Scripture readings for Transfiguration Sunday
Psalm 50 — UMH # 783
On the liturgical calendar, today is Transfiguration Sunday.
Transfiguration Sunday marks the end of the Season of Epiphany and serves as a marker for the being of Lent with Ash Wednesday this coming Wednesday. Were these “normal times”, we would begin planning for Mardi Gras and pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. I suppose one could still have pancakes on Tuesday, but any sharing of the celebration would, by necessity, must be virtual.
This Sunday, the second Sunday in February, has a more personal meaning for me. The second Sunday in February is Boy Scout Sunday and on this Sunday in 1965, in the process of completing the work for the “God and Country Award”, I became a member of the 1st Evangelical United Brethren Church (now the 1st United Methodist Church) of Aurora, Colorado.
Since 2006, this has also been “Evolution Weekend”, a celebration of Charles Darwin’s birthday sponsored by the Clergy Letter Project. As noted on its website, “The Clergy Letter Project is an endeavor designed to demonstrate that religion and science can be compatible and to elevate the quality of the debate of this issue.”
The goal of Evolution Weekend is to show that faith and science are compatible and not adversarial in nature. I have participated in this event since 2009. The theme for this year Is “climate change”.
Let me pause for a moment and offer a bit of science. To understand what climate change is, we must first understand what weather and climate are.
What is weather?
Weather is what is happening outside your house right now. It can be raining or snowing; the temperature could be up or down. Weather changes from day to day and even at times from hour to hour.
Going to school and living in Missouri, I remember that statement that if you did not like the weather now, wait one hour. And the renowned Missouri author, Mark Twain, once remarked that the if you did not like the weather in New England, just wait a few minutes. And it does appear that he never said that the coldest winter he ever experienced was a summer in San Francisco (for more on this memorable non-Twain quote, see https://www.anchorbrewing.com/blog/the-coldest-winter-i-ever-spent-was-a-summer-in-san-francisco-say-what-says-who/.)
What is climate?
Climate is more what the weather is over a long period of time. While the weather may change over a period of hours, climate changes take longer periods of time.
One might think of weather as being what clothes you are going to wear each day, while climate is what clothes you have in your closet.
And therein lies the rub; what causes climate changes? The changes in the climate that have been observed since the mid-20th Century can be directly attributed to human expansion of the “greenhouse effect”. This effect is caused by the increased production of gases which when released into the atmosphere trap heat radiating from Earth into space. Most of these gases are a result of human activity.
How do changes in the climate affect the weather? As a result of this increased production of greenhouse gases, the Earth is becoming warmer. Such warmer conditions lead to an increased evaporation of surface water and precipitation overall, but the effects will depend on the region. Increased global warming will raise the temperature of the oceans, partially melting glaciers and ice sheets, which, in turn, will lead to an increased sea level rise.
The evidence suggests that, with a 95% probability, human activity over the past 50 years has warmed this planet, with increased production of such greenhouse gases as carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O) are the cause. Industrial activities have raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels from 280 parts per million (ppm) to 414 ppm in the past 150 years. (“The Cause of Climate Change”)
Despite the efforts of some to discredit the science behind climate change (many who also support the inclusion of creation science), the evidence is clear that humankind is a contributing, and perhaps major, factor in change of the climate.
From almost the beginning of creation, humankind has been tasked with the care of this planet. As descendants of Adam, we are also charged to be stewards of this world.
God spoke: “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflect our nature
So, they can be responsible for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle,
And, yes, Earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.”
God created human beings; he created them godlike.
Reflecting God’s nature.
He created them male and female.
God blessed them: “Prosper! Reproduce! Fill Earth! Take charge!
Be responsible for fish in the sea and birds in the air, for every living thing that moves on the face of Earth.” ().Genesis 1: 26 – 28, The Message
We need to be reminded that throughout the Old Testament the writers emphasized that this world was God’s creation and that we must answer to Him when it is done. Remember that at the end of the Book of Job, God reminds Job that it was He who was responsible for the creation.
And now, finally, God answered Job from the eye of a violent storm. He said:
“Why do you confuse the issue? Why do you talk without knowing what you are talking about?
Pull yourself together, Job! Up on your feet! Stand tall!
I have some questions for you, and I want some straight answers.
Where were you when I created the earth? Tell me since you know so much!
Who decided on its size? Certainly, you’ll know that! Who came up with the blueprints and measurements?
How was its foundation poured, and who set the cornerstone?
