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Updated: Jun 21, 2023

By Rev. Joan Kessler

Luke 21:5-10; 29-33

Our readings this morning from scripture and Dr. Seuss (The Lorax) are a call to pay attention.

The Once-ler finds a rich Truffula forest… just what he has been searching for to start his business. He chops down one tree and makes a Thneed, a needful-thing. And there is a market for Thneeds, people pay him money and so he sets up a Thneed factory, chopping down tree after tree. The Lorax pops out of the tree he has chopped down and prophesies to speak as the guardian of the forest, the voice of caution and warning. He tells the Once-ler that his actions will not be without consequences. But the Once-ler, motivated by profit and developing an industry grows angry and frustrated with the Lorax. He thinks the Lorax is stopping the wheels of progress, a real thorn in his side. Before long, however, the forest creatures have to leave because of lack of food and shelter; the air and water become polluted; and the day arrives when the falling of the last Truffula tree can be heard with a loud Whack!

What was once a beautiful forest of Truffula trees has become a deserted, uninhabitable place for all except the Once-ler, the Lorax and a big, empty factory. Finally, the Lorax is lifted away. And all he left behind was a sign with the simple and poignant word UNLESS. It’s a prophetic word. It is a word that looks to the future and environmental stewardship and care of the planet. Our trees, which we need for their botanical functions like purifying the air we breathe and filtering the water we drink, prevent erosion and act as a buffer against climate change. We also need their wood for shelter and the preservation of civilization, but the Dr Seuss story calls us to pay heed to our consumer choices, balancing our wants against our needs.

How do we hear the word UNLESS. It’s a term referring to a counterpoint. It implies actions being met by consequences. It takes this Once-ler a while to figure out what the Lorax meant by leaving it behind on a tombstone type structure. But the conclusion he comes to is UNLESS someone like you who cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better, it’s not. And then, in an act of Hope, the Once-ler lets something fall. It’s a Truffula seed, the last one of all!. We’re in charge of that last seed, the last seed of what everyone needs. Treat it with care, give it clean water, and feed it fresh air. Grow a forest so the Lorax and all his friends will come back.

Both our gospel and Dr. Seuss readings point to finding a prophetic voice and speaking out against injustice. Having read these words from Luke many times, I saw them in a new light alongside our Lorax story. In Luke, Jesus spoke of future things: temples falling, warring nations, and that ultimately all our actions have consequences. And yet, the fig tree stands as a sign of hope and promise, of preservation and perseverance. Jesus was comparing the fig tree to the kin-dom. And maybe he knew humanity cannot live without trees.

This week, our newscasts were full of reports regarding the health risks associated with wildfire smoke. We are also being forewarned that this is going to be the new normal, longer and more intense fire seasons. Resources are being stretched to the limit. But this morning we hear some words of hope alongside a cautionary tale about taking what we need rather than taking what we want. We are created in the image of the Divine, with the capacity to think and to choose and to exercise our free will. Our choices form relationships with our earthen home and sometimes, we have to speak out against things that are wrong rather than function like machinery. UNLESS reminds us this morning that we have choices and a role to play in preserving our environment for the future to enjoy and steward as well. There is always HOPE to change our ways, there are seeds to plant and replenish a forest. Look to the trees, Jesus says, for there you will find the promise of the future.

May it be so and Amen.

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