Our blessing place…
July 15, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 24
Twenty years ago, in the early fall following our second season on Cascade Farm as a Community Farm, I found myself reflecting on how wonderful the season had been. It was a good season in part because we had only recently begun to use some of the gardens after they had lain dormant for years. The soil was rich and ready to receive the seeds we planted and the weeds had not had a chance to blow their way onto the freshly turned soil. The bugs and pests had not found us yet either and our newly erected fences were doing their job keeping out deer and other critters. As a result it had been a good season, in fact a wonderful season… our crops had done well… as had our sincere efforts to build community. A number of farm events had brought people close together… we had laughed a lot, sweat a lot more, worked together until we were bone-tired… and finally enjoyed together the full bounty of God’s blessings on all of our efforts. We truly were learning and growing together into the blessing of community for which I believe we were created.
The last rays of summer warmth were just beginning to yield to the oncoming autumn… the leaves just starting their glorious fall dance… our summer crew of school kids had all returned to their studies and I found myself quite alone much of the time as I put the gardens to bed for the winter and finished up the last of the end of season chores…
And so it was one afternoon that I found myself working until the sun was already down and the cool night air began to settle down upon my shoulders… I was way down in the back garden, below the crest of the hill when I finally decided I had probably done enough for that day. Coming up the roadway out of the garden… totally exhausted… yet feeling strangely fulfilled… I found myself reflecting on the goodness of God, who in His wisdom had placed me right in the center of my heart’s desire… good folks… good work… good food…good times…and all enjoyed in my beloved outdoors.
As I crested the hill and looked up into the western sky I was met with the most amazing, most glorious sunset I had ever seen. In fact, I was so profoundly moved by it that I just had to stop and watch as it continued to unfold in deepening glory right before my eyes…
..and in that moment I felt the favor and the deep blessing of God… I knew deep within my heart that God had set me down where I was with a profound purpose… to learn…. to practice…and to understand right relationships…both in community, and with God’s good and blessed earth.
I cannot tell you how many times those same feelings of being centered in Creation and therefore centered in God’s purposes have washed over me. Even in our little garden across the street there have been so many times when someone stopped just to share how much they appreciate it and how much joy it gives them. And lately with the help of several members of the congregation helping out, especially in our larger garden across the river in Stony Point, I have been reminded that actively working God’s good earth is good for the body as well as for the soul. There is just something almost magical in being immersed in the vibrancy and life of the garden.
Ever since I first moved to Patterson over fifty years ago I have had a deep and profound love of creation. We moved in on Halloween day and with the first warmth of spring some six months later my Dad and my brothers and I were busy making what seemed to me at the time to be an absolutely huge garden in the back of the church manse. We had always had a garden growing up but this was a real step up in terms of size and the variety of crops we could grow, and many are the memories, both good…and somewhat painful that go along with my parent’s insistence on growing much of their own food then putting it up for the winter.
Being close to the ground, raising crops, fishing, hunting, and of course my younger brother Peter’s huge and ever increasing crop of rabbits were the memories I most cherish of my childhood in what was then a decidedly more rural Patterson.
And I do believe that I have grown to be who I am today in large part because of this wonderful relationship with all of nature…teaching me lessons of beauty, of patience and timing, along with the uniqueness and glory of each season marching rhythmically on without hesitation. But perhaps most of all I learned deep lessons about relationships…and specifically about the inter-relationships between all of life…about how all are dependent one upon another and how the web of all life is so totally inter-connected, the plants, the animals, the earth, sun, and water, all of it in relationship…with humanity having a place and a sacred responsibility within it…and not as so many believe simply as lord and master over it.
And those lessons have and still continue to unfold each season I put my hand to the plow…each year the earth speaks to me, patiently teaching me through the harvest of plenty and the not infrequent harvest of want…through the lessons learned…and through those that need to be learned more than once! In fact I honestly believe that from the very beginning in our home garden, my time working the earth was key in God’s preparation for my call to the ministry some years later. Farming in the fields of the earth, of justice, and of the human soul somehow all came together to bless me beyond imagination. And I have never forgotten how special it was to find God over and over again in the good and blessed earth of the gardens.
And over the years I have to come to believe that God chose to bless me with my particular call bringing together food, faith, and farming because he knew that my deep love of all things outdoors would compel me to take up the cause of all Creation which is now languishing in deepest distress due to abuse and exploitation which finds so much of its genesis in human greed, carelessness, selfishness, and insensitivity to the balance of life upon which the health and perhaps even the future of our earth depends.
And yet, in spite of the increasing chorus of voices trying to get the word out, the message still remains much in the shadows. Creation’s cry for release from abuse and exploitation is still muted in the busy streets of global commerce and world markets. However it is still critical and still needing powerful and clear advocates from within the ranks of those of us who profess to believe that in fact the earth still is the Lord’s along with all the fullness thereof.
Truly, as we heard clearly in our passage from Psalm 24, the earth is the Lord’s…and it is all of us here today…who despite being perhaps unwittingly a part of the problem, are the ones with the necessary power and resources who must commit to finding a way to begin this healing of the earth our home.
Our God has been calling for a new day, a day of grace and liberation for all of Creation, since the very beginning. Throughout the writings of the prophets we hear a consistent call for all those who know and love God to pull together in order to bring about the glorious freedom of the new earth, the new day of peace and harmonious relationship…in fact a return to that harmonious relationship first felt between Adam…and the adamah from which he was birthed. This need to reconnect with nature in a good and meaningful embrace is in our soul, it is in our core-being. And as we so often hear from the prophet Isaiah, in the time of the Day of our Lord, there will be a feast prepared for all peoples…a bounty of well-aged wine and rich food…with enough for all to be fed and satisfied. Isaiah tells of the Lord taking away the shroud of death for all of the earth…and of wiping the tears of hardship and sorrow from the faces of all humanity. This is truly an amazing and wonderful image of freedom and divine goodness…and a promise worth working towards and placing our hopes in.
And yet…just looking at how so much of humanity seems to be moving forward, it is hard to see how anyone truly believes that such a divine promise is being pursued at all. For it seems we have fallen far from the original intent of God for all of Creation to exist in good and balanced relationship. God’s good earth, God’s hand-work of creation is deeply wounded and lies increasingly gravely ill. And as a result many of our brothers and sisters are suffering deeply from all manner of ills, many of which can be traced directly to this wanton abuse and exploitation of earth’s resources…along with the leftover refuse that results from it. The call to rise up and insist on bringing back the health and vitality of the earth is part and parcel of our responsibility as Christians…
So…where does that leave us…where do we start? What can one person do to begin to make a difference? What are some first steps to be taken? I would hold that the first of these steps is to cultivate anew one of the classical disciplines of the Christian faith, the Discipline of Simplicity. Learning to live with profoundly less, and to share what we do have will in and of itself begin to have the effect of reducing our individual burden on the environment.
In their book, Constants in Context, Bevens and Schroeder address the need to include a dialog on Creation care in the Church’s outspoken prophetic testimony. They write, “First, Christians themselves need to live in ways that persuade others to adopt a lifestyle that uses fewer of the world’s resources, particularly those resources which take away opportunities for peoples in societies that are not as affluent as those of the West. Commitment to recycling waste, driving automobiles less, driving vehicles that are fuel efficient and using energy sources sparingly and wisely are practices that Christians can cultivate and proclaim… Second, Christians individually and the churches as institutions can support and promote legislation that enhances the sustainability of the environment… Third, the church and, again, Christians individually can support and promote the development of organic farming… (for this) is an important step for the renewal and preservation of the earth.”[i]
And so we are back…back to the simple joys of gardening…even in a small little plot across the street from the church…there where the work and the workers can be seen…there where community can be lived and practiced…there where the joy of new life is an almost daily occurrence! We all can begin to make a difference…we all can share and reach out to those around us in need more often…we all can do with a little bit less and find ways to make more room at the table of our Lord…that truly all who come by might share the cup and the loaf we have been so freely given.
Together, as the people of God, we must seek to be about liberating God’s Creation. We must seek to come into right relationship with each other, and with God, that Creation might finally begin to be renewed and transformed. We must find a way to sustain and nurture our earth back into wholeness and health… until the Day of our Lord is finally realized in fullness amongst us.
So…the next time you are out and are blessed to witness a glorious sunrise…or an unforgettable sunset…or even a complete rainbow on the damp heels of a thunderstorm…remember that it was all made for our enjoyment…for the enjoyment of all God’s children…just as all of us were made for the enjoyment of our God.
Let us strive to live together as the family of the One in whose image we all were first made…together let us once again give our Lord cause to proclaim that indeed…it is all very good!
[i] Steven B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, Constants in Context (Maryknoll: Orbis Books,2004).p376