While the morning stars sang in chorus and all the angels shouted praise?
And who took charge of the ocean when it gushed forth like a baby from the womb
That was me! I wrapped it in soft clouds and tucked it in safely at night.
Then I made a playpen for it, a strong playpen so it could not run loose,
And said, ‘Stay here, this is your place. Your wild tantrums are confined to this place.’
“And have you ever ordered Morning, ‘Get up!’ told Dawn, ‘Get to work!’
So you could seize Earth like a blanket and shake out the wicked like cockroaches?
As the sun brings everything to light, brings out all the colors and shapes,
The cover of darkness is snatched from the wicked—they are caught in the very act!
“Have you ever gotten to the true bottom of things, explored the labyrinthine caves of deep ocean?
Do you know the first thing about death? Do you have one clue regarding death’s dark mysteries?
And do you have any idea how large this earth is? Speak up if you have even the beginning of an answer.Job 38: 1 -18
For too long, humanity held the view that the charge to be good stewards of this world meant we could do anything we wanted. We dumped our trash in the streams, rivers, lakes, and oceans, confident that there was always going to be fresh water left over. We filled the atmosphere with noxious gases, confident that the size of the atmosphere would be enough to eliminate the threat.
But we have begun to see that there is a limit to the damage we do to this world; we are beginning to see that what we once were unlimited resources are beginning to run out. In our greed and ignorance, in our lack of care for the welfare of this world, we have sown the seeds of our own destruction.
But if we are responsible for the care of this world, we must understand that what we do to this world, its resources, and those with whom we share this world has consequences. Mike Hulme (“9 Groundbreaking Scientists Who Happen to Be Christians”) is the author of “Why We Disagree About Climate Change”, which was one of The Economist ‘s four science and technology books of the year in 2009. Ever since receiving his Ph.D. in climatology from the University of Wales, he has been a leading Christian voice on the reality of climate change, which he has summed up in five severe but notably levelheaded lessons (“Five Lessons of Climate Change” a personal statement):
- “Climate change is a relative risk, not an absolute one.”
- “Climate risks are serious, and we should seek to minimize them.”
- “Our world has huge unmet development needs.”
- “Our current energy portfolio is not sustainable.
- “Massive and deliberate geo-engineering of the planet is a dubious practice.
For a variety of reasons, I do not consider myself to be an environmentalist, but when I was in the Boy Scouts, I was taught to always leave the place where we were camping a better place than we found it.
Perhaps because today is also Valentine’s Day and we speak of our love for our family, friends, and others, we might want to also consider how much we love this world on which we live.
Pertaining to the title of the piece, do we treat this world as if we are its owners or simply temporary residents? Can we, as permanent residents, do whatever we want to our home, or because we are simply temporary residents, just passing through, do we leave this place for the next generations?
In the Old Testament reading for this Sunday, Elisha is concerned about what Elijah, his mentor and friend, was going to leave him. What are we going to leave those who come after us?
The Season of Epiphany is one marked by illumination; it began with the Wise Men seeking the light that they say, it ends with illumination of Christ. Yet, there are many, both secular and sectarian, who would rather live in the darkness of ignorance. We live in a world teetering between the darkness of ignorance and the light of wisdom; as so often happens, we must decide which direction we as society must take.
In the 2nd lesson for today, Paul speaks of a message being obscured, not because he is holding back some information but because the people are not giving it serious attention.
Theirs is a voice which calls the notion of climate change fake or false science. They are like many who heard Paul’s words to the Corinthians without listening and are blind to what they see happening to this world.
We see the growing seasons for crops changing; we see the average amount of rainfall changing, and we wonder why we see more hurricanes every year wonder why the intensity of hurricanes seemed to be increase with the numbers. To borrow a phrase from “The Guess Who”, we see the seasons change but we do not wonder why.
When we look at the empirical evidence (remembering that Jesus told the disciples of John to return and tell him what they saw when asked if He, Jesus, were the coming Messiah), we see the signs that there is change and humankind is responsible. The good sign is that we also have the capability to fix the errors that we have caused.
On this day, when Elijah insured the future for Elisha, we need to think about what we will be leaving for the generations to come.
On this day, when the world of the disciples was enveloped in the Light of Christ, how can we live in the darkness of ignorance.
We are reminded that this is God’s world and while we may feel that we are the permanent residents and owners, we are just temporary residents passing through. Do we do as we please or do we leave this world a better place?
Notes on climate change (https://www.rff.org/publications/reports/climateinsights2020/)