On Sunday September 15th, many of our churches will observe Just Peace Sunday. The theme for 2019, “The Earth Shall Mourn,” is based on the lectionary passage in the book of Jeremiah, chapter 4 verses 11-28. In this chapter, Jeremiah writes a warning to the community using dramatic, apocalyptic imagery:
I looked on the earth, and lo, it was waste and void;
and to the heavens, and they had no light.
I looked on the mountains, and lo, they were quaking,
and all the hills moved to and fro.
I looked, and lo, there was no one at all,
and all the birds of the air had fled.
I looked, and lo, the fruitful land was a desert,
and all its cities were laid in ruins
before the Lord, before his fierce anger.
For thus says the Lord: The whole land shall be a desolation; yet I will not make a full end.
Because of this the earth shall mourn,
and the heavens above grow black;
for I have spoken, I have purposed;
I have not relented nor will I turn back.
On the surface this passage seems to warn of future devastation and ruin. But as Rev. Mike Mulberry reminds us in his reflection, this apocalyptic imagery does not simply point to the future, but rather “unmasks” truths about the present and future hidden by our current reality. Quoting Ched Myers, Mulberry highlights the “double unmasking” that helps us “see the world as it really is from the perspective of the poor and victims of violence,” and gives us “visions of the world as it really could and should be from the perspective of divine love and justice.”
Although Jeremiah’s rhetoric may seem harsh, we have prophets today who are calling to us with the same apocalyptic imagery. International panels on climate and biodiversity have for decades raised the alarm over the threat of irreversible levels of global warming. Twenty-one youth in 2015 filed a lawsuit against the United States government for its failure to address climate change and for preventing them from a future they deserve. Starting September 20, a coalition of multigenerational organizations are calling for a week of action and Climate Strike (#StrikeWithUS) to highlight the urgency of the climate crisis.
We, as a global community, are at a crossroads. Will we listen to these prophets of our time? Will we hear the warnings of experts and future generations as they prophesize a future in which “the Earth shall mourn, and the heavens above grow black…”? Will we, as Jeremiah urged, mourn and repent for our “de-creation” of God’s good Earth and envision a different way? Will we through our words and action, join those movements that are “unmasking” our current reality and together envision a more just and peaceful future?
As the first Christian denomination to declare itself to be a Just Peace Church, we are called to renew that witness by working to build “Just Peace with the Earth”, based on the biblical vision of shalom and building on the UCC’s history in the field of environmental justice and the study of environmental racism. One way to do this is to call on Congress to support a just climate policy and pass legislation that follow the principles of the Green New Deal, a policy vision embraced by the UCC’s General Synod this summer and a paradigm that inches us ever closer toward a vision of peace with the Earth.
Let us listen to the prophets among us, and to ourselves. The time is now!
The Rev. Michael Neuroth is the United Church of Christ's Policy Advocate for International Issues.