09/11/22 – Do Look Up… and Around


September 11, 2022
14th Sunday after Pentecost
Jer.4:11-12, 22-28; Ps.14; 1 Tim. 2:1-7; Luke 15:1-32
Rev. Denise Clark-Jones

It’s hard to believe it has been 21 years since September 11, became a defining date in our national history. On this day four passenger jets were hijacked and crashed into the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. The fourth plane was intended to crash into the White House, but the attempt was thwarted by some brave passengers, who resisted the terrorists and redirected the plane to crash into a field in Western Pennsylvania. For a short time, people flocked to church sanctuaries to find peace and solace. People came together to mourn the loss of so many lives. But then it was back to usual and now we are more divided than ever. Now physical violence and threats of violence come from within our citizenry. We are far more likely to be killed by Americans in public places such as schools, grocery stores, shopping malls, concerts, or public celebrations than by foreign terrorists. The toxic political environment has led to people with differing viewpoints to attack police officers whose job it is to protect us from violence. On Jan. 6 thousands of Americans traveled to the Capitol building to attempt to stop the Legislature from certifying the election of President Biden, who won both the popular election and the Electoral College count. Some came armed, others used signs and items readily available as weapons against the police as they stormed the interior of the building, chanting their desire to kill the Vice President and legislators. Since then, poll workers and school board members have been threatened with violence. We have also seen violence and threats of violence against health care workers and teachers for doing their jobs to tend to the sick and educate our children. In the news this week the British mourn the death of the only monarch most have ever known, an unsettling situation after a new Prime Minister was formally recognized only a day before the Queen’s death. Fighting between the Russian and Ukraine forces around the largest nuclear plant in Europe threatens to cause a catastrophic nuclear accident. The effects of climate change seen in wildfires and flooding provide the backdrop for the announcement this week that an unusual stretch of warm weather has triggered a massive ice melt in Greenland. With this litany of woes, it seems appropriate to hear again from the prophet Jeremiah.

Jeremiah’s words are as distressing to us as his original audience. We have heard, in recent weeks, God’s warnings to Israel that if the leaders did not repent, the whole nation would be punished for straying from God’s commandments. For power and profit, Israel’s leaders had destroyed the moral foundation upon which the nation was founded. Today we read that the situation is now hopeless. No more warnings – God will now deliver the punishment Israel has brought upon themselves. Like a loving and indulgent parent, God had given them warning after warning. Now, for her own good, Israel must learn the consequences of disobedience.

Jeremiah is in anguish. Even though he had been the one to deliver God’s warnings, he mourns for his people.  ‘How could you be so stupid’ he cries out. Israel will lose all she has gained simply due to the affluent and powerful in society being greedy for money and power. Jeremiah presents the image of the world before Creation. He pictures Israel going back to a time when the world was “dark and void. The land will no longer be fruitful, and the creatures will have gone – even the birds that fly over the land. The mountains that seemed immovable are quaking.” (v.23-24)

It is hard to miss the correlation between Jeremiah’s warnings and the warnings we have had for decades about the perilous state of the earth. As a sixth grader in 1969, I saw on the news the incredible sight of the Cuyahoga River on fire from the toxic waste that had been dumped there. Much later I learned this had been a regular event since the early 50’s, but no one paid any attention to it until national news crews reported it and we saw the image in living color. When I was but a 7th grader in 1970, I learned the damage being done to our whole planet in my Earth Science class. I saw the smog that made the skies in Los Angeles look as dark as night. Another event in the 70’s was the lament for the illnesses and loss of property of the people who lived in Niagara Falls near the Love Canal, where toxic waste from a petroleum company had been dumped. Laws and regulations were passed to alleviate the problem of toxic waste being dumped in our water sources, and many lakes and rivers have been cleaned up, yet corporations have still skirted the laws when they thought they could avoid being caught and punished. Many of the laws that regulated the disposal of toxic waste and the emission of toxic chemicals of automotive vehicles were repealed in the last presidential administration. Some have been put back in place, but there is the danger they will be repealed again if the political environment changes again.

For decades, scientists have warned that climate change is being caused by the emission of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Since the Industrial Revolution, the emission of these gases and the warming of the planet have occurred at a rate that is far beyond what would occur naturally. We are at the stage of Israel when Jeremiah lamented her destruction. Our destruction is no longer a warning of the future, we are seeing its effects now in water levels rising from Arctic melting, floods along coastlines and droughts in the warm climates, and stronger storm systems to mention just a few of the effects. Climate change has already initiated global migration and conflict over arable land, which has increased the population of refugees. In our own affluent first-world country, we are not immune from the effects of climate change. In addition to flooding and wildfires, extreme heat has affected our infrastructure, our roads and power grids, which we have long neglected to upgrade. We can’t say we haven’t been warned.

