“Blessed are the Meek; Our Children’s Trust” by Rev. Shayna Appel

 “Blessed Are the Meek; Our Children’s Trust” 

In 2015, 21 young people filed a lawsuit against the federal government alleging government officials have known for more than 50 years that carbon pollution from fossil fuels was causing climate change.  The suit, which was scheduled to begin next week,  also claims that existing policies on oil and gas deprive the young people of life, liberty and property and that the government has failed to protect natural resources as a “public trust” for future generations. The Plaintiffs want a court order which will require the government to take action quickly in order to phase out carbon dioxide emissions to a certain level by 2100 and develop a national climate recovery plan.

This suit and our Unitarian Universalist Principles (specifically 1st, 2nd, 4th-7th) will guide us on Sunday as we continue our exploration of ‘Sanctuary’.

Sermon “Blessed Are the Meek; Our Children’s Trust” by Rev, Shayna Appel

In a landmark case called Juliana v. U.S., twenty-one courageous youth have filed a lawsuit against the United States government for its role in causing climate change and violating their rights to life, liberty, and property, while also failing to protect essential public resources. The youth range in age from 10 to 21, and their voices provoke a moment of moral reckoning for our nation.

Supporting the work of these twenty-one courageous youth is an organization called ‘Our Children’s Trust’. Their mission is to elevate “the voice of youth to secure the legal right to a stable climate and healthy atmosphere for the benefit of all present and future generations.”  They are committed to leading “a game-changing legal campaign seeking systemic, science-based emissions reductions and climate recovery policy at all levels of government.”  They give “young people, those with most at stake in the climate crises, a voice to favorably impact their futures.”

Unitarian Universalists around the world have joined with other people of faith across denominational lines to engage in the work of climate justice based on our understanding that all life is interconnected.  From winged birds of every kind, to all that dwells beneath the seas and to humanity itself, our 7th UU Principle calls us to see that the interdependent web of all existence is comprised of one fabric, and everything on this earth is part of it.  We are called to care for this one fabric in order that it might sustain, not only us, but generations to come.

Honoring our 1st, 2nd and 6th principles, we covenant to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of all people, justice, equity and compassion in human relations, and the goal of world community with peace, liberty and justice for all.  This means, where our work on environmental justice is concerned, we partner with those who are most impacted by environmental INjustice recognizing that, more often than not, these folks are also those marginalized by the larger culture.  Far too often, the ‘frontline’ communities hit hardest by human-made and natural disasters are those with the fewest resources to recover.  So, we seek to collaborate with these high-impact communities recognizing that their knowledge and their experience is crucial to creating equitable and sustainable change.

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn,.. the meek,.. [and] those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.  Thus it is written in our gospel passage from Matthew we read just a short while ago.

So, let me ask you something.  When it comes to the damage done to our climate, do you really hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Do we?  I’m going to assume that most of us here this morning have at least a basic understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change.  Our faith is not so small as to have to deny science.  We read and we stay abreast of current events.  But do we hunger and thirst for righteousness where climate justice is concerned?

Personally, this is the question that has vexed me as of late.  Personally, this is where Matthew’s gospel has me more than a bit challenged.  Truthfully, I’d rather lean into Luke’s version of the Beatitudes.  Blessed are those who hunger…period.  “No sentimentalizing.  No euphemisms. No circumlocution.  Just blessed are those who hunger.  Period.”

Writing for the United Church of Christ Environmental Justice Blog, Brooks Berndt notes that, “it is not just climate deniers who need to hear from youthful climate prophets. It is also climate realists—those with at least a basic understanding of the causes and consequences of climate change. It has become increasingly evident to me that even among this group there can be a profound lack of the moral urgency required to take necessary immediate actions.”

I have to be honest with you.  Our text this morning from Matthew 5:3-10 challenges my “profound lack of moral urgency,” as does our reading by environmental activist and author extraordinaire Wendell Berry. “Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I look the other way? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I assume someone else will? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or do I explain away my perceived indifference because I don’t want people to think I take sides, because I choose to play it safe? Do I hunger and thirst for righteousness or keep silent so as not to offend, not to disappoint, in fear of not meeting expectations?”  Berry writes that the world he paints in his poem “The Wisdom to Survive” is “no paradisal dream. Its hardship is its possibility.”  I get it.  I know at least some of what needs to be done.  But am I ready – really ready- to take up that hardship?

