9-11-16 Plant & Animal Sunday

Psalm 104: 14-23 You make fresh grass grow for cattle and plants for us to cultivate to get food for the soil— wine to cheer our hearts, oil to make our faces shine, and bread to sustain our life.

The trees of YHWH drink their fill—those cedars of Lebanon, where birds build their nests and, on the highest branches, the stork makes its home. For the wild goats there are the high mountains, and in the crags the rock badgers hide. You made the moon to tell the seasons, and the sun knows when to set: you bring darkness on, night falls, and all the forest animals come out— savage lions roaring for their prey, claiming their food from God. The sun rises, they retire, going back to lie down in their lairs, and people go out to work, to labor again until evening.

In case you were not here last week, I have to mention that while we were singing we took a walk together in the mud and muck of low tide. I tried to help folks imagine the feeling of the mud between toes and feeling of life beneath my feet as I walked with muck up to my ankles on the Maine coast. We challenged ourselves in this season to not just pray for God’s creation, but with it – to experience the amazing creativity and life within God’s earth. So we continue today in our reading from the beautiful Psalm, and this second reading from the Gospel where Jesus extols the beauty of the lilies of the field, the grasses and flowers. Listen for the word of God for you this day.

Luke 12:22-31 Then he said to the disciples, “That’s why I tell you, don’t worry about your life and what you are to eat.  Don’t worry about your body and what you are to wear. For life is more than food, and the body is more than clothing. Take a lesson from the ravens.  They don’t sow or reap.  They have neither a food cellar nor a barn, yet God feeds them.  And how much more valuable are you than birds? Can any of you, for all your worrying, add a single hour to your life? If even the smallest things are beyond your control, why worry about all the rest? Notice how the flowers grow.  They neither labor nor weave, yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was robed like one of these! If that is how God clothes the grass in the field – which is here today  and thrown into the fire tomorrow—how much more will God look after you!  You have so little faith! As for you, don’t set your hearts on what you’ll eat or what you’ll drink.  Stop worrying!

All the nations of the world seek these things, yet your Abba God well knows what you need.

Set your sights on the kingdom of God, and all these other things will be given to you as well.

Sept. 11, 2016

Season of Creation: Flora and Fauna Sunday

In Biology class in high school, I worked together with my friend Dale on an assignment. The assignment involved collecting leaves from trees and labeling them. It seemed a little like cheating, but there wasn’t any rule against it, so we went over to the local arboretum and started collecting leaves off of each tree and writing down the names.

The trees were growing in sections according to type. we started in a section where they had all the types of tricolor beech trees. There are a lot of different type of tricolor beech tress. There’s European tricolor beech, common tricolor beech, and I don’t know how many others. I just remember that we had a few oak leaves in our book, some maples, a bunch of other trees and a whole lot of types of tricolor beech trees.

I also remember the teacher handing back the project. I was learning how to type at the time and I was pretty proud of the progress I was making. The teacher said in front of the class that we received an A on the paper and asked, “And who typed this paper?” I proudly raised my hand and he said, “Did you type it with mittens on?”

My typing skills aside, I began to understand from that project the awesome abundance & diversity of God’s creation – even just in the types of tree, or within one type of tree.

I had a kind of spiritual experience of awe that summer at a camp run by my church. Along with some other friends and church members, I felt a deep sense of God’s presence, God’s community, and God’s joy. I remember walking along with a couple of those friends and picking up a leaf, showing it to them and saying, “See this leaf? God made it!” I laughed and threw it over my shoulder. It was funny because it was so obvious and so profound at the same time.

I had a sense of deep awe at God’s creation and at the same time a nonchalant attitude that this was such a most basic truism as to be almost too obvious to mention. But it is worth mentioning – and spending most of our service today noticing. We take God’s creation for granted so much of time.

How often do we notice how many different kinds of trees – let alone tricolor beech trees – there are around us? How often do we notice – unless our name is Vivino – the grasses, flowers, plants, greens, and growth all around us? Giving God thanks and praise for the vegetables and fruits, the beauty and the smells and the tastes all around us. It’s really quite awesome.

