Sermon: “Wise Abundance”

September 11, 2016: Seventeenth Sunday after Pentecost
Season of Creation: Fauna and Flora Sunday

Psalm 104:14-23
Luke 12:22-31

Psalm 104 is one of the loveliest passages in the Scriptures. Its poetry is open and free. It evokes its subject – the glories of Creation itself – joyfully and beautifully. It is a celebration of a world of wonders.

It is also evidence for the sophistication of ancient peoples. We moderns have a very bad habit of discounting what people knew “way back then.” I don’t really know when that got started; possibly with the scientific era. I’m sure it gets reinforced by the notion that all ancient peoples believed that the earth was flat. Well, many did, but many didn’t. Ancient Greek astronomers, in fact, not only realized that the earth is a sphere, they calculated its size with a respectably small error.

The wide-ranging Polynesians must have known. As you watch an island disappear behind you below the curve of the Earth, it’s really hard to believe in a flat world.

I confess, however, that Psalm 104 does not demonstrate any knowledge of a spherical world. Rather, it talks about an interdependent world. It shows an awareness of the dependence that life forms have on one another. Centuries before Western thinkers developed a scientific discipline we call ecology, the Psalmist knew that living things rely on other living things.

“You cause the grass to grow for the cattle, and plants for people to use, to bring forth food from the earth.”

Biblical writers, it must be said, tend to concentrate on things that have to do with people: God’s relationship with people, people’s freedom from oppression, ordering a society for people, restoring people’s relationships with God, and of course restoring people’s relationships with other people. People. It’s nearly always about the people.

But in Psalm 104, we find that interdependent relationships exist between things that aren’t human. Rain feeds trees. Trees shelter birds. High mountains provide home for wild goats. None of these are for the benefit of people.

The Psalmist – well, this psalmist (the psalms were written by a number of different people) – knows that human life is not the only life. This Psalmist knows that all life relies on other life.

Theologian Elizabeth Webb writes: “The musicality of the psalm is further enhanced by its emphasis on the interdependence of God’s creatures.”

Something we barely seemed to know just sixty years ago.

Life’s reliance on life goes deeper than this psalmist knew. As wise and perceptive as he was, he didn’t have access to a scanning electron microscope. Actually, I don’t have access to a scanning electron microscope, either, but there are people who do and they’re willing to share what they’ve seen. So this psalmist didn’t know how green plants get their nutrients from the soil.

I didn’t either, until recently. I mean, I knew what most of us know, that plants put down roots, and the roots soak up ground water, and little dissolved bits of minerals come along with the water. So the tree, or the bush, or the flower, survives.

The trouble is that that’s true, and also wrong. Minerals don’t arrive with the ground water. Instead, lining the tiny roots of green plants is a layer of fungi, a non-green plant, relatives of mushroom.

By the way, do you know why the mushroom went to the party? Because he was a fun-gi!

Do you know why the fun-gi left the party? Because there wasn’t mush-room.

Paul Bryant-Smith, I know you warned me not to lead with a pun. I’d just like to point out that I didn’t lead with this pun. OK?

Back to the fungi on the roots. They’re actually the delivery system. In return for sugars which the plant is making with its green leaves up in the sun, the fungi are extending little tubes into the soil. They actually drill into tiny pebbles and extract the minerals and provide those to the roots of the plant.

Biologist Jennifer Frazer says that the world’s largest mining operation is being run by fungi.

As a child, I wouldn’t eat mushrooms. I didn’t like fungi. I have to say I like fungi a whole lot more now that I know that everything I eat relies on them.

Theologian Doug Bratt writes, “Psalm 104 views God as vigorously and intimately involved in caring for what God so lovingly and wisely created. Even when worshipers take into account the specifics of the psalmist’s pre-scientific understanding of the world, we can’t help but marvel at the truths it communicates about God’s deep ongoing involvement in the world God so loves.”

There are various ways to understand God’s ongoing, intimate involvement in the world.

Plenty of people view God’s actions in the world in a very direct way. God decides, and it happens. God points, and it comes to pass. And, as Thursday was the 50th anniversary of the first episode of Star Trek, I can’t resist this one: God says, “Make it so,” and it gets engaged.

My apologies to those of you who aren’t fans of Star Trek: The Next Generation, for that obscure reference.

I don’t believe in that kind of detail-directing God. I also don’t believe in some kind of clock-winder God, who gets things ready, winds everything up, and leaves the universe to run along, or run down, on its own.

I believe in a parent God, one who cares deeply for a child Creation. I believe in a parent God who lets Creation grow up. I believe in a parent God who gives life, in all its forms, the chance to choose, to make mistakes, to find new ways, to grow old, and to come to the end of life.

I believe in a God who is a parent.

As strange as it seems to me, I’m the parent of two full-fledged adults. This has not changed the vigor or the intimacy of my involvement in their lives, but it has changed the ways in which I am involved.

Once upon a time, my involvement was very direct indeed. I fed them, I bathed them, I dressed them, I set them down to sleep. As time went on, my involvement with them grew more instructive: teaching them how to eat, and bathe, and dress, and that now, really now, it’s dark and you’re tired, OK it’s dark and I’m tired, but now is the time to go to sleep. I taught them about acting with other people, and about how to deepen a friendship, and about dreaming your dreams.

Now, they choose: where to live, what to do, who to grow closer to, what dream to pursue. And I am just as vigorously and intimately involved in their lives, not by deciding, but by listening to their decisions. I am just as vigorously and intimately involved in their lives by watching, and not by determining. I’m there to show them I love them whatever the future brings.

Just as God is with every living thing on earth, from the fungi on the roots to the great blue whale in the sea, loving them and accompanying them, whatever the future may bring.

There are times that adult children turn again to their parents, because times get tough. I have. More than once. I imagine that there are times when non-speaking Creation shouts at God, “Help us!” I suspect that in these days of human-fed climate change, Creation may shout that often.

“Help us!”

Because life is hard, because we suffer, because Creation suffers, we’ll observe Storm Sunday next week.

Today, we acknowledge and celebrate in profound humility the Wise Abundance which God brought to the Creation of the world. We delight in the interlocking connections between living things, the very ways in which we are rooted to the ground beneath us, the ways we are carried by the waters around us, and the ways we are filled with breath by the air above us.

For God’s wise abundance, let us give thanks. Amen.

Categories Sermons | Tags: , , | Posted on September 14, 2016

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