Sermon September 20, 2020
Preached at First Congregational Church, Loveland UCC www.lovelanducc.org By Rev. Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson
Scripture Passages: Genesis 1:24-29, 9:1-3 & Exodus 16:11-15, 31
Will you pray with me?
Holy God, you satisfy all our hungers. May the words of my mouth and the thoughts of all of our hearts bring us ever nearer to you, for you are our provider and our sustainer. Amen.
We get out of the car — me quickly and Cora slowly, taking her own sweet time. Once she’s out, though, she is on the go. She runs over to the garden boxes to hunt for elusive green beans and the more easily-found cherry tomatoes. “They’re ripe, mom!” she yells delightedly, talking around a juicy mouthful, her hands already full of the little red balls.
Cora has delighted in our front-yard garden all season — sticking her fingers in the dirt, planting tiny seeds and best of all watering the plants and covering her hands (and sometimes face and clothes) with mud. Our small harvest has not disappointed this curious child — for whom cherry tomatoes from the garden are right up there with the most sugar-laden treat.
As Cora munches on tomatoes, across town to the east, the harvesting tractors are out — Jim and John and whoever else might be helping them, harvesting corn. Sheryl waits in the barn to weigh the trucks as they come in. To the west, Larry is out under the hot sun watching his pumpkins grow, boxing extra tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini and beans for neighbors, friends and the local food bank. And criss crossed through our neighborhoods, countless others tend windowsill herb gardens, flower beds, trees and their own veggie plots.
There is something wondrous about gardening. Something deeply grounding. Maybe it’s our literal engagement with the ground, the soil, the dirt — it takes me days to get it out from under my fingernails.
Maybe it’s being reminded of our mortality AND the glorious truth that the dust to which we will one day return is not so much a place of death but actually teeming with life. In addition to delighting in the tomatoes, Cora loves turning over rocks and hunting for roly poly bugs, earthworms, millipedes, crickets and garter snakes — the creepy crawley things that live in the soil.
Then God said, “I now give to you all the plants on the earth that yield seeds and all the trees whose fruit produces its seeds within it. These will be your food.”
Not until I read this verse several times this week did I wonder if just the seeds were to be our food at first — the fruit, vegetables, nuts and beans — all those parts of the plant that can be eaten without actually harming the plant. In fact, the parts of the plant that often need to be picked, carried, sometimes even eaten and digested, before they can germinate. “All the plants that yield seeds, all the trees whose fruit produces seed: these will be your food.”
This instruction about food follows a colorful description of all the earth’s creatures, after the description of the creation of human beings. After giving humans dominion, stewardship, mastery over and care for all other creatures, God tells humans to eat fruit, seeds, nuts.
It is a strange story. For only after God has wiped humanity from the face of the earth in the great flood, only after saving one family of humans, one pair of each species of animal, only then does the story tell us that God adds meat to the human diet: “Everything that lives and moves will be your food. Just as I gave you the green grasses, I now give you everything.”
A true confession that will not surprise you: I’ve never been hunting, and I only remember ever catching one fish — as a little girl, a tiny sunfish that my uncle promptly de-hooked and threw back into the pond whence it came.
But I did grow up around livestock — chickens and goats, mostly, but cattle, too, for those who could afford to raise it or buy it. I remember helping to pluck a chicken mere minutes after it had been running around the backyard pecking at insects in the dirt. I remember hearing goats and pigs getting killed — not very pleasant. A high school friend of mine became vegetarian at the age of four, appalled that the food on the table had been Wilbur the pig but a day earlier. I had no such qualms about eating meat. It was food, and in rural South Africa, small town New Hampshire, urban Chicago and small town Zimbabwe, we had neighbors who did not have enough food, so we ate what we had and were grateful for it.
In both Genesis scriptures about food, God covenants with humans. God tells us to take charge, to hold mastery over and stewardship of creation. Food is but one piece of a larger picture of relationship: our interconnection with all living things.
Over the last decade, it has been interesting to see how many of my peers and colleagues have turned their hands to small-scale farming or large-scale gardening, have sought to reconnect with God’s creation through the management of land, the tilling of soil, the raising of livestock, through cooking and canning and connecting with their food.
Those of us in this congregation descended from the Russian Germans who built our church grew up with the challenges of a farming life, and yet some of us still fell in love with it. With the cycle of seasons, of planting and tending, harvesting and resting. With the cycle of breeding and calving, raising, selling or slaughtering livestock. We fell in love with being outdoors, working the earth with our hands or machines. We love that the horizon of our workplace is the mountains to the west and the plains to the east, and ceiling above us is the endless Colorado sky. [PAUSE]
Where we get our food, what we eat is so much more than about simply nourishing our bodies — though it is also and importantly about that. It is also about remembering our connection with and fundamental reliance on creation. That we are sustained not by our own hard work or even our ingenuity, but by the bounty of the land, by the turning of the earth. And first and finally, by the One who is in all and in whom all creation lives and moves and has our being.
The Exodus story is such a reminder — that ultimately, the source of all our nourishment — physical and spiritual — is God, creator, Spirit. That through the earth, God provides for us and sustains us, and we are to partner with God in caring for this creation.
Eating is not just about feeding bodies. It is also about connection and delight. Even as we are made of spirit and breath, so are we made of earth — of dust, and clay, of matter and yes of food.
In this season when our earth is burning, when storms ravage our coasts, when global warming and climate change threaten the very existence of island countries in the sea, it is easy to forget that we rely on the earth, that we are part of it. It is easy to see nature as our enemy, as that which is trying to destroy us, that which threatens our very way of life. But, in fact, we are inextricably bound. And even as we eat of the fruits of the earth, even as we eat its animals and fish and birds, so we are called to care for it. Lovingly, tenderly, with the joy and delight in which God created it.
And, at some level, we are all created to be as the fox in Mary Oliver’s poem:
Responsible — we have been given care for the world around us, and we are in relationship with it.
Joyful — this is after all what God felt as God looked at creation — joy! That it is good. We, too, are invited to reflect on the goodness of all that is — especially now. We, too, are invited to take joy in our place on earth and in the cosmos.
And Thankful — Joy and gratitude, after all, go together. As we cultivate and practice gratitude, so too do we multiply our joy.
May it be so. Amen.
© 2020 Thandiwe Dale-Ferguson, all rights reserved. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to reprint, which will typically be granted for non-profit uses.
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