Job 12:7–10; Mark 4:26–35

And God said, “let the earth bring forth living creatures of every
kind: cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every
kind.” And it was so. God made the wild animals of the earth of every
kind, and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the
ground of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image, according to our
likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over
the birds of the air and over the cattle and over the wild animals of
the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.” So
God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them… God said, “See I have given you every
plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth and every
tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food. And to every
beast of the earth, and to every bird of the air and to everything that
creeps on the earth, everything that has the breath of life, I have
given every green plant for food.” And so it was so. God saw everything
that he had made and indeed it was very good.

Gorgeous words from that great mythic tale of creation in the opening
paragraphs of Genesis, the first book of sacred texts that make up our
Bible. While these words are not about science or history, they are all
about God’s love affair with creation and us, and how our response to
that love ought to manifest itself in our relationship with God,
creation and one another.

All of creation is good and sacred. We are created in the image of
God and we are all related to one another—sister and brother, partner
and spouse, child and parent—we are one family. And we are entrusted
with a sacred inheritance, God’s very creation, to be cared for,
nurtured, protected, and passed on to future generations of God’s
family.

This morning we’re taking a slight detour from the regularly assigned
lectionary texts and focusing on our stewardship of creation. Our Forum
guest was Wayne Pacelle, the president and chief executive officer of the
Humane Society of the United States. He led a discussion about
Animals and Religion: Caring for All of God’s Creation. Next Saturday
afternoon we’ll celebrate the feast of St. Francis with a blessing of
the animals.

Now on this particular Sunday, concerns about the global financial
crisis might, quite frankly, seem more pressing than issues about the
fair treatment of animals or the environment. Yet might we think about
how these issues are related? People from across all corners of the
political divide seem to agree that our economic crisis is the result of
out-of-check greed. It’s easy to point fingers at Wall Street bankers
with their astronomical salaries who have gambled away the future
security of so many average Americans in pursuit of greater gains. But
doesn’t such a crisis force all of us to look at our own desires to live
beyond our means and our insatiable consumerism, including the devouring
of natural resources that are in many instances irreplaceable. Let’s not
forget the Gospel warning about our tendency to judge others by a
measure quite different than how we judge ourselves. We cry out for
accountability, but too often refuse to examine our own behaviors,
habits, desires, strivings and interactions.

So what is missing in all of this? We are not living like we are
related to one another. We’re not living as one family, God’s one
family. Too often, even our demands for accountability are about
authority and control rather than mutuality and relationship.

One of the great overarching themes in the Bible is that we are made
to be family. Archbishop Desmond Tutu writes, “We’re made for community,
we’re made for togetherness, we’re made for friendship. We’re made to
live in a delicate network of interdependence, for we are made for
complementarity. This is a fundamental law of our being. And all kinds
of things go horribly wrong when we flout this law—when we don’t
ensure that God’s children everywhere have a supply of clean water, a
safe environment, a decent home, a full stomach. We could do that if we
remembered that we are created to be members of one family, the human
family, God’s family… Once we start living in a way that is
people-friendly to all God’s family, we will also be
environment-friendly.”

Our economic crisis, abuse of the environment, and the mistreatment
of animals all seem to be the result of living lives that do not
recognize our relationship to one another and creation. For all of our
creature comforts (at least in this part of the world) we too often live
isolated, overly protected, emotionally gated lives that are lonely and
disconnected. Martin Luther King, Jr., wrote that “the great problem of
mankind is that we suffer from a poverty of spirit which stands in
glaring contrast to our technological and material abundance. The richer
we have become materially, the poorer we have become morally and
spiritually.”

That’s why we have abused God’s injunction in Genesis to have
dominion over creation. We arrogantly assume we are the center and most
important part of creation. But God took delight in all that had been
created. God gives us dominion precisely because we are created in the
image of God. And thus God entrusts us with the stewardship of creation
for its responsible use and safeguarding. Friends, the Prodigal Son is
not our model here. We’re not to squander this sacred inheritance by
reckless and self-absorbed behavior. As we consider our relationship to
creation and the treatment of animals, is it also time to consider the
insight the writer of Genesis had when he wrote, “See I have given you
every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and
every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.”

Later this week we will celebrate the feast of St. Francis. Those of
you who know something of his life know he gave up the security of his
father’s wealth to live a life of simplicity among the poor. In every
person, animal, plant, resource, and inanimate part of creation Francis
saw the Spirit of God.

His father, a wealthy thirteenth century cloth merchant, was so upset
by his son’s embrace of Christian simplicity that he dragged him before
the bishop pleading that the prelate knock some sense into the boy’s
head. Instead, Francis responded by stripping himself of his fancy
garments right in the public square and renouncing the materialism of
his father.

Going back to the first century, we all know the stories about Jesus
calling his disciples, asking them to leave their fishing boats and to
follow him. And elsewhere in the Gospel Jesus expands the idea of family
beyond biological connection to include all who heed his call to a life
of justice, compassion, service and connection.

Now surely we don’t need to leave our families in order to be a
Christian, and young people don’t need to go out and embarrass their
parents in the middle of the public square as did the always dramatic
Francis. However, the actions of Jesus and Francis do demonstrate that
the Christian life calls us to move beyond the confines of our own safe
boundaries and sense of security into a much more expansive experience
of God’s family. Jesus always called those who were deemed strangers or
outcasts, sister and brother. The Gospel calls us into a family of
interdependence and interconnection that knows no social, economic,
racial, gender, or political boundaries.

If we will risk living lives marked by such connection, our spiritual
poverty that Martin Luther King talked about will be filled by a grace
that will reflect the image of God in all people and all creation. And
we will begin to live lives that care for the least among us and reflect
responsible stewardship of our great inheritance. Created in the image
of God, we will begin to really experience the Spirit of God moving
through every part of creation, alive in every person, animal, plant,
and in the water, sky and in the air we breathe. St. Augustine wrote,
“Some people, in order to discover God read books. But there is a great
book; the very appearance of created things. Look above you! Look below
you! Read it! God whom you want to discover never wrote that book with
ink. Instead he set before your eyes the things he made. Can you ask for
a louder voice than that?”

I want to share with you an inscription that a friend gave me and
that I keep on my desk:

If the earth were only a few feet in diameter, floating a few feet
above a field somewhere, people would come from everywhere to marvel at
it. People would walk around it, marveling at its big pools of water,
its little pools and the water flowing between the pools. People would
marvel at the bumps on it and the holes in it, and they would marvel at
the very thin layer of gas surrounding it and the water suspended in the
gas. The people would marvel at all the creatures walking around the
surface of the ball, and the creatures in the water. The people would
declare it precious because it was the only one, and they would protect
it so that it would not be hurt. The ball would be the greatest wonder
known, and the people would come to behold it, to be healed, to gain
knowledge, to know beauty and to wonder how it could be. People would
love it, and defend it with their lives, because they would somehow know
that their lives, their own roundness, could be nothing without it. If
the Earth were only a few feet in diameter.

Amen.