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Elizabeth May, O.C., M.P.
The Craddock Lecture
March 1, 2020
And God said to Noah, ‘As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark. I establish my covenant with you, that never again shall all flesh be cut off by the waters of a flood, and never again shall there be a flood to destroy the earth.’ God said, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you and every living creature that is with you, for all future generations: I have set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be a sign of the covenant between me and the earth. When I bring clouds over the earth and the bow is seen in the clouds, I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh. When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’ God said to Noah, ‘This is the sign of the covenant that I have established between me and all flesh that is on the earth.’
Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, and afterwards he was famished. The tempter came and said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.’ But he answered, ‘It is written,
“One does not live by bread alone,
but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’
Then the devil took him to the holy city and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down; for it is written,
“He will command his angels concerning you”,
and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” ’
Jesus said to him, ‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” ’
Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour; and he said to him, ‘All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Away with you, Satan! for it is written,
“Worship the Lord your God,
and serve only him.” ’
Then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.
May God bless to our understanding these words from Holy Scripture.
You may realize that this being the first Sunday in Lent that this scripture reading isn’t the normal choice for this morning. We would normally have been hearing Matthew or any one of the Synoptic Gospels in describing the beginning of Jesus’s journey into the wilderness for 40 days. And the selection from Matthew 4, of course, is the Devil’s direct personification – an actual physical devil that’s tempting Jesus and taunting him in the wilderness.
The change in readings is because this picks up on some themes I want to talk about but I will apologize now that I asked Rev. Martha (ter Kuile) if we could sing Jerusalem – this is not your typical United Church Sunday morning hymn; nor is it very typical in Anglican Churches anymore, but I love what William Blake did. When we sing Jerusalem, think of it metaphorically. It’s not to reassert the British Empire. If you read it metaphorically – I think it’s important in Lenten times; and I don’t personally believe in a physical devil that shows up and taunts people, but I think there is evil working among us and I like, very much, William Blake’s lyrics that link the beginning of the Industrial Revolution with the work of Satan. So, note the dark Satanic mills when you sing the words.
The subject matter of my homily this morning; and it is an honour to occupy a pulpit with someone who’s not ordained at all, but I was studying theology with the notion of becoming an Anglican priest before I got into politics – we’ll see which was the better choice, you might think I should just stay in politics. But faith in the time of climate emergency is the theme and I want to raise it in two ways:
- What about being Christians calls us to have a duty? And, as we just sang, our entrusted duty to protect creation.
- How is it that having faith makes it possible for us to do this work?
For me, I don’t know how I would go on without a profound faith in the powers of creation, and in the powers of a Trinitarian God, and in Jesus Christ working in us, the Holy Spirit working in us, and God working in us, so I’ll come to that. But what is the notion of our obligation?
I read Genesis I don’t know how many times, but never had it strike me that this chapter is the most important part. In the beginning of Genesis is the Creation. And some, over the years as the environmental crisis came upon us and we began to understand what we were doing to the earth, there was a substantial body of our academic writings and popular culture that said to us it’s Judeo-Christian tradition that’s to blame for all the destruction of the world. Because in Genesis 1 we are told we’re the top dog, we’re in charge, all these resources are here for us to use. And that was a message that some people took from, what I believe, was a wrong interpretation and frankly, some bad translations of the original Hebrew, in terms of what God called us to do at Creation. We were the last of the 7 days; well of course it was 6 days and then a day of rest, but creating humans was at the end of having separated void from solid, and light from dark, and then we began to have creatures and waters on the earth.
And then God created Adam and Eve and certainly never said your job was to wreck everything, but it wasn’t even to say you’re in charge. And it isn’t really very clear till you get to Genesis 9.
I was in Copenhagen at the Climate negotiations in 2009 with someone you will know – Mardi Tindal and with Stephen Scharper, who is here – we were together in a cold, stony, dark, Danish church – an Anglican Church – with the Archbishop of Canterbury giving the sermon. Fortunately, Mardi knew I was in Copenhagen and someone had asked her if she knew any Canadian Anglicans who could go to this – I think it was some sort of religious television show – and she sent me a note, ‘Did you know the Archbishop of Canterbury is doing a sermon and there’s an Anglican service in Copenhagen?’ So, I brought my daughter Kate, Mardi brought her son and we went together to this extraordinary service.
The Archbishop of Canterbury chose this passage for his homily to remind us that God’s covenant – the rainbow in the sky – was not just with Noah and his family and descendants but very clearly, over and over and over again, repeated, with every living creature that is there with you. And the Archbishop of Canterbury – Rowan Williams, at the time – said, Noah didn’t say What? Who? No one here with me God! Just me and my kids. Just us humans. That’s it! It’s a very clear message to us that God’s relationship with the living world is direct. How could these be lesser beings that we have a right to destroy when God has made a direct covenant with all the whales, all the salmon, all the bears, right down to all our little dogs at home – because He even mentions domestic animals; I think He probably meant farm animals but we’ll see.
