Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Abundance of Loaves, Fishes & God's Love

Matthew 14:13-21, James 2:14-18

This story of the miracle of the loaves and fishes is one of the most famous of all the miracles that Jesus performed during his ministry. It is action packed narrative that takes place in the midst of other exciting stories. At the beginning of our scripture reading today, Jesus has tried to withdraw to a solitary place because he is mourning the death of his cousin, John the Baptist. John had recently been jailed by Herod because John was not shy in telling Herod that he was behaving badly. There’s a story of sex and intrigue there but let’s save that for another Sunday.

Anyway, John was arrested and, upon the whim of some privileged, arrogant young slip of a thing, Herod agreed to behead John. Naturally Jesus was distraught when he was told the news and so he retreated from the crowds so that he could grieve the death of his dear cousin and could pray to God. But the people would not let him be. He ends up preaching and healing to the crowd that has gathered. When the day’s end arrives, it occurs to everyone that they are too far from town and they ask, ‘what will we eat?’ Feed them, Jesus tells them. We have only five loaves and two fish. Bring what you have he tells them. He gives thanks to God and breaks up the loaves. And in his thanksgiving, the food multiplied.  Or as one of the youth said in Zambia in regard to this miracle story—mathematics happened. The food multiplied so much so that there were twelve baskets of leftovers when everyone’s hunger was satisfied.

There are people of faith who, at this point and with any miracle story of the Gospel, know the story to be absolute truth and think no further. There was a small, tiny amount of food, Jesus asked for God’s blessing and there was a great deal of food. More than could be eaten by the people gathered. And then, there are those people of faith who want to examine the miracle—maybe it wasn’t so much a miraculous and magical multiplying of food so much as it was people being generous. People digging down to the bottom of their bags and pulling out everything they had. And when I say ‘people’ let’s face it, it was the women. It would have been the women who thought to themselves, hmmm…we’re going out to see if we can find this Jesus fellow and hear what he has to say, I’d better bring food cause who knows where we’ll end up. After all, what mom doesn’t have a granola bar, or fish crackers or cut up grapes in the diaper bag?

But there is another way to receive this Gospel miracle. We don’t need to examine it too closely, we don’t need to know the logistics of it. We don’t need to have unquestioning faith in its veracity. Because, this story is not about facts. This story is about what is truth and what that truth means. The miracle of the loaves and fishes is that in a world where food was grown on land that was not owned by the farmer, where food was used to pay taxes, where generosity of government was limited to Romans, in a land where being a Jew was tantamount to being a second-class citizen with very little extra of anything in their lives, the Hebrew people were accustomed to living in scarcity. They were used to living in uncertainty and fear. The next meal was not guaranteed. Safety and livelihoods were not taken for granted. And yet, there is this massive group of people, who are without substance. Without food. Without their daily bread. And they are fed. They are fed so much so that there are leftovers. The food was abundant. What this story is telling anyone who has the ears to hear, what truth of this story is that there is enough for each one of us. There is enough love. The love that Jesus lived out, God’s love made manifest in the world, is so very abundant that there will be love left over. God’s love is not pumpkin pie. Because you and you and you each have piece of it, doesn’t mean I receive any less. This is the theology of abundance—there is no need to hoard or hide away your love and keep your generosity tied up tightly and as small as the Grinch’s heart for God’s love is so great that there will always be love leftover for the next person in line.

On its website, the Food Bank states that for every dollar donated, five dollars of food is distributed. This type of mathematics we understand. They take the dollar donations and buy in bulk what you and me bought at the grocery store likely at a much higher cost.  The money is multiplied but, let’s face it, it’s not as much fun. We humans are experiential learners. Children, in particular, learn by being hands on with activities. We can lecture about the value of a donated dollar all we want, but there is something so much more powerful when the giving is tangible. We have seen this played out here in Alberta with fires displacing thousands of people—quilts, food, household items are given.

It does not take a full-blown tragedy in order for people to find themselves struggling, to find themselves hurting, to be feeling a bit broken, to find themselves hungry in mind, body and spirit. We have heard in recent days, ‘you’re in my thoughts and prayers’ but James reminds us that if there are others who are without, without food, without peace, without love, we must act. In the knowing that we are partners with God in God’s great Creation and in hearing the truth that God’s love is abundant, the Book of James reminds us that it through our works that best we show our faith. I encourage you to give money—give whatever percentage of your income that you are able—but I also encourage you to take these words of James to heart and find some good works to become involved with. Jesus did not teach or lead from the comfortable places in his life. He led from alongside the very people who were the have-nots, he taught amongst the marginalized, he listened for the voices of those who spent their lives unheard, he loved those society taught were unlovable. The people of his time and we, his followers today, know Jesus not just by the love he spoke but by the love he displayed.

