Posted by: skokiecentralchurch | September 11, 2016

2016.09.11 “Season of Creation: Flora & Fauna Sunday” – Job 39: 1–12, 26-30; Psalm 104: 1, 14–23, 31; Luke 12: 22-31

Central United Methodist Church
Season of Creation: Flora & Fauna Sunday
Pastor David L. Haley
Job 39: 1–12, 26-30; Psalm 104: 1, 14–23, 31;
Luke 12: 22-31
September 11th, 2016

 elephantagainstsun

Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
Do you observe the calving of the deer?
Can you number the months that they fulfill,
and do you know the time when they give birth,
when they crouch to give birth to their offspring,
and are delivered of their young?
Their young ones become strong, they grow up in the open;
they go forth, and do not return to them.

“Who has let the wild ass go free?
Who has loosed the bonds of the swift ass,
to which I have given the steppe for its home,
the salt land for its dwelling place?
It scorns the tumult of the city;
it does not hear the shouts of the driver.
It ranges the mountains as its pasture,
and it searches after every green thing.

“Is the wild ox willing to serve you?
Will it spend the night at your crib?

Can you tie it in the furrow with ropes,
or will it harrow the valleys after you?
Will you depend on it because its strength is great,
and will you hand over your labor to it?
Do you have faith in it that it will return,
and bring your grain to your threshing floor?

“Is it by your wisdom that the hawk soars,
and spreads its wings toward the south?
Is it at your command that the eagle mounts up
and makes its nest on high?
It lives on the rock and makes its home
in the fastness of the rocky crag.
From there it spies the prey;
its eyes see it from far away.
Its young ones suck up blood;
and where the slain are, there it is.”

– Job 39: 1 – 12, 26 – 30, the New Revised Standard Version

 

About a month ago, my Uncle Charles died at the age of 83. If there is anything I learned from my Uncle Charles, it is an appreciation of nature, and especially flora and fauna, plants and animals.

exotic-peacockI don’t know how it happened, but my Uncle Charles loved exotic creatures, particularly birds. While other people had dogs and cats, cows and chickens, we had peacocks; one nested in a dead tree behind our house every night. Other pets included not just dogs and cats, but snakes and lizards and an iguana. Somehow Uncle Charles once came home with white and blue herons (don’t ask!), which he recruited my cousin and me in feeding. What this meant was we spent part of our summer days wading through creeks, seining minnows and fish, which we fed to the herons. Boy did they have a great life! I never see a wading bird in a lake but what I don’t remember that.

Today, in our celebration of the second Sunday of the Season of Creation, we remember the Fauna and Flora of the earth, all the plants and animals, with whom we share our planet. Where do we even begin?

As I was looking for graphics today, I was overwhelmed, because there are so many. What should I show you? Playful pandas in bamboo forests? “Tiger, tiger, burning bright, in the forests of the night,” as the poet William Blake put it? Majestic elephants? Lions, king of the jungle? Wildebeest, as someone once said, which God made of parts left over? Dolphins? Whales? Eagles? And what about plants? Orchids? Rain-forests? Lilies? Roses? As one who came late to the botanical world, with a botany course in college, you flower-and-plant lovers will have to pardon my preference for fauna rather than flora.

Please note that I am also purposely ignoring snakes and spiders and such insects as mosquitoes, not my favorite part of creation. And who would want to have T-Rex’s still wandering around, even though some who still believe Adam and Eve rode them to church. Maybe there was no way for God to create the good without the bad; or maybe God just loved creating, and let it go in all directions. After all, how would you explain and defend an aardvark?

I am thankful that in my life – like some of you – these are not creatures I have seen pictures of in books. I have seen mountain gorillas in the Congo. I have seen lions and giraffes and elephants and wildebeest on the Serengeti. I have seen dolphins and whales in the oceans, and eagles soaring in the skies of the Boundary Waters. If you have had such experiences, you know the feeling of awe and humility it gives, that we our fragile creatures sharing the planet with them. Can we even imagine living in a world without such beautiful, awesome creatures?

Before I go on to talk about theology or science, or the perils the flora and fauna on our planet are facing, I want to go one step further about our favorite fauna on earth, our pets.

Even though you may appreciate and respect them, you may not feel that endeared to elephants and rain-forests and gorillas and stink plants and pandas and bamboo forests; after all, most of them would eat us or swallow us up without feeling. But who here has never loved and been loved by a dear pet, like a dog or cat, or iguana or goldfish, as the case may be?

I would have to say that, as children, there may not be anything that teaches us more about life and the mortality of all living things, including the life lessons of emotional attachment and grief, than pets. We get so attached to them; I have always felt it is one of life’s greatest injustices that we should live so long, and they so briefly. Why should God give a turtle a hundred years, and a dog or cat a mere 15? What’s up with that?

Growing up, we had dogs (I’m not sure cats would have stooped to live with us), but we also lived on a busy highway. Inevitably, the dogs would get hit by cars, which of course ripped our hearts out. After awhile, you get where you don’t want another dog, because it was too painful to lose them. I can’t help but wonder whether – especially when it happens at an early age – that this transfers over to our relationships with people? On the other hand, handled well, such life lessons with pets can teach us about the inevitable reality of love and loss and grief as humans, including with those we love the most. (Perhaps it’s time to go on to other things, before we all start crying . . .)

