Sermon: November 8, 2015 – Seeking Understanding

Texts: Job 12: 7-10, Psalm 24: 1, Genesis 2: 15

“But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth,[a] and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among all these does not know
that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every living thing
and the breath of every human being.

The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;

The Lord God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to till it and keep it.

I was having lunch the other day in a fast food joint, something I try to avoid, but every so often the schedule demands it. After I received my food I started looking for a place to sit down and the place was very crowded but I spied an empty corner and went and sat down. This particular restaurant has a lot of plants that separate some of the seating areas; the plants form an effective visual block, but they don’t do much for sound. I ended up sitting next to a table where two other guys were eating their lunch and I could hear every word.

Now, don’t misunderstand; I really wasn’t intentionally eavesdropping in on their conversation, but it was kind of hard to miss. I was alone with no one else to talk to and I found myself listening off and on. At one point I actually got kind of interested because they began to talk about the El Nino and how there is predicted to be perhaps record precipitation for parts of California and the Sierras. At that point one of the two said something that really got my attention…he said that he hoped that there would be record snowfall everywhere in California because then maybe those global warming freaks would shut up.

I sank down in my chair just a little because I didn’t want them to know there was a global warming freak just a few feet from their table…and I stayed quiet as well. I felt a little embarrassed for having overheard the conversation, but it continued to bother me most of day.

A day or two later there was a front page article in the Tribune about climate change and it said that a whopping 65% of Americans now believe it to be true; which means 35% still haven’t gotten the memo. But to my amazement, of the 65% who acknowledge climate change the percentage of people who think it is a moral or religious issue is in the single digits. It was then I decided to try to offer some information on the topic without entering into the political dynamic which often accompanies these discussions. I hope I can be successful.

The other day at lunch was not the first time I had heard someone offer cold weather or heavy snow as proof that climate change isn’t real. It is a common misconception, partly because the language at one time was global warming and anything cold seems to negate that idea. We are much more accurate now describing things as climate change. I thought a brief explanation of one possible scenario might be of interest, so at least you can have a basic understanding of how climate change may actually alter winter weather and make it more severe.

If you have ever visited England in the winter you know that it is wet and gray, but usually it is not that cold. Snowfall in London is rare, although it does happen, but for the most part I think the winters in London are a lot like they have been recently in Lewiston-a lot of rain, some cold temperatures but not a lot and even less snow. There is a reason for the moderate winters in London.

If you look at this map, you can see that London and Fargo, North Dakota are about at the same latitude-in other words they are both about the same distance north of the equator. As a general rule, the farther north you go, the cooler it gets…and yet the winters in Fargo are much more severe than the winters in London. This is due in part to what meteorologists call the north Atlantic Conveyor that is located northeast of the eastern coast of the United States. Out there is what amounts to a giant pump and this pump creates the ocean currents that bring London its mild winter temperatures. This pump is located a few hundred miles south of Greenland and northeast of Maine in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

The short story about what happens is this. Cold air blows south over the Greenland ice and out into the Atlantic. The huge amounts of ice on Greenland create some very cold temperatures in the winter; this super-cooled air from the Greenland ice then cools the water in the Atlantic. This cool water then sinks, because it is now more dense, or heavier than the water around it. As the water sinks, warmer water from the south is pulled up along the eastern coast of the US to take its place. The prevailing winds which blow from west to east blow across this warm water being pulled up along the east coast and the warm water also warms the air. This air is still warmer than normal by the time it reaches London and as a result London has moderate winters with fairly stable temperatures.

If that pump were to shut off and no longer pull the warm water up along the east coast of the US, then the winters in London would get much more like the winters in Fargo-with the exception that there would be much more precipitation, but it would all be snow. If that north Atlantic Conveyor were to someday shut-off, many scientists think that London and the rest of England would soon enter another ice age.

What keeps the pump pumping is the Greenland ice; if that ice were to melt suddenly or too quickly, the pump may shut down and it would be very difficult to get it started again.

I thought a short video captured in western Greenland might be of interest. Let’s have a look.

Play Video

As I said earlier, I wanted to simply offer some information about the topic and not enter into the political fray. But I did read some texts at the beginning that I want to revisit at this time. The first text from the book of Job I think is very interesting. It says that if we could ask every other living thing on the planet about stewardship of the earth, the answer from every other living thing would be the same. The earth belongs to the Divine creator; not only does the earth belong to God, but so does everything living in and on the earth. It is God which gives them breath and life. Several thousand years ago when Job was written, it was already clear to the author that perhaps we could learn and teach others this idea. See how the text states that the animals and the plants will teach us? We can learn if we ask.

Of all living things on the planet, I think that only human beings have the power to alter the planet. And it is not ours to alter.

The second text says the same thing. Psalm 24:1 simply states that the earth is the Lord’s and everything that is in it. The earth is not ours to do with what we please.

The last text from Genesis is interesting because of the word “keep”. When you look at this text in Hebrew, the word translated as keep is the Hebrew word “shamar” and it means more than to just keep things neat and tidy. It has a deeper meaning that could be translated as to guard or to protect. So when we are commanded by God to “keep” the earth, we are commanded to care for the planet, to guard and protect the planet and to keep it safe for all the living things God may choose to put here. Us included.

And that is food for thought. Go in peace and go with God. Amen.

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