Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

Fifteenth Sunday after Pentecost

The Very Rev. H. T. Knight

Theologian Karl Barth once said to a preacher:  “Take your Bible and take your newspaper, and read both.  But interpret newspapers from your Bible.”

It’s hard to pick up a newspaper or watch the news these days without hearing about climate change.  The front page of yesterday’s San Francisco Chronicle had a photo of a young person at the climate march holding up a big sign:  “ADULTS! DO YOUR HOMEWORK  (THE KIDS HAVE DONE THEIRS).”

Today’s Collect for the Day, slightly amended, says: “Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, (glaciers, low-lying shores, birds and bees and other endangered species, the forests of Brazil), to hold fast to those that shall endure…” – God’s love that knows no extinction.

And the reading from I Timothy, also slightly amended, says:

“First of all, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings, (presidents, governors, mayors, our elected representatives) and all who are in high positions, so that we may lead a quiet, peaceable and healthy life in all godliness and dignity. This is right and is acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

”This past Friday the Episcopal Church joined in a nationwide climate strike, three days before the United Nations Climate Summit in New York which begins tomorrow.  Adults and young people in thousands of locations around the world skipped work and skipped school to protest political inaction on the climate crisis.  The march in New York was led by 16-year-old Greta Thunberg, the young Swedish girl who sailed across the Atlantic in a sailboat to be here.

The Episcopal Church has long been supportive of environmental protection and climate action.  Our prayer book includes a beautiful Eucharistic prayer for “this fragile earth, our island home.”  Our Presiding Bishop, Michael Curry, along with Bishop Marc and other bishops who are currently gathered in Minneapolis for the fall House of Bishops meeting, expressed their support for the school strike and took time out on Friday in solidarity with the kids.  After all, it’s those young people who will live their lives in the climate, the environment our generation leaves them.  “ADULTS! DO YOUR HOMEWORK  (THE KIDS HAVE DONE THEIRS).”

What will you and I tell our grandchildren about how we responded to the climate crisis they are growing up in?  The planet warming.  Wild fires more frequent and severe.  Glaciers shrinking.  Sea levels rising.  Hurricanes worsening.  Billions of birds disappearing.  Are we going to tell them it’s all a hoax?  Or that it’s just a normal climate cycle?  Or are we slowly waking up from our denial about climate change and listening to the scientists?

Karl Barth says look at the Bible.  So let’s look at the story of Moses we just heard.  There Moses is, out on the back side of the desert, (that metaphorical place where we often find ourselves), tending his father-in-law’s sheep and minding his own business, when he sees this bush burning without being consumed.  Like many of us much of the time, Moses could have been so absorbed in his comfortable life, so caught up in his routine of sheep-tending, that he never would have noticed this rather unusual occurrence of the bush that burned without being consumed.

Then Moses hears the voice of God calling him by name, “Moses!” and telling him that the place on which he is standing, dry barren land like any desert – this place is holy ground.  Holy ground.  God says “Come no closer!  Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”  Wherever God is, is holy ground.

 The Hebrew verb that God uses in asking Moses to remove his shoes is the ancient word for an animal shedding its skin.  God is saying, “Shed your shoes.  Shed your skin.  Shed whatever it is that is separating you from the earth, because the earth, everywhere, is holy ground.”

Moses suddenly realizes that he has been standing on holy ground all his life.  Standing in the presence of God all his life, only he hadn’t known it.  Every inch of this beautiful little planet of ours is holy ground, the presence of God.  As the old gospel hymn puts it:

                        We are standing on holy ground,

                        And I know that there are angels all around.

                        Let us praise God now

                        For we are standing in his presence on holy ground.

Then an amazing thing happens to Moses.  Right after Moses hid his face because he was afraid to see God, God says to Moses, “I have heard your prayers and the prayers of your fellow Hebrews in slavery.  I have observed the misery of my people who are [captive] in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters.  Indeed I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey …”

Can’t you just imagine Moses’ delight!  Can’t you just imagine Moses saying to himself, “Hot diggity-de-dog!  My prayers have been answered.  It’s about time you did something, God!”  But before Moses can say anything, God says, “So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people out of Egypt.”  Whoops!  A rather unexpected turn of events.  We pray to God for God to do something, and then God says, “I will send you.”  God sends us to do it.

So Moses starts objecting.  Five powerful heart-felt objections, which God equally powerfully answers.  And one by one the objections fall away.  (You can read the whole story in the third and fourth chapter of the Book of Exodus).  All the obstacles fall away and Moses finally says Yes to God.

What about us?  Can you see a parallel in your own life?  Is there something you’ve been asking God to do?  Maybe God is asking you to do something, and telling you that all your objections will fall away if you only say yes to God, because God will be in it with you.

Or maybe you’ve been asking God to lift a burden of yours, and God is saying that the burden won’t be removed from you, but that with God’s help you can carry it.  That happens a lot, you know – we pray to God for deliverance from a burden, a problem, a disease, a cross you’re carrying, and God in God’s infinite wisdom doesn’t always lift the burden or solve the problem.  Instead, God gives us the strength to carry it, which when you think of it is really just as much of a miracle.

I have hope – not so much in our elected officials in Washington or Sacramento – most of them are more concerned with votes than with the health of their children and grandchildren’s planet.  But I have hope in the Parkland Florida teenagers who are traveling the country advocating for gun control after the mass shooting at their high school.  I have hope in the kids like the Swedish teenager who testified before Congress – and her 17-year-old compatriot from Seattle, who when the congressman told her the United States shouldn’t focus on the climate crisis because other countries are not taking action to curb their emissions, she said to him:   “When your children ask you: Did you do absolutely everything in your power to stop the climate crisis, when the storms were getting worse and we’re seeing all the effects … Can you really look them in the eye and say, ‘No, sorry, I couldn’t do anything because that country over there didn’t do anything, and if they’re not going to do anything then I’m not.’  That is shameful (she said) and that is cowardly, and there is no excuse to not take action, to not improve as much as we can in the United States.”  Ironically it turns out that Sweden is saying the same thing about us – they don’t need to do anything about climate change because the US isn’t doing anything.

Moses’ curiosity got him out of his comfortable rut to see the burning bush.  Moses realized that all the earth is holy ground.  And after Moses finally said yes to God, all the obstacles one by one fell away.  May our eyes and the eyes of our elected leaders around the world be opened to the reality, the science, of climate change – on this fragile earth, our island home.


The prophet Isaiah says, “A little child shall lead them.”  May it be so with us.