So let’s talk about the theology of our relationship with all creatures; that ought to dry any tears. Today we heard from the Old Testament, God’s interrogation of Job, a text likely older than Genesis, asking Job if he knew the intimate secrets of nature, such as the mountain goats and wild ass and ox and the hawks and eagles, implying of course not, not as God their Creator knows. We read Psalm 104, a song of praise to God – O my God how great you are! – especially as reflected in nature, including mighty Leviathan the whale, right down to the tiniest sparrow. We heard Jesus teaching us how to live, by looking to nature: consider the birds of the air and the lilies of the field. Perhaps we should do more of this, including in church, since Jesus told us to. Perhaps you have heard of the Buddha’s famous Flower Sermon, when one day the Buddha gave a wordless sermon to his disciples, by simply holding up a white flower. No one understood except one of Buddha’s disciples, who subtly smiled, signifying the transmission of wisdom without words, simply by beholding a flower.

What we did not read today at is the Genesis account of creation, which – if it does not tell us how – tells us why we are related to all creatures. Really, there are two creation accounts, Genesis 1 and Genesis 2, and if we summarize, there are three major points: (1) God was the Creator of all things; (2) humans and plants and animals were created out of the earth; indeed, that is Adam’s real name (‘Adam is also the masculine form of the word adamah, which means “ground” or “earth” or “clay”). And (3) according to the Genesis account, God intended humans to be “caretakers” of this beautiful garden, with all its plants and animals, with which the Lord has entrusted us. We’ve not done a very good job, have we?

Without the theological overtones, science tells us a similar but different story, not only in theory, but through archaeology and chemistry and even DNA mapping. Science tells us that all life came from a single origin, evolving through billions of years, with all living things united in biochemistry, but different in complexity and diversity.

One significant difference is that while – in the Genesis account – we see ourselves as the stars of the show, toward which all creation is leading and around which it is centered; in reality we it remains to be seen whether we humans are a work in progress, or dead-enders, who foul our own nest and finally do ourselves in. Maybe dinosaurs felt they were pretty cool, too. In the long term, it remains to be seen whether cockroaches will succeed us all. And then where will all our theology be?

BTW, if you are interested in exploring this further, on Monday evening, September 19th, at the Skokie Public Library, from 7 to 8:30 pm, there will be a conversation moderated by my colleague Rabbi Amy Memis-Foler, entitled, “Where Do We Come From? Religious and Evolutionary Perspectives.” It is presented as a part of the library’s current series, “Exploring Human Origins.” And to think that I thought I came from Kentucky!
To return to our assigned role as caretakers of the planet and the flora and fauna in it, how are we doing?  Not too good. According to the UN Environment Program, the Earth is in the midst of a mass extinction of life. Scientists estimate that 150-200 species of plant, insect, bird and mammal become extinct every 24 hours. This is nearly 1,000 times the “natural” or “background” rate and, say many biologists, is greater than anything the world has experienced since the vanishing of the dinosaurs nearly 65m years ago.

The World Wildlife Fund lists 19 critically endangered species, included gorillas, orangutans, and tigers; 45 species that are endangered, including elephants, whales, chimpanzees; and 10 species that are near-threatened, like the tuna, monarch butterfly. Might the threat to the creatures, like bees, for example, be like the parakeet in the coal mine: if they go, then how long do we have before we do too? (www.worldwildlife.org)

lastrhinoWhile there are many examples I could use to illustrate the plight of the world’s wildlife, here’s one: In Kenya, in east Africa, three rhinos graze on the grassland of the Ol Pejeta Conservancy. Most of the world knows that the rhinoceros is threatened, but these animals are in another class. They are the last three northern white rhinos on the planet. None of the three of them are capable of breeding, so the Northern White, which once roamed Africa by the thousands, is in effect extinct. The three rhinos – named Sudan, Najin, and Fatu, are the last of their kind. Isn’t that just so sad?

Soon, a group of scientists from the US, Germany, and Japan will attempt what has never been attempted before: to rescue the northern white from extinction by removing the last eggs from the two females and then – using advanced reproductive techniques – including stem cell technology and IVF, create embryos that could be carried to term by surrogate rhino mothers. It this succeeds, it would be a first, but a technique that might be used to rescue some of earth’s other threatened species. (www.theguardian.com/environment/2016/may/14/northern-white-rhino-bid-to-save-extinction-threat#img-1)

Given this, what can we do about it? First, we can join such organizations as the World Wildlife Federation or the Sierra Club, through which we can become informed and active, making a difference before it’s too late.

Second, we can travel responsibly, by choosing travel agencies that contribute to endangered species protection and causes, not simply treating them as existing for our sport or entertainment.

As I said before, to see such magnificent creatures in the wild is one of the greatest experiences of life, increasing our respect and gratitude not only for them, for our own lives, as one of God’s creatures.

Thirdly, without traveling to exotic places, what we can do in our own backyard is this: be mindful, of the plants and animals that grow there. I would invite you to come and see the beautiful goldfinches whose ecological niche are the daisies that grow in our backyard. It’s not hard to imagine Jesus standing there and saying, “Consider the birds of the air and the flowers of the field.” Stop, look, and listen, for even in the city, flora and fauna are all around us, waiting to make us appreciative and grateful of God’s wonderful creation.

Just last night, for example, taking my own advice, around 9 pm, I went outside, to take a look at the moon and the sky. I looked over toward our Log Cabin, and here came a big opossum walking down the walk. Just as on cue!

So I guess that even though I didn’t know at the time, what a gift it was from my Uncle Charles to grow up with a peacock in the backyard. It was a portent of things to come, of how I would one day travel the world seeing some of God’s most magnificent creatures, and eventually stand here before you, asking you to do the same. Because out there in the world, among God’s flora and fauna, there is more beauty and wonder than we can even imagine.

As Cecil Francis Alexander put it:

“All things bright and beautiful,
all creatures great and small,
All things wise and wonderful:
the Lord God made them all”

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