That’s what the Psalm that Adrienne read for us this morning is about. A continuation of Psalm 124 that we started to read last week, it is a poem of delight in God’s creation, and the interconnectedness of that creation. One commentary I read about it said that orthodox Jews recite a part of this Psalm every day in their prayers of praise.

The psalmist sings out in praise of God for the great diversity and variety in creation and yet maintains a sense of how all of creation is one whole, interdependent and related. Where we are either indifferent or sometimes frightened of the natural world, the psalmist insists that world is not basically mundane or hostile. Creation is simply awesome & abundant in its sustaining of life and its creative energy.

Jesus in our reading from Luke has a similar respect for God’s creation in his poetic consideration of the lilies and the birds of the field – their beauty and the simple lessons they have to teach us with their uncomplicated, God-connected lives.

On this day when we remember the 15th anniversary of Sept. 11, one of the most disturbing, violent and tragic days any of us have witnessed in our lifetimes, I think we can actually find healing and strength from simply putting ourselves back into God’s created world – Just like when we notice in the heat of this week the amazing capacity of forests and wooded areas to provide a cool respite even on the hottest day.

We can notice and celebrate the beauty of the gardens and plants all around us – in our sanctuary, thanks in part to Lisa’s plant-tending, in our driveway gardens thanks to the hours and hours of weekly that Fred and Virginia put into those spaces, and our vegetable and flower garden that Carolyn has planted and tended to teach our children about sustainable living the care of creation.

This summer’s day camp was a gift to a small group of children, especially when we visited the largest urban farm in Philadelphia, which happens to be at the Methodist Home for Children, and a farm in Radnor, near here where the children delighted in picking cherry tomatoes.

Father Jack Denny, the priest of Our Mother of Good Counsel next door, was a gardener and a delightful person. At his funeral this summer, a fellow priest joked about the land in front of the parsonage that Jack called his meadow. The priest couldn’t understand leaving this ground to grow without cutting and grooming, but some in the church must understand because I notice the ground continues to be an uncut meadow.

This summer is the 100th anniversary of our national park system. Cathy and I enjoyed visiting Acadia in Maine as our personal part in recognizing that anniversary. It was gorgeous. The United States began a world wide movement by setting aside so much land for conservation and natural beauty. This year more land was added in Maine and Hawaii. National Geographic reports though that the real growth in conserved land is in other countries around the world. 13 million square acres have now been set aside. That’s more land than the whole continent of Africa. And now countries are starting to set aside areas in the oceans as well.

Finally today, I would just like to acknowledge the Native American Indian tribes who have gathered in Standing Rock Sioux country in North Dakota. Over 180 tribes have gathered there to try to protect the water and the land that is sacred to Sioux of that area. This is the largest gathering of indigenous people in the United States in 100 years.

Tom White Wolf Fassett spoke to our Eastern PA Annual Conference in June as part of a service of reconciliation with American Indians. He called our attention to how we set aside sacred places all around the world and visit them. Then he pointed out that every single sacred site of American indigenous people is contested and under siege by miners, drillers, or developers.

Church to me is a natural place to celebrate the bounty and goodness of God’s creation. It is also the perfect place for us to confess how we have taken that creation for granted, used and abused the land through our neglect and our careless living. We are indeed addicted to those careless lives and it is only in covenanting with each other to change the way we live that we will ever be able get back to living with any kind of harmony with God’s creation.

Jesus calls us to that kind of simple living when he invites us to notice the beauty of God’s world and to live without worry like the smallest flowers in the field or the birds in the trees. God is faithful to us and continues to be faithful despite our disregard of these most basic lessons and expectations of us as human creatures, called to live in harmony with the beauty, diversity and variety of the creation.

A storm is coming if we don’t find a way to follow the call of the Living God. We will talk about the storms next week as a blessing and a warning. For today we sing a song of praise and thanksgiving for the gift of every tricolor beech, every sweet mimosa tree, every dandelion, and every cherry tomato plant. This is God’s good news.

Responsive Hymn   140     Great Is Thy Faithfulness