Lenten Series Sermon
Text: Psalm 24:1
“The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it,
the world, and those who live in it;”
We have some friends who recently moved to the Seattle area and we really miss them in a very selfish way; you see when they lived here, they would often take care of our dog. Our dog is a member of the family and if you are a dog person you will understand that. Our dog also seemed to be a member of their family as well. We were very comfortable leaving our dog with our friends; we knew the friends were happy and the dog was happy and it was all good. One day while our dog was in the care of our friends he was attacked by a larger dog; he was attacked, but not hurt. The humans involved intervened quickly and no real damage was done.
The anxiety this produced for our friends was immense. They didn’t know how to begin to tell us about the incident, even though nothing really happened. They felt that somehow they had violated the trust we had placed in them to care for our dog. Believe me, we didn’t think that for a second, but the anxiety was still there. They couldn’t imagine how awful it would have been to have to call us from the animal hospital and report the incident if it had been much worse. But it wasn’t and we laugh about it now.
But here is the point of that story. We had left the care of our dog in the hands of our friends and they assumed that responsibility and took it very seriously. We trusted them to provide the best care they knew how to give; and they remained trustworthy. My question is whether or not we can say the same thing about ourselves and planet earth. God has left the planet in our care. Have we remained trustworthy? Sadly, I don’t think so.
I don’t know if you have ever been to Colorado or not, but if you are familiar with the state, you might recognize the town of Glenwood Springs. It is in the western part of the state and just outside of town the Colorado River rages through a canyon called Glenwood Canyon; it is a favorite spot for white water rafters and bicyclists and hikers of all kinds. One of the hikes you can take is one of my favorites; it is quite strenuous because you climb up out of the canyon and are able to look down on the river, the winding Interstate 70 that runs through the canyon and the railroad tracks that parallel the highway. The scene is quite breathtaking. One day while hiking that trail with my brother, we reached a spot where we could look out over the canyon and we saw the scene I just described, except that there was a coal train on the tracks that parallel the I-70 that runs through the canyon. What was amazing is that we could hear the squeak and the rumble of this train as the sounds echoed through and among the canyon walls. The train was struggling a bit under the weight of 100 or more coal cars filled to the brim with coal from a local coal mine. The suspension in each car moaned and groaned under the extreme weight, the wheels screamed and wailed as they rolled along and the very earth shook under the immensity of the weight of that train.
My brother and I watched and listened for a few minutes just trying to absorb all that we could see and feel and hear in that moment. After a couple minutes of not speaking, finally my brother commented about the train; he said that sure is a lot of weight to put into the atmosphere.
In an instant, I knew what he meant, but I had never really thought about it in that way.
You see, the coal train was headed for a coal fired electrical power plant where they would burn the coal to create steam which would spin turbines and turn generators that would create electricity for the area. But as they burned the coal, most of the weight that we were witnessing as evidenced by the grinding and groaning train would end up in the atmosphere.
You might remember from 7th grade physical science that matter cannot be created or destroyed, it simply changes form. When we burn something, we don’t destroy the matter, we release the stored energy and the matter changes form. We need to remind ourselves of this fact of science.
It is interesting to me that we rely upon this science as we celebrate this Lenten season. Many of you were present last Wednesday at the Ash Wednesday service and had a smear of ash installed across your forehead. The tradition tells us that ashes help remind us of our own mortality, and the phrase ashes to ashes and dust to dust is actually quite literal. When we celebrate the beginning of Lent with an Ash Wednesday service we are in many ways reinforcing the science that matter cannot be either created or destroyed; it simply changes form. That is as true of coal as it is of our own bodies.
If you have ever lived in a place with a wood stove or a fireplace you might remember having to deal with firewood. It is heavy; that’s one of the reasons that when you buy some firewood you want to make sure the deal includes delivery because you don’t want to have to go pick it up yourself. Once it is delivered and stacked in your back yard it still is a bit of a chore to move the firewood into the house, one arm full at a time, as you use it. Have you ever considered the huge discrepancy of weight of what comes in versus what goes out?
Think about that. You may carry in 8 or 10 or even 15 armfuls of firewood. With each trip, it is about as much weight as you can comfortably carry. Then after burning all that firewood over the course of a few weeks or a month it is time to clean out the fireplace. You scoop the ashes into a coffee can and easily carry it outside and spread it on your garden or your roses. What happened to the rest of that weight? Have you ever thought about that? Most of it went up the chimney and into the atmosphere.
Have you ever run your car out of gas and had to walk back to it carrying a gallon or two of gasoline? I have, and by the time I finally reached my car my arm was aching, that gas can gets heavy after a few blocks. What do you suppose a full tank of gas in your car weighs? How often do you fill up your tank? Where does all that weight go?
Now I know there are some prominent people who deny climate change. They claim they are not scientists. I claim you don’t have to be a scientist. We have all experienced what I’m talking about. Common sense tells you that a coal train going into a power plant weighs more than it does when it is leaving. Common sense tells you we cannot put billions of tons of weight into our atmosphere and not have it make a difference. The only science you need to know you learned in Junior High earth science or physical science and it is the same science that helps us celebrate Ash Wednesday.
Ashes matter. What ashes represent matter.
I don’t think there is any controversy around the idea that we as human beings are to be good stewards of God’s creation. How we claim to do that seems to be a missing ingredient in some people’s world view. Our friends who were dog sitting for us couldn’t imagine how difficult it would have been to call us to tell us that our dog had been seriously injured on their watch. Just the thought of it created high anxiety.
What will we tell God as a human race when the planet God created sustains serious injury and damage because of us?
It is time to rise from the ashes and get serious about our response to climate change and our response to God.
And that, as they say, is food for thought. Amen.