Throughout the world, it is the marginalized who are most affected by pollution and climate change. The United States and China cause, by far, the largest amount of CO2 emissions into the air and toxic waste, such as plastic, into bodies of water. Russia, India, and Brazil are the next largest contributors. In Brazil, the deforestation of the largest rainforest in the world continues unabated. This rainforest is vital to curbing climate change because vast amounts of greenhouse gases are absorbed by the trees.

In December of 2021, when we were still very wary of being in public spaces, the movie, “Don’t Look Up,” had a brief two-week viewing in movie theaters before being released on Netflix. It was an apocalyptic and satirical work – both genres used in the bible – about climate change. The protagonist was a university scientist who discovered a gigantic meteor was headed straight for earth. Its path was unalterable and would destroy the planet. Politicians were quick to dismiss Dr. Milley’s claims. Despite being shown proof of the meteor and its path, the President and her political lackeys assured the people there was no danger.  “Don’t Look Up” was the slogan for their campaign to discredit Dr. Milley and any scientist who tried to warn the people of their imminent demise.  A greedy CEO of a cryogenics firm saw a golden financial opportunity and gave the President a backup plan for herself and her closest political advisors, in case she was wrong. They, along with the CEO prepared to save themselves by rocketing into space in cryogenic chambers. Let’s just say, their plan had a fatal flaw.

The movie followed the current script of scientists, fossil fuel company executives, and the politicians whose legislative votes they buy with large donations. Our modern-day Jeremiah’s has been telling us for 50 years, “Do look up.” Look up and around. In anguish, God cried out: “22“For my people are foolish, they do not know me; they are stupid children, they have no understanding. They are skilled in doing evil, but do not know how to do good.” (Jer.22)

Jesus told the trilogy of “The Lost parables” to a group of Pharisees, who complained about his eating with sinners and tax collectors, marginalized people in first-century Jewish society. Jesus tells the Pharisees his dinner companions may have lost their way, but are still precious children of God, who will go to great lengths to return them to the fold. Like the privileged Pharisees, the wealthy countries that produce the most greenhouse gases into the earth’s atmosphere, have done little to help the third world countries that have suffered from yearly droughts. This is not something a faithful people should allow to happen. The Psalmist asks: 2The Lord looks down from heaven on humankind to see if there are any who are wise, who seek after God. 4Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon the Lord?” (Ps. 14:2-4)

Jesus’ parables of the lost sheep and the lost coin tell us that every single one of them is precious in His eyes. The answer to the predicament of the lost is healing and recovery followed by celebration. You will notice there is no blaming or vengeance in these parables. The shepherd restores the lost sheep to the fold, the woman spends money to throw a party for her neighbors when she finds her lost coin. In the third parable of a trilogy in Luke, a father welcomes his errant son home by setting out a feast for family and friends. We have the power to bless or curse the world. Jesus tells us that by helping others, we help ourselves. What happens in our own neighborhoods affects others. Failing to realize this is both foolish and sinful.

We need to listen to our learned prophets, the scientists, and the people who deal with the effects of climate change every day. We need to open our eyes to our dependence and interdependence in the world. We need to ask ourselves: ‘Are we participating in making the earth inhabitable for future generations? And if the answer is yes: ‘What are we going to do about it? God wants us to have the perseverance of Jesus’ parable characters, who had each lost something precious to them, something they did not take for granted. If we continue to ignore the warnings of the damage pollution and climate change are doing to our planet, we leave our children and our children’s children a world of increasing world hunger and violent competition for food and water. Do we want our descendants to lament with Jeremiah: “I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void.” (v.23)

In John’s gospel, we hear the comforting words: “16“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” Our eternal life begins when we take our first breath. We have not heeded many warnings about climate change and pollution, our crumbling infrastructure, or our fragile democracy. It is time to look around and see what threatens life and quality of life. Before it’s too late, we need to show our love for God by protecting the world that God has given us and our love for others by working to make life good and sustainable for all.

Amen. May it be so!


© Rev. Denise Clark-Jones, 2022, All Rights Reserved
Westminster Presbyterian Church | 1420 W. Moss Ave. | Peoria, Illinois 61606
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