Earth Day sermon – Born Again Farmers
A transcript of Earth Day sermon – Born Again Farmers by Revs. abby mohaupt and Sarah Macias on April 19, 2020 – Rochester FBC
Genesis 2:15 and 1 Peter 1:3-9
This is a sermon about planting life in the shadows of death. This is a sermon about how Easter promises us impossible life, and our job … our calling… our vocation is to cultivate that life, even when death seems like the last word.
Sarah: “It’s time to plant a garden.” That’s what my sister said to me just six weeks ago, when life was just starting to feel abnormal.
It was a gut, instinctive reaction to the budding pandemic. Until then, grocery shopping had always been something we might do anytime - whenever it was convenient. “Can you stop and grab a gallon of milk on your way home from work?” “Oh, I forgot I need tomato paste, not tomato sauce for this recipe. Would you mind…?” At holidays in our household it has always been a running joke as to how many trips we might make to the store in one day!
Trips to Tom Thumb in Dallas or HEB in Austin or Wegman’s in Rochester...We don’t go as often as we used to or as mindlessly now, do we?...Not anymore - not in these particular days. Activities that were once considered mundane all seem to have an element of risk now. We are all having to plan everything more carefully – both for our health and the health of others.
We can’t merely pop over to the grocery store, and when we do make the trip, we don’t know for certain that what we need will be there.
The ripple effects of the pandemic are being felt across the globe, across the country, and even across town.
Of course, they’re felt disproportionately harder by some communities more than others. Initially, this pandemic was being called the great equalizer with princes, celebrities, and prime ministers being diagnosed. Data now shows that African-Americans are more likely to die from the disease than white Americans, primarily because their communities are poorer (and so they need to keep working) and they have higher rates of respiratory disease (because people of color and people who are poor are more likely to live near and in air pollution).
It’s not easy for any of us. People are grieving, suffering, sick, and dying.
Today, on this Second Sunday of Easter 2020, it feels like we are living in a nightmare. If nothing else, the pervasiveness of COVID19 has woken us up – inconveniently and even gravely - to how interconnected our lives on this planet really are….how woven together all of life is, both human and nonhuman.
Our lives-- and our deaths are deeply interconnected.
This has always been true, even without a pandemic..
Death is, in fact, necessary for much of life to happen. It’s rarely seen as beautiful, and it is not without pain. But death is a natural part of life.
In the book Of God and Pelicans by Jay McDaniel, we see how nature includes suffering… how the life cycles of the earth and the flourishing of species always include death. The title comes from the reality that a pelican always lays two eggs. Both hatch, but the pelican mama nurtures only one of the chicks. The other chick is an “insurance” chick -- and if it’s not needed, the pelican mama lets the chick die. McDaniel writes that the chick is usually born simply to die, but that it’s birth -- the evolution of having a second chick just in case -- means that the species will continue.
In the book, McDaniel then goes on to explore how death is required in all food systems and life systems. And he writes this beautiful section that is forever seared in my heart about how a lion is its most lion-self when it is hunting. When it finds and kills meat for itself…. Which of course means that another animal must suffer and die. There is death - and there is life.
I have never looked at nature or death the same way.
We see this when we take the left over bits of food out to be composted--- to be turned from the bad bits of food into the healthy and good topsoil that will bring new life in the form of seedlings and more food.
We see this when we pull weeds from around the vegetable seedlings or thin the fruit on the peach trees, knowing this will lead to more food and sweeter fruit.
We see this too when a coyote, in her coyote-ness, eats one of our chickens. Our hearts break as we are confronted abruptly with the circle of life (and death) in which we are held and in which we participate with the heritage breed chickens that we raise for food.
All of these things help me see Easter more broadly as life comes from death. --
But, in Easter, life comes from a death that was almost unbelievably unfair and brutal, and alone.
In COVID, death can be alone. And, even before COVID, there has been death that has been unnoticed...unnecessary...the type of death that is kept alive by systems of greed and oppression.
Our hearts break open at losses that are too soon or too close to our hearts -from COVID, or any death that tries, however in vain, to have the last word.
In this Easter world, then, we must turn our hearts to what is to come.
In this time of unnecessary death, what systems need to be dismantled as we come out of this in order for life to happen? We will not go back to normal. We must not. Our LIVES need to be affected by these DEATHS.
And so: what is the death we will repent from and what is the death we will embrace?
In this year of 2020, only four months in, and this particular season of Easter we are shaken to the core. Old instincts that we carry with us without realizing kick in. When abby and I went to the feed store to get seeds and starter plants, there were a good many people who had the same idea. But the longer line was at the gun and ammo store next door.
