Biblical and modern prophets


Scripture: John 10: 11-18; Earth Day Nigel Bunce

Both Biblical and modern prophets warn of impending disasters unless society changes its ways.  Today, we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday as well as Earth Day.  Scientific prophets warn of climate disaster unless society takes action soon.  Are we ready to listen?

John’s picture of the Scriptural shepherd

Today’s Gospel reading reminds me of just how different life was in Jesus’ time compared with ours today. Many, perhaps most, city dwellers have never seen a sheep ‘in the flesh’. And certainly, his comparison between the good shepherd and the hired hand would be beyond their comprehension.

Jesus lived and spoke mostly among rural folk. In those days, shepherds lived with their flocks. They led them physically to the “pastures green and quiet waters” of our opening hymn. It was a lonely and dangerous life. There were wild animals on the prowl, especially at night.

The shepherd fenced the sheep in, and laid down to sleep across the entrance. He was literally the gate between the sheep and the predators. The shepherd risked attack by the wild animals. He might have literally to lay down his life for the sheep. Clearly, shepherds who owned the sheep would have much more of an interest than a hired man in protecting them.

In some parts of the world, Jesus’ words would still resonate. But in Southern Ontario, few people keep sheep. And none of those who do live with them out on hillsides in mortal danger. So I doubt that Jesus would talk to us about shepherds if he were here today.

The roles of Biblical and modern prophets

In his own day, people often called Jesus a prophet. Biblical prophets warned society about disasters on the horizon. For first century Jews, the issue was that God must surely come to set society’s wrongs to right. That’s why, in our Fall Gospel readings each year, Jesus talks about the end of the age.

Right now, we face our own possible end of the age. On this Earth Day, my mind is on climate change. Scientific modelling predicts a truly apocalyptic outcome for our planet if we do not control our emissions of greenhouse gases. And time is very short.

Much of the world could become too hot to be habitable. And not in a far-off future, but in the life-times of people alive today. Our children and grandchildren. Climate scientists are today’s prophets. They predict a coming disaster.  Will we listen?

Biblical and modern prophets differ only in that modern ones don’t open their scientific papers with the words, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord …” But Biblical and modern prophets offer the same message. Either change your behaviour, or there will be disaster.

Are we ready to listen?

We’ve all heard this message so often that we are tempted to tune it out. What can I possibly do, as an individual? Very clearly, it’s more than not driving your car to the store when you could have walked. Or not wasting electricity by leaving lights on unnecessarily.

However, avoiding those “minor sins” is worthwhile. Because, they keep us aware of the issues. I have said before, in connection with social programs, that real change will require us to make deep cuts to our lifestyles. These include large increases in the price of energy. And that’s why I don’t agree with this new idea of a loyalty rewards program to give me more “points” the more energy I buy!!

Michelle and I have had several discussions about this. All our relatives live far away. In Montreal, Chicago, England, and Chile. What is the environmental cost of visiting them? The pandemic forces us to use WhatsApp and Duo instead of visiting them in person. Must we continue this way afterwards?

The wonders of God’s Creation

To change tack for a moment. This morning, Bonnie read to us part of Psalm 148. 2500 years ago, the psalmist celebrated the wonders of Creation. God made them, he said, and we should revere them.


Scientific prophets and the geological record

However, our “green and pleasant” planet has not always been so. Twenty thousand years ago, the world was 6°C colder because our CO2 blanket was thinner. Ice covered most of North America. Sea level was 400 feet lower. Land joined Australia with New Guinea, and Indonesia was part of Asia.

Conversely, the geological record shows that Planet Earth has been ice-free for much of its history. The last time that CO2 levels were as high as they are now (400 ppmv), temperatures were 3-4°C higher than today. That’s possible by 2100 if we don’t curb greenhouse gas emissions. Large parts of our “island home” would be too hot for agriculture and probably unlivable. And that says nothing about the fate of the other species that share our planet.

When CO2 was last at 400 ppmv, sea level was 80 feet higher than today. Where now, coastal cities like Vancouver, Halifax, London, New York, Miami, Mumbai?  Atlantis?

But there is hope

Earlier this month, Michelle and I watched a documentary on PBS, entitled Climate change; the Facts, presented by David Attenborough. He cited examples of environmental changes that have occurred during his long career as a naturalist. Many of the vignettes made for gloomy watching. 

But I took heart from how the show ended. At the age of 94, Attenborough not only retains his energy and passion for his subject. He remains an optimist. He believes that although time is short, we can still to turn things around. It just requires the will to do so.

Are we ready to change our ways?

Today, I’m speaking as a Christian, not as a chemist. I’ve said many times that we pray regularly for the environment and for God’s Creation. We ask that the lakes and seas, forests and animals that we enjoy will still be there for our grandchildren and their grandchildren. Do we mean it, or are they idle words?

So, it’s no good arguing that there’s no point in we Canadians doing anything because the Chinese (or whoever) won’t. That guarantees inaction. You probably recall the hymn, Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me. To paraphrase: “Let there be environmental care, and let it begin with me.”

Come election time, whenever that may be. Are we prepared to vote for political parties that intend to preserve God’s Creation, even to our own cost and inconvenience? Like David Attenborough, I want to be optimistic. But I realize that it’s a truly tough choice to make.

So, I say ,” wake up!” Or, as Matthew’s Gospel puts it, will we wake with the wise virgins or will we sleep with the foolish virgins? It’s our choice. Amen.