Winthrop Congregational Church, United Church of Christ
No matter who you are. No matter where you are on life's journey. You are welcome here.
Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. In fulfilment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.
I spent part of my on-going recovery this week reading about climate change. You know, something light and relaxing. What caught my attention about this article was one line: “Collapse isn’t inevitable.” Collapse is not inevitable. That line comes from an article titled “What 5,000-year-old Skeletons tell us about living with climate change” by Kate Yoder. Yoder was discussing an academic article, “Climate Change, Human Health, and Resilience in the Holocene,” co-authored by Gwen Robbins Schug, Jane E. Buikstra, Sharon N. DeWitte, and Sonia Zakrzewski. These scholars looked at a whole bunch of human skeletons and mummies to see if they could see any patterns in the remains that would help them understand better how our ancestors responded to changing circumstances in the environment around them. What they found is that, as Yoder states, collapse is not inevitable. But, some communities are better able to respond to the changing climate around them.
I won’t try to summarize a summary of an academic text for you. This is a sermon, not a literature review. The shortest version of the information presented is that human-caused climate change is already affecting and will continue to affect the weather. Weather changes and the pollution that is a result of human choices about how to live in this world will affect food supplies, the availability of drinking water, and likely change the kinds of diseases that humans, plants, and animals are affected by. And, people are going to end up having to move around, change how and what we eat and how we clean water. The institutions that we humans have organized to help us live together are going to have to adjust to these changes or, they, and we will fail.
While the human-caused climate change we are facing is more severe than the climate event these scholars studied, there are some clear patterns in communities that were resilient in the face of significant changes in climate. People who live in mobile societies with flexible social structures that also got their food from diverse sources fared much better than societies with rigid social hierarchies, crowded living situations, and food that only came from the kind of agriculture that requires living on and working the same land the same way for a long time. And, communities that retain and pass along traditional knowledge about communal care, the ecosystem, and food traditions also were able to adapt more quickly and successfully in the face of environmental change. Also, societies that maintained significant social inequality in order to benefit a few wealthy people had a harder time coping with environmental changes, especially disease and malnutrition. If we want to have resilient communities that can withstand major upheavals, we will build societies that don’t require some people to be very poor for the benefit of the very rich.
Yoder cites one of the authors of the academic paper, Robin Schug, saying “We would not be where we are today without cooperation.” After looking at study after study, in regions across the world, it is heartening to hear these scholars offer confirmation that working together for the good is something that has helped humanity survive catastrophe again and again and again. While they are quick to point out that cooperation doesn’t always happen, they also note that the presence of a crisis doesn’t have to mean that humans will respond in violent and hoarding ways. We can choose to care for each other and work with each other and creation. Our scripture for today spoke of every good gift being from above. This research seems like a good gift to us, especially as we consider our ministry as a church in the midst of changing times and changing environments.
What would it mean for us to adapt some of these descriptions of resilient, flexible, and equitable societies to shape our calling as a church? How can we learn from our ancestors to adapt and cooperate and make changes based on the realities of the world around us. I am carrying this word with me: Collapse isn’t inevitable. It is possible to thrive and care for each other in the midst of great shifts in the world around us. May we be quick to listen, slow to exclude, and use any anger we have with the status quo to move towards a life lived according to God’s priorities of love and justice.
Resources consulted while writing this sermon:
Kate Yoder's article: https://grist.org/health/how-ancient-societies-adapted-to-climate-change-anthropology-study/
The original academic article: https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2209472120
Pastor Chrissy is a native of East Tennessee. She and her wife moved to Maine from Illinois. She is a graduate of the Divinity School at Wake Forest University and Chicago Theological Seminary.