February 9, 2020, Faith, Science, and Climate Change by Pastor David Tatgenhorst
Matthew 5:13-20: You are the salt of the earth. But what if salt were to lose its flavor? How could you restore it? It would be fit for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot.“You are the light of the world. You don’t build a city on a hill, then try to hide it, do you? You don’t light a lamp, then put it under a bushel basket, do you? No, you set it on a stand where it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, your light must shine before others so that they may see your good acts and give praise to your Abba God in heaven.
“Don’t think I’ve come to abolish the Law and the Prophets. I have come not to abolish them, but to fulfill them. The truth is, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the Law, not even the smallest part of a letter, will be done away with until it is all fulfilled. That’s why whoever breaks the least significant of these commands and teaches others to do the same will be called the least in the kin-dom of heaven. Whoever fulfills and teaches these commands will be called great in the kin-dom of heaven. “I tell you, unless your sense of justice surpasses that of the religious scholars and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kin-dom of heaven.
Let’s take a moment for reflection and prayer as we think about how our faith has evolved over the years and brought us to this place today - with gratitude and grace.
February 9, 2020
Faith, Science, and Climate Change
Today is the one day a year that we talk about faith and science. We remind ourselves that there is no contradiction between our faith and science and we try to make that true. This year, we are adding climate change as part of this complicated subject, because our faith and our science converge in a call to care for our climate. What a gift this world is! What a treasure that we breathe clean air and enjoy each other’s company in this place! What a gift that we are called to be here for each other and for our world in a time like this.
We’re having kind of a warm winter (I saw crocuses coming up in my neighborhood yesterday) and sometimes on a particularly warm day, people start to comment about climate change. It’s starting to become a regular part of our conversation and reference point. You could say it’s a hot topic worldwide. But I want to caution you right up front. A particularly warm day does not indicate that climate change is happening, any more than a day when it snows or is particularly cold means that climate change is not happening.
We see climate change in the averages, not in any one particularly extreme day or even one season. We only can tell that the climate is getting warmer by looking at data over many years. 2019 was the hottest year on record globally, just shy of the record average temperature set in 2016. The last decade was the hottest decade we have ever recorded. This chart shows average temperatures back through the late 1800’s when this church was founded.
The next question after that is whether this is a natural fluctuation or whether it is somehow caused by human interaction with the environment, overwhelming natural ecosystems by cutting down forests for cattle and agriculture, manufacturing increasing numbers of cars, and generally using up more than our share of natural resources. I think the evidence is convincing, but I’m inclined that way, and I haven’t researched it carefully.
I have to say though, I’m amazed at how cavalierly people dismiss the evidence that we see right in front of us, and how reluctant we are, even when we believe the evidence to make changes in our privileged lives. It seem likes we’re saying: “Sure, we can do something about climate change now, but if we find out in 50 years that the researchers made a mistake and that climate change doesn't exist...We would have improved air quality in all major cities, gotten rid of noisy and smelly cars, cleaned up toxic rivers and destroyed dictatorships funded on money from oil for no reason.”
David Letterman joked about it years ago, saying “Experts say this global warming is serious, and they are predicting now that by the year 2050, we will be out of party ice."
I guess I should not be surprised at how hard it is for us to get our heads around this kind of thing, when we in religious circles are still so reluctant to even admit that evolution is a thing. Really, church people seem to be the strongest block of evolution deniers out there. Even though that argument was settled for all intents and purposes almost 100 years ago.
I know I wouldn’t get a big argument about evolution here, especially when we have so many doctors and scientists in our congregation. But I think a lot of pastors are reluctant to bring up the topic of evolution in their congregations. There’s a raging argument in Texas about whether to teach creationism in public schools as a valid alternative to evolution. I have people in my own family who are big fans of the creation of the world in a literal 7 day period, and they love the big creation museum in Kentucky that shows humans and dinosaurs living at the same time.
Though I know I won’t get a big argument about evolution here, I try to preach on this topic regularly because I personally find the subject surprisingly challenging. I often declare that there is no contradiction between faith and science, but I still think there is room for miracle and for answer to prayer and for mysteries of many kinds that science cannot explain. When religious folks claim that there is a realm that science cannot explain, I sometimes believe it. And I tell you the truth, I don’t always trust what some people mean by answer to prayer, miracle, and other realms. (this is where I get really nervous.) I joke that I feel like I’m not a very religious person. Really. In the argument between science and religion I take science most of the time. If we can’t get this basic a discussion right, how can we talk responsibly about climate change?
I go back to our scripture reading for this morning. We hear Jesus in our reading this morning saying that he does not want to change anything in the Hebrew scriptures, “until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter of the Law, not even the smallest part of a letter, will be done away with until it is all fulfilled.” And yet, he is clearly calling people to deepen their understanding of scripture in light of their current circumstances. He is a reformer and evolving the understanding of scripture through his teaching.
Jesus argues with the religious teachers of his time. In this passage he says, “I tell you, unless your sense of justice surpasses that of the religious scholars and the Pharisees, you will not enter the kin-dom of heaven.” At the same time, Jesus had no knowledge of climate change, or evolution, or science - no knowledge of it at all. My friends we have to align ourselves with the best scientific understandings and with the integrity and power of our scripture.
For me that alignment means that I see the power of the divine in evolution, in the beautiful mechanics of nature adapting and improving and moving toward a future. I see the power of God in that not separate from it, not controlling or manipulating it, but right in those natural amazing systems.
And therefore, I believe that we as a people need to live with integrity and respect the beauty of creation and in harmony with that creation. To live with integrity in God’s creation and for the future of our children, we are going to have to make big changes in our lifestyles, cutting back on our use of the world’s resources, finding ways to promote renewable and sustainable ways of living, putting solar panels on the church to promote better energy usage in our community, using less styrofoam and plastic, even when it’s inconvenient.
I’m not going to ask our children to suffer or to depend on a miracle because we didn’t want to be bothered to wash dishes or pay a little extra for sustainable solutions or give up plastic bags or question the jets that get us around quickly, and on and on. We need to listen to the young people. We need to trust what science is telling us. We need to know that God is speaking even today, God is speaking through our children and through the scientists and through the people who can’t afford the conveniences that we use to litter this beautiful world. God is speaking even now, and providing us a way to live in harmony with each other in God’s loving creation. And that is good news we can use.
Responsive hymn 451 Be Thou My Vision