If you are looking for a way to get involved, the congregation of SVUC has many different opportunities for your to share your time, energy and money:

IFTC - Inn From the Cold - an organization that serves children and their families. Not adults and their children but CHILDREN and their families. Each month a small crew heads downtown to serve supper and make up the lunches that will be needed the next day. 

Sharp Foundation - a group of hospices for people living with HIV. The clients of the hospices are those people who have been homeless or otherwise disadvantaged in life and need a place to call home as they manage their medical needs. No one is ever turned away. All are lovingly cared for.

Drop-In Centre - SVUC serves breakfast once month before church and every Sunday we celebrate communion we make 450 sandwiches that are delivered to the Centre. 

Next Sunday, Jordan Hamilton, from the DI will be speaking during the worship service. If you own a Kindness, Empathy, Love or Respect shirt from the DI, please wear your shirt on Sunday. If you do not have a shirt, Jordan will have shirts available for $25. There's a new shirt - Dignity.

Thursday, September 28, 2017

The Spirit Immediately Drove Jesus into...Westworld?

Mark 1:9-13, Romans 8:18-27   

Christopher and I recently watched the first season of Westworld—the science fiction western thriller novel written by Michael Crichton and made into a TV show for HBO. Christopher first watched the show when it was released in the spring and he re-watched it while I was in Zambia. Christopher loves Westworld. It is a complicated, deeply layered and intricate story with big, big questions about life. What does it mean to be the creator? What authority and control does the creator has over the so-called that has been created? How do the emotions of love, pain, hate and joy drive us? And does the motivation and life purpose of one supersede the motivation and life purpose of another? As I watched this show for the first time and he for the third time, Christopher would pause it every occasionally—particularly after a revelatory moment that just took place—and he walk me through how his understanding of what just happened evolved over his multiple viewings and point out whatever he newly noticed this third time around.

Watching a movie or TV show or reading a book again and again allows us to catch subtleties that we might have missed before. We experience the story from a slightly different point of view due to recent occurrences in our lives—such the death or birth of a loved one, the loss or gaining of a job, or the end or beginning of a significant relationship. These events in our lives shift our focus and we see the world through a different set of lenses. A shift such as this is what the Church asks of God’s people during its different seasons. Advent is time to consider the arrival of the baby who was sent to heal the world. Lent is the time to reflect on the ministry of that baby who became an adult and challenged the systematic evils of empire—so much so that he was executed. And the Season of Easter is time for us to celebrate and experience the power of resurrection in our lives. And during this current season, the Season of Creation, the Church encourages people of faith to re-read a book they should already know fairly well. Many churches have a schedule for reading the holy scriptures over time and when they come to the end, they begin reading them again. As we move through the Season of Creation, we are encouraged to read the scriptures with an understanding that God created and loves ALL of creation—not just humanity. And in the giving of creation for us to keep and to till, God wished for the health of each and every aspect of God’s great creation. We are reminded in this Creation Time that the planet’s along with its plants and animals well-being are interconnected with the well-being of humanity. Last week we re-visited the creation story of how the first humans were formed from the very soil that fed and nourished the plants and animals in the Garden of Eden. It is from the earth we were created and it is to the earth that we will all return. In the words of Yanomami Shaman Davi Kopenawa, “The environment is not separate from ourselves. We are inside it and it is inside us.”

This Sunday is Wilderness Sunday. We often associate wilderness with realms that are unfamiliar, inhospitable or threating to us. Merriam-Webster defines wilderness as a region that is uncultivated and uninhabited by human beings—an empty or pathless area. Of course, empty in this context means empty of humanity because we know that wilderness, in any area of the world, has plenty of life whether or not it’s readily apparent. What is wilderness to humanity is home to many other aspects of God’s creation. The value to our world of wilderness is really just beginning to be understood. The prevailing thought used to be that the demise and extinction of one type of creature or plant did not, could not really affect humanity. But we have discovered the hard way, over time, that when the natural order of life on this planet is disrupted, there are consequences. When the wolves were hunted out of Yellowstone National Park to protect the non-predator animals living there, the conditions of the Park began to change drastically. The elk herds were no longer being culled by their natural predator and so they began to flourish, which in turn affected the plant life as the elk were numerous and needed much more to eat. Which then led to park rangers killing elk. Once the powers that be realized that mother nature had it all figured out in the first place, wolves were reintroduced to Yellowstone. The Park has since seen a remarkable and exciting shift in various animal and plant populations as a result. I am reminded of a quote that I have seen recently from Michel de Montaigne, a French philosopher from the 16th Century, “Let us permit nature to have her way. She understands her business better than we do.”

