Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 14, 2014

2014.09.14 “Season of Creation: Land” – Season of Creation: Land

Central United Methodist Church
Season of Creation: Land
Pastor David L. Haley
Genesis 3: 17 – 19
September 14th, 2014

 ILFarmland

And to Adam the Lord God said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,

and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, 

‘You shall not eat of it,’  cursed is the ground because of you;  

in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; 

thorns and thistles it shall bring forth to you;

and you shall eat the plants of the field.                              

In the sweat of your face 

you shall eat bread                              

till you return to the ground,                              

for out of it you were taken;                              

you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” 

– Genesis 3: 17 – 19, the New Revised Standard Version

 

As I have prepared for today’s sermon for the Second Sunday in the Season of Creation, about Land, I have learned something: I don’t know what I am talking about.  It might be better that one of you – who comes from a farm background – should preach this sermon.

But before you walk out, remember, that’s what this series on Creation is about: to remind us how little we know and how disconnected from nature we have become, in order that we might reconnect: to begin not only to heal ourselves but Mother Earth, from whom God has made us.

When it comes to what we know about Land, many likely share my ignorance. Some of us are long-term city-dwellers, who say, “I know it’s there, deep beneath the asphalt, I see glimpses of it occasionally.  If asked, “Where does our food come from?”, our answer might be, Jewel or Food for Less. We’ve always bought what we eat in a store, or from a Farmer’s Market, never asking the question of where it came from or how it got here.

Some of us – though long-term city-dwellers – are gardeners: we know what it means to grow things.  For the most part, we enjoy dealing with dirt, and most of all, cherish the pay off: the difference in taste of that which we grow, as opposed to the taste of that which we buy in the supermarket.

Some of us either know people who farm, or grew up on a farm ourselves. Because of this, we have an appreciation of how difficult and tenuous and complex farming is, especially in the modern world of industrial farming, or agri-business, as they call it. I once made the mistake of asking a relative, a farmer in Oklahoma, a question about farm subsidies: fifteen minutes later he was still yelling and waving his arms. He had such strong opinions about it that he once drove his tractor to the Chicago Board of Trade to protest the buying and selling of grain, before it was even planted. (if I understand how that works).

And yet, despite not knowing much, there are some things we do know, which we have experienced in one way or another.

  • We known we are dependent upon the land for food, and therefore for our existence, even if we get it from the supermarket.

– Most of us have experienced in some way dirt, soil, land, and growing things, and with that have experienced how difficult and unpredictable that can be.

– Living here in the Midwest, the breadbasket of the world, we see some of the world’s richest farmland; but we have also watched its loss due to urban and suburban sprawl. As the song goes, “They’re going to pave paradise and put up a parking lot.”

– We have also seen barren places, where farming is not possible.  Even in the U.S. alone, when you fly across the country, it is shocking how much of our country is non-arable: the Eastern forests, the Rocky Mountains, the deserts of the west and southwest.

Which raises the question of “What are we talking about here?” How much of earth’s land is arable?  One way to describe this would be to use an apple: If you take an apple and cut it into quarters, ¾ of it is water, as the oceans. If you take the remaining quarter, and cut it in half, 1/8 is uninhabitable and non-arable, like the polar regions, deserts, swamps, and mountains. If you take the remaining 1/8 and cut it into 4 pieces, only 1 piece (1/32) is arable land. The other 3/32nds represent land on which people live, but cannot grow food, because its too rocky, wet, cold, steep, or has poor soil. Part is land that used to be arable, but isn’t now because people live on it in cities, suburbs, highways, etc. And part is land which governments have earmarked in other ways, such as parks, nature preserves, and public lands.  So only 1/32 of the earth’s surface has the potential to grow food for all the people of the earth. Now, if you carefully cut off the peel, this tiny bit of peel represents the topsoil: the dark, nutrient rich soil that holds moisture and feeds us by feeding our crops.  Currently, 90% of U.S. croplands are losing soil above the sustainable rate. [In the service, the above illustration was used as the Children’s Sermon]

Apart from the fact that we and every other human being on the planet are dependent upon the land for our food, why is it important that we respect and protect the land?

Well, because again, as last Sunday, it is part of our “story,” the Creation story of Genesis, our theological understanding of our kinship with the earth and the land and the soil, and the corresponding responsibility God gave us, “to till it and to tend it.”

But according to this story, after we were created by God from the dust of the earth, to live in a garden paradise, to tend and care for it, things went badly wrong.  We disobeyed God, and got kicked out of the garden. Thus began the situation in which we find ourselves, alienated from God, from each other, even from the earth from which we were created.

In Genesis chapter 3, the consequences of sin and alienation continue to be sketched out, in the form of curses against those involved in the transgression: the snake, the woman, and the man. Remember, don’t take these curses literally; they were stories ancient people used to explain why things were as they were.  I think we best understand them as descriptive, rather than prescriptive, as in: “This is why things are as they are.” Why snakes crawl, and are so creepy looking (As Indiana Jones said in “Raiders of the Lost Ark”: “Snakes: why did it have to be snakes?”)

