By Rev. Joan Kessler
Our focus for this second Sunday in the season of Creation is our relationship we have with plants and animals, the flora and fauna, and all the ways we exist together. The passage that has been appointed to us from Luke for today is one we’ve heard many times. When I hear these familiar verses, I think back to the years when my family lived in Whitecourt and all the ravens that lived in our neighborhood. You didn’t dare put your garbage out in black plastic bags on collection day. They would wait atop of the light standards for the garbage to come out and then they would swoop down and tear into it, taking what they wanted, and scattering the rest of the trash all over the sidewalk. Now we have moved on from leaving garbage bags at the curb and have fancy rollaway bins that the garbage truck just drives up alongside and lifts the bin to be emptied into the truck…. no mess… no fuss… no ravens hanging about. We have made progress, I suppose, unless you’re a raven.
This morning, I would like to spend a bit of time thinking about biodiversity. You are likely already familiar with this term, the interconnectedness of all living things… the web of life. It refers to the variety of plants and animals, fungi and micro-organisms that work together in a habitat or ecosystem to ensure balance and support life. David Suzuki has devoted his life to the science of the nature of all living things. Let’s listen for the next few minutes how he explains biodiversity…
When nature is healthy and flourishing, humanity is healthy and flourishing.
This morning, we hear Jesus draw his listeners attention to the amazing web of biodiversity. He uses the illustration of the way ravens and lilies conduct themselves. They do not worry about anything; they simply function as they were created. The raven finds food and shelter; the lilies are beautiful and a sight to behold. In this story, Jesus is talking to Galileans who lost their land because they fell behind in paying their taxes to the Roman Empire and were subsequently forced to become day laborers on the estates acquired by Roman entrepreneurs. Their sowing and reaping, their ability to live off the land taken from them. They were the vulnerable poor who did not know from one day to the next how they would survive. The crowd listened to Jesus’ invitation to not worry about their life, what they were to eat and the clothes they were to wear. Jesus reminds them, “Of how much more value are you than the birds.”
This is a question we in 2022 must consider. Humans are elevated above the creatures. Christianity has lived out this message. These words have been used over the centuries to justify domination over creation; for humans to use nature for its profitable purposes and enjoyment. Jesus addressed listeners on the fringes of Galilean society… they worried about many things. Not much has changed the past two millennium. We worry. COVID has certainly changed the things we worry about and levels of anxiety. And when we worry, I think we can fall into over-consumption habits… like visiting Starbucks multiple times in a week, buying clothes, consuming alcohol. All of these things have an impact on our watersheds and the health of biodiversity.
If we are to read this passage with the spirit of the Season of Creation, through an ecological lens, we must dismantle the hierarchy of humans at the top of the created order and start looking at what is all around us, the interconnection of species and wildlife, water supplies and forests. I read a short reflection this past week by Jan Bush entitled Close Encounters of the Bird Kind. In her piece, Bush speaks of all the birds that make their homes in the urban landscape of Toronto. She explains their critically important purpose this way:
I believe they (the birds) are here to teach us… I believe they are here to tell us to open our inner eye. To see inside as well as outside. To pay attention to our visions and our dreams. To come to understand them and where they would lead us. To look up – to look forward – to look far. To widen our focus. To take our eyes off the narrow confines of the here and now and the busyness of our lives. I believe they are here to lift us up out of our preoccupation with earthly things…. I have come to believe that the hawks, the harriers and eagles have returned …to remind us that the streets upon which we hurry rest on land that is not ours alone, but is shared even here in the midst of the city with all that the Maker created.
Jesus leaves us with the invitation to re-evaluate our relationship with our natural environment, to become caretakers instead of consumers. The statistic David Suzuki shared in the video cited that the “natural environment is worth 30 times that of the world economy” should give us pause. That is an amount that I can’t even begin to attach a dollar figure to this… it is priceless.
To “consider the lilies” challenges our sense of dominion and supremacy over creation. May we pay attention in a reflective, contemplative manner. Look to nature and learn of its interconnectedness to other species, including humans before irrevocable decisions are made. Our future depends on ravens and lilies. May peace find us in our noticing and our actions. Amen and Amen.