Humanity has long tried to conquer the wild—to live in places that seem to be most unwelcoming to a people that have no fur to keep us warm or natural protection from the heat of the sun. As much as I always feel cold between September and June, I do not understand why people think they can live in Arizona—particularly in the summer months. When we drove through what seemed to be a barren part of Arizona a few summers ago, I figured we might as well have been at the ends of the earth. I fretted the entire drive that our vehicle would break down along the desert highway and we would all perish because of the heat. But, with no great surprise, it is in the very distance from the security of town and neighbour, in which we also find beauty and peace. It is said that “The human spirit needs places where nature has not been rearranged by the hand of man.” The wilderness is a haven from the pressures of our fast-paced society. It provides us places where we can seek relief from the noise, haste and crowds that too often confine us. Wilderness areas can truly be places where we can hear the small still voice of God, speaking quietly to our hearts. Where we can look upwards and see the incredibleness of the Milky Way in all of its grandeur and where we can imagine the God who created those heavens of the sky along with the Creation of the earth.

The importance of keeping the wilderness wild has been acknowledged by nations for hundreds of years. While in and around 400 BCE Plato stated he had nothing to learn from landscapes and trees it was as early as 250 BCE that King Ashoka of India created the first laws to protect nature and established wildlife reserves during his rule. Indigenous and aboriginal people from all corners of the earth live in close physical and spiritual connection with the land—they have been strong advocates for the whole of Creation. The first three National Parks in the world were opened later in the 19th Century. Yellowstone in 1982, Royal National Park near Sydney Australia in 1879 and Banff National Park in 1885. The arctic tundra, the Amazon rainforest, the Australian outback and the Sahara Desert are some of the most remote wilderness areas on Earth today. We would like to think that these areas have been untouched by humanity’s relentless progress but we know that the impact of God’s people is felt, even in the most remote places on earth. Smog, acid rain, ice shelves collapsing…clearcutting, nuclear testing sites. Why keep wilderness https://www.pachamama.org/blog/the-significance-of-wilderness-in-our-modern-world  :
  • To protect the ancestral lands and cultures of indigenous people
  • To preserve species of plants and animals that would otherwise become extinct due to human development
  • So that we can observe the night sky, star/planets, Milky Way
  • To provide humans with a way to reconnect with nature and escape the hectic rush of the modern world
  • Wilderness filters and cleans the air we breathe and the water we drink
  • Leave a legacy of untouched wild lands for future generations of all species to enjoy

Near Mount Sinai, Egypt, 2012
It is critical that we keep the wilderness as wild as possible. For the health of the world and for our own spiritual and emotional well-being. For personal growth and transformation. We are told in today’s scripture reading that upon his baptism, Jesus was immediately driven out to the wilderness. I’m sure each of us have imagery of what the wilderness might have entailed—I know that I think that it must have been dry, hot, shelter, water and food hard to come by—pretty much the Arizona desert all over again. I am thinking that Jesus might not have had to go very far because we told just before this reading that John the Baptizer was already far away from any close civilization. He was in the wilderness himself, searching for God away from Jerusalem, the Temple and the false security of the city. This testing of Jesus by sending him further into the wilderness is reminiscent of Adam and Eve being banished from the Garden of Eden out into the unknown land where they had to toil and labour like never before. And it is reminiscent of when the slaves of Egypt finally escaped but they did not enter directly into the Promised Land—first they wandered forty years through the desert. And, having visited the Sahara desert and having climbed Mount Sinai myself, let me tell you that it is very much an inhospitable place. In biblical tradition, God again and again calls God’s people to the wilderness to be formed and reformed.

