November 14th Worship

Audio Recording

Mark 4: 1-20

Jesus began to teach beside the lake. Such a very large crowd gathered around him that he got into a boat on the lake and sat there, while the whole crowd was beside the lake on the land. He began to teach them many things in parables, and in his teaching he said to them: “Listen! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground, where it did not have much soil, and it sprang up quickly, since it had no depth of soil. And when the sun rose, it was scorched; and since it had no root, it withered away. Other seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it, and it yielded no grain. Other seed fell into good soil and brought forth grain, growing up and increasing and yielding thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.” And he said, “Let anyone with ears to hear listen!”

When he was alone, those who were around him along with the twelve asked him about the parables. And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside, everything comes in parables; in order that 

‘they may indeed look, but not perceive,
    and may indeed listen, but not understand;
so that they may not turn again and be forgiven.’”

And he said to them, “Do you not understand this parable? Then how will you understand all the parables? The sower sows the word. These are the ones on the path where the word is sown: when they hear, Satan immediately comes and takes away the word that is sown in them. And these are the ones sown on rocky ground: when they hear the word, they immediately receive it with joy. But they have no root, and endure only for a while; then, when trouble or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately they fall away. And others are those sown among the thorns: these are the ones who hear the word, but the cares of the world, and the lure of wealth, and the desire for other things come in and choke the word, and it yields nothing. And these are the ones sown on the good soil: they hear the word and accept it and bear fruit, thirty and sixty and a hundredfold.”

Sermon ~ Pastor Linda

Today’s reading consists of three parts:

The first is the parable Jesus tells about the wasteful extravagance of God sowing seeds – knowing they’re going everywhere and that in most cases they worn’t produce and live up to their potential (although they do feed the birds and provide organic matter to dry, compacted soil, which – in God’s sense of time, could help change the character of that soil!)   But, anyway, in the short term, they don’t fulfill the promise of their seedy selves, and don’t provide for the common good. God, unlike any other farmer, is reckless, wasteful in not carefully keeping the seeds for the “good soil” but wasting it by letting it also land among thorns, and on the shallow and hardened areas. 

The middle section is a bit of a problem. It kind of takes back the generosity of God just established. The quote comes from the Aramaic Targum of Isaiah (which is the translation of ancient Hebrew into less-ancient Aramaic which was spoken in Jesus’ time). God announces that the people are too hard-hearted to hear the prophet’s words of warning and so will bring judgment and calamity down on themselves (Is. 6). Jesus quotes Isaiah, perhaps, to emphasize that the Kingdom of God he proclaims is so new, so unexpected, and so different that it doesn’t fit the religious frameworks most people carry around with them. We can hear and can know, but changing behavior to do takes a bigger heart and God’s grace to get there.

The third part is the explanation of the parable Jesus offers to the disciples, which doesn’t actually fit the parable. It shifts the focus to the soil that receives or rejects the seed, and isn’t about the God who sows it. These verses are thought to be not original to Jesus, but part of the oral tradition circulating at the time Mark wrote this gospel.

But, regardless of the possible sources of the sections, Mark put them together, and must have thought they had something important to teach.

I often wonder why I’m a pastor. (That was not as smooth a transition as it might have been!) I’m thinking about the seed as the word of God and the soil types, and why some seed ‘sticks’ and some doesn’t.

I had a prior career. It was good. I was good at it. What compelled me to go back to school, for a new career, in my 40’s, with three children at home?  And, why do so many people grow up in the church, in church-going families, and not come to adult faith (why do they not want to become pastors in their 40’s)?  What happens? What accounts for that mystery?

Some of it may have to do with unhealthy or boring prior church experiences, but not all. Some of it has to do with negative associations with the Christian Right, or political manipulation seen in religion as an institution, or battles over literalism, or the negative impact Christianity has had on so many parts of human history… but that can’t account for it either. The scriptures say that faith is a gift of the Holy Spirit, but surely that gift is sown with a liberal hand like the sower in this parable scattering seed without discretion?  Good, church-going people, often don’t feel called to faith, or drawn in. Why is this?

It seems that Jesus, in telling – and explaining – the parable, simply acknowledges the variety of soils without condemning them. “You bad rocky soil, cast away those stones! And you hard-packed foot paths, lighten up a bit, would ya?” He doesn’t say that. It’s just a fact that some soil receives seed and has the right conditions and microbes for it to germinate and grow and produce – and some doesn’t. 

My tomato plants each produced thirty and 60 fold this year. Last year they produced about 4 each. Same soil, same pots – but more rain or more attention? Regenerative farming practices rotate crops every year to keep the soil productive, so maybe we only have one year of the parable farmer’s story. Maybe the next year conditions have changed.  I don’t know how far I can push the parable to address my concern. But I do know that conditions of our lives matter and that they change. I do know that the seed matters. Presumably, God is is the seed, but the context and content of the message encasing that seed might take root in one case and not in another. Personality styles, life experiences, access, approach – there are so many variables that go into our individual ‘soil type’. And again, there is joy in the productivity of the good soil, but not condemnation for the others. I think that point is missed – or at least I missed it until now.

I was drawn to the space of the sanctuaries of my childhood – the claret red and luminous shades of blue glass in the windows, the vaulted ceilings and heavy, dark, arched beams. I felt what I would now call ‘awe’ in those spaces. I love this space – clear, simple, open. Sanctuary spaces speak a message, sow seeds. But my sister, brother and I all had the same childhood church contexts, yet each of us has gone a very different direction from one another, and from my mom’s expression of faith. It’s interesting – at times it’s distressing. But mostly, I think it’s encouraging. 

