Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Planting & Mountain Sunday: "Good Beginnings, Protection, and Care" - Sermon, September 9, 2018

Community UMC, Quincy
“Good Beginnings, Protection, & Care” from Season of Creation
Rev. Andrew Davis
September 9, 2018
Song of Songs 2: 8-13
Psalm 125

        Here we are, one week into the Fall season now that Labor Day has come and gone, ending one season and beginning a new season.  As I’ve walked through the neighborhood here down Jackson Street this past week, I see beginnings of Fall around us, as trees are starting to display a few red or gold leaves and feel it with the cooler nights.  It’s not going to be long before the American Valley is awash in brilliant reds, oranges, and golds, one of the many things I love about Fall. 
            As we get back into the rhythm of life here in the church after the slower pace of summer, we begin a new series, the “Season of Creation.” What is the “Season of Creation” all about?
The Season of Creation is an ecumenical observance during the month of September begun by a Lutheran pastor in Australia in 2000 and expanded and spread worldwide with the support of the Uniting Church in Australia beginning in 2004. The idea was to create a season, a period of at least four weeks, leading up to the observance of St. Francis Day, October 4, a time often observed with a blessing of the animals.[i]

            Throughout our series, we will talk about God’s creation, particularly non-human creations which include the mountains, trees and fruit, sky, then the animals.  Likewise, we can think about how
in a day when the fruits of creation are often exploited and so much chaos pervades the world in which we live, it is imperative for us to take a moment to pause and breathe in the same Ruach (Spirit of God) that was at work in the beginning of creation. God is still at work! Do we see it in the world around us?[ii]

            Where do we see God at work around us?  I don’t think we have to look too far considering where we live.  Whenever I drive along Indian Creek on the way to Lake Almanor, or up that steep, winding road up to Bucks Lake, I see God’s creation at work. 
Or whenever I take a walk along the trail and road beyond Gansner Park near the old county cemetery, there is an area along Spanish Creek where I can see our church in the distance at the foot of Claremont Ridge, I am always blown away at how small we are compared to the mountains and sky.  Even as I look at the trees around us, the many wildflowers in their blues, reds, purples, pinks, and yellows, I think about the seeds that were planted long ago, either through the wind or by the birds who ate those seeds and let nature do its work.  If we look in Genesis 1, it says that ‘in the beginning God created the earth…’ and all other creations that followed were called good, or in the case of humankind, very good.  It was a good beginning indeed. 
            As we look at the text of Song of Solomon, or Song of Songs as it’s also known as, we have a very sensual text that is quite vivid, comparing the attributes of creation to those of a person the narrator deeply loves.  When we see the sensual nature of Song of songs, theology professor Elaine James explains that Song of Songs can be seen as “an allegory about God’s love, or it is erotic poetry about human love.”[iii] Now, I don’t want to get to scandalous here, but Song of Songs can also be seen as “love of the land,” which I think is how such a passage can be seen in the context of creation and the good beginnings of God’s non-human creations.[iv] God’s love of the land is seen in the animals and plants, as the imagery of the lover the narrator uses includes plants and animals, such as gazelles, ravens, doves, water, and lilies to name a few as
the author was intimately connected to God’s creation and paid attention. The author found joy in the observation and experience. In this Scripture, there is an invitation to go outdoors. From the inside, the woman is observing her lover. He comes to her, but he doesn’t invite himself into her world. He invites her outside to witness the new life that happens in spring. They use their bodies to experience God’s creation through their physicality and their senses.[v]

            Whenever you step outside, take a really good look around you during each season.  What do you see in God’s creation?  What joy do you experience?  What new things might you witness in God’s creation, not just in Spring, but all throughout the year?  For my sabbath day on Friday, I decided to get outdoors, something I haven’t done enough of this year.  One of my favorite places is the Mill Creek Trail along Bucks Lake, and while I didn’t hike as far as I wanted to, it was nice to sit for a while in the midst of the trees as the wind rustled through them, listening to the birds, and the sound of the water lapping against the growing shoreline as the lake level continues to drop.  To me, it was very meditative and a place I experience being closest with God, thinking back to the beginning of time how this creation was good, yet how we can continue to maintain and take care of God’s creation.
For many of our schoolchildren here, they get many experiences to step outside and learn about the landscape, plants, animals, and nature thanks to Rob Wade and the outdoor education program our schools here in town have.  Our text invites us to really look at the landscape around us, to protect, and care for it too.  While our school children and many of us get this experience of the landscape around us, Professor Elaine James explains that
People are losing knowledge of landscapes. This is a well-known phenomenon, and it is happening faster in wealthier, western nations than anywhere else in the world.1 Children are no longer able to identify native animals and plants, a kind of knowledge that was once taken for granted. We do not know the world around us. Perhaps the most alarming consequence of this is also the most basic: if we do not know the natural world, we will neither enjoy it nor protect it. With this loss come other losses, including widespread species extinction. The ramifications of such losses are not yet known.[vi]