Linn David Edward
In the spread of so-called civilization across the globe, the wilderness is no longer something scary for us to conquer. And yet, individually, we likely each have good reason to be nervous and to feel uncertain in different types of wilderness, such as I did in Arizona. What we know better ourselves in today’s world is that the wildernesses that we endure are not physical places for everyone. The TV show Westworld I spoke about earlier, is about people removing themselves from their civilized lives and entering into a live-action game that takes place, interestingly enough, in the old-time Wild West. Whether for fun or for a time of introspection, people choose to take themselves to a time and area that is hard, dirty, violent and difficult. The characters we meet are each struggling with some aspect of their life. Their true wilderness is internal. The pain, hurt and brokenness they feel cannot be escaped by simply taking themselves out to the desert of the Wild West. Their healing cannot simply be washed away—self-reflection, honesty about themselves and a willingness to they discover, is bound up in the lives of others—even if those others are not fully human.

Each of us experience moments of wilderness in our own lives. A medical diagnoses that forever alters how you will be in the world. A relationship severed beyond repair. Depression, anxiety. Hurt and pain. Bearing grudges and having grudges borne against you. Being in the wilderness—whether it is the real thing—deep into woods that are so large you’re not sure if you ever will find the edge, out on the northern tundra, in the middle of a desert—or if the wilderness is metaphorical—you are feeling locked in, locked out, abandoned, not worthy—being in the wilderness  reminds us that we are vulnerable, that our individualism will only get us so far. We need one another. We are to rely on one another. We need the plants and animals to sustain us. We need our fellow humans to encourage and love us. The stories of our God and of the one we call Christ remind us that the wilderness is not some scary place to be avoided at all cost. It is necessary for growth, for being reformed and renewed. Transformation is possible in the wild. Adam and Eve learned the skills to further humanity, despite a rough start in the world. The Hebrew people made it to the Promised Land having grown in their faith and trust in the one true God. Jesus understood that his ministry was to show that love, trust and compassion is stronger and will always win over hate, fear and power. The wilderness may not need us but we certainly need it.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Yelling Out the Window in Order to Save the World

Genesis 2:4-7, 3:17-19

So, in recent years—really, just over the last two or three—I have come to realize there is a hard, real truth to my life that cannot be avoided, no matter how much I ignore it or avoid it, pray for it not be or how much that I’ve asked God to delay it just a little longer. The fact of the matter is…turning forty years old is truly, undeniably the gateway into middle-age. Now that I am in mid-forties, I am finding to my horror—my horror!!—that your eyesight REALLY does change after you hit the big 4-0. I always secretly thought, my eyes haven’t changed since I was a teenager, they won’t change like everyone says. They won’t. But I know right now I’m going to need progressives after my next eye exam. Now that I look back, I can see there were warning signs that middle-age was slowly beginning to seep into my life—it began slowly and I could brush it off at first. Like when I began complaining that it seemed like the kids get a LOT of days off of school—I couldn’t remember having SO MANY days off of school when I was a kid. I thought that kind of complaint was more about being a parent and not wanting children at home squabbling over the video games. It was rally more about parenting rather than being middle-aged.

I had a feeling the change might be coming. But, you see, the coming of middle-age plants itself quietly and firmly without you even really noticing—and then suddenly you say or do something that makes it clear—there is no going backwards. Like when the teenagers started this thing about heading out the door wearing sneakers for shoes and no coat on snowy days I would yell after them, when I was a kid, I had to wear snow pants, a winter jacket, a toque and a big long scarf wrapped around my head!! I might as well have told them that I had to walk to school—uphill both ways. Middle age had arrived. Or that moment when I found some items in the garbage that was clearly recyclable. I called the kids upstairs and exclaimed to them that it was going to be THEIR GENERATION that was going to save the planet and shouldn’t they be the ones policing the recycling in the house, not me?! I actually used those words—YOUR GENERATION. No only did I accept that divide between us versus them but it as if I was saying it was up to them to create the future because we adults have not managed to figure out. It was on their shoulders as if we, the people of MY generation have abdicated any further responsibility to fix the mess we’re in. I might well have, in that frustrated moment, when looking at the recycling in the garbage just given my head a little shake like my elderly grandma would do once her hearing got to the point that she didn’t catch most of what we were saying and she gave up trying to understand and just shake her head when she decided it wasn’t worth figuring out.

