Journey Toward Hope

Fourth Sunday of Lent: Psalm 23                                     

The 23rd Psalm begins by using the beauty of creation to speak of the goodness of God. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.” This we know first: that God is good, that all God creates is good.

Without first grasping the majesty of God’s creation, one cannot begin to comprehend the magnitude of sin and its effects. For those who believe God’s creation is good, the consequences of climate change and environmental injustice are devastating. Yet, spread out over the globe its true impact can be hard for us to comprehend. This is not the case in St. Charles Parish, Louisiana.

St. Charles Parish is located along a stretch of the Mississippi River known as “Cancer Alley.” It is home to 130 petrochemical plants and 7 of the 10 US census tracts with the highest cancer rates. The pollution causing unprecedented devastation around the earth is concentrated in St. Charles, and it is killing the people who live here. To them, the effects of our environmental crisis feel neither distant nor abstract. They are the cause of the ubiquitous reality of death in which they live. This is the valley of the shadow of death that our sin has created.

Though it may begin with the glory of God and creation, any meaningful journey toward hope must proceed to a full accounting of the depth of sin and suffering in our world. It is for this reason Psalm 23 leads us from the goodness of God into the shadow of the valley of death. For if our hope cannot acknowledge the true extent of our crisis, it is no good to us. If our hope cannot face the true extent of our depravity, it cannot lead us out of it. If our hope cannot bear witness to the suffering and death of Cancer Alley, it has no chance of helping us confront climate change.

Although the magnitude of the climate crisis can be overwhelming to acknowledge, we do not face repentance alone. “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me…” Our God accompanies us through repentance of our complicity and into a new life in resistance to the powers of death. When we repent of our sin and join with siblings in St. Charles Parish fighting for their lives, the God who created the heavens and the earth goes with us. “You spread a table before me in the presence of my enemies, you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over.”

Of two things can we may be sure: (1) in Christ, God has already won the final victory and (2) God will be with us in the midst of struggle. “Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.”

The Rev. Andrew Greenhaw is the Pastor of St. Paul United Church of Christ in New Orleans.