Hence why we need to have a sense of urgency in how we care for our Earth and the landscape around us.  Perhaps it’s time we plant new seeds and see how our landscape is much like the lovers in Song of Songs, renewing our love and passion of caring for this wonderful creation of God, always remembering that ‘in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth...’ (Gen. 1) 
            The same goes for the mountains around us too.  As we see in Psalm 125, there is an imagery of the mountains and ascending the mountains.  Just like in Jerusalem in the Psalm, we are surrounded by mountains here in the American Valley.  As we look all throughout the Bible, we can see mountain imagery in many of the different texts.  If we look closely at some of the mountains throughout the Bible,
Mount Ararat is the mountain where Noah and the Ark landed after the flood. This is where Noah saw the rainbow of God’s promise. This is the mountain where the people came off the ark and praised God. It is the mountain where God made a covenant never to destroy the earth again. God provided Abraham a sacrifice instead of his son on a mountain (Moriah). God, as a burning bush, called Moses to free God's people from slavery on a mountain (Horeb). God gave the Ten Commandments to Moses on a mountain (Sinai). God gave Moses a glimpse of the Promised Land on a mountain (Pisgah). It was on a mountain (Carmel) that the great prophet Elijah proved to the people that his God is the one true God. Jesus was led into the wilderness to fast for forty days; then was led up to a mountain (known as the Mount of Temptation), where he demonstrated how to resist temptation. It was on a mountain (possibly Mount Hermon, the highest in the area) that Jesus was transfigured and showed the glory of God to some of his disciples. When Jesus was struggling with the task before him, he went to a mountain (Olives) to pray…And, in Revelation, The Lamb of God stands on a mountain (Zion) and shows us the ultimate destination for those who are faithful. It could be said that mountains serve as a bridge or a halfway point between heaven and earth, where God meets and does business with humanity.[vii]

            Mountains play a significant role in my faith journey too.  While growing up, a trip to the mountains was always a highlight, whether it was for a day of fishing, or just relaxing, the mountains were a welcome escape from the hustle and bustle of the heat and smog of the Sacramento Valley.  At my first national convocation of the FUMMWA in Colorado Springs in 2011, the theme that year was ‘Journey to the Mountain’ and during that time, one of the morning meditations talked about how mountains can be a world of beauty, of protection, yet a world of danger too.  Little did I know from that time of hearing God’s call to ministry after one vocational door was closed, did I think that five years later I would be living in the mountains.  Just as we see a world of beauty around us, there is some danger too.  As we saw last year during our scare with the Minerva Fire and the fires near Oakland Camp, and as fires continue burning in other parts of the state, there is the threat of wildfire, or when they are enveloped in fog, can be a hindrance to pilots and aircraft.  Yet the mountains can be a place of protection, kind of how they are for us in our valley, as storms seem to bypass their way around us. 
            Whether we see the mountains as a world of beauty or danger, we have a responsibility to protect our mountains and care for the resources around it, as our mountains are home to numerous trees, wildlife, birds, plants, streams, etc..  As we have seen in the news before, harmful illegal activities such as marijuana crops run by cartels have been spotted; in other mountain ranges, the tops of mountains back east are blown apart for coal mining which disrupts the natural order.  Aside from harming the natural ecosystem and with toxins that run off into the streams and waterways from the illegal grows or blasting from coal mining, one consequence will be that “if we lose these places where God can do business with us, then we become more and more disconnected from God.”[viii] It’s why we need to protect and care for our resources, as we don’t want things to wind up like Dr. Seuss’s The Lorax, where all resources are wiped out because of failing to protect and care for the resources we once had. 
            So, as we begin this new season of Fall, stewardship often comes to mind and instead of preaching all about the stewardship of money so much, let’s allow this month’s series to focus on how we can be better stewards of our land and environment.  As we begin this fall season and think about protection and care, how are we best caring for the land, trees, mountains, and sky that God has created?  Or like in Song of Songs, how are we loving our creator and creation, along with loving our neighbors?  What will you see when you step outside next time? 
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, let the Church Say Amen!! 

[i] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 5 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Sept18_Season-of-Creation-Series.pdf.

[ii] Ibid. 

[iii] "Commentary On Song Of Solomon 2:8-13 By Elaine James". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed September 6 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3760.

[iv] Ibid. 

[v] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 5 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Sept18_Season-of-Creation-Series.pdf.

[vi] "Commentary On Song Of Solomon 2:8-13 By Elaine James". 2018. Workingpreacher.Org. Accessed September 6 2018. https://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=3760.

[vii] 2018. Gbod-Assets.S3.Amazonaws.Com. Accessed September 5 2018. https://gbod-assets.s3.amazonaws.com/legacy/kintera-files/worship/Sept18_Season-of-Creation-Series.pdf.

[viii] Ibid. 

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