It makes sense that the next generation will be the ones to sort out these struggles that we have in keeping and tilling God’s creation. The next generation always seems to have more passion and knowledge that we older folks have. They are not yet spoiled by cynicism or frustrated by history repeating itself. It would be lovely if we old folks could simply hand our young people a seed for the future as the Lorax does with the young child at the end of the tale, that will be the saving grace for a world without truffula trees and the brown bar-ba-loots who live amongst them. It would be lovely to hand over that responsibility. But then you find recyclables in your garbage or worse yet! You are driving in your neighbourhood three days ago and see a youngster—maybe 9 or 10 years old—drop his garbage on the ground. He just dropped it and kept walking. And you think, arg, have we learned NOTHING?! As I was driving onwards I chided myself for not rolling down my window and yelling at him to pick it up (after-all, I’m middle-aged, I could get away with it) but I justified not doing so by telling myself, ‘it wasn’t really safe, I was in a playground zone, I needed to be focused’. And then the word UNLESS popped into my head. From the end of the Lorax, “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not.”

So, here’s a fun fact. Despite all the achievements humankind has made over the years because of our big brains and our opposable thumbs, our lives and all of God’s creation depend upon to a six-inch layer of topsoil. Anyone who has read or watched the movie, The Martian, knows our existence depends upon a land that is full of minerals, nutrients and microscopic organisms. It is this healthy land such as this that God created in the Garden of Eden and it from this rich and fertile land that God planted the plants and trees so they could grow and it this same land that God used to form the first human. You see the children’s toy, the Cabbage Patch Kids could have been an excellent environmental message. If the soil is not healthy, the Cabbage Patch might not be able to produce more Kids. In this Season of Creation, we turn our eyes and our ears to what the Bible and God tells us about the rest of creation. We take this time to suppress our natural tendency to think that everything, all the time is about us, God’s humanity, and we look outward of ourselves to remember that God’s creation is so much bigger than human beings. And we are reminded that some very fundamental aspects of creation are necessary for all life. And another fun fact—we, humanity, is not one of those foundations upon which all life on earth relies for health and growth. Soil, rain, trees, the tides of the ocean, fire and ice matter more to our existence than any war, political party or religious institution. 

As this Sunday we call Land Sunday was approaching, I started paying more attention to the land that surrounds me each day. I was driving to church for choir practice the other day and I realized that some of my drive is parallel to the dump up by Beacon Hill. This is another middle-age-type comment that I’ve been making lately, “I can remember the days…I can remember the days in which you had to go out of your way to get near the dump—actually we call it a landfill now—but back then, it was out in the country, north of Calgary but Calgary has grown so much that now I drive right alongside it. But you wouldn’t know it. From Stoney Trail there is no indication that just over the big berm to the north is the landfill. The surrounding area is very neat and tidy. In Canada we have the privilege of space. Space means that we can put our industry, mining and landfills far away from the general public. We also have the privilege of paying taxes.  And I do paying taxes is a privilege because it is through our tax system we have infrastructure that creates a system for garbage removal. There is no municipal garbage collection where we stay in Zambia and so every once in a while we would drive by big areas alongside the road strewn with garage, kids picking through the piles or the garbage burning. What was experienced here in Calgary this summer as air pollution from the BC fires was experienced by us travelers every day in Kitwe due to garbage burning.

Open Pit Copper Mine in Chingola, Zambia
In Canada what harm we may doing to our environment is not often right on doorstep. Not many of us Albertans have much occasion to be in proximity to the oil sands, it can be out of sight, out of mind. There are many reasons to be mining in northern Alberta that way, I’m not arguing here whether or not to mine but only to lift up that most of Albertans and Canadians are not close enough to the oil sands to keep an eye on the corporations and ensure that regulations protecting the environment are being adhered to. We need to rely on reports, the government and environmental groups to speak on behalf of God’s creation in that part of our country. In Zambia, however, the mines are not a distant, far off entity. They are right at the edge of town. They are right in the back yard of their neighbours. During our trip there last month, our group was invited to tour an open-pit copper mine in the town down the road from Kitwe. Once we arrived, we did not have to leave the town to access the mine—it was that close. The only way I can think to describe to you what this mine looked like was to compare it to the Grand Canyon. The ground was flat for kilometers surrounding the pit but then the ground fell away sharply, in ever deeper concentric circles. Machinery that was ginormous—I know because we got to climb up and onto one of the Canadian shovels they use—looked like little Tonka trucks from our lookout because the pit was so vast and deep. It was oddly beautiful in how you could see the different layers of the earth in the walls of the pit. But I could not see this sight without having in mind what I saw in the Mine’s model room that we visited first. Describe the photos. There was a machine that, with the help of light and revolving panes of glass, the viewer could see the area of land that the open pit mine covered before and after the pit was dug. What struck me was that when I first saw the 'before' photo, I saw flat land and scrub. When one of our Zambian hosts watched it with me, he immediately pointed out where the villages had been. Being of the area and knowing what to look for, he saw right away what I did not--how many villages were removed from the landscape because of the open pit.

