Grounded in hope for a world where all of creation may flourish, 24 passionate young adults from Hawaii to New York and many places in between (including 15 synods!) turned to one other and resourced themselves with ELCA social teaching, storytelling and action planning to (as phrased by one participant) “see how these brilliant minds continue to make this Earth a better place.” Following is a reflection presented during worship at the close of the ELCA Fall Climate Summit held in October 2023. In it Savannah Jorgensen – who brings gifts including training in meteorology and faith-based advocacy practice – found in Isaiah 43 room to explore lament, God’s presence, and a spark for hope and action.
New Thing in Climate Justice
By guest blogger Savannah Jorgensen, Legislative Coordinator,
Lutheran Office of Public Policy – California
NOT DIMINISHING LAMENT
Isaiah 43 takes place within the context of the Israelites exile and captivity in Egypt. In the extensive exile period, people were understandably losing their faith and their way, which is pointed out near the end of the chapter in verse 22: “Yet you did not call upon me, O Jacob; but you have been weary of me, O Israel!” After enduring such hardships and strife, I can’t say that I blame them for losing their faith in some ways. The past few years have definitely tested my own faith.
Despite being here and talking with you all about faith in action, I’m not ashamed to admit that it’s still a struggle sometimes to see God moving in the world, in my life. Maybe you have felt that way too.
There are indeed many injustices in the world today: racial, gender, and in our context at the summit, environmental. Reading Isaiah 43 for the first time, I thought that the writer was telling us that God was angry at the Israelites for not turning to their faith and to God. However, after reflecting on the chapter further, I think that God is instead lamenting what they are enduring, the sins of the world, and that the injustices they’re witnessing and experiencing have caused them to lose hope and faith. We are certainly in a period of lament at this moment in history. We lament ongoing environmental injustices, pollution, the degradation of natural and cultural spaces, extreme weather, habitat decline and the continued denial of these realities by world leaders and their inaction.
Lamentation, grief and anxiety are normal emotions to be feeling right now. Let’s not diminish our emotions and our lived experiences, but rather, let’s move to the second major theme in Isaiah 43. Lament, but remember…
PROMISE OF PRESENCE
That God is with us even now, even through this, even when we forget and cannot see God. Verses 1 and 5 ask us not to fear. “Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are mine.” and “Do not be fear, for I am with you”. These verses are reminding us of who we are as God’s children. We are loved, and God walks with us in times of distress. Verse 4 emphasizes this point when it opens, “Because you are precious in my sight and honored and I love you…”
In the context of Isaiah 43, the author is telling the Israelites that God loves them and hears their prayers. God will bring their people together, and exile will end for them eventually. In our context, these verses can act as a balm for our anxieties.
Once again, we can’t dismiss the realities of climate change and the real concerns we have surrounding it. However, we can lean on each other and remind ourselves of our faith that God is in our corner and working through us to strive for justice.
Isaiah 43 also points out not to dwell on the past. This goes back to the first theme of lament and takes us to the third theme of my reflection this morning. We lament, but remember our faith and hope, so that…
SPARKED BY FAITH
We ignite a new spark and look forward to what can be! “I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth; do you not perceive it?” (v. 19). Friends, I’ve got news for you; we are all part of that new thing! The climate movement is part of that new thing. Young adult and youth advocacy is part of that new thing.
Our faith at its core is one that longs for justice, which includes the stewardship of creation and mending of historical environmental injustices done to our neighbors. I think that’s what makes faith-based organizing and advocacy so exciting and so unique. We are driven deep down by that faith that things can get better, and that this is not how the world is supposed to be.
Through our faith we can speak and lead with love, compassion and hope. As verses 8 and 9 say in Isaiah 43, “Bring forth the people who are blind yet have eyes, who are deaf yet have ears! Let all the nations gather together, and let the peoples assemble.” I view these verses as the biblical version of a call to action. They’re basically saying to organize, and later in this passage, to be witnesses, which all connect to being a part of the new “thing” that God is doing.
Bring people together. It’s going to take all of us here, across the country, and across the globe working together to help adapt to and mitigate further climate change. I’m not saying it will be easy, but neither is Isaiah 43. We have the foundation, our faith and theology; we have each other; we have the tools; we have the lived experiences; we have hope.
DOING A NEW THING
That was a lot pieced together yet reflecting on Isaiah 43 is rich.
We should acknowledge the hurt and grief tied up in climate change and environmental injustices, but we can’t get caught in the quicksand of our lamentation. Remember our faith and the calling to strive for justice in all capacities. God is with us even in this. Remember and lean into it so that we can spark change and do the new thing that God is creating.
Take the conversations you’ve had at this summit with you, along with the tools and connections to make that movement a reality. Use your fear and anger and fuel it into collective action and advocacy for justice. Cling to hope.
God, our Creator,
Thank you for the gift of creation in all its forms, from the animals and plants to the oceans and our weather. It is indeed fearfully and wonderfully made.
Thank you for the charge you have given us to be stewards together of this beautiful planet and the life on it.
Help us to see and embrace that call to be stewards of Your creation.
Give us grace as we repent for our sins against our neighbors and our planet.
Send Your Holy Spirit among us and into our hearts as we look ahead with hope and determination to strive for justice as carers of creation and organizers of action.
In Your name we pray, Amen.