COP27 in Egypt… through the Red Sea?

If you are not yet familiar with the work of Climate Intercessors, we encourage you to check them out. They are “a global network of people whose prayers are as real and urgent as the climate crisis,” and they hold online prayer events on the 2nd Tuesday of every month, conveniently timed for different time zones around the world. Being convinced that for all of our activism, few of us pray as much as we should, this is an initiative we whole heartedly recommend.

In addition to the monthly prayer event, their monthly prayer reminder is a gem. Here’s a portion of the latest from Lowell Bliss:

Over a decade ago, I had a strange, but encouraging encounter with Scripture at the first faith-based conference on climate change that I had ever intended.  On the Thursday of the conference, during a coffee break, I was chatting with Allen Johnson, director of Christians for the Mountains, an organization engaged in the struggle to stop mountain top removal coal mining in Appalachia.  Allen was talking about the lack of alternative jobs for coal mining families in West Virginia, and then he said this—and it cut me to the quick— “So they have no other choice but to keep making bricks for Pharaoh.”  Allen was comparing his beloved Appalachians with the Israelites still in bondage in Egypt.  So much of the world—including our economies and many of our politicians—seem enslaved to the fossil fuel industry.

I woke up on Friday morning aware that our agenda for the conference that day was “Creating a Pathway for Mobilizing Christians for Climate Action.”   It was 2013, and in the U.S., we felt stymied.  I also woke up with Allen’s statement bouncing between my head and my heart.  As well, I woke up to my regular routine at the time—which was to grab my Bible (using the New Living Translation at the time) and do some reading which would include a randomly chosen psalm.  That day—randomly—I landed on Psalm 77.  The words Red SeaMoses and Aaron jumped out at me.  So did that word “pathway”—the very thing we were looking for that day as a conference.  

When the Red Sea saw you, O God,
    its waters looked and trembled!
    The sea quaked to its very depths.
The clouds poured down rain;
    the thunder rumbled in the sky.
    Your arrows of lightning flashed.
Your thunder roared from the whirlwind;
    the lightning lit up the world!
    The earth trembled and shook.
Your road led through the sea,
    your pathway through the mighty waters—
    a pathway no one knew was there!
You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep,
    with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds
 (Ps 77:16-20, NLT)

Here are four quick thoughts on this passage:

1. The possessive pronoun for the pathway out of slavery, the pathway that delivers from violence, the pathway through trouble waters, refers to God.  It is “your” road, O God, which led Israel through the Red Sea.

2. And who is our God?  Our God is so mighty that when the Red Sea saw him, it trembled and quaked to its very depths.

3. And yet, God’s pathway is described as “a pathway no one knew was there!”  Whereas on that Friday morning, we climate activists may have used that phrase as lament and frustration, the psalmist here uses it for worship.  God sees and knows what is obscure to humankind.  He is never baffled.

4. But where do human leaders fit in?  The final verse begins with the pronoun “You.”  The psalmist is still speaking to God so this second-person pronoun refers to him and to his leadership–“You led your people along that road…” –but the sentence doesn’t end without mentioning Moses and Aaron and without conflating their labours with God’s: “You led your people along that road like a flock of sheep, with Moses and Aaron as their shepherds.”   We co-shepherd.  We co-led.  This surely means that we never give up in searching out pathways, however obscure they might be to us.