Courage, Compassion & Action
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Some of our scriptures were made to be spoken, to be heard. We need to hear them to understand them…no, not to understand, but to feel the power of them. And today, we were very blessed to have Nathan’s lovely voice reading our scriptures’ creation story.
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
God spoke the world into creation. God’s words, God’s breath, filled the formless void with sky, with ocean, with plants, with the sun and moon, with animals, and finally, with us. With humans.
God didn’t toil. God didn’t knit bones and veins and sinews together to form mammals. God didn’t pound rock against earth to create mountains. God simply spoke, and this incredible planet came into being.
Now we all know that this Earth of ours and all that is in it took a little longer than six days to form. But as God declares in Isaiah, “your thoughts are not my thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.” God exists both in and outside of our sense of time. After all, God created time which, as God’s servant Albert Einstein theorized, is inextricably connected to space, to this material existence. Our minds need the idea of time to conceive of our existence, so of course we translated the creation of this planet, our home, into time, into days, six of them and then a day of rest. As far as we’re concerned, even now, God may not be even halfway through that seventh day, that day of rest.
When I hear this creation story, I can’t help but think about Ecola State Park, one of my favorite places in Oregon. Walking through a thick forest, a tunnel of green, for miles, scurrying sounds in the ferns on the ground, bird sounds all around, and then an opening and the ocean. The way that immense, unfathomable, endless sea holds those giant boulders steady along the coast. The smell of mist and salt. The way the air is a little cooler the closer you get to the water. The pulse of the Pacific beating in a rhythm against cliffs and the beach below.
God’s words all around me. God’s poetry.
When I hear this creation story, I also can’t help but think about our planet’s changing climate, about the ways we humans are changing God’s poetry. I think about the ways Ecola State Park might change with a rising temperature. What trees won’t be able to survive and how that will thin out that beautiful coastal forest. Which boulders will disappear at high tide, how much beach will be erased.
I know we don’t like hearing about this. I know this quantifiably: whenever I mention climate change in a sermon, fewer people talk to me about it after service, fewer people click on the link to read on the website. Climate change is a massive, existential issue. We are terrified. We’re not sure if anything we do can change it. We don’t want to deal with it.
I think we’re in a grief process. What we’re experiencing is the loss of the world as we knew it. The literal seasons are shifting. Our Augusts that were once green and relatively mild have become yellow and dry and hot. The trees didn’t start changing colors and losing their leaves until November last year. If we let ourselves pay attention, it’s disturbing.
I’m sure you’ve all heard of the five stages of grief. They’re imperfect, but I think they’re helpful. Grief isn’t really a linear process, but generally one of the earlier stages is denial. Just as God spoke creation into existence, we hope that our silence will speak something out of existence. And I get it. Denial feels a lot better in the short term than feeling the pain of loss.
We often like to frame denial as hope. Hoping someone isn’t really gone. Hoping that a diagnosis, and then a second opinion, and then a third opinion is wrong. Hoping you’ll get back together.
But that’s not actually what hope is. Václav Havel, a revolutionary in Soviet era Czechoslovakia, said, “Hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.”
Peter, Andrew, James, and John did not abandon their fishing nets and families because they had hope that things would turn out well. They had no idea how things would turn out when they dropped everything to follow Jesus. And honestly a lot of what they experienced with Jesus was hard, sometimes horrifying. Even after Jesus died, rose again, and then ascended, the stories say that Peter was crucified upside down, Andrew was hung, and James was beheaded—all for proclaiming and living their faith. Only John lived to old age.
If they had stayed silent, they would have lived. Instead their hope was in the certainty that proclaiming their faith was worth doing no matter how it turned out. And we're here 2,000 years later because of them.
And now our faith is being challenged.
God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good.
God saw everything that God had made, and indeed, it was very good. God’s words made land, air, rivers, soil, mountains—home. Our home. How we tend to God’s creation, to this home God gave us, is a reflection of our faith in God.
In today’s gospel, Jesus says, “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”
You’ve heard me say over and over what Jesus commanded: “To love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls, and to love our neighbors as ourselves.” I usually focus on the neighbor part, but what I’m talking about today is how we love God with all our hearts, minds, and souls. Yes, of course, climate change hurts many of our neighbors in this world, but today is about how we love God the creator. Today is about making disciples who care about God’s creation, who refuse to turn away from the ways that creation is being harmed. Disciples whose hope is not the conviction that something will turn out well but the certainty that something is worth doing no matter how it turns out.
In a book called Not Too Late, which I highly recommend, Rebecca Solnit writes,
We need to remember our own heroic nature, our capacity for courage, compassion, and action, to remember those who came before us who took action against the odds and sometimes won. Even when they didn’t they inspired others at the time or long after to live by principle rather than by merely what is possible. Often, they changed what is possible, in part by refusing to accept what were supposed to be the limits.
To me, that’s the very definition of making disciples. Not asking people if they believe in God, or if they know Jesus. But actually living our faith, changing what is possible.
Brother Dave said something in our Bible Study on Tuesday that I really love. He said, “sometimes the only Bible people read is our lives.” I think he was paraphrasing William J. Thoms, an 19th century English writer, but I like how Brother Dave said it. Are we living by our faith rather than by merely what is possible? Are we living with courage, compassion, and action? Because what we do as followers of Jesus—the faith we proclaim with our words, with our behavior, with our lives—is the only Bible most people are going to read.
In fact, maybe that’s another description of the Trinity:
Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
Courage, Compassion, and Action.