Jesus, Jerusalem, and Climate Change

I’ve been invited by Grace Lutheran Church in Eau Claire to accompany them in a congregational journey toward a deeper embrace of creation and a faith-based response to climate change. I do not know where this journey will lead, but it begins with five Lenten reflections (of which this is the first) and will include several public lectures hosted by Grace later in the spring. The texts for each Lenten reflection are of my own choosing, drawn from Luke’s “journey” material.

Green Lent

Lenten Reflection for Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Grace Lutheran Church, Eau Claire, Wisconsin

What can we ask of Jesus, on his journey to Jerusalem—and on ours?
David R. Weiss

Luke 9:51-62 – In which Jesus sets his face for Jerusalem, refuses to carpet bomb a Samaritan village, compares his housing opportunities to foxes and birds, and reminds his followers that the Kingdom of God is a journey that asks everyone to be “all in.” Following LENT SUNDAY ONE – Luke 4:1-13 (Temptation)


Okay, I’ll be honest—I don’t think Jesus lost any sleep over Global Warming or Climate Change, however you choose to name it. It simply wasn’t part of the forces that threatened human flourishing in his day. And the capacity for humans to impact ecosystems (to threaten nonhuman flourishing) was a fraction of what it is today. And the capacity to harm an entire planet’s ecosystem was unimagined.

So Jesus never addressed what may well be the defining issue of our lifetime. But that doesn’t mean he has nothing to say to us about it. Jesus was steeped in a biblical tradition that most of us have only a passing familiarity with.

He knew that God fashioned Adam—the Hebrew word is adam—out of adamah, a Hebrew word for dirt. Because the writer wanted us to hear that God made a dirtling out of the dirt, an earthling out of the earth, a human being out of the humus. However we understand ourselves, we are inescapably kin to the ground under our feet. And Jesus knew that.

He knew that when Adam, that first earthling, named all the creatures in the garden, it wasn’t as an act of mastery over them, but as a persistent search for intimacy with them.

Jesus could have told you that at the end of the tale of Noah and the ark, when God sets the rainbow in the sky as symbol of the covenant to protect Noah—in that story, SIX different times in nine short verses God specifies that the promise is not simply with Noah and his descendants, but with every living creature. Six times! Lest we think it was intended only for us.

And he knew by heart many of the Psalms—as well as passages from the prophets—that borrow freely and generously from nature to image God, to praise God, or to use nature’s health or suffering as a reflection of human morality.

Hebrew thought presumed that creation, Creator, and creature were inescapably interconnected. So while Jesus did not address Climate Change 2000 years ago, there is no question he would take it very seriously were he walking—and warming—among us today.

Beyond the mostly unspoken creation-rich context of his faith, Jesus said plenty.

He addressed the human tendencies to live by fear or denial—and the human propensity to abuse power and to erase people. He decried the damage done by dysfunctional and oppressive social structures—and he offered a healing vision of a human community. He affirmed taking decisive action in critical moments. And he knew the importance of living by faith in God’s deep goodness and grace.

These are among the central features of Jesus’ ministry. They’re part of the message that led him to the cross. And they offer insight, wisdom, even good news to those of us wondering how we—as persons of faith—respond to the challenge of Climate Change.


So welcome to Lent, this season in which we intentionally reflect on our own mortality, on our need for repentance—for turning around—and on the journey undertaken by Jesus that culminates in the Cross. This year during Lent we ask, What does it mean to follow Jesus toward the Cross … on a precariously warming planet?

In tonight’s lesson I hear four pieces of wisdom.

First, we read, “Jesus set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is the wisdom of fierce resolve. We’ll talk next week about how we discern the right moment, but once discerned, it’s critical that we not vacillate. We, too, have a journey to begin. We, too, need to “set our face.”

Soon after beginning his journey Jesus is not welcomed by a Samaritan village. Now there is long and complicated animosity between Jews and Samaritans, including 1000 years of disagreement over the rightful location of the Temple. So it’s irritating, annoying, maybe even disappointing, that these villagers fail to show Jesus and his disciples hospitality on their pilgrimage to the “wrong” Temple—but it’s hardly surprising.

What is surprising, if you’ve been paying attention to Jesus’ ministry—is how James and John respond: “Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?”

Luke tells us only that “Jesus turned and rebuked them,” which I suspect is polite Greek for telling us, “And Jesus turned to them with rage, saying, have you not heard anything I’ve said so far?!”

This second bit of wisdom is remembering what we know. As we respond to Climate Change there will also be moments of frustration, disappointment, opposition. Like the disciples, we’ll be tempted to lash out at those who appear to be in the way. But the measure of our response should not be the anger or the urgency we feel. It should be the whole of what we know. The overwhelming threat of Climate Change is not a reason to set aside our Christianity but to deepen it.

Third, Jesus says, “Foxes have holes, and birds have nests,” but it is not so for the One who chooses faithfulness above all else. This piece of uncomfortable but essential wisdom might be coined: moving from temptation to tabernacle.

Last Sunday we heard the story of Jesus’ temptation. There were other paths that called out to him. Fame and fortune. Miracle and empire. Simple comfort and familiarity. He could have chosen to be a fox with a hole or a bird with a nest. Instead, he chose to be ever restless for the healing and liberation of his people.

He chose to keep the company of a God who found a tabernacle preferable to a Temple. With its canvas walls and tent poles the tabernacle moved through the wilderness with the Israelites on their journey. Its sides billowed with the wind, breathing in and out, as it were, with the presence of a Living God.

We sometimes imagine that Christianity is about finding comfort and security. But this wisdom reminds us it’s actually about venturing into holy insecurity, counting as comfort that we are in the company of Jesus and one another. That was true long before Climate Change arrived on the scene, but it will be especially true in the years ahead.

Finally Jesus says, with what we might mistake as a tone of impatience, “Look, no one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” Those would be hard words, except that the one who speaks them alsoand already—has a hand to the plow. This fourth wisdom simply says, about that first Lenten journey—and about this Lenten journey—it’s time to be all in. Words offered not as a threat of exclusion, as though “you better be ‘all in’ or else,” but rather as the wise observation of a fellow traveler that this road, which MUST be traveled, can ONLY be traveled safely and faithfully by being fully present here and now. All in.

My friends, Jesus never gave Climate Change a second thought. But we will—many times over. And as we move through Lent this year, there are echoes in his ministry that offer wisdom for us today.

We will need to exercise fierce resolve.

We will need to remember what we know.

We will need to move from temptation to tabernacle.

And we will need to be all in.

The good news is that we can do all these things (and more—we have four more Wednesdays together yet!) in the company of Jesus and one another. And that is truly Gospel. Amen.


QUESTIONS for reflection and conversation:

  1. Did anything surprise you or strike you as helpful about what I described as the “creation-rich context” of Jesus faith?
  2. Of the four bits of wisdom lifted up in this evening’s text—(1) fierce resolve; (2) remembering what we know; (3) moving from temptation to tabernacle; and (4) being all in—which did you find most insightful, most comforting, or most challenging?
  3. What else will you take away from tonight’s reflection? /

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