JESSICA HETHERINGTON, Ecotheologian

Responding Faithfully in Climate Crisis: A Sermon

Scripture Text:

15 Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, 16 making the most of the time, because the days are evil. 17 So do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, 20 giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-20 NRSV)

Let us pray:

God of Life,

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our minds and hearts lead us to deeper understanding of you and the love you call us to live. AMEN.

Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians opens with a dire tone: “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of the time, because the days are evil.” These are strong words, said in a challenging time.

We are in Dire Times

We don’t tend to think of the days as evil anymore, but we are certainly living in a challenging world. Indeed, we are in dire times. The UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change is a body of hundreds of the world’s top scientists, and its reports are signed off by all the world’s governments. It has just released its latest report, and the words are clear: “It is unequivocal,” it says in its opening words, that the climate crisis is caused by human activities and is affecting every corner of the planet’s land, air and sea.[1] We have passed the threshold of an increase in average global temperatures by 1 degree Celsius, and  it is now inevitable that the planet will reach the 1.5° mark within the next decade. 1.5° of global warming is the point at which we reach an irreversible tipping point in the ability of the planet’s natural systems to function effectively.

The goal now, according to the report, is to keep the planet from warming even further. If emissions do not fall in the next couple of decades, then we will likely see an average warming of 3°, which will spell catastrophe around the world.

What 1.5˚ Warming Means in Canada

What does the 1.5° warming that is inevitable mean in Canada? Here, we are going to see virtually ice-free Arctic summers; the Arctic region is currently warming at least twice as fast as the global average. We will see warmer winters, with less snow and more freezing rain. Canada will likely suffer increases that are higher than the global average, especially in the winter. Due to extreme rainfall, we will see increased flood risks in places in Ontario, Quebec and the Atlantic region that normally don’t flood. And, our cities will be dangerously hot, with even hotter days than we have seen, and more of them. This will lead to more heat-related illness and death. The heat wave in BC in July caused over 800 deaths; such deadly heat waves will intensify and increase in frequency.

The UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres is calling the IPCC report a “code red for humanity.” Indeed, this is a dire time.

How are We to Respond?

Paul wasn’t facing the issue of climate change in his time. But it is one of the issues that we, as a church, are facing today. It is in this world, in this warming world, that we are advised to live a Christian life. It is in this world, in this warming world, that we are advised to listen for the will of God, to help us discern how we are to respond. Elsewhere, in the Book of Micah, we are told what God requires of us, what God’s will for us is. We are to act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with our God (Micah 6.8).

Jesus also shows us the way of justice and mercy, throughout the Gospels. And so, we must respond to the IPCC’s report. All of us, individually and as a church, are called to act, to do the hard work of mitigating global warming so that, hopefully, we can manage to keep the rising average temperature from increasing above 1.5°.

Such work may seem impossible, but it isn’t. It is hard, but not impossible. We can reach out to the many non-profit organizations who are doing work on this issue and support them, financially, with our volunteer time, and through prayer. We can call our government leaders and demand that they act forcefully on policy and law that will limit fossil fuel emissions. We can do some research to find out how we can change our own activities, such as eating less red meat, driving hybrid or electric cars, and so on. While the work is hard, there is no end to the possibilities for ways to get involved.

The Life We are Called To

This is the kind of life that we are called to in our time and place. This is the life of justice and mercy that our time demands. But there is something else that Paul is offering here, about what a Christian life is to look like, in this dire time. You see, he has written this letter to show what the “shape and substance of a life of love, light, and wisdom”[2] looks like, and he offers some concrete advice on how to live such a life. In this section of the letter, he is focusing on wisdom, wisdom versus foolishness.

We are being called to wake up, to be wise in the ways of God, and to live our lives in such a way that leads to singing and praise and thanksgiving.

A Moral Way of Living

There is a call to a certain kind of living here, in today’s reading. We are to choose a moral way of living that includes truthfulness, forgiveness and love, and a life of wisdom, avoiding debauchery. This letter is showing us a path to joy, how we can live, joyfully, into our true identity as children of God.

Now what I wonder is this: how does this help us when we are faced with the reality of the climate crisis? How does this help us when we have hit code red for humanity, and for the rest of God’s creation?

Here is the thing: If we just stay in the details of this awful reality – and whether we read the report or not, the evidence is all around us, as forest fires burn, and land is flooded, and people are dying from heat waves and more destructive storms. If we just stay in the details, we will surely become stuck in a pit of pain: of despair and anger and helplessness. We will be tempted to ignore it. We will be tempted to ignore it, or go into denial, to shut down.

When we stay just in the awful details of this reality, or of other major issues that are facing us now, then it is too easy to be stuck, and get burned out and unable to act.

Paul knows this; he knows that life is about more than just focusing on the dire or the evil. He knows that we are to live moral lives of love, light and wisdom, and that we are to love justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly with God. And he knows that the point of this is not about just making this world better, although that it is a vital part of our Christian witness. It is about worshipping and praising God, worshipping and praising the Creator of this world.

A Life of Wisdom Leads to a Worshipful Life

And what he is telling us is that leading a life of wisdom leads us to a worshipful life. He tells us that when we live a life of wisdom, when we follow the will of God, then we become filled with the Holy Spirit! He says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit, as you sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts…” (Ephesians 5.18-19). Wise living, following the will of God, will lead to our being filled with the Spirit, so much so that that it will spill out into song and praise.

In other words, being filled with the Spirit will lead us to worship. It will lead us, not to private mystical experiences or practices of spirituality, but to the “common work” of worshipping in community and building each other up in community.

And it is out of worship, out of being in community where we are supported and encouraged, challenged and called, that we can respond effectively to the cries of the world, to the dire time we are in of climate crisis. On our own, these issues are huge, too huge, it seems, to face and respond. But together, we can take on the tasks of changing our lifestyles, of ending fossil fuel use, of seeking new and emerging technologies that will allow us to live together more sustainably and peaceably.

You see, what Paul is telling us is that we need worship, we need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, to be able to respond to the world as we ought, with love, light and wisdom, loving justice, seeking mercy, walking humbly.

It is a back-and-forth movement; seeking to live a life of truth, love, forgiveness, kindness, and justice fills us with the Spirit and leads us to worship God in community. Responding to the climate crisis, as a response of love and justice, can do this for us; it can fill us with the Spirit and lead us back to worship with others.

A Worshipping Community

And conversely, being in a worshipping community together, praying and singing our praise to God, breaking bread together at communion; this all fills us up and feeds us so that we are encouraged and empowered to go out and seek the concrete change to mitigate the worst of global warming and live together more sustainably.

This is the work, and worship, that we are called to, my friends. And as Paul tells us in other words, the days today, they are dire. But we can make the most of this time, being wise and following the will of God in the world, and in so doing being filled up with the Spirit and letting that spill out into worship and praise. We can make the most of this time and allow the nourishment of worship to send us back out into the world, to respond to the climate crisis, to love justice, seek mercy, and walk humbly with God.

May it be so. Thanks be to God.


[1] Damian Carrington, “Climate crisis ‘unequivocally’ caused by human activities, says IPCC report,” Climate crisis ‘unequivocally’ caused by human activities, says IPCC report | Climate change | The Guardian. Accessed August 11, 2021.

[2] Melinda Quivik, “Commentary on Ephesians 5:15-20,” https://www.workingpreacher.org/commentaries/revised-common-lectionary/ordinary-20-2/commentary-on-ephesians-515-20. Accessed July 13, 2022.

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