June 9, 2019–Transformative Changes

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Kris Litman-Koon, Isle of Palms, SC

Warm-up Question

What is a plant or animal that fascinates you? Is there a place of natural wonder that instills in you a reverent presence?

Transformative Changes

Sobering news was released in May by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES), which is an intergovernmental body of the United Nations. Using a team of 455 authors from 50 countries, IPBES spent three years reviewing 15,000 government and scientific sources to come to the assessment that one million species of plants and animals (roughly one in eight species in the whole world) are threatened with extinction, many within decades. The chair of the IPBES, Sir Robert Watson, explains; “The health of ecosystems on which we and all other species depend is deteriorating more rapidly than ever. We are eroding the very foundations of our economies, livelihoods, food security, health and quality of life worldwide.” The driving factors behind these changes to our living planet are, in descending order of magnitude of impact: (1) changes in our land and sea use; (2) our direct exploitation of organisms; (3) climate change; (4) pollution; and (5) invasive alien species. All of those are the result of human activity.

The glimmer of hope found within the report is this: we can still avoid much of the worst consequences, perhaps nearly all of them. To do so, it will take “transformative changes across economic, social, political and technological factors.” For instance, a shift is needed in governmental and financial policies that will discourage actions that further this breakdown of biodiversity. Individual actions — like eliminating frivolous purchases and composting food scraps — are helpful in their ability to keep creation care at the forefront of our thoughts and practices. However, large-scale societal changes are needed to fully address the problems presented by IPBES. Ultimately what is required is a societal rethinking of our interconnected role within the broader ecosystems of this planet, followed by subsequent actions.

Discussion Questions

  • When you hear news of an assessment like this, what is your initial reaction? Fight (“That can’t be true.”  “Someone else is more to blame.”) – Flight (“Quick! Change the channel!”) – Freeze (“If I do nothing, the problem will work itself out.”) – or something else?
  • The IPBES assessment says, “Negative trends in nature will continue to 2050 and beyond in all of the policy scenarios explored in the Report, except those that include transformative change…” How old will you be in 2050? How old will your loved ones be?

Acts 2:1-21

Romans 8:14-17

John 14:8-17 [25-27]

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

Acts 2:1 says, “When the day of Pentecost had come, [the apostles] were all together in one place.” The day of Pentecost (“fiftieth day”) originated as a Jewish celebration. The apostles and other Jews like them had come from places that spanned the entire Mediterranean region to Jerusalem in order to celebrate the Jewish version of Pentecost. This is commonly known as the “Feast of Weeks” or “Shavuot,” and it is held fifty days after the Passover. To this day, Shavuot primarily celebrates the wheat harvest (Exodus 34:22) as well as God giving the Torah (i.e. the Law) to the nation of Israel. In summary, Shavuot highlights God’s goodness and providential care toward them as a people, witnessed in an abundant harvest and in the gift of Torah, which itself gives life and leads toward life.

For Christians, Pentecost coincides with the fiftieth day since the morning of Easter. This festival day is when we celebrate the Holy Spirit being first given – and continually given – to the church. However, too often we leave the story there. We may adorn our chancels in red paraments, we may read of the uniquely spectacular miracle of wind and tongues of fire; in the end our collective response to it is basically, “That’s a pretty neat story.” The special effects of that first Christian Pentecost story can make it easy to forget that Pentecost has more to say about the natural realm than it does about the supernatural realm. After Peter’s speech, the “wonders and signs” performed by Christians are listed: they shared communal possessions, gave to those in need, worshiped together, broke bread together with glad and generous hearts, and had goodwill toward all people (Acts 2:43-47). Those wonders and signs are not supernatural; the Holy Spirit is of course supernatural, but the manifestations of receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit are very real and very earthly.

In many ways, this part of the Acts 2 Pentecost story fits nicely within its Jewish roots. Those roots of Pentecost proclaim God’s goodness, God’s providential care, and God’s desire for life on earth to be filled with abundance. Yes, a miracle gave the first apostles the ability to speak in different languages, but that was not an end to itself. That miracle was a means to draw people into Christ’s movement; a movement that is best manifested in real, earthly ways (see again 2:43-47) that proclaim in word and deed God’s faithfulness and God’s will for humanity. One way of viewing this manifestation in verses 43-47 is that these Christians are now empowered by the Holy Spirit to daily embody the fullness of a Shavuot celebration.

What are the ways that the Holy Spirit is moving us today, during this Pentecost Sunday? If we hear that Pentecost has at its core a celebration of harvest, of God’s faithfulness, of God’s goodness and providential care, and if we also hear the pleas and warnings from a living planet that is suffering at our hands, then we must make a determination on how to proceed. God desires life, an abundant harvest, and a people who will prophetically proclaim and embody God’s faithfulness toward all. We have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, which is a power that we shouldn’t – but easily can – underestimate. This powerful Holy Spirit is moving Christians to come together to be voices and hands that are aligned with God’s goodwill and providential care in very real and earthly ways.

Discussion Questions

  • The apostles were limited in number and were fearful/doubtful of what awaited them, but then the Holy Spirit empowered them to proclaim the good news of God in Jesus Christ. That has changed the course of history. Can you think of other examples of people who were faced with a daunting task, but the Holy Spirit gave them power to overcome their fears or doubts?
  • When we acknowledge the scope of the earth’s biodiversity problems, we may experience anxiety or despair, with inaction often being the result. A productive method of getting over this hurdle is to find someone or a group who is willing to listen to our concerns and take them seriously. Who could you trust to listen to you? Could this be done within your congregation?

Activity Suggestions

  • Think back to the warm-up question: a plant, animal, or natural setting that fascinates you. Resolve to learn more about this unique creation of God and what its place is within ecosystems. Is it facing any threats? Are there people who are active stewards of it?
  • If you have the time and ability, have your group go outside together. Even if you are surrounded by human development, in what ways do you witness life in its various forms? Discuss how your group can take bold steps in being caregivers of this small corner of creation.

Closing Prayer

Lord God, on this Pentecost Sunday, stir your Holy Spirit that is within us. Light a fire within us and within your church across the world, that we may proclaim in word and deed your faithfulness, your will, your providential care, and your desire for life. Amen.

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