“Friends, the whole expanse of the earth is speaking to us. The earth is the stranger at the door and our post-industrial human endeavour has entered a Job-like phase,” said the Rev. Katharine Rhodes Henderson at the 9:15 a.m. Tuesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her sermon title was “Finding our Place in the Family of Things,” and the Scripture was taken from Job 38 and 40.
“This week, we are pondering the experience of being a stranger in a strange land and the radical hospitality we are called to provide. The ‘other’ is sometimes human and sometimes it is creation, the earth herself,” she said.
Henderson turned to the book of Job and said he had been a prosperous, righteous, ethical man whose whole world had fallen apart. He felt betrayed by everything and by God. He demanded an explanation from God. God answered through a whirlwind, asking Job questions about where he was when the earth was forming.
The earth has exceeded its carrying capacity, she said. It is on overshoot.
“We are using up resources 30 percent faster than they can be replaced,” Henderson said. “It would require five Earth-like planets to extend the North American lifestyle to the entire human family. Drivers in California burn more gas in a year than the entire continent of Africa — almost 400,000 gallons a day.”
She continued, “We are suicidally estranged from the earth, and yet we are only able to live here because the earth’s complex systems allow us. We are strangers here. The earth deserves our deepest hospitality and we need to let the facts reshape our place in the family of things.”
God humbled Job and put him in his place. Job came to terms with things too wonderful to know and realized that the dust to which he was reduced was holy soil. He had a genuine encounter with God, and in the words of the old hymn, “was blind but now I see.”
“Climate change is nature fibrillating,” Henderson said. “Of course we are frightened and in denial and wonder what to do. We have never known life without fossil fuel. The overshoot happened on our watch while we were raising families, going to work and building our idea of success. Can we retool our systems to live within the means of the earth? I have three disciplines to suggest, and it is not recycling.”
The first discipline is to acknowledge our finitude.
“We don’t like limits and boundaries,” Henderson said. She described the attempts to operate on younger and younger babies while at the same time replacing body parts on older people, working longer every day, working well past 65, living past 100.
“The sky’s the limit, but the irony goes right over our heads,” Henderson said. “We have to reorganize to put us in a right relationship with God.”
The second discipline is to see the earth as a “thou” and not an “it.” Henderson said she and her husband have been sailing off Provincetown, Massachusetts, to watch whales for almost 30 years.
“It is a profound gift of grace to watch them breech and to look into their intelligent eyes,” she said. “It reboots my humanity. God is wholly other. What reminds you of your place in the whole? For many around Chautauqua, it is the wisdom of the family dog. Whatever you do — look at the stars, listen to the rain — be filled by those moments and cultivate the openness to awe.”
The third discipline is to embrace interdependence.
“We don’t know the answers to the problems now but the refugee bears the key to hope,” Henderson said. “Nature can’t be shut out. We have to extend our trust and hospitality to nature. The redwood trees give a good example. They are so tall and look like they would have deep roots. In reality they have shallow roots, but the root systems are interconnected.”
So it should be with us, she said. Humans can’t long endure as individuals. Our strength comes from our interconnections with each other, our families and with our creator.
“Together, we are unstoppable and a momentum for change,” she said.
In looking for signs of hope, she pointed to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si’ and to a proclamation by 300 rabbis about climate change. Germany has moved 30 percent of its energy grid to solar and wind power. Israel has changed how it uses water to fight a drought. Christian, Jewish and Muslim investors are developing a solar grid on the West Bank.
“It has a triple bottom line — financial, for the creation and for social good,” Henderson said.
“I participated in a march about climate change in New York City in the fall of 2014. You knew there had to be a march in here somewhere,” she said. “We built a 28-foot float, a model of Noah’s ark, that we called the ‘Ethical Spectacle.’ We had religious leaders from all over, including the humanist chaplain from Harvard and the indigenous grandmothers and we handed out animal crackers.
“We are all Noah now,” she continued. “We are all in this boat together. We have to remember who we are, we belong to God, to one another and to the earth herself. May the peaceable kingdom become a reality. May each of us take up our calling as we resume our place in the family of things.”
The Rev. William N. Jackson presided. Danny Ruiz, a scholarship student with the International Order of the King’s Daughters and Sons and a student at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, read the Scripture. The Motet choir sang “King Jesus Is A -Listenin’,” a traditional spiritual arranged by Ken Berg. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the choir. The Harold F. Reed Sr. Memorial Chaplaincy provides support for this week’s services.