Monday, November 2, 2009

Closer to Creation II

Here is the second sermon in the "Closer to Creation" series.  This gets us up to speed.  The next one (they are always on the third Sunday of the month) is November 15.  They are much better "live" if you are around and feel like coming to church...

Closer to Creation II: Foundations of the Earth
(Delivered on October 18, 2009)
Rev. Adam Tierney-Eliot
Job 38:1-7, 34-41
Mark 10:35-45
Dawn Potter: Tracing Paradise

Since I committed to this sermon series

And to this idea of covenant with the earth
I have spent quite a bit of time
Exploring various ways in which we impact our environment
And various ways that I could change my lifestyle
To reduce my impact on creation

As a family we went through a phase of reducing our power usage
Basic things like turning off lights when we don’t need them
Turning off those items in our house (like our computer)
That switch to “standby” when they aren’t being used
And, of course, those fluorescent lightbulbs
We have reduced our transportation needs as well
With my wife, Allison working more from home
And cutting out the long commute to Quincy each day

But one of the areas that has been most interesting
Has had to do with food
Few things, after all, are as fundamental to our existence
As what we eat
And so we are thinking about perhaps making our next covenant
About eating and consuming
Around the holidays
Occasions that involve large meals
For friends and relatives
Perhaps one thing we could all do is try to see how local
We can get
Make this a “local Thanksgiving”
Set a geographic radius around Natick and try to keep to it
Examine where our food comes from, measure the distances
Experience as much as possible its source

Just outside the borders of our Boston suburbs
There lies an agricultural region
That could make use of our money and interest
And even here in town, with the Organic Farm
We are reminded of its presence

And while it may be too late to plant
It is not too early to start thinking
About other ways we can connect with our food
Like Community Supported Agriculture
Or CSA’s How many have heard of this? (show of hands)
How many of you are part of one? (hands again)
What it entails, basically, is the purchasing of a share
Of the crop of a local farmer
Which enables them to plan and plant
And it enables us to get local produce in season

Now, some of you already have one of these
And there is a wait list for many farms
But if you are interested in doing this in the spring
Please feel free to talk to me about it now
As our local association of churches in the UCC
Is currently working with a couple of farms to develop
Additional CSA opportunities in Natick and Framingham

So, these are ideas for the future
Some for the near future and others farther away
But my first covenant had to do with food as well:
I put in a garden this year

Now, I know that some of you have much bigger gardens
And some of you have plots at the Organic farm
But this was a rather big step for me
You see, there is a reason why I didn’t feel so moved
During the previous six years that I have lived in the parsonage
The fact is, I have a long history with gardens
And growing things
But it is a rather checkered history
Primarily marked by failure

Do any of you know what I am talking about?

More than once I have lost track of my potato plants
Thanks to a neglectful weeding schedule
And at other times the garden served as an extension
Of my unintentional ministry
To the deer and raccoons
And when I lived in Harmony Maine
My failures were popular topics of conversation
Among the locals
So –perhaps not surprisingly—
When I moved down south to Natick to serve this church
Gardening was not a priority

Now after my first modest comeback season
I can safely say that
I am still not very good at it
My garden has given me few culinary gifts
And probably hasn’t alleviated the need for even one drop of fossil fuel
But, of course, it was not a complete failure
We do not measure our success--we gardeners--
Solely based on yield
After all,  it brought me closer to creation
And it reminded me how little control over nature I really have

Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?...who laid its cornerstone when the morning stars sang together and all the heavenly beings shouted for joy?

God asks this both of us and of Job
And the garden asks this same question

I think that when people say things like “My Garden”
They mean it in the sense that I (or perhaps you)
Might refer to Eliot
As “My Church”
I am committed to it
I work to make it the best it can be
Within the bounds of my limited abilities
But it doesn’t always do what I would like it to
It is its own thing and grows according to its own internal logic
Its wisdom in the inward parts as it says in Job

In the same way I might be able to pick a pepper from my garden
And say “I grew this”
But really it grew itself according to its own pattern and needs
I was an interested party, an ally, a witness and protector
But I didn’t grow grew
Where was I at the foundation of the earth?
After all, the garden is alive, and organic in a sense that
Will never be quantified by the FDA
So it is with our children, with communities like this congregation
And with us
Parts of creation/small pieces of a greater existence and a greater history

What we read and heard in Job today
Is a reminder that we are just passing through
What we think of as ours is not ours
No matter what we build on it
No matter how we landscape it
Ministers are constantly being reminded that
The congregations we serve were there when we came
And will continue on when we leave
So it is with the land
So it is with life, itself

We are renters on the earth
It isn’t our foundation that was laid
So perhaps we should be a little more concerned
With how we treat the place

Can you hunt the prey for the lion? What provides for the raven its prey, when its young ones cry to God, and wander for lack of food?

This passage in Job reminds us again
That we are not truly in control
We do not really have the right to place our priorities
Above that of the garden that sustains us

Our faith, points to this greater order
Not made by human hands or conceived by our philosophy
But like those disciples in Mark today
We often get so caught up with how far up the table we will sit
We forget our place, even though we try to do the right thing
My friend Dawn Potter, who used to laugh at my sad little garden
Wrote that John Milton, [that devout man], never got to the point of conceiving that nature might be valuable in and of itself.

And tells that story about how that poor seminarian
May also have missed this lesson
Perhaps, however, we can get to that point
And not just think it here in church
But believe it and feel it and enact it
In our own lives

There is a part of each of us
That knows this fact
And wants to prove that it is true
There is a part of us that yearns for a connection
Even in the midst of our striving
And sometimes it gets its way
Calling us outdoors

Now, I went Apple Picking recently
This wasn’t part of my covenant I just did it for fun
But while I was there
I couldn’t help but remember a time and a place
Where one was paid to pick apples, not the other way around
And that if I was picking them for myself
I got a discount for contributing my labor
But here and now we pay money for the privilege of picking them ourselves

And we do pay, often gladly
Grateful for the opportunity to connect
To converse with the land
Perhaps in that moment when we hand over the money
And get our bag, or sometimes just our parking space
We wonder to ourselves how something this essential to our lives
Has become purely recreation for so many of us
Replaced by other tasks that, ultimately may not really be as relevant as what we eat

And that question (or bundle of questions)
About what is essential
Brings us back to the covenant with the earth:
These covenants may not give us the answer to that question
A CSA share may not alleviate our responsibilities
Turning the heat down in our houses may not make us feel
That now we understand all there is to know about creation
But it will make sure we keep asking the questions about our place
And our role
And they will encourage us to keep on the path
To the foundations of the earth

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