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Sermon - 6 December 2009
Bible Verse: Luke 3:1-6
(click the verse above to read the passage online)

Prophet at Copenhagen Needed

We need a prophet at Copenhagen, one that cuts to the guts of things. Who cuts through the shaky science and political agendas and calls it how it is. People are longing for truth as we face how we use and abuse of our planet. People know the truth too, but don't want to face it.

We have a problem which we have called climate change. Fact 1, it is getting warmer. Why is up for grabs. We know the earth's temperatures have fluctuated , the Ice Age obviously was a bit colder than now. but on a smaller scale we know that there have been climate changes. In Roman times grapes grew in Scotland, Greenland got its name because it was green, grass animals etc and there are ancient maps which suggest that the northern coast of Canada was mapped - its been under ice for many hundreds of years. Question: is the small amount of 0.7C measured for only the last one hundred years in NZ a natural change or induced by human activity?

The theory which is winning at the moment is that we are producing so much extra CO2 that its warming up the world, so human activity is causing it. No one disputes, by the way, that we are pouring pollutants into our atmosphere and something needs doing. But it is always a danger to pick on one thing as responsible .
Therefore the solution provided is to stop emitting so much CO2 .

All mammals emit C02 including us, that is what we are doing sitting here, breathing in oxygen and breathing out CO2, assuming you are alive. Plants on the other hand take CO2 and turn it into oxygen. Many of our industrial processes release carbon as CO2 and burning fuels such as coal take long stored CO2 and release it into the atmosphere. So in Copenhagen we are all meeting to look at a scheme where we rate the Carbon emission of everything , give it an almost arbitary value, and then allow CO2 emissions if you have bought the credits from things like forests or those big peat swamps of the Shetlands and Ireland which actively take the CO2 and fixing it.

We can be a little cynical,. because it seems that quite a good carbon credit industry could be set up which would not have any incentive to actually cut the emissions.

Nothing is for sure, even if this is the solution, and much of the data produced as proof that we need to do this and which is the basis for the model that Copenhagen is working from, is really only observation that the temperatures have gone up. In New Zealand the data itself is also disputed for its poor methodology. However to prove that the model produced is real means it would be too late to act.

We need a prophet, people are longing for a prophet to give direction, and John the Baptist , the one who isn't in the Christmas cards or in our nativity scenes, the one who comes sweeping in to tell us what preparing for the Messiah means, still has plenty to say to us as we reluctantly look to Copenhagen.. So lets look at John.

When John shows up out of the wilderness in the times of Tiberius, Herod, Annas and Caiphas, - highly political stuff,- people sit up and take notice....” They haven’t heard a prophet for hundreds of years .

Jason Carlson of University Hill United church congregation puts it this way. "People come in droves to hear him. They come to be immersed in the Jordan. They come to be forgiven, to be cleansed, to be made ready for the Messiah, the offspring of David’s monarchy, who is coming to save them. .. Suddenly everyone is flocking to listen to him and to be washed. But listen to John’s first words to those who show up to hear the good news?
Eugene Peterson’s translation -: “When crowds of people came out for baptism because it was the popular thing to do, John exploded: ‘Brood of snakes! What do you think you’re doing slithering down here to the river? Do you think a little water on your snakeskins is going to deflect God’s judgment? It’s your life that must change, not your skin ... What counts is your life. Is it green and blossoming? Because if it’s deadwood, it goes on the fire”. I wonder what he'd say about Carbon emissions.

The people stay. They agree with him John is, apparently, telling the truth about them and their lives.

So they ask. “What then should we do?”

John speaks the truth when he says that the Kingdom of God bears fruit in the flesh and blood of our human lives and communities. It takes shape in real human decisions to change and to be changed, to turn away from the usual ways of the world and to turn to the way of the Messiah. Preparing for the arrival of this Messiah entails resolving to adopt new habits of the heart. Forget the decorating the tree and hanging the stockings. These are the Christmas preparations that matter. This is how we “let every heart prepare him room”. We change the way we live ... and this changes who we are.

But the crowds want to know how we are to change. “What then should we do?”. John’s answers are straightforward: “Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none: and whoever has food must do likewise.” This is how to prepare for the coming Christ. Give away what the things you don’t need for survival. Extra coats and sweaters, kept only as fashion statements in order to enhance our status or image or prestige, are to be given away. Notice that John does not tell the crowd to give away all of their possessions. John’s response is straightforward .. He says quite clearly that everyone should keep their coat, keep their shoes, keep their jersey. He does not ask the crowds to become paupers ... giving everything away. He simply tells them not to keep excess clothing or food when there are those who have nothing. John urges the crowd to be prepared when the Messiah stands at the door and knocks. John commends lives that are not subject to the world’s convincing lies ... lies which hoodwink us into the foolish belief that we are perpetually in need of more."

Isn't this for Copenhagen? Isn't the real underlying problem not just a need to spend hours negotiating how to be able to still do what we want to with a buyoff from the trees and forests of others? Isn't the real problem the fact that we keep on consuming. What if regardless of so called rich or poor country all had to throw way every car and truck that is not burning clean. That the rich countries supply the poor with the necessary replacements and everyone cut down. The trouble is that there is nothing realistic we can do to change that doesn’t involve discomfort, inconvenience, expense, maybe even real sacrifice of what we see as our right to live our lives as we want to.

Others also ask John what they should do. Tax- collectors and soldiers ask this same question. Theirs are loaded questions, of course. The tax-collectors are not just working for IRD Israel. They are despised, Jewish collaborators who are contracted by the hated Roman Empire and the soldiers are not even Jews. They are Romans ... Gentiles ... on tours of duty in the backblocks of Palestine where they spend their days blackmailing and violating the vulnerable. .We could expect this prophet to tell these tax-collectors and soldiers that they must stop everything immediately ...leave their immoral jobs ... and follow him. But, no. John tells them that to prepare for the coming Kingdom they must simply stop stealing and extorting. Given power and freedom to hurt the weak they are to resist temptation and act responsibly. They are, says John, to repent ... to change ... to bear fruit.

So what does a Copenhagen conference on climate change have to do with that ancient story of the coming of the Messiah to the people of Israel, and the strange prophet John who announced it?

It has everything to do with it. John called people to be ready for a new world which couldn’t coexist with the power structures of his day. The kingdom of God was always going to challenge and confront that world of Tiberius, Herod, Annas and Caiaphas. If we are going to see God’s kingdom, God’s peace, God’s justice in our world we have to see the ways in which it challenges the powers that control us too – powers out there, but also the powers within – greed, apathy and the fear that we will lose our place in the world. Repent, says John to us, just as he did to those crowds by the river Jordan. Change your minds. Change your lives. There is no other way for “all flesh to see the salvation of God.

This is the good news, that we will be ready for what Jesus brings.
And today Jesus calls us to be ready, to gather around and share in communion, The bread, broken and shared, the life of Christ poured out in the red wine , Christ's own life for us a meal which gives us foretaste of a future where everyone gathers around one table and shares the food of God, given generously for our world.

Thanks to Jason Carlson University Hill United Congregation, Canada for the excerpts on John the Baptist-.from his sermon What Then Should We Do?

Rev. Margaret Anne Low


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