We have recently heard Jesus say he didn’t come to call the righteous nor was he there for the healthy, but rather, came for those who are suffering, those who know their need and are longing for healing. I think this parable is the same message with different imagery. In his setting, Jesus was condemning the Pharisees and Scribes for their self-righteousness and close-mindedness, for their inability to let go of their old categories of certainty in order to see what was fresh from the side of God standing right before them. 

But willfully denying and impeding and plotting against the Good of God is very different than benevolent neglect. The two extremes of need require the physician. But maybe the middle is okay. ‘The first shall be last and the last shall be first’, but that, too leaves the middle just there in the middle… being okay. Paul warns against having lukewarm faith, but if the extremes are impassioned martyrdom or hardhearted arrogance, then lukewarm faithfulness, goodness, kindness of heart doesn’t seem ungodly. It seems good, enough, included and inclusive.

So maybe these three parts make up today’s story so that we have access to the message in some way that speaks to us. God scatters seed knowing the odds, but sows it anyway, out of eternal hopefulness and steadfast love. The parables are enigmatic and hit and miss as far as how we take them in, or what they might mean to us, or how they will work on us over time. And the seed lands on soil that produces, or rejects it, or grows quickly and briefly and fades away, or just doesn’t have time right now in the rush of life and worldly cares, but gets washed away or swept under a rug until later.

The thing to remember, maybe, is that seasons come and seasons go, and that there is a time for every season under heaven. Next spring, God the sower, will be back, and the next year after that, and again, and again. 

For Mark and his generation, there was an eschatological urgency – they believed time was about up! Jesus was coming again, and no one knew the moment or the day, but be ready, get your house in order.

That was 2000 years ago. The Roman Empire fell and others have come and gone. Our sense of urgency has to do with social justice and ecological crisis. We might very well take this parable more literally knowing that deforestation, desertification make soil less likely to be able to germinate seed of any sort. Floods may wash it away and fires scorch the land. 

The context has changed but the construct remains: human willfulness, sin, greed, shortsighted selfishness, hubris, hardheartedness impedes the kingdom of Love and Peace and Common Good that Jesus inaugurated – we can easily see that equal concern for all people, concern for all of creation, benevolent generosity is lacking and desperately needed individually and among the nations. This parable is introduced by Jesus saying the kingdom of God is like this farmer. This is how those within the kingdom of God would be. We live in a culturally and religiously pluralistic world with a wide variety of acceptance or closed boxes as far as whose God is worshipped. 

In the end, there is no easy take-home message for us in these parables. “Be the best soil you can be!” I guess is a frequent message, but not really helpful. The only way to “be good soil,” is to remember the reality and promise that ultimately it’s not up to us but to God, the farmer who sows with abandon out of love. We can’t decide what kind of soil we are, but we can trust Jesus’ promise that God will keep sowing seeds, keep showering us with the word of grace, with mercy, and love. 

Parables ask that we engage our imaginations and follow the possibilities and incongruities between a world where everything is planned, linear, logical, and one filled with mysteries and surprises and reasons to repent –  a world into which a suffering, sovereign God invites you to come. Be at peace.

October 24th Worship

This week, worship was led by the Sunday School – from beginning to end! The audio recording of the service is below, followed by one of the many reflections offered during the service.

Audio Recording

Reflection

by Mercy Wetzig & Abel Wetzig

Hi! We are kids. We like to ask lots of questions. 

How come?

Well…asking questions is a good way to learn about stuff.

Why’s that?

Uhhh, because…I don’t know!

Why don’t you?

I’m never going to have kids.

Why not?

Ugh…you’ll understand when you’re older.

When will that be?

In your case, I have no idea.

Here’s a question I have. In the story we read for today, we heard about the room being full of people listening to Jesus, and they must have seen the four friends carrying the paralytic man. Didn’t they see him coming? With so much need? Why didn’t the crowd move aside to let them in?

I think it was a pretty crazy idea that they came up with, for getting into the house. Who came up with that one? Where did they find shovels to break through the roof? Did they have rope to let him down? 

They must have been really great friends, to do all that digging for their friend in order to get him to Jesus, because it must have taken a long time and effort to gather the tools and dig through the roof.

What was it like in the room with Jesus when they were working their way through the roof? It must have been loud. Maybe things even dropped from the ceiling. I bet it was dusty at least. Did Jesus stop teaching and listen? Did the people in the room run for cover?

If it was my house, I would have stopped them from putting a big hole in the roof. I wonder if anyone tried to stop them. Or got angry with them for doing that.

Once they let the man down, Jesus says to him, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Why did he say that, instead of telling him to be healed?

It sounds like Jesus was asking for trouble. The way he forgave the man, even though everybody in the room knew that only God could forgive sins. He was putting himself next to God. If Jesus wanted to stay friends with the people in the room, he should have just said, “Be healed.” Why was he getting into trouble like that?

Wait. I just thought of a great question. Is forgiveness free or isn’t it? They sure did a lot of work in order to get to the place where Jesus could meet them. Was that necessary or could they have just waited for Jesus on the street outside the house?

Yeah. Are we supposed to do the work of coming to God or do we need to wait for God to come to us? Or…something in between?

How about this one. It says Jesus healed the man on account of his friends’ faith. Did the paralytic have any faith of his own? Did he need any? Or was it enough that his friends had faith, and that’s all Jesus needed to cover their friend’s need? 

Did the healed man thank Jesus? It just says that he gets up and walks out. I think he should have shown some gratitude at least. Or maybe he was just stunned?

And how come all of a sudden there’s room for him to walk out, when no one wanted him to walk in? So the people who wouldn’t let him come in when he was paralized definitely parted for him. Maybe they too were stunned at what they had seen Jesus do?

And what I want to know is, who fixed the hole in the roof? 

Yeah. And did it leave a scar? 

Then everybody would remember what had happened there.

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.