In the scripture reading today we are told we are made of the earth. Not only are we are dust but it is to dust that we shall return. In last week’s scripture reading we were reminded that God entrusted humanity to keep creation and to till it—in other words, we are to serve the earth, caring for its health and well-being as we would any other dependent in our care. And, in doing so, we care for ourselves, we serve the human race, our families and future generations. I have spoken about Ubuntu theology but only in regards to humans, particularly concerning social justice issues. Ubuntu theology became developed primarily in South Africa—Archbishop Desmond Tutu wrote quite a bit on the topic. There can be many different ways of expressing the essence of Ubuntu but what I feel that best sums it up is this, the world is not whole until I am whole, I am not whole until the world is whole. The United Church Zambia University faculty would speak in our discussions about Ubuntu, they would say, I am because you are and you are because I am. The foundation of humanity’s health and well-being reside in our ability to help one another heal and be whole. In this Season of Creation, we are reminded that Ubuntu extends beyond humanity. It involves all of creation. For if the soil is not healthy, we cannot be healthy. If the trees cannot do their God-given work, we cannot breathe. And as Texas, Florida and the Caribbean have recently experienced, if the power of wind and water are not respected, we cannot live.

The progress of humanity does not come free of cost. For every action there is a reaction. The National Council of Churches in the United States put out a Theological Statement on the Environment addressed to the people, corporations and industries of their nation. It is pages long and it’s worth reading. This line caught my eye and would not let me go as the Season of Creation asks us to tune our ears and turn our eyes to God’s call for justice for all aspects of creation. The line is this: “The whole Earth is groaning, crying out for healing–let us awaken the “ears of our souls” to hear it, before it’s too late.” I like to think we are making a difference in the world and our environment. The sight of that boy dropping his garbage was upsetting but I also know that the City of Calgary has worked diligently to deal with garbage, recyclables and compost with respect to Creation and to our surrounding environment. I know this well because my spouse’s sister was the engineer who headed up the composting plant in south Calgary and is managing the compost pick up from each of our homes. This project has been years in the making and we are finally able to minimize the rubbish we add to the landfill on a weekly basis. But let us not get complacent. Let us remember that progress happens when we encourage one another to be better. To do better. Let us remember we are to keep and till the very land from which we were created and to which we will return. Let remember that our personal healing is tied up in healing of the world.

“Healing is impossible in loneliness; it is the opposite of loneliness. Conviviality is healing. To be healed we must come with all the other creatures to the feast of Creation.” Wendell Berry—The Body and the Earth

Thursday, September 14, 2017

God to Humanity - Don't Be Easter Island

Genesis 2:8-17


As you might expect, the church has its own calendar that runs parallel to events and scheduling that humanity has created. The seasons of the church run kinda, sorta parallel with the seasons of nature. In the church, the new year begins with the season of Advent—usually the end of November or early December – four Sundays before Christmas Day. A season within the church is a time set apart to give particular focus to God’s work in the world—usually through the life and ministry of Jesus. So, the anticipation and hope of the birth of Jesus gives us the season of Advent and the healing miracles and the calls for justice that threatened the powers that be and resulted in his execution is contemplated during the season of Lent, leading up to Easter Sunday. Following the celebration of Easter Sunday, during the season of Easter, we remind ourselves of the power of the resurrection that is in our lives. In recent years, it has been recognized that we have traditionally read the Bible as only concerned with God and humans. We spent year after year, cycling through the readings of the Bible with only an eye and an ear to what God intends for humanity. In our hubris, we have overlooked that the Bible also attends to the rest of the living world. With this realization, the wider church has set aside the Sundays of September and early October as the Season of Creation—a time to direct our attention to the natural world around us and in Scripture. This Sunday is Forest Sunday.

