Time to Wise Up

In most dysfunctional families, various members fill different functions.  There is the identified “problem,” the drama revolves around.  A supportive cast is the enablers, the deniers, a co-addict, maybe a family clown, and if fortunate for all, a realist.  I would cope by injecting humor.  Crack a joke.  Do something funny.

In school I was the class clown.  I still remember the day at the beginning of a new semester in Algebra II asking a question. I distinctly remember it had to do with something about exponents.  We had covered all this in Algebra I.

I remember our teacher, Mr. Coulson, in astonishment asking me, “Mr. Forney, what grade did I give you last semester?”

“A C-,” I sheepishly answered.  By this time the entire class was tuned in.

“I gave you a C???”  “Yes, sir,” I answered.  “I gave you a C???” he reiterated.   (pause).

“You must have lost your head,” I stammered.  By this time the entire class was in fits of laughter.  I think I then mumbled something about doing better this year.  I didn’t.  I got a D.

Fast forward to the time of having completed my two-year stint in the Army as a conscientious objector in the medics – that I did excel at.  I was newly married and would soon be back in the civilian world.  It was time to get my act together.

When our captain gave the “re-up” speech, I positively knew I didn’t want to do that.  As my Christian journey had deepened over those past two years, I felt drawn to think about seminary.

It was time to wise up.  I had to get serious about my studies.  I had a family to support.

However, being an academic screw-up, I had a terrible GPA to clean up.  Do you have any idea how much work it takes to fix a 1.8 GPA?  Having new responsibilities, I definitely needed to wise up.  I was now in prime time.

King Solomon, having kingship thrust upon him with the death of his father David, realizes he is way too inexperienced for these newly acquired responsibilities.  He also needs to wise up.

As the legend goes, the Almighty appears to him soon after his accession to the Davidic throne. 

“At Gibeon the Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream by night; and God said, ‘Ask what I should give you.’…O Lord my God, you have made your servant king in place of my father David, although I am only a little child; I do not know how to go out or come in…Give your servant therefore an understanding to discern what is right.”

And, of course, we all know the story:  Solomon was accounted the wisest of all Israel’s kings.  His wisdom is legendary.  You remember the story of offering to cut an infant in two to reveal the true mother?  The one who in terror cried out, “No, give the child to her.”

And the discernment I was given was the summons to burn the midnight oil with my books.  Indeed, time to wake up, time to wise up.

This past week, as our planet baked under the hottest temperatures in any July, Mother Earth was giving us all an urgent message, “It’s time to wise up.” 

And we’ve been getting that very same message from our scientists, weather forecasters and the few responsible leaders we have.

Secretary General Antonio Guterres of the United Nations in an address this week warned, “Humanity is in the hotseat.”

According to the data released today, July has already seen the hottest three-week period ever recorded; the three hottest days on record; and the highest-ever ocean temperatures for this time of year.

The consequences are clear and they are tragic: children swept away by monsoon rains; families running from the flames; workers collapsing in scorching heat.

For the entire planet, it is a disaster.

And for scientists, it is unequivocal – humans are to blame.

And this is entirely consistent with predictions and repeated warnings.

The only surprise is the speed of the change.

Climate change is here.  It is terrifying. And it is just the beginning.

The era of global warming has ended; the era of global boiling has arrived.

The air is unbreathable.  The heat is unbearable.  And the level of fossil fuel profits and climate inaction is unacceptable.[1]

The warning was clear and unequivocable:  TIME TO WISE UP.

The signs are there for any to read.  As Jesus asked his disciples after telling them similes concerning the Kingdom of Heaven – about a mustard seed, a pearl of great price, about a net cast over the side of a boat that brings all sorts of fish, a woman at work with yeast in a lump of flour, a treasure in a field…” Have you understood all this?”

And, the fact is, for the most part, they understood very little of it as they argued amongst themselves as to who is the greatest, and who would get to sit as his right hand in paradise. 

And we, like they, seem to understand very little of what Mother Earth and the Secretary-General and all his scientists are telling us.

But it’s all as clear as the truth about those mustard seeds, as promising as the joy of a farmer who’s discovered a hidden treasure in his field.  The planet’s at the boiling point.

Now, a whole bunch of people have become so jaded, so cynical … maybe they’ve listened to too much Fox or Newsmax, like those disciples, in fact they understand none of this.  To our peril.