I don’t think that any part of the Bible is directly God’s word, I think of these as myths which means they’re true but not maybe literally. But this is our faith tradition. God made a direct covenant with all the creatures that are with you, and the Archbishop of Canterbury took from that that we obviously don’t have this top down, resource based, exploitative, destructive relationship with Creation. We have a relationship of care, concern and stewardship. That’s our duty as Christian people to treat God’s Creation as what it is – sacred. Every moment through the beginning of Genesis when God created another part of the living world, it’s pronounced as good – it is good, as in it is holy – it is something that we must protect and take care of.
I think quite often of my Indigenous friends because I live in this territory of the Wsanec people. My riding is called Sannich, Gulf Islands, which is a poor pronunciation of Wsanec, they’re coast Salish people. One of my best friends remembers his father telling him of his great-grandmother taking all of the younger boys from that generation out on the boat and called to the whales, and the whales came to the boat and she then explained to them in her language, “These are my sons, watch out for them on the waters. They’ll be fishing here, and they’ll watch out for you.”
So, when you’re ever in an Indigenous community and people finish a prayer and say, ‘all my relations,’ they don’t mean their Aunties and their Uncles, they actually literally mean all the living things, including the things that we don’t think of as living, like the rocks. It’s a fascinating world-view shift but I think it’s embodied in this passage from Genesis. We have an absolute duty to protect God’s creation.
Now we’re in a climate emergency, which is the absolute culmination, as some of the earlier prayers and the hymn we just sang ‘true source of all resources, forgive our greed’ [All Praise to You] show. We have, since the Industrial Revolution began, when Blake wrote these words, so distorted the balance that made life on earth possible that we are threatening life on earth itself. We talk about climate change; and certainly in the media, and certainly most people who are elected, talk about it as though it is yet another environmental issue and someday we can get to it. It’s increasingly common – it used to be rare – to hear people describe it as an existential threat, meaning we understand it threatens our existence. It’s an existential threat. And, in that context, having faith is a bulwark against despair.
We have to recognize right now in 2020 on this planet as human beings we are threatening the survival of our own children and grandchildren. We are threatening the survival of millions of species around the world – all of our compatriots from the ark – they are all at risk.
Now, the science on this – we can get more into this in the Q &A session [to follow] – but I just want to say that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change special report from October 2018 laid out, really clearly, that if we want to have a good shot at survival – it’s not a guarantee anymore – but if we want good odds of getting through our addiction to fossil fuels and our destruction of forests into a different kind of an economy that doesn’t rely on fossil fuels; and, by the way, the IPCC does include a technological review, an economic review, [and] concludes that all of this is possible. We don’t need to invent anything new. We don’t need to do something that’s going to break our economy. We can do things that are positive and useful and good and already invented and save ourselves. But what they say very clearly is 1.5C global average temperature increase is a requirement, it’s not an option. We have to reach it. That will require by the end of this decade, slashing emissions by at least half all around the world.
Canada’s current target is to slash by 30 percent by 2030 and we’re not on track to meet that, and that’s wholly inadequate to the task. So, when you work in issues like this, and when you soak up the science, as I know some of you in this room have done, you recognize that what we’re talking about here isn’t bad weather, or accommodating to rising sea levels; and certainly we can build dykes and we will be building dykes, but we’re talking about the risk of tipping over and that tipping point in the atmosphere – we don’t know exactly when and where it’s going to be – but we know that we run the risk of causing self accelerating, unstoppable global warming that could push us past 3 degrees, 4 degrees, 5 degrees, 6 degrees and so on where we no longer can do anything as humanity to change it. So, when you get deep into the science, it’s very hard to be optimistic but if we’re going to survive, we must be optimistic. We must, in other words, have faith.
We must be prepared to put works to faith – you know how it goes – one step forward in works, one step forward in faith. It’s not just our prayers – don’t just walk past the people who are starving and pray for them, Jesus tells us you actually have to do something. Take off your coat and give it to them. Everything we’re called upon to do by Jesus isn’t easy, and it’s certainly not comfortable but we’re called to do it.
And, what I live by, and what keeps me going day after day after day, is knowing that we’re doing God’s work together and knowing, as St. Paul wrote in his letter to the Ephesians (3.20), that God’s power working in us can do infinitely more than we can ask or imagine. That’s a lot of power. Giving us infinitely more than we can ask for? Okay, that might not be so hard. Infinitely more than we can even imagine. So, we mustn’t be self-limiting. We can pray for climate. We can take radical action from a place of love and care and concern. These are things we can do.
And when you do it knowing that we don’t know when the Holy Spirit, when Jesus Christ, when God enters our hearts and our minds and enters the hearts and minds of the people around us, such that, one little girl sitting in front of a school can launch millions. We don’t know. But we can have faith.
Thank you. God bless you, and please pray for the climate.
Photo Credit: pexels photo 36 93294 castorly