Rev. Dr. Joyce Antila Phipps
Old First Church September 5, 2021
2 Kings 10:18-31; Mark 8: 31-33
One of our greatest temptations as human beings is to promise something that we know we cannot do but because of the pressure we experience, we make the promise anyway. Sometimes it a little thing, like being on time for a meeting or a show; sometimes it’s something more serious Sometimes we just agree to do something that we know we cannot deliver on just to keep someone happy. It’s a temptation we all have.
In our reading from 2 Kings, Jehu, a commander of chariots, has been anointed king to destroy the house Ahab, who had Jezebel as his wife. After Jehu has killed Ahab in a battle, and had Jezebel killed as part of the Lord’s judgment against them, he has all seventy-two of the royal princes murdered as well as various other family members.
He then invites all the worshippers of Baal to a feast and after making sure that none of them are worshippers of the Lord, he has them killed as well. But, then here’s the poor follow- through. Jehu permits the existence of statues of golden calves, thus committing the sin of his predecessors. He started off well but had poor follow through. So the text tells us that the Lord starts to trim off parts of Israel; in other words, other nations are able to destroy Israel’s independence.
Many of the stories from the Old Testament are stories of poor follow through and the result is that the Lord gets upset and acts accordingly. The literature we know as the Old Testament was written well after the events had transpired and the writers could only explain those events as the result of either following the Lord or not following the Lord.
Our reading from Mark this morning is in the same vein. Jesus has begun to explain what’s going to happen to him, and Peter basically says, that’s not the case. At this point comes the retort of “get behind me, Satan!” But if we really think about it, Peter’s response is not unreasonable.
Think about it. You’ve thrown your livelihood behind you, taken off to follow this itinerant preacher who, true, does some pretty amazing things. He makes the deaf to hear and the blind to see. But then, he tells you that he’s going to be put in the hands of the elders, killed, and then rise again. First, this sounds pretty far-fetched. Peter’s response is totally understandable.
Back in the 1970s, small groups of people began warning us about the coming environmental disaster but not many people listened. True, Richard Nixon of all people did create the Environmental Protection Agency, but aside from a few pieces of legislation, there was little follow through.
In response to public pressure Congress passed such legislation as the Clean Water Act, the Resource Recovery Act, and legislation on endangered species. But none of this legislation really changed the way we lived, or the way our industry in the United States continued to grow. Oil and gas production actually increased, largely in response to OPEC decisions to control the flow of oil
Since the 1970s, we’ve gone through fits and starts in response to various environmental catastrophes. States have passed laws largely prohibiting persons negatively affected by gas fracking rom seeking redress for their damages. Entire communities faced with polluted water still find themselves at the mercy of large industrial powers.
And even today, with fires raging in the West, enormous storms that have destroyed so much in the South and the East, we still have Senators who worry about the so-called cost of a budget that focuses a great deal on climate change and trying to put the brakes on before we crash into that wall.
We talk a good game but there’s no follow-through. Our leaders aren’t much better than Jehu who kept the golden calf statues. We just have different golden calves. The calf of consumerism encourages us to buy more, more, more. Basically, it’s what keeps our economy afloat.
The lack of follow through is also the result of selfishness. We’re told that we’re number one. This national desire to be on top filters down into our daily lives and we individually act as if we are the one that counts above all others. The lack of cooperativeness as a social ideal results in the lack of follow through.
Like Peter, we do not want to be told that the only way to follow Jesus is to take up his cross. This passage in Mark is not the only time Peter cannot bring himself to believe that the man he left everything for will end up hauled before religious and secular authorities to be tortured and crucified.
Even though few, if any, of us are climate change deniers like many in state and federal legislatures, we still need to ask ourselves what is it we need to do in order to work for a sustainable future. Because, quite frankly, sustainable is the only way we will eve have a future.
There’s no question that it will be difficult to convince those persons who still don’t really believe that the world is changing. But if we do not follow through on our commitment to God’s creation, little else will really matter.
Let us come to God in prayer: Transform us, O God, into a people who will confront our elected representatives on the important issue of climate change and who will not just be put off by promised action without results. In the name of the one who calls us to action, even Christ Jesus our Lord, Amen.