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Grazing on Ashes

Sermon by Rev. Douglas Olds (all rights reserved)

First Presbyterian Church of San Anselmo

June 16, 2019

Sermon Texts: Galatians 5: 13-18

Isaiah 44: 9-20

A few weeks ago, my mother returned some shoes she purchased to the mall. She asked for a receipt, and the clerk then asked her for her email address. My mother said, “I really don’t want to give that out. Why do you need my email?’ The clerk retorted, “Ma’am, we want to email you the receipt: we’re trying to save the planet! “

My mother gets home, and there are two emails from the shoe company. Neither is the receipt. Both are trying to sell her more shoes.

Welcome to America, where saving the planet always involves some renewed plan to sell you. If only we make smarter purchases, or switch to more efficient products, then we will indeed save the planet. Consumer capitalism figures out the angles to get you to purchase more and more in order to change the world. This is the capitalist ideology. Their world is driven primarily by business and consumerism.

Yet the quote from Einstein on today’s bulletin suggests that business as usual is not the remedy to solving the problems that are coming about from business as usual. I am very skeptical that the profit motive can cure the mess that heedlessly seeking a profit regardless of environmental impact has caused.

Our reading from the Prophet Isaiah this morning is the Bible’s signal and unique message regarding the scale and misuse of fuel combustion. In this passage from Isaiah, the idol maker is charged with diverting combustible resources away from personal warming and cooking toward the creation of idols.

14 He cuts down cedars …. He plants a cedar and the rain nourishes it. 15 Then it can be used as fuel. Part of it he takes and warms himself; he kindles a fire and bakes bread. Then he makes a god and worships it, makes it a carved image and bows down before it. 16 Half of it he burns in the fire; over this half he roasts meat, eats it and is satisfied. He also warms himself and says, “Ah, I am warm, I can feel the fire!” 17 The rest of it he makes into a god, his idol, bows down to it and worships it; he prays to it and says, “Save me, for you are my god!”…

20 He feeds on ashes; a deluded mind has led him astray, and he cannot save himself or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a fraud?”

In contemporary terms, that fraud in his right hand is our economy’s idol of luxuries produced by the diversion of combustible fuels away from God’s intended provision for subsistence needs.

The Prophet Isaiah in this centrally marked text is to my reading condemning an idolatrous carbon combustion economy.

Some of you may be following the ‘Juliana’ lawsuit-- “Trial of the Century”- that began last week in Portland. 21 children are suing the government for violating their Constitutional rights to life by subsidizing the fossil fuel industry. My children know that their elders in prior generations have created the climate crisis while they display continuing moral inertia neglecting to change our ways. Older generations are providing the young with unassailable grounds for moral grievance, not just the foundation for an innovative lawsuit against government.

Not only is grievance culture toxic to community, it brings down the church and the Kingdom of God in four ways. First, grievance by the young delegitimates institutions, like the church, promoted by earlier generations. Second, grievance interferes with a healthy appreciation for Creation’s goodness, running down the idea and our message of a Creator. Add to this the environmental destruction resulting in mass extinctions, where the totality of God’s worshiping community is disrupted. I refer you to the vision of the assembly