A young seminarian asked how long should a sermon be.
“The length of a woman’s skirt,” said the Rev. Martha Simmons of the answer. “Long enough to cover the essentials and short enough to keep people interested.”
Simmons gave her sermon, “Something Is Up,” at the 9:15 a.m. Wednesday morning worship service in the Amphitheater. Her text was Romans 8:18-22.
“One of the new pastors dared me to mention a certain word,” Simmons said. “I told him, ‘Never, never dare an old preacher.’ He dared me to say ‘Amphitheater.’ There. I said it. Then he dared me to say something about it, and since the Rev. Robert Franklin is not here, I will.”
At that moment, Franklin got up, walked toward the stage and laughed.
“Come on, people,” Simmons said. “There will be no grumpy people in heaven. God bless you as you you decide what to do about the Amphitheater.”
The congregation laughed, too.
She cited a Yale University-George Mason University survey of Americans on climate change. Americans are divided into six camps about climate change: People are concerned (33 percent), cautious (19 percent), anxious (18 percent), disengaged (12 percent), doubtful (11 percent) and dismissive (7 percent), the survey found.
“Seventy percent of the people know that something is up,” she said. “There is so much smoke, there must be a fire. Corporations’ lies are getting harder to sell. As an African-American woman, before Katrina, I would sign petitions so there would not be toxic waste dumping in our neighborhoods. After Katrina, the government made clear who will be helped and how little. Now, I see this as one of our greatest political and social challenges. Something is up.”
It is critical to talk about climate change because Earth is a home, Simmons said, and “99.999 percent of us will not move to Mars. What will we do if we don’t have any earthly habitat at all?”
In Romans 8, Paul talks about the creation as a woman in labor, about to give birth to a variety of life forms.
“ ‘We live and move and have our being in her womb,’ ” Simmons said. “Mother Earth matters. This is a task of planetary proportions, and if we don’t solve it, Earth will become our tomb. Mother Earth is in labor, and there is a life-and-death struggle. She is crying that we are ruining her womb. She is a slave to the decay that is not of her doing. It is a result of our sin in Eden.”
She quoted theologian Sallie McFague, who wrote that the sin in Eden was human beings’ unwillingness to accept their boundaries so others can have their needed space.
“Our selfishness messes up the earth,” Simmons said. “Our anthropological arrogance is that we think we are the center of creation instead of one species in it. We are high-level caretakers of earth’s assets.”
Earth is not a place for humans to do as they please; instead, they should work to take care of the planet, she said.
“The first job was creation care, and that should put to rest the question of what the oldest profession really is,” Simmons said. “The earth is the Lord’s, and something is up when we make our desires lord. We are all connected, and when one is harmed, all are harmed. God never relinquished ownership of the earth. You do not have the right to do whatever you want to the earth because you have a title to the land.”
A Drug Enforcement Administration agent went to visit a farmer, she said. The agent told the farmer he could go wherever he liked on the farm because he had a warrant and a badge. The farmer suggested he not go to the back of the house.
Defying the farmer, he started toward the back. The farmer again told the agent not to go, but the agent continued on his way. He came running back, screaming.
“There is a bull out there, and he’s coming this way,” the agent said.
“Show him your badge,” the farmer said.
“We are ignoring Mother Earth, and she is warning us again and again,” Simmons said. “And then, we call a human-made disaster ‘an act of God.’ We need a moral magnifying glass to not choose Father Profit over Mother Nature. Mother Earth matters; so what should we do?”
Simmons said people should live like they are part of creation rather than the creator. It was time to wind up some businesses that are harmful to the earth and human beings, such as coal mining and coal-powered plants.
“I hate to see people lose jobs, but the steel mills in Pittsburgh had to close because the price to Mother Earth and to people was slow death,” Simmons said. “We have seen this movie before, and politicians don’t have to let the cities go down; they can change the ending.”
People need to decrease their use of fossil fuels immediately or they will choke out other life in the womb, she said. Nearly 4.5 million people, mostly in poor countries, die every year from fossil fuel pollution, she said, but none of us are immune.
“I went for a ride yesterday, and I found out that Chautauqua is close to Appalachia,” Simmons said. “People there are dying, and they need you. They are too poor to figure it, but they can turn it around with your help.”
The planet is a pregnant woman and we can either reap what we sow or we can wake up, step up, speak up, she said.
“The Gospel always provides an opportunity to repent,” Simmons said.
She shared a Swedish Communion prayer which includes, “We break bread for the wounded as a sign that we belong together.”
“I want to change that to say that, ‘We take responsibility for the earth’s wounds and Mother Earth’s womb,’ ” Simmons said. “When you go to the [Communion] table, take a pregnant pause. The table will strengthen you to know what matters. Mother Earth matters.”
The Rev. Ron Cole-Turner presided. The Rev. Scott Maxwell, pastor of St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Erie, read the Scripture. Jared Jacobsen, organist and worship coordinator, directed the Motet Choir. The choir sang “The Lord’s Prayer” by John Tavener. The Samuel M. and Mary E. Hazlett Memorial Fund and the J. Everett Hall Memorial Chaplaincy support this week’s services.