Zambian Spiders are no joke
- this one was 2.5 inches in diameter
We know that God loves the creation that God created. In the first of two stories of creation in the Book of Genesis, God created each component of creation and saw every aspect to be ‘good’. I might argue here that there is no such thing as a ‘good’ spider—just ask the folks I just went to Zambia with how much I enjoy spiders—of any size. We did have a couple of people on the trip who were apparently more godly than myself and they argued strenuously that we shouldn’t kill the spiders in our living accommodations but I will admit that had trouble getting on board with that plan. The only good spider is a dead spider. But I digress. In this first account of creation that God told humanity to have dominion over every living thing. But, in the second story of creation, the one Dianne read for us today, God told the first human to till and to keep the Garden of Eden. Now, humans having the ability to imagine and to be builders themselves, and frankly, also having opposable thumbs was extremely beneficial. Having these two skill sets along with an innate desire to strive to improve, to better ourselves, has meant we have evolved dramatically since those first days in the Garden. We have come to view the world as ours to use as we need for such improvements, to make things better. The world is for our use rather than as God’s for God’s use. And when this belief has been challenged, certain people who proclaim to know the Bible forwards and backwards, answer that God put the world into our care—that we are to have dominion—to be the ones who declare how the resources and other living beings of the world will be used and treated. God told us that humanity would have supremacy over the earth.

But there is a further definition of dominion: to care for those who are dependent on you. Such as we would care for our children and care for our pets. We understand that we are not to cause harm to our children, to our cherished cats and dogs and all other manner of beloved animals. If we find out that something we are doing is causing our loved ones to be ill or to be hurting, we cease and desist immediately and we seek to help them. And so, while there are Christians who look to the Book of Revelation to point out that God promised a new heaven and a new earth, there are plenty of other Christians who point to the words of Jesus who told u to love our neighbours as ourselves—and, yes, ALL of creation is our neighbour. If we are to create heaven here on earth as Jesus tells us to, there is no mythically far off time in which the planet of earth will be made as new. It is our responsibility to till it and to keep it—to keep it so that it may be home to our future—home to our children, to our grandchildren and home to the many, many plant and animals with home we share this earth with—even, I will admit, the stupid spiders.

Did you know that forests cover 30% of the earth’s land area? Anyone with child that has been through grade seven here in Alberta has likely been reminded of how amazing trees are for our world. Because they offer a rather stoic presence in our world, we might think of trees as not really doing anything, but we know, in fact their roots extract water and minerals from the ground. Their branches produce countless solar factories, leaves transform sunlight and carbon dioxide into water vapor, oxygen, and sugars that store energy for growth and fruiting. The industry of trees support all animal life, including our own, producing elements we require for breath, nourishment, and hydration. Trees also offer to us many opportunities to experience beauty, peace and an sense of the awesomeness of God’s power. I don’t know about you but when I’m in a forest, wild or urban, I oftentimes find myself talking or praying to God for the Divine seems to reside easily amongst the trees.

The last decade has been the warmest on record, continent-wide. Science of the climate has shown conclusively that humanity has had such an impact on the climate, that change in the world’s climate is happening. Of course there are climate-change deniers but we need to remember that for every scientist who would stand against climate change, there are a thousand that confirm it is happening. But when discussions about climate change occur on tv shows or in political forum, the so-called debate is one-on-one, giving the impression that there are equal numbers on either side. In reality, the one denier needs to be sitting across the desk from a vast a number of other scientists who have an untold number of studies and reports that prove climate change is real. So, the warmer temperatures cause increased evaporation which leads to drier lands and an earlier snowmelt which then increases the duration and severity of wildfires. Wildfires are a natural part of the life-cycle of forests. There are plants that need the heat of fire to cause their seeds to break open and become new trees. The irony is that humans, with the potential threat to recreation and living areas, have learned how to suppress forest fires. By not allowing smaller fires to burn, the natural deadfall of the forest is not cleared out—creating fuel for larger and more intense fires which are then that much more difficult to put out—as we have well witnessed in BC this summer, in Fort McMurray last year and in Slave Lake in 2011.

For my mom, cutting down a tree was akin to committing a crime. I can remember a time that I was advocating for removing one of the trees from our backyard and my mom and my spouse became as one person in their outrage and they completely shut down any further talk of such nonsense. We know that trees all over the world are cut down for paper and building materials and for clearing space for farming, ranching and human developments. We also know that when too many trees in a concentrated area are removed, erosion happens, which can have a dramatic impact on the surrounding environment and ecosystem. Human activities have significantly increased the rate at which erosion occurs globally. Deforestation causes damage to habitats, cause loss of biodiversity and causes aridity—a lack of moisture in the soil. There are now only 4 billion hectares that remain of what is understood to be the pre-industrial 6 billion hectares. We not only put ourselves and our own habitats in danger when we lose our forests to mass wildfire or destroy our forests for our needs but we are also a poorer creation when we lose the animals and plants—sometimes the loss is so profound that extinction happens. This is not a phenomenon that emerged only in modern day.

