and your paths overflow with plenty.
May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing,
and the hills be clothed with joy.
May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,
and the valleys cloak themselves with grain;
let them shout for joy and sing. ~ Psalm 65:12-14
The beauty of the world has been much about us this week as the autumn leaves have reached their peak of color. And between now and Thanksgiving Day we will focus more consciously on seasonally-themed foods than we probably do at any other time of
the year – apples, pears, cranberries, squash, turkey, and everything pumpkin; you can’t go into a grocery store or coffee shop without being inundated with messages about “pumpkin spice.” And we hasten to bring the plants in from the deck at night,
lest they freeze, and start to put the garden to bed for the winter. We pull down the storm windows and get the down comforters out
of the linen closet. Even though we don’t make our livings from the earth and its produce, there is something innate in us that responds to the change of season in the autumn more strongly than at other times of the year. We have this sense of the harvest, of hunkering down for winter, of making sure that there will be enough to tide us over – even as we glory in the beauty around us.
And this is also the time of year when we start to think about home – either our metaphorical home or our actual home; we go to homecoming games at high schools and colleges, we start to make our plans for Thanksgiving and Christmas - where we will go, with whom we will gather; we remember loved ones – sometimes with longing. It is a season for reflection, for looking back over the year that – at least in the natural world – is ending; and it is a season for giving thanks, for counting our blessings; in these autumn days we sense that our world will shortly become smaller, more intimate, as we spend the majority of our time indoors, with the windows closed, the lamps lighted and perhaps a fire in the fire place - in our minds, if not in fact. And this is the season of stewardship – of reflecting on how our thanks to God can take specific shape and focus and purpose.
This morning we have this wonderful psalm to give shape to our praise; hear a portion of it again:
"Awesome things will you show us in your righteousness, O God of our salvation, O Hope of all the ends of the earth and of the seas that are far away. You make fast the mountains by your power; they are girded about with might. You still the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, and the clamor of the peoples. Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your
marvelous signs; you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy. You visit the earth and water it abundantly; you make it very plenteous; the river of God is full of water. You prepare the grain for so you provide for the earth. You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges; with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase. You crown the year with your goodness,
and your paths overflow with plenty. May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing, and the hills be clothed with joy. May the meadows cover themselves with flocks, and the valleys cloak themselves with grain; let them shout for joy and sing."
These are wonderful images of God blessing the earth, and the meadows, valleys, mountains, rivers and seas praising God in return, with shouts of joy and singing.
When asked, a majority of people say they have their strongest sense of God, or greatest appreciation for the divine, in nature – standing on a mountain top, walking in the woods, gazing out at the ocean’s horizon, canoeing down a river, taking in the deepest blues of the sky or the stars overhead. When we find ourselves in the midst of creation we are very aware that it is something beyond our making or our measure. We know that we did not create the oceans or the mountains; we know that the forest was here long before we were, and that it did not grow overnight.
Even when we plant a garden, we know that we only have a small role in its success; the conditions of soil, water, light, temperature, climate, the presence of animals or insects all have an effect on the vegetables or flowers we are trying to grow.
We are only stewards, care-takers, gardeners of God’s good earth, and I wonder how often we stop to remember that we are made out of the very same stuff as the rest of creation.
In Genesis chapter two God named the first human Adam – from Hebrew “ha-adham”, “one formed out of the earth.” Latin picked up this same relationship; the word for earth or soil is “humus” – that good, rich organic matter that nourishes plant life – and the word “human” comes from the same root: “of the earth.” We remember this in a particular way every year on Ash Wednesday when we say “Remember that you are dust, and to dust shall you return.” More than seventy percent of the surface of the earth is covered in water, not including underground aquifers, and sixty percent of the adult human body is made up of water. On average, we breathe in eighteen liters of air every minute; and in the Bible the words for breath or wind in both Hebrew and Greek are the same as the word for spirit – as in the Holy Spirit, or the Spirit of God. And finally, every single atom in our bodies –“the calcium in
our bones, the carbon in our genes, the iron in our blood” - was created in a star billions of years ago, that eventually coalesced into our earth, and our human bodies; we are indeed made of the stuff of stars. It is no wonder, then, that we should feel the hand and presence of God so strongly when we attend to the natural world around us – it is part of us, and we are part of Creation.
There is a difference, however, between us and the rest of Creation: we were made in God’s image – Genesis tells us - with the ability to love, to be in relationship, to exercise free will, to choose the good or turn away from it. Increasingly over the last fifty years, since the publication of Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring,” we humans have been learning that our choices have so often harmed the rest of Creation – sometimes through ignorance, sometimes through necessity, sometimes through flagrant greed and
We know a lot more than we used to; we know that we should “reduce, reuse, recycle”; we know that we have to limit our water consumption, and that the convenience of a twenty-ounce plastic water bottle really costs nearly two gallons of water just to make the plastic; we know we should use chemicals sparingly so they do not leach into our soil or run off into rivers and streams; we know that the air pollution caused by fuel emissions is harmful to human health, forests, birds, fish and animals. We know all these things, and so much more; sometimes it feels like we have an avalanche of information and data and research; so much that we
do not know where to start to be good stewards of God’s creation.
Start by giving thanks for all the beauty you experience around you; be grateful for the earth that nourishes and supports you; give praise to God for the animals who may be your companions, and the animals who give us food. And then choose one thing that you are not already doing, one way in which you can develop your stewardship of creation – maybe that means walking short distances rather than driving; taking your own bags to the grocery store or on other errands; planting flowers and bushes that attract honey bees and other pollinating insects; using glass jars and containers in your refrigerator that can be washed and re-used; whatever makes sense to you. As you develop your practice of caring for creation, other things will occur to you, other opportunities will arise; you can even ask God to direct you about the particular choices you and your family make. The important thing to remember is that we are stewards of creation, that we are God’s partners in care for the earth and its inhabitants, that we are curators of the beauty and goodness of the natural world, and that through this gift we have been very blessed indeed. Thanks be to God. Amen.
Victoria Geer McGrath
All Saints’ Church,
Twenty-third Sunday after Pentecost
October 27, 2013