Message for Sunday September 18, 2016
Speaker: Minister Vicki McPhee
Scripture Reading: Job 39:1-8, 26-30
One of the many places that I lived as I was growing up was in the far north of Manitoba. My family moved out of the bush, so to speak, to Churchill, on shore of Hudson Bay. We moved so that my older brother could attend school in English as Cree was the primary language of the children in the communities we had lived in prior to the move. On Halloween night in Churchill in those times, the parents had to take extra care for the safety of the children. October is the time that the polar bears gather at the shore of the Bay, waiting for the ice to form so they can hunt for seal from the ice floes and the bears are plentiful in the area surrounding Churchill at Halloween time. In fact, there are now tours in October to go out in tundra buggies to see all the bears. Anyway, on Halloween night, back in those days, the men of the village made it safe for trick-or-treaters to be out at dusk, going door-to-door, by ringing the village with their vehicles facing outwards and turning their headlights on. And the men would stand near their car or truck with a rifle, ready to shoot if a bear approached. Sounds dramatic, but even when you head on the tundra buggy tours, they have someone literally riding shotgun in case the vehicle breaks down – while one person is out, trying to fix whatever’s wrong, another is standing guard with the gun. Because polar bears are dangerous. Especially in the fall when they are hungry.
Polar bears in October define the term ‘hangry’ – they are angry because they are hungry. And that does not bode well for them if there are humans around. Because when humans feel threatened, and there’s a gun at hand, it’s the bear that generally dies, not the human. Even though WE are living in THEIR space. So anyway, the point I’m trying to get to is that the adults of Churchill had to go to a lot of effort so their children could experience a traditional Halloween night, even in the freezing cold, bear-infested north. Because the adults could. They did not have to respect the fact that it’s too cold and dark for humanity to be outside at night in late October or that the bears are waiting for the natural order of things to carry on—namely that the ice will form and they can head out for their winter hunting. You would think the bears would get right of way. But they do not. Humanity has managed to step into God’s creation and natural order and bend it, somewhat, quite a lot actually, to its will. We seem to be far away from the lesson Job is learning in today’s scripture reading.
Job, after a series of horrific disasters in his life, has sat himself down and lamented for most of the Book of Job. Who can blame him? As I said last week, Job was an honest and compassionate man who put God and his faith at the forefront of his life. Then, one fateful day, God and Satan entered into a debate—God bragged about how faithful Job was and Satan set out to prove that Job’s faithfulness would disperse the moment hardship entered into his life. And, just like that, Job lost just about everything that was good in his life. So the man has a right to complain a bit to God. He says, I did EVERYTHING as I was supposed to do and all these horrible things have happened to me. God’s reply to Job finally begins thirty-eight chapters in. Last week we heard God challenging Job to remember that is was God who made and created the world and it is only God who fully knows the order of all things. This week in chapter 39, Job is reminded that God, and only God, knows the intimate details of everything and everyone’s existence. Not only did God create all there is in our world, but God knows each and every THING in our world, inside and out.
We are in the midst of the Season of Creation within the church liturgical year. This is the time for us remember that we are not the sole manufacturers of our destiny. God was at our beginning and will be at our end. God was the start of the world and is amongst us still. This week we focus on flora and fauna. We celebrate plants and creatures, sinking our roots deeper into the ways the Divine sustains, defends and delights in Creation. God created the world to operate within a natural order. As our reading today refers to, God put into motion the circle of life. The young are born, they are fed and then they leave. Plants begin as seeds, grow, send forth seeds of their own and then die to fertilize the earth. The ebb and flow, the life and death of the world, one begetting the other—this is the natural order God created.
In the Book of Genesis, at the conclusion of the first creation story, it is written, ‘God saw all that God had made, and it was very good’. All of creation was very good. And creation, humanity included, was made in its entirety by God. This is why here we often refer to God as Creator. Not our Father or our Mother or Lord, but as Creator. Native spirituality has taught us and encouraged us to remember that it is from God’s love that the world was birthed. The stardust from which we are made is because of God’s work in our world. The work that is seen day in and day out reveals to us God’s own self. The awesomeness of what exists in the ocean depths and the mystery of how oil was created from life when dinosaurs—dinosaurs!—walked on the earth. The incredible complexity of inner ears and caterpillars becoming butterflies, the intricacy of flowers and the extraordinary way bees are able to pollinate them all and make my most favourite thing—honey. The elegance of how the moon interacting with our bodies of water to make the tide move in and out. The beauty we see in the love that exists between two people, lovers, mother and newborn, fathers and toddlers. The depth of heart break when we those we love die. God’s self is revealed in all of this. Creation bears witness to God’s gift of life given unto us—the beauty and terror of it, the resilience and fragility of it, all in rock hard clarity that we can see, hear, touch, taste and smell. Job learned that God’s strength and power is beyond all human comprehension.
