Season of Creation ~ sort of, because it can’t only be a season

Every now and then I find things that are so appalling about our culture and what we take for granted (which is perhaps the biggest problem), that I feel I need to share them. The intention is not to make any of you feel bad – it is for all of us to feel bad! Bad enough to DO SOMETHING. Since I don’t know what that thing is, I will post environmental justice articles here and hope continued exposure creates change. Maybe one of you will be inspired with SOMETHING we can do! I hope you watch the videos and read the articles and also feel appalled. : ) Sharing is caring! Pr Linda

The first topic is CLOTHING WASTE.

~ this is a still taken from the article in the link below. These cows are “grazing” on a hillside made of discarded Western clothing in Ghana… it stretches as far as you can see on the left.

Kind of random topic, except I’ve been reading about it for years, trying to know what best to do with our worn out, unwearable clothing. When it’s not good for anything but rags (and I’ve got plenty of rags), what then? I send our ripped blue jeans and denim to become insulation, take whatever is still ‘decent’ to thrift stores, and try to find fiber/fabric recycling collection places for the things I can’t think of a use for. I spend quite a bit of time fussing about this. We aren’t clothing consumers. I have (and wear) garments, shoes, favorite outfits older than my adult children. (did I just admit that?) I have a winter jacket I got as a sophomore in high school in 1974 – pale blue with a white fake fur edge on the hood. The dang thing is still just fine! It’s a bit stained, so I wear it to throw in wood or shovel the driveway or tromp around in the woods. I have a pair of soft leather snow boots from the same year whose soles have gotten too hard and slick to be safe, so I’m in the process of taking the boot off – and considering my options. Mike’s favorite sport coat is a classic Carmel-colored corduroy with suede patch elbows and fake leather buttons. He came to our marriage with it. I’m glad to see corduroy is coming back. It’s still good.

So, anyway, that’s the kind of clothing people we are.

And then I picture the inside of department stores stuffed full of clothing that hasn’t sold before the season changes. Multiply that image by …… (I have no idea how many clothing stores there are even in the Twin Cities). What happens to all of those clothes? What percentage is stored until its season returns? (None?) Where does it go? Some goes to GoodWill and discount stores like that. But the rest? And why are fabrics for women’s clothing so flimsy that they only last one or two summers, or made of that special cotton blend that is soft and silky when you buy it, and is completely filled with unfashionable little balls after you wash you once? How can ‘nice’ long sleeve T shirts sell for $6? The answer is obvious. We’re supposed to buy more!

But what happens to our flimsy T shirts whose lycra has failed or the garments that were just bad ideas from the beginning? Here is one solution our fast fashion industry uses.

https://www.abc.net.au/news/2021-08-12/fast-fashion-turning-parts-ghana-into-toxic-landfill/100358702

Worship ~ 3 October

Genesis 1:9 And God said, ‘Let the waters under the sky be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.’ And it was so. 10God called the dry land Earth, and the waters that were gathered together he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. 11Then God said, ‘Let the earth put forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it.’ And it was so. And God saw that it was good. 13And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

I have made a point over the years of introducing you to a wide and varied assortment of images for God. I believe that when we are presented with something that doesn’t fit our pre-conceived categories or stock images, we’re forced to consider that dissonance, to pause our rote religious expectations — and think! And that is always my preaching goal. I don’t want to be the only one thinking about this stuff!  I want to coax you away from static, standard, simple images and conventions and assumptions. 

I’d like you to find a connection to God everywhere you look: a gardener planting Eden, a potter forming little creatures from dust and ashes and water; God as clothing swaddling you, or a cloak warming you; God as purifying fire, as warrior, as king; God as shepherd, or lamb; God as woman sweeping her house or kneading bread, God as mother hen, God as eagle; God as dazzling bright cosmic light; God as Water. I preached a what if sermon about God being water a year ago.

What if water is the image of God in which we are created? 60% of our bodies are water! I’ve kind of kept this idea floating around since that sermon. I like it a lot. If God is water, then every living thing is sacred because every living thing contains water. It means the very fact of our continued existence requires God. Humans can live for up to 40 days without food, but each cell in our body requires water to function. Water lubricates joints, regulates body temperature, and helps to flush waste. We can live only 3 to 7 days without water. “My soul thirsts for God, for the living God,” says psalm 42.

In the beginning was Water, and the Water was with God, and the Water was God. 2Water was in the beginning with God. 3All things came into being through it, and without it not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4in water was life.          ~a retelling of the prologue to John

The watery chaos of complex cells and gregarious genomes that the wind of God’s Spirit nursed into life in the beginning; rain and snow coming down from heaven, watering the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, accomplishing the divine purpose, succeeding in the thing for which it is sent; water pouring on the thirsty land, streams on dry ground; a new thing springing forth, a way in the wilderness, rivers in the desert, springs gushing forth in the valleys; still waters in green pastures, living waters of the womb; ever-flowing streams rolling down justice and righteousness in a parched and weary world; water flowing from the pierced side of Jesus;   a river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb. Come, to springs of living water. 

God is water because all things – seen and unseen, known and unknown – are in God and, as water, God is in all things. It stands to reason, right? All things react to water, are acted upon by water, and new things spring forth: microbes and long dormant seeds come to life when water soaks into dry soil — like hope in despair. Water powers the climate in an eternal cycle, and will as long and heaven and earth endure. 

Is water God?  I don’t know.  Have we anthropomorphized God, imagining the Most High in human form? Well, of course we have. 

I think a case could be made for this bit of whimsy – especially after the reading I’ve been doing about soil. I had decided to begin the Season of Creation with humans and work backwards through the days of creation because I wanted to end with the highpoint of creation: earth’s story of death and resurrection. Dirt. Well, soil, actually.  History is always interpreted through the perspective of the one telling it. So humans would naturally think that Day Six is the pinnacle of creation. It’s the day of mammals and mankind: the day we are given stewardship of the fish of the sea and the birds of the air and of every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ 

But none of that would be possible without Day Three, when the waters were gathered and the dry land appeared and when God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation.”

The way earth puts forth vegetation is through fungi. Fungi is the Kingdom that bridges the plant and animal kingdoms. Mushrooms aren’t plants. They are the matrix of life. Fungi were the first, and will likely be the last, living organism on earth. Mushrooms are the fruit of fungi, and as the image on the bulletin cover shows, the life of mycelium lies beneath, throughout every bit of soil, connecting, feeding and communicating with ‘every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit’. Mycelium are the tiny, threadlike networks of fungal cells that cluster and connect. It is the mycelium who bring nutrients and water to plant roots. The mycelium who break down dead and dying material and make it available for new life to grow from the minerals and chemicals. Mycelium work very much like the nerves and synapses in our brains. They communicate through carbon. They are literally everywhere on earth, billions of threads beneath each step we take – we breathe in spores with every breath, without fungi and bacteria in our bodies we would not be able to break down and digest food. Water, minerals and chemical nutrients are necessary for plant life, but without mycelium, plants would not be able to access their food. 

So, I’m working on a trinity! If God is water, Christ is fungi! Christ is the one who brings us to God, who makes God known. That’s the role of fungi – the mycelium bring water to plants, to make it available to the roots to take up into the tree and give it life.

Okay, I’m going a little far. But there is so much beneath our feet that is life; that creates or allows life processes to occur; that break down all organic material – even oil slicks and diesel spills – to get it out of the way so that new life can thrive. And in that process of death, it feeds and supports the new life, makes it possible. This is divine mystery, divine mastery at work. Sacred soil. 

I think it makes a good image for God – the earth of all the living, ground into the knees of our clothing, stuck to our boot treads, smudged on faces. If God is soil, we are laid to rest in God, enveloped, regenerated, reborn a new body. “O Death where then is your victory, where then is your sting?” I like that dust to dust.

If soil is sacred, if water is sacred, if creation and creatures, made in the image of God, are beloved from the ground up, we’ve got some explaining to do, repenting to do. Major changes to make.

The value of playing with images of God in ordinary, everyday, earthly things is to take these things really seriously, to look at each sustaining, interconnected part with wonder, to ask what if…. What if this is God, what if God is truly present here? The goal of imagining God in earthly form is to ask that of everything and everyone we see. If the ground beneath our feet bears such extraordinary complexity, carries out unfathomed activities like being the communication medium for trees, invisibly houses a kingdom responsible for all life on this planet… how can God not be present there? 

Give thanks for the ground of your being, open your eyes to the wonder, and tread softly as you go.

Worship – 19 September

Audio Recording

Genesis 1:20 And God said, ‘Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures, and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.’ 21So God created the great sea monsters and every living creature that moves, of every kind, with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind. And God saw that it was good. 22God blessed them, saying, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas, and let birds multiply on the earth.’ 23And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

I read this story on BBC this week. I couldn’t really work it into the sermon, so I’m just offering it as a bit of fun.

A British wildlife park has had to remove five African Grey parrots from public view because of their foul language. Lincolnshire Wildlife Park adopted the parrots about six weeks ago and put them in quarantine together. Steve Nichols, the park’s CEO, said potty-mouthed parrots aren’t uncommon in his line of work.

“For the last 25 years, we have taken in parrots that have sometimes had a bit of blue language. Every now and then you’ll get one that swears and it’s always funny when they swear at you. But, just by coincidence, we took in five in the same week – and because they were all quarantined together it meant that one room was just full of swearing birds. “The more they swear the more you usually laugh, which then triggers them to swear again – and imitate the sound of laughter.”Nichols said the cursing birds sounded “like an old working mens’ club all just swearing and laughing.” He said he decided it would be best to move the cursing birds out of view before visiting kids heard them. The birds have each been moved to different groups, with the plan to put them in separate areas of the park, “so at least if they do swear it is not as bad as three or four of them all blasting it out at once.”

He said he also hopes the cursing parrots learn nicer words from their new enclosure mates ― because he dreads the alternative. “If they teach the others bad language and I end up with 250 swearing birds, I  don’t know what we’ll do.”

From God’s perspective, I think Day Five must have been a blast! Creation began by organizing energy and mass and matter, then light and darkness – all very cool cosmic stuff, to be sure! And then on day three the water above was separated from the water below – an atmosphere was created – and waters gathered together as dry land appeared – and then soil and water and sunshine brought forth vegetation … day three was a loonnngggg day! Day four seems a bit out of order. Sun and moon and the stars in their courses. But maybe not. God tilted the earth a bit and gave it a spin, and twirled the moon, and behold! – day and night, seasons and hemispheres, jet streams and tides that really got things humming. 

And then, Day Five! “Let the waters bring forth…” The waters of the deep, the waters of ponds and streams and bogs, became co-creators with the divine word bringing forth swarms of living creatures – the gelatinous goo of frog and fish eggs, starfish and snails and eels and leeches, schools of fish, and the great sea monster Leviathan, just for the sport of it. 

Though the text doesn’t say, I put whales and seals and dolphins in day five – because of the joyful commotion of their praise! Great whales blowing and breeching and whomping down their flukes. Seals clapping their flippers. Dolphins laughing and leaping in and out of the wake. And penguins. I remember a penguin exhibit when I was a little girl. One after another, the little guys came flying beak-first down a stone waterslide into the water right at my 4-year-old eye level with streams of bubbles all around. The penguins popped out of the water, waddled around flapping their little wings and squawking, and bobbled back up the rocks to do it again.  How birds became creatures like penguins and ostriches is a bit of a head scratcher. But they fit with day five. There was an ostrich – the Arabian Ostrich – that was native to Palestine and Israel until its extinction in 1966. The Bible lists a lot of birds by name – hundreds of them – and animals and plants. But, for all the talk of fishing, they don’t divulge the names of the fish they caught. 

In Luke, Jesus says, 26Consider the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.”  

Back then, they would have had a lot of birds to consider. Israel lies at a bottleneck along one of the world’s most important migration flyways. Twice a year, 500 million birds funnel through Israel; most are on their way back and forth from their nesting grounds in Europe and Asia to wintering grounds in Africa. Israel is vitally important to their successful migration. It is the last food source before crossing the Sahara desert – a 5 day flight with no food or drink. On the return trip, birds land exhausted and need to eat. Without the trees, bushes and ponds that these migrating birds need — tens of thousands of birds would not be able to complete their annual migrations to Asia, Europe and Africa. The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel works to protect both the migrators and native birds by directly protecting them and their habitats.

There, as everywhere, extinctions, endangered species and habitat loss have diminished the number of native raptors and nesting birds since Jesus pointed his disciples’ eyes to watch them in flight. About 65 out of 206 species of native nesting birds in Israel are currently endangered. 

World wide, more than 150 bird species have gone extinct over the last five centuries. Without human influence  and interference, the expected rate of extinction of birds would be around one species per century.  Some reports say we are losing ten species a year. More than 1,400 bird species are threatened with extinction today. That’s 14% of all birds.

A bit later in the passage Jesus continued: “Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” I wonder if he was still considering the birds at that point.

I’ve been doing a lot of my reading on the back patio this summer. My presence there unnerves the birds who fly in for the feeders. They do a double take and U-turn and land instead in the safety of the lilac. They perch there and sing at me, or fuss, or warn their companions about the monster. Eventually, a chickadee will make a move and the others will take courage from its success. But sitting there and looking up at the treetops or into the raspberry patch or back edge of the yard, I’m aware of so many little birds that never come to the feeders. I suppose they are warblers. And when I’m really quiet, when I quiet my own mind enough to listen, I am aware of such variety of bird song. So many little flickerings among the leaves and tweets and chirps and melodies half begun, then sung back from another tree.

Considering the birds – or fish, for that matter – is a very good exercise of being present to, connecting with the animal that we are, the equality we must recognize. Trying to really use our ears to guide our eyes, observing the incredible being of that ordinary chickadee or yellow warbler in the raspberries, or feeling the flight muscles of an eagle riding air currents, angling a feather or two to catch the updraft. We will be so much poorer for the loss of another species.

‘Considering the birds” – considering anything besides ourselves, actually – is a wonderful use of our human attributes. A positive thing.  Emily Dickinson wrote, “Hope is the thing with feathers.” You’d think we’d be desperate to keep that hope alive.

I realize that I’m preaching to the choir in this. West Denmark is an environmentally aware group of people. Most of you spend time with your hands in the dirt and have a favorite parcel of woods or patch of sky or shoreline that brings you peace. You might consider ducks and pheasants and turkeys from a hunting blind, and be more invested in chickens and fish as practical food sources than interested in my flights of fancy, but you know what I’m saying. We have a deep appreciation – even love, of nature. We don’t really need a season of creation to bring the plight and joys of wild things to mind. It is a source and object of deep contentment and love and concern.

So what exactly am I hoping this sermon series will do?… I’m not sure, but it has to do with salvation. Now, this earthly repentance and redemption. It all needs protection. The water with its swarms of living things, the birds of every kind soaring in the air we need to protect, nesting in trees or shrubs or grasses of the ground we need to protect. It all seems obvious and natural in small, personal ways, and devilishly difficult in communal, political ways. How do we get anywhere? How do we do our little bit in ways that mean something? What’s the point of a sermon about nature and birds and fishy things?

To the first part, columnist David Roberts writes, “Each person views climate change from their own idiosyncratic angle — and that could be the key to making progress in fighting the problem: less like a movement and more like a federation, of groups that are climate-aligned.

“Climate is everything”, he continues, “which means everyone touches only a tiny piece of it. Let people care about their birds or their pipelines or their mountains or their tech startups or their research clusters or their permaculture farms. Everybody needs a Climate Thing, a close-by proxy through which they can express their climate concern in a way that has local effects and tangible rewards. It is these proxies, these rich anchors in our lived experience of nature and culture, that inspire us. The important thing is that we’re all moving our pieces in the right direction.”

Churches like this, where members practice gratitude for creation are retrieving things we lost along the way. We’re learning our place in the natural world. There isn’t another world like this within reach of human travel. The moon, Mars, everywhere else we could possibly escape to, wouldn’t measure up. We can’t use up the earth and discard it.

When we thank God for this world, our home, and all its creatures, we let go of our self-preoccupation and discontent; we set aside greed; we focus less on what we want and more on all that freely comes to us every day. We tell our own story in a different way. And the things we become consciously grateful for, we cherish more dearly, we value more conscientiously, and we protect more fiercely.

This home of ours is not indestructible, but under favorable conditions it is resilient. In the daily actions that gratitude inspires we find our resilience, our hope with feathers, as well.

Worship 12 September

Audio Recording

In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, 2the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters. 3Then God said, ‘Let there be light’; and there was light. 4And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from the darkness. 5God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.”

And day followed night, bringing forth new forms of life day by day.

24 [On the sixth day] God said, ‘Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.’ And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.  Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness…’ And with the specification of humans as animals, day six comes to a close.

God continues musing,“30 to every beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.’ And 31God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good. And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

Since I’m preaching the order of creation backwards, last week was humankind – God’s after lunch creation of day six – accompanied by my confessed unhappiness about being a human, and that the image of God in us seems to have tarnished. I am not alone in this. Just a few chapters later, in Genesis 6:5, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually. And the Lord was sorry that he had made humankind on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart. So the Lord said, ‘I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—for I am sorry that I have made them.’ That was last week.

This is animal week and I’m quite a bit happier about it. 

I admit that I have a ‘child of the forest’ relationship to animals, which allows a lot of whimsy and explains why I name and talk to the chipmunks in my back garden and feel that we have a relationship of mutual support. They eat from my hand and let me stroke their soft stripes. I grew up in the woods, not on a farm. Food came from the Save More grocery store, the best Christmas pears from Harry & David sent by my aunt and uncle, and summer vegetables from Altenburg’s farm wagon that came up from central Wisconsin twice a week.  There were no hunters or fishermen in my family. The forest animals I watched and talked to were all alive. And that’s the way I like it.

God likes them to be alive, too.  The Mulligan attempt of re-creation with the flood wasn’t for the sake of humans. I think it is our hubris to assume so. Noah was the best helper God found. Noah was the animal with opposable thumbs that could use hand tools. And, clearly, humans needed to be reminded that they shared day six with cows and chipmunks and hedgehogs and creeping things of every kind. God told Noah, (Genesis 618 )“I will establish my covenant with you; and you shall come into the ark, you, your sons, your wife, and your sons’ wives with you. And of every living thing, of all flesh, you shall bring two of every kind into the ark, to keep them alive with you; they shall be male and female. Of the birds according to their kinds, and of the animals according to their kinds, of every creeping thing of the ground according to its kind, two of every kind shall come in to you, to keep them alive. Also take with you every kind of food that is eaten, and store it up; and it shall serve as food for you and for them.’ Noah did this; he did all that God commanded him…. And God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and all the domestic animals that were with him in the ark.” 

Eventually, as we know, the flood subsided and dry land appeared.

8:15Then God said to Noah, ‘Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons’ wives. Bring out with you every living thing that is with you of all flesh—birds and animals and every creeping thing that creeps on the earth—so that they may abound on the earth, and be fruitful and multiply on the earth.’ And every animal, every creeping thing, and every bird, everything that moves on the earth, went out of the ark by families.” 

I like that line. They went in two by two, and come out as families. Especially the mice and bunnies.

I think this story is told – was told around the nightly fires for generations and generations and placed into the cannon of scripture as a reminder and a corrective – because it is important to remember that we are animals, and that human animals were given gifts of thumbs and pre-frontal cortexes so we could better fulfill our vocation of tending and tilling. That’s it. That’s what we are to do. Tend to the ones without thumbs, tend to the trees, tend the water, till the soil for food, but tend to the habitats of God’s animals and bugs and birds and fish and everything that creeps on the earth or swims its waters or soars above it – “to keep them alive with you” so that they may abound and be fruitful and multiply. The animals were on the ark as equals to Noah and his small family. They ate the same food as each had ability to digest. They were not on the boat for fresh meat for Noah’s BarB. Maybe the humans got some eggs. But we are all of the same creation, all from the same creator.

Day six in my second resource for these weeks of creation, provides this poem by Christopher Smart (1722-1771). It is selections from his longer poem, from Jubilate Agno.

For I will consider my Cat Jeoffry.
For he is the servant of the Living God duly and daily serving him.
For at the first glance of the glory of God in the East he worships in his way.
For this is done by wreathing his body seven times round with elegant quickness.
For then he leaps up to catch the musk, which is the blessing of God upon his prayer.
For having done duty and received blessing he begins to consider himself…
For having consider’d God and himself he will consider his neighbour.
For if he meets another cat he will kiss her in kindness.
For when he takes his prey he plays with it to give it a chance.
For one mouse in seven escapes by his dallying.
For when his day’s work is done his business more properly begins.
For he keeps the Lord’s watch in the night against the adversary.
For he counteracts the powers of darkness by his electrical skin and glaring eyes.
For he counteracts the Devil, who is death, by brisking about the life…
For he purrs in thankfulness, when God tells him he’s a good Cat.
For he is an instrument for the children to learn benevolence upon.
For every house is incomplete without him and a blessing is lacking in the spirit.…
For he is a mixture of gravity and waggery.
For he knows that God is his Saviour.
For there is nothing sweeter than his peace when at rest.
For there is nothing brisker than his life when in motion…

I like the idea from this poem that God and animals have a language, an understanding between themselves to which we are not privy. I think humans need to be reminded regularly that we are not better than animals, not more deserving of the earth’s resources. We are an invasive species, largely out of place within the natural cycles and sustainable processes of the earth because we have chosen domination over tending. Hubris was the sin that lead to the flood – false pride, arrogance – and as the tower of Babel story proved, hubris survived the waves. Humility is the opposite, and empathy, listening more and making less noise.

Which brings me to dogs and back to the summer edition of Plough. In The Book of the Creatures, Peter Mommsen writes,

“Dogs evolved “expressive eyebrows” to trigger feelings of affection in humans, according to a 2019 study reported in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The researchers found that in the thirty thousand years since dogs separated from wolves and began consorting with us, their faces have changed so that their eyes “appear larger and more infant-like” and are capable of mimicking human expressions. When they look at us, we feel the same tenderness as when we’re face-to-face with a young child. Put more cynically, dogs have managed to hack into our most primal emotion.” You know that look.

“Is it then instinctive manipulation when my Brittany hound gazes at me with his sad and eager eyes? No doubt, but that’s not the whole story. By analyzing hormone levels, the same study showed that dogs feel a pleasurable rush when their masters show them affection. Their masters feel the same, thanks to the same chemical, oxytocin. Evidently, we have learned to communicate as fellow creatures who genuinely enjoy each other’s company.”

The cattle of the field have the same response.

Cow Cuddling is a thing, and became quite popular during the pandemic when loneliness and longing for physical closeness and touch was so deeply felt. This unique pastime began in rural Dutch provinces more than a decade ago, and is part of a wider Dutch effort to bring people closer to nature and country life. Today, farms in Rotterdam, Switzerland and here in the US are offering cow-hugging sessions and promoting the joy-inducing, stress-reducing experience. The practice is centered on the inherent healing properties of a good human-to-animal snuggle. Cow cuddlers rest against one of the cows for two to three hours. The warmer body temperature, slower heartbeat and mammoth size of the animal makes hugging them an incredibly soothing experience, and giving the animal that backrub, reclining against them is believed to promote positivity and reduce stress by boosting oxytocin in humans, the hormone released in social bonding. The calming effects of curling up with a pet or emotional support animal, it seems, are accentuated when cuddling with larger mammals. The cuddling experience seems to be pleasurable for the cows as well. A 2007 study in the journal, Applied Animal Behaviour Science, states that cows show signs of deep relaxation, stretching out and allowing their ears to fall back when massaged in particular areas of their neck and upper back.

So, why can’t we be one among the many, a co-equal with the other creatures of day six? God said it was all good… what happened? How can evil exist in a good creation?  Peter Mommsen again, “Darwin was hardly the first to notice the existence of natural evil; it’s addressed in the Book of Job, likely the oldest book in the Hebrew Bible. This question has also had a long history of Christian reflection, going back at least to the apostle Paul. In his Letter to the Romans, he wrote that creation is “subjected to futility” and in “bondage to decay,” “groaning in labor pains.” It’s a passage that seems remarkably apt as a description of the realities of natural selection – or indeed, of the Covid pandemic.

The answer to the riddle, for the early Christian authors, lies in the nature of reality itself. All creatures, they believed, are words in the book of nature; but that book’s preeminent Word is the Logos, the Word made flesh. Maximus the Confessor, who died in 662, wrote that when we read the book of nature, what we are really reading is “the words of the Word.”

When we forget how to read the book of nature, we forget how to read ourselves. Mommsen writes, “One great gain arising from our civilization’s crime of global environmental destruction is the growth of ecological consciousness. We’re slowly – far too slowly – realizing what it would mean to lose the natural world from which we arose and to which we belong.

“Environmental activists bolster their cause by citing statistics showing the costs of climate change in habitat loss, economic and social disruption, or perhaps the disappearance of specific species. But underlying these rhetorical tools is a more basic conviction: That nature in all its intricate diversity has an inherent dignity and beauty. That ecosystems and landscapes are goods in themselves that ought not to be destroyed, regardless of any effects on GDP. That blue whales, African elephants, and the Amazon rain forest have a value of their own that we are bound to respect.

“The pandemic has created a new moment of millions of people worldwide re-learning to read the book of nature, even if only partially and imperfectly. Perhaps as we learn to read again, we’ll find that human nature, too, becomes more clearly legible. And perhaps too, as we read more deeply, we’ll again learn to decipher the signs of the Goodness behind nature – the one who is both author and subject of the book of the creatures, and who, in the words of our final hymn, “gave us eyes to see them, and lips that we might tell how great is God Almighty, who has made all things well.”

Dear Lord who rode into Jerusalem on the back of a faithful donkey, bless all of your wonderful animals, give them shiny coats and full udders, swift legs and strong backs, cozy nests and cuddles. Keep us mindful of their rightful place as siblings of a different species, with us in this ark of your earth, to keep them alive with us. Compel us to share the resources of food, fresh water, clean air and safe homes not only with our fellow humans (which is more than we do now) but also with them, who are not lesser creatures nor less deserving. Amen

August 22nd Worship

Today we had a Matins service led by Christy & Jeff Wetzig. Below are the scripture readings as well as their reflection.

Reading 1: Exodus 16

Bread from Heaven

16 The whole congregation of the Israelites set out from Elim; and Israel came to the wilderness of Sin, which is between Elim and Sinai, on the fifteenth day of the second month after they had departed from the land of Egypt. The whole congregation of the Israelites complained against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness. The Israelites said to them, “If only we had died by the hand of the Lord in the land of Egypt, when we sat by the fleshpots and ate our fill of bread; for you have brought us out into this wilderness to kill this whole assembly with hunger.”

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I am going to rain bread from heaven for you, and each day the people shall go out and gather enough for that day. In that way I will test them, whether they will follow my instruction or not. On the sixth day, when they prepare what they bring in, it will be twice as much as they gather on other days.” So Moses and Aaron said to all the Israelites, “In the evening you shall know that it was the Lord who brought you out of the land of Egypt, and in the morning you shall see the glory of the Lord, because he has heard your complaining against the Lord. For what are we, that you complain against us?” And Moses said, “When the Lord gives you meat to eat in the evening and your fill of bread in the morning, because the Lord has heard the complaining that you utter against him—what are we? Your complaining is not against us but against the Lord.”

Then Moses said to Aaron, “Say to the whole congregation of the Israelites, ‘Draw near to the Lord, for he has heard your complaining.’” 10 And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked toward the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud. 11 The Lord spoke to Moses and said, 12 “I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, ‘At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.’”

13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp. 14 When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground. 15 When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, “What is it?” For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, “It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat. 16 This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.’” 17 The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less. 18 But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed. 19 And Moses said to them, “Let no one leave any of it over until morning.” 20 But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them. 21 Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.

22 On the sixth day they gathered twice as much food, two omers apiece. When all the leaders of the congregation came and told Moses, 23 he said to them, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Tomorrow is a day of solemn rest, a holy sabbath to the Lord; bake what you want to bake and boil what you want to boil, and all that is left over put aside to be kept until morning.’” 24 So they put it aside until morning, as Moses commanded them; and it did not become foul, and there were no worms in it. 25 Moses said, “Eat it today, for today is a sabbath to the Lord; today you will not find it in the field. 26 Six days you shall gather it; but on the seventh day, which is a sabbath, there will be none.”

27 On the seventh day some of the people went out to gather, and they found none. 28 The Lord said to Moses, “How long will you refuse to keep my commandments and instructions? 29 See! The Lord has given you the sabbath, therefore on the sixth day he gives you food for two days; each of you stay where you are; do not leave your place on the seventh day.” 30 So the people rested on the seventh day.

31 The house of Israel called it manna; it was like coriander seed, white, and the taste of it was like wafers made with honey. 32 Moses said, “This is what the Lord has commanded: ‘Let an omer of it be kept throughout your generations, in order that they may see the food with which I fed you in the wilderness, when I brought you out of the land of Egypt.’” 33 And Moses said to Aaron, “Take a jar, and put an omer of manna in it, and place it before the Lord, to be kept throughout your generations.” 34 As the Lord commanded Moses, so Aaron placed it before the covenant, for safekeeping. 35 The Israelites ate manna forty years, until they came to a habitable land; they ate manna, until they came to the border of the land of Canaan. 36 An omer is a tenth of an ephah.

Reading 2: John 21: 1-14

Jesus Appears to Seven Disciples

21 After these things Jesus showed himself again to the disciples by the Sea of Tiberias; and he showed himself in this way. Gathered there together were Simon Peter, Thomas called the Twin, Nathanael of Cana in Galilee, the sons of Zebedee, and two others of his disciples. Simon Peter said to them, “I am going fishing.” They said to him, “We will go with you.” They went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing.

Just after daybreak, Jesus stood on the beach; but the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. Jesus said to them, “Children, you have no fish, have you?” They answered him, “No.” He said to them, “Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some.” So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish. That disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, “It is the Lord!” When Simon Peter heard that it was the Lord, he put on some clothes, for he was naked, and jumped into the sea. But the other disciples came in the boat, dragging the net full of fish, for they were not far from the land, only about a hundred yards off.

When they had gone ashore, they saw a charcoal fire there, with fish on it, and bread. 10 Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.” 11 So Simon Peter went aboard and hauled the net ashore, full of large fish, a hundred fifty-three of them; and though there were so many, the net was not torn. 12 Jesus said to them, “Come and have breakfast.” Now none of the disciples dared to ask him, “Who are you?” because they knew it was the Lord. 13 Jesus came and took the bread and gave it to them, and did the same with the fish. 14 This was now the third time that Jesus appeared to the disciples after he was raised from the dead.


Reflection

A lot of us sitting under this tree have gardens, and this is a time of peak harvest. You might have colanders full of produce waiting for you to deal with when you get home from church. Thanks for coming to church anyway.

Our two passages for today deal with two very different harvests. We heard first about the Israelites, who, wandering in the desert, found themselves without food. Although they usually get a bad rap for complaining a lot, I think we can all understand how they felt. They couldn’t have had gardens, there were no foodtrucks, and any food they could have brought with them from Egypt was long gone by now. Their children were crying with hunger; I think anybody would complain.

And because God is good, and like any loving parent used to hearing their children complain, God provided this stuff for them to fill their bellies, this food that seemed to condense out of the air with the dew every morning. It tasted good plain, but you could boil it into a porridge or bake it into bread; plus, poultry wandered into camp every evening, so it could have been way worse.

The free food came with conditions. The manna was a test of the people’s trust in God. God had told them they would find it outside their tents every morning. Canning, dehydrating, freezing, pickling was unnecessary, because God had promised to provide food every day. If you trusted that promise, you kept nothing for tomorrow; you ate every crumb in the cupboard every day.

It’s not what happened–people squirrelled manna away, as any prudent person would do as a caution against unforeseen events. But even if you pressure canned the stuff, or baked it and set it in the window sill, you woke the next morning to a stink, and to worms all through the stuff. And to a fresh crop of manna, covering the ground outside your door.

Strangely, mysteriously, even if you sent everybody in your family out with bushel baskets, you’d only have enough for your family for that day. But if you were only able to gather a little that day, you’d still have enough for your family. God seemed to be putting a finger on the scales. No matter what you wanted, worked for, deserved, God gave enough. 

Even on the Sabbath, when God rested from sending manna, the people had enough, because a double portion precipitated the previous day, a super generation of manna that didn’t spoil overnight. So on the Sabbath the people could eat and also rest from gathering and cooking, if they had trusted God the day before and did their double work.

They called it manna, which means, “What is it?” The whole 40 years that they ate only manna and quail, they never came up with a better name for it. No scientific name, no cookbook terminology. It remained a mystery, a miracle, and they kept a sample of the stuff for every generation to see, a physical manifestation of trust in a good God, who sends enough, to everybody–every day, enough. 

Here’s another harvest in the Bible. 

Some of Jesus’ disciples had been stewing away, spiralling on about Jesus’ resurrection, his mysterious appearances and disappearances since his death, and finally they just needed to blow off some steam. “Let’s go fishing,” they said, looking for solace in the familiar, the old days, the wide open sky, good work to do with their bodies, and hopefully good fish to fill their bellies when they were done. Although they fished all night, they got skunked.

Until this stranger calls out to them from shore to try it a different way. When they do it his way, they suddenly find themselves hauling in a boatload of fish. Something jogs their memory. Something seems familiar about this. This plenty, this magnitude, they’ve only experienced with one person: Jesus. They had seen him take bits of bread and satisfy a multitude; he had healed crowds of sick people and never run out of potency; he had preached a kind of love that never gives up, and had lived that love and acted out that grace every day of his life, even when it killed him. In their lives, this kind of plenty had always only come from Jesus, and that is what they recognize, not his face or even his voice.

When they get to shore, they find Jesus with a fire already started, and he already has fish on it; he even has bread too. He lets them contribute from their sudden abundance, but he doesn’t need their fish. (How did he get them? they wonder.) Jesus would have fed them breakfast with or without their miraculous catch. Here, maybe, is the real miracle, this food out of nowhere. The bounty that came from the sea only opened their eyes to the real miracle before them, on the shore.

Jesus breaks the bread for them, distributes the fish amongst them, and he eats some himself, just to dispel those rumors that he’s a ghost. They sit around the fire and eat together, there on the beach in the rising sun, their backs casting shadows on those nets full of fish. They have plenty. Their bellies are full and their nets are full and here, sitting beside them, is Plenty itself.

When we started our orchard 8 years ago some of the first plants we put in the ground were hazelnut bushes. We wanted fruit from our orchard, yes, but we also wanted protein, and hazelnuts seemed to be a good answer.

Most of the country’s hazelnuts are grown in the Pacific Northwest, where they grow these giant, beautiful nuts in giant monocultural groves. Maybe you’re not surprised to hear that a disease called hazelnut blight is wiping out the groves in that region.

So it turns out that a big topic of research currently in Minnesota and Wisconsin, where we have small native hazelnuts, is to breed a larger nut to replace the production of the Pacific Northwest monsters.

So we began shopping around the experimental hazelnut nurseries in the region to find the best, most blight resistant, hardy, tasty, large nuts we could buy. We ended up with seedlings grown from the nuts of the best, most blight resistant, hardiest, tastiest, largest nut bushes around. We put them in the ground and waited.

As we mowed around our six expensive little baby hazelnuts, we noticed a curious plant coming up on the edges of the orchard. A wild woody bush with very similar leaves to our little hazelnuts. You guessed it. We had mowed a whole bunch of wild hazelnuts bushes to plant our six expensive, well-bred specimens. 

For the purposes of scientific experimentation, we let the wild plants grow alongside the nursery-bought ones.

Eight years later, our expensive hazelnut bushes are six feet high and the wild ones, because we had mowed them several times by accident, are only 5 feet high, but bushy and thick. This summer, we watched our 6 precious plants with anticipation because most of them were growing those hairy, ruffley, lime green hulls that surround the hazelnuts. A nut here on this branch, a nut cluster over there on that branch. It was a pleasure to watch them grow, like a parent watching a child learn to walk, it filled us with pride. But then, when you turned around to look at the wild hazelnuts on the edge of the orchard, you saw it was covered with clusters of nuts, weighed down with them, bursting with clumps of nuts.

We gathered them all (and by we I mean the chipmunks and us), we gathered both wild and domesticated, and in the interests of science we (not the chipmunks) kept them separated to compare the harvest of each bush. 

Maybe you’ve guessed. There were two champion hazelnut bushes that we had planted, with largeish nuts, also dearly loved by the chipmunks, which means we only harvested a couple from each bush. The other four of our nurtured, cherished hazelnuts produced shrivelled nuts or barren shells or tiny, shrunken nuts with ghastly thick shells. 

The wild bushes made smallish nuts, true, but they were well formed and chubby and outweighed the domesticated varieties with their sheer number.

Sometimes we look for plenty and all we find is enough. Sometimes when we hope for enough we find plenty.