About 350,000 years ago, our species stood and looked up at the sky and wondered at what could be seen there. At dawn we saw the rising of the sun and followed its path as it rose and fell; at night, we saw the moon wax and wane amidst lights without number. I don’t know if there was ever a time when we did not feel the pull of the heavens. We have named the stars after the gods of myth and legend—or perhaps, it is better to say that we have named our gods after the heavenly bodies that rule our nights and days. We spent hundreds of thousands of years looking up at the heavens and yearning to travel in the stars. For thousands of years we worked to master metals and fuels and understand the laws of the universe. And then, on Christmas Eve, 1968, the Apollo 8 mission made a fourth orbit around the moon, and for the first time human eyes saw the Earth rise on the horizon, blue and full of life. All those years of looking at the sun, the moon, and the stars, all those years of dreaming and wondering, and for the first time human eyes looked back in wonder and saw their home, shining in the darkness of space. William Anders, took the photograph you see before you, said, “We set out to explore the moon, and instead we discovered Earth.”
There is no place like our home. We still search the heavens, although now we do it with telescopes so powerful the light they receive has passed over not only billions of miles, but passed through millions of years. We search for shadows and wobbles around stars, for rocky planets in the goldilocks zone around a star of just the right amount of power, searching for another blue dot like our own. We have yet to find one, despite our technological proficiency. Enrico Fermi, the great physicist, once thought about all vastness of space, littered with planets and asked, “Why haven’t we heard from anyone else?” This is Fermi’s Paradox—Given the amount of stars, there ought to be something more like us out there—but it seems this blue world contains all the intelligent life we can ever know. As far as we know it is unique in the universe—unique that it is just close enough to the right star, with just the right atmosphere to shelter life. Given all that we know about the universe, we also know this is all the home humans will ever have. You’d think, having walked on the moon, and seen the Earth from afar, we’d do anything to protect this planet, this home.
Nevertheless, the Bible tells us that God loves this world. For God so loved the world, John says, for God so loved the world, that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.” God sent his Son to save us—not to condemn us. God sent Jesus to save this blue world, not to condemn it. This whole planet, whose trees clap their hands in praise, whose hills and mountains raise their voice in song, where every created thing under Earth and heaven, this whole beautiful world, our home—God sent the Son to save it. But there is so little left, and so much is gone. In the next few decades over a million species of animals and plants will go extinct. An asteroid wiped out the dinosaurs; the asteroid that will wipe us out is us. What did the Son save? What can we believe?
When I was in eighth grade, my dad took me out of school for a whole week in November to go photographing at Rocky Mountain National Park. It was one of the greatest weeks of my life— that my dad took me out of school for a whole week to go camping and photographing all over the park. I wore three pairs of pants pretty much all the time. We wrapped blankets inside our sleeping bags. We did so many great things—one night, we heard the coyotes howl, and suddenly the hooves of the of the elk running past us like thunder as we huddled in our tent. Then we heard the soft padding of the coyotes as they chased their prey. In the morning we saw their footsteps. I did my homework while my dad made photographs of winter in the Rockies, and when we woke up in the morning the snow that fell in the night had bent our tent poles from its weight. It was the greatest gift my dad has ever given me.
This text from Revelation makes me think of my little girls, Lucy and Frances, both of whom are home sick today. Say a prayer for my poor wife! My father was able to take me to the mountains, to show me the lodgepole pines and the cedars, to walk with me through the herd of elk in the great moraine. I will not be able to give these girls the same things my father gave me. In fact, one of our favorite campgrounds in Rocky Mountain National Park has already been destroyed by beetles, which no longer die out during winter. The winters are warmer now, and they survive. My wife was swimming almost before she could walk, and her greatest joy is putting on a snorkel and swimming in the reefs, watching the fish and the sea turtles. But I cannot tell them that there will be coral reefs when they are her age. I cannot tell them that the sea monsters of the psalm will still be breaching into the air, praising the Lord with their eerie song. I cannot tell them that there will be enough food so that all the world could eat. Or enough water. And because the scarcity of food and water is coming, I cannot tell them that the social stability I took for granted will also be there.
These are possibilities, likelihoods predicted by the facts. Scripture tells us of three main truths: faith, hope, love. They don’t square with the facts. The data gives us no cause for hope—we have already changed our earth, and we have yet to feel the full force of all the carbon in the atmosphere. Even if we cut all emissions tomorrow, we’re in for a wild ride. But we won’t cut emissions tomorrow. And faith—it’s a cheap faith that would tell that God is just going to take care of everything and that we should live our lives waiting for God snap his fingers. Yesterday Australia re-elected, stunning everyone, the anti-environmentalist party. Our own country, the one that needs to lead the world in giving up fossil fuels, is running towards the trough of oil, gas, and coal with its mouth wide open. I can’t find faith in this world.
That leaves us with love. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. It does that because the love of God crosses death. The facts of the world are the facts of death. There is no hope in them. There is no faith. Only love can change the facts. And God changes the facts in Jesus Christ. God’s love changes us—it changes the world. And God’s love still moves. God still loves this world, and if God loves it, I can, too. If God loves this world, I know that God will save it—I know that there is a place for me and my work in that salvation, and I know there is a place for you and that work in your salvation. I know then, that the facts can change.
Revelation describes a new heavens and a new earth—when Christ comes again, Christ will come to a diminished creation. Before us at the judgment seat will stand all the creatures we made extinct, and all the brothers and sisters who died in our rapacious search for wealth. He’ll ask, where are the sea monsters and the coral, and their song? We’ll say, “We don’t know.” As we lived, they disappeared. But Christ comes to make all things new through love—and will make us new, as well. Amen.
The Reverend John Zachary Flack