When Easter Island was "discovered" by Europeans in 1722, it was a barren landscape with no trees over ten feet in height. The small number of inhabitants, around 2000, lived in a state of civil disorder and were thin and emaciated. Virtually no animals besides rats inhabited the island and the natives lacked sea-worthy boats. Understandably, the Europeans were mystified by the presence of great stone statues, some as high as 33 feet and weighing 82 tons. Even more impressive were the abandoned statues-as tall as 65 feet and weighing as much as 270 tons.  (NB - from here on in, I paraphrased Gretta Vesper - With or Without God - essentially that the original residents of Easter Island were a people who used the many robust tress on the island to make boats in order to fish. The people began to worship their ancestors and created big stone statues to worship. The statues were moved from the stone quarries to the coast by cutting down trees and rolling the statues across the island. As competition for making statues increased, more and more trees were cut down to move the larger and larger statues. Until the trees were completely consumed.

Imagine what might have been going through the head of the tree-cutter as he was cutting down the last known tree on Easter Island. Reminds me of the Dr. Suess storybook, The Lorax. Long before ‘going green’ was mainstream, Dr. Seuss’ Lorax spoke for the trees and warned of the dangers of disrespecting the environment. In the story, we learn of the Once-ler, who came across a valley of Truffula Trees and Brown Bar-ba-loots, and how the Once-ler’s harvesting of the tufted trees changed the landscape forever. When Dr. Seuss gets serious, you know it must be important. Published in 1971, and perhaps inspired by the "save our planet" mindset of the 1960s, The Lorax is an ecological warning that still rings true today amidst the dangers of clear-cutting, pollution, and disregard for the earth's environment. The story ends with the The Lorax having disappeared, and leaving only "a small piece of rocks, with the one word...'UNLESS.'" For years, the Once-ler wondered and worried about what that meant…UNLESS someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil
byLena Karpinsky
Our scripture reading tells us today, God’s creation in the Garden of Eden gave us all that we need—trees of all kinds—the ones pleasant to sight and ones good for food. The instructions were to care for God’s great creation and that we may eat freely of all that creation has to offer with the exception of one tree. God gave us EVERYTHING WE EVER NEEDED in the Garden but we still wanted more—we wanted what we told we could not have. And OF COURSE that tree was called the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The irony is that if the first people had just left that tree of knowledge well enough alone, we would supposedly still be living in the Garden. But humanity’s hubris was there from the very beginning. Look at us, we have opposable thumbs. We can do math—we can see that one plus one is two and we know that four is more than two. We want more, we deserve more. Sure we have enough but enough isn’t enough. We want more. So we ate from the tree. And despite it being of the knowledge of good and evil, some three thousand years later we still haven’t figured out what’s good and what’s evil—for ourselves, for each other and for the environment. In our modern day, Christians are re-reading our scriptures with an eye and an ear for God’s creation that beyond is beyond mere humanity. In recent decades we are beginning to realize that, not only do we not have time to wait for a new heaven and a new earth—what was intended by the scriptures is that we are make God’s heaven, God’s peace, on this earth. In this time. We have been given everything we will ever need. How do we till it and keep it so that all creatures, all plants, all of creation has a place heaven alongside humanity? How do we have dominion over the earth, how do we protect it so that we do not consume it as the people of Easter Island did with their most precious resource? As the Once-ler did with the Truffula Trees?

Some lessons from The Lorax (Bret Love  - https://greenglobaltravel.com/10-eco-lessons-we-can-learn-from-the-lorax/) that I have adapted slightly...



1.     Unspoiled wilderness is a thing to treasure.
2.     Take only pictures, leave only footprints.
3.     We must speak for the tress and all other living things.
4.     Don’t expect people in power to make eco-conscious decisions. (I don’t believe this to be true – but I think there needs to be help/reminding/regulations.)
5.     In nature, every action has a reaction.
6.     Development, if not sustainable, is a dead-end road.
7.     Rampant consumerism creates a non-sustainable lifestyle.
8.     Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not. See www.goodwork.ca if you are interested in becoming involved with environmental issues.
9.     Children are the seeds, and we must help them grow.
10. There is hope for the future, and it is us. Thanks be to God.
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