and pay for things that help it. It is that simple – protect, restore, fund.”
At the end of the video she calls for action – She suggests that we support natural climate solution initiatives, that we vote for people who defend nature, that we talk about this, join movements that are working for a better world. And then she says “Everything counts. What you do counts.” (PHOTO)
Well what 16-year-old Greta has done sure has counted.
Friday began the Global Climate Strike week, and initial numbers from what has been reported back to Greta’s website estimate that there were 163 countries who participated, and over 4 million students who were on the streets, calling for climate action. There are events planned all week, including a global climate strike on Friday at 1pm at Vancouver City Hall, for students and everyone else, and a climate crisis forum at Canadian Memorial United Church on Saturday. Many businesses are closing on Friday to allow for their employees to participate. The United Church of Canada national and regional offices have all committed to closing next Friday so that staff can participate in the climate strike. They are encouraging congregations to do the same.
It is inspiring to think that this global movement of millions of people from 163 countries, began with just a trickle… just one person with a makeshift sign, calling for action. Yesterday her words and her name were projected on the side of the UN building in New York. Her trickle of water flowing from the temple is now a raging river – hopefully leading to life on the banks, bringing sustenance and healing to all who are touched by it through protection, restoration and funding.
Everything counts. What we do counts. As you heard in the reading, it said that the trickle of water flowed from the sanctuary. As a church, what are we called to do? What will our trickle of living water be in terms of climate change? Will you join me and Nancy and thousands of others from the area at Vancouver City Hall on Friday? Maybe at coffee after church today some of you might chat about things that we could do to reduce our footprint, or to join a movement, or do some further learning. With the election coming up, we can all make sure that the candidate we support is one that will PROTECT the environment, RESTORE and FUND natural climate solutions, as Greta has called on global leaders to do.
Everything counts. What we do counts. Another example of a trickle of living water here in this congregation happened almost 30 years ago, when a few people had an idea. Let’s start a thrift shop, they said. Well – did you ever imagine the raging river of life-giving water, abundant with life that it would become these years later? Recycling goods in the community, keeping them from the landfill, providing low cost household items for folks who need it, and the bonus – a beautiful community of support and a place for folks to gather, where all are welcome.
And speaking of welcome –every single week here at the beginning of worship, we extend the same welcome, so at times I have caught myself assuming that everyone knows that they are welcome because they hear it every week. We hear over and over from people who have come to worship with us, that the welcome is very impactful.
But the welcome is only heard if you come to church on Sunday or read our materials or website. And I know because many of you embody the welcome, that it is felt at many other times throughout the week by the treatment people receive when they enter this place any other time. But – in the summer, when we put up the pride flag on the outside of the building, it extended that welcome that is heard within our walls to a welcome beyond our walls and into the community.
On Thursdays when I have the opportunity to talk to many thrift shop customers, this month I have also had the chance to talk with many preschool parents as they have returned for the fall. I have had quite a number of people comment to me about the flag and say how much it means to them to see it there. It will soon be taken down for the winter, but while it has been up, the trickle of living water that is our welcome, became knee deep as it extended out into the community and was seen by people as they drive by. I wonder how we could turn our welcome into a raging river carrying with it abundant life and creating on the banks, life giving sustenance and healing? What might that look like? Everything counts. What we do counts.
We may not see the results of our actions right away or ever, but it does matter. Our small actions have an impact. I think even about the power of a smile – a smile or an unexpected kind word from a stranger has lifted my spirits and then caused me to pass that along, and so on and so on. Telling someone what you appreciate about them, could have an impact beyond what you could imagine. Our actions – no matter how small a trickle they may seem, if they lead to more love and more compassion in the world, those actions may become a raging river of love and compassion.
I imagine that when Greta Thunberg first sat alone outside of the Swedish Parliament, she didn’t think, you know, I think in a year I’ll be in the US and have millions of people in 163 countries, who are joining me in this movement, and I’ll be a global household name. She was just doing her small part to try to make a difference.
Jesus shows us by his example, the wideness of God’s all encompassing love for all, especially the marginalized and God calls us to be stewards of the earth, to take care of creation. Our United Church Creed that we sometimes say together says “We are called to be the Church, to celebrate God’s presence, to live with respect in Creation…” As a response to the love that is ours to know and to share, in this week of the Global Climate Strike, how will we extend that love to our earth and live with respect in Creation? What will we do that counts this week? What trickle of living water will perhaps become a raging river carrying abundant life?
I’m going to close with a prayer that was from the United Church website and was written for this week’s Global Climate Strike.
You have called us to be in loving relations with all the Earth,
living with respect in creation,
choosing love and seeking justice at all times.
Instead, humankind has acted in hateful ways,
exploiting natural resources,
choosing power and seeking wealth in the present over future abundance.
We need your help to work for a better future!
Help to reawaken our love for Creation,
that is so magnificent that we, with all our creativity and knowledge,
could never articulate it;
and so passionate that we, with the personal price and communal cost,
would still work for it.
Help to deepen our relationships and love for each other:
Affirming the wisdom of youth strikers,
so that we are not discouraged by empty platitudes and naysayers; and
Growing our community of allies,
so that we can create a sustainable and faithful response to the imminent climate crisis.
For the sake of your majestic creation, and
For the love of all our relations.
Help us to work for a better future.
—A prayer for the Fridays for Future Climate Strike movement by Alydia Smith