Genesis 1:11-12, 20-21, 24-25 Psalm 104:14-23
The Rev. Helen Havlik
24th Sunday in Ordinary Time September 15, 2019
During a worship service I attended this summer we sang How Great Is Our God. It got me thinking about our great God, creator of the universe, who has given us this beautiful planet to live on. And how we take for granted this fragile and precious gift which is now threatened in multiple ways. So during September, we’re celebrating a Season of Creation—looking at what the Bible has to say about taking care of what God has given us. Last week we began with the ocean. Today we’re thinking about flora and fauna. I’m reading from Psalm 104, beginning with vs. 14. Listen with me to God’s holy word.
Both of my parents were bird people. Not official “birders”—they didn’t keep a life list of what they had seen as they stood at the kitchen window, binoculars in hand. Even so they loved birds and their farm was teeming with them year-round. Chickadees and sparrows, of course; cardinals, robins, red-wing blackbirds, bluebirds, hummingbirds, nuthatches, blue jays, wrens, finches, warblers, wax-wings, wild turkeys, mallards, Canada geese—you name it, if it’s found in Michigan, it probably made its way to my parents’ feeders. And those are just the wild birds! For many years they also kept chickens—leghorns and Rhode Island reds and buff cochins; ducks (Dickie and Debby Duckie, by name) and some geese (though why anyone would feed a goose on purpose is beyond me!). About the only time my father ever waxed poetic was when he talked about birds—they were a metaphor for him that I hardly can begin to understand. And my mother always, always—always! —in every letter she ever wrote to me or anyone else, mentioned the bird or birds she had seen that morning.
Those birds make me think of the swarms of living creatures that finally arrive on Day 5 of creation. With all of God’s careful preparation, it’s only a matter of time before some creature appears. Isn’t it just like God to start with sea monsters and birds! And not just a few of each, but millions, all in perpetual motion, pecking up the seeds God plants on Day 3. This is a picture of amazing vitality and abundance, on both land and sea. Not only then but now—put a few drops of pond water under a microscope and there’s a thriving metropolis of organisms. According to fact-monster.com, there are 950,000 species of insects on earth! No one knows how many animal species there are, let alone individuals—anywhere from 2-50 million kinds of animals—and we keep finding more all the time. Same goes for plants—wisegeek.com says at least 375,000 plant species, and more show up all the time.
The life God put in motion has never stopped moving. Be fruitful and multiply? The plants and creatures of sea and air and land take this command seriously! And isn’t it just like God to make abundance to be abundant! The abun-dance of what the people of Israel saw could scarcely be taken in. They couldn’t begin to count the grains of sand in the wilderness of Judah—or the droplets in the Mediterranean—or the stars that swirled above them at night—and neither can we. Many Psalms, especially Psalm 104, celebrate rocks and minerals and fish and birds and mammals and plants, the world that teems with life—abundant life—more-than-we’ll-ever-need life—way-over-the-top life. And such abundance, this text reminds us, is not the result of our efforts but of God’s blessing. What we have is a gift ever to be appreciated and used with gratitude and loving care.
Such abundance is around us all of the time, so it’s kind of ironic that we live at a time and place where enough is never enough. In the United States, bigger is always better. More is always our goal. Some of this comes from the lean times many of us have experienced—and no one would suggest we sentimentalize poverty. But there’s a poverty of spirit that comes from thinking ourselves poor when we’re not. That too often leads to a greedy mindset that ignores our God-given abundance and insists on hoarding for a rainy day that never comes. The Bible is definitely in favor of prudent planning and faithful stewardship—but the challenge of living with abundance is that there’s so much we take it all for granted. Endangered species? If one kind of elephant goes extinct, we have other species, right? Such thinking flies in the face of God’s original blessing and tricks us into believing we can do whatever we want with God’s gifts.
The International Union for Conservation of Nature publishes what they call a “red list” of animals and plants who are in trouble, designating flora and fauna from most endangered to least. Right now 50,000 species of plants and animals are considered endangered worldwide—3,000 species in the United States alone, three times as many as just 10 years ago. Estimates are that one in four mammals, one in eight birds, one-third of all amphibians, and 70 percent of all plants are in danger. This list includes gorillas, chimpanzees, tigers and snow leopards who face near-term extinction—those that are vulnerable in the medium term include elephants, cheetahs, penguins, lions, polar bears, pandas and, one of my favorites, red pandas. According to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Michigan is home to 360 protected plants considered threatened or endangered, including zigzag bladderwort, widgeon grass, marsh violet, lady’s slipper and painted trillium.
So who really cares about endangered bladderwort—but polar bears? Pandas? Penguins? The Bible says we should care about all of it. From the least complicated single cell creature to humpback whales (also endangered). We should care about every living creature because God’s creation is complex and interrelated and so what happens to leopards in the Amazon rainforest has an impact on life elsewhere. Take the lovely, but endangered monarch butterfly, found all over the world, but especially in North America. Early European settlers named them “monarch” after the king, because they are so grand. They are the only butterflies to make a long, two-way migration, just as birds do. Just like our senior snowbirds, they winter in California or Central Mexico, sometimes flying up to 3,000 miles to find their winter perch in often the exact same tree. All this with a brain the size of a pinhead! But we are losing them. According to one count, in the 1980s 10 million monarchs wintered in California. In 2019, 28,000. (“Monarch butterflies are going extinct: how can we save them?” Eve Watling, Newsweek, 1/26/19) Over the past 20 years, a billion East coast monarchs wintering in Mexico declined by 90 percent. So what’s the deal? Us. Human beings by way of development, vehicles, fires and Round-up. Cars cause instant monarch deaths, development and fires take out habitat, Round-up kills their food. And we lose a beautiful pollinator crucial for our food supplies. Multiply one species—plant or animal—by tens of millions and earth’s abundance vanishes.
Last summer, just as we were hearing about the plight of monarch butterflies, I noticed milkweed had just shown up in my garden, a few random plants, no flowers. Not my favorite plant, but I let it be in one back corner. This year, abundant milkweed with flowers appeared that attracted abundant monarchs. Still not my favorite plant, but I think we can co-exist. Isn’t that how God planned it anyway?