We, today, have forgotten this. We, today, have allowed ourselves to be convinced that we and we alone, are responsible for the greatness in our world. And yet, it takes just one trip to the Rocky Mountains to remember God’s awesome power. Or to stand at the edge of a clearing and see what is emerging from the remainders of a forest fire to know that the natural order of the world cannot be stopped. Or to be present at a birth—any sort. Instinct takes over when a baby is entering the world. When I was in Kenya in 2003, in the Great Rift Valley…
God’s power cannot be resisted for long. But often we do not acknowledge the goodness of God’s natural world. Instead we try to impose and force human order on the world. We build villages in the far north, or along river banks that naturally flood in the spring, or on land that is below sea level. We cage animals in zoos, we raise them on mass to be slaughtered for food, take down rainforests and tear apart mountains. We create havoc on the surface of the earth to get at what’s below its surface. This affects our environments in ways we cannot always predict. In a CNN report in 2010 it was stated, “The news is not good. We continue to lose biodiversity at a rate never before seen in history.” The U.N. warns several eco-systems including the Amazon rainforest, freshwater lakes and rivers and coral reefs are approaching a “tipping point” which, if reached, may see them never recover. We don’t know what we don’t know. There have been unintended consequences of our actions while striving to make more, feed more, move more.
One of the unintended consequences of developing bigger and better machinery so that larger and larger farms can feed more and more people is that a vast majority of people in the Northern hemisphere have become detached from the land. We are no longer rooted or grounded on the land upon which we reside. We do not dig in the soil with our bare hands in the spring to plant life giving crops nor do we give thanks to the animal before its slaughter so that it might provide nourishment for our family. We have lost this connection. My spouse will be the first to tell you that our entire family would starve during the zombie apocalypse if it were left to my abilities in as a gardener to provide sustenance from the land in our back yard. I am keenly aware that I am disconnected from the how and where food is grown or animals for our consumption are raised and slaughtered. I read Fast Food Nation by Eric Schlosser and was horrified a little bit by how chickens and cattle are raised for food and by the description of the slaughtering process. After reading that book I made a change of where I source our beef and chicken. I was tempted to become vegetarian but that lasted only until taco night in our house. Barbara Kingsolver’s book, Animal, Vegetable, Miracle describes her family’s first year of living completely off their newly acquired land at the foot of the Appalachian Mountains. They did their best to limit purchasing food—eating only what they had grown and preserved. I was quite taken with the story of buying the chicks that grew to become chickens and the fall slaughtering that happened. They learned how to do kill the chickens cleanly and quickly and they offered a prayer before killing each chicken, giving thanks for its life. Kingsolver went on to speak about how important it was to make use of the entire chicken when they went to eat it—not let one bit of it go to waste because they KNEW the bird when it was alive. The look on Christopher’s face was kind of hilarious when I somewhat seriously suggested that we raise chickens in our backyard. He grew up on a farm and he knows exactly what kind of city girl princess I can be so that discussion didn’t get far. But after reading the book, I have taken very seriously what it means to waste food—especially meat.
What stories like Kingsolver’s are doing for those of us who do not grow, harvest, process the food that we eat, for those of us whose hunting and harvesting goes only so far as the farmer’s market in the summer, books like this remind us of our roots, so to speak. That we are of the land and from the land. In this Creation Time in the church year, we are reminded that there is a positive theology of nature wherein animals are not just passive receptors of God’s grace, but actively doing God’s work with their very existence. The processes of their life in the ecosystems God established testify to an enduring truth: God’s work never fails. What does fail, however, is human willingness to recognize the intrinsic value of the animals and plants who share our home on Earth. Too often animals are seen as nothing but our servants, entertainment, subjects of scientific experimentation, or food sources. Earth is God’s creation and God continues to create. We acknowledge this in our church’s A New Creed. “God who has created and is creating…” God continues to create—our relationship with God did not end at our beginning. God moves amongst us. Creation teaches. Looking to created order, even the smallest forms of life, we learn about ourselves, meaning and purpose of life, about the God who has made and loves creation. The splendour of the planets and stars, the intricacy of the human body, the innate industry of ants, all have something to teach us if we listen. The wisdom creation imparts inspires us to wonder or leave us humbled and unnerved. We are reminded in the Book of Job that we are not the ones to know everything. That role is for God and our role is to make room and space for God to move and work in our world so that we may learn what we don’t know. Let our prayer here today be may God help us to perceive God’s Creation in a way that is not self-serving, but self-decentering—reminding us that we are but a piece of God’s great creation and that we are amongst the natural order that was created by God, not at the head of it. May it be so. Amen.