The warnings given ARE that Pearl of Great Price.  They are that Hidden Treasure.  Every bit as precious and trustworthy as the warnings about my lack of diligence from my Latin teacher (among others).

Will we be as those weeds on the Last Day, thrown into the Eternal Fire?  Most likely, the fire that gets us will be an inextinguishable one which whips across the plains, fed with hurricane-force winds as the firestorm creates its own weather – a “firenado.”

Prayers for discernment and wisdom might be a start.  But only a start.  If you do pray, yes, ask for wisdom and understanding.  Then pray for the courage to take a hard look at the signs around you – what is happening.  Ask for the courage to heed those honest leaders telling us what we need to know, NOT what we want to hear.

It’s time to wake up.  It’s time to wise up.

In addition to the cast of characters surrounding the “problem” person, if he/she is fortunate, there will be a realist or two ready to conduct an intervention.  To sit the “problem” down and tell them the facts of life about their life.

God has given the wisdom to discern what is really going on and the mature spirituality to act on it.  As Jesus would often conclude a teaching, “Those who have ears to hear, let them listen.” 

Winston Churchill is reputed to have said, “Americans always do the right thing.  After they have tried everything else.”  It’s time for all of us to wise up and do the right thing.

And there are some hopeful signs.  No, we can’t in any of our lifetimes undo the damage to Mother Earth and one another.  But we can ease the pain and make sure the effects are shared with more justice.

Pick up a current book on the problem.  One I’ve been reading lately that I highly recommend is The Heat Will Kill You First by Jeff Goodell.  Pick it up.  Listen to it on Audible.  The warning of this author is God’s Grace.  Pray God for the wisdom to “read, mark, and inwardly digest” this warning.  It is a planetary wake-up call.

“The human race – which built the pyramids and the iPhone, wrote epic love poems and invented rock ‘n’ roll, worshipped ancient gods and now deifies Hollywood stars – will exist in a world beyond the world it grew up in, beyond the place where our hearts were shaped and our genes were forged…”[2]

Heat will be the engine of this transformation.  The heat that propels us out of our Goldilocks Zone

As Imam Saddiq told us on global warming at one Friday evening prayer service I had attended, “Don’t blame Allah.  Allah didn’t do this.  We DID this.”

Signs of hope – Ancient Wisdom still speaks.  An intervention?  Let’s hope so, let’s pray so.  And let’s heed it.  Time to wise up!

Signs of hope – Even with our ruinous politics, even in the chaotic House of Representatives, realists of both parties are again reconstituting the Climate Caucus.  Some asleep, no-account politicians are waking up, wising up.  Time to take the car keys away from this inebriated driver who’s steering the climate car over the cliff.

And you, dear reader, most likely have gotten the message:  Change the light bulbs, buy less, pick up your trash.  But that’s only a small beginning.

The other day, another beacon of God’s Grace flashed before my mind – Bill Nye, the Science Guy.

On the “Joy Reid Show,” he was telling the audience that all the small efforts at mitigation will, in the end amount to little or nothing if we don’t change the politics.

“Do not vote for anyone who is a climate skeptic or enables them.”  Do not vote for anyone who does not put climate change at the very top of their agenda.” 

Solomonic Wisdom from On High and from Deep Within.  Make this discussion your priority.  Vote climate!  Often and always.

At the close of her Harry Potter book, Chamber of Secrets, the head master of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Albus Dumbledore, consoles a defeated Harry Potter.[3]

“It is our choices that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”

King David knew this truism, that he alone was responsible for his actions.  Solomon prayed for the wisdom to exercise this charge wisely.

And now, it’s up to all of us and the choices we make.  Pray God, we’re given the wisdom to do the “right thing.”  Pray God, we’re given the spiritual gumption to Wise Up.  This living, breathing planet is a Pearl of Great Price.  Amen.

[1] Antonio Guterres, “Secretary-General’s opening remarks at press conference on climate,” UN Headquarters, July 27, 2023.

[2] Jeff Goodell, The Heat Will Kill You First: Life and Death on a Scorched Planet (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2023), 309.

[3] J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets.  Scholastic Books, (Cincinnati, OH: Scholastic Books, 1999), chapter 18.

St. Francis Episcopal Mission Outreach
2855 Sterling Avenue, San Bernardino, CA 92404

July 30, 2023 – 9Pentecost, Proper 12

“Time to Wise Up”
The Rev. Dr. John C. Forney

I Kings 3:5-12; Psalm 119:129-136

Romans 8:26-39; Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52

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