My friends, I want to suggest to us all today that, like the twenty-one young people suing the U.S. Government for its failure to insure their lives, their liberty, their property and a host of other essential natural resources, we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness.  In the words of Karoline Lewis writing for workingpreacher.org, (yes, there IS such a site…it’s right after desperatepreacher.com!).  Caroline Lewis says;

…we need to hunger and thirst for righteousness because our world actively works against it, overrides it, sidelines it, monetizes it, limits it, and assumes that it’s overrated and overstated. We have to hunger and thirst for righteousness because even our churches sweep too much under the proverbial rug, making excuses for its inaction so as to protect the powerful at the expense of those victimized. We are called to hunger and thirst for righteousness because even our internal systems that have been put in place presumably to pursue righteousness — our judicatories, our seminaries, our synods — seem only to seek to save themselves when they should be in the business of trusting in God’s salvation.

In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King wrote:

“There was a time when the church was very powerful — in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days, the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society… If today’s church does not recapture the sacrificial spirit of the early church, it will lose its authenticity, forfeit the loyalty of millions, and be dismissed as an irrelevant social club with no meaning…” 

Do you hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Do WE hunger and thirst for righteousness?  Our readings for today, both from the Beatitudes of Matthews gospel and the poetry of Berry’s “Wisdom to Survive,” as well as the actions of twenty-one young people suing the U.S. Government,  are calls to action.  They are calling us not just to go to church, but to, in addition, BE the church.  They are calls to action that we might BE the church and bring to fruition our values of a world made fair, with all her peoples one.  Our readings for today, and the actions of twenty-one young people representing Juliana v. U.S.,  are reminders – reminders in a time when we desperately need them – that even when our imaginations have become limited and our hopes for the future dimmed, there is still work to be done.

The youth of today face a daunting task in confronting not only the real and potential consequences of climate change, but also of confronting those in power and those who obstruct. Nothing exemplifies this more than the 21 youth in the landmark case known as Juliana v. U.S. These youth are taking the federal government to court and power in this case is not a mere abstraction. The President of the United States is a defendant. 

In response to the courage of these youth, 19 faith organizations have called for more than a thousand sermons to be preached in solidarity.  Todays sermon is one such in response – my response.

For the twenty-one young people who represent Juliana v U.S., their day in court is coming, and now is the time for people of faith and conscience to speak out in solidarity.  But, more to the point, now is the time to hunger and thirst for righteousness. Its hardship IS its possibility.

Footnote: (In the wake of the massacre at Tree of Life Synagogue)

A letter to the UCC Family of Faith: We can’t let evil prevail

This call to action comes from the Conference Minister of the Penn Northeast Conference UCC, with the affirmation of the denomination’s National Officers and the Rev. David Ackerman, Conference Minister of the Penn West Conference UCC.

The news over the past weeks has revealed an undercurrent of hate within our culture and our country. Between the assumption that immigrants walking nearly 2,000 miles seeking asylum are seen as a threat to our security; the pipe bombs mailed to those who oppose our current political administration; the massacre of 11 Jewish citizens during services at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh; and the shooting of an African American man and woman in a grocery store after a failed attempt to enter a church of Black worshippers, it is hard to find cause for hope in our nation.

The rhetoric of hate and divisiveness calls for a response from the faith community. While we should not advocate for candidates or political parties, we must advocate for justice, humanitarian treatment of our neighbors, and for safety in our places of worship. We are a diverse nation and until recently that diversity has been seen as a strength. We, in the Church, must stand as moral authorities proclaiming peace and hope, compassion and justice.

Wherever and whenever you have the opportunity to provide wisdom and comfort, inspiration and compassion, I urge you to do so. To be silent is to let evil prevail and we, as people of faith, cannot do that, any more than Jesus could do it in his time and culture. Find a way to bring peace and hope to your faith communities, your communities, our state and our nations.

Today we are asking our members to write prayer notes or notes of compassion to our siblings at Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. Mail them from your local church to them at 5898 Wilkins Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217.

Participate in a vigil or a peaceful worship process in any one of your communities and if there isn’t one, please plan one.

If you are able, this would be a wonderful way to demonstrate solidarity with our Jewish siblings.

By all means pray but above all do not fail to speak out or to act.