We inherit and carry with us all sorts of conflicting instincts. The words of my sister’s proclamation -” It’s time to plant a garden” – was more than a practical response to the inconvenience of planning a grocery list two weeks in advance. She had heard those words before. It was a good instinct she had inherited.
Our father, long gone now, would plant a garden every year. Always too much for just us. How many rows does anyone need of Kentucky Wonder green beans? Did he not know that they would grow right back the very next morning after we picked them all? It was too much.
But it all got eaten – whether by our family and guests at our table or friends and neighbors.
The responsibility and opportunity of life abundant is to share it..
Even our nation has done this before - growing food and sharing it. In war-time we have planted victory gardens. On rooftops, fire escapes, and empty lots we have instinctively seen growing food as a patriotic duty.
These instincts are deep within us. They are an inheritance as Peter says - imperishable, undefiled, unfading. They don’t go away.
We must live into these instincts. We must live them out.
As we are settled in place during this Eastertide, perhaps it is a garden that is calling to us. Crying out the ancient words of wisdom from Genesis that have been and always will be our vocation - God settled the humans in the garden and said for them (all of them) to farm it and take care of it. The first commandment.
To farm and keep and love the land and all creation was to be what would make us human.
We would find our human-ness in the work of farming. – Paying attention and fostering the mutually beneficial relationships between plants, animals, soil, and water.
Is that still our go-to instinct or has it become unfamiliar, even foreign, to us? If humans no longer recognize ourselves as humus, given life by God’s own breath - then might our actions and inactions become inhumane?
Perhaps it is time to be born again - as farmers - as cultivators of a beloved community called Earth.
All of us are called to become farmers. Not all of us can care for chickens or plant huge gardens.
But all of us can pay attention to the earth and her creatures and see God and our place in it-- loving the particular places we’re in. That’s what farming is.
All of us can become farmers.
For the past few Sundays, Brent has taken all of us to places where he sees God. Maybe it is because we are entering the season when dormancy springs into new life. Maybe it is because of the tradition that we have inherited and will later pass down to others. But each time he has been led to a tree - in a garden.
That tree seemed dead just weeks ago and now it’s blooming. Life anyway.
That life anyway-- well, that’s Easter. In 1 Peter, we meet a new life, a new birth that Easter offered the disciples of Christ in the Early Church -- and that is offered to us today. It is a new birth that offers us a heightened awareness of our interconnectedness, a louder call to follow God, a deeper connection to our vocation as farmers and cultivators, inviting us into the impossible possibility that our text in 1 Peter offers to us today - to be born again.
Being born has never been a tidy affair. One of the guilty pleasures of which this pandemic has given us permission to indulge is binge watching “Call the Midwife.” This BBC series does not hold back on revealing the timeless truth that giving birth and being born is messy and risky. Beautiful but scary. There are reasons why we come out screaming as we leave the safety of the womb.
For the last several months all of us - the entire population of the Earth - has trudged through a Lenten journey unlike any other. We have finally arrived in Eastertide - the season in which the Church grows in the womb of God before her birth at Pentecost.
This week marks the 50th anniversary of Earth Day. A little over fifty years ago, in a meeting of church folk concerned about Vietnam, the words of Martin Luther King Jr. still ring true. Hear them now….
He said, “These are revolutionary times. All over the globe people are revolting against old systems of exploitation and oppression and out of the wombs of a frail world new systems of justice and equality are being born.”
It’s the perfect time to plant a garden. A perfect time to be farmers….a perfect time to take on new habits and let go of others.
A perfect time to love the world we live in as Easter people, and to make it a better place for all.
We live in a different world than the one we inhabited just 6 weeks ago.
Air pollution in many of the most populated cities in the United States has gone down in these days of quarantine. Fish have returned to the canals in Venice, as tourists and traffic in the city plummet. The world has slowed down.
Together, we are choosing a simpler life. For all.
With COVID-19, (most) world leaders have been willing to enact the political policies needed to protect humanity in a way that we haven’t seen in response to climate change. We are seeing that when leaders understand the depths of despair, they will act. How will we remember this ability when the world returns to “normal” and we must decide how we will respond to the abnormal speed of death in the world?
God has not forsaken us, though we have been quick to forsake and betray the biblical commandments to love God, one another, and the earth. Death has always had what seems like the final word. But there is Easter. For us. For all creation.
And so, we plant a garden. We live into our interconnectedness. We become farmers.
It is who we are meant to be. So, friends, wash your hands—Tell people you love that you love them. Connect with the people and places you are in – and call them “home.”
And in Wendell Berry’s words, “Practice resurrection.”