According to this story, obviously, Adam’s problem was that he listened to his wife. According to this story, this is why childbirth hurts so much, and marriage is so difficult. So women, when you are having that baby, please don’t yell at us, your husbands; it’s not our fault, it was that snake, long ago. (Or, more likely, cephalo-pelvic disproportion?)

According to this story – fellow gardeners and farmers – this is why it is so blasted hard to make a living from the land. All that toil digging rocky soil and fighting thorns and thistles with sweat dripping from your brow, to get enough bread to keep you alive or not until that day when we die and return to the same earth from which our bread comes. I have always had sympathy for the guy who refused to rake fallen leaves, because he said, “One day I’m going to wind up just like them.”  So there it is.

May I remind you that Jesus had a great eye not only for the Land and for farming, but for the People of the Land (am ha-aritz), often used such images and such people in parables. Not to mention, as we sang a short while ago in “Now the Green Blade Riseth,” embodying seed and harvest in his death and resurrection, his three days in the earth.

In Genesis 4, the consequences escalate, with the alienation increasing to the point of the first fraticide, Cain killing his brother Abel. Abel was a shepherd, and Cain was a farmer. Abel’s offering was respected before God; Cain’s was not. Cain led Abel out to the field and killed his brother.  And the Lord said to Cain:

“Where is Abel your brother?” He said, “I do not know; am I my    brother’s keeper?” And the Lord said, “What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4: 9   – 10, NRSV)

According to this story, everything is related: the relationship between God and humanity, between our brothers and sisters, even with the earth itself, which cries out against our alienation and violence; not only our sins against the earth, but against each other. Ever seen pictures of a battlefield after a battle?  There is a reason we use the term, “This looks like a war zone.”

That’s the Biblical story. Science tells another story, in many ways a similar story. Over many millenia, humans emerged from the forest, as hunter/gatherers. As our ancient ancestors moved out onto the savannahs and plains, where eventually they took up farming, a move that was to change the course of civilization.  Farming meant moving from a nomadic existence to a more settled one, which lead to villages and cities and culture. It involved the necessity of land, and in most cultures, land ownership, a form of wealth leading to some becoming wealthy and others remaining poor.

The interesting thing is, not every culture went this route.  In ancient Israel, for example, the concept of land was as shared, rather than owned, and you were to leave gleanings for the poor, the strangers, the immigrants. Many indigenous peoples – like the Aborigines of Australia or Native Americans here, had no concept, often not even words in their language, for ownership. Because all nature and especially land was imbuded with the sacred, to be shared by all, not hoarded by any one.

Which is why, for so many indigenous peoples, the clash of civilizations in exploration and colonization was so disastrous. Europeans, with their concepts of land ownership; Native Americans, with their concept of land to be shared. Sadly, we know where that got them.

Do you remember, as a child, the first time you crossed a state or national boundary? Do you remember looking for that line across the earth?  There wasn’t one, was there?  They are imposed artificial boundaries. I’m not against land ownership, after all, I someday hope to own some myself.  As Tony Soprano once said, “Buy land, God’s not making any more of it.”

If God’s not making any more of it, what do we know about the Land we have.

– Erosion by wind and water is the most serious cause of soil loss and degradation. Although it is a natural process, erosion is accelerated greatly by things like construction, deforestation, and unsustainable practices in farming and animal grazing.

– More than 25 million acres of productive arable land are severely degraded and abandoned worldwide every year — that’s an area the size of the states of Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin, and Minnesota put together.

– In the U.S., soil is eroding at 17 times the rate at which it forms. The soil erosion rate is estimated to be double in Asia, Africa, and South America.

What can we do?

  • Practice sustainable farming: Use farming practices that don’t degrade the land, leading to erosion, pollution, decreased production.
  • Not build on arable land: Land covered up by buildings, highways, and other forms of  development can’t be used for growing crops. In the U.S., nearly 2.2 million acres of land are converted to  urban and other uses each year. About 25% of that land is former cropland.
  • Eat lower on the food chain. Producing a pound of beef in a feed lot requires seven pounds of grain, a pound of pork requires four, and a pound of poultry requires two pounds of grain. Land used to produce grain for consumption by animals is unavailable for growing grain for human consumption.
  • Reduce pollution: Pollution impairs the ability of the land and the seas to provide food that’s both sufficient in quantity and free of contaminants.
  • Stabilize human population growth: Simply put, the more people there are to feed, the less food there is to go around.  (http://www.iupui.edu/~ghw/lessons/materials/EarthAppleFarmlandNov02.pdf
  • Well, I’m still ignorant, but want to know more, and I hope you do too. We are now like the little girl who said, “When I came here I knew nothing, now I know something.”

I know that someone I want to read more of is Wendell Berry (born August 5, 1934), a fellow Kentuckian who is an American novelist, poet, environmental activist, cultural critic, and farmer. There are many quotes from Wendell Berry that we could use; I couldn’t even restrict myself to just one. Here are two:

– “… the care of the earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of      it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope.” ― Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays.

“ . . . The world cannot be discovered by a journey of miles, no matter how long, but only by a spiritual journey, a journey of one inch, very   arduous and humbling and joyful, by which we arrive at the ground at   our own feet, and learn to be at home.” – Wendell Berry, The Unforeseen Wilderness: Kentucky’s Red River Gorge